Top 15 Films Of 2016 – Allen’s Picks

5) Life, Animated

Roger Ross Williams’ documentary Life, Animated shows what the power of cinema can accomplish. At its best, film has the ability to bring us closer together, to bring real change and joy into the world. There’s no better example than in Owen Suskind, a young man who – as a boy – was diagnosed with autism. For over a year, Owen remained silent. It wasn’t until he started watching Disney animated films did he find an avenue to talk and interact with those around him. Through this huge discovery, Owen and his family found a way to have him grow and develop. It’s a story of perseverance in the face of tremendous adversity, centered on the strength of film. I was moved and inspired not only be the courage of Owen to keep going, but also on the fortitude of his parents and family, who took the journey with him every step of the way. This is a heartwarming tale that should be seen by anyone of any age.

4) Silence

Martin Scorsese‘s latest work may not be his flashiest or his most entertaining, but it ranks with the very best because of how passionate he is for the material. Scorsese has been one of the top filmmakers the cinema has seen, and he’s also one of the most religiously minded. Following two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) as they travel to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson), the film takes a direct look at faith. What does it mean to be faithful? What does it mean to be a good person? Scorsese ponders the struggle between being true to a higher calling and the weakness of the human body. Silence is long, methodical, and brutal with its violence. It’s not an easy watch – some viewers may find the length and/or the material tough to sit through. But within his epic, Scorsese bares his soul. In some ways, this is the culmination of his entire career, delving into his most central obsession. Like his protagonist, Scorsese ponders and questions with the intensity of a man desperate for answers.

3) La La Land

No other film this past year was as joyful an experience as Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. There wasn’t a single moment that wasn’t brimming with heart. It’s a magnificent celebration of being a dreamer, of having the courage to step out of your comfort zone to achieve everything you ever hoped for. Chazelle splashes the screen with color, life, and excitement. With dazzling musical sequences and fantastic performances from the entire cast (especially Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling), every scene builds upon the next with an array of romance and nostalgia for old time Hollywood. Chazelle takes an appreciation for the classic musical and flips it through a modern day microscope. In a time where unrest and division has dominated the social consciousness, here is a film that brings back the hope that things can get better. It’s not just escapism, and it’s not just entertainment. La La Land is movie magic in its purest form.

2) 13th

Powerful, urgent, necessary. These are just a few of the adjectives that describe Ava DuVernay’s incredible documentary, 13th. With careful attention to detail, DuVernay traces the history of racism in the United States and how it has led to the epidemic of mass incarceration of minorities. The lines she draws are clear and precise. Going all the way back to slavery, DuVernay and her team build their argument with facts and specific pieces of evidence. From the media’s depiction of black people, to the treatment of minorities by political institutions set up against them, to the monetization of the prison system that profits off of people going to jail for minor crimes, the case that today’s penal system still feels the after effects of slavery are too strong to ignore. No other documentary (or other film, for that matter) cuts as deeply as 13th does. DuVernay has elevated herself into the highest pantheon of contemporary filmmakers. Her work is passionate and moving, because she doesn’t contend that this is only a black problem or a white problem, it’s an American problem that must be dealt with sooner than later. Hopefully this film is a steppingstone in the right direction.

1) Arrival

I’ve been trying to tell ya for the last three years: Denis Villeneuve is the real deal. He is riding a hot streak not seen from a filmmaker in a long while. In consecutive years, he has given us a gripping noir mystery (Prisoners), a trippy mind-bending puzzle box (Enemy), and an edge of your seat, white-knuckle thriller (Sicario). He does it yet again with Arrival, this time tackling a sci-fi tale with a philosophical point to make.

Villeneuve has such perfect control of tone that he makes it look easy. With Bradford Young’s crisp cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s thick atmospheric score, Villeneuve guides us through his narrative with the confidence of a master craftsman. We follow a linguistics professor (Amy Adams, in one of her best performances) who is hired by the government to help communicate with alien beings that mysteriously appear all around the world. What’s great about Villeneuve’s approach is how he is able to provide the audience with information without having to be explicit about it. The science feels authentic, and the progression of Adams’ character to learn the alien language felt logical. Villeneuve provides the dots but doesn’t connect them, allowing us to draw the lines ourselves. Even when there is a big revelation, we’re never cheated. Everything we see, hear, and learn has a purpose – everything has a meaning.

But even beyond that, Arrival has larger implications the further we dig in. Themes about communication, paranoia, and fear are prevalent throughout the narrative. In a time where division has made different groups of people closed off to each other, here is a film that calls for unity without being heavy handed or preachy about it. It can be enjoyed as a straight-forwarded story, but it also has deeper wealth for those interested to look for it. Villeneuve has claimed his stake as one of the best in the business today, and I’m beyond excited for what he has in store for us next.

So long, 2016! Hello, 2017!


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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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