Best of 2016 Films

Originally published in Cinema Knife Fight, January 20, 2017

Well, we’ve had some major releases at the end of the year, but unfortunately the holiday season has been crazy at the Keohane household, so most of these I haven’t seen, including ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016). Yes, me, not having seen this, yet. Quite a few others, like PASSENGERSTHE ACCOUNTANT and SULLY, all on my list of January catchups. But… of the films I have seen, here are ten of my favorites. Caveat: some of these were 2015 films which, like the above list, I had to wait until 2016 to see. So my list is six from this year, four from last year. And a bonus.
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) By far my favorite of the superhero genre films in a long time. Like the comic, the film treads on new, rather surreal ground, and as such gives it the appeal of standing out from the crowd, much like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014). In the wrong hands, this film—you could say it’s The Marvel Universe meets INCEPTION (2010) —could have gone way too far down the rabbit hole, but it didn’t. Loved it.

SPOTLIGHT (2015) This film from 2015 caught everyone by surprise at the last Oscars by snagging the Best Picture trophy, and deservedly so. Having seen the church sex scandal unfold myself, for the most part thanks to the reporters of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team—to go through this again, seeing how detailed and obstacle-ridden their investigation was, the passion around the layers slowly exposed the deeper they dug—it was riveting from beginning to end. SPOTLIGHT is an old-school movie about old-school reporting, the likes of which we might never see again.

THE VISIT (2015) Ah, welcome back, my dear favorite filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan. Clever, funny and at times intense, everything you (or, at least, me, who never gave up on you, M, even after DEVIL (2010)!) could want. It was developed quietly and released as such, but people saw it, and liked it. That year he also did an excellent series based on the WAYWARD PINES books. Let’s hope momentum is on Shyamalan’s side, since he has a new release coming up this year.

ARRIVAL (2016) An intelligent and beautiful science fiction film which might leave some folks scratching their heads, but, so far, surprisingly few. Strong performances all around, and some awesome settings, scope-wise. It’s a film meant to be watched on the big screen. I will admit to leaving the theater with my son not sure if I really loved the movie or not. I was… uncertain. Hard to explain, especially without talking about the ending, which I won’t. But it got made, a film that doesn’t spell everything out for you (actually, they do, quite well, otherwise no one would leave the film knowing what just happened!).

DEADPOOL (2016) was exactly what I expected it to be. Usually when there’s so much hype about a release it never lives up to our ramped-up expectations, but this one did. Ryan Reynolds’ dialogue is pivotal to the success of the movie, so listen carefully or you’ll miss much. Fun film that in no way takes itself seriously—except as a faithful Deadpool comic book adaptation.

THE WITCH (2015) This one was dread-filled and scary. Just now, I had to ask my wife and daughter sitting beside me as I write this, if it was a foreign language film, because I remember not understanding what they were saying. No, it was English, but old Pilgrim language, so we watched it with captions turned on. That probably helped. This is not your standard horror movie, and I mean that in every good way. Smart, dark and original.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) is another clever and original film. Another one made under the radar by the master, J.J. Adams, it’s not a sequel/prequel/tie-in to CLOVERFIELD (2008). Or maybe it is. Take out this slight misstep of vaguely tying it to an earlier work and watch it for the curl-in-your-seat intensity of John Goodman’s performance. You are stressed from the beginning and hardly dare to breathe for most of the movie. See it. If the last five minutes annoy you, that’s OK, it didn’t hurt the rest of the film (and that says a lot coming from me).

BEN-HUR (2016) I had to review this for CKF earlier this year, having never seen the original film from the 1950s, and I will admit I was blown away (here, of course, is an example where the last few minutes probably hurt the film, but see my full review for why). Large in scope, breathless action scenes, and solid acting. Really enjoyed it, even if most everyone else in the world didn’t care for it much.

CONCUSSION (2015) Not a genre film, but a quiet, intense (and important) film about the man who exposed the injuries sustained by professional (and amateur) football players. Will Smith stopped being Will Smith for these two hours. He was incredible. If nothing else, his performance made this movie shine.

Other films I would have liked to highlight but had no room, but which I enjoyed (in order of almost-made-the-above-list): BRIDGE OF SPIES(2015), THE LOBSTER (2015/2016), FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016), CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) and BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016).
Bonus Recommendation: THE GOOD LIE (2014) a very human drama about the plight of a group of Sudanese children fleeing a thousand miles across the country to escape escalating violence after their village is destroyed and families murdered—and their eventual settlement in the United States, where they need to adapt and struggle to remember who they are. Acted, primarily, by men and women who were themselves Sudanese refugees at one point. Headlined by Reese Witherspoon (who wisely takes a back seat to these other stellar performers). If this film doesn’t warm your heart and make you cry at least once, you aren’t human. By far the best film I happened to stumble upon this year, and really am better for it.

Let’s hope this sharp, angular year is a good one, everyone!