Best Movies of 2016, part 2

Best Movies of 2016, part 2

Featuring Spielberg at His Most Affectionate, A Classic Modern Musical and A Coming of Age Story for All Time


Following on from Part 1 of our belated but still totally relevant list of the best films that came out last year, here’s Part 2 in all its cinematic glory. Sidenote: as we were particularly thrilled about most of these films as they came out, we already have written pieces for most of them predating this article. A link to each can be found by clicking the title above the embedded trailers.


5. The BFG

Your personal enjoyment of The BFG will hinge on a couple of mitigating factors, not least of which is whether you have a deeply abiding affection for Roald Dahl’s book and the animated feature film that followed. To put it mildly, Steven Spielberg’s recent movie adaptation takes several liberties with the source material, leading to a film that sheds the underlying darkness of the original for a much more frivolous approach to the story of a giant who, against his nature, refuses to eat children. There’s also a scene that builds to the Queen of England farting vociferously. Yeah, it’s that kinda movie.

Then again, here’s the trade-off: Mark fuckin’ Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant! Perhaps the single greatest working actor today, Rylance brings a daffy, weirdly graceful charm to the titular role. He nails the more comical moments, like BFG’s casual mispronunciations, while also landing his emotional speech to young Ruby about how splendid her life is gonna be simply because she’s such a swell person (one again: that kind of movie). Paired with Spielberg treating his camera like a small child, awestruck by everything it encounters, the movie conjures a sense of wonderment that is worth casting a little bit more light on than expected.


4. Manchester by the Sea

The amount of films and works of entertainment that now come with a built-in disclaimer about the misdeeds of one of the participants is upsettingly regular. This is due, in part, to the increased ability to disseminate information thanks to the internet; also, people are mostly terrible. Without spending anymore time on it, here’s a link to all the info pertaining to Casey Affleck allegedly committing sexual harassment against a number of women a few years back. Ok, we good? Good.

So, if you can ignore all that, the fact is Affleck is so good in this unbelievably depressing movie that the depth of his acting helps to elevate the material, allowing it to rise above the moribund slog it should be. Instead of a chore, it’s almost something of a weird thrill to watch such a committed performance in the service of such tragedy. Of course, it helps that the whole thing takes place in Boston-adjacent Massachusetts, where gallows humour goes hand-in-hand with a working class drive to persevere in the face of utter desolation. Coupled with that, a chipper performance from young Lucas Hedges and Kenneth Lonergan’s unshowy, intimate direction, and Manchester by the Sea becomes something of a paradox, an unbearably sad story that’s a joy to watch.


3. La La Land

There are plenty of reasons people could find to not enjoy La La Land. The story, for one, isn’t all that original. The singing, while more than adequate, is nothing to fawn over. Then there’s the white saviour narrative, the fairly shallow rendering of Emma Stone’s character, Mia, and the general predictability of everything that transpires. Yep, the harder you look, the more it appears that La La Land is nothing less than a cluster of misshapen parts, sewn together into a grotesque simulacrum of cinematic splendour. God, it kinda sounds like I hate this fuckin’ movie, huh?

Here’s the thing: the phrase “more than the sum of its parts” has never been better suited to describe a film than La La Land. Yeah, it’s not the most riveting plot in the world, but holy shit did you see that opening musical number on the freeway? Ryan Gosling is not Gene Kelly, but goddamn he can still move and “City of Stars” would sound good sung by Gilbert Gottfried. Mia should be boring, but Stone’s magnificent performance drags her kicking and screaming into the realm of compelling. And, Je-sus, the way Damien Chazelle clearly agonised over every single shot of this movie to make the whole thing seem effortless is well-worth him being the youngest person to ever win the Oscar for Best Director. So no, La La Land‘s not a perfect film, but it’s capacity to fool you into thinking that it just might be is certainly something to marvel at.


2. O.J.: Made in America

It feels like cheating to include this documentary series, as we already covered it in our Best New TV Shows of 2016 list and, also, if you count it as a movie it runs for seven-and-a-half-fucking-hours! But then the Academy Awards certainly thought it qualified, as it won for Best Documentary Feature earlier this year, so here we are. Not only does O.J.: Made in America manage to tell an enthralling tale over a running time that equals one third of a day, its themes and content parallel a similar political and social landscape that still exists in America today.

While never outright stating that O.J. Simpson was guilty of murdering his wife, the series piles enough evidence and retrospective interviews on the audience to draw their own fairly obvious conclusions. At the same time, the culture of celebritydom and racial tension that permeated the country throughout the late-20th Century is held just as culpable, if not for Nicole Brown’s death then certainly for the way the case was reported on and perceived at large, leading to O.J.’s exoneration. So, in case you haven’t gathered, Made in America is not a breezy or particularly uplifting watch, but in terms of pure, unfiltered exploration of a cultural phenomenon, of insight into an unclassifiable aberration of justice and humanity, it delivers mightily.


1. Moonlight

I’ve seen this movie three times already since my first viewing a few months back. While finishing it most recently, I was reminded of the words of the immortal film critic Roger Ebert: “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” I could watch this film for days. It’s pace and tone are so well-considered, the characters are so beautifully acted, its themes and concerns so immaculately, deeply felt that it occupies a space in my mind rarely engaged by new media. It exists wholly unto itself, a world of its own making designed to be lived in and understood. I adore it.

And look, I could gush about Moonlight as a whole, about the often unheralded story it sets out to tell and the care and grace that go into making sure everyone involved is sympathetic without being victimised. But, honestly, it all exists to me as a series of one great scene after another:

  • The captivating opening shot of drug-dealer Juan scoping out the Miami ‘burbs.
  • Juan teaching Chiron how to swim, holding him afloat in the water: “In the moonlight, black boys look blue.”
  • Chiron’s late-night visit with Juan: “What’s a faggot?”
  • Chiron and Kevin down at the beach together, then at school the next day, both events altering their relationship forever.
  • The next day, Chiron walking into class.
  • The jukebox at the diner: “Hello stranger…”
  • Chiron’s final admission.

Each of these moments already, less than half a year since the film’s release, have become iconic. They carry with them the emotional weight and measured delicacy of a beloved antique and leave similar devastation in their wake when they shatter. Moonlight, in every way, is a triumph of filmmaking. It is a proud, insistent cry for recognition, love and compassion. It is the best movie of 2016.

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