*Update: I’ve changed the order since the original posting, moving Your Name to the top. I saw it for the second time this week since it was released in the U.S. over the weekend. Not only was it the best of 2016, but it’s one of the best films of the 2010s.*
1. Your Name: One of the most unique films I’ve seen in some time, mixing elements from romantic comedies, coming-of-age dramas, fantasy, and disaster films. The film is gorgeous to look at and the meditations on time, longing, and connection stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
2. Manchester by the Sea: A quiet, humorous yet heart-wrenching look at grief, love, and family. Affleck’s subtle, aching performance is fantastic as he navigates this case study of the fractured human condition and the burdens of mortality we all have to bear.
3. Moonlight: Much like the two films above, this explores the desire for human connection and, with it, the need for identity. The brokenness of the main character’s life–from adolescence to adulthood–triggers our own cravings for belonging and awakens us to the completion and healing we find in even the most unlikely of people.
4. Zootopia: Tackles the subject of prejudice—from the explicit to the more subtle—and the barriers and suspicions it creates: all done with humor, emotion, superb animation, and a message of inclusion and friendship. A thoroughly entertaining and moving slam-dunk from Disney.
5. La La Land: A charming, nostalgic homage to classic musicals with a modern twist and uncommon finale (for Hollywood musicals, at least). Gosling and Stone both give strong performances, exuding wonderful chemistry. Justin Hurwitz’s jazzy score is both foot-tapping and grand, complementing the more fantastical elements of the movie.
6. Arrival: A thinking person’s sci-fi movie exploring the themes of language and communication. Drawing on the controversial Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the film probes questions about how language shapes our understanding and experience of the world around us and our interpretations of those different from us. Less about aliens and more about us.
7. The Wailing: This disturbing South Korean film is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time. Most modern horror films rely on cheap scares, rehashed plots, and/or an excessive amount of gore (“torture porn”). This instead offers an atmospheric slow burn wrapped in a foreboding sense of dread and haunting ambiguity, driven by powerful performances, particularly those of Kwak Do-won and Kim Hwan-hee.
8. Lion: An uplifting true tale of courage and resilience that doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of poverty and child homelessness in India. The two strikingly different halves are woven together by the concepts of home and identity, resulting in a tear-inducing, ultimately satisfying whole.
9. Silence: The majority of modern Christian films–Fireproof, God’s Not Dead, Left Behind–are superficial fluff; the equivalent of what Jeffrey Holland referred to as “a kind of theological Twinkie.” But Martin Scorsese’s latest engages subjects like faith vs. doubt, discipleship vs. orthodoxy, belief vs. action, and the problem of evil. In essence, it’s what lived religion looks like.
10. Hidden Figures: No doubt sentimental and perhaps formulaic, this is nonetheless an incredibly well-done, feel-good, family-friendly film. Henson, Spencer, and Monae each deliver stirring performances, which in turn bolster the already incredible story. While it doesn’t break new artistic ground,2 it’s about as pitch-perfect as a lighthearted crowdpleaser can be.
And there you have it. Go watch them.
Train to Busan
A Monster Calls
Still Need to See:
The Nice Guys
The Edge of Seventeen