Top Films of 2016, According to Our Movie Columnist

By: Brett Slaughenhaupt – Movie Columnist

Great year for film, horrible year for just about everything else – that basically sums up my experience with 2016. Although I was not able to see every picture that graced the silver screen (because I am a college student who doesn’t get paid for this), I was fortunate to see a great many that truly entertained, challenged, and inspired me. On top of that, notable were films made from people of identities that oft are not given opportunities in Hollywood. Taking my weekly trip (sometimes more than that) down to The NEON or major cinema was a release from my own world to consider the lives and experiences of others. I laughed, I cried, I made friends with the person sitting next to me as we sobbed together and then nosily listened to the fight happening down the aisle from us – here’s to you, woman-who-also-goes-to-movies-by-herself!

Make no mistake- I don’t pretend to have any true credibility as a film reviewer, beyond “I’ve looked stuff up on IMDb,” I speak only from my experiences watching these films. It was a wonderful time and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Here, in no particular order other than alphabetic, is my list of top films in 2016:


  • 10 Cloverfield Lane

In my opinion, the greatest performance of this year lies within this film. John Goodman expertly plays a man who is both terrifying and sincere, disgusting and teddy bear-like, in turn keeping the audience on their toes until the shocking third act. Confined to an underground bunker for most of the tight running time, the film plays with our innermost fears as three people fear the end of the world. Beyond Goodman, praise should be hounded on 10 Cloverfield Lane for all of its near-brilliant technical aspects that push this thriller over the edge.


  • 13th

Ava DuVernay is a force to be reckoned with. Her confident filmmaking and complete tonal control makes this an unmissable documentary, made all the more relevant by current times (which, ya know, is the exact reason the film was made in the first place). Offering a look into modern-slavery and how those in power continue to abuse and misuse marginalized citizens, specifically black Americans, with our prison systems and police culture. Surprising to no one, we are offered takes that no history class has ever taught. Infinitely important, this film is made all the more approachable and interesting due to its Netflix-original status.


  • Arrival

Amy Adams. That should be enough to make you go see any film. Working with a beautiful script by Eric Heisserer and direction from Denis Villeneuve, what should be a hot mess of confusing artful sci-fi turns out to be a measured approach based around language, communication, and the choices we make in our lifetime. Where this film could have twisted and turned, it instead glides purposefully towards a beautifully succinct conclusion helped along the way with the heartbreaking motif of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight.” This is why films are meant to be seen on the big screen.


  • The Edge of Seventeen

The yearly coming-of-age teen flick rises again, this time with one hell of a bite. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen is a truthful look into the life of a young woman trying to navigate her somewhat-disorderly life made all the more difficult by her unstable mother and seemingly-perfect brother. Craig inhabits her film with such specificity and nuance between each character and that is what makes this one of the best films to see, at least for every young adult. On the topic of young adults seeing this film, the irony of its rating keeping nearly the entire demographic legally unable to see it entirely backwards to me. What makes this film so honest is its language and look into blossoming sexuality, something that every person (even teenagers) deal with in real life. But apparently it’s inappropriate for them to see acted out on film.


  • Hell or High Water

The movie your father would probably love, had anyone gone to see it in the first place – a statement not to its masculine qualities, but an ode to its feeling of timelessness. The stakes of the film are kept within rather small confines, but it becomes all the more personal because of it. Driven by sharply realized performances and a beautiful script, this film ends up being the political film no one expected.


  • Manchester by the Sea

Look, I knew I was going to cry. It was very obvious from the trailers, reviews, and even from Casey Affleck’s SNL monologue. What I didn’t expect was to be taken on an incredible rollercoaster of emotions from sobbing to laughing (probably too loud) and then back to sobbing. Much like Hell or High Water, the lived-in performances is what takes a beautifully poetic script about life and the loves that come along the way, and takes it to the next level of real insight. Don’t be turned off by the misery-porn vibe that it gives off because Manchester by the Sea is art to be witnessed.


  • Moonlight

If you don’t already feel the all-encompassing urge to revel in the pure art writer/director Barry Jenkins made, nothing I say will make you. Honestly. Just see it, please, and then seek out more art made by black filmmakers.


  • Sing Street

John Carney’s third foray into musical film is his most successful trip, yet. Set in 1980s Dublin, we are introduced to a world of Catholic rebellion and teenage angst made all the more excitable by amazing music. Like The Edge of Seventeen, we witness a plot seen a thousand times before, given new life through patient, observational script and performances. If you don’t leave the screening and blast “Drive It Like You Stole It” on the way home, you didn’t see the same movie that I did. Also, Lucy Boynton deserves to be the female lead in everything, always. She is a delight, as is everyone and their mothers in this wonderful film.


  • The Lobster

I don’t think I laughed more in a film this year than with The Lobster (see also: Swiss Army Man). I also did not feel more uncomfortable than I did watching this movie (see also: Swiss Army Man). We witness the return of In Bruges-Colin Farrell, giving an absolutely riveting performance as a single man trapped in a world that makes it mandatory to fall in “love.” Ridiculousness ensues thanks to Yorgos Lanthimos’ measures approach to this satirical look into modern romance. As droll and atmospheric this film is, it is completely believable in every sense. Backed up with exemplary performances from Rachel Weisz (who would in Oscar conversations, in a perfect world) and Olivia Colman (there is no end to this woman’s talents), this is the perfect political getaway because it exists in a world entirely outside of our own.


  • Swiss Army Man

Who knew that a film starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse would be offer some of the most measured insights into mental health and love in today’s world? Completely crass, morbid, and just plain weird, this film is, above all, original. With that, the performances feel fresh and you never quite know where the story is going, which is delightful in a time of franchises built upon algorithms and logistics. My only qualm is the wasted Mary Elizabeth Winstead performance, but no film is perfect. So come because you are endlessly curious, and my goodness stay for the two-man acapella score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell.


        Not technically part of this list, but: Lemonade

A political statement built around the black female body is unlike anything ever created. Whatever your thoughts are on Beyoncé or her music, Lemonade is an instant cultural phenomenon. While the album is a success on its own, the visuals work to elevate every word spoken and sung, offering a more coherent storyline and premise that gives representation to the black culture that underlines it all. Every artistic and technical decision in the production of this movie was perfect and that is what makes it worth seeing.

Notable Films, Still According to Brett:

  • Don’t Breathe, The Witch, Christine, Zootopia, The Little Prince, Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange, Star Trek Beyond, A Bigger Splash, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Films I wish I had seen, but either did not have time, money, or the ability to travel into the future:

Krisha, I Am Not Your Negro, Green Room, Kubo and the Two Strings, Midnight Special, The Fits, Paterson, Love & Friendship, Cameraperson, Loving, The Handmaiden, Weiner, La La Land, Elle, Jackie, Neruda, OJ: Made in America, A Monster Calls, Silence, Lion, 20th Century Women, Certain Women, Fences, Hidden Figures, Toni Erdmann, The Salesman

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