Last year was a strong year for quality animated films. Zootopia, in many ways, started that trend. Released in the spring, it quickly became one of my favorite films of last year and rewards the viewer upon multiple rewatches.
Zootopia takes a complicated look at how we interact with each other as people of different cultures, races, and opinions – and it does that through the lens of furry (and not so furry) animals. I’m continually stunned at the daring nature of this film’s message balanced with such a fun narrative and striking visuals. For an animated film, it really is the whole package. Complete with excellent voice work in addition to its plentiful strengths, Zootopia shows us that we can and should expect greatness from animated films.
Loving has taken up residence in my heart, and I don’t think it’s moving anytime soon. It stands as a triumphant example of how film can be powerful and inspirational without being heavy-handed or preachy. The key, I think, for Jeff Nichols was to rely on simplicity. Loving is not flashy, nor is it overwrought with creativity that trips over itself. It endeavors to tell the beautiful story of Richard and Mildred Loving – and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. By focusing on the Lovings and portraying their long-suffering love for one another, the film achieves an elegance and gravitas that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton log sterling performances and make Loving a film that tears down even the strongest barriers that we build between each other.
13. Hail Caesar!
The Coen brothers handed yet another gem to filmgoers in 2016. The more this film sits with me, the more I’ve come to realize that Hail Caesar! takes the term “meta” to a whole new level. Through a film about pictures, actors, and studio execs, the Coen brothers give the viewer a hilarious look at Hollywood without making the whole experience feel didactic. It’s commentary, but it’s also a great story. Filled to the brim with some of the best actors in the business, Hail Caesar! is anchored with a career-best performance from Josh Brolin as the conflicted and dutiful Eddie Mannix. The Coen brothers, themselves, are two of the best current directors and Hail Caesar! is some of their finest work.
12. The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys is a riot. What may have seemed like an odd pairing on paper gave us one of the best comedic duos of 2016 in Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Shane Black’s style and quirk take this film from a simple buddy-cop exercise to another level entirely and I found myself completely immersed in the experience. The 70’s aesthetic, cartoon villains, and new star Angourie Rice also added to my great love for this film and guaranteed I’ll be revisiting it often for years to come.
11. American Honey
This is the last film of 2016 that I viewed and can’t believe I didn’t watch it sooner. Released in the fall, American Honey garnered a lot of buzz and made many year-end lists. All the accolades this film received are absolutely deserved.
American Honey is a difficult film for a number of reasons. It’s run time is roughly two hours and forty-five minutes. Director Andrea Arnold shot the film in the square 1:1.33 aspect ratio. It’s opening scene takes place in a dumpster as two characters look for food – it’s dirty, grungy, and unflinching. However, these challenges for the viewer work in the film’s favor. It never feels overly long. The squareness of the frame bolsters the film’s mesmerizing main character, Star (Sasha Lane). And the dirt and grime serve a purpose. They remind us that the film is about our world in which real people live. Richard Roeper captured it best when he said, “This film is the real deal. It will bring you into a world that exists parallel to yours, right outside your car window as you run errands on Main Street.” He’s absolutely correct, to a nauseating degree. American Honey is an inspired, iconic, and essential film about the forgotten people of America. We’d be wise to think on them more often.