BY KEVIN CARR
Calendar year 2016 has gotten a real bad rap this year. And many of it deservedly so. Too many entertainers passed away this year (including, but not limited to David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Prince, Garry Marshall and tragically Anton Yelchin). It has certainly been a year for ups and downs in many aspects of life, but as people are lamenting the year’s end, many seem to forget the good things that came out of 2016.
I wouldn’t say that 2016 could be characterized by a great year in cinema, but it definitely gave us some fantastic films. And from the animation front, you’ll have to search long and hard to find a better year with consistent quality content the likes of what we saw this year (“Storks,” “Angry Birds” and “Trolls” notwithstanding).
So in the grand tradition of internet lists, here’s a look at my choices – many of which were surprises to me – for the best films of the year. And when you get to the end, you’ll have to agree that 2016 hasn’t been the all-around punishing year as many have been characterizing it.
10. THE NICE GUYS
With the exception of “Iron Man 3,” which was more successful as a follow-up to “The Avengers” and the net step in the Marvel juggernaut a few years back, Shane Black isn’t going to see widespread mainstream success. He’s too sardonic, sarcastic and cynical to achieve that. Of course, this is what makes him such a fun filmmaker, and his send-up of 1970s private eyes and the porno industry certainly puts that sense of humor and worldview on display. It didn’t make a ton of money, but “The Nice Guys” was one of the more clever and original films to come out of the summer.
9. PHANTOM BOY
While most people are fixating on Captain America, Batman, Superman, the X-Men and the return of Spider-Man, there was a little animated superhero film that was better than all of the competition. “Phantom Boy” got a tragically small release, but that didn’t stop it from being the perfect blend of a love letter to superhero cinema and an entertaining family film. The story of a boy who can astral project from his hospital room to help a cop catch a super villain is poignant and inspiring, and it should have been seen by more people.
8. THE HOLLARS
John Krasinski cut his teeth on “The Office” as both an actor and a director, and since then he has been trying to find a path outside of that television show. “The Hollars” was a great step in that direction for me. Telling the story of a dysfunctional family coming together after their mother discovers a critical illness, Krasinski weaves the characters together with both angst and charm. It’s not as dark as some dysfunctional family movies, and that’s what drew me toward it. It’s about family, and while we don’t always like family, it also shouldn’t make us want to run away.
This year was such a competitive year for great animation, even if you just look at the choices put out by Disney alone. Sure, “Moana” was gorgeous and charming, and “Finding Dory” pushed all the right nostalgic buttons, but it was “Zootopia” with a clever take on society and politics that really transcended your run-of-the-mill talking animal movie. And even without that greater meaning, “Zootopia” is just a heck of a lot of fun for the whole family.
6. SING STREET
My love for “Sing Street” comes from an authentically honest place. After all, I did not like “Once” at all, so I wasn’t carrying any expectations or baggage from that film into this one. Still, “Sing Street” spoke to me. It tells the coming of age of an awkward teenager in Ireland who finds his way with a small band he assembles with his friends. The film manages to juggle the struggles of family, school, girlfriends and big dreams of a teenager without overdoing it or taking itself too seriously.
5. SWISS ARMY MAN
Say what you want about a flatulent Daniel Radcliffe, but “Swiss Army Man” is easily one of the most original movies you’re going to see ever. It tells the story of a shipwrecked man who uses a corpse that washes up on shore as a multi-tool to survive. Even though it is replete with body noises and some pretty gross-out moments, “Swiss Army Man” manages to be one of the most touching films of the year.
4. THE WITCH
This was easily the most polarizing film of 2016, receiving tons of praise from critics but also facing backlashes from audiences that didn’t know how to take it. An eerie, atmospheric tale of guilt and isolation from early America, the rich soundtrack and drab-but-beautiful cinematography make this movie unique and fascinating. It’s a struggle to fully understand with dialogue from the 1500s, but it’s also a movie to be studied and revered.
3. HACKSAW RIDGE
After I saw “Hacksaw Ridge,” I had to say that it was about time to forgive Mel Gibson. For all of his foibles in the past, it’s impossible to deny that he is a master filmmaker. And beyond just a talent for filmmaking, he took a harrowing story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss and his battlefield heroism as a medic and made it one of the most powerful and emotional movies I’ve seen in a while. Even with dozens of movies that show the hell of combat, we need movies like this to remind us what those serving in our armed forces are ready to face every day.
I don’t always love Clint Eastwood’s movies, but when he does one right, it’s remarkable. Like “American Sniper,” “Sully” takes a slow-burn look at what could have been an over-the-top action film. The incident of the Miracle on the Hudson took far less time than the film does, but Eastwood makes it work. Telling the entire story from Sully’s point of view allows the audience to see the internal thoughts of a man thrust into heroism and persecution. It can be heavy-handed at times, but that’s part of the point of Eastwood’s approach. One of the most impeccably made movies of 2016, “Sully” was a very pleasant surprise for me.
1. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Even though there are two animated movies already on this list, anyone who knows me understands my love for this medium. Laika has kept the near-lost art of stop-motion animation alive with movies like “Coraline,” “Paranorman” and “The Box Trolls,” and they increased the quality in this new film. Using a level of detail that is truly amazing, “Kubo and the Two Strings” brings the art back to this artistry, and it’s also a fine story that kids and adults can embrace and enjoy.
“Finding Dory,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Deadpool,” “10 Cloverfield Lane,” “Remember”