This is a ridiculously late Top Eleven list. (Yes, “Top Eleven.” I just could not cut it down to ten.) Every year I wait until I’ve seen everything I wanted to see from the previous year, and it takes so long that I almost skip my Top Eleven entirely (in fact, I have skipped it in the past). But since the Academy Awards wait until the end of February to (sort of) announce their favorite film, I figured it was okay for me to wait until March. There are still a few movies I didn’t get to see, but I sincerely doubt they would have made the list. But for full disclosure, here are the most notable films I missed: The Founder, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Accountant, Snowden. Obviously, there are many more films I missed, but these four were either films I thought I might like or films that were mentioned for awards consideration.
Side note about the Oscars: until they fixed their mistake at the end of the night, I only missed one guess (Affleck for Best Actor). Of course, the one time they announce the wrong Best Picture winner, it would be the one I predicted to win. Anyway, I still consider my guess half-right.
First, let’s get into the honorable mentions. I’m including La La Land here, mainly because I actually liked it. I didn’t fall into either the love it or hate it camp with this film, which amazed me. I normally despise musicals, but I found this one enjoyable. That written, when it comes to music-themed stories of people trying to make it, I prefer Sing Street, which was very close to making the main list. It’s on Netflix, check it out. Here are the other films I really liked, in no particular order: Deepwater Horizon, Hell or High Water, Nocturnal Animals, Lion, The Neon Demon, Manchester by the Sea, The Handmaiden, Fences, Christine, Hidden Figures, A Monster Calls. Obviously, I thought this was a great year for movies, and I would recommend any of the movies I’ve listed here. Now, for my favorites.
11. The Nice Guys – A 1970s LA-set detective comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.
I started to type this in the honorable mention section and just couldn’t. That’s when this list became a Top Eleven. This is a very rewatchable movie that makes me laugh each time I watch it. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are surprisingly funny together, and writer-director Shane Black confirms himself as the master of the detective comedy. This one flew under the radar earlier this year, so check it out if you’ve never heard of it.
10. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – A ridiculous spoof of pop stars in general.
This comedy unfortunately bombed last year, but I thought it was the funniest movie of the year. It should have been called “The Lonely Island Movie.” That’s pretty much what it is. If you don’t know The Lonely Island already, you might find the film stupid. But if you’re a fan like me, you’ll love it.
9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – A foster kid goes on the run with his unwilling foster parent in the New Zealand bush.
I did not expect to love this movie so much, but writer-director Taika Watiti (What We Do in the Shadows) injected it with so much heart, comedy, and New Zealand-ness, it became one of my favorites of the year. This is definitely a lesser known film (it’s kind of a theme for most of this list), so check it out for a funny, surprisingly emotional surprise. Also, Sam Neill is great in it, as is star Julian Dennison.
8. Hacksaw Ridge – The true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who saved many lives in WWII without carrying a weapon.
This movie it being touted as Mel Gibson’s comeback (he directed), and I’m okay with that. But I loved it because it was such a classically effective war film. The story itself is effective, but Gibson’s decision to present it plainly is refreshing in this age of morally complex heroes. Some take issue with a movie about a proponent of non-violence being so violent, but that’s the world. We can be as non-violent as we want, but that doesn’t mean the world will be. This film’s violence was not gratuitous, it showcased how strong Doss’s conviction was in the face of such awful carnage.
7. Silence – Two Portuguese missionaries travel to 17th century Japan to search for their mentor, who is rumored to have renounced Catholicism.
Just look at that description. Sounds pretty boring, right? But in the hands of Martin Scorsese, it is one of the most thought-provoking films concerning religion ever made. It’s not an easy watch, but it is rewarding, not to mention beautiful. It’s a shame the film was so ignored upon release. If you’re like me, you’ll watch anything Scorsese makes, and you won’t be disappointed. Sure, I prefer his more mainstream efforts, but films like Silence show what a truly diverse artist he is.
6. Deadpool – A mercenary with superpowers tries to save his girlfriend, all while making R-rated jokes and violence.
There’s usually one comic book movie that makes my list this year; how could it not be Deadpool? I’m going through a bit of Marvel fatigue right now (I know, Deadpool is technically Marvel, but it isn’t part of the thirty movie Marvel Cinematic Universe), so this was a breath of fresh air. It stands on its own, and it’s hilarious. By far, Deadpool is the most enjoyable comic book movie I have seen in years.
5. Swiss Army Man – A man stranded on an island comes across a washed up corpse that comes back to life and befriends him.
This is probably the weirdest film of the year, but it’s so goofy that I loved it. It’s actually known on the internet as the “Daniel Radcliffe farting boner corpse movie.” With a nickname like that, what’s not to love? The movie actually has a lot to say about loneliness, but it says it in such an inventive and funny way. If you can get past the utter insanity of the premise, you’ll find a very enjoyable film.
4. Green Room – A punk band accidentally witnesses a murder in the green room of a neo-Nazi bar and tries to escape with their lives.
The premise for this film comes across as a standard survival film, but in the hands of writer-director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin), it is one of the most effectively disturbing films in recent memory. This made it so high on my list because I, unfortunately, had to watch it on a tablet, and it still bothered me. It’s hard to describe how Saulnier accomplishes this. He creates such a realistic quality in his films that violence that has become commonplace in cinema is returned to its original horrific status. Perhaps that’s what is special about Saulnier: he presents violence in such a way that it affects you, rather than desensitizing you. Is this making sense? No? Go watch the movie. It’s available on Amazon Prime right now.
3. Rogue One – The untold story of how the Rebellion retrieved the plans for the Death Star.
This is one of the few movies I wrote a full review for last year. I felt compelled to write about it because I like it more than The Force Awakens. Plus, I’m a Star Wars fan. So this film hit on all cylinders for me. No need to recommend this one. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of it.
2. Arrival – Aliens arrive on Earth, and a linguist (Amy Adams) must find a way to communicate with them.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy) has quickly become one of my favorite working directors. The sci-fi story was already appealing to me, but Villeneuve elevates it though his masterful use of tone. But it’s every aspect of the film coming together that makes it one of my favorites. The script is sci-fi with heart, which is always difficult; it’s also surprising, which is an increasingly rare feat. The acting all around is great, anchored by Amy Adams, who should have won Best Actress this year. If you skipped out on this movie because of the science fiction element, do yourself a favor and check it out.
1. The Lobster – In an unspecified future/alternate reality, relationships are required; anyone not in a relationship is turned into an animal of their choosing.
Nearly every year, there’s a weird movie I love that I don’t recommend. This year, it’s “The Lobster,” and it’s also my favorite of the year. Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) has a hilarious, deadpan black comedy voice that I find hilarious. Others might find it simply strange. There is plenty of social commentary about the importance we place on relationships, but it’s not preachy. It’s more about pointing out the absurdity of certain aspects of relationships (having things in common, having children to fix struggling relationships, etc.). It could come across as bitter and condescending, but it ends up being equally hilarious and disturbing. What put it over the top for me was Colin Farrell’s perfectly sad performance. Since flaming out in the early 2000s, he’s been giving increasingly impressive performances, and The Lobster is his best yet. This film is not for everyone, but if it’s for you, you’ll love it as much as I did.