2016 was a rough year personally and on a wider scale, as I’m sure it was for a lot of people, but it’s always nice to escape for a few hours in the dark recesses of a movie theater. I made a concerted effort to see smaller films this year, as the big budget blockbusters have me feeling a bit numb. So here are my favorite films of the year.
10. 10 Cloverfield Ln., dir. Dan Trachtenberg: The most popular film on this list, this contained thrill ride, featuring a wonderful and scary John Goodman was the best tent pole movie this year.
9. Cash Only, dir. Malik Bader: From something instantly recognizable to something rather obscure, this gritty ethnocentric crime thriller left me rather surprised with its urgency, energy and unique take on familiar material.
8. De Palma, dir. Noah Baumbach: I always try to put a documentary on my year-end list, and none of the others I saw compared to this. Watching a master like De Palma talk about his obsession and the obsessive detail he put in to movies as varied as Dressed to Kill and Casualties of War is a cinephile’s dream.
7. The Nice Guys, dir. Shane Black: After watching Chris Stuckmann discuss this movie on his list, I was reminded of how special this movie was: an original, brilliantly crafted popcorn film in the land of super- heroic redundancy. And the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe was beyond splendid.
6. Manchester by the Sea, dir. Kenneth Lonergan: I’ve become a bit skeptical of movies being released around Oscar season, but this movie deserves all the hype it gets. It’s an enveloping story with real people I, at times, forgot were actors. Everything seems natural and perfect, and while it is long, I left wanting to see more.
5. The Wailing, dir. Na Hong-jin: This Korean horror film deserves ample space next to movies like Oldboy and I Saw the Devil. Almost six years in the making, it shows, with brilliant set pieces, expertly built tension, an escalating level of weirdness and the creepiest ending of the year all add up to one of the smartest horror films in recent memory.
4. Green Room, dir. Jeremy Saulnier: Saulnier improves on Blue Ruin with a breakneck take on the siege film. As soon as I thought I knew where this movie was going, it shocked me by doing something different. This is a movie made with skill, talent and zero fear.
3. Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins: This meticulously crafted and beautifully shot coming of age story is the best directed movie I saw all year. Never sliding into melodrama or some half-baked social commentary, this story moves and impresses the deeper it gets, culminating in a show-stopping finale of heartbreak and revelation.
2. The Lobster, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos: Easily the smartest movie of the year, but that in no way makes it inaccessible. This dreary yet dryly funny tale that feels like Brazil for the perpetually single was easy for me to get lost in and start digging for meaning.
1. Tie: La La Land, dir. Damien Chazelle/ Sing Street, dir. John Carney: Among the bleak compost of 2016, I’m happy to say that these two films, which are oddly linked together for me in theme and execution, are leaving me with the strongest and most positive cinematic experiences of the year. Both successfully make important points about setting goals while not ignoring the sacrifices that must be made in order to achieve them and both feel like dreams I was in that sadden me to see come to an end. Can’t really give a movie, or anything, a bigger compliment than that.