Eric Walkuski's Best Movies of 2016

2016 is just about in the books and it's time to look back at one really good year for movies. (Bad year for everything else, of course.) It's always near impossible to do one of these Top 10 lists because different movies strike you at different times, and something that's #10 on this day might be #2 or #3 in a few months - or not on the list at all. Still, it's fun to look back at the films that really left an impression, so let's get right to it, starting with some honorable mentions.

You can check out the lists of my colleagues Chris Bumbray HERE and JimmyO HERE!

1. The Handmaiden

So many movies in 2016 had me glued to the screen thanks to the immersive worlds they crafted, but none more so than Park Chan-wook's THE HANDMAIDEN, a sumptuous tale of desire, betrayal, deceit and love. You know, all the good stuff. Based on the novel Fingersmith by Welsh author Sarah Waters, Park has effortlessly shifted the story to 1930s Korea and focused on a (seemingly) naive Japanese heiress, her (seemingly) loyal handmaiden and the smooth-talking schemer who brings them together in the hopes of gaining a fortune. Naturally, nothing is what it seems, and THE HANDMAIDEN darts and weaves around us, keeping us off balance with its narrative trickery while blowing our minds with its absolutely perfect presentation. Don't let the long runtime scare you off: It's all just so damn entertaining, 144 minutes never seemed so short.

2. Elle

How to describe ELLE adequately? As with most of my favorite movies this year, it's impossible to summarize this film in a simple way. Like its titular main character, played marvelously by Isabelle Huppert, the movie is challenging and not always easy to like, but you can't take your eyes from it; you're always wondering what it'll do next. 78-year-old director Paul Verhoeven has proven he hasn't lost his knack for handling provocative material with slickness and dark humor, and ELLE ends up being one of his very best movies. It seems necessary to watch it many more times.

3. Arrival

I can't remember the last time I felt so emotionally exhausted after a science fiction film, but ARRIVAL has a way of pummeling your senses. On the one hand, it's a fascinating look at how humanity might deal with the sudden emergence of a seemingly peaceful alien race. On the other, it tells a devastating story about a mother who makes a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Director Denis Villenueve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (adapting the short story by Ted Chaing) give us an awful lot to think about during, and after, ARRIVAL, as does Amy Adams as a beleaguered linguist who potentially has the fate of humanity resting on her shoulders. She deserves the Oscar for Best Actress, no doubt in my mind.

4. The Witch

THE WITCH isn't just an effective horror movie, it's just a good movie in general, one that draws you into its antiquated world from the opening minute. Entrancing us with the macabre tale of a 17th Century New England family under siege from evil forces, writer-director Robert Eggers crafts a gloomy spell using every tool available, with costume/set design being a real standout. But it's the words that really command our attention, words taken directly from books of the time period that sound foreign yet familiar all at once. And, naturally, the exceptional performances from every single member of the family - Anya Taylor-Joy being the standout - further help sink us into this morbidly hypnotic world.

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The Gareth Edwards-directed film is clearly divisive among Star Wars fans, and that's okay. At least we're passionate about the franchise again. For me, ROGUE ONE (which I've seen three times now like a good little nerd) features some of the most intense sequences in the series and an ending that is incredibly satisfying and heartbreaking all at once. The characters could be a little more fleshed out, sure, but they're a team, and as a team they work together and it's so difficult not to root for them. It's not perfect, but ROGUE ONE is a captivating cinematic event and a prime example of why seeing some movies in the theater is still a necessary experience.

6. Swiss Army Man

When I was first making out my top ten, this movie wasn't even really a contender. Then I looked back on my experience with it when I first saw it and smiled. What a bizarre, funny film this is. It defies easy explanation and is certainly not made for everyone; I can perfectly understand someone scoffing at this utterly odd love story, which takes place between a suicidal man and the farting corpse he finds rotting away on a beach. I was fairly engaged in the first few minutes, and by the time the bittersweet conclusion rolled around I didn't want it to end. I cannot wait to see more from directing duo The Daniels. (Also, why the hell isn't Daniel Radcliffe in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor?)

7. Hell or High Water

A simple tale of cops and robbers, David Mackenzie's thriller about two brothers trying to save their farm and the lawman who doggedly pursues them is a great example of how even the most tried and true tales can still be riveting if done well enough. HELL OR HIGH WATER has some interesting things to say about the power banks and guns have in our everyday lives, but in the end iit's the plainspoken and confidant way it goes about unfolding its saga that keeps us absorbed. Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster are all fantastic.

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

In terms of pure joyous entertainment, it's hard to beat HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE this year. A sweet-natured adventure (with a bit of a bite), Taika Waititi's movie is so completely fun that I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over. Sam Neill and Julian Denison - as a mismatched pair of fugitives on the run in the New Zeaand wilderness - make the best buddy-comedy pair in recent memory. And the combination of this and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS ensures I'll be excited for whatever Waititi directs for at least the next dozen years.

9. The Lobster

I kind of, sort of knew what THE LOBSTER was about when I sat down to watch it, but even then I wasn't prepared for the absurdity of the film. Colin Farrell as a man who must find his true love or else he's turned into an animal? Sure, but what goes down in this movie - especially the first act - is unforgettably bizarre and unexpectedly hilarious. Though the humor of THE LOBSTER is sometimes darker than dark, there always beats within it a human heart. Farrell and Rachel Weisz lead a terrific cast, while director Yorgos Lanthimos swiftly becomes one of the most intriguing directors working right now.

10. Zootopia

ZOOTOPIA is one of the most beautiful animated movies ever made, from every angle. Not only is it visually dazzling every step of the way and a story grippingly told, it's an earnest, heartfelt call for tolerance in a time that sorely needs it. What could have been such a lazy movie featuring talking animals turns out to be clever, sweet and overflowing with insightful details. The voice casting is perfect and the world created by the storytellers is a truly exceptional one. I want more ZOOTOPIA stories and I want them now.


15. JACKIE: I'll admit I always thought Natalie Portman had just one great performance in her (BLACK SWAN), but with JACKIE she proves me wrong. As grieving, beyond overwhelmed first lady Jackie Kennedy, Portman is striking in Pablo Larrain's meticulously detailed drama, which examines how the most famous woman on Earth dealt with the shocking assassination of her beloved husband.

14. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER: No horror movie this year chilled me quite the way THE EYES OF MY MOTHER did. Although THE WITCH is the more effective and timeless movie overall, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER shows us visions that we can't easily shake. The story of a woman who will do anything to ensure she's not alone in the world, Nick Pesce's movie is an eerie examination of how some people simply can't help being evil.

13. PATERSON: Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to turn the quiet, rather unexceptional story of a bus driver into such a moving mood piece. As a simple blue collar New Jersey resident who practices poetry during his free time, Adam Driver gives one of the most subtly compelling performances of the year. And let's not sleep on Golshifteh Farahani, who as Paterson's wife (a free spirit who delves into one passion project after another) is one of the year's breakout stars.

12. A MONSTER CALLS: It's hard not to be thoroughly moved by J.A. Bayona's fantastical adaptation of Patrick Ness' book, which takes a vivid look at how one child handles his grief over his mother's impending death. Filled with rich visuals and genuinely heartfelt performances from its cast (including young Lewis MacDougall, who is superb), A MONSTER CALLS is a monstrous achievement in most regards.

11. MOONLIGHT: I really feel like I need to see this film again, so distracting were the circumstances the first time I saw it (I won't get into it). Even still, I was properly impressed with the scope and passion of Barry Jenkins' narrative, which chronicles a young man's tumultuous coming of age while he attempts to come to grips with his sexuality. But a one sentence description doesn't do this movie justice, just as one viewing certainly doesn't. It's here on my Honorable Mention list, but I can almost guarantee it'll climb higher once I've checked it out one or two (or three or four) more times.

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