BEST OF 2016: Top 10 Films of the Year and Personal Ballot Winners


The “Best of 2016” series, or rather, Best of ANY YEAR series is always a privilege to partake.  As an avid lover of film, I spend so much of my year just watching movie after movie, many of which I don’t do a “formal” review, and am always eager to discharge some of those feelings that have bottled up for the better part of 12 months.

If you missed any part of the series, there are links to each of the pieces down below for your convenience.  Next week, we turn the tables to you, the readers.  Beginning Monday, we’re opening up the FYC consideration period for the upcoming 2016 Awards Circuit Community Awards (or better dubbed “ACCA”).  We will be collecting FYC images, sent in by the readers and sharing them on the site and social media accounts for the entire week, each day.  Then on Monday, Jan. 16, the ACCA voting period for nominations will open.  Details about which categories will be available are here.

Honestly, the ACCA voting time is probably may favorite part of Awards Circuit.  It allows the community to engage in a way they don’t normally do throughout the year.  It also provides an opportunity for us to champion smaller films and performances from throughout the year.  Understanding that there are over 500,000 (and climbing rapidly) readers and a large group like that tends to yield a consensus, we still have seen some eclectic choices along the way.

I’m looking forward to another great year from the ACCA community.

With all that said, I’m moving on to my Top 10 Films of 2016.  It’s interesting how this year, more than any year, there were films that seemed like sure-fire staples in this column but in the end, we’re set aside for something that I felt more passionate about.

I’ve given some of those films shoutouts already in the “Personal Ballot of the Year” (“Captain Fantastic,” “Lion,” “Other People,” “Nocturnal Animals,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”).  I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mention “Gleason” from Clay Tweel or “Eye in the Sky” from Gavin Hood, both surprisingly moving in their own ways.  Two animated films were in the running for my top 10 and they weren’t the “conventional” ones that we tend to look for.  I was just as shocked that “The Red Turtle” and “My Life as a Zucchini” resonated the way they did, and it was disheartening to omit them both from the list.

Giving one last “Honorable Mention” shout out, I just adored and accepted everything that Jon Faverau was selling with his masterfully made “The Jungle Book.” It’s an achievement that I hope more filmmakers will take queues from when adapting a beloved story such as this.

Without further ado, I move into my Top 10 Films of 2016 (in order):

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016

10. “20th Century Women” (A24)

dir. Mike Mills

There’s an electricity that shoots out from the first frame of Mike Mills’ deeply personal portrait of an unconventional family in the late 1970’s.  Some easy comparisons can be made to such classics as “Almost Famous,” but Mills constructs an outstanding cast of players, and even more profoundly moving crafts team to paint the picture of youth, wisdom, and love, all against the backdrop of an ingenious script.  The performances are astounding particularly the treasure that is Annette Bening and the effervescent Greta Gerwig in her career best turn.

Excerpt from the New York Film Festival review:

Clever and beautifully endearing, Mike Mills‘ beautiful portrait of five people in the late 1970s is one of the year’s most glamorous efforts. Vaunting an exceptional ensemble, Mills’ wistful and ingenious script stands tall above the competition. Sweet-minded and shimmering in its comedic beats and even more irresistible in its dive into the dramatic elements, “20th Century Women” is one the year’s most pleasant surprises.

9. “Miss Sloane” (EuropaCorp)

dir. John Madden

It took two watches to settle in on how damn explosive and bone chilling John Madden’s taut political thriller really is.  Boasting career best work from Jessica Chastain, the film is littered with meaningful and audacious performances particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Waterston, and Michael Stuhlbarg.  Jonathan Perera’s script boils to the brim, never going over in its exposition in the gun lobby and what a corrupt system we have in place.  Just a timely piece in our climate.

Excerpt from the AFI Film Fest review:

In a time of fiery debate, just following a tumultuous election year, nothing is as timely or educational as John Madden‘s politically charged “Miss Sloane.” Constructed by a crackling script by Jonathan Perera, in his boisterous debut, the film is rich in words and helmed by an enigmatic turn by Jessica Chastain. Emulating a second coming of Aaron Sorkin in his prime, Perera, in partnership with Madden’s distinct vision, creates an orchestra of dialogue and story, all leading to a genuinely surprising finale.

8. “Fences” (Paramount Pictures)

dir. Denzel Washington

It’s such an easy thing for someone to say “it feels like a play,” but the way in which August Wilson’s masterclass writing erupts on screen, there’s no other way for it to look, and that’s no always a bad thing.  Three viewings later, nearly everything about Denzel Washington’s aggressive and straight forward direction works within its scope.  Not to mention, he gives one of his finest performances ever.  In partnership with the magnetic Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, and others, Washington’s film lands in the sweet spot as a platform for actor’s to master their craft.

Excerpt from the film review:

Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington has made his mark on film history with such films as “Malcolm X” and “Glory.” His work as a director has admittedly struggled to find the right voice and aesthetic to capture the same passion he’s brought to his acting roles. In the adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences,” the iconic actor can now attach the term “iconic director” to his already impressive resume. Thespis (considered to be the world’s first actor) can rest well knowing a dynamic, masterful class of performers is taking acting to boundless heights. “Fences” digs deep to ask its audience some very difficult questions. We can only submit to its bountiful script and rapturous thespians to answer those demanding inquiries.

7. “I, Daniel Blake” (Sundance Selects)

dir. Ken Loach

Capturing the frustration of the people can become quite repetitive when translating to the screen.  Director Ken Loach handles the material with a quality assurance, bringing forth heart and soul entact.  Anchored by two vigorous performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, Paul Laverty’s script lands squarely in year’s landscape that represents international cinema blending expertly with our American sensibilities.

Excerpt from New York Film Festival review:

What a joyous, funny and moving portrait of man. “I, Daniel Blake” from director Ken Loach ravishes and lives in the mind and hearts of its characters, holding tightly the raw and emotional power that they bestow upon their world. The centerpiece is that of the two invigorating performances from its stars Dave Johns and the breakout work of Hayley Squires, both turning in Oscar-worthy performances. The human spirit, and the actions in which we choose to convey them, are far too complicated just to be watched. They must be experienced. “I, Daniel Blake” takes that opportunity head on, turning in one of the year’s most beautiful and delicate portraits.

6. “Arrival” (Paramount Pictures)

dir. Denis Villeneuve

An examination of our own future and what makes us human, Denis Villeneuve’s artistically arousing film features a sensitivity that I wasn’t anticipating nor ready to endure.  Lifting Amy Adams into a full-fledged leading lady, Eric Hesserier elevates the science fiction genre, having the special effects take a back seat and allow the audience to settle in on the story.  This all layered with Bradford Young’s spirited cinematography and Johann Johannson’s illusive score.

Excerpt from the film review:

“Arrival” is a film that can seem bigger than itself. Perhaps it’s even “too smart.” However, movies should challenge the viewer. The stamina of a film rests on its tenacity and persistence to dare the viewer to explore new thoughts and feelings. “Arrival” achieves just that. It is a film that should be noted in multiple Oscar categories and revered by all except the most impudent viewer. This film is not to be missed.

5. “The Lobster” (A24)

dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Seeing a film over 18 months ago, and circling back to it once it finally gets a U.S. release, you don’t expect it to have the same effect and be able to stand up against new, shinier objects.  Yet, “The Lobster” encompasses magic rarely seen around these parts of cinema.  Colin Farrell continues to elevate his own game, while Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Ben Whishaw all have their own moments of glory in a film that is darkly funny and uncomfortably dramatic.  Yorgos Lanthimos takes on new realms in which to tell his stories and am eager to see it all unfold over time.

Excerpt from the New York Film Festival review from 2015:

It took some time to let Yorgos Lanthimos‘ new film “The Lobster” settle into my mind.  On the surface is a dark comedy, full of rich images, and staggering performances from its principal cast.  Deeper lays one of the most original and heart wrenching stories on modern relationships, likely the best seen in film since Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

4. “13th” (Netflix)

dir. Ava DuVernay

Just saying “13th” is timely belittles its own importance.  It’s the most relevant film we have this year, following a tumultuous election, and on the backdrop of “Black Lives Matter” and other police shootings, it’s one of the most pressing things we face as a nation.  Ava DuVernay brings the material with facts in hand, that even if you don’t live in an area where you feel this is not prevalent, you can join in the anger and injustice of our brothers and sisters.  Spencer Averik, DuVernay, and team deliver on all counts.

Excerpt from the New York Film Festival review:

In this political landscape where racial tensions are at an all-time high, and humanity is desperately searching for a peaceful compromise of understanding, Ava DuVernay‘s “13th” from Netflix is about as timely as a film can be. A passionate powerhouse of emotions and content, DuVernay somehow manages to top her last two features – “Selma” and “Middle of Nowhere” – with a masterful and heartfelt look into our criminal justice system. Straightforward and uniquely unbiased in a way we haven’t seen, DuVernay’s film is downright incredible.

3. “Kubo and the Two Strings” (Laika)

dir. Travis Knight

I love a surprise.  Especially when it comes from something that wasn’t on the radar.  Travis Knight’s feature film debut packs a wallop of emotion and imagery, as Laika stands tall next to any Pixar effort that has been produced in the last 10 years.  With outstanding visuals and terrific voice work from Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is an hour glass of fun, laughs, and tears, all blended into a stop-motion experience that will be hard to forget.

2. “Moonlight” (A24)

dir. Barry Jenkins

Lingering around the 1-2 spot on the Top 10, at any given moment, either of the top 2 films can switch out.  When it comes “Moonlight,” there’s a raw, honest quality you can’t really replicate.  It captures the voice of a culture, daring the audience to enter its world and stay a while.  Six outstanding performers are synced together, breathing the same air and secrets into each word spoken (or unspoken).  Litter them with Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, and Janelle Monae, and you have the crowning work of 2016.

Excerpt from the New York Film Festival review:

A magnificent portrait of urban life, Barry Jenkins‘ astounding “Moonlight” captures the essence of a generation. Acting as urban cinema’s “Brokeback Mountain” and “Boyhood,” it’s as if we got to see “Ennis” and “Mason” grow up in a different culture and era. In this case, it’s even more powerful and profound. You’d be challenged to see a greater and more honest depiction of love and life this year.

1. “Silence” (Paramount Pictures)

dir. Martin Scorsese

The volume in which “Silence” speaks not only to me, but what it says about filmmaker Martin Scorsese is staggering.  Testing my own morality and what my faith means to me is something I didn’t know I needed.  It cleansed my soul in a manner I didn’t know I needed but what a conquest.  Co-writer Jay Cocks, Andrew Garfield, Issey Ogata, and the rest of the cast and crew dare each of us to better than ourselves.  Rodrigo Prieto’s foggy frames add to the film’s central themes, while Thelma Schoonmaker stretches and wears us down with its challenges along the way.  Could very well be the defining film of Martin Scorsese’s career.

Excerpt from the film review:

Martin Scorsese has been a master of his craft for decades. It’s hard not to consider him our single finest director working today. With films like “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and now his newest endeavor “Silence,” we must now relish with the fact that we are witnessing a grand master of sorts working right in front of our eyes. History has remembered “Citizen Kane” and “Vertigo.” These were two films not wholeheartedly recognized as masterpieces of their time. History now, however, will remember “Silence,” a marvelous and inspiring cinematic experience not to be forgotten.

Personal Ballot Winners of 2016

Check back here for the nominees!

BEST MOTION PICTURE: “Silence” (Paramount Pictures)
Producers: Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Barbara De Fina, Randall Emmett, David Lee, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler
(RUNNER UP – “Moonlight”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING: Martin Scorsese for “Silence” (Paramount Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight”)

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Denzel Washington for “Fences” (Paramount Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea”)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: Natalie Portman for “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Jessica Chastain for “Miss Sloane”)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Issey Ogata for “Silence” (Paramount Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Kevin Costner for “Hidden Figures”)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Molly Shannon for “Other People” (Vertical Entertainment)
(RUNNER UP – Hayley Squires for “I, Daniel Blake”)

(RUNNER UP – “Fences”)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou for “The Lobster” (A24)
(RUNNER UP – Mike Mills for “20th Century Women”)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney for “Moonlight” (A24)
(RUNNER UP – August Wilson for “Fences”)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Abel Korzeniowski for “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus Features)
(RUNNER UP – Johann Johansson for “Arrival”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY: James Laxton for “Moonlight” (A24)
(RUNNER UP – Stephane Fontaine for “Jackie”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN: Madeline Fontaine for “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Courtney Hoffman for “Captain Fantastic”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING: Joi McMillion, Nat Sanders for “Moonlight” (A24)
(RUNNER UP – Thelma Schoonmaker for “Silence”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean Rabasse for “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Jeremy Woolsey for “Hidden Figures”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (Walt Disney Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – “Hacksaw Ridge”)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS: “The Jungle Book” (Walt Disney Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “Kubo and the Two Strings” (Laika) – Travis Knight
(RUNNER UP – “The Red Turtle”)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “13th” (Netflix) – Ava DuVernay
(RUNNER UP – “Gleason”)

BEST SONG FROM/USED IN A MOTION PICTURE: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land” (Summit Entertainment)
(RUNNER UP – “Another Day of Sun” from “La La Land”)

TOP 10 OF 2016

  1. “Silence”
  2. “Moonlight”
  3. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  4. “13th”
  5. “The Lobster”
  6. “Arrival”
  7. “I, Daniel Blake”
  8. “Fences”
  9. “Miss Sloane”
  10. “20th Century Women”