2016 will likely go down as one of the most depressing years in recent history, but that has more to do with a certain reality TV host being elected President of the United States, not to mention some particularly hard-hitting celebrity deaths, than the movies we watched along the way. In fact, despite the usual collection of flops, disappointments and general mediocrity, there were a number of great films throughout the year spanning a wide range of genres, which is evident in my own Top 10. Though I stand behind every choice on this list, it should in no way be considered definitive due to some elements out of my control (for instance, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” not being screened in time) and an extraordinarily busy holiday season.
1. “HELL OR HIGH WATER“
For as old-fashioned as “Hell or High Water” feels at times, it’s a movie that deals with some incredibly timely themes, especially in a post-election America still reeling from the last economic depression. Following his little-seen 2013 gem “Starred Up,” director David Mackenzie delivers yet another engaging family-centric story (based on a script by “Sicario” writer Taylor Sheridan) that excels in its simplicity. It’s gorgeously shot, displaying both the beauty and sadness of its picturesque landscape, and features a trio of excellent performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Nobody does unhinged quite like Foster, and this is easily Pine’s best work in years, but the movie ultimately belongs to Bridges as the devilishly funny, veteran Texas Ranger who would rather go down in a hail of bullets than be forced into retirement. Though the film follows a pretty standard cops-and-robbers formula, it does so with such razor-sharp proficiency and well-drawn characters that it succeeds not only as a terrific genre flick but a modern American classic in the same vein as “No Country for Old Men.”
An incredibly moving, intimate and authentic story about a broken man who’s forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of the year. Casey Affleck is phenomenal in the lead role, delivering a subtle but powerful performance that showcases an actor at the top of his game, while Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and relative newcomer Lucas Hedges all deliver outstanding work in supporting roles. Though the movie is sprinkled with quite a bit of humor (much more than you’d expect for the subject matter), “Manchester by the Sea” is primarily a portrait of grief and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no guidebook or one-size-fits-all remedy to mending a broken heart, and writer/director Kenneth Lonergan conveys that point beautifully amid the wintry, gloomy backdrop of his New England setting. “Manchester by the Sea” is heavy stuff, but for a film that deals mainly in misery, it never feels exploitative, and that goes a long way in earning your attention and respect.