top 10 movies of 2016 manchester by the sea

7. Manchester by the Sea

If Jackie is about the open wound of fresh grief, Manchester by the Sea is about the scars that linger for the rest of your life. The wound has healed, but you never forget it. You are forever marked. And while Kenneth Lonergan’s film is appropriately brutal and uncomfortable and unflinching in its portrait of crippling tragedy, it is transcendent because it recognizes that the passage of time breeds comedy. The gallows humor in Manchester by the Sea is as effective, and as important, as the gut-punching sorrow, a perfect reflection of how we protect ourselves with the mundane and the ridiculous lest we totally fall apart. There are no easy answers here, no promises that everything will be okay – the grieving uncle and nephew played so magnificently by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges have a long, hard road ahead of them. There will be tears. There will be pain. But there will be plenty of fond memories and even a chuckle or two.

top 10 movies of 2016 kubo and the two strings

6. Kubo and the Two Strings

You don’t make stop-motion animated movies because you want to make money – you make them because you have a story you want to tell and feel that there is only one way to tell it. One look at the box office receipts for Kubo and the Two Strings will prove the former and one look at the movie itself proves the latter. Travis Knight’s film would be a must-see if it was just the most visually stunning and technically astonishing film released in the year 2016, but it has the story and character chops to back up that “How Did They Do That?” animation. The gentle, character-driven humor proves just as vital as the dynamic action scenes. The nightmarish monsters are just a warm-up for scenes of stirring humanity. The key to Kubo and the Two Strings is the true nature of its title (a surprisingly late revelation that shall not be spoiled here), which represents film’s truest and most crushing ideas. Come for the visuals and the promise of fantasy adventure, but let yourself be wooed by the aching beauty of it all. Fighting is easy. Forgiveness? Now that’s the real battle.

top 10 movies of 2016 the witch

5. The Witch

Is The Witch a black-hearted depiction of a family being torn apart by primal evil forces or a proudly feminist depiction of a young woman breaking free of her patriarchal chains? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. Robert Eggers’ debut feature is an atmospheric enigma, a calculating horror movie made with the attention to detail you’d expect from an Oscar-friendly historical drama. It is terrifying and elegant, mystifying and direct. It questions everything and provides no answers. It treats evil seriously, refusing to suggest that the power of a hypocritical, abusive man of faith is a better alternative than Satan himself. It’s also scary as hell and, to be quite frank, pretty rad in that heavy metal kind of way. The Witch is indefinable, but it plants itself in the back of your brain and lingers there like a bad dream. You don’t shake it. Wouldst thou like to live deliciously? Yes, I would. All hail Black Phillip.

top 10 movies of 2016 arrival

4. Arrival

For its first two acts, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a fascinating, if somewhat chilly, science fiction tale about humankind’s attempt to communicate with alien visitors who unlike us in every conceivable way. It’s a pretty terrific movie up until that point, a tense blend of genre and drama that believes wholeheartedly in science, level-headedness, and intellectual curiosity. And then it happens. The film cracks open, sheds its icy shell, and reveals the warm heart that has been quietly beating underneath the surface the entire time. It’s a sentimental reveal, but it’s one that tugs on the heartstrings while simultaneously providing a specific human face for the film’s most oblique science fiction concepts. Arrival is a film powered by hope, overjoyed by discovery, and in love with human possibility. It will also make you cry a whole bunch.

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