Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
First, here are a few honorable mentions:
OJ: Made in America
Quentin: This was actually my number one overall, so it’s too bad Mark hasn’t seen this one. OJ was not only the best thing I’ve seen all year, but one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. It illustrates one of the great American stories and speaks to racial tension in a way that few films can. I’m so glad it was nominated for Best Documentary even though I’m not entirely sure where it falls between a long film and a television series.
Mark: My deepest apologies, Quentin. I’m highly anticipating watching this one.
Q: You’ll love it.
M: I think this is one of the most underrated films of the year. It’s incredibly well written — unconventionally blending humor with subject matters like religion and Marxism — and it contains some of the best cameos from 2016. Plus, it’s substantially lighter in tone than most of the Coen Brothers’ other films.
Q: I thought Hail, Caesar! was solid, but if I had to be contrarian, I think this struggled to reach an audience because it’s a bit of a disjointed ensemble narrative. Don’t get me wrong, it was well done, I’m just saying that it was a bit all over the place.
M: My argument for its lack of widespread success is the marketing. The movie was strangely advertised, and the trailer is pretty misleading — it also was released in February, which is one of the worst times of the year for film.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Q: Speaking of the Coen Brothers, I would say that director Taika Waititi has a Coen-like quality to his films, and Wilderpeople was no exception. Yes, it’s quirky and hyperreal, but there’s always this earned air of genuineness about it. I’ll be excited to see what he brings to the next Thor film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
M: Haha, is this one of my honorable mentions? I guess the numbers fall in weird ways sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, this movie’s good — I just haven’t thought about it very much since I saw it.
Demetrios: Rogue One was great! Force Awakens was a great… awakening for the fan base, but I think Rogue One was the film we’ve been waiting for.
M: CGI Leia still looked weird though.
11. The Nice Guys
Q: Oh, sweet! I’m glad that made the list! That was a really fun movie — Gosling had a great year.
M: Yeah, I think it was a forgotten movie for a lot of people because it came out relatively early in the season. This was hilarious. Gosling’s great, Russell Crowe was pretty alright, and the plot was twisty and thrilling but with enough comedic elements to make it fresh. I really liked this one.
Q: Totally. Shane Black on his game!
10. The Lobster
M: The Lobster was one of the most unique movies I think I saw this year. Quirky, engaging execution of a great concept. This might have been pushed into the top ten because of my ranking.
Q: I think Mark and I might differ on how we see it, but I still think it was a worthwhile movie. I thought it was really out there; I don’t think all of it worked, but I respected it for what it was and I do love me some Colin Farrell.
D: Yeah, I thought it was an interesting movie and I take pride in it being related to my relatives’ homeland of Greece!
M: This was one of the heaviest movies of the year, but also one of the must-watches in my opinion. The thing that makes it stand out is the excellent performances, which is one of the many reasons I think everyone should see it.
Q: Fences was really good. I think the only reason it isn’t higher is because it’s completely a performance-driven film and maybe cinematically it isn’t as groundbreaking as these other titles. But still, this is an excellent movie that I highly recommend.
7. (Tie) 13th, Zootopia
Q: I thought 13th was a really well-made documentary and a really important, poignant topic. It’s about the prison system in America and how it is heavily racist and has buttressed modern day slavery in certain ways.
M: What’s so essential about this film is that it highlights a problem that’s existed for a long time but far too few people are aware of (including myself). I think the role of documentaries is to bring to the forefront issues that are important. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t say documentaries are a perfect medium, since it’s really easy to orient something toward one perspective, but I hope a lot of people see this and use it as a launching point to grapple with this on their own and have their own conversations. I also appreciated that this was so interview-based. Ava Duvernay did a masterful job of crafting a narrative through the words of others. It’s extremely powerful.
Q: And of course Zootopia is one we’ve discussed at length. It’s such an important subject matter and a fun movie all-around.
M: It was insightful and one of the most purely fun experiences I’ve had watching a movie all year. And it’s certainly rivaling any Pixar film that I’ve seen.
D: Yeah! And it’s interesting that these two films are sharing the same spot and are touching upon similar and important issues of race in movies now.
Q: It was quietly one of the better movies of the year and will be remembered fondly with Scorsese’s latter body of film work. It is utterly uncompromising. I respect that a lot in a movie, when it knows exactly what it is. There were times I didn’t connect to the story maybe because there was a historical gap, so I felt that the drama suspense sometimes faltered. It all rests on the characters’ faith and the condemnation of religion. But I’m not Jesuit, I wasn’t raised Catholic, I’m not from that era, so I don’t understand all of the decisions they made- especially since they were sometimes unexplained. Still, for such a long movie it did a great job keeping me invested and telling this important story.
M: This was a movie was very personally impactful to me. My experience was incredibly intense, since I was continually putting myself into the shoes of the protagonists and really, honestly coming out with a lot of questions for myself. Would I have done the same things in their position? It’s also one of the most theologically complex films I’ve ever seen, which really deals with faith, persecution, and Christianity in a way that the broader Christian film industry has not touched upon with the same degree of insight and authenticity. And it depicts faith in such a personal way that it’s very difficult to make sense of the decisions that certain characters make. I love it as a sort of palette on which to view both yourself and faith in general. The movie dealt with it in a way that was very introspective and challenging.
5. Manchester By the Sea
Q: Manchester was an excellent movie. Very depressing, well-acted, one that will definitely stick with me for a long time and not easy to watch. I think it was one of the highlights of the year.
M: It’s an acting masterpiece and one of the best movies I’ve seen about dealing with loss and grief. And it showed a personality type that I don’t think is often well-articulated in film. It’s very hard to depict a closed-off person and how they deal with emotions. Affleck’s depiction of Lee was exceptional. It could have easily come off as too boring or not realistic enough, but you felt the pain he was experiencing even when he wasn’t necessarily expressing it openly.
Q: Moonlight is one that has stuck with me more so than other titles. I think it will hold up because it’s so powerful and truly unique. There’s something about this coming-of-age story where you connect to the character on a different level than most. It’s because it taps into the struggle of accepting yourself for who you are and not just who you think you are supposed to be.
M: I was really impressed with the performances and narrative structure. I think it is an excellent adaption from a theater play, perhaps one of the best I’ve seen on the screen considering how cinematic it was. Obviously, this list is a blend of what we think is objectively the best and our subjective impressions, but if I was trying to be as objective as possible I would say this was the best of the year even if it wasn’t my favorite.
Q: It was certainly one of the most innovative ones.
3. Hell or High Water
M: I love this movie! This is one where the more I think about it, the more and more I like it. It’s certainly one that I’m going to probably revisit more than others. It’s got quiet, introspective scenes and really engaging action sequences, topped off with great acting performances.
Q: Definitely one of the great modern Westerns. It’s a fascinating hybrid between being a Crime Drama and Western, where it’s almost two movies happening at the same time and somehow works. Not to mention, it is a very smart film.
Q: Yeah! Poor Amy Adams, she single-handedly carried that movie and didn’t get nominated, but it will be remembered as one of the great modern sci-fi movies. And it has an incredible ending that makes you want to immediately go back and watch it, which is very hard to pull off. It was timely and thoughtful.
M: It’s one of the greatest sci-fi films I’ve seen, ever. It changes the game for what we can expect with Science Fiction moving forward. There’s not one that I have come out of thinking as much as this except for maybe Blade Runner… not that I was alive back then.
1. La La Land
D: La La Land is my favorite movie of the year and it is one of the best movies I have seen in the last decade.
M: Since I saw this movie in December, we’ve been exposed to a lot of criticisms of the film and I will say there are some reasonable aspects to them, so I’m not trying to discount that — but I’m going to stick with my gut and my initial reaction to the film. I truly think it will hold up in the long run, and it was the most enjoyable theatrical experience I’ve had in a long while, which is really saying something.
Q: I agree with all of that. I’m not sure what criticisms you’re specifically thinking about, but it seems like a lot of them were less about what was in the movie and more about Hollywood at large — it’s easy to get caught up in the demographics and the subject matter. But if I’m just going with my gut, this movie made me feel really good, the soundtrack was memorable, the characters were real and relatable, and it’s all centered around a really thoughtful topic of debate which Damien Chazelle has really capitalized on in his work really well. You’re not only invested in the characters, but also it speaks deeply to your life since these are questions without easy answers. And it sure helps that it’s a feelgood musical.
M: Another critique I’ve heard is its overly reliant on nostalgia. Honestly, I disagree. It’s not bad to tap into nostalgia, but it can become problematic when the narrative is dependent on it. Think Stranger Things vs. The Force Awakens. But La La Land departs from typical Hollywood fare by really considering the trade offs we often face when pursuing our dreams.