James’ Top 10 of 2016

2016 is drawing to a close, and it ends up it was a pretty damn good year in movies. Here I’ll take a look back at my favorites of this year, of the films that I have seen.

This is not ranked, because I fucking hate ranking things. If I had to pick, Moonlight would probably be #1.
Anyway, on with the list.

Jane Levy;Dylan Minnette;Daniel Zovatto
Don’t Breathe
Sometimes a film doesn’t have to rewrite the rule book to be great, it just has to excel at executing something in a better way than others have done it. That’s what Don’t Breathe does, it is an incredibly well executed horror film.
Jane Levy plays a girl living in a shitty home in Detroit with her crappy family. She dreams of getting her younger sister out and taking her to a better life in California, so she teams up with her friend and boyfriend to break into houses and get enough money to leave. The last house they decide to hit belongs to a blind man who seems to be wealthy, but soon things go south and they find he has some secrets they didn’t plan for.
The film is expertly assembled by director Fede Alvarez in a way that continually ratchets up the tension and throws twists and turns at you like a mountain highway.

The Lobster

Colin Farrel plays a man who recently has gotten out of a long term relationship. It is mandated that all single people have to go to a hotel in the country where they have 30 days to find a partner. If they are still single after that time, they are turned into an animal of their choosing.
The Lobster is a really strange, absurdist film that looks at love, relationships, and the importance that society puts on them. A twist at about the half way point creates a mirrored scenario where we see the complete opposite. It sort of shows that you shouldn’t force or fight love, but just let it happen.


Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a black man growing up in Florida among drugs and poverty. The film is split into three distinct acts (Little, Chiron, Black) that show snapshots of different defining moments in his life as he navigates through trouble, finds himself and comes to terms with his sexuality.
Beautifully shot and acted, this film shines a light on issues effecting the black community, gay community, and really everyone. From addiction, bullying, absent parents to this need to be “hard” and not reveal your emotions to the world. This isn’t a film that wants sympathy, it begs for empathy for each other
This is one of those films that seems to sort have come along at the perfect time. It shows that through all that we go through, we can still find hope and love somewhere.

Nocturnal Animals

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s second dip into Hollywood (after his acclaimed debut A Single Man) results in this dense, captivating and stylish film that is part relationship drama and part abduction crime drama, but completely amazing.
The film tells the story of a woman in a crumbling marriage who randomly receives a manuscript from her first husband in the mail. As she reads the novel, paralells between her experiences and the book emerge, and it begins to effect her throughout her day to day life.
The film then seamlessly interweaves the story of the novel and her own life, playing off each other in a way that works beautifully, setting you up for an ending that plays perfectly for everything that came before.


While I love the fantasy/action-packed adventure of blaster bolts and laser swords that Star Wars brings, one of the things I get most excited for is a good dry, hard Sci-Fi film. Luckily, this year brought Arrival.
At the beginning of the film, 12 alien ships land across the planet and Amy Adams is a linguist who is brought in to learn how to communicate with the beings. That’s the film. It’s 2 1/2 hours on linguistics, quantum physics and sessions where the team stand in front of the aliens with a white board saying things like “We are Humans.” It’s like watching someone teaching a kid to read, and it’s incredible.
There is so much more wrapped around that framework though. The film brings up so many amazing questions on fate and free will and fear of the unknown. This is another beautifully crafted film by Denis Villeneuve that can’t be missed.

The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn returns with his next neon drenched film, this time very aptly titled.
The premise is very simple and showgirls-esque. A young innocent girl from the Midwest moves to LA dreaming to be a model and becomes corrupted by the dark underbelly of the industry.
The film is gorgeous to look at and acted well, even though it does get really strange at times. It’s a bizarre mash up of a model drama with Italian giallo and a bit of the weirdness of David Lynch thrown in. But it works for me, it really works.
It’s a film that touches on fame, its power to change people, superficial beauty and the value society places on it, and how that all just eats these people alive.

The Nice Guys

I suppose if I have to put one action/comedy film on the list, it needs to be this criminally overlooked one.
Basically, the film is about a private eye and a criminal ‘enforcer’ for hire who team up to find a missing girl and solve the case of a dead porn star whose stories seem to be intertwined. Along the way there’s plenty of comedy and adventure with a conspiracy that seems to go much deeper than they expected.
Gosling and Crowe have a great chemistry, playing off each other flawlessly in a film written and directed by Shane Black, which seems reminiscent of his other undernoticed crime comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Hell or High Water

This is the film that sorta snuck up on everyone. There really should have been more promotion for it, because it is a great film.
It’s sort of a standard “Two brothers are robbing banks and a cop is out trying to catch them”. The twist on this, however, is that the reason they are doing it is because the bank is trying to take their late mother’s land and they are paying the bank back for the land with the bank’s own money that they stole.
While the film is competently shot and well written, what really elevates it are the performances, especially from the leads: Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges. These three are all on par with some of the best performances of the year, and they really bring something to this film that makes it special.

The VVitch

There are not many horror films on my list, despite it being my favorite genre. It was a good year with some very finely made horrors (I’m looking at you, Don’t Breathe) but few elevated the genre like Robert Eggers’ The Witch.
The Witch tells the story of a family in the days of the American colonies, leaving town and setting up shop in the frontier. The father is a strict puritan and when shit starts going south, he believes the devil has a hold on his family.
This film, which is steeped in the folklore and satanic/witchcraft paranoia of the time, is not an incredibly scary film. Instead it makes you feel uneasy, turning the screws of tension and dread on you throughout it’s running time. It feels like one gut punch after another.

SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano
Swiss Army Man

I can’t believe a film about a farting, boner-compass equipped corpse helping a man get off a deserted island is on my best of the year list, but here we are.
Paul Dano plays a lonely man who has been shipwrecked on an island. Reaching his wits end, he finally attempts suicide, but is stopped when he finds a corpse, played by Daniel Radcliffe, has washed up on the shore.
Soon Dano becomes buddies with the corpse, who has many weird bodily functions that help him get out of jams (hence the name Swiss Army Man) and the film goes on to make some really incredible statements on friendships, loneliness, and love.
Honestly, saying that a farting corpse movie moved me more than most films I’ve seen this year is quite an accomplishment for the filmmakers. A really strange accomplishment.

Honorable Mentions
Deadpool, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Midnight Special, Green Room (This almost made it).

Also, keep in mind this list is fluid as I still have not seen several contenders including: Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, La La Land, The Edge of Seventeen.





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