The Best of the Best in the Cinema of 2016



    The year has dawned and it is time for everyone’s list of the best, the most subjective exercise in the world. It is also one of my favorite activities. This year is more difficult  than usual because I like so many of the films. Oh well, here we go.

     These first fifteen films almost made the list, so we will call them the “Honorable Mention Fifteen” listed alphabetically: “Bleed for This,” “Elvis and Nixon,” “Fences,” “Finding Dory,” “The Jungle Book,” “Lion,” “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” “Miss Sloane,” “A Man Called Ove,” “A Monster’s Call,” “Moonlight,” “The Nice Guys,” “Patriots Day,” “Sing Street,” and “Sully.” 

     This year I saw one hundred and fifty-eight films released in 2016, and here are my favorite ten starting with number ten and leading up to number one.

Hell or High Water

(Photo by CBS Films) Toby (Chris Pine, left) and Tanner (Ben Foster) get into the bank-robbing business in “Hell or High Water.”

      10- “Hell and High Water”- Two brothers rob banks to save the family farm. A parable of a difficult time when many people are struggling while corporations prosper. A film worth seeing twice because it is deeper than it appears. 


     9- “Hacksaw Ridge”- When I reviewed this film earlier I stated that it was film about moral conviction. The real Desmond Doss wanted to serve in combat but did not want to carry a gun or participate in the violence. His story is inspirational and the film is exceptional filmmaking.


     8- “Denial”- The film with the best line of the year: “Not all opinions are equal.”  A great courtroom drama with powerful acting. As “Denial” moved toward the final climax I became more and more enthralled with the powerful true courtroom drama.


     7- “Indignation”- This film set on a college campus brought back a lot of memories. It also surprised me as the plot took one turn after another. Ultimately, “Indignation” is about the choices one makes and the consequences that follow. Life often offers us something other than what we desire because we choose unwisely.


     6- “Hidden Figures”-  Three amazing ladies changed the perspective on many things at NASA in the 1960’s. Their stories were not told to a large audience until this clever, witty and emotional film was produced. Astronaut John Glenn passed away recently, but he may have not made it to 2016 without the help of three tough, smart, African-American ladies.

Eyes in the Sky

(Photo by Travis A. Topa for Bleecker Street) Helen Mirren is part of an elite counter-terrorism group faced with some difficult decisions in “Eye in the Sky.”

     5- “Eye in the Sky”- A nearly flawless thriller about terrorists and those who seek to protect us from them. It is also a story about collateral damage. The film grows more intense with each passing moment and delivers a powerful climax. It also reminds film-lovers what a loss came with the passing of Alan Rickman. His final spoken words on screen share an enormous truth.


     4- “Loving”- A simple true story that needed to be told. I certainly never learned of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving in any civics class. Their love as husband and wife challenged our nation to be a better place for all citizens.  Director Jeff Nichols has given us “Take Shelter,” “Mud,” “Midnight Special” with which I has some issues, and now “Loving.” I, for one, am looking forward to his next work.


     3- “Silence”- This is the last film I saw before making this list. It is still resonating in my mind. Two young Catholic priests go to Japan to find their mentor and seek to convert the local people. This is a film for those who take their faith seriously. As I watched the film I remembered a quote from Ellis Peters: “Oh, sometimes I like to put the sand of doubt into the oyster of my faith.” Conviction, doubt, and faith all play a role in this nearly three hour epic.


     2- “Manchester by the Sea”- A film that meanders for a while but once all becomes clear it is an amazing film of struggle, loss and the truth that some wounds may never heal. Great performances all around and watch for Casey Affleck to take home the Best Actor Oscar in February. These characters have been masterfully created and the story told in this film is a reminder of the frailty of love and life. 


     1- “La La Land”- Many of the films on this list offer stories of heartache. In the midst of these, my favorite film of the year is a joyous film about life, music and love. Filled with great tunes, abundant laughs, and poignant moments, this is the “feel good” movie of the year. “La La Land” has a spirit that is contagious. I have seen the film multiple times and tap my toes and smile while I sing along every moment the music is playing. With a perfect ending, this is as close to a perfect film as you will find from the movies of 2016.  

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.


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