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The Top 16 Movies of 2016: A year-end retrospective

December 22, 2016Ben Mk



The year that was 2016 is all but a footnote for the history books. And looking back at the past twelve months in movies, it goes without saying that it's been yet another cinematic roller coaster ride — full of glorious ups and disappointing downs. Now, the time has come to celebrate Hollywood's peak film achievements of the year. But unlike some critics' lists, I'll keep the selection mostly mainstream. Here are the top 16 movies — organized by genre — that left an indelible impression on this humble reviewer in 2016...

— Best in Sci-Fi / Fantasy —

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


A movie made by Star Wars fans for Star Wars fans, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers ample fan service to blow the minds of even the most hardcore devotees of the Force. Still, Rogue One does a marvelous job ensuring that its appeal is all but inclusive, proving that while the Force may have awoken last December, the creative powers behind the franchise haven't fallen asleep at the proverbial wheel. (Full Review)

Arrival


Arrival drastically diverges from what one might typically expect from a big budget, sci-fi movie released by a major studio, but there's more to the film than any of its marketing or promotional material have let on. Suffice to say, Arrival is the type of movie that asks its viewers to enter with an open mind, for it promises great rewards for those looking to be stimulated intellectually, not just thrilled visually. (Full Review)

— Best in Comic Book Movies —

Deadpool


If you're hoping for a Hugh Jackman cameo, don't hold your breath. In every other regard, however, Deadpool satisfies, delivering all the slick action, fourth-wall breaks and pop culture references you could ever hope for from a movie starring "the Merc with a Mouth." (Full Review)

Captain America: Civil War


With a ton of narrative ground to cover, it's amazing that Captain America: Civil War doesn't collapse under its own weight. On the contrary, not only does it do a bang-up job of handling the motivations and machinations behind Captain America and Iron Man's falling out, it also delivers on all the hallmarks audiences have come to expect from each new Marvel Studios production. (Full Review)

— Best in Horror / Suspense Movies —

Don't Breathe


A movie that takes the traditional elements of a siege thriller and turns the genre on its ear, Don't Breathe's taut, tension-filled script and grueling violence make it impossible to predict what will happen next. The only thing that's truly guaranteed is that you'll never look at a turkey baster quite the same way again. (Full Review)

The Witch


Stylish and creepy, The Witch takes our fear of the supernatural and twists it into one of the most haunting movies in recent memory. But aside from its foreboding imagery, eerie score and unnerving performances, what really sets the movie apart is its grueling attention to detail. (Full Review)

10 Cloverfield Lane


10 Cloverfield Lane is many things, including a first-rate thriller, a suspenseful mystery and an intensely-acted character drama. If you're a Cloverfield fan who has high expectations for this follow-up, the result certainly lives up to the hype. But if you're approaching the movie with zero preconceptions, it will absolutely blow you away. (Full Review)

Train to Busan


A harrowing journey through blood-splattered zombie territory, Train to Busan also brings some much-needed depth to the genre. Not only does the movie incorporate allegories for class warfare into its narrative, it also imbues it with a great deal of emotional heft, thanks to the relatable plights of its core group of characters. (Full Review)

— Best in Dramas —

Sing Street


If the notion of musically-inclined high schoolers conjures up images of kids dancing and singing their way from scene to scene, perish the thought, because Sing Street is far removed from the likes of High School Musical and Glee. Touching, well-acted, and like opening a time capsule full of '80s pop culture goodness, it will leave you humming its feel-good melodies for days. (Full Review)

Nocturnal Animals


A revenge tale within a revenge tale, Nocturnal Animals is a chilling noir drama whose stellar cast includes the likes of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. However, it's Michael Shannon who saunters in and steals the show, with a quirky yet suitably intense performance that puts him in excellent company among such cult-favorite actors as Christopher Walken, John Malkovich and Jeff Goldblum. (Full Review)

The Handmaiden


Adapted from the 2002 novel, "Fingersmith," The Handmaiden is a haunting, twisty-turny exploration into the depths of depravity, passion, love and revenge. Suffice to say, when it comes time for the wicked to receive their just desserts, you'll be hungering for more. (Full Review)

— Best in Animated Films —

Moana


Moana doesn't upend the feel-good formula that has come to define Disney's hand-drawn and computer-generated output for the last few decades. But even though the film doesn't break new ground, it's still fun and uplifting, thanks to terrific songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, an endearing cast of characters and a joyfully self-aware sense of humor. (Full Review)

Kubo and the Two Strings


From an oversized, crimson skeleton with swords stuck in its skull, to giant-eyeballed sea monsters, to a massive, flying, spectral serpent, Kubo and the Two Strings won't leave audiences wanting for spectacular thrills. However, it's the film's smaller, more tender moments that will surely resonate with viewers. (Full Review)

Zootopia


You don't need eagle-like vision to see the parallels between our own society and Zootopia, a movie that resonates with its core messages about equality and inclusion. The result sets a new high-water mark, not just for Disney animated films, but for the animation genre as a whole. (Full Review)

— Best in Family Films —

The Jungle Book


Disney's live-action reimagining of The Jungle Book may be darker than its own 1967 version, but it's still ideal fare for all but the very youngest of viewers, with plenty of thrills to satisfy older audiences, not to mention enough humor and heart to entertain everyone in-between. (Full Review)

Pete's Dragon


Pete's Dragon is a deceptively straightforward and heartfelt tale. But make no mistake, what the movie lacks in edginess and narrative complexity it more than makes up for with the sincerity of its storytelling. A remake that's markedly superior to the original, it eschews typical blockbuster conventions, balancing stunning special effects with a soulful story for all ages. (Full Review)





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