In 2016, Hollywood showed us a world where a musical had meaning and young filmmakers could strut their stuff alongside the classic likes of Eastwood, Gibson and Tarantino – and no subject was too hot to handle. Here are 10 movies that reminded us that the best of cinema, whether studio-financed or independently-produced, is capable of lots of things beyond sequels, prequels, remakes, retreads and the Marvel Comic Universe.
by Peter Travers, James Jennings and David Michael Brown.
Putting aside petty complaints about gore and a lengthy running time – it's a Tarantino film, people! – this snowbound Western is a sumptuous feast of meaty dialogue and tightly wound performances, not to mention the writer-director's most handsomely mounted film to date. Yes it descends into one hell of a bloodbath, but really, would you have it any other way?
David Mackenzie's modern-day Western doesn't do anything new, but it does everything right. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play West Texas brothers who come up against the law in the person of Jeff Bridges at his sly, old-coot best. A B movie raised to the level of rough art.
Harrowing and intense, Lenny Abrahamson's claustrophobic drama is a shattering experience. Oscar winning Brie Larson is a revelation as a young woman who is kidnapped and held captive in a small room for seven years, but it's young Jacob Tremblay, as her son Jack, who steals the movie. Tense to the point of breaking, emotion drenched Room will break your heart.
Clint Eastwood's brand of classic, no-bullshit filmmaking finds perfect form as a beautifully understated Tom Hanks plays Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the hero pilot who ditched his disabled plane on the Hudson River and saved the lives of all on board. Job well done. That goes for the man and the movie.
An anti-war epic steeped in spirituality, Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge is the inspirational true story of Medal of Honour recipient Desmond T. Doss. Andrew Garfield excels as Doss, the conscientious objector who saved over 75 of his fellow soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa. Gibson handles the bruising conflicts with the expected aplomb, but it's the quieter moments that devastate.
Tom Ford's stylish follow-up to A Single Man continues to establish the designer's reputation as a cinematic visionary. Based on Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan and boosted by career best performances from Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, this dark, audacious noir thriller plays with audience expectations as a writer puts pen to paper to wreak revenge on his ex-wife. Breathtaking.
Robert Eggers' directorial debut is a chilling marvel: a 17th century New England psychological horror film rich in period detail – including at times hard-to-decipher language – that masterfully chronicles an exiled Puritan family's descent into madness after falling prey to the hag of the film's title. You'll never look at a goat the same way again.
Sicario director Denis Villeneuve's first foray into sci-fi brilliantly skews the clichéd alien invasion movie. Delivering that rarest of commodities, an intelligent blockbuster, Amy Adams plays a linguist who must decipher a close encounter of the third kind. Beautifully constructed with a plot reveal that soars, Arrival is an existential muse on the power of language that exhilarates.
You'd be hard pressed to find a single person who's seen New Zealander Taika Waititi's fourth film and not enjoyed the absolute heck out of it. One of the year's most pleasant surprises, it's effortlessly charming, hilarious and big-hearted, and in juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and grizzled grump Uncle Hec (Sam Neill), has unleashed a film double act for the ages.
A musical as movie of the year? Bet your ass. Damien Chazelle directs this rapturous song-and-dance romance as if cinema was invented for him to play with and for us to get high on. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling hit career peaks as lovers who try to make their creative dreams come true on the mean, art-fearing streets of the New Hollywood. La La Land swings for the fences. Chazelle puts his heart right out there where hipsters can mock him as tragically untrendy. He's not. He's an innovator, a fresh talent who puts technique in the service of feeling and makes the future of film seem like a bright prospect.