2016 gave us a bunch of mediocre films, and a handful of great films. While I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to compare the two, TV knocked Film out of the park in 2016. With that being said, there really are a few films that I truly loved from this past year.
Below are the 39 films I saw from 2016, ranked.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Just like last year with The Force Awakens, I can’t objectively rank a Star Wars film. My love for the series is way too strong. But, for what it’s worth, Rogue One impressed the hell out of me, and was the Star Wars movie I’ve been waiting to see since I was 6 years old.
Best Performance: Diego Luna
OJ: Made in America
Some consider it a film, some consider it TV. I considered it TV and included it in my TV ranking list. I’ll say this though, if I did consider it a film, it’d probably crack my Top 5 for 2016. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece.
40. X-Men: Apocalypse
There are movies that you expect to be bad, and then there are movies that have no business being bad. X-Men: Apocalypse is the latter. There is no reason why this should be a bad movie, especially with Bryan Singer behind the camera. And while Suicide Squad is probably technically a worse movie, X-Men: Apocalypse loses numerous points because it shouldn’t have been bad in the first place.
Best Performance: Michael Fassbender
39. Suicide Squad
Ugh. Like, come on. After a stellar marketing campaign with a lot of promise, we were left with this failing pile of garbage. I guess I can only compare my disappointment with how I predict Trump voters are going to feel in 2020.
Best Performance: Uh…Margot Robbie I suppose?
38. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Ugh Pt. II. Like, come on. What the hell is going on at Warner Brothers? Like, they’ve made good superhero movies in the past, yet they same almost incapable of even covering the most basic of bases. The only reason this is higher than Suicide Squad is because BvS is the “better looking” of the two. Zack Snyder made a terrible film, but the dude can compose the hell out of a shot.
Best Performance: Uh…Ben Affleck I suppose?
Hey, Ron Howard, what were you thinking?
Best Performance: Tom Hanks
36. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Good for some laughs, but ultimately doesn’t live up to the first film.
Best Performance: Rose Byrne
35. Sausage Party
I respect the balls, and I appreciate a dirty joke done well, but I don’t think this film quite lands the punch lines. The voice-work is fantastic though, and I can honestly say I’ve never really seen a film like this.
Best Performance: Michael Cera
34. The Magnificent Seven
From time to time, I forget this movie even exists.
Best Performance: Denzel Washington
33. Jason Bourne
I remember thinking “what a great way to end this series” after watching The Bourne Ultimatum. I wish it stayed that way. Jason Bourne takes all the best elements from the original trilogy and essentially re-enacts them, not adding anything new or compelling to the story. It’s a fun watch, with some very well choreographed action sequences, but ultimately pretty forgettable.
Best Performance: Matt Damon
32. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
If this planned five-film series were a 500 page book, I feel like this film would only take up the first 45 pages – a lot of world-building, and not a lot of plot. And while I’m not arguing that a lot of plot is necessary, when it’s lacking, what’s left needs to be engaging enough to keep the audience’s attention. While there is a lot to admire, I ultimately feel like this was just set up for a sequel that I’m going to really like in a couple years from now.
Best Performance: Dan Fogler
31. Amanda Knox
A perfectly adequate documentary that explores the culture of law enforcement and media surrounding this notorious case, with interesting insight from Knox herself.
30. Swiss Army Man
An inconsistent film with some powerful and emotional sequences. While the overall product doesn’t quite do it for me, the individual moments within (wonderfully shot, edited, acted, and scored) stick with you and really give you a sense of tone that the directors were trying to convey. It’s also anchored by two great all-in performances.
Best Performance: Tie – Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano
29. Finding Dory
No where near Finding Nemo in quality, Finding Dory is still a very funny, very heartfelt film with a spirit that is pure Pixar.
Best Performance: Ellen DeGeneres
28. Edge of Seventeen
While the plot points and conventions in this film are kind of cliche and can be found in most teen films, what Edge of Seventeen has that the others don’t is genuine heart. It also has Hailee Steinfeld, who acts the heck out of the main role.
Best Performance: Hailee Steinfeld
The first half of Lion is a scary, well-shot, well-edited, and well-paced story about a little boy, played by Sunny Pawar (easily the best performance of the film – it’s a shame the Academy doesn’t recognize child performances like this), who is lost and trying to find his family. The second half is kind of a tamer, well-shot, not-as-well-edited, and not-as-well-paced Lifetime story about that same boy, now played by Dev Patel, who is lost in his own obsession to find his family. The two halves of this film are not equal, but the strength of the first half alone elevates it greatly and makes it worth watching.
Best Performance: Sunny Pawar
26. Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek Beyond felt like they took an episode of the original series and stretched it out to two hours – and that isn’t a bad thing. Beyond is a fun chapter to the current Star Trek series, and a big step up from Star Trek Into Darkness.
Best Performance: Chris Pine
25. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Every element of this film suggests that so much thought was put into everything – the soundtrack, the nature of the jokes, and even the idea of releasing an album on smart appliances. Popstar is so funny, with jokes that are way smarter than they have to be.
Best Performance: Andy Samberg
24. Dr. Strange
Imagine the plot of Iron Man, but instead of Iron Man, it’s a doctor with special abilities. There’s an underlying sense in this film that Marvel is trying to lay the groundwork for “what’s next” by relying on what worked well in the past. But the Marvel formula for fun films works, and Dr. Strange is proof of that.
Best Performance: Benedict Cumberbatch
I haven’t seen the stage play of Fences, but I can’t help but feel that this story translates better on stage than screen. The screenplay alone felt like a script for a stage play, and it was acted, while acted well, as if it was on stage. There is a lot to love about Fences, particularly those performances, but there is also an underlying desire where you kind of just wish you were in a theater watching this being acted out live rather than seeing it on the screen.
Best Performance: Viola Davis
22. Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge unfolds over the course of what is essentially two mini-movies. The first half is all character exploration, and the second half is all war. And while the character exploration helps you feel for the characters as they fight for their lives, it’s the war scenes that stick with you long after you’ve seen the film. Gibson’s direction in these harrowing sequences is nothing short of masterful and intense, and while the first half doesn’t live up to the second half, Hacksaw Ridge is still a technical achievement.
Best Performance: Andrew Garfield
21. Hidden Figures
A delightful film that your mom would probably love. I know the phrase “feel good movie of the year” probably causes some to groan, but this really is an enjoyable watch.
Best Performance: Janelle Monáe
Zootopia contains the funniest scene of 2016 – nothing tops the sloth DMV scene. The film hits all the right notes – it is funny, smart, touching, engaging, and so much more. It is a film for people of all ages.
Best Performance: Jason Bateman
Sully has one of the biggest WTF endings of any film I’ve ever seen. Aaron Eckhart makes a lame wisecrack, people kind of laugh, and it just…fades to black. That’s it. I can think of a half dozen other adequate endings it could’ve had, but nope, Clint Eastwood decided to end it with a mild laugh, which is weird considering the intensity of some of this film’s sequences. The plane landing scenes are so well done, and interspersed perfectly throughout the film. Tom Hanks gives a heck of a performance, and Clint Eastwood cruises through the film at a brisk and well-paced 96 minutes, but man, that ending makes you want to bang your head against a wall.
Best Performance: Tom Hanks
Deadpool is proof that Suicide Squad should’ve and could’ve worked had they just gone for the R-rating. And it’s also really good.
Best Performance: Ryan Reynolds
17. The Lobster
The Lobster is really weird, and I get why that turned some people off. But if you can buy into the weirdness, you’re left with a really rich experience. One thing I respect is how “all in” everyone involved in this film is. Every element of this film – from the acting, to the cinematography, to the editing – works so well together to produce Yorgos Lanthimos’ unique vision.
Best Performance: Colin Farrell
16. The Jungle Book
While I was initially turned off by the idea of Disney making live action adaptations of its classic animated films, The Jungle Book reassured me that if anyone knows what they are doing, it’s Disney. The Jungle Book is gorgeous, and I can’t wait to see what Jon Favreau does with The Lion King.
Best Performance: Bill Murray
15. Hail, Caesar!
A friend once described the nature of Coen Brother movies as “nothing matters and everything matters”. Hail, Caesar! is a perfect example of this, and a great example of what the Coens do best. And while some would argue that Hail, Caesar! is an example of the Coens at their most frustrating, which is understandable due to the unconventional nature of this film, I believe just sitting back and enjoying the ride is the best way to appreciate Hail, Caesar!
Best Performance: Alden Ehrenreich
14. The Nice Guys
I really really really want to see a sequel to this movie.
Best Performance: Ryan Gosling
13. 10 Cloverfield Lane
I see the Cloverfield series as kind of a modern-day Twilight Zone, in the sense that the series uses an overtly sci-fi plot to explore deep layers of everyday hot-button issues. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an alien movie, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a psychological thriller that has something to say about the way men treat women, modern-day paranoia, and isolationism. It gets the heart racing while getting the mind thinking.
Best Performance: John Goodman
12. Sing Street
Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
Best Performance: Lucy Boynton
11. Everybody Wants Some!!
If you don’t like movies where “nothing happens”, then this probably isn’t a movie for you. Richard Linklater excels at capturing the everyday average moments that can mean the most, and does it in a way where everything matters but the plot. And while his “nothing happens” approach turns some people off, for those that can sit back and enjoy the journey, Everybody Wants Some!! is a very worthwhile experience.
Best Performance: Glen Powell
10. Captain America: Civil War
In a year with some real superhero stinkers (just look at the bottom 3 films on this list), Civil War stands above the rest. It’s been months since I’ve seen it, and I’m still astonished by how much this film accomplishes (introducing Spider-Man and Black Panther, the Vision/Scarlet With plotline, etc.), all while maintaining a rich and well laid-out main story line with one of Marvel’s best cinematic villains to date. This is easily the best Captain America film, and on a good day I could probably argue that this is Marvel’s best film so far.
Best Performance: Chris Evans
A rare “one and done” film for me. I’ve seen it once and loved it, but I can honestly say that I never want to sit through this film again. Silence is Scorcese at his best, but this film is intentionally a tough hang. It forces you to ask “what would I do?” while observing thoroughly brutal scenes, and leaves you with only tough questions and no clear answers. A masterpiece, but not one that I want to revisit.
Best Performance: Andrew Garfield
8. Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck (despite the creepy allegations) and Lucas Hedges easily give two of the best performances of the year in a film that is wonderfully written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. A lot of people describe it as a sad movie, but I actually found it to be darkly funny as well, and found myself laughing more than I expected.
Best Performance: Casey Affleck
7. Green Room
Green Room is like a zombie film, just with alt-right white nationalists replacing the zombies. It’s gritty, gross, raw, and exciting, and simultaneously builds this crazy tension while forcing the story forward at a beautiful, heart-pounding pace.
Best Performance: Anton Yelchin (RIP)
6. La La Land
It’s not perfect, and that’s okay. And while passing time brings out the flaws, I won’t forget the way La La Land made me feel while I was watching it and the immediate days after. The songs are still stuck in my head weeks later, and there are images in that film that are burned into my memory. It’s a beautiful piece that encapsulates the power film has to make you feel something, and for that, I respect the hell out of it.
Best Performance: Emma Stone
5. The Handmaiden
Surprising and exciting in so many ways, and a technical marvel. The Handmaiden is guaranteed to fill the Tarintino-sized hole in your heart until his next film comes out (and yes, I realize that Tarintino had nothing to do with this, but it has the feel of a Tarintino film).
Best Performance: Kim Min-hee
Anthony Weiner is a human headache, but his story is fascinating to watch in the same way a car crash is fascinating to watch. You know nothing good comes from it, but you can’t turn away. Weiner is a fantastic documentary. It’s energetic, insightful, frustrating, funny, infuriating, cringe worthy, and unbelievable at times. It observes rather than condemns or excuses his WTF-behavior, and leaves the audience asking “What was that?” when it’s all done.
We’ve been on a roll with great sci-fi films in recent years (Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian, etc.), and Arrival is a worthy addition to this modern day pantheon. An achievement on almost level (the editing, the score, the cinematography, and the sound stand out the most to me), Arrival toys with the way stories are told by introducing a cyclical element to the plot. It makes for a great cinematic experience.
Best Performance: Amy Adams
2. Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water deserves every piece of praise it gets. When I saw it in late summer, I thought it would kind of just disappear from the conversation as Oscar season films rolled out, but its numerous Oscar nominations prove the strength of its staying power. Hell or High Water works as both an exciting movie for audiences looking for a good time and a thoughtful film that is ripe for dozens and dozens of insightful think pieces on its relevance to modern day politics. I often find myself describing Hell or High Water to friends as the movie that explains why Trump won the election – it’s a capsule of the economic anger that caused people to vote for a “change” from what was perceived as a failing system.
Best Performance: Jeff Bridges
Bold, fluid, colorful, beautiful, patient. These are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when I think of Moonlight, a film that seemed to come out of nowhere. When the “Best Films of the Decade 2010-2019” lists are written, I truly do expect this movie to find itself in prominent spots on those lists. It’s a film that is not just important to our modern time, but important all of the time.
Best Performance: Mahershala Ali