Yes, I am extremely late in writing this. You may think “why bother making a top 10 films of 2016 list by this point? We’re more than five months into 2017 now!” Well, this is my site and I can do what I want on it. That’s reason enough for me.
In all serious though, I intended to write this some time ago, but there were a number of 2016 films that I had wanted to see that I didn’t get around to until much later. Now that I’ve seen them, I can write this with a deeper knowledge of 2016 films.
Of course, keep in mind that this is my own personal list. Ergo, my personal taste will probably make this look wildly different than many other lists. For example, I like movies that actually gain an audience and make money a lot more than professional award committees seem to. Sure, I’m open to liking any movie if I think it’s good (hell, sometimes I like movies that I know are bad, if they provide enough entertainment). But I’m not going to place some critically acclaimed, artsy films just to make me look more “legit.” I like what I like, so that’s what’s going to be here.
As a whole, I don’t think 2016 was as good of a year for movies as 2015, but it still provided some gems. These are said gems that I really liked.
But first, I’d like to give a shoutout to both Dr. Strange and The Founder, both of which I greatly enjoyed and wish I could place on here as well. But top 10 is the tradition, and it’s a perfect number that appeases my OCD. So they have to settle for runners-up spots. Still, one’s a great superhero movie that changes things up by actually including magic (instead of skipping around it like Thor) held together by Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen. The other is a surprisingly engaging look into the origins of the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant chain, lead by a great performance by Michael Keaton.
Okay, now onto the top 10.
10: Captain America: Civil War
I readily admit that I’m more than a little super hero’ed out. It seems like 95% of blockbusters that aren’t animated these days fall into the super hero genre.
With that said, Marvel still knows how to put out one good movie after another (mostly). The third entry in the Captain America sub-series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also one of the better installments in the mega-franchise. In fact, it felt like a better sequel to the 2012 Avengers film than Age of Ultron did.
Civil War boasted great action sequences, an all-star cast of super heroes (including the re-re-introduction of Spider-Man to the big screen) and, for once, a Marvel villain who actually had a strong motive for his actions (something that carried on to Dr. Strange).
It may not do anything new for the super hero genre, but it does what it does better than most, and puts it all on a grand scale that made it worthy of being its own Avengers film.
9: La La Land
No, I don’t mean Moonlight. I mean La La Land. Though I have to be honest, while I (obviously) think La La Land is a really good movie, I think it’s only so-so as a musical. The only musical number that really stood out to me was “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and even then I just now had to look up the name of the song to remember it.
With that said, La La Land is a highly entertaining film that tells a good, old-fashioned story with two memorable lead performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Perhaps best of all is the bittersweet tone the movie takes on as it goes. It balances its happy and melancholy elements a lot better than most recent films that have tried, and is sure to leave you with conflicting emotions by the end of it.
8: The Jungle Book
Disney’s recent string on live-action remakes to their beloved animated back-catalogue finally found its stride with the retelling of The Jungle Book, which is actually an improvement over Disney’s animated version due to stronger character development and pacing.
Of course, the film is also a visual marvel, which has been well-documented. People often like to bemoan the overuse of CGI in today’s films, but when it’d done as well as it is here in The Jungle Book, why should we complain?
Given that Mowgli is the only human main character in the film, this “live-action” Jungle Book is more accurately the CG version, but as stated, the CG is a wonder to look at, and it’s a marked improvement over Disney’s original in storytelling. It’s just a flat-out good time at the movies. And with Christopher Walken as King Louie, how can you go wrong?
7: Kubo and the Two Strings
Spoiler alert! This is only the first of five animated films to appear on this list. 2016 was simply a great year to be a fan of animated films (like myself).
Laika has made some visually stunning films in the past with Coraline, ParaNorman and The Box Trolls, but the visuals were always more enjoyable than the stories. With Kubo and the Two Strings, however, Laika crafted a touching story to match the visual liveliness.
The stop-motion animation of the film is phenomenal, which goes without saying. But perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Kubo is how it never talks down to its audience. It may be a “kids’ movie” but it trusts its audience is smart enough to embrace its fairy tale logic, and doesn’t shy away from its genuinely tragic elements.
Laika has finally found its place among the giants of the animation medium.
6: Finding Dory
Despite being the highest-grossing animated film in the history of the North American box office, Finding Dory has become strangely underrated within Pixar’s canon of films.
Though it doesn’t reach the same level of artistry as Inside Out – Pixar’s greatest creation – did just one year earlier, it does serve as a worthy sequel to what is probably the studio’s most beloved film in Finding Nemo. Not to mention it more than made up for the little oopsie that was The Good Dinosaur.
Finding Dory may tread some familiar narrative ground, but it compensates by being thematically different from its predecessor and, in many ways, the more touching of the two “Finding” features.
The best film about alien linguistics ever made.
In all seriousness, Arrival is just a well-crafted film in almost every regard. The performances (particularly that of Amy Adams) are terrific, the film keeps a constant sense of awe and intrigue, and its plot twist is actually quite surprising.
Arrival is a refreshing film in the sci-fi genre whose smart script is greatly complimented by some truly moving character development. Don’t be surprised if Arrival leaves you more than a little misty-eyed by the end of things.
4: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I am very vocal that I am more in agreement with film critics than I am with the Star Wars fandom when it comes to comparing Rogue One to Force Awakens. That is to say, I like The Force Awakens much better than Rogue One, mainly because the characters in Rogue One are entirely forgettable, with the exception of K2-S0.
I’ll save most of that for when I write a full-review of the new Star Wars films, and I plan on writing a more in-depth blog about why I like The Force Awakens so much more than Rogue One. But Rogue One did manage to tell a great story despite the one-dimensional characters.
If my complaints with Rogue One are so prominent, why does it rank so highly on my list? The answer is simple: the ending.
Although Rogue One doesn’t have the same sense of start-to-finish thrills of The Force Awakens (or the original trilogy), it’s third act makes it all worthwhile with one of the braver endings in Disney’s long history (don’t expect a sequel) that retroactively makes the story of the original Star Wars (that is to say, Episode IV) feel even more important.
If the characters had more to them, and the villain weren’t such a missed opportunity, Rogue One may have claimed the number one spot on this list. As it is, the ending made it one of the most memorable films of 2016, despite its flaws.
Disney’s current hot-streak continues, and it’s going strong. In 2016, Disney released not one, but two animated winners. The first was Zootopia, which seems to be the favorite among most.
What makes Zootopia work is how clever it is with its concept and subject matter. It makes the “talking animal” side of the Disney canon feel fresh, and continues Disney Animation’s recent trend of having deeper thematics.
It’s true, the themes of racism and prejudice may be a little on the obvious side, and certainly lack the more subtle thematics of Frozen, but when you consider that it wasn’t so long ago that Disney films wouldn’t dare touch on adult subject matter, it’s wonderful to see Disney films getting more “grown up” with their themes while still delivering the entertaining, beautifully animated stories they’re known for.
Yeah, I liked Moana more than Zootopia. I dunno, I guess I just prefer animated films with human characters or something.
Both of Disney’s 2016 animated offerings are among the best the studio has ever released, but Moana gets the edge for the way it (much like Frozen) loses the studio’s usual overemphasis on the villain, thus allowing them to focus on the main characters and developing them into some of the most memorable in the studio’s history. That, and the beautiful animation and killer songs, which are so good I can look past my predisposed disliking of songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda and enjoy the songs for themselves.
Moana’s namesake hero, as well as the Dwayne Johnson-fueled Maui prove to be some of Disney’s most likable lead characters, and they star in an adventure that’s as fun as any Disney has ever made.
1: Your Name
For the fourth year in a row, my favorite film of the year is an animated film. Sure, you may think that my status as a fan of the medium may make that a foregone conclusion, but I’m open to any great film being my favorite of any given year. It just so happens that the past four years have been terrific for animated features, and have resulted in an on-going streak for my number one selections of my favorite pictures of their respective years.
Perhaps more notable from me, however, is that Your Name is the first animated film not produced by Disney, Pixar or Studio Ghibli to claim my top spot of the year. I like to think of this as a sign of how far animated films have come in the last decade and a half. There is a greater variety of quality animation now than ever before.
Your Name is something special. A movie event that has captured the world’s imagination, becoming the highest-grossing anime film worldwide, and the fourth most successful film in Japan’s history. More importantly, Your Name is a beautifully animated, touching and unique story that proves impossible to resist.
The setup of two high school students switching bodies with one another gives us an original insight into both of Your Name’s two heroes, and gives them a unique relationship with one another. The way writer/director Makoto Shinkai handles this setup is incredibly creative, as he manages to bring out all the humor, intrigue and heart he could out of the concept.
2016 had some great films (and not just the ten that made this list). But if there’s one film from 2016 that had the biggest impact on me, and that will continue to capture my imagination, it’s most assuredly Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name.