Come end of the year, it seems like people are always saying that it’s a terrible year for movies. This year in particular seemed to bring the cynical bunch out in full force, with many claiming that 2016 didn’t deliver the cinematic goods. And sure, if you look solely at the gigantic disappointments that Hollywood threw at us this summer, then it’s hard to argue with you. But like any other year, if you went the extra mile, and dug a little bit deeper, you may have found that there were a ton of great indie films playing throughout the year. That’s not to say that there weren’t some great studio films released from Hollywood in 2016; it’s just that this year in particular felt like a strong one for independent cinema, and boy did we need it.
I don’t have the exact numbers, but I feel like I saw more new releases last year than ever before. Below, find 50 of my favorite films, of all shapes and sizes. From big-budget blockbusters, to personal documentaries, and riveting small indies, there was a lot that I loved this year, and I hope you find something new that you may have missed, or maybe find a film that you didn’t particularly care for, but want to give a second chance.
And with that, here are my favorite films of 2016:
50. Hail, Caesar!
48. The Tower
47. 10 Cloverfield Lane
46. The Invitation
44. Little Sister
43. Love & Friendship
41. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
39. A Monster Calls
38. A Bigger Splash
37. Hacksaw Ridge
35. Mountains May Depart
32. Captain Fantastic
30. Morris From America
29. Train To Busan
28. Little Men
27. I, Daniel Blake
26. Don’t Think Twice
25. Swiss Army Man
24. Midnight Special
23. The Handmaiden
22. Toni Erdmann
21. American Honey
Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating passion project isn’t for those looking for another Wolf Of Wall Street-esque film from Marty. Silence challenges its audience, forcing us to question everything we know about faith. It may take a few views to really let it all sink it, but once it does, you’re left in awe.
Built upon the unforgettable (true) comeback performance from Natalie Portman, Jackie is a look at the former first lady Jackie Kennedy, in the harrowing hours and days after losing her beloved husband. We see her not only preserve the legacy of her husband, but her own as well.
18. Green Room
It’s still hard to believe that we lost the talented Anton Yelchin at such a young age, but at least we have films like Green Room to help cherish his memory. Yelchin delivers a great performance as always director Jeremy Saulnier’s relentlessly tense, ultra-violent thriller about a punk rock band stuck in the literal wrong neck of some nasty neo-Nazi woods.
17. The Wailing
Directed by South Korean director Na Hong-jin, The Wailing is a thought-provoking horror film that will linger with you for days. It’s creepy and chilling, but also funny when it needs to be. It takes many twists and turns, leaving you wondering and questioning everything until the very last second. It’s a shame it didn’t find a larger audience here in the states, but it’s likely to become a cult classic in no time.
16. Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals, the latest from Tom Ford is a dark and twisted story within a story that took some time to fully sink in for me. But once it did, piece by piece the layers came undone and I saw myself seeing it in a whole new way. Once you see how it all comes together you’re able to appreciate the route it took to get there.
15. The Witch
Although it came out very early in the year, I was never able to shake off The Witch. Not your conventional horror film in any sense, but that’s why I loved it. Instead of forced jump scares, director Robert Eggers (in his insane impressive full-length directorial debut) allows the fear and dread to build in your head, letting your imagination do all the dirty work for you.
I’ve heard many viewers have found Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson “boring” or complain that “nothing happens.” But I found it’s simple and subtle story charming and compelling. Jarmusch is interested in little moments of every day life: getting up for work, making your loved one happy or chats at the bar with friends. It’s in these small spaces that he finds truth, and it results in small film that is able to tackle the largeness of every day life.
13. The Nice Guys
I really don’t know if I had a better time at the movies this year than I did with The Nice Guys. Shane Black takes us back to the time when superheroes in movies weren’t building their own cinematic universes, but they were just a whacky tag-team of buddy cops. The unlikely team of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling works wonders, and newcomer Angourie Rice is a star in the making. The Nice Guys is the sort of film with infinite replay value, where you’ll find a new favorite scene or line with every watch.
12. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika does it again with Kubo and the Two Strings, an breathtaking little epic that shows us the beauty of stop motion animation. It takes us on an imaginative journey of creativity that continuously pushes the bar and reminds us of the importance of storytelling. In a pretty solid year of animation that brought us Zootopia, Finding Dory, Moana and many others, it was Kubo and the Two Strings that captured my heart.
11. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
With Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Taika Waititi proves once again why he’s one of the hottest alternative comedic voices in cinema at the moment, set to make it to the big time with Thor: Ragnarok. But before he made the jump with the big dogs, he left us with one of the funniest films of the year. He also gives the recently underused Sam Neill one of his best roles in years, and introduced us to Julian Dennison, a star in the making.
10. The Lobster
The Lobster is a totally absurd dark comedy with some interesting views and comments on love and the ways we are supposed to go about finding it. It seems that whenever Colin Farrell is using his natural accent and taking part in something darkly comedic, it yields terrific results. The Lobster most certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those that embrace its oddball charm, you’re in for an absolute treat.
9. The Edge Of Seventeen
One of the biggest surprises of year was The Edge Of Seventeen, the remarkable debut from director Kelly Fremon Craig. One of the smartest coming of age films to grace the screen in years, The Edge Of Seventeen is hilariously funny but also very honest and true. It captures the little moments of growing up and the young pain that comes with those late teenage years that may seem trivial now, but seemed so damn important growing up. Hailee Steinfeld offers a dynamic performance here, and plays off an equally game Woody Harrelson with classic results. I wish more people saw this movie, but I can tell this one will find an even bigger audience on streaming/cable.
8. Sing Street
John Carney sure does stick to his guns, but when those guns deliver irresistible gems like Sing Street, I’m perfectly alright with that. Carney knows how to make a film surrounded by the world of music, and Sing Street shines with glowing results thanks to the many memorable songs that Carney breathes into it. Although the film takes place in 1980’s Ireland, there’s many universal themes that Sing Street delivers with ease, and makes it sound good along the way. Just a pure delight from start to finish.
7. 20th Century Women
Mike Mills has done it again with 20th Century Women. After making a film about his father (Beginners) Mills makes one about his mother, played to perfection by the great Annette Bening. From the opening scene accompanied by comforting synth chord from Roger Neill, Mills took me on a journey with a ramshackle makeshift family that are all coming of age in their own ways, both together and apart. I was not alive in the late 70’s, but even so, everything about 20th Century Women felt real and true.
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater delivers yet another home run with Everybody Wants Some!!, a film that chronicles the first weekend before classes for a rowdy college baseball team as they get to know one another. Linklater is a master at capturing conversation, allowing his characters personalities to burst onto the screen and seem larger than life. Maybe it’s because I used to play baseball, and I’m only a few years removed from college, but that sense of youth and time in tackled so damn well here. I couldn’t help but smile with every passing frame. What an absolute delight.
In a year where Hollywood punished us with the pitiful excuse for sci-fi that is Independence Day: Resurgence, Denis Villeneuve renewed our faith with Arrival. It’s a slow and patient film but one that rewards the viewer over time with multiple viewings. Amy Adams delivers an astonishing performance, speaking volumes all with just a look or glance. In a time where our world is so quick to believe misinformation in an instant, there’s a timeliness to Arrival that we need in the age of Trump. We need to be on the same page, and find ways to work together, not become further apart.
4. Hell or High Water
The opening shot of Hell or High Water tells you all you need to know. Not only about the plot, but about the sort of film that you’re about to watch unfold. That director David Mackenzie will patiently let it all play out, trusting the incredible script penned by Taylor Sheridan to do all the work. It’s a game of cat and mouse between two brothers and a Texas Ranger on the brink of retirement, one that you know can’t possibly end well. The heart and soul of Texas is felt in its DNA, a character of its own if you will. Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster are game as usual, but this film is a revelation for Chris Pine, who shows acting chops I didn’t realize he had in him.
3. La La Land
When a film like La La Land comes rushing out of the gate with the hype that it had, it’s hard to live up to it. But clearly the wunderkind Damien Chazelle isn’t the type to disappoint. With the breathtaking number, it didn’t take long for the film to win me over, keeping me completely entranced along the way. An ode to musicals of a different age, Chazelle is able to take the dying formula and breathe new life into it, while also very much paying his debts to what he owes. The songs are fantastic, and Gosling and Stone show off that chemistry that reminds us why they’ve paired up for three different movies already. It was impressive to see the film stick to its guns with its message about sacrifices necessary to achieve ones dream. It doesn’t deliver your typical happy ending, but it’s one that is honest and true, a move that should be applauded.
2. Manchester By The Sea
“I can’t beat it.” A simple line delivered from the mouth of Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler that speaks volumes. Manchester By The Sea is the tragic tale of a man that has been continuously beaten down, and just when he’s thinking of getting up, the world deals him another swift punch. It’s a film about the pain and suffering that we deal with, and the many ways we try to come together to beat it. But the fact is that sometimes you just can’t beat it. Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan’s film isn’t exactly uplifting, but it does find moments of beauty in recognizing the way that one can try and pick themselves up and keep going even though sometimes it’s easier just to give in. It all feels authentic and true, and anyone whose having a rough go of it will be moved.
There’s not a wasted frame in director Barry Jenkins’ spellbinding masterpiece Moonlight. A tale about a young boy named Chiron and his struggle to find his identity in a tough part of Miami that wants to bring him down just because he may be considered different. We get glimpses into three different crucial stages of Chiron’s life, one as tragic as the next. Jenkins expertly digs deep, tapping into an emotional journey that will devastate, no matter your gender, race, or sexuality. Poetic in nature, Moonlight is an unforgettable journey that will stay with you. I’ve seen it numerous times now, and I continue to find myself in awe at how well crafted and emotional of a watch it continues to be. Expertly shot, and featuring some amazing performances across the board, Moonlight stands alone as a remarkable achievement that almost seems too good to be true.