Best Movies of 2016

The last remnants of 2016 came to a dramatic end on Sunday at the 89th Academy Awards. The Best Picture mix-up instantly went down as the most shocking moment in Oscar history, second only to that that creepy streaker from the 70’s.

But first, let’s talk about what went right. The tone was set from the start. Justin Timberlake led a full-on dance party to his song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls. The moment felt unexpectedly cathartic. After a contentious election year, we’ve all been taking turns holding our breaths. We need opportunities to forget our grievances and come together, if only for a moment.

Host Jimmy Kimmel continued that theme, addressing politics head on, “There are millions and millions watching right now, and if every one of you took a minute to reach out to one person you disagree with and have a positive, considerate conversation — not as liberals or conservatives, but as Americans. If we would all do that, we would make America great again. We really could. It starts with us.” This paved the way for an Oscars that had the perfect blend of classy and snarky. Sure, Kimmel took shots at President Trump, celebrities, and Matt Damon. But there was an inclusive spirit to the jokes, like a crowd of friends poking fun at each other and laughing together as one.

And for the first time in a long time, every sketch worked — the angry tweets, the tour bus, Kimmel’s takedown of We Bought a Zoo — they were laugh-out-loud funny and free of the awkward transitions and dead spots we’ve come to expect from award shows. So far, so perfect…until the end. La La Land and Moonlight were the two best movies of the year. Either one of them winning would have been fitting. Unfortunately, neither of them did. The makers of La La Land had a brief of moment of glory when their name was announced, but it was stripped away when the error was discovered and a stagehand took away their Oscars. Moonlight’s moment was stolen also as everyone was too in shock from the mistake to hear anything Barry Jenkins had to say.

Casting blame doesn’t help. Maybe presenter Warren Beatty should have said something, but there were millions of people staring at him. I’m not sure I would have known what to do either. Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers clearly dropped the ball, but it wasn’t malicious. Mistakes happen. The incident was just an unfortunate mishap that cast a pall over what was otherwise a perfect Oscar night. I hope the Academy will look beyond that moment and invite the entire production team, including Kimmel, back for another year. But no matter what happens going forward, the winners from 2016 have been crowned and Moonlight will forever be known as the best picture of the year.

Now, it’s our turn.

Our 2016 top ten list began last March with Hail, Caesar! and has steadily evolved into the ten films below. Though the list isn’t finalized until after the Oscars, our picks aren’t dependent on them. In fact, there are a number of films that the Academy ignored altogether like Captain Fantastic, Sing Street, and The Light Between Oceans.

Ultimately though, we agreed with the Academy’s final decision. Moonlight has been number one on this list since last October, and no film was able to top it — which is exactly the way our top ten works. Every new movie is evaluated and, if it’s worthy, another is bumped down a peg until the best of the best remain.

2016 will go down as one of the best years in film to date. The level of quality was extraordinary. La La Land and Moonlight are both masterpieces that will stand the test of time, and the rest of the films provided unforgettable journeys that covered the gamut of the human experience. We invite you to engage with these reviews again and say goodbye to the year that was. And we hope you’ll check back in the coming months as our 2017 list evolves into another ten films to remember.


  1. Moonlight
  2. La La Land
  3. Captain Fantastic
  4. Hidden Figures
  5. Manchester by the Sea
  6. Hell or High Water
  7. Sing Street
  8. The Light Between Oceans
  9. Last Days in the Desert
  10. The Edge of Seventeen
  • DocRLS

    Just to provoke some controversy, here is my list of “Ten Best Non-Doc Movies of 2016 (That I Have Seen)”:

    1. Manchester by the Sea
    2. La La Land
    3. Jackie
    4. Lion
    5. Moonlight
    6. The Light Between Oceans
    7. Fences
    8. Zootopia
    9. Arrival
    10. Risen

    Honorable Mention (In alphabetical order): Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk, Deep Water Horizon, Dheepan (shown in Europe in 2015 but here last year), Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Me Before You, A Man Called Ove, A Street Cat Named Bob and Sully.

    And my “Ten Best Documentary Movies of 2016 (That I Have Seen)”:
    1. 13th
    2. Tower
    3. Obit
    4. Gleason
    5. Two Trains Runnin’
    6. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Released in 2015 but not widely distributed until last year)
    7. Olympic Pride, American Prejudice
    8. Rosenwald (Released in 2015 but not widely distributed until last year)
    9. Audrie and Daisy
    10. Equal Means Equal

    (Explanation – I refuse to consider the Documentary Oscar winner “OJ: Made in America” a documentary film. It is a fabulous achievement, but showing a 7 hr 47 min film in a couple of theaters for a couple of weekends does not make it a movie. It is clearly, in my opinion, a TV miniseries (even being divided into 5 episodes) and it should not be allowed to compete against other legitimate documentary films. I think its inclusion was a disservice to “13th” or “I Am Not Your Negro” — which I have not seen yet so maybe it should be on my list also.)

    • Great list! Jackie, Zootopia, and Risen are definitely in my honorable mentions. I wish I could have seen more documentaries last year. I caught 13th, but none of the other ones on your list. Tower is up next for me. And I completely agree about OJ: Made in America. It’s not fair for an 8 hour production to compete with 2 hour films. Of course it’s more engrossing – you have four times the length to tell your story!