There were a lot of great movies in 2016, but it seemed that I was mostly attracted to coming-of-age movies. There’s just something about young people discovering who they are for the first time that interests me.
Honorable Mentions: 20th Century Woman, Elle, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Manchester by the Sea, Deadpool, Hail, Caesar!, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, 13th, Don’t Breathe, Things To Come, Arrival, and Disney’s Moana.
10. The Edge of Seventeen
It’s not often I skip down the street as soon as I leave the theater after watching a movie, but that’s precisely what I did after I watched Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a teenager on the brink of a nervous breakdown, as she slowly sinks deeper into depression and self-destruction. While that doesn’t quite sound like a movie anyone would have a crush on, Kelly Fremon Craig injects a level of lightness and dark comedy and really endears the teen movie genre with true emotion and self-discovery. It’s just so damn charming!
9. The Witch
Set in 17th century New England, The Witch is a haunting tale of a family torn apart by isolation, religion, and a mysterious witch with an evil goat named Black Philip. Robert Eggers’ directorial debut is a dark and terrifying film that scares an audience by what he chooses not to include in the frame. The movie is full of tension and eeriness that blends well with the realism of the time period.
8. Always Shine
Director Sophia Takal displays so much confidence in Always Shine that you would be surprised it’s only her sophomore effort. Starring Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald as two young actresses in Hollywood, Always Shine features the horror of a friendship that’s on the edge of admiration and rivalry. The movie is also a shining example of how talent and ambition can overcome a low production budget.
Set during the 1950s, Logan Lerman plays Marcus, a student at a small college in Ohio. He struggles to find his place as one of the very few Jewish students at a Christian college until he meets the very charming Olivia (Sarah Gadon), a mysterious young woman from a wealthy family who opens Marcus to the wonders of romance and sex. Indignation is James Schamus’ directorial debut, as it’s a wonderfully bittersweet look at first love and the realities of growing up during wartime in America.
6. Love & Friendship
I’m a sucker for Whit Stillman movies! Throughout his career, Stillman has always played around with the conventions of Jane Austen’s work starting with the similarities between his debut Metropolitan and Mansfield Park. With Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman actually adapts her work directly. It’s a lovely and hilarious film with great performances from Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, and Tom Bennett.
5. La La Land
Director Damien Chazelle got the attention of audiences with Whiplash in 2015, but he really wowed them with his follow up La La Land this year. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land commands your attention with its opening production logos and opening musical number and never loses it during its 128-minute running time. Chazelle does a fine job conveying the cost of ambition and following your dreams, while painting a beautiful picture of a cinematic and nostalgic look at Los Angeles.
4. O.J.: Made in America
Director Ezra Edelman’s seven hour and 45 minute journey through the public life of O.J. Simpson is distinctly an American story of a man going from a hero to one of the most despised and celebrated figures in the world. While there is much debate about whether O.J. Made In America is a film or a TV series is inconsequential to the power work of Edelman as he takes a look at race and celebrity culture at the tail end of the 20th century.
Natalie Portman is transcendent as Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín’s biopic following her life immediately after her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963. Much like the real First Lady, Jackie (the movie) is full of style and grace in the face of an American tragedy.
2. The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden is one of the most deliciously pulpy and sleazy movies of 2016. Director Park Chan-wook carefully sets up a story that is completely sexy and jaw-dropping throughout its 145-minute running time. Although the film’s subject matter is full of broad melodrama, it’s also one of the most beautiful pictures to look at, in terms of cinematography, production and costume design, and overall tone. This movie is so hot!
Moonlight is the movie of the year! Director Barry Jenkins delivers a powerful and lovely movie about a young black man growing up in the inner city of Miami, Florida, as he struggles to find happiness and his place in the world as a gay man. Split into three acts, we see Chiron go from a boy who constantly gets bullied to a man who comes to terms with his past relationships with his mother and first love. It’s a lovely film that deserves your attention!