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As horrible as 2016 has been, in terms of creative people we've lost and the impending threats to democracy and freedom, the year has been spectacular for movies.
At the movies this year, we saw lovers transported into midair by song and dance, and a young storyteller do magic with origami paper.
We lived the experiences of a young gay black man, an estranged alcoholic mother and a politician whose career imploded so publicly and ridiculously that he might have derailed the nation's chance to have its first woman president.
We were introduced to a forgotten but fiery hero of American history and to a twisted con game involving sex, murder and double-dealing. We met new heroes battling the Galactic Empire, scientists trying to understand an alien encounter and a new generation of paranormal investigators.
As a movie lover, I'd sacrifice a year of good movies to avoid the awful year 2016 was in nearly every other conceivable way. Since that's impossible, the alternative is to celebrate the best of this year's movies.
Here is my list of the top 10 movies of 2016:
The life of one young black man in Miami is told in three ways, with three actors playing the main character as a 10-year-old boy (Alex Hibbert), a high-school student (Ashton Sanders) and an adult (Trevante Rhodes). At each step, director/co-writer Barry Jenkins demonstrates, with fluid visuals and poetic storytelling, the influences on the boy's life a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) turned mentor, a mother (Naomie Harris) turned crack addict and how they create the man he becomes.
2. "La La Land"
Los Angeles becomes soundstage and sunny inspiration for writer-director Damien Chazelle's musical fantasia, a romance between a struggling actress (Emma Stone) and a luckless jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who find pursuing their creative dreams may not mesh with happily ever after. Kicky songs, bubbling screen chemistry and loving cinematography combine to create an L.A. where all one's dreams can come true.
The dysfunctional family reunion has seldom been depicted with such authentic emotion as writer-director-actor Trey Edward Shults did with this story of a barely recovering alcoholic mom (played by Shults' aunt, Krisha Fairchild) returning to seek some Thanksgiving reconciliation. Fairchild's performance and Shults' intimate filmmaking make this a holiday to remember.
4. "Kubo and the Two Strings"
In the year's best animated feature, a boy tells stories in the market, strumming his shamisen and commanding origami paper to transform into moving characters until he finds himself on a quest, aided by a protective monkey and a headstrong samurai beetle. Japanese folklore and breathtakingly beautiful imagery combine in this stop-motion masterpiece from director Travis Knight and Portland's Laika Studios, which now rivals Pixar as animation's gold standard.
What would drive Anthony Weiner, the dynamic New York politician, to derail his career and threaten his marriage (to Huma Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton) by texting photos of his junk to random women? Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg seek that answer in this fascinating documentary, which follows Weiner's 2013 New York mayoral campaign and shows how the collision of a candidate's hubris and media titillation causes shock waves that were felt as late as November 2016.
6. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
In the "Star Wars" prequel we always wanted, a ragtag team joins forces to uncover the secrets of the just-completed Death Star. Director Gareth Edwards digs into the life-and-death struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, showing that this galaxy far, far away is bigger than the Skywalker family.
7. "The Birth of a Nation"
Writer-director-star Nate Parker's pre-Civil War epic received rapturous acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, only to succumb to a backlash fueled by news items about a 1999 college rape accusation (for which Parker was acquitted). What got lost was a flawed but incendiary drama about Nat Turner, the slave preacher-turned-rebellion leader, and a struggle that feels as relevant today as ever.
Sexist fanboys couldn't stop the funny in director Paul Feig's clever reimagining of the beloved 1984 comedy, this time with a female crew (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and the incomparable Kate McKinnon) saving New York from ectoplasmic annihilation. The disappointing box-office figures should have been a harbinger of the election results: If Americans wouldn't embrace women as Ghostbusters, why would they vote for a woman president?
Amy Adams was radiant in this lyrical science-fiction drama as a linguist called in to try to communicate with a race of aliens that have landed ships at points all around the Earth. Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer combine forces on a thoughtful, atmospheric story that's about the very idea of story, one that plays with the underpinnings of narrative structure as it unfolds.
10. "The Handmaiden"
The year's trickiest drama comes from South Korea, as a veteran con artist (Ha Jung-woo) deploys a young woman (Kim Tae-ri) to pretend to be a servant for a fragile Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee) to get to her fortune. But all is not as it seems in this sexually charged tale, as director Park Chan-wook masterfully sets in motion a pulse-pounding series of twists and betrayals that leaves the viewer breathless.
Ten more movies that, depending on the critic's mood, could have busted into the top 10: Kristen Johnson's fascinating experimental documentary memoir "Cameraperson"; Jeff Nichols' civil-rights romantic drama "Loving"; Whit Stillman's witty Jane Austen adaptation "Love & Friendship"; John Carney's '80s teen rock tale "Sing Street"; Maren Ade's offbeat German comedy "Toni Erdmann" (opening in Salt Lake City on Feb. 17); Denzel Washington's aching adaptation of August Wilson's "Fences"; Mike Birbiglia's improv-troupe comedy-drama "Don't Think Twice"; David Mackenzie's neo-Western "Hell or High Water"; Jeff Nichols' low-key science-fiction thriller "Midnight Special"; and David Farrier and Dylan Reeve's twist-filled documentary "Tickled."
The bottom 10
Beyond the simply mediocre, these movies (13 of them) were supremely awful:
1. "Independence Day: Resurgence" • Nostalgia for the 1996 original (which was, admit it, stupid but fun) wasn't enough to make this brainless FX extravaganza worth the time.
2." Warcraft" • The sword-and-sorcery video game franchise gave birth to a mountain of CG overkill. It bombed in America, but was such a hit in China that we may yet get a sequel so, finally, an upside to our impending trade war with China.
3. "The Greasy Strangler" • A loathsome and humorless attempt to make a John Waters movie without John Waters.
4. "Hillary's America" • The worst thing about conservative "thinker" and felon Dinesh D'Souza's collection of conspiracy-theory dog whistles that he calls a documentary? That he now claims credit for swaying the election to Donald Trump.
5. "Mother's Day" • If you were sad to see the comic legend Garry Marshall pass away this year, watching his atrocious and offensive final movie will make you feel not so sad.
6. "Ratchet & Clank" / "Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon" • There was a fair amount of subpar animated films this year ("Sing" and "Ice Age: Collision Course" among them), but these two a lifeless video-game adaptation and a chaotic Russian import were the worst of the lot.
7. "Rescue Dogs" • Most everyone missed this amateurish comedy about a dog assisting a beachfront cafe owner in business and in love. This critic is happy to take one for the team.
8. "The Hollars" • This clichéd family dramedy with director John Krasinski starring as a guy coming home to deal with his eccentric parents (Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins), with his pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) along for the ride is proof that even the Sundance Film Festival lands an occasional turkey.
9. "The Brothers Grimsby" • Remember when Sacha Baron Cohen was funny? Them were the days.
10. "The Purge: Election Year" / "London Has Fallen" / "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" • New installments of three franchises nobody needed to see again.