Top 10 films of 2016

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  1. “Moonlight” directed by Barry Jenkins

“Moonlight” stays with us long after we’ve left the theater. We think about Chiron — the film’s muse who confronts issues of sexuality and masculinity in an environment that enforces conformity — for days on end.

The film’s lasting impact stems from its immersive qualities. Under Barry Jenkins’ soft yet empowered direction, we always feel connected to Chiron, as though his experiences — of muted joy and visceral heartbreak — are our own. Such intimacy is furthered by tender supporting performances, vibrant cinematography and a sonic, haunting score

“Moonlight” is perfect, bound to stand the test of time because of its universal themes.

— Harrison Tunggal

  1. “OJ: Made in America” directed by Ezra Edelman

This nearly eight-hour epic documents OJ Simpson’s life from his early days at USC all the way through his time in prison. And while OJ is the central figure, director Ezra Edelman uses his life to thoroughly explore race relations, police profiling, social injustice, celebrity culture and media biases. It’s mind boggling that the film was originally intended as only an ESPN “30 for 30” sports documentary. Nonetheless, “OJ: Made in America,” despite its hefty runtime, might be the most searing American tragedy of 2016.  

— Levi Hill

  1. “The Lobster” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

“The Lobster” is a film about love, a commentary on what people do after a relationship ends, what the possibilities and sacrifices are. But it hides these nuanced revelations about human nature underneath a fantastical premise where finding “love” is a societal requirement. Despite the actors playing stark characters with jarringly blunt mannerisms, we root for them to overcome this terrible irony. It’s sad and poetic. We ponder the film’s unnerving relatability: if we find love, is it real? Or does it only seem real in the context of how society forces us into love?

— Olivia Jerram

  1. “13th” directed by Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay’s follow up to “Selma” is another sobering piece of cinema. Tracking race relations and the history of the modern prison system, “13th” is a sweeping tragedy of the systemic racism that plagues our country. Featuring interviews with the most elegant minds on social justice as well as a pulsing score and beautiful animation that enhance the message — our hearts sink as the word “criminal” is illustrated at every use of it — this documentary warrants endless conversation among film in general.

— Kyle Kizu

  1. “Arrival” directed by Denis Villeneuve

Though it denounces belligerence, “Arrival” wages a two-front siege on its viewer: Dr. Louise Banks’ (Amy Adams) race to decipher an alien language offers intriguing linguistic theories, while the story of Banks and her daughter heaves at the heartstrings, reducing us to a quivering mass of emotions. If nothing else, “Arrival” is visually striking; the cinematography is stark, and the alien’s visual language is calligraphic.

“Arrival” asks what would happen if aliens came to Earth. The answer it offers is humanist, optimistic and the perfect response to 2016’s air of vitriol toward anything remotely “other.”

— Harrison Tunggal

  1. “Zootopia” directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush

With “Zootopia”, Disney wades into the public conversation on racial profiling. The result is a surprisingly charming mystery movie starring a bunny and a fox as partners in crime-solving. While the metaphor falls apart under close examination — the animals being profiled as violent also hold positions of power as cops and mayors —  “Zootopia” makes the point that well-meaning people, or bunnies, who face discrimination themselves can still hold harmful subconscious biases. Along the way, “Zootopia” concocts a whimsical critter metropolis, becoming a delight of the animation genre.

      — Miyako Singer

  1. “Loving” directed by Jeff Nichols

Many have heard of the constitution-altering Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia. They understand how it permanently changed the possibility of love in America, legalizing interracial marriage in America. But in “Loving,” the last name of Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) comes off the pages of history books, realizing the tender story of the intimate life behind the massive advance in civil rights. It doesn’t matter that we know how it ends; wide colorful shots and gentle, expressive dialogue make the film quietly perfect.

— Olivia Jerram

  1. “Swiss Army Man” directed by the Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

Who knew a film about a farting corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) and a man stranded away from society (Paul Dano) would be the funniest, most touching tale about being true to yourself in a world quick to label? True to that set-up, quick labels are impossible to define “Swiss Army Man.” Is it a comedy like Adam Sandler’s bodily humor films? A survival film like “Cast Away”? Or a bromance that isn’t afraid to allow the bros to have a romance? The film is all of those at once, and more, becoming a miracle of original storytelling.

— Levi Hill

  1. “Manchester by the Sea” directed by Kenneth Lonergan

“Manchester by the Sea” masterfully interweaves humor and despair to investigate grief. The dialogue captures the fiery back and forth of the endearing assholes of Massachusetts. To compliment, the film offers the poetic touch of valuing quiet contemplation, which plays to immeasurable effect considering the soul-crushing loss these characters experience. Despite the weight of despair, the film leaves audiences with an attempt at hope, one we cling onto as the characters try their best to cope.

— Kyle Kizu

  1. “American Honey” directed by Andrea Arnold

Starring newcomer Sasha Lane and the always-eccentric Shia LaBeouf, “American Honey” is about the forgotten youth left in the economic downfall of recent years. Acting as a road movie, the film hypnotically plunges into America’s heartland as a group of hedonistic teens try to (or don’t try to) find meaning. With the catchy pop-song soundtrack and LaBeouf’s weathered face — saying more than dialogue could — the film is a wake-up call and a call for help for a generation in desperate need.

— Levi Hill

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

“The Witch” directed by Dave Eggers

“The Witch” is, quite frankly, the most terrifying movie of 2016. Set a few years before The Salem Witch Trials in Puritan New England, a family moves into the forested countryside to escape religious persecution. Yet, the religious fervor the family tried to escape is brought back up when odd, violent occurrences begin to plague them. From here, Eggers explores the mythic and folklore-like happenings that could strike the fear of God (and paranoia) into an otherwise good family.

— Levi Hill

“Moana” directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

The plot of “Moana” is a pretty standard hero quest, but that’s not what’s important. What matters is that the hero is a confident, capable teenage Polynesian princess and that the story and music are deeply immersed in the culture of Oceania. It’s clear that Disney actually listened to Polynesian people and “Moana” is an enormous, gratifying step away from the Tiki Room.

That careful research is evident, but never didactic. There’s plenty of adventure and easy laughs in “Moana.” The music, from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i, is also insanely catchy. You’ll be singing “Aue aue!” in the shower for weeks.

— Miyako Singer

“Nocturnal Animals” directed by Tom Ford

With his second feature film, “Nocturnal Animals,” fashion-designer-turned-film-director Tom Ford continues to display his eccentric style through vibrant colors, lavish costumes and sumptuous production design. What takes this film to the next level, however, is how Ford avoids the trap of “all style, no substance.” “Nocturnal Animals” is a carefully crafted story that mixes the genres of melodrama, thriller, romance and western in order to effectively tell a story about love, loss and psychological revenge. Such a layered film could only come from the opulent mind of Tom Ford.

— Kyle Kizu

“Everybody Wants Some!!” directed by Richard Linklater

Marketed as the spiritual successor to cult classic “Dazed and Confused,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” is Richard Linklater’s fresh take on the 80’s, full of everything that makes college great: good friends, good booze and good times. The narrative follows college freshman Jake Bradford during his last days before the start of class, and while the setup is simple, the film is anything but cliché. Linklater’s ability to portray blossoming relationships on screen makes this film truly special, and the team banter is engagingly smart and funny as well.

— Hansol Jung

“Hell or High Water” directed by David Mackenzie

From its trailer and quiet marketing campaign, it’s hard to tell what “Hell or High Water” is about. Is it a rapid-fire heist movie filled with quips and bullets, a gripping Texas thriller in the vein of “No Country for Old Men,” or a family drama about two estranged brothers forced together by circumstance? Somehow, the film happens to be all three without sacrificing anything. And with standout performances from Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges off of a subtly moving script, “Hell or High Water” might be the most underrated movie of the year.

— Kevin Lu

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