The Best Films of 2016

By Brett Halverson and Adam Hlava

In the summer, we published a list of our favorite films that we had seen up until that point in time. Now, with 2016 fully behind us, and having seen most of the 2016 releases that interested us, we present our first annual Top Ten Lists.

These are our favorite movies of the year, not our predictions for Oscar nominees. See our Oscar nominee list for full predictions prior to the announcement on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

For more discussion on our favorite movies of the year, check out Podcast Episode 33, with very special guests the Lady Seat Fillers!

Adam's Top Ten
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Set in a deranged man's underground bunker during what may or may not be a cataclysmic event, the surprise follow up to 2008's Cloverfield is unsettling and claustrophobic.  John Goodman has never been more terrifying as Howard, the bunker's creator and constant lurker. And as Brett and I spoiled in our second episode of the podcast, the finale turns the entire film on its head and essentially switches genres.

9. Silence
The latest from Martin Scorsese is a a religious meditation set in a feudalistic Japan where Christianity is outlawed. The beautiful Japanese landscape mixed with squalor of the peasantry makes for one of the most visually impressive movies of the year. Clocking in at 2 hours 41 minutes, it’s one of the longest movies I’ve watched this year but some thoughtful editing and a great physical performance from Andrew Garfield as a tormented Jesuit priest on a dangerous quest to find his mentor, it never felt like it dragged.

8. Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck’s understated performance throughout Manchester by the Sea made his big Oscar-reel scene at the police station even more profound. But it was the solid uncle-nephew chemistry between Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges that made the movie for me, offering some lighthearted energy to the film, which otherwise could have drowned in its own sorrow.

7. OJ: Made in America
Twenty years after the Trial of the Century, OJ Simpson is back and more popular than ever in pop culture. Although the TV landscape in 2016 had been dominated by accolades for FX's dramatization of the event in "The People Vs OJ Simpson," it's Ezra Edelman's fascinating 10 hour ESPN documentary that offers more in terms of the scale of the trial and societal background than the more narrowly-tailored FX drama. The front-runner for Best Documentary is one of the year's best overall films period.

6. Arrival
Arrival is essentially a movie about time and communication, shrouded in an alien encounter film. It's an emotional, low key, and smart science fiction fantasy with another great Amy Adams performance. Bradford Young's excellent cinematography takes advantage of dusk and twilight to give the film a unique look during the exterior scenes, and should be recognized at the Academy this year. The focus on uncertainty around the intentions of the aliens draws some parallels around American especially as we enter a Donald Trump presidency.

5. The Witch
Way back in our first episode, (when I was just a wee little Seat Filler) I described The Witch Incredibly unsettling and like being wrapped in a blanket of dread for 2 hours. The slow burn pays off at the end and stuck with me for days after first seeing it. The characters speaking in Old English lent to the realism and sense of isolation from the rest of the world. It's refreshing to see a horror film rely less on jump scares and more on a foreboding doom.

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes back, the film is a little chaotic in its first act that includes about a half dozen planets in a 30 minute span. Eventually though Rogue One finds its footing and becomesa thrill ride until the end. Incorporating the look and even archive footage of A New Hope was a brilliant maneuver that helps to bridge the two films, set days and minutes apart even though they were made forty years apart. Donnie Yen steals the show, whoever was responsible for putting him in a Star Wars movie is the greatest person to ever live.

3. Lion
Lion is an incredibly sobering look at extreme poverty, but also the unbinding love of family. The story of a young boy from an impoverished part of India who, through a set of incredible set of circumstances, becomes separated from his mother and brother and ends up becoming adopted by a New Zealand couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). As an adult, the boy now played by Dev Patel, goes on a quest to find his birth family. Dev's Oscar-worthy performance is the highlight of one of the year's best films.

2. The Conjuring 2
Laugh all you want, but one of the most exciting and visceral movie-going experiences this year was James Wan's horror masterpiece. Set in 1970s England, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) battle a malicious demon terrorizing a small family. The brilliant cinematography and excruciating tension add to one of the best horror films in recent memory.

1. Moonlight
The best film of 2016 tells of three time periods in the life of an African American man looking for guidance and love while grappling with his own sexuality. Three actors played the main character Chiron as a young boy, a teenager and an adult, all with their own nuances yet show a commonality that makes it believable that they're the same person. Director and Writer Barry Jenkins’ work is beautiful, mesmerizing and heartbreaking all at once.

Brett's Top Ten
10. Southside With You
Even if Southside With You wasn't about two people whom I admire very much, I'd still like this movie a lot. Taking place on a single night in the summer of 1989, this date movie reminiscent of Linklater's "Before" movies, is a fun and sweet getting-to-know-you walk-and-talk romance that just makes you feel good. I acknowledge that it's difficult to separate my personal adoration for the Obama's from their fictionalized counterparts, but the actors and characters are more than likable enough and there's no doubt I'll be watching this movie as comfort food for the next four years.

9. Jackie
Jackie is a biopic that feels more like an historic documentary than a character study of its titular figure. That is a sentiment that struck me early and often throughout my viewing of the film, and I could imagine that being an impediment or strength depending on the viewer.  In the end, the technical perfection of the movie, from the recreation of the White House and fashion of the era, to Natalie Portman's spot-on performance and the beauty of the cinematography, made it a film I thought a lot about in the days after seeing it. I can't say I'll return to it often, but it's an expertly-made movie in a year full of them.

8. Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic is an excellent meditation on the choices we make as humans, as parents, and society's place in our lives. I don't want to say too much about the movie's plot, because more than most movies, I think the average viewer will benefit from having no expectations coming into the film. I will say I was surprised by the compromise and pragmatism of the movie's final act. Viggo Mortensen is the absolute star of this film, and he should be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. See this if you like family-centered independent movies with a weird streak.

7. Eye in the Sky
Almost every year when the Oscar nominations are announced, a war movie makes the cut as one of the Best Picture nominees. This year, all signs point to Hacksaw Ridge, an ultra-violent Mel Gibson epic, as the soon-to-be-forgotten war movie of the moment. Eye in the Sky is a much better movie about modern warfare and its moral and psychological implications. Taking place in real time over 100 minutes, the movie and its all star cast kept me on the edge of my seat the entire viewing and I can't wait to watch it again. Unfortunately, it came out too early in the year and is directed by a relative unknown, both hindrances to a serious Oscar campaign. I wish the distributor had put more weight behind some awards recognition because, more than any other war movie this year, it deserves it.

6. Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures is formulaic in a comfortable way, the kind of movie you think you've seen before, but clearly haven't because it's a mainstream, studio movie that is fully about three women of color. While it's far from revolutionary from a pure story-telling perspective, the events it depicts actually were groundbreaking and more than worthy of the movie treatment. It's the kind of movie Hollywood needs to make more of, and hopefully finally will now that it's had success at the box office. It is fun and inspiring, and all three of its leads were born to make movies. I love them and I loved this movie.

5. Rogue One
In short, this movie is exactly what I wanted from the first non-saga Star Wars movie. It makes the overall canon better and gives clarity to the movie its story precedes, not something any of the other films can claim. On top of that, the one-off nature of the movie allows the story to end in a logical but daring way, and it's all the better for it. Finally, the diversity of the cast is the exact kind of choice a franchise with this much lucrative power should be making. Kudos to Disney and Lucasfilm, they haven't screwed the franchise up yet!

4. Arrival
The first fifteen minutes of Arrival are told from the perspective of the everyman, watching in awe as we seem to have been contacted by extraterrestrial life for the first time. The sense of wonder and terror everyone would feel at that moment of unknowing are about as accurate and real as one can imagine. Our inability to fully trust the unknown, even while wanting to learn more about it, is what propels the movie forward and eventually what leads to the climactic scenes to end the film. This movie is extremely plot heavy, and I don't want to spoil it, but I will say it's realistic and very pretty to look at and I can't recommend it enough.

(tie) 2. La La Land
A lot has been written about La La Land, the backlash to the love and recognition, and even some backlash to the backlash. I'm not going to try to convince people they should go see it, because it's apparently the kind of movie people either love or don't. What I'll say is I fell in love with it. From beginning to end, and especially the last fifteen melancholy minutes that elevated it from good to great, I loved it. 

(tie) 2. Moonlight
This is an expertly-told, beautiful movie about identity and race and socioeconomics and growing up and sexuality and reminiscing about what could have been and America. I think the movie should speak for itself and it should be required viewing for everybody in this country, especially in January 2017. 

1. Hell or High Water
I don't think Hell or High Water is the best movie of 2016. It won't win Best Picture at the Oscars (that honor will almost certainly go to La La Land or Moonlight), nor should it. But what makes this my favorite movie of the year was its unique combination of escapist heist fare and contemporary economic message in a package that I can see myself rewatching more than any other movie on this list. It captures a very specific place and moment better than most movies, and its cast, writing and direction are as good as one could hope. In another year, maybe even last year, I could see this as the Oscar front-runner, and that's a testament to how good of a year 2016 was for film.

What to expect at the 2017 Golden Globes... besides champagne

golden-globe-awards.jpg

It’s January, which can only mean one thing! No, I don’t mean frigid temperatures, failed resolutions or a new direction in our national politics. January is when the Golden Globes are awarded! (Oh, and when the Oscar nominations are announced. Okay, so January means two things.) 

For the uninitiated, the usually festive and champagne-soaked Golden Globes air this Sunday on NBC, the only non-EGOT awards ceremony to air in primetime on a major broadcast network. It is perhaps for this reason that the Globes have maintained an air of importance and predictive expectation for the Oscars, even as other awards have become historically more accurate predictors of the final Oscars outcome (like the Screen Actors Guild or some of the critics awards). It is also one of the few awards that recognizes both TV and Film together – which, along with the champagne and stars who drink it, is likely why NBC has continued airing the show well past its legitimate predictive relevancy to the Oscars campaign.

The Globes are also unique in that they separate the best film and lead acting awards into separate genre categories: Dramas and Musicals/Comedies. (Note that raucous romp “The Martian” won Best Comedy at last year’s Globes. Yep, really.) The genre separation creates a lost opportunity for Oscars watchers, especially this year, as there is no head-to-head matchup between an Oscar frontrunner “La La Land,” and the other top contenders.

There are still a few races worth watching at this year’s Globes, however, and along with the aforementioned celebs and their booze, it should be a fun Sunday night.

In the Best Motion Picture categories, “La La Land” should be the easy winner in the Comedy/Musical category. The Drama side is much more interesting. “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight,” and “Hell Or High Water” could all legitimately win this award. The other nominees “Lion” and “Hacksaw Ridge” feel like also-rans already.  The Oscar landscape has been relatively static the past few months, with “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” and “Manchester by the Sea” appearing to be consensus frontrunners for the top awards. This big three, as it were, has the potential to stay a triplet or turn into a top two, depending on Sunday’s outcomes along with other major awards over the next few weeks. If “Moonlight” wins the Best Drama award, which I predict and seems likely, “Manchester by the Sea” could drop out of the serious conversation for many top Oscars except Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. However, if “Manchester” is able to sneak by and capture the unlikely win, the campaign will likely remain a top three to the end. If “La La Land” doesn’t win in its respective genre, it’s in serious trouble.

In the lead acting categories, expect Casey Affleck to win the male Drama trophy for his turn in “Manchester by the Sea,” but don’t be surprised if Denzel Washington upsets the frontrunner given the recently highlighted allegations of sexual misconduct against Affleck. The female lead acting races are another unfortunate missed opportunity for fans of Oscar – Natalie Portman should win Drama for “Jackie” and Emma Stone seems like a lock for her career-making turn in “La La Land.” If neither of them wins, their Oscar odds drop considerably. But since neither of them can beat the other, we also won’t learn anything about the equivalent Oscar race, which is one of this year’s best. Finally, best male actor in a Musical/Comedy seems like a relatively unimportant race – Ryan Gosling should win, and will probably be the only Oscar nominee from that group.

The final Globes category with serious top-billed Oscar implications is the Best Director of any Motion Picture award. Unlike best film and lead acting, the Globes don’t separate the directing award into genres. This means that we get a serious head-to-head between the top contenders for the year. Again this is likely a race between the directors of the big three movies – “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea.” Sound familiar? 

The three directors, Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins and Kenneth Lonergan, respectively, also wrote the Original Screenplays for their movies, another potential preview of an Oscar category. Even given the lack of reliable predictability for the Globes, the winner of this should emerge as the front runner for the Oscar in February, and their movie the leading contender for Best Picture, as well. Knowing the Hollywood Foreign Press’s susceptibility to politics and movie star campaigning, I think we’ll see “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle win this award, but it really is hard to predict. “Moonlight” director Jenkins could just as easily take it, further shifting the discussion before the Academy makes their nominee announcements a week later. If noted playwright Kenneth Lonergan wins for his somber and heartbreaking “Manchester by the Sea,” then all bets are off. 

This really is fantastic year for film, and if any year is one for surprises I think this is it. At this point, every single movie that could be nominated for an Academy Award has come out. Many of what are considered the Oscar contenders will have a chance at recognition at this weekend’s Golden Globes. While the Globes may not always be the most accurate predictor of Oscar glory, it’s still a chance for the year’s films to get their due.  And again, there will be lots of beautiful people drinking champagne! 

We’ll recap the full Golden Globes show and talk about its Oscar implications on Monday on The Seat Fillers podcast – listen and subscribe for all of our 2017 Oscars coverage.

Predicting the Nominees for the 89th Academy Awards

 The front runners.

The front runners.

Updated January 17th, 2017

Each week on the Seat Fillers podcast, Adam and Brett predict nominees for different categories at the upcoming Oscars. Below is a running list of the nomination predictions as they happen. Listen each week for discussion of the categories and new picks. The actual Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.

*Bold indicates predicted winner as of episode air date. Final winner predictions will be made after the nominees are announced.
 


Adam's Picks
Arrival  
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge 
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals

BEST PICTURE- Podcast Episode 32
Brett's Picks
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight


Adam's Picks
Damien Chazelle - "La La Land"  
Garth Davis - "Lion" 
Barry Jenkins - "Moonlight"  
Kenneth Lonergan - "Manchester by the Sea"
Denis Villaneuve - "Arrival" 

BEST DIRECTOR - Podcast Episode 32
Brett's Picks
Damien Chazelle - "La La Land"
Barry Jenkins - "Moonlight"
Kenneth Lonergan - "Manchester by the Sea"
Denis Villaneuve - "Arrival"
Denzel Washington - "Fences"


Adam's Picks
Andrew Garfield - "Hacksaw Ridge" 
Casey Affleck - "Manchester by the Sea" 
Denzel Washington - "Fences"
Ryan Gosling - "La La Land" 
Tom Hanks - "Sully"

BEST LEAD ACTOR - Podcast Episode 31
Brett's Picks
Andrew Garfield - "Hacksaw Ridge"
Casey Affleck - "Manchester by the Sea"
Denzel Washington - "Fences"
Ryan Gosling - "La La Land"
Viggo Mortensen - "Captain Fantastic"


Adam's Picks
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - Podcast Episode 31
Brett's Picks
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Adam's Picks
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Moonlight
Lion

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Podcast Episode 31
Brett's Picks
Arrival
Fences
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Silence


Adam's Picks
Allied
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)
Jackie
La La Land

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - Podcast Episode 30
Brett's Picks  
Arrival  
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)
Jackie
La La Land
Silence


Adam's Picks
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Podcast Episode 30
Brett's Picks                                                                            
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)                  
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land
Silence


Adam's Picks
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Zootopia

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE - Podcast Episode 30
Brett's Picks                                                                           
Finding Dory                                                                        
Kubo and the Two Strings                                                
Moana                                                                                
The Red Turtle                                                                  
Zootopia  


Adam's Picks
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

BEST FILM EDITING - Podcast Episode 29
Brett's Picks                                                                            
Hacksaw Ridge                                                                    
Jackie                                                                                    
La La Land                                                                           
Manchester by the Sea                                                      
Moonlight      


Adam's Picks
13th
Life, Animated
Miss Sharon Jones
OJ: Made In America
Weiner

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - Podcast Episode 29
Brett's Picks                                                                            
13th                                                                                          
The Eagle Huntress                                                               
I Am Not Your Negro                                                             
OJ: Made In America                                                            
Weiner  

 
Adam's Picks

"Audition" - La La Land
"Can't Stop the Feeling" - Trolls
"How Far I'll Go" - Moana
"I'm Still Here" - Miss Sharon Jones
"I See Victory" - Hidden Figures

BEST ORIGINAL SONG - Podcast Episode 28
Brett's Picks                                                                            
"Audition" - La La Land                                                          
"Can't Stop the Feeling" - Trolls                                          
"City of Stars" - La La Land                                                  
"How Far I'll Go" - Moana                                                  
"I See Victory" - Hidden Figures


Adam's Picks
Arrival
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Hacksaw Ridge  
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Sully

BEST SOUND EDITING - Podcast Episode 28
Brett's Picks                                                                            
Arrival                                                                                      
Hacksaw Ridge                                                                    
The Jungle Book                                                                    
La La Land                                                                            
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Adam's Picks
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Silence

BEST SOUND MIXING - Podcast Episode 28
Brett's Picks                                                                            
Arrival                                                                                      
Hacksaw Ridge                                                                       
The Jungle Book                                                                   
La La Land                                                                             
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  


Adam's Picks
Viola Davis - "Fences"
Naomie Harris - "Moonlight"
Nicole Kidman - "Lion"
Janelle Monae - "Hidden Figures"
Michelle Williams - "Manchester by the Sea"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Podcast Episode 27
Brett's Picks                                                                             
Viola Davis - "Fences"                                                           
Naomie Harris - "Moonlight"                                                   
Nicole Kidman - "Lion"                                                            
Helen Mirren - "Eye in the Sky"                                              
Michelle Williams - "Manchester by the Sea"


Adam's Picks
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)
Jackie
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Trek Beyond

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLE - Podcast Episode 27
Brett's Picks                                                                            
Deadpool                                                                                
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)                        
Jackie                                                                                     
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story                                              
Star Trek Beyond


Adam's Picks
Arrival
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
La La Land
Moonlight
Silence

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - Podcast Episode 26
Brett's Picks                                                                            
Arrival                                                                                      
Jackie                                                                                      
La La Land                                                                            
Moonlight                                                                               
Silence   


Adam's Picks
Mahershala Ali - "Moonlight"
Jeff Bridges - "Hell or High Water"
Hugh Grant - "Florence Foster Jenkins"
Liam Neeson - "Silence"
Michael Shannon - "Nocturnal Animals"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Podcast Episode 25
Brett's Picks                                                                             
Mahershala Ali - "Moonlight"                                               
Jeff Bridges - "Hell or High Water"                                        
Lucas Hedges - "Manchester by the Sea"                            
Liam Neeson - "Silence"                                                         
Michael Shannon - "Nocturnal Animals" 


Adam's Picks
La La Land
The Lobster
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Podcast Episode 24
Brett's Picks                                                                             
Hell or High Water                                                                  
Jackie                                                                                      
La La Land                                                                              
Manchester by the Sea                                                          
Moonlight                 


Adam's Picks
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)
The Jungle Book
Passengers
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - Podcast Episode 23
Brett's Picks                                                                             
Captain America: Civil War                                                     
Doctor Strange                                                                        
The Jungle Book                                                                    
The Shallows                                                                           
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 


Adam's Picks
Amy Adams - "Arrival"
Ruth Negga - "Loving"
Natalie Portman - "Jackie"
Emma Stone - "La La Land"
Meryl Streep - "Florence Foster Jenkins"

BEST LEAD ACTRESS* - Podcast Episode 22 
Brett's Picks                                                                             
Annette Bening - "20th Century Women"                                     Ruth Negga - "Loving"
Natalie Portman - "Jackie"                                                             
Emma Stone - "La La Land"                                                   
Meryl Streep - "Florence Foster Jenkins" 

*Best Lead Actress predictions were revised on Podcast Episode 31, January 9th 2017.