Keeping It Reel

Our critic sizes up the best and worst of 2016

So, this wasn't the worst movie year ever, but it wasn't a particularly great one, either. The smaller films take the big prizes with a few exceptions. Here are the best and worst films of 2016.


1. La La Land: I know, I know, I'm a sucker for a good musical. I gave Les Miserables the top prize in 2012, and now I'm giving it to this all-original piece of work from writer-director Damien Chazelle (maker of the equally incredible Whiplash).

Not enough can be said about Ryan Gosling in this movie; with this one he puts himself in league with the great musical stars like Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Unlike those guys, he brings a superior level of acting chops, which bodes well for this film because it isn't all song and dance. The characters have major depth.

Emma Stone is equally amazing in this L.A story. The film is full of gigantic numbers (the traffic sequence) and more intimate ones (the planetarium dance) that make it such a rich visual experience. The songs are also tremendously good.

2. Manchester By the Sea: This one is right on La La Land's tail, mainly for a performance that can't be denied as the year's best. Casey Affleck will tear your face off and rip your heart out as a janitor who loses his older brother and is expected to raise his nephew (Lucas Hedges). Affleck delivers some of the harshest, most emotionally brutal scenes ever put to film. Michelle Williams will make you cry like a baby as his ex-wife.

3. The Witch: There were some terrific directorial debuts this year, none better than Robert Eggers and his tale of baby mulching witches, religious oppression, evil goats and living deliciously. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers the breakout performance of the year as Thomasin, banned from an American settlement with her family because her pops (Ralph Ineson) is taking things a little too far on the God front. She and her family are then taunted by a witch, and the devil himself, in the scary forest. It's a masterpiece.

4. Loving: Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are devastatingly good as real life couple Richard and Mildred Loving, subject of a landmark court case that wound up being a huge victory for civil rights. Edgerton and Negga play the most moving on screen couple of the year. One of two exemplary films from director Jeff Nichols in 2016.

5. Hell or High Water: Chris Pine and Ben Foster play bank-robbing brothers being chased by lawman Jeff Bridges in this modern western that is the very definition of a smooth, well-oiled movie machine.

6. 20th Century Woman: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup shine in Mike Mills's ode to his unusual mother, who raised him in the late seventies and tried to like punk music as much as she could. Bening is terrific as Dorothea, perhaps the best work of her career. And, I must add, I love the way this film utilizes music on its soundtrack, from Talking Heads to The Buzzcocks.

7. Moonlight: This sophomore feature effort from director Barry Jenkins is a thing of beauty. A young boy grows into a man in the film's three parts, and Jenkins has cast the roles perfectly. Mahershala Ali gives one of the year's most memorable performances as a drug dealer who winds up being a mentor to the young boy, the ultimate in conflicted characters.

8. Nocturnal Animals: Jilted husbands get their own fantasy film with this dark, dual movie where Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a jilted husband and a character in a novel he's sent to his ex-wife (Amy Adams) for her review. It's a unique opportunity for two movies in one, and Gyllenhaal, Adams, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are all amazing.

9. Hail, Caesar!: Old reliable Joel and Ethan Coen deliver yet another solid comedy, this one spoofing old timey Hollywood and featuring the year's funniest scene. That would be when director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) tries his darndest to get new actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to deliver his lines properly. Oh, and George Clooney seeing The Christ takes a close second.

10. Swiss Army Man: The best thing related to Harry Potter at the movie's this year wasn't Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was this nuttier than all hell movie featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as his delusional friend.


1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Congratulations to Zack Snyder. His garbage dump of a movie was my pick for year's worst at the halfway mark, and it managed to fight off some of the serious challengers you'll see on this list to retain the title.

2. Suicide Squad: Man, DC just had a bad old time at the movies this year. If it wasn't Zack Snyder mucking up old school with two of the greatest superheroes in cinema history, it was Jared Leto looking like a big dick as the Joker in this dishonorable showcase for the DC villains.

3. Jason Bourne: For years and years, Matt Damon was a holdout on the Bourne franchise, saying he would only do it if Paul Greengrass came back. Paul came back. Our loss.

4. Ghostbusters: Unoriginal, unfunny and hugely disappointing, the franchise goes back into limbo.

5. Independence Day: Resurgence: Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Not-Will Smith returned for this sequel that reminds us that very bad things can happen when aliens invade, such as inane dialogue and dated special effects.

6. Inferno: The only thing that improved in the latest installment for the Da Vinci Code franchise was Tom Hanks's haircut.

7. Blair Witch: Sticks tied together and stones in piles ARE...NOT...SCARY!

8. Pete's Dragon: A charmless, sans music remake of one of my favorite Disney movies. This one will make you miss Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters and Jeff Conaway.

9. The Huntsman: Winter's War: Kristen Stewart departed the franchise, so they made this movie about that character played by Thor instead. Thor can be really boring when he's not playing Thor.

10. The BFG: I never thought I would see the day where I didn't like three films in a row from Spielberg, but it has happened. The apocalypse is nigh!

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