At first glance, the best films of 2016 seem to share a depressingly sad theme. My top four movies included horrific family tragedies , separation, life effects of drugs and violence and, although expressed through a comedy, unrequited love. However, true stories like Hidden Figures and Lion provided enough inspiration to go around. For me, great writing, casting and acting is what set these films apart from the others. Some are easy and some are difficult to watch, but, I continued to think about them long after leaving the theater.
#1: Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonegan)
If you can overcome the sadness, this is another great screenplay for Kenneth Lonegan (You Can Count On Me), who unexpectedly became the director of the film. The story and
beautiful cinematography stand out as one of the year’s best. Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee Chandler is deserving of an Oscar and Michelle Williams brief, but compelling appearance enhances the story of a family coping with a tragic loss that has consumed their lives.
#2: Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)
Writer-director,Pedro Almodóvar, who’s film resume includes The Skin I Live In, Talk To Her and Volver, continues his female themes with the more traditional story of Julieta with Spanish actress Emma Suárez, in the title role. A widow, Julieta is
preparing to move on with her life and move to Portugal with her boyfriend before a chance meeting with an old friend of her estranged daughter changes everything. We begin to understand Julieta as the film unveils her compelling story.
#3: The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
Having become a fan of Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi after watching his last three films, I had to see The Salesman before compiling my list. Another great, compelling story. Emad and Rana are forced to leave their apartment because the building is collapsing and must find a new place immediately. Their new landlord
failed to disclose that the previous tenant was a prostitute, working from home. After his wife is horrifically attacked at the apartment, Emad becomes obsessed with finding the perpetrator. It ends, focusing on the moral dilemma between revenge and forgiveness. As they are dealing with the extended physical and emotional pain that jeopardized their relationship, Emad and Rana are performing opposite each other in a local production of Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman. A must see for film buffs and, for those affected by visual violence, it is only referenced in this film.
#4: Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Moonlight follows the life of a young black man, growing up gay in a drug infested Miami neighborhood, the son of an addicted mother, portrayed courageously by Naomie Harris. It is not
always an enjoyable film to watch, but reveals a human side to the drugs, violence and poverty that ultimately shape his life, but don’t change who he is. This film has been branded with many notable supporting performances, all driven by Barry Jenkins’ screenplay and direction.
#5: Cafe Society (Woody Allen)
I am always cautious of my “confirmation bias” with Woody Allen films, eager to enjoy because I expect to. However, Cafe Society
is a twisted love story set in New York and Hollywood, superbly cast with notably magnificent lighting throughout. Kirsten Stewart seems to flourish under Woody’s style, turning me into a fan. A period piece set in the 1930s, the design and lighting create an , “American craftsman” image. Jesse Eisenberg nails Woody’s neurosis, on full display during his failed meet up with a novice hooker. Note the lighting in that scene.
#6: Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
Described as a minimalistic depiction, I found Paterson to be uplifting and refreshing. There is no antagonist in this film. Poet-bus driver Paterson drives a route in Paterson, New Jersey. Director Jarmusch takes pains to reveal the lives of both Paterson the
man and Paterson the town, as routine. Paterson’s delightfully spontaneous girlfriend, Karen, her English bulldog Marvin and, of course poetry represent the trifecta of his world. His calm reaction to the only (somewhat)tragic event sends a message to us all. Trivia: After Karen’s dream of having twins, Jarmusch includes various twins in future scenes, adding a mystical quality. On second thought, Marvin may be the antagonist.
#7: 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)
Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig are the two reasons that 20th
Century Women made my list. The story of three women exploring new freedoms in the 1970s, much of it revealed through the behavior of the cynical matriarch Dorthea’s young son, Jamie. Gerwig is a rising star and Bening deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in this overlooked film.
#8: Hell Or High Water (David MacKenzie)
Two brothers, desperate to save their family’s land from bank foreclosure, set out on a series of small robberies of the foreclosing bank branches to come up with the money. Toby, played by
Chris Pine, is motivated to leave something to his son and estranged wife and ex-con Tanner seems to be in it for the fun. Soon, crusty small-town sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is in pursuit and things get out of hand in a dramatic ending. I would like to see Jeff Bridges win an Oscar for his performance.
#9: Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)
Why did it take over fifty years to learn about the significant contributions of these African-American women mathematicians to one of our nations most famous and heroic space flights? Better late than never, they have been documented, through this film, in an insightful, yet charming way. It reveals much about life for educated African
American women in 1964 Houston, Texas, including separate restrooms and lunch facilities. I enjoyed the characters portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner as well as the closing footage of the real women. A story that is both inspiring and fun to watch, Hidden Figures is a deserving nominee.
Based on a true story, Lion is the most inspirational film of 2016. The story of young Saroo, a five year-old boy, artfully played by Sunny Pawar, who gets lost and miraculously survives, alone in Calcutta. He is eventually adopted by a loving couple and has a normal childhood in Australia. Decades later, a familiar smell
from his homeland has him yearning for contact with his birth mother and family in India He sets out on a journey to find them and his story ends on a heartfelt and bittersweet note.
Others: Toni Erdman, Captain Fantastic, LaLa Land, Zootopia, Nice Guys, Queen of Katwe, Elle