Angie Han's Top 10 Films Of 2016

Let's skip the usual blather about whether 2016 was a good year for movies or a bad year for movies and just get right to it, shall we? I saw a lot of films in 2016. Here were some of my very favorites.

Honorable Mentions:

In no particular order, here are a few films I loved this year, but for whatever reason did not quite make the cut.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition

Okay, let's get this one out of the way. I legitimately liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in all its flaws, and I straight-up loved the Ultimate Edition, which feels like a much more coherent execution of the filmmakers' vision. Yes, it's grim nearly to the point of parody, but look around at the year we've had. Doesn't that dourness just seem appropriate? What I adored about this movie is that it's a film about deeply flawed people who exist in a universe driven by paranoia and despair — and try their best to do some good in it anyway.

Lemonade

Lemonade

Whether Beyoncé's "visual album" should count as a movie, a TV special, all of the above, or something else entirely, seems to depend on whom you ask. What I can say with absolute certainty is that this is one of the most stunning marriages of sight and sound I witnessed in 2016. Woven through with the poetry of Warsan Shire, Lemonade emerges a personal essay and a sociopolitical manifesto, a joyous celebration of black womanhood and an intimate exploration of sorrow and forgiveness. It made my jaw drop to the ground, and I devoured it whole.

Don't Think Twice

Don't Think Twice

Don't Think Twice is laugh-out-loud hilarious because it's a movie about pretty good fictional comedians, starring a bunch of really good actual comedians. But make no mistake — this is a drama, and one that absolutely wrecked me. In his sophomore directing effort, Mike Birbiglia faces the twin specters that haunt anyone who's ever tried to make it in a tough field: the petrifying fear of the changes success might bring, and the painful realization that you'll probably never get to find out anyway.

Loving

Loving

I've seen Loving get dinged by some of my peers for being too quiet and too restrained, but for me, that's exactly where its power comes from. The effects of oppression aren't always felt in big ways. Very often, it's just another fact of life, as unremarkable and as unavoidable as air. Similarly, liberation doesn't always mean a dramatic change of pace. Sometimes, it just means you can finally breathe a little easier while carrying on with the life you've always had.

The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

With The Nice Guys, Shane Black cooks up the perfect blend of cynicism and sincerity and wraps it all up in one bright, funny package. It's a (sort of) Christmas movie for those who are fundamentally skeptical of cheer and sentimentality, and for those who might tend toward the melancholy, but who still want to have a good time anyway. Ryan Gosling loves to play sad, silent types, but in truth, he's never better than when he's playing extroverted motormouths — especially when he's got a perfect foil in the form of a jaded, world-weary Russell Crowe. The two of them tear into Shane Black's dialogue like it's a juicy T-bone steak, but it's newcomer Angourie Rice who almost makes off with the entire meal.

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women

Films I Didn't See:

I caught a lot of really fantastic movies this year, but even then there were many (too many) I missed. Here are a few I especially regret not having seen.

Certain Women

20th Century Women

Toni Erdmann

Elle

O.J.: Made in America (Note: I did see the first episode, but the whole thing is like eight hours long so I'm still working through it.)

Zootopia - Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde (1)

10. Zootopia

In a year that felt defined by the conversations around race, power, and privilege, a kid-friendly animated feature emerged as one of the smartest and most coherent statements on the matter. Zootopia is a de facto instruction manual for navigating bias and bigotry in the modern era, covering everything from microaggressions to stereotypes to apologies — and it's all the more effective because it doesn't feel like one. Beyond its messaging, Zootopia is also just plain fun. Part buddy comedy, part neo-noir, and part coming-of-age drama with a dash of crime drama, it's a wild romp through a universe bursting with delightful little details. And animal puns. So many animal puns.

The Lobster

9. The Lobster

Love is a force that unites us all and elevates our lives into something more than mere existence. Everyone needs it. Anyone can give it. And everybody depends on it to keep the world spinning as it should. But the rituals of romance? All the odd mating dances and societal expectations and unspoken rules of modern courtship? Yeah, those are freaking weird. That's the general sentiment behind The Lobster, a pitch-black romcom starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as a pair of lovers in a world even stranger than ours. (For starters, in their universe, single people get turned into animals.) But underneath that heightened artificiality is something raw and true, and even, in spite of itself, kind of hopeful.

Paterson

8. Paterson

Nothing much happens in Paterson, and that's the point. Director Jim Jarmusch finds poetry in the soul of a bus driver, beauty on the side of a small-town road, music in the familiar rhythms of everyday life. As Paterson, Adam Driver channels his usual intensity inward, so that the impression we're left with is of an unassuming, mild-mannered man with a fire burning brightly within. Indeed, everyone in Paterson seems to have that inner flame. There is almost no one in this movie without a rich inner life, without layers and secrets and passions that make life worth living. Paterson is the kind of generous and empathetic work that makes the world feel like a better place.

Arrival

7. Arrival

At first, Arrival presents itself as an unusually cerebral take on the usual alien invasion story. And if that were all it were, it'd still be one of the most interesting films of 2016. It's all too uncommon to see a sci-fi film that stresses empathy and cooperation over paranoia and conflict, and more unusual still to see one that does so by venturing into the field of linguistics. But gradually, Arrival reveals the bloody, beating heart powering that giant brain. These scientific and philosophical inquiries aren't just abstract thought exercises, but ways to explore fundamentally human questions like what it means to love, how it feels to lose, and why we choose to endure even in the face of intolerable pain.

Moana - Kakamora

6. Moana

We are in the middle of a new Disney Renaissance, and Moana is the studio at its very finest. No, it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does put a new spin on that old staple, the Disney princess tale. Moana sets sail on the Pacific and takes us through a journey filled with laughs, tears, and even some Mad Max: Fury Road-worthy action, all set to an incredibly earworm-y soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina. Not for nothing, I'd also like to point out that Moana took pains to involve Polynesian talent on both sides of the camera, including an ideally cast Dwayne Johnson as a disgraced demigod and newcomer Auli'i Cravalho as an adventurous future chieftain.

Julian Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi has a soft spot for misfits, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople sends two of them traipsing through the New Zealand bush to find a family of sorts. It feels like a childhood classic waiting to happen, in a similar vein as Pixar and Roald Dahl, but with an oddball spirit that's entirely its own. The heart and humor are deepened by an undercurrent of real tragedy and peril. Hec and Ricky aren't just misunderstood, they're people that no one else in the entire world has any use for, and they've gone from suffering a great loss on the fringes of civilization to facing true danger outside of it. Good thing they've got each other, whether they like it or not.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

4. Manchester by the Sea

From beginning to end, Manchester by the Sea is suffused with grief. It brings news of a death early on, flashes back to still more tragedy, and ends with the bereaved still struggling to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Yet it's not a movie that indulges in misery. There's nothing especially noble or meaningful about the way its characters suffer, and the film has no interest in piling on the misfortunes — the tribulations they've already been through are enough. Its empathy takes the form of a clear-eyed acknowledgement that there are some wounds that will never heal and some wrongs that can never be righted, and that the rest of the world keeps on marching forward even when your own has stopped.

Love and Friendship

3. Love & Friendship

Jane Austen's reputation as a romantic is well deserved, but for years I've lamented that too few people seem to notice how funny she is. Whit Stillman gets it. Don't let the period costumes fool you – Love & Friendship is a comedy, and a gut-busting one at that. But it's one undergirded by steel. Marriage is a game to these characters, but it's no mere lark. It's a career, and no one is better at her job than Lady Susan Vernon (played by Kate Beckinsale in a performance so good, it makes me mad she doesn't get more roles like this). It's a rare film that celebrates, rather than demonizes, female ambition, and recognizes how male privilege can be exploited. Which isn't to say the men are given the short shrift entirely. One of the real breakouts of the movie is Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, one of the most entertaining rich idiots ever put to film.

The Handmaiden

2. The Handmaiden

After Stoker, Chan-wook Park returned to his native South Korea and came back with this devilish puzzle of a thriller, a film that twists and turns and teases every time you think you've finally figured it out. It's sexy in all the ways you'd expect — nudity, explicit love scenes, kinky fantasies — but it's also intimate and warm, laced with real passion and affection. It's also one of the most sensual experiences Park has ever delivered, with the camera lingering on the lush surroundings and lavish costumes that keep Hideko and Sook-hee bound to the home and to one another. The biggest shocker of the movie, however, is how surprisingly funny The Handmaiden is. Park finds a particularly rich vein in heterosexual male desire, and runs with it to spectacularly entertaining effect.

Alex Hibbert in Moonlight

1. Moonlight

Critics much more articulate than I am have already spoken at length about Barry Jenkins' masterpiece, and what it means and what it represents and why it all works so well. So I'll defer to them on those fronts, and just say how this movie makes me feel. In the minutes after I watched Moonlight for the very first time, I dramatically underestimated its power. I'd been expecting something bigger, louder, more ostentatiously Important given all the hype, and wasn't quite sure what to make of the subtle, slow-burn drama I'd gotten instead. Then in the days that followed, I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. I saw it a second time, and then a third. I'd see it again tonight and tomorrow if I could. This movie has gotten under my skin, and I never want it to go away. Moonlight feels like more than just a movie — it's a lived experience. For two hours, I am Chiron, in all his rage and despair and hope and love. I can't say anything nicer about the film than that.