Chris Bumbray's Best Movies of 2016!

And so ends another year…

In retrospect, I have to say, 2016 started off with a real bang as far as movies are concerned, with a superlative Sundance selection and some solid arthouse and mainstream releases. For the first time in as long as I remember, more than half of my top ten comes from movies that premiered in the first six months of the year, which is unusual as most of my list usually comes from TIFF.

One thing that’s interesting is how, this year anyway, there’s no clear-cut favorite for me at the top of the list. While I’m happy with the order, fact is you could re-arrange it any way you want and I wouldn’t be too bothered, as I liked all pretty much equally. I’m not sure if that fact disappoints me or not, as I usually have one clear favorite, but so it goes.

Agree or disagree? Strike back below!

1. Midnight Special

My editor, Paul Shirey, was shocked when I told him MIDNIGHT SPECIAL would be taking the top spot on my list this year. He found it hard to believe that I hadn’t seen a better movie this year, and in-fact, I have seen better movies, but not one that I enjoyed quite as much. To me, director Jeff Nichols and leading man Michael Shannon are in the midst of the most exciting director/actor combo since Scorsese/De Niro, and this ambitious ode to eighties sci-fi is like a dream come true for fans like me. There’s so much about this film I adored, from the look, to the performances and the score by David Wingo. If you missed this one (and it seems a lot of people did) please take the holidays to check it out.

2. Hacksaw Ridge

Some took issue with me awarding HACKSAW RIDGE a perfect score. Was it a flawless film? I’d wager not. What is? Sure, it has some of the old war movie tropes, and director Mel Gibson’s obsession with carnage is, at times, disturbing. However, it shook me more on an emotional level than anything else on this list, and I wager it's one I’ll return to a lot over the years. I’m glad Hollywood has once again embraced Gibson’s work, because there are few people out there that can make a movie like he can.

3. Sing Street

SING STREET gave me the biggest cinematic chill of the year. I remember it well. I was sitting in the Eccles Theater at Sundance with some of the other journos covering the fest, thoroughly enjoying the charming Irish musical I was watching. “Damn,” I thought to myself, “that John Carney sure can make a movie.” Then, the “Drive It Like You Stole It” number hit, and I fell in love. It was the most bravura moment of filmmaking I saw this year and thoroughly guaranteed this love letter to the eighties and MTV would rank high on my top ten.

4. La La Land

I saw LA LA LAND just as the buzz around it started to hit a fever pitch. It was actually a few days before TIFF, shortly after it played Telluride, where Tom Hanks stopped a press conference for his own film, SULLY, to talk about how much he enjoyed Damien Chazelle’s MGM-style musical. It was right after this that the Canadian distributor arranged a pre-TIFF screening for those of us attending the festival, on what I think may have just been a Blu-ray rather than a full DCP, but it didn’t matter – Chazelle’s film was a miracle, with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone cementing their reps as the great on-screen couple of our time.

5. Manchester By The Sea

It’s funny how things work out. Back at Sundance, the talk of the town was Nate Parker’s BIRTH OF A NATION, which broke acquisition records at the fest when it sold to Fox Searchlight, with everyone prematurely proclaiming it would be a sure-fire Oscar winner this year. History showed otherwise (although I think Parker’s film is fine), but the real masterpiece of the fest, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, was almost overlooked. Amazon and Roadside Attractions wound up paying a pretty penny for it, and it looks like they’re going to get their money’s worth. If there was a better performance than Casey Affleck’s this year, I didn’t see it.

6. Arrival

I just knew ARRIVAL would be great. People didn’t seem so sure, with folks buzzing about how Denis Villeneuve’s movie didn’t make Cannes this year, with many saying “ooooh, it’s in trouble” and “it’s going to be his first flop.” Think again. Not only did ARRIVAL blow critics out of the water at TIFF (totally overshadowing the other Amy Adams movie, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS) but it also broke out big-time amongst mainstream audiences, racking up $87 million domestically – pretty amazing for such a cerebral film.

7. Hell or High Water

HELL OR HIGH WATER was a movie none of us really saw coming, although in hindsight perhaps we should have. With STARRED UP’s David Mackenzie directing and SICARIO’s Taylor Sheridan writing the script, after receiving a Cannes berth we should have known it was a cut above. Then again, movies like this go to VOD all the time, even if they’re well-received. Bolstered by career-best performances by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, and some prime Jeff Bridges scenery-chewing, HELL OR HIGH WATER went on to be the indie breakout hit of the year, and one that looks likely to earn some major Oscar love. Me, I’m just psyched to see Sheridan’s latest, WIND RIVER, when it plays Sundance.

8. The Nice Guys

Twenty years ago, THE NICE GUYS would have been considered a commercial film. A Joel Silver-produced action flick with a script by Shane Black (who also directs)? Yet, nowadays, this star-driven action-comedy is almost considered an art-house indie just because there aren’t any superheroes, and, gasp, it's set in the seventies. All told, watching it was just about the most fun I had in a movie theater this year, and it’s a shame more moviegoers didn’t embrace it, as Ryan Gosling/ Russell Crowe could have easily spun this off into a franchise. So be it. At any rate, it’s a gem.

9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Despite a slow release, Taika Waititi’s HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE wound-up being something of an indie success story this summer, raking-in over $23 million world-wide against a tiny $2.5 million budget (although it looks like it cost way more). A fun, fast-paced adventure comedy, it gave star Sam Neill a great part, while young Julian Dennison steals plenty of scenes. It also boasts the year’s best soundtrack, courtesy of the band, Moniker.

10. Blood Father

I guess the inclusion of BLOOD FATHER is going to turn some people off right away, as it was so low-profile, with a tiny VOD release this summer, it barely made a dent as far as movie news went. If the distributors had held it until after Mel Gibson’s HACKSAW RIDGE comeback it might have done better, but no matter. As far as legit action-thrillers go, this B-budgeted European production (by MESRINE’s Jean-François Richet) was the best of the year, and a triumphant badass return to form by Gibson. It’s nice to see him in a vehicle worthy of his talent, and hopefully more people will catch-up with this badass gem.


20. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY: Reaction among fans is divisive, with some putting it up there with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (ridiculous) while others despise it. I really liked it, although being a product of my time I can't quite put it up there with the original trilogy.

19. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS: If you can make it past the first five minutes, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a provocative thriller that says a lot about the relationship between the artist and their audience. Also, Michael Shannon is amazing as a kind of 21st century Doc Holliday.

18. GREEN ROOM: Jeremy Saulnier's film takes on a tragic edge, with Anton Yelchin's tragic passing a few months ago so fresh in our minds. That maybe taints the film a bit, but it remains a shocking horror-thriller, with a terrific performance by Patrick Stewart where he's cast way against type.

17. LOVING: Jeff Nichols made two great movies this year, and Ruth Negga, cast opposite Joel Edgerton, gives one of the year's finest performances in this fact-based civil-right's era drama.

16. MOONLIGHT: Director Barry Jenkins put himself on the map big-time with this gorgeous drama about a young, gay, black male coming-of age in the midst of crushing poverty and homophobia.

15. WAR DOGS: To me, this feels like the movie Todd Phillips has been working towards his whole career, with Jonah Hill giving a particularly good performance. It's Martin Scorsese-lite, but that's not a bad thing.

14. ELLE: Paul Verhoeven's return-to-form is a provocative melodrama (not a black comedy as some have said) about a woman's rape and the aftermath. Isabelle Huppert is Oscar-worthy.

13. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME: Some were disappointed that Richard Linklater's follow-up to BOYHOOD was so straight-forward, but to me this coming-of-age comedy is one of the more purely enjoyable films of the year.

12. THE AGE OF SHADOWS: Some of the most exciting cinema these days hails from South Korea, and Kim Jee-woon's (I SAW THE DEVIL) period spy flick is a good example of that. If your only exposure to Korean cinema is SNOWPIERCER, this one is a good place to start (as is the recent TRAIN TO BUSAN).

11. DEEPWATER HORIZON: Peter Berg made two great fact-based dramas this year, with the discipline of DEEPWATER HORIZON (and the scale of it) inching it ahead of PATRIOTS DAY, but not by much. Both are superb, and Berg is a master of the genre.

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