2016 was a good year for film; anyone who tells you differently didn’t see many movies. I’ve already posted my best films of 2016, but plenty more films didn’t make my best-of list that you should make the time to see.
So then, let’s look at the not-quite best of 2016, presented here in alphabetical order.
Captain America: Civil War
No one is doing this thing as well as Marvel is. Civil War is both a big story with shared-universe-affecting consequences and a small one that has never had more personal consequences for the characters we’ve come to love. Whether you were on Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you had something to lose as these friends had their philosophical falling out. What made it even more poignant was that neither of them was wrong. Add to that the most nuanced bad guy the MCU has had to date in Zemo, a man whose ultimate goals aren’t so big and universe-changing, and you have a compelling, personal story.
And if you didn’t like all that, you also got one of the biggest spectacles put to screen this year along with a fantastic new Spider-man. What’s not to love?
Ben Cash has lived entirely off the grid with his five children for their entire lives. He’s taught them survival skills and how to think critically, but when they’re forced back into the real world, it’s revealed how little they actually know.
There are many reasons to see this, but Viggo Mortensen playing Ben is number one. He made Ben both arrogant and warm, cock-sure and filled with doubt. It’s an outstanding performance in a great little movie.
A fringe punk band heads to a bar in a remote part of the pacific northwest to play a gig to a crowd full of neo nazis. As they try to leave, they witness a murder and end up barricaded in the titular green room. Naturally, the nazis don’t want any witnesses, and what follows is an intense, gruesome standoff that will keep you guessing who will make it and how. A near-perfect locked-room thriller featuring a nuanced turn by Anton Yelchin (further evidence that a great actor was taken before his time) and Patrick Stewart giving his best performance in years as the nazi leader.
Hell or High Water
It’s easy to write off Chris Pine because of the fluff he’s done, but in the last few years, he’s made many interesting choices and become an actor to watch. Hell or High Water is one of those films, which pairs him with Ben Foster as a pair of desperate brothers on a bank robbing spree across Texas. Pine is the younger, more stable brother with the plan, while Foster plays the manic, impulsive brother who keeps getting them into more and more trouble. Add Jeff Bridges as the cop chasing them, and you have a hell of a cast. You’ve maybe seen movies with this kind of setup before, but this one is well-executed and incredibly well-acted.
"How’s the high life?"
"Prone to fits of mania, narcissism, and power failure."
I don’t want to tell you much about High-Rise as knowing too much going in might spoil the fun. Just know that it stars Tom Hiddleston going slightly crazy, Luke Evans going maniacally crazy, Jeremy Irons as someone already a bit crazy, and features the dialogue "It seems he shat in his attaché case"—a challenging, bonkers, thought-provoking, dystopian nightmare. High-Rise may not be for you, but you shouldn’t miss it.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The story of a crotchety older man and his adopted son who get lost in the woods and end up on the run. Heartfelt and hilarious, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a lovely take on the "two outsiders find community together" story. Taika Waititi writes, directs, and has a hilarious cameo, and if nothing else, this is further reason to get excited that the man who wrote What We Do In The Shadows is directing the next Thor movie. The charming, offbeat humour will keep a smile on your face for the whole runtime and probably days after.
Also, good luck not getting "Happy Birthday Ricky Baker" stuck in your head for days.
"Grief affects everyone differently. The Invitation centres on this idea as Will, played by Logan Marshall-Green, heads to the home of his ex-wife Eden for a dinner party with all their friends. Will is a broken man, still adrift in the sea of his own sorrow and comes into conflict with Eden and her new man when it seems she has moved on.
I can’t tell you any more, and you definitely should not watch the trailer, but you should seek out and watch this movie. Grief warps us all, and this movie weaves that idea into a perfect balance of"something is going on" and "wait, is something going on?" and keeps you on the edge of your seat until you find out."
Grief (a recurring theme in this list) affects everyone differently, but in some ways, we are all affected similarly. Jackie follows Jackie Kennedy as she tries to preserve what legacy she and her husband had created and impose order on a world made chaos but his assassination.
Natalie Portman will likely be nominated for all the awards again for this role, and there’s a good reason: she’s terrific in it. The film is highly stylized and beautifully shot, and not one to miss.
Manchester by the Sea
Grief, again, affects everyone differently. Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler has to return to the small town he’s from when his brother dies and is named guardian to his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a responsibility the cold, distant Lee doesn’t want. I can’t tell you why without spoiling, but suffice it to say that Affleck and Hedges are both excellent and that anyone who has been through a loss or has lived in a small town will see parts of themselves in this one. Affleck, in particular, will be up for all the awards this year, deservedly.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might think I didn’t like Rogue One, but I did! Sure, it contains a pretty offensive digital cameo, and you can tell when Disney sanded down all the rough edges into something more than a little bit safe, but it’s still a damn good time. It’s a fun story that takes some interesting risks, expands the Star Wars universe in new and exciting ways, and features a franchise-best space battle and a franchise-best lightsaber sequence, and those things alone make it worth seeing on a giant screen.
Yes, Blake Lively vs a Shark. It sounds ridiculous and easily could be, but without hyperbole, I am here to tell you that this is the best person vs shark movie since Jaws. Lively does some great work here as a young woman on the run from her grief (there it is again) who ends up trapped on a rock with a great white circling. This is the crucible through which she must pass to find herself on the other side. As with most movies like this, it’s not actually about the shark, but watching her take it on makes for a pretty great film. Plus, her friend Stephen Seagull is pretty great too.
Star Trek Beyond
You’ve no idea how happy I was coming out of Star Trek Beyond. Not just good, but great. Not perfect, mind you, but easily the best of the Kelvin Universe movies so far. The first of the new film to get Kirk, the first of the movies to use the entirety of the cast in a true ensemble story, the first one to pepper in fan service without battering us over the head with it, and all wrapped up in a fun story, with just the right touches of humour, a message of hope and optimism, and the single best needle drop of the year. As a lifelong fan, particularly of the original series, this was the Star Trek movie I’ve been waiting for since the reboot was announced.