For the past four years, I’ve been ranking every film I see- just the new releases, from January 1st to December 31st. The rankings are subjective, based entirely on how much I enjoyed and/or connected with or appreciated the film rather than on some sort of objective artistic criteria. Basically, this is a list of 125 films released in 2016 ranked according to how much I liked them.
Read the Full 2016 List HERE.
The penultimate section of the list! Every movie here is pretty wonderful in some way or another, and not just because this is where you’ll find all the great kids movies of the year.
This fascinating documentary about scandal-laden former congressman Anthony Weiner strikes the perfect balance between empathetic humanization and clear-eyed criticism as it meticulously examines a desperate man’s last grasp at a comeback in the 2013 NYC mayoral race. There’s a melancholy sense throughout the film that Wiener might actually have been a good mayor, which makes all the more potent the disappointment felt towards him by the filmmakers, the audience, the American people and, most intriguingly, by the film’s most captivating figure Huma Abedin. Huma (as she’s mononymously known in DC) filed for divorce from Weiner on May 19th of this year but, at the time of filming, she was defiantly still by his side. She rightly comes off as pissed, but she moreso comes off as determined. Brilliant, strategic, regal, and armed with nerves of fucking steel, it’s impossible not to draw a direct parallel between Huma, especially in this 2013 moment, and Hillary, at whose right hand Huma has served most of her political career. Weiner artfully documents an angering fall but it more interestingly spotlights a figure who refuses to be pulled down with him. I’m still #CoryBooker2020 but I’d be so down for #Huma2028.
Written by heavy-hitter John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo, Any Given Sunday, Skyfall) and starring the marquee combination of Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney and Jude Law in a career-best performance as Thomas Wolfe, it’s confusing to me that Genius didn’t get a bigger release and an Oscar campaign. It’s an oldschool true story period piece with a big heart and more than a few beautiful moments.
23. Captain Fantastic
Sorry, LOTR nerds, Viggo Mortensen gave the best performance of his career in this little-seen dramedy about a widower determined to raise his kids according to his own (eccentric) values. The large ensemble of kids that surround him are also across-the-board fantastic and Frank Langella’s performance mines stirring empathy from a character who easily could have been a simplistic villain. Written and directed by Matt Ross (of Silicon Valley & Big Love cult fame), this strange and tender story about love and what that actually means was one of the great discoveries of 2016.
This incredibly fun and really quite touching animated adventure about animals who’ve just gotta sing was actually the second best movie with this title in 2016. The other was my favourite thing I saw all year- a thoughtful and uplifting Hungarian gem about friendship, authority, and expression that went on to win the Oscar for Live Action Short. But this list is about feature-length films so we’re talking about the celeb-voiced American blockbuster Sing, which is also pretty great. I may or may not have cried when future producer Koala McConaughey fell in love with theatre from his seat in the balcony.
25. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
I found the first Neighbors film obvious, lazy, and generally pretty tiresome (though it will always get much-deserved credit for making the cool kids realize Zac Efron is actually kinda great). The sequel isn’t all that different, but it’s completely different. By flipping the gender of the troublesome neighbor kids, the same immature sex comedy territory suddenly becomes uncharted. There’s a lighthearted transgressive feel to the second Neighbors, a refreshing new-generation declaration that girls can be as everything as boys- as fun, as gross, as destructive, as endearing, as immature, as confrontational, as loud, as horny, as goofy, as whatever- but that doesn’t mean that they have to misbehave in the exact same way. The girls party hard, their way, and the all-male writing team does a shockingly good job of presenting what party culture might look like if it weren’t so incredibly male-directed; there’s so much safe space and unselfconscious expression and comfortable clothing! It’s still not my kind of movie, but it’s lightyears better than the first one.
I didn’t totally get this movie, as seems to be my way with Philip Roth adaptations. Not a lot happens, lots of people feel things, they don’t make sensible decisions in reaction to feeling said things, on and on it goes. I didn’t love it, obviously. The reason a film I didn’t actually enjoy all that much is so high on this list really comes down to its star. Logan Lerman delivers a performance in this movie that is so nuanced and moving and goddamn human that to call it the best of his career thus far is reductive (he’s been working steadily and in interesting roles since he was 8 but he’s still only 25). I can’t think of a year with a bigger or better crop of leading male performances on film than 2016 but for my money Logan Lerman in Indignation topped them all.
27. Hidden Figures
What a lovely movie. Not an Oscar-calibre movie, but a really lovely movie with a cast that’s impossible not to like and a very interesting story to tell. I will never ever tire of Janelle Monáe.
28. Mr. Right
This out-of-nowhere action comedy delighted me by soaring over non-existed expectations. Skewering tired relationship tropes by literalizing them with life-or-death stakes, writer Max Landis pulls some genuine laughs out of a potentially eye-roll-worthy premise (he’s the perfect man, but he’s also a hitman!). It helps that the perfect storm of eccentric genius Sam Rockwell with sardonic it-girl Anna Kendrick has enough spark to power a small country.
This irreverent, fourth-wall-breaking R-rated non-hero super-movie is well-paced and fantastically fun. It’s great to see Ryan Reynolds finally get the hero role he’s been looking for and the film is well grounded by a believable and character-centric love story showcasing Reynolds’ killer chemistry with Morena Baccarin. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Deadpool– nothing Marvel hasn’t done before, R-content aside- but it’s a solid, well-made, fun popcorn flick and that’s all I went wanting or expecting it to be.
This was cute and very well-made and had something interesting to say. Did it have a scrappy Koala who made me cry with the power of his love for theatre? No. But it was cute and very well-made and had something interesting to say, which is plenty.
31. Mean Dreams
A Canadian drama pretending to be an American one, this kids-on-the-run adventure is harrowing and affecting if a little rough around the edges.
32. Southside With You
I found this early-Obama romance entrancing. Anchored by Parker Sawyers who is at once an uncanny match for his iconic character and a total dreamboat Hollywoodification of the best President in modern history, this first date/origin story is as sneak-attack inspiring as it is swoony.
33. Money Monster
This post-2008 thriller is hella entertaining and has a point, even if it’s pretty silly. It’s like a throwback to action movies that didn’t have to be gritty or gigantic, just well-paced and high-stakes. I kind of loved it.
34. Café Society
The most likeable Woody Allen movie (by far) since Midnight in Paris, Café Society is relatively simple and even somewhat calm. It’s like someone shook Woody and said “let the damn kid be happy!”. Jesse Eisenberg adorable as usual.
35. Where to Invade Next
I don’t really consider Michael Moore’s work “documentary filmmaking”. His films have no journalistic balance and he can’t resist putting himself in the story. That said, I actually really liked this not-a-documentary. Rather than wallow in what makes him miserable about his own country, here Moore chooses to travel the world and find out what’s good about everywhere else- how Germany teaches the holocaust, how Norway treats their prisoners, how France feeds their kids. It’s surprisingly quite moving.
A staggering piece of journalism and a real coup for Netflix, this illuminating documentary about the American prison industrial complex is a must-watch for its information but it doesn’t stand out on a filmmaking level.
37. Bridget Jones’ Baby
Obviously this is lighter than lightweight and a pale shadow of the original (though it is better than the sequel, so at least there’s that). But I loved it. I love Bridge Jones and I’ll watch her do pretty much anything, even if Renée Zellweger refuses to gain back the weight that is FUNDAMENTAL TO THE CHARACTER AND NOT NEGOTIABLE! Okay, I’m cool, it’s fine, the movie is cute, even though BRIDGET IS LESS CUTE WITHOUT HER CHUBBY CHEEKS AND LESS SEXY WITHOUT HER CURVES AND LESS RELATABLE WITHOUT HER JIGGLES! Okay, that’s the last of the yelling, I promise. She’s no Richard Curtis and the film’s comedy is weaker for it but threequel screenwriter Emma Thompson totally gets Mark Darcy and that’s the key quality that makes this movie better than cute. Mark will always be my favourite Firth role and, even though he loses his perfect foil in the third film (Hugh Grant’s beautifully detestable Daniel), Thompson really showcases him in her script as though she finds him far more interesting than Bridget (which isn’t ideal but I can’t really blame her)- that perfect “Gangnam Style” joke, the quietness of his heartbroken moments, the way he corrects people about the importance of protest even though he’s irritated by it. Curtis totally nailed Bridget’s voice in his scripts but it’s through Mark that Thompson was able to make the series her own. I can’t complain.
What a freaking delight. I was alone in the theatre when I saw this goofy also-ran in a year packed with solid animated fare and I had an absolute blast. I laughed, I cried, I sang along, I danced a little, I yelled at Justin Timberlake when he was being a stupidhead! It was terribly fulfilling. The takeaway message is that there’s no shortcut to happiness, which I found surprisingly sophisticated for a movie based on dolls. It’s not Inside Out-level sophisticated, but it’s true and it’s good and it’s definitely worth telling kids, and also adults, okay mostly adults. Bonus points for that crazy catchy song.
39. Finding Dory
This was also delightful but seemed less shiny on account of the too-high expectations that come with being the sequel to one of the greatest animated films in the history of cinema (Nemo is perfect, guys). It was cute- and certainly might shine brighter on a rewatch- but it didn’t quite capture the magic of our first Pixar ocean adventure. “Just Keep Swimming” is, and will likely always remain, my favourite motto ever, though. That’s literally everything, right there- no matter what’s behind you or what you’re scared might be ahead, Just Keep Swimming.
40. The Dressmaker
The costumes were the real star of this odd Australian drama about an ostracized woman returning to her hometown to show them all how glamorous she’s become, give some other ladies their confidence back, get a little revenge, and fall in love with Liam Hemsworth along the way (he’s outrageously charming in this role, made all the more fantastical by the startling-but-never-mentioned age difference between him and leading lady Kate Winslet). Judy Davis is also spectacular as Winslet’s mother.