The art of storytelling may be in short supply on the big screen, but there are plenty of smaller gems to find amid the pretentious nonsense, bloated blockbusters, unnecessary sequels and pointless remakes that get the studio marketing dollars.
These are my favorite films of 2016 that I think are worth your time and money. We have more entertainment platforms and choices than ever before, so to find quality can be sometimes overwhelming.
My criteria is always authentic storytelling, affecting performances, outstanding execution and impeccable production values. When a film opens us to a new world to see things differently, that is very special indeed.
I want more than flying chunks of concrete and loud rock songs on a soundtrack that pass for emotion.
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Film should provide a heartfelt connection. To share a laugh with others at a funny movie is memorable. So is grabbing for the tissues when the tears fall.
These films, I feel, stood out as they moved me, amused me or enlightened me, for it was not a particularly strong year for good movies. (I have not seen “Silence,” “Patriots Day” or ‘Live by Night” yet – they have January release dates.)
1. “La La Land”
Its premise is simple, really – a romance between two aspiring artists as they chase their dreams. But its execution is what makes this modern musical so magical.
Luxuriate in the Cinemascope scenes that capture a dreamy Hollywood, be mesmerized by the stardust charm of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, whose palpable chemistry is evident, just as it was in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
Be dazzled by the daring of visionary writer-director Damien Chazelle, who builds on the promise he showed in “Whiplash.”
Be moved by the music of composer Justin Hurwitz and rising star lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul – “Audition (“The Fools Who Dream”) will touch your soul.
Is there a better opening scene of any film in 2016? “Another Day of Sun!” swirls with vibrant energy on an L.A. freeway. Be awed.
Timeless and transporting, you must see it on the big screen.
2. “Manchester by the Sea”
Heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, this masterfully constructed story of a New England family is terribly sad, but very, very good.
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan captures family dynamics in an authentic way, realized by a pitch-perfect ensemble.
Powerful performances – the most emotionally devastating of the year – by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams are unforgettable and award-worthy.
One can’t give too much away about the plot; the past is smartly revealed.
The film’s ultimate reliance on faith, hope and love — with humor, too — is what we take away.
3. “Hell or High Water”
A desolate and dusty Texas landscape is where this contemporary crime and distinctly American tale takes place.
Rich characters and crackling dialogue are the hallmarks of Taylor Sheridan’s exceptional screenplay.
With a keen eye for details, British director David Mackenzie briskly unfolds a riveting story of two down-on-their-luck brothers who rob banks in a scheme to stick it to the man.
The dream cast includes two dynamic duos, a never-better Chris Pine and always terrific Ben Foster as the brothers, and a crusty Jeff Bridges and solid Gil Birmingham as the lawmen hot on their trail.
And then there’s the delightful atmosphere of the T-Bone Diner and other locales that transform “Hell or High Water” into something very original.
The genuine struggle of the interracial Virginia couple – Mildred and Richard Loving – who took their fight for marriage equality all the way to Supreme Court is thoughtfully told by writer-director Jeff Nichols.
With moving performances from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, Nichols shows the quiet courage and strength of this ordinary couple.
Although the tension is very real, Nichols mixes the drama with regular daily life. Instead of being showy, he downplays courtroom theatrics for the humanity of these real people who changed America by example.
A glimpse into the past reminds us the fight to triumph over the last segregation law in the U.S. wasn’t that long ago.
As if there was truly any doubt, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is a true American hero, and this film is a flag-waving reminder.
In this riveting account of the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson, director Clint Eastwood spotlights Sully’s courage under fire.
Eastwood’s style is economical; he cuts to the chase. Even though we know what happened, the suspense is harrowing. And the lesser-known inside look into the investigation is fascinating.
American treasure Tom Hanks anchors the film, projecting honor, duty and compassion as a pilot under enormous pressure, saving the day in a miraculous, memorable way.
Aaron Eckhart is in fine support as co-pilot Jeff Skiles. The way the film shows regular guys taking pride in their work is also notable.
This melting-pot metropolis has it all – cheeky wit, clever characters and expert animation.
Leading a marvelous cast is Ginnifer Goodwin as over-achieving bunny Judy Hops, Jason Bateman as a sly fox named Nick Wild and Idris Elba as the imposing Police Chief Bogo.
The small humorous touches are plentiful: a Godfather-like diminutive arctic shrew, a sloth named Flash who works at his own pace at the DMV, a donut-loving tiger, and a goofy, shaggy yak, voiced by none other than Tommy Chong.
A message about stereotypes goes down easy in the skilled hands of peerless Disney animators, eticulously managed by co-directors RichMoore and Byron Howard.
Savor the details, admire the colorful kaleidoscope and revel in its sheer exuberance.
A haunting and lyrical work of profound power, the story of young, gay, black man Chiron is not new, but is told in an interesting way by writer-director Barry Jenkins.
As father-figure Juan, Mahershala Ali stands out in a film with strong performances, especially Naomie Harris as Chiron’s strung-out mother, Andre Holland as Chiron’s friend Kevin as an adult, and Alex Hibbert as the bullied teen “Little.”
The film moves at an unhurried pace, and the vignettes jump to three specific snapshots of life.
But its power is subtle and ultimately undeniable. Cinematography by James Laxton and a moody music score by Nicholas Britell both enhance the atmosphere.
Oh, the transformative power of music. Writer-director John Carney specializes in such movies – “Once” and “Begin Again” are favorites – and this charming ode capitalizes on another era’s joyous sounds.
It’s Dublin 1985, and Irish-Catholic schoolboys form a band, of course to meet girls and be cool.
A fresh-faced cast, led by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as the sensitive Conor and Lucy Boynton as the sophisticated Raphina, captures the characters’ essence beautifully.
The fantasy music video “Drive It Like You Stole It” is splendid, and so is the band’s first attempt to film a music video, “The Riddle of the Model.”
This warm, witty coming-of-age tale will induce smiles, flashbacks to garish ’80s fashions, and a desire to increase one’s record collection.
9. “Hidden Figures”
The untold story of three trailblazing women at NASA in the early days of the Space Program is a stand-up-and-cheer crowd pleaser. (It opens locally Jan. 6.)
Unabashedly sentimental, the film benefits from a trio of fine performances from Taraji P. Hensen, Janelle Monae and Olivia Spencer, who honor the remarkable pioneers they portray: Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan.
A true tale of smart women will make math nerds cool — and a strong example for young girls.
Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst, as NASA employees, all play characters that are products of their time.
10. “Eye in the Sky”
A taut thriller focuses on the moral dilemmas in modern warfare.
Expertly directed by Gavin Hood, with crisp editing that keeps the suspense edge-of-your-seat, how a planned drone attack on most-wanted-list terrorists goes from capture to kill is vividly chronicled.
A tight ensemble includes Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi and Jeremy Northam as people caught up in an escalating international incident.
One of the year’s biggest surprises, the film will keep its grip until the very last minute.
Honorable Mention: “Doctor Strange,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “The Girl on the Train,” “The Hollars,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Jackie,” “Little Men,” “Midnight Special,” “A Monster Calls” and “Southside with You.”
1. Knight of Cups
2. Zoolander 2
3. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
4. American Honey
5. Suicide Squad
6. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
7. A Bigger Splash
8. Swiss Army Man
9. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
BEST ACTION FILM
1. Captain America: Civil War
2. Doctor Strange
3. The Accountant
4. Hacksaw Ridge
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
2. Finding Dory
3. Kubo and the Two Strings
1. Don’t Think Twice
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
3. Everybody Wants Some!!
4. The Hollars
5. Florence Foster Jenkins
6. The Edge of Seventeen
8. Pop Star! Never Stop Never Stopping
9. Elvis and Nixon
10. The Nice Guys
BEST HORROR/SCI FI
1. The Witch
2. Midnight Special
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
5. Doctor Strange
BEST FOREIGN FILM
1. The Handmaiden
2. The Salesman
4. The Man from Ove
5. A War
2. The Tower
3. The Eagle Huntress
5. I Am Not Your Negro
1. Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
2. Joel Edgerton, “Loving”
3. Tom Hanks, “Sully”
4. Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
5. Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
6. Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
7. David Johns, “I, Daniel Blake”
8. Michael Shannon, “Midnight Special”
9. Denzel Washington, “Fences”
10. Colin Farrell, “The Lobster”
1. Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
2. Ruth Negga, “Loving”
3. Rebecca Hall, “Christine”
4. Emma Stone, “La La Land”
5. Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”
6. Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” and “Things to Come”
7. Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
8. Amy Adams, “Arrival”
9. Kate Beckinsale, “Love and Friendship”
10. Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Dev Patel, “Lion”
2. Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
3. Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
4. Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
5. Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
6. Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”
7. Ben Foster, “Hell or High Water”
8. Craig Robinson, “Morris from America”
9. Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
10. Chris Hemsworth, “Ghostbusters”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Viola Davis, “Fences”
2. Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
3. Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
4. Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”
5. Lily Gladstone, “Certain Women”
6. Aja Naomi King, “The Birth of a Nation”
7. Margo Martindale, “The Hollars”
8. Helen Mirren, “Eye in the Sky”
9. Janelle Monae, “Hidden Figures”
10. Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
BEST JUVENILE PERFORMANCES (Under 18)
1. Lewis MacDougall, “A Monster Calls”
2. Julian Dennison, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”
3. Sunny Pawar, “Lion”
4. Ferdio Walsh-Peelo, “Sing Street”
5. Michael Barbieri, “Little Men”
6. Theo Taplitz, “Little Men”
7. Madina Nalwanga, “Queen of Katwe”
8. Jaeden Lieberher, “Midnight Special”
9. Markees Christmas, “Morris from America”
10. Angourie Rice, “The Nice Guys”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
2. Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”
3. Ira Sachs, “Little Men”
4. Richard Tanne, “Southside with You”
5. Jim Jarmusch, “Paterson”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
1. Todd Komarnicki, “Sully”
2. Whit Stillman, “Love and Friendship”
3. Guy Hibbert, “Eye in the Sky”
4. Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi “Hidden Figures”
5. Patrick Ness, “A Monster Calls”
1. Café Society
2. La La Land
5. Hail, Caesar!
BEST MUSIC SCORE
1. La La Land
5. The Jungle Book
1. Sing Street
2. La La Land
5. Everybody Wants Some!!
1. “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – La La Land
2. “Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street
3. “City of Stars” – La La Land
4. “You’re Welcome” – Moana
5. “Try Everything” – Zootopia
6. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Justin Timberlake (tie)
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
1. Doctor Strange
2. The Jungle Book
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4. A Monster Calls
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
1. La La Land
3. The Handmaiden
4. Rules Don’t Apply
2. Eye in the Sky
3. Nocturnal Animals
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
2. Florence Foster Jenkins
4. Love and Friendship
5. Sing Street