I’m not going to call these the “top ten movies of 2016,” because that would imply they’re actually the year’s ten best movies, and I’ve missed too many contenders for that list (Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures) to pretend I have a claim to stake there. Still, it’s worth revisiting ten winners I did see this year — some great, some simply satisfying — grouped into five categories.
The year’s best surprise
10 Cloverfield Lane was an interesting sort of sequel: a film that exists in the same universe as the 2008 original, but otherwise has a wholly unrelated story. In fact, director Dan Trachtenberg agreed to a built-in spoiler by hitching his film to the franchise (you’ll understand what I mean pretty much as soon as the movie starts), but hopefully he reaped a benefit in a larger audience for his strange and riveting thriller. It’s certainly the best Cloverfield yet.
There’s no movie I more eagerly anticipated seeing this year than Rogue One — the second time. Gareth Edwards and the Disney/Lucasfilm team elegantly answered the question of what a standalone Star Wars film might look like, though an integral part of this prequel’s appeal is that it doesn’t really stand alone at all.
The other blockbuster brand that was revisited this year, with even more of a departure from the original, was “the wizarding world of Harry Potter.” Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them may be a better movie than any of the individual Potter episodes; J.K. Rowling proved that her facility with plotting and humor translates neatly to screenplay form.
La La Land is a gorgeously made film that could well bring in a Best Picture trophy. Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, and Damien Chazelle recaptured the joy of watching people dance on screen.
The backlash regarding Casey Affleck’s history of alleged abuse may dent the Oscar chances of Manchester By the Sea, but it doesn’t detract from Kenneth Lonergan’s achievement in crafting a painful — if, sometimes, painfully contrived — meditation on loss.
Jackie is a showcase for Natalie Portman, who shares the reserve and, maybe (probably), the quiet rage of the biopic’s subject.
Just plain fun
With Star Trek Beyond, the rebooted science fiction series let go of most of its interdimensional pretensions and let our heroes duke it out on a contested planet, old-school-style. The gravity-bending finale outdid Doctor Strange.
Though Sing Street was a little boys-clubby, and the fictional ’80s band it depicted were implausibly talented, John Carney cooked up an appealing fantasy about escaping into music.
Everyone else seemed disappointed in Blair Witch, but I enjoyed it for what it was: a long series of scary
It’s painful, now, to look back and see how the racist and wholly irrational Ghostbusters backlash presaged the presidential election and all of its fact-averse sloganeering. The irony is that the biggest problem with the film itself was just how precisely it replicated the plot of the classic original. What could this talented cast have done if freed to be the stars of their own movie?