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The top 15 movies of 2016


You know how this works. A ton of movies were released in 2016, and these are my picks for the cream of the crop.

Despite prevailing opinion, 2016 was a pretty good year at the movies (and let me be clear, I only mean at the movies), but you had to venture beyond the major studio releases to get to the good stuff. If you did, there was a lot to love at the cinema -- enough that I had an incredibly difficult time narrowing down my favorites. As always, these sorts of lists are fickle. Ask me to rank these films again five minutes from now and I'd probably come back with the list in an entirely different order. But my number one pick stays put.

1. "Moonlight" -- Barry Jenkins' triptych tale of identity lost and found again is beautiful, romantic, and deeply empathetic. When I first saw the film back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, I left the theater convinced that I'd just watched the best film I'd see all year. And I was right.

2. "The Witch" -- Unnerving and atmospheric, this story about a family's battle with paranoia and religious fanaticism in Puritan New England is far and away the best horror film I saw in 2016. An incredible debut from writer-director Robert Eggers.

3. "Tower" -- In recounting the 1966 tower shootings at the University of Texas, director Keith Maitland entirely forgoes telling the story of the gunman, and instead focuses on the incredible acts of courage and compassion demonstrated by the survivors and first responders. The technique of rotoscope animation allows Maitland to create an intimacy and immediacy to the film that's absolutely unforgettable.

4. "Green Room" -- I've never clenched my armrest harder than while watching Jeremy Saulnier's masterfully crafted punks versus neo-nazis siege thriller. Patrick Stewart is the year's most chilling screen villain.

5. "The Handmaiden" -- A heist crime-thriller and steamy romance in the guise of a simple costume drama, Park Chan-wook's twisted adaptation of Sarah Waters's Victorian-era novel, "Fingersmith," never stopped surprising me the whole way through.

6. "Manchester by the Sea" -- In a year when a number of films attempted to dramatize the subjects of grief and death, Kenneth Lonergan's stood above the rest. Emotionally devastating, yes, but just as often immensely funny.

7. "O.J.: Made in America" -- Ezra Edelman's eight-hour documentary chronicles the O.J. Simpson trial in incredible detail, and in the process tackles the monumental issues of race relations in America, celebrity, the justice system, and so much more. A staggering achievement and essential viewing.

8. "The Edge of Seventeen" -- Possibly the biggest surprise of the year was first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig's "The Edge of Seventeen," a John Hughes-esque coming-of-age comedy. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic as the self-involved teen who learns to be slightly less so, and Woody Harrelson is equally as good as the caustic teacher who becomes her confidante (whether he likes it or not).

9. "The Lobster" -- Filled with equal parts cynicism and heart, Yorgos Lanthimos' wackadoo story about an alternate universe in which single people must find a romantic mate or be turned into an animal is one of 2016's most original creations. With a great, sad-sack lead performance from Colin Farrell.

10. "Weiner" -- Chronicling disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner's attempt at a comeback during his 2013 New York mayoral campaign, this film is still biting and hilarious. But in the wake of the national election, it's possibly even more tragic.

11. "Cameraperson" -- Kirsten Johnson cobbles together unused footage from her 20-year career as a documentary cinematographer in order to craft a personal memoir that carries an unexpected emotional depth.

12. "Being 17" -- Filled with wonderful, naturalistic performances, this coming-of-age story from director André Téchiné and writer Céline Sciamma screened at ImageOut in October (where it picked up the festival's Audience Award), and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

13. "Swiss Army Man" -- Chronicling the bromance between a man stranded on a deserted island and the corpse that washes ashore to keep him company, this film was weird and wonderful. Just the way I like 'em.

14. "Loving" -- Jeff Nichols had a great 2016 with "Midnight Special" and this unassuming but incredibly powerful love story about the Virginia couple whose relationship led to the dissolution of the country's laws banning interracial marriage. The movie is anchored by wonderful performances from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

15. "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" -- I laughed harder and more consistently during The Lonely Island's pop music mockumentary than any other film this year. The soundtrack is fantastic, and if there were any justice in the world, it would be in the Best Original Song Oscar conversation.

Honorable Mentions: "10 Cloverfield Lane," 20th Century Women," "American Honey," "Arrival," "A Bigger Splash," "Everybody Wants Some!!," "The Fits," "Gleason," "Hell Or High Water," "I Am Not Your Negro," "In Transit,""Jackie,""Kubo and the Two Strings,""La La Land," "Love & Friendship," "The Neon Demon," "Other People" "Paterson," "Sing Street," "Tickled,""Zootopia"