Stephen's Top 5 Films of 2016

It’s an overstated meme at this point that 2016 wasn’t the most favorable of years. Celebrities of all kinds were lost and a certain election rustled at least a few feathers. As such, the movie industry seemed to reflect this, with many let downs and few stand outs. Few as they may be, there were standouts, enough at least to make creating this list no easy task. Not every favorite film is listed here, and the list may be very different in a week, heck, in an hour of this being published, but for the sake of a deadline, here are the five best movies of 2016.

#5. The Witch


Despite what has been said about 2016, horror managed to have somewhat of a decent year, with sequels like “The Conjuring 2” and complete surprises like “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” However, “The Witch” is very different from these two. This movie is not fun. It is a nightmare. Think along the lines of “The Exorcist” or “The Shining.” Great movies, but not something a person would want to pop in to have a good, or even really ever see a second time.

The language of its script is authentic to its time period of 1600s New England, and it’s fluently spoken by a cast of terrific actors, most of them children, including a pair of 11 year olds, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson. The dialect is barely understandable at times, which is a good thing, and these child actors speak it like it's nothing, which is also a testament to its director and writer Robert Eggers.

Again, though, “The Witch” is not a movie meant to entertain. It is not a bump in the night, jump-scare kind of horror movie. It is an absolute nightmare that will ingrain itself into the minds of any of its viewers.

#4. Hacksaw Ridge

Director Mel Gibson has been through his fair share of controversy throughout the last decade. However, for a little while, he was seen as one of Hollywood’s most talented directors. Returning with “Hacksaw Ridge,” he only proves this further. This is a fantastic, gut wrenching film due largely in part to his skills as a director. It’s the way that he crafts and paces the story that makes it so effective. Not to spoil anything, but when the film hits, it hits. Hard.

However, the strength of this film is not due to Gibson alone. Andrew Garfield gives possibly the best performance of his career as Desmond Doss. Like “The Witch,” here is an actor that blends so well with his character that he becomes him. The way that he emotes with his face alone conveys so much more than a sentence ever could. For a supposedly nonviolent character, he rips the audience's heart out and shows it to them, making them dissolve into a pool of tears.

It’s great to see Mel Gibson back in the director’s chair. He’s been gone for a quite a while, and while he may make some understandably uncomfortable with his past actions, he’s a talent that shouldn’t be dismissed, crafting films like “Hacksaw Ridge” that touch its audience with its sheer brutality.

#3. Manchester by the Sea

Acting seems to be the topic of the day for this list, as once again, here is a film that finds one of its major strengths in its incredible acting. Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges create a trio of jaw droppingly heartbreaking performances in “Manchester by the Sea.” They all give very different performances, but they all play off each other so well that it feels like real people having a real conversation with each other. Affleck and Hedges in particular have fantastic chemistry that bounces off each other like an elaborate dance.

While the chemistry is largely due to the actors themselves, it’s also due to the person that wrote what they said, writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, which he does beautifully. There is a beautiful rhythm to the way Lonergan writes the dialogue, that not only feels natural, but also makes the film move at a snap. The film flies by because of how well it hooks the audience into its beautiful screenplay.

Like “The Witch,” “Manchester by the Sea” is not exactly a fun time at the theater. It’s a tough film to get through, as it will make any audience member cry and most likely not want to ever see again, but in a good way, though.

#2. Arrival

This film will make anyone’s heart pound out of their chest once it picks up, and it’s not even that scary. “Arrival” a slow burn type of film that builds the audience's expectations as it takes its absolute time to reveal anything. This may sound boring to some, but director Denis Villeneuve engages his viewers in such a way that they won’t want to leave. The anticipation will nearly kill them, making the reveals beyond satisfying. All the while, it's an intelligent film that introduces creative and complex themes that will keep the audience thinking for weeks on end.

Again, the acting is great, however, it’s mostly do to Amy Adams. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are good, but Adams steals the show. She’s one of the best actors working today and she blends and emotes with her character so well that the audiences forgets they’re watching an actor. She becomes her character and allows the audience to step into her character's shoes, making the tension feel all the more real.

This is no whiz-bang, laser blast type of sci-fi film, like “Star Wars” or “Independence Day.” “Arrival” is a thinking person’s movie that introduces new and creative concepts while also taking its audience on an emotional ride.

#1. La La Land

Director and writer Damien Chazelle may be setting himself up to be one of the greatest modern filmmakers in Hollywood, if not all time. He’s on his third film now, second of which to receive a major release, and he’s already made two films that will most likely be deemed classics in the near future, the other being “Whiplash.” Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great in “La La Land,” but the real star of the film is its visuals. From start to beginning, the film dazzles its audience with its sheer beauty, not only in its colors, but how it flows and cuts between scenes with absolute grace. While this may not speak for everyone, at least for the writer of this list, it gave him one of the most paralyzingly emotional experiences he’s ever had in a theater.

If that wasn’t enough, Justin Hurwitz’s music only increases the experience even more. Like the visuals, the music will make the audience well up with tears with its simplistic beauty. The music flows beautifully throughout the scenes, and most people will likely be humming one or two of the songs as they leave the theater. While some may find that Gosling and Stone’s singing isn’t exactly outstanding, for others, it gives their characters more personality, which in turn makes them more relatable, which makes the film even more emotional.

“La La Land” is an absolutely gorgeous ode to the Hollywood musicals of years past, showing director Damien Chazelle’s immense passion through the screen and Justin Hurwitz’s beautiful score. Its visuals and music alone make it easily the best film of the year, and possibly one of the best of all time.

Looking back, 2016 may not have been the terrible year for film that many have made it up to be. It started off strong, with films like “Deadpool”, “The Jungle Book”, and “Zootopia.” It was more the summer where all the stinkers hit, like “Suicide Squad” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.” However, it came back around during the award season, with the likes of “Moonlight” and “Moana. Again, it was hard compiling a list restricted to five films. The list will likely change once it’s published, and will never stop changing as opinions grow and shrink. That’s the beauty of film, it’s subjective, nothing is definite. Everyone has their individual list of favorites that likely won’t align with anyone else's, and that’s what makes movies great.