Despite many blockbusters being disappointing at best and downright dreadful at worst, this was a fantastic year for movies. This list is not comprehensive, I didn’t see enough movies, but they are all worth your time. Many of them are sure to be classic years from now. It is presented in alphabetical order.
It’s rare that we get a film that works on as many levels as Arrival does. It’s a tightly exhilarating movie with an intensity and a thrill that is usually reserved for action films. It’s a satisfying sci-fi epic that has big ideas with even bigger implications, but it uses its ambition to sell a story that ends up being hauntingly human. It is rich in intellect and powerful in emotion, as well as being beautiful and invigorating in equal measure. Beyond all this, it is a film for this political moment, it encourages understanding, working together, and seeing the broader picture of the human story. As a film for this time and a film for eternity, it is almost perfect.
A meandering joyride with a driven thematic core that sustains and helps a series of seemingly unrelated occurrences. Underneath the goofy sidetracks and the wonderfully indulgent performances is one of the most thoughtful meditations on art and faith in recent memory. Each moment is a shot of sheer joy and comedic energy. It appears to me as if those who would complain about Hail Caesar’s constant detours are a) joyless and b) have a complete misunderstanding of the film. This is a movie about how what can seem meaningless, commercial, and cheap can be filled with incredible meaning. Every detour has a real purpose that makes the film a constant ride of wonders.
Kubo and the Two Strings
What an adventure. Secretly the year’s best animated film, Kubo weaves a complex story about loss, faith, and the worth of a normal human life into a seemingly straightforward adventure film. This is the kind of movie that would have transformed me as a child, a film that takes its audience seriously and doesn’t hold back with narrative punches. Kubo, both the film and the character, confront real tragedy and the film lets us feel all the emotions that come with it. It is a story that is both complex in theme and understandable in structure. Thematically, it is heir to Wings of Desire, even as it more practically evokes Star Wars and its influences. It is not a kid film for adults or an adult film for kids, but rather a film for all.
La La Land
A delectable, rich, dark chocolate cake of a movie, that manages to be healthy for you. This film is an visual pleasure. It has one of the best soundtracks in recent memory, a luscious, colorful aesthetic, and cinematography that is propulsive and emotive as dance. With all of this is a film with a beating heart as big as any of its musical numbers. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are downright magical as two LA dreamers who fall in love trying to pursue their individual aspirations. This is a romantic, exhilarating film that takes a refreshingly complex look at the role of human relationships. Simply, a joy.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black crafts the best action film of the year. It manages a careful balancing act between its black comedy and its warm characterizations that make the film a blast even in its darkest moments. It’s a cynical film, one willing to make jokes at death and the worst aspects of human nature, but it is ultimately a message of hope. One that proclaims that real redemption can be found, that evil can be defeated, even if it is just in our own hearts. It’s also fun and funny as hell.