I dislike writing any definitive end-of-year lists before seeing almost everything that I figure could qualify. That’s why we’re doing these in January, ensuring that I was able to get to almost everything. I saw over 300 films in 2016, and yet I still feel like there are probably a couple that I missed. Regardless, there comes the point in time when you have to be happy with what you’ve got, and that’s how I feel about this list.
2016 was a disappointment in many ways. Most of the blockbusters were failures, and that led to many people claiming that the entire cinematic year was awful. Well, no, it wasn’t; you just need to see different movies. When a year contains as many good movies as 2016 did – I saw 90 to which I gave a 7/10 or higher – then it can’t be a failure.
So, if you were looking for some shining examples of cinema in 2016, I present to you my top 5 films of 2016. They’re in alphabetical order. If you want to know what my #1 is, you’re going to have to wait until next week for my 2016 CineMarter Awards!
Hell or High Water
Directed by David Mackenzie. Produced by Sidney Kimmel, Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn, Gigi Pritzker, and Rachel Shane. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Release date: August 12, 2016.
Set against the backdrop of an economic recession, Hell or High Water follows two brothers who rob banks to pay off their recently deceased mother’s mortgage and avoid foreclosure. Yes, they’re using the bank’s money to pay it back. Of course, the mortgage was done in an underhanded way, the banking elite is taking away livelihood and property from everyone, and the brothers are just trying to stick it to the banks in a small way.
Hell or High Water is a nearly perfect movie. It’s flawless on a technical level, immersive beyond belief, wonderfully acted, and very thought-provoking. It’s the type of film that gives you such a high upon seeing it, knowing that you just saw what essentially amounts to cinematic perfection.
Manchester By the Sea
Directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan. Produced by Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Kevin J. Walsh, and Lauren Beck. Release date: November 18, 2016.
This year’s great weepy movie is Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film. Casey Affleck delivers an awards-worthy turn as a man who – already tortured by a tragedy from a while ago – loses his brother and has to become a surrogate father to his nephew, played fantastically by Lucas Hedges.
There was only one other movie that was as genuinely affecting as Manchester by the Sea, at least for me, and that was Gleason. This is a movie that delivers such rich characters, is so impactful from moment to moment, and showcases superb acting. Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams could – and arguably should – all get awards for their performances. It’s not a happy movie, but it’s a powerful one.
Directed and written by Barry Jenkins. Produced by Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner. Release date: October 21, 2016.
Here’s a testament to how good Moonlight is: I’m not as high on it as some people, and yet it’s still making my top 5 films of the year. Moonlight is a coming-of-age film detailing three stages in the life of Chiron, a black boy/teenager/man in poverty – who is also gay. Here is a movie in which that subject matter and all that it entails is what makes the film work.
You see, coming-of-age stories rarely change, but by switching around the pieces and contextualizing it with this specific character in this area, it becomes fresh, interesting – and in this specific case, a little heartbreaking. All three actors playing Chiron – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes – are fantastic, supporting performances from Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, and Naomie Harris are great, and the film’s depth and detailing of Chiron’s situation makes it more than worthwhile.
The Neon Demon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Produced by Lene Borglum and Nicolas Winding Refn. Written by Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Polly Stenham. Release date: June 24, 2016.
Perhaps the most (only?) controversial pick on this list, The Neon Demon was very much a love-it-or-hate-it film, and you can put me very much on the “love it” side. The movie follows a teenager (Elle Fanning) as she heads to Los Angeles to be a model, and what she finds when she gets there is … very strange. Much of it would spoil the fun.
Of course, the movie comes from Nicolas Winding Refn, who all but refuses to make a conventional Hollywood movie. Here, symbolism and oddity supplant pretty much everything else. But the film works. It’s gorgeous, has a fantastic score, is well-acted, and its central metaphor that criticizes the fashion industry is effective. It’s polarizing, that’s for sure, but even if you think you’ll hate it, it’s still something that I’d recommend watching.
Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. Produced by Clark Spencer. Written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. Release date: March 4, 2016.
Even if all of its metaphors don’t quite hold up to scrutiny, Zootopia still manages to effectively communicate its ideas about racism and sexism – and it’s a talking animal film made by Disney! The shock that came from seeing that it’s a serious message movie was only overwhelmed by the amount of investment that comes with watching it. You care about these characters, you laugh at the film’s jokes, and you become enthralled from its noir-style plotting.
The plot follows a rabbit (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants to become a police officer, and winds up teaming with a fox (Jason Bateman) in order to solve a very important case – both personally and professionally. We get to explore the wonderful city that’s been created here, witness allegorical forms of racism and sexism, and both feel and laugh our way through. Zootopia is so great.
If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet.