The best movies of 2016:
This is one of those sci-fi thinkers that get better with a second or third viewing. Amy Adams gives a magnificently modulated performance as a linguist trying to map out a way to communicate with the mysterious beings in an egg-shaped ship that have arrived from outer … somewhere. “Arrival” is a beautifully photographed, brilliantly mapped-out adventure of the spirit and the mind.
On the other hand, “Silence” (opening Jan. 6 in Chicago) is one of those gripping, important, soul-rattling epics (like “Schindler’s List” or “The Revenant”) you admire — but watching it once in a lifetime just might be enough.
That’s no backhanded compliment; it simply means Martin Scorsese’s historical drama about two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) searching for their lost mentor (Liam Neeson) in 17th century Japan is brutally, unforgettably effective, and it will stay with you forever.
8. “The Infiltrator”
Forget about “Why Him?” and consider the run Bryan Cranston has had, from “Breaking Bad” to playing LBJ on Broadway and on HBO to his Oscar-nominated turn in “Trumbo” to “The Infiltrator.” (I thought he was even great in “Godzilla.” Remember “Godzilla?”)
Cranston delivers some of the finest work of his career as U.S. Customs Official Robert Mazur, who goes undercover as a money launderer to infiltrate the Colombian drug cartels. “The Infiltrator” is just behind “Donnie Brasco,” “Serpico” and “The Departed” on my list of great films about undercover cops.
As much as I admired the girl-power “Moana,” my favorite animated film of 2016 and one of my favorite animated movies ever was “Zootopia,” a magical and wonderful and empowering rabbit tail — sorry, tale — filled with amazing visuals, pitch-perfect voice work and some of the most impressively choreographed, richly detailed action sequences you’ll ever see.
It’s also just really, really funny.
6. “Lights Out”
David F. Sandberg’s feature-length version of his 2013 short is an instant classic in the supernatural horror genre. Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello give nomination-worthy performances in this expertly woven, shudder-inducing chiller filled with dark humor, creepy twists and some legitimately earned heavy drama.
Yes, director Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” is old-fashioned and even borderline corny at times — but it’s a briskly paced, extremely well-directed true-life procedural with cutting-edge special effects that make us feel as if we’re with Sully (the great Tom Hanks) and the crew and passengers as their plane lands on — not IN — the Hudson River.
Tom Hanks is so good we take him for granted. It’s been 16 years since Hanks was last nominated for an Oscar.
That’s madness. That should be rectified this year.
4. “La La Land”
A musical for moviegoers who think they’re not fans of musicals. Damien Chazelle’s homage to the classic studio song-and-dance movies of the 1940s and 1950s pops off the screen. The opening number on the freeway is a wonder to behold, the finale is a bittersweet symphony of emotions — and everything in between is pretty great too.
Three great short films about the same character: an African-American boy (then teenager, then man) coming to terms with his sexual orientation and trying to negotiate his day-to-day survival in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Miami. Writer-director Barry Jenkins delivers a work of shattering originality.
2. “Hell or High Water”
Director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan team up for a modern-day Western where even the smallest scene and even the most minor characters feel just perfect. Jeff Bridges takes the obligatory retiring-cop role and turns it into the kind of performance that results in acceptance speeches. Ben Foster and Chris Pine also shine as brothers who love each other and will literally die for each other.
I loved every inch of this movie.
1. “Manchester by the Sea”
What a miracle of a film. Early sequences in which Casey Affleck’s Lee, a Boston custodian, deals with messy apartment problems, shovels the icy same sidewalks in Sisyphean fashion and drinks himself to a stupor set the darkly funny and melancholy tone for the main story to come, which takes place in Lee’s hometown of Manchester-by-the Sea.
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan delivers the cinematic equivalent of a great American novel. Affleck and Michelle Williams (as Lee’s ex-wife) give career-best performances.
And rarely has a film about tragedy and loss and consequences and coping been so dang FUNNY.
If this film receives anything fewer than 10 Oscar nominations, it’s an injustice.
Honorable mention: “Hidden Figures,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “Moana,” “Fences,” “Jackie,” “Miss Sloane,” “Southside With You,” “Weiner,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Bad Moms,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” “Café Society,” “Queen of Katwe,” “Bleed for This,” “Elvis and Nixon,” “Tower,” “American Honey,” “The Shallows.”