Damn. 2016. It started off as a total drag in the movie department. But, as the year went on I found myself wanting to go to the movies more and more. I still wasn’t able to see all of the movies that I wanted. Luckily, I have more than enough to put together a top 15 that I can be proud of. I view the world through emotions and that fact about me is exactly what drives me in the movies that I like and the formulation of this list. The movies that you see here all hit me in some important way and that’s why I’m compelled to place them here. You can argue about a movie’s execution of its themes and characters and technical work, but you can’t argue about how they make you feel.
15. The Nice Guys
15. The Nice Guys
I reeeally debated this spot on my list. I eventually decided on this movie because of the pure, unadulterated 1970s joy that it brings me. Listen, I don’t think the plot is amazing or the movie is totally on the mark. It actually had the potential to be much better than it was. But, this is my list, damnit. The interplay between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling is great. The actress that plays Ryan Gosling’s young daughter (Angourie Rice) was a surprise hit and I think she’s on the cusp of really coming into her own as a popular and talented actress. The soundtrack is awesome and I love movies set in 1970s L.A. – there’s nudity, there’s riffing, there’s mystery, there’s violence. What more do you really need? I find myself turning this movie on all the time. In fact, it’s the only one on my list that I’ve seen multiple times.
14. Nocturnal Animals
Going into this one, I had no idea what to expect. If you don’t know anything about it – keep it that way. It really made it interesting and engaging. Now that I’m older and I’ve seen hundreds of movies, I can predict the common formula for many films and I know the way they’ll turn out. So, when you have a movie like this, that can keep you on your toes, I really like that. Something terrible happens in this movie and it’s one of my biggest fears. When a movie can play off of your deepest fears and darkest emotions, it’s powerful and uncomfortable in a way that only good art can manipulate you. (Come for Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal – stay for Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in his very creepy turn as Ray.)
13. Manchester by the Sea
I know a lot of people didn’t care for this movie. It’s sad, it’s sad the whole way through. It’s difficult to knowingly subject yourself to that kind of intense emotion. You might think you know what kind of grief to expect after seeing the preview, but that’s only the half of it. It made my list for two main reasons. First, it was very well made. The sadness was cut with levity in a way that I’ve never seen. Something terrible would happen and then would transition into artful lightness that wasn’t cheap and didn’t betray the intensity of emotion you just felt. I don’t know how they did it. Second, I enjoyed the culmination of the relationship (uncle and nephew) of the two men in the film. I’m a sucker for men with seemingly un-evolved emotions actually showing their feelings. It got to me.
12. Hacksaw Ridge
I have a weird relationship with WWII movies. They are intense and too hard for me to watch, but they connect me to my grandfather who was a veteran from that war and they help explain a very complicated time in our world history. I don’t usually watch them more than once. I debated even seeing this one, but I’m so glad I did. It follows a young man who is a conscientious objector to the war for his own convictions about non-violence, but he still feels the need to assist in the war effort as a medic as an act of duty for his country. He is constantly being tested, but he achieves greatness and aids the men in his company to such a degree that they admit how wrong they were about him. Much like Manchester by the Sea, I am a real sucker for men getting emotional – especially these tough soldiers. When you see the actual footage of the sergeant in his company cry when recalling what Desmond Doss did decades and decades later, it’s almost too much to bear. This movie had some moments that were trying a bit too hard, but when you cry as long as I did after the movie ended, it truly earned its spot on this list!
Going into this movie, I expected it to be more angry and violent. You usually see bricks through windows and violent assaults in civil rights movies. And while I think it’s very important to show those aspects, I was relieved there wasn’t much of that in this film. It was a quiet love story about an interracial couple who simply wanted the legal right to live together with their children in their own state. Ruth Negga’s powerful and restrained performance kept me constantly enraptured. You knew how much she cared about her life and her family, but she never spun out of control or showed violent emotions. She was a rock. Still, you could sense how important this was for her.
I enjoyed this departure from more typical alien movies. It looked at an alien arrival from a more logical, realistic, and scientific perspective. While some of the characters in this world assumed that the aliens came to Earth to fight us, some realized that wasn’t the case and so they attempted to learn their language and speak with them. These aliens were not humanoids and the fact that this movie made me feel for a creature that was so different was lovely. There’s a twist in this movie that I had small inkling of and started to sense throughout, but the reveal was still wonderful and emotional. Amy Adams can totally carry a movie.
9. Captain Fantastic
This movie was a wonderful mix of irreverence and familial love and the struggle to live in this world in the way you want. This family and their interplay was so interesting to watch. The story follows one man’s struggle to raise his large brood the way he sees fit in the forest after his wife’s untimely death, and it kept me enraptured the whole way through.
8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I was raised on Star Wars; it’s extremely nostalgic for me and I was happy to say that I enjoyed this part of the saga much more than I thought I would. One of my favorite things in the entire world(s) is a cool robot, and this movie had that covered with the main droid. I guess you could say that it was the droid I was looking for?! But, seriously, the robots in Interstellar were some of my all-time favorites and the droid here totally had a smack of those ones. Wow, I really didn’t intend to write this post completely about the droid.
7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
As a person who anxiously awaited the release of every subsequent Harry Potter book after reading the first one at age 11, you could call me a pretty big fan. It’s a magical world that I was afraid I would never see any more from. However, It took me awhile to see this movie because I assumed it wouldn’t hit the mark. I mistakenly assumed that this movie was going to be something they just released knowing it would make money from the people who’d go see anything with the Harry Potter name slapped on it. I was so happy that it was a fully-fleshed out movie from the HP universe. I truly enjoyed seeing the wizarding world in America and the characters were just lovely. Much like my fellow slacker Derek, I too have a crush on Queenie. Just try not to fall in love with her!!!
6. Hell or High Water
I don’t think there is one bad actor in this movie; everyone just nailed their performances. What starts as two brothers robbing banks to save the family ranch quickly escalates into so much more. That kind of storyline makes me anxious in the best way. The final scene between Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges is a glorious chess match of a conversation that is frustrating and satisfying for me in how unsatisfying it was for Bridges’ character.
This movie was so intense. The score was dramatic and amazing and really set the tone. Pay special attention to any scene in which Jackie has blood on her. Her anguish was so palpable it felt like I was in the same room with her. We’ve all seen the footage of our beloved JFK being murdered. It’s no easy feat to recreate the jarring footage of his assassination that we’ve all seen so many times, but honestly, the recreation lent another dimension of emotion to it. It all happens so fast and watching Natalie Portman as Jackie scramble for the pieces of her husband’s skull and brain as a knee-jerk reaction was so brutal. Watching her scream and cry as their car sped toward the hospital was almost too much to bear. The only sound you heard was the music. It’s a scene I won’t soon forget.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This movie was so irreverent. It was in the same vein as a Wes Anderson movie, with a little more heart and emotion to it. Sam Neill has been a love of mine ever since Jurassic Park and I have a feeling that he’ll never disappoint me. Look for beautiful New Zealand scenery and a funny and light tone (even though the subject matter is kind of intense) that culminates in a truly touching ending. I still have the song about Timmy Baker stuck in my head!
3. Midnight Special
I love weird Sci-fi movies. They’re my favorite thing! And Midnight Special did not let me down. I enjoy a movie that doesn’t just lay everything out for you. This was a fun one to watch unfold in front of your eyes. Who are the bad guys? What kind of cult were these people in? What kind of mysterious powers does this little boy have? I’m in love with Michael Shannon and I can’t seem to dislike anything that he’s in. Like fellow Slacker Elisabeth, I also ran into him one time. It was one of the best moments of my entire life!
What a dang sobfest this movie was! A 5-year-old boy becomes stranded in a city where he doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know the name of his town to get back home. Watching him traipse around while avoiding very real danger was so difficult. The only thing getting me through was knowing that this story was based in truth and that the boy lives to this day. I cried because I was scared for him, I was worried about him, I was happy for him. You really run the gamut of emotions and Lion is truly deserving of its Best Picture nomination this year.
I’m having trouble with my list this year. It’s difficult to adequately describe how some of these movies made me feel. But, to put it simply, Moonlight was one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. This cast, as a whole, were the best actors I saw this year. This film has a timeless quality to it. Its themes will never become irrelevant, even as the years the movie encapsulates drift into the past. I think that’s because this movie could almost be set at any time or place and still be a close and emotional look at the life of this boy/man. When Chiron (as a little boy) sits at the table of his surrogate parents and asks them the hard questions about how he’s supposed to feel about himself, I didn’t think I could handle it. The warmth with which the important people in his life treated him helped mold him and accept himself for who he was. This movie was not about where he lived, who his parents were, or how he earned money. It was about his journey and who Chiron was. Just lovely. (Fellow Slacker Elisabeth should get some kind of hero award for shushing the loud, giggling group of middle-aged women who were interrupting this beautiful film.)
Thanks for reading!