Top 25 Films of 2016 | The Best of 2016

2016 was another great year in movies. From the low-budget indie flicks that made major waves like Hell or High Water and Don’t Breathe to the massive super hero epics like Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, it was another year with a little something for everyone in the Bit Players. There were memorable songs, memorable characters, memorable moments all across the board. There were laughs, tears, frights, and action. It seems like every year gets better and better to be a movie fan as the ability to make a film reaches more and more creative fingertips, and 2016 was no exception. Bit Player favorites like Richard Linklater and the Coen Brothers delivered more of the same greatness we’ve come to expect, but newcomers like Robert Eggers and the continually impressive Jeremy Saulnier firmly placed themselves on the “to watch” list with their 2016 entries. Read below to find out everything we loved about this year, including best films, acting performances, music, scenes, writing, cinematography, and more.

2016 was another great year in movies. From the low-budget indie flicks that made major waves like Hell or High Water and Don't Breathe to the massive super hero epics like Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, it was another year with a little something for everyone in the Bit Players. There were memorable songs, memorable characters, memorable moments all across the board. There were laughs, tears, frights, and action. It seems like every year gets better and better to be a movie fan as the ability to make a film reaches more and more creative fingertips, and 2016 was no exception. Bit Player favorites like Richard Linklater and the Coen Brothers delivered more of the same greatness we've come to expect, but newcomers like Robert Eggers and the continually impressive Jeremy Saulnier firmly placed themselves on the "to watch" list with their 2016 entries. Read below to find out everything we loved about this year, including best films, acting performances, music, scenes, writing, cinematography, and more.

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Lion
25. Lion
Director
Garth Davis
Stars
Dev Patel
Nicole Kidman
Rooney Mara
Lion is first and foremost an incredibly powerful true story. It’s also one of the year’s best acted ensembles and one of the year’s best shot and scored films. There are few other stories I can imagine being more perfect for the movies than this one (apart from every comic book story ever). With a narrative as strong as this, it doesn’t seem like you need to do much else than be serviceable in every other aspect of the movie. But the director, Garth Davis, goes above and beyond putting all the pieces together and executing this amazing story. It’s no mistake that this movie is nominated for six Oscars. – Anders Oster
Nocturnal Animals
24. Nocturnal Animals
Director
Tom Ford
Stars
Amy Adams
Jake Gyllenhaal
Michael Shannon
Tom Ford's long-awaited follow-up to Closer has further cemented the promise that the designer-turned-director showed back in 2004. Ford turns his eye for style to the aesthetic of every aspect of Nocturnal Animals, from the downturned-eye malaise of Amy Adams to the sleek visual style that somehow spreads from posh apartments to Texas deserts, proving that Closer was less a fluke and more the focused vision of a bonafide auteur in the making. It's telling of a movie's quality that looks as good and is acted as well as this one that the most compelling feature is the narrative style, however; Ford spins a complicated and intense story-within-a-story that has you caring about the characters themselves as well as imagined aspects of them, and neither the over-arching story nor the fiction within suffer. – Jeff Pearson
Don't Think Twice
23. Don't Think Twice
Director
Mike Birbiglia
Stars
Keegan-Michael Key
Gillian Jacobs
Mike Birbiglia
Don’t Think Twice explores how we define success in the arts. The movie is centered in the realm of comedy, but Birbiglia’s message is far-reaching in its attempt to question ambition, friendship, and what truly matters. – Jarryd Baxter
Don't Breathe
22. Don't Breathe
Director
Fede Alvarez
Stars
Stephen Lang
Jane Levy
Dylan Minnette
The title for Fede Álvarez’s horror-thriller movie is not just good advice for the story’s three young robbers, but it’s what the audience ends up doing as we follow the robbers into the house of a veteran, blinded in the Iraq war. This affliction strikes the youngsters as the perfect pre-req for an easy job. “He’s blind. As long as we’re quiet, he’ll never know we were there.” What’s unfortunate for the young robbers is that their victim’s handicap only makes him all the more dangerous. He’s booby-trapped the entire house, turning his dilapidated home into a lethal Legends of the Hidden Temple. What’s even more unfortunate is that the blind man has secrets in the basement that once discovered, even the robbers want to unsee. – Brian Urrutia
Captain Fantastic
21. Captain Fantastic
Director
Matt Ross
Stars
Viggo Mortensen
George MacKay
Samantha Isler
As if home-schooling a single child isn’t difficult enough, Ben Cash is a father and teacher to six, from ages 4 to 18. And their curriculum doesn’t just consist of reading everything from Einstein to Dostoevsky; their home and classrooms are the forests of the Pacific Northwest, where they practice yoga, knife-fighting, and of course, on occasion, eat the heart of wild animals, still warm from the hunt. But the family’s most difficult lesson comes as their father Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen in his most inspired performance yet, learns of their mother’s suicide. How will the family honor the Buddhist burial requests of their mother when her own family, from their Californian country club, sneers at Ben and disapproves of the hippie upbringing of the Cash kids? The family climbs aboard their, you guessed it, VW bus and makes the pilgrimage back to civilization to honor their mother with a proper burial. Life back on the grid, though, exposes the danger of the Cash family’s upbringing. Lessons like learning how to talk to girls prove more challenging than their homework on String Theory. Writer-director Matt Ross seduces you with the Cash’s idealism—how smart, mature, and resourceful they are; how densely forested and sustainable their tree houses are—but his story doesn’t let the Cash’s off free. Their heady perspectives on the world tend to complicate an already fraught situation, and the story explores how useful such idealism really is. – BU
Doctor Strange
20. Doctor Strange
Director
Scott Derrickson
Stars
Benedict Cumberbatch
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rachel McAdams
Doctor Strange didn't let me down. That means everything to me when my expectations were not for the best Marvel movie to date, but just a damn good one. It certainly was that even if it maybe began to expose some flaws in the Marvel blueprint. The humor was fine but felt a bit pushed, the story was rushed and the climax was certainly a 'deus ex machina'. And despite all that this movie was great. The visuals were that cool. Doctor Strange was that great of a character in concept alone. The casting was also amazing. The film also does the most important thing anyone can do right now (or ever) and that is to CONTINUE THE MCU STORYLINE!!!!! Dr. Strange wasn't perfect but it was fun and the good most certainly outweighed the bad. – Clark Carmichael
Manchester by the Sea
19. Manchester by the Sea
Director
Kenneth Lonergan
Stars
Casey Affleck
Michelle Williams
Kyle Chandler
Manchester by the Sea doesn’t provide the theatrics or flair of many modern movies, it’s focus is rather on emotion -- an emotion so deftly portrayed in Casey Affleck’s performance that it takes time to register. That appears to be Lonergan’s intention. His camera never lingers on a single shot for too long, never allowing the audience to fully realize the gravity of the situation until a final, heart wrenching reveal. No film this year left me so suspended in my emotions, not sad or tear-stricken, but numb, almost absent of feeling, just like Affleck’s character. – JB
Sing Street
18. Sing Street
Director
John Carney
Stars
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
Aiden Gillen
Maria Doyle Kennedy
The Irish are really brining their A game to cinema lately. In Bruges, The Guard, Calvary, Brooklyn, The Lobster, and now this. John Carney, who also wrote and directed Begin Again and Once, is someone to keep an eye on. He apparently loves making dramatic, musically themed movies and he’s very good at it. Sing Street follows a group of high school kids in Ireland in the '80s who form a band to impress a girl and in order to rebel against the bullying principal of their all-male school. This is yet another example of how charming and fun movies starring kids can be. This movie has some of this year’s most lovable characters and an amazing soundtrack. It also represents this year’s biggest Oscar snub. It’s lunacy that "Drive It Like You Stole It" wasn’t nominated for best original song. – AO
Midnight Special
17. Midnight Special
Director
Jeff Nichols
Stars
Michael Shannon
Joel Edgerton
Kirsten Dunst
Honestly, considering the cast and that this is Jeff Nichols, this movie might still be a let down despite the fact that it's awesome. Midnight Special is one of those gems that fanboys will be talking about and revisiting for years to come. I can see this being one of those perpetually "under-rated" films that in reality is maybe too revered as time goes on (we can call this The Boondock Saints phenomenon). It was a very early 2016 release by a director that also released Loving to much Oscar and critical fanfare later in the year. How anyone can enjoy sadness more than aliens is beyond my understanding. I might be wrong but when I do the math for Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Jeff Nichols, Adam Driver, and Kirsten Dunst I believe they collectively were in 56 movies in 2016. And despite this clearly being the best movie any of them made in 2016, they were each more recognized for other roles by awards bodies when the votes were tallied. Fuck the critics. – CC
Fences
16. Fences
Director
Denzel Washington
Stars
Denzel Washington
Viola Davis
Stephen Henderson
The famous August Wilson play finds its place on the big screen. Although the film maintains its theater roots, powerful performances from Davis and Washington transition flawlessly. Washington’s directorial fingerprints don’t leave a mark, and that’s a good thing. He allows Wilson’s writing and his own booming role to steal the stage. – JB
Kubo and the Two Strings
15. Kubo and the Two Strings
Director
Travis Knight
Stars
Charlize Theron
Art Parkinson
Matthew McConaughey
When I first saw Kubo and the Two Strings in theaters, bearing in mind a pre-existing knowledge and love for all things Laika, I spent most of the film's runtime in total awe of the animation come to life. I could practically see the hands lovingly crafting the characters and making their world come to life before my eyes, the pure effort that must have gone into such an undertaking. In most cases when it comes to film, you don't want to "see" the director's hands on the project, but subsequent viewings prove that this work does not suffer in the least having the human hand behind Kubo in mind. A film like this is all about love and beauty, and those people are just as vital as the clay figures they use to tell their story. – JP
The Lobster
14. The Lobster
Director
Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars
Colin Farrell
Rachel Weisz
Jessica Barden
A truly unique and beautiful movie. The Lobster is a timeless satire of societal norms. – JB
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
13. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director
Taika Waititi
Stars
Sam Neill
Julian Dennison
Rima Te Wiata
Here’s another movie that was robbed in the original song category at the Oscars. Well, maybe not, but Ricky Baker’s "Happy Birthday Song" is a great song. You probably won’t find another movie this year with similar levels of charm, humor, and heart, with the possible exception of Sing Street. Movies about little kids are just fun it seems, and this one will put a smile on your face from start to finish (with one exception which I will not spoil). As a man who has seen two other Sam Neill movies, this is his best performance. The music is perfect. The characters are wonderful. The story is touching. Taika Waititi keeps getting better and better and hopefully will continue his ascent with next year’s Thor: Ragnarok. – AO
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
12. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Director
David Yates
Stars
Eddie Redmayne
Katherine Waterston
Alison Sudol
I’ll admit this movie seems like a cash grab to continue the success of the Harry Potter franchise. Why should we care about the spinoff series featuring the writer of a textbook of one of the classes taught at Hogwarts? The best answer is probably that J.K. Rowling wrote it. The second best answer is that it sets the stage for Dumbledore and Grindelwald origins. These reasons will likely get you through the door but the movie itself is reason enough to keep you glued to your seat. Right from the get go, we get the familiar Harry Potter theme which then bursts into something new, setting the perfect tone for the rest of the movie. James Newton Howard does a fantastic job with the score and is the key to several moments of movie magic. We get lots of great new characters apart from our central protag, Newt Scamander (Kowalski and the Niffler come to mind as personal favorites), who we’ll likely be spending the next 5 or more years getting to know better. This sounds a little daunting but I actually can’t wait, especially since J.K. Rowling is staying on to write all five movies. Rather than just letting her previous successes carry her, she’s adding some very inventive and interesting ideas to the Harry Potter Universe. – AO
Captain America: Civil War
11. Captain America: Civil War
Directors
The Russo Brothers
Stars
Chris Evans
Robert Downey Jr.
Scarlett Johansson
Captain America: Civil War is a marvel of production in every conceivable way. Perhaps most impressive among those is continuing the hot streak that Marvel Studios is on with an entry some consider to be the best yet. I think most would admit that it is the best blueprint for a well-made superhero super-team-up movie. It has everything. The comedy that marvel does so well coexists with a poignant story of family, friendship, loss and renewal. The action is nothing short of awe-some and again is balanced within the context of the greater story. I am always more impressed when movies live up to great expectations than when they are surprise phenomenons. It takes great management and not just great artistry to achieve these ends. The 'MCU' makes me feel lucky to be alive because of their rate breakneck pace of releasing wonderful comic book movies. Thank you Disney, Marvel, Russo Brothers, and the tens of thousands more whose efforts had to occur in concert to make such a wholly enjoyable film. – CC
Green Room
10. Green Room
Director
Jeremy Saulnier
Stars
Anton Yelchin
Imogen Poots
Patrick Stewart
Green Room was gritty, violent, realistic, agonizing, graphic, sad and hopefully not a sign of the times. But if those things appeal to you in your movies, then Green Room is ultimately very enjoyable. It is a movie that is ultimately about what happens in the "Green Room", and it is a film that drags you kicking-and-screaming straight into the heart of the most terrible situation a young touring band could find themselves in. Anton Yelchin delivers his usual blend of youthful despondence, sharp wit and (eventually) fed-up rampage. Yelchin's untimely death is horrific. He will always be remembered through the great works he contributed to, Green Room being chief among those. – CC
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director
Gareth Edwards
Stars
Felicity Jones
Diego Luna
Forest Whitaker
I was perhaps the most skeptical about this whole Star Wars offshoot concept when Rogue One was first announced. I didn't really think it was necessary and assumed it would most likely be awful. About fifteen minutes in to Gareth Edwards' love letter to George Lucas, and I was completely sold. What the hell was I thinking? The Star Wars universe is one of my favorite places to spend a couple of hours, so the more stories from that universe the better. In fact, I'll probably just play out every movie I see going forward as if the characters are hurtling through space on some Earth-like planet while Darth Vader is building up his forces or Han Solo is streaking by as he outruns bounty hunters. I saw about 120 movies this year and 119 of them would have been better with light sabers. – JP
Hell or High Water
8. Hell or High Water
Director
David Mackenzie
Stars
Ben Foster
Chris Pine
Jeff Bridges
Hell or High Water is a masterclass in the simplicity of storytelling. It doesn't have to be complex to be compelling, characters don't need to have snotty cries to be emotionally moving, and every scene doesn't need a TEH (totally exploded head) to be thrilling -- though I guess that one is up for debate. Where David Mackenzie's film succeeds is how it achieves all of those goals through its simplicity, its realism, its humanity. You've got four characters, two pairs at odds with one another, and you want them all to succeed in their goals despite the fact that to do so would be at the demise of the other pair, and a film with characters that likable and developed is highly deserving of all the praise. – JP
The Nice Guys
7. The Nice Guys
Director
Shane Black
Stars
Russell Crowe
Ryan Gosling
Angourie Rice
The Nice Guys is a buddy comedy that seems wholly unnecessary, but I loved it. The comedy hits well. Both Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling seem like they could have really been these guys in another life had they not been quite so charming and good-looking. Their rapport is great. The plot is smart enough and street-smart enough to carry it beyond the fireworks of the acting from the leads. Sadly this movie seems to be quickly slipping into the forgotten wasteland of movie obscurity. More people need to see this movie. It is very well done and a fantastic entry into the buddy cop/detective genre. – CC
The Witch
6. The Witch
Director
Robert Eggers
Stars
Anya Taylor-Joy
Ralph Ineson
Kate Dickie
“What went we out into this wilderness to find?” asks William, the father of a Puritan family of five, recently excommunicated from a New England plantation, just a decade after their journey on the Mayflower ends. It is this question that steeps in our mind as the real spiritual and physical test begins. Living just at the fringe of the forest, the family’s baby is snatched by a real life witch, who then quickly seduces their eldest son, possessing him with a dark magic the family recognizes plainly as the works of Satan. Struggling mightily to keep his family alive, William begins to suspect his eldest child and daughter Thomasin, who was the last one with both the baby and the brother, of being a witch. Imagine the hysteria from the town in The Crucible confined to a single family. Writer-director Robert Eggers’s The Witch is less a horror movie and more a period piece of the best kind—authentic to its past, yet resonate in the present. The cast playing the Puritan family puts on an incredible performance, only to be outshined by Charlie, a 210-pound billy goat who plays the cloven-hoofed farm animal called Black Phillip. But you may know him by his more popular name, Satan. – BU
Moonlight
5. Moonlight
Director
Barry Jenkins
Stars
Mahershala Ali
Naomie Harris
Trevante Rhodes
Art house comes to South Beach. Barry Jenkins’s second feature film oozes with style and confidence. It’s a modern masterpiece. Oscar-caliber performances from the entire cast and Jenkins’s auteur-level control elevate this simple, three-act story to cinematic marvel. The best movie of the year. – JB
10 Cloverfield Lane
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Director
Dan Trachtenberg
Stars
John Goodman
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
John Gallagher, Jr.
This movie is as good as you would expect a movie to be that joins the powers of Damien Chazelle and J.J. Abrams. Do not watch a trailer. Do not read a review (except for this one). Enter this experience with as little knowledge as you can. Originally named The Cellar, the actual title was not revealed until eight weeks before its release into theaters and that was clearly by design. You might go into this expecting two hours of alien carnage, but you’ll be surprised to instead find yourself trapped in an underground bunker with John Goodman and Mary-Elizabeth Winstead. Despite there being exactly zero Cloverfield monsters, this movie manages to be the thriller of the year. – AO
Everybody Wants Some!!
3. Everybody Wants Some!!
Director
Richard Linklater
Stars
Blake Jenner
Tyler Hoechlin
Ryan Guzman
Out of all the movies on this list, Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some stands to gain the most over time. It will only get better with each watch, much like its "spiritual predecessor" Dazed and Confused has, twenty-plus years later. I'll be watching this one for the rest of my life, and despite how great some of these movies are for this year, I'm not sure I can honestly say the same about the other 24. – JP
Arrival
2. Arrival
Director
Denis Villenueve
Stars
Amy Adams
Jeremy Renner
Forest Whitaker
If like me, you were feeling unfulfilled as the closing credits for Independence Day: Resurgence ran, then go get your sci-fi kicks from Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. The aliens seem way nicer. Their transportation technology has zero carbon emissions. And best of all, the protagonist of the story is Louise Banks, PhD, a linguist. Played by Amy Adams, in her best performance to date, Banks must use all her syntactical sleuthing to converse with the aliens, whose language is as legible as Rorschach tests. What do the aliens want, the world wonders: to harm to help us? As Banks burns through dry-erase marker after dry-erase marker, fears of global annihilation stoke the rest of the cast’s anxiety. They want fighter jets to sort out the aliens, not some inductive academic! Banks’s work suggests the aliens are here to help. But in order to walk the world back from the edge of annihilation, she has to teach the world the alien language, a language that eclipses the world’s many languages and offers the way to mutual understanding, global peace. Together with the aliens, Banks effectively rebuilds that tower of Babel. Arrival is a sci-fi movie’s answer to one of the old good book’s problem. – BU
La La Land
1. La La Land
Director
Damien Chazelle
Stars
Emma Stone
Ryan Gosling
Rosemarie DeWitt

Of my top 10 favorite scenes of the year, La La Land holds 3 spots: the long take "Lovely Night" scene, the "Epilogue" scene, and the "Planetarium" scene. This last scene in particular is, for me, What Movies Are About. Absolute movie magic. As much as this movie is wonderful escapism it also shows the price of following your dreams, which is sort of a theme for Chazelle’s movies (see Whiplash). I’ve never been a fan of musicals but after La La Land (and our recent Singin’ In The Rain podcast!) I think my mind has been changed. Ryan Gosling was already becoming one of my favorite actors after last year’s The Big Short and this year’s The Nice Guys, and then he stole the show in this. Needless to say, the music for this movie is amazing. I would strongly encourage giving it a listen on its own as an album. It’s pretty exciting to wonder what Chazelle will do next after his previous two movies have held the top spot in our favorite movies of the year. – AO

In a love story, we always know what will bring the characters together; the substance of the story comes from what keeps them apart. And in La La Land, it’s the dreams of Seb and Mia that come with the consequences. The story, admittedly, is not spanking new--professional ambition or romantic love? But Chazelle’s movie succeeds on its style rather than the substance. Song and dance numbers that allude to the musicals of Hollywood’s heyday display the wide array of talents from Gosling and Stone. An addicting soundtrack, indebted to Justin Hurwitz and enhanced by John Legend, will stick in your head long after the closing credits. But the most impressive performance in La La Land clearly feels like Chazelle. If you thought the climatic scene of Whiplash was the culmination a special blend of restraint and indulgence, then Chazelle’s work at the end of La La Land will have you regarding the young director as a master craftsman. And when you get to fourteen nominations, you get to be a craftsman. – BU

So I don't have La La Land at number one on my personal 2016 list. I have it at number 2. This year I abided by the rule of 'when in doubt, side with the intrinsic value of masterful production' and this year provided lots of doubts for me. La La Land is not one of them. La La Land is a spectacle. It is truly "what movies are about".

Damien Chazelle paints in images that seem built from the ground up to be iconic. Monochromatic images bounce off the eyes, one after the other, flipping through tonal changes like a saturday spent picking out paints with your spouse.

The music is surprisingly reserved and human, which serves to make more palatable the aforementioned dizzying array of visual color changes. Listen to the soundtrack. Even before you see the film. Listen to it over and over because it's just great. Without such standout music writing this film would not be experiencing it's wild critical success.

PS Also see Singin' in the Rain because it's the same thing but better. To co-opt Bit-Player Brian's comparison, it's like inevitably ending up watching a real Jimi Hendrix youtube video after you watch some dude in his bedroom cover "Purple Haze". Ryan Gosling is just a kid in his bedroom playing Gene Kelly covers in this comparison. I don't want anyone to mistake what I'm saying here. – CC

La La Land is a pure delight, an unabashed celebration of movies and music. Even with its not-so-subtle nods to the past, it feels like a fresh film for our times. Much like its predecessors, La La Land is filled with depth and spirit that will cause you to leave the theater singin’, no matter the weather. – JB

What they said. What a delight. – JP

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