A-List: Top 10 Movies of 2016

By J. Don Birnam

December 26, 2016

Not the Tenenbaums.

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It’s the one time a year that the A-List is ten entries long, and always a hard list to make. Making these lists is so entirely subjective that it is always more likely to cause arguments than to resolve them. Having seen over 150 movies in theaters, screeners, film festivals, and screenings, I still haven’t seen at least a dozen that could potentially be worthy of an entry, making any list invalid from the get go.

What is clear from 2016 is that the divide between critics and audiences, which has existed for at least 20 years or more, continues to grow. Audiences flock to big spectacle event movies like Captain America and Rogue One, but it is other types of movies that hold the top ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. So here goes nothing.

10. Sausage Party

It is not unusual for an animated film to be among top ten movies lists these days, not with the wonder of the imaginations of those folks working at Pixar. What is more unusual is for that movie to be a raunchy adult cartoon, one that basically centers on supermarket items humping each other. But Seth Rogen’s devilish cartoon is thick in innuendo and laughs, while also doing what more successful Pixar movies manage to do (though, notably, none this year): suffuse the entire exercise with at least enough cleverness to get you thinking in between laughs.


9. Loving

Speaking of historically important films about race, Jeff Nichols’ brilliantly understated love story of the couple that brought down the nation’s odious anti-miscegenation laws captures it succinctly. How ironic that, a year after the second go of the unfair and exaggerated #OscarsSoWhite controversy, one that everyone assumed would end with Sundance darling The Birth of a Nation, it is a much quieter film that should bring that controversy to a halt. With a surprising and moving performance by Ruth Negga, this film perhaps belongs to a time of heroes that has passed us, but at least good filmmaking has not yet gone completely by.

8. Captain Fantastic

A welcome surprise this awards season is that Viggo Mortensen’s project about a single father facing the challenge of raising his children to be admirable adults has found itself in the thick of it. As rich as the movie is with messages about its own view of the world and respectable citizens, it is laced with genuinely touching moments and impossible questions about the difficulties of parenthood. When I first saw this film, I felt it was a better version of Little Miss Sunshine, and although it has not achieved that level of success, I suspect it may obtain a warmer reception in years to come.

7. I, Daniel Blake

You cannot tell the story of the world in 2016 without recounting the anxiety of the aging white male. This movie, the top prize-getter at Cannes, approaches that topic from an unexpected perspective: a leftist one. Much like the lauded Tom Hanks SNL skit during the election, I, Daniel Blake reminds us that the problem of the government abandoning its most needy transcends race. It is a moving, intelligent, and finely tuned filmed in all respects. An odd but effective companion to Ava DuVarney’s brilliant documentary, 13th, in fearlessly taking on urgent topics in our times.

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