I often vacillate between "life is good and sweet and precious" and "what the shit is happening?!" One moment, I'm content and living in the present, as I often aim to do, and in the next moment I'm scrolling through Twitter, reminding myself that there is such a thing as racism and hatefulness and Orange Monsters. In that moment, I am a mushy sack of despair and doom.
But then I remember there are things I can do to make this world not so shitty. I can give back, I can support good causes and amazing humans, I can march with the marginalized, I can embrace joy where I can.
That's what this is. Movies bring me joy. And so each year I create a list of my favorite movies. If you want to check out the recent episode of Joy Sandwich, we discussed the movies below at length, as well as some of our favorite television, books, and moments of 2016.
Here are my Top 15 Movies of 2016, along with a behemoth load of honorable mentions. Enjoy!
Arrival is my favorite type of science fiction film: it is one that makes you think, wonder, ponder your existence on this pale blue dot. On top of that, Arrival is a science fiction story about how we engage with the world, how we communicate with each other, and, above all, the transformative power of empathy—in our growth as humans. It's a beautiful film. Amy Adams is superb. And I adore the score from Johann Johannsson.
14. A Monster Calls
"You do not write your life with words. . .you write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do." A Monster Calls is about the choices we make and the emotions we feel. It is, like Inside Out, a story that beautifully shows why all emotions are valid. It also has Liam Neeson as a tree-monster. Also known as a Liam Treeson.
13. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika, the studios behind Kubo and the Two Strings, is amazing. I was always happy with what they put out, from Paranorman to The Boxtrolls. Kubo and the Two Strings is a completely different level of brilliance. Not only is the story compelling and thoughtful, with some great character building, but the animation, again, is mind-boggling. It's fucking insane what they can pull off. I'm in awe of their capacity for a bright, beaming level of creative flourish you don't see often.
12. Captain Fantastic
I've already started my letter campaign to convince Viggo Mortensen that he should adopt me—or, at the least, allow me to go on adventures in the woods together, paint nudes together, that sort of thing. Did I mention I like Viggo? So, about Captain Fantastic. It's a beautiful story about being who you aim to be. Whatever that is. Be who you are. Viggo, sir, you keep being who you are (naked or otherwise).
Loving is a love story. It's also a real story based on the life of Richard and Mildred and their battle against the state of Virginia. What I like most about this movie is that it's mostly about their relationship, their love. And it's so damn inspiring. Loving made me want to be a better human—to my wife, to my friends, to all other humans around me. Also, Ruth Negga rules (more proof here).
10. The Fits
I was hypnotized by the transcendent quality of this movie. It's about a girl who spends most of her time at a local recreation center, where she boxes and dances. There's hardly any dialogue. There's not much happening except the magic of growing older, become yourself. It's magnificent.
9. Sing Street
As someone who likes to consider himself a creative person, this movie hit all the right spots. And by that I mean it made me want to create, unabashedly and with joy in my heart. Sing Street is a coming of age story, but it's also about being true to yourself, the magic of creativity, and the power of Duran Duran.
I'm starting to see a pattern. Moana is, like Sing Street and Captain Fantastic, about being true to who you are. But it's also about being happy with who you are ("happiness is where you are"). In a world that seems so drenched in doom and despair, that's an essential reminder. Also, the music is so brilliant. I'm listening to it now as I type this, swaying my hips to and fro because I AM WHO I AM.
7. La La Land
I grew up watching musicals. Mom's favorite, as she often told me while she was dancing like a joyful lunatic in the kitchen, was Gene Kelley. There was something about the way he filled the movie screen, all ebullience and smiles and without cynicism. That's what I love about musicals. La La Land captures some of that magic, with a more modern emotional complexity. Hey, human, be the dreamer.
6. The Lobster
The societal constructs we simply agree upon because we live in a society with our fellow humans? Yeah, fuck those. The Lobster is a brilliant and dark exploration of those constructs, the ones that shape how we interpret, create, and maintain relationships. It's deeply funny and it'll make you feel weird. But that's the point. You should feel weird. Bonus if you like dancing in the woods by yourself while you listen to electronic music.
5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is everything I want in a coming of age story: wild adventures in the bush, a core relationship that feels true to life, hints of Mad Max, and an emotional heft that supports the whole wacky, heartfelt, adventurous narrative. It's the story I always wanted to live. Perhaps that's the romantic in me. It's the same reason I felt kinship with kid orphans. Taika Waititi, the director, is one of the best at juxtaposing heart and funny, wacky and gut-punch.
4. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier, the director of Green Room, is one of my favorite directors working today. There's something about the way he perceives story that's just stunning. Like Blue Ruin before it, Green Room is violent, suffocating, gorgeously visualized, and fiercely independent. There's a scene near the beginning where the Ain't Rights play "Nazi Punks Fuck Off." It's amazing. We talk about it at length on Joy Sandwich in our favorite things of 2016 episode here. Anton Yelchin, RIP.
3. The Handmaiden
Watching The Handmaiden, I was struck by how immobilized I was by the film's beauty—seriously, the setting, the sets, the costumes, the colors; all of it is so spectacular. That, plus it's a Chan-wook Park movie, so add revenge, finger mutilation, explicit sex, and creepy old men. But most of all, it's a love story. And an unforgettable one.
Goddamn it, this movie is beautiful. It's not very often you see a story with so much emotional clarity and emphatic humanity. Moonlight is a story told in three parts: a boy, a young man, an adult. It's about growing up. It's about the struggle of being black in America. It's about the choices we make, and how those choices define us. It's about the heartbreaking pursuit of loving and being loved. Moonlight is luminous and perfect.
1. Manchester By the Sea
"Can a human cry forever?"
That's a question I asked myself after watching Manchester By the Sea. Eager to watch it now?! You should be. The most exquisitely written movie of 2016, Manchester is a story about grief—how we handle grief, how it affects us on an emotional, physical, and mental level, how it can transform. I think that's something we need more of. In a world with so much distraction and contrivance, I think it's important to remember that we, as humans, grieve. We feel. We emote. And that's an integral part of who we are. Okay, I am going to get back to crying.
So those are my Top 15 Movies of 2016. What do you think? Agree, disagree, delightful inputs to add? I'd love to hear from you. I'd also love it if you would check out my podcast, Joy Sandwich, and our recent Favorite Things of 2016 episode! :D
Now, let's get into some honorable mentions that just missed the cut:
Favorite Movies of 2016: Honorable Mentions
- Hell or High Water (#16 of 2016): Chris Pine and Ben Foster are great in the modern western tale about capitalism, family, and tight buttocks in American-made jeans.
- Train to Busan (#17 of 2016): Korean zombie movie that is part Snowpiercer, part 28 Days Later, and part HOLY BONKERS WTF.
- Zootopia (#18 of 2016): The other Disney Animation feature of 2016, which makes me so giddy as an animation nerd. Bunnies, sloths, and adept social commentary!
- Hush (#19 of 2016): You can watch this right now on Netflix. It's my favorite horror film of 2016. Genuinely terrifying and clever.
- Don't Think Twice (#20 of 2016): Mike Birbiglia's follow-up to Sleepwalk With Me. Another one of those inspiring stories for the humans who aim to create, explore, do what drives you.
- Under The Shadow (#21 of 2016): Iranian horror film with some fascinating effects and commentary on womanhood/independence in modern Iran.
- Love and Friendship (#22 of 2016): One of the funniest movies of 2016. I never thought I'd say this: Kate Beckinsale is amazing. Special one for the literary nerds.
- Nice Guys (#23 of 2016): The Gos and Meanypants Crow are hilarious, you guys.
- Queen of Katwe (#24 of 2016): It's a Disney movie, so it has that softening, but that doesn't lessen the impact of the inspiring and incredible story of Phiona Mutesi.
- Weiner (#25 of 2016): There are moments in this documentary where you ask yourself: "how the hell did he allow that to be covered?" It's about the despicable but wholly engrossing character, Anthony Weiner.
- Doctor Strange (#26 of 2016): I will watch The Batch in anything, even a Marvel superhero movie about a broken, egotistical man who learns how to be a sorcerer.
- The Witch (#27 of 2016): This is the creepiest movie of 2016. Grounded in an actual, believable time in history, it's a story about darkness (and goats!).
- 10 Cloverfield Lane (#28 of 2016): Limited storytelling at its finest. Plus a creepy John Goodman.
- O.J.: Made In America (not rated): I saw this one recently, after I created my top movies of 2016 list. It would probably be in my top 10. In every possible way, this 7-hour documentary is remarkable. Eye-opening. Essential viewing.