2016: THE YEAR’S TEN BEST
I’ve long since given up claiming my choices–or that of any of my colleagues–constitutes the final word on what were the “best” movies of a given year are, since that is for posterity to decide. There are movies that were highly praised that, in hindsight, are embarrassing, and others–now considered classics–that were overlooked. For me this exercise is simply to note the films I most enjoyed this year, and were most likely to recommend if you asked me, “What’s worth seeing?”
Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as Jacqueline Kennedy, capturing the breathy socialite and the sharp and strong-willed woman the public barely knew. The frame for the story is the interview she gave shortly after the funeral for President Kennedy, looking back on that horrible weekend and the experience of being First Lady. Portman moves into the front ranks of current actresses with this portrayal.
Rachel Weisz has a great role in Deborah Lipstadt, the real-life Holocaust scholar who was sued in British courts by a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall) and has to trust that her lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) is employing the right strategy. In presenting the actual case the film raises the question of how best to confront and battle extremism, an issue that–sadly–is increasingly relevant.
In a year with several strong science fiction movies, this was a standout: cerebral, reflective, and character driven. Amy Adams excelled as the linguist called upon to try to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible language of space aliens, where the fate of humanity might hang in the balance. This joins “Interstellar,” “Gravity,” “Inception,” “Moon,” and “Gattaca” as making it clear that modern SF films can be more than special effects and action figures.
The Boston Online Film Critics Association, one of two critics groups of which I am a member, named this the best film of the year. While not my top pick, this is a worthy choice in telling the story of an African-American character at three stages of his life–child, adolescent, adult–and the tough choices he has to make. The choices are specific to the character but speaks volumes about contemporary life, with stellar performances by a largely unknown cast.
- THE NICE GUYS
While the Boston Society of Film Critics (my other group) named the supremely overrated critics’ darling “La La Land” as best picture, the Ryan Gosling film not to be missed was this one, in which he and Russell Crowe get involved in solving a noirish mystery. It’s dark, violent, and at times very funny, including a moment when Gosling–deliberately–quotes Lou Costello.
- HELL OR HIGH WATER
Without a solid cast and good direction, a movie isn’t likely to succeed, but first it needs a great script. “Hell or High Water” had all three, but its knockout script is what made this memorable. Chris Pine and Ben Foster are bank-robbing brothers in the contemporary West with Jeff Bridges as the lawman laconically on their trail. It’s a thriller that takes you by surprise.
- HIDDEN FIGURES
Although this doesn’t open locally until January, this 2016 release about the African-American women who worked as “calculators” for NASA in the early 1960s is a history lesson that we should all cheer. These real-life women have largely remained unknown. This movie should change all that, with stellar performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.
This was a great year for animation, with movies like “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Sing,” but “Zootopia” managed a story involving ambition, being true to yourself, and not engaging in steretotyping, all the while being very funny and colorfully imaginative. The nice thing about the year’s best animation is that it wasn’t just for kids (and we’re not just talking about “Sausage Party”).
- HAIL, CAESAR!
The Coen Brothers were back with this zany look at classic Hollywood that featured musical numbers, Communist writers, scandals, gossip columnists, and Josh Brolin as a studio executive trying to hold everything together. For those who know their Hollywood history, this was dead-on and priceless.
- CAFÉ SOCIETY
It’s no secret that Woody Allen is long past his prime, and that’s said sadly by a critic who counts “Annie Hall” as his favorite film. So when a new film of his works it’s a cause for celebration. This tale of star-crossed lovers who have to deal with the cards life has handed them turned out to be funny and moving, with some great period touches.
Now on to 2017.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.