Thanks to my membership in GALECA, I got to see a lot more movies than I ever have before in my years as a critic. There were lots of hidden gems (Blue Jay) and pleasant surprises (Swiss Army Man), but when the big movies flopped, they flopped hard (looking at you, Suicide Squad). That’s probably why so many dubbed 2016 a “bad year.” That’s a total lie, especially compared to real cinematic droughts like 2005. So with so much beauty in a very ugly year, here are my top 10 films of the year, along with 25 honorable mentions.
10. 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)
Mike Mills’ long-awaited follow-up to Beginners is a quasi-tribute to his mother. Annette Bening is quietly astonishing as Dorothea, the 55-year-old single mother trying to raise a teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) amid the death of punk, changing social mores and what President Jimmy Carter calls “a crisis of confidence.” One of the rare movies that could have been longer, 20th Century Women is beautiful, flaws and all.
9. Tower (dir. Keith Maitland)
Breathtaking in its innovation and humanity, Tower re-tells the tragedy of Aug. 1, 1966 and barely even mentions the name Charles Whitman. Instead, director Keith Maitland assembles his first- and second-hand accounts to ensure we focus on the heroes and the fallen of that day, and not the troubled ex-Marine responsible for the worst mass shooting in the U.S. until 2016, which also tragically saw campus carry laws go into effect in Texas on the very anniversary of the horrific murders.
8. Sing Street (dir. John Carney)
Pure, unfiltered John Carney. While Once could have drowned in its misery and Begin Again was too excitable to keep its story tight, Sing Street strikes exactly the right tonal balance. Plus, the songs are even better. This is nostalgia done properly.
7. Everybody Wants Some (dir. Richard Linklater)
The year’s ultimate hangout movie. While not as profound as Boyhood, pitch-perfect as Bernie or bone-deep as the Before trilogy, this is as relaxed as can be, which is a nice change of pace. Saved from being too bro-y by a game cast and characters that (occasionally) have more on their minds than baseball and ladies, this movie eschews most if not all college comedy clichés.
6. Captain America: Civil War (dirs. Joe & Anthony Russo)
Miles ahead of where DC is, and not just because they had a major head start, Civil War grapples with the cost of being a superhero, and whether the collateral damage is justifiable in protecting the planet (and soon, the galaxy). It also asks a pressing question that we may be asking ourselves sooner rather than later: How much can you trust a government that has continually proven itself to have nefarious intent? Did I also mention it has the best action set-pieces of the year?