Rene Rodriguez’s picks for best movies of 2016:
Martin Scorsese spent 28 years trying to adapt Shusaku Endo’s novel, about two 17th-century Jesuit priests searching for their lost mentor in Japan. The long wait proved to be a boon to the eventual film, a contemplative and immensely moving exploration of religion and spiritual beliefs in a world that often has little use for them. (Opens Jan. 6.)
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2. “La La Land”
Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s homage to old-school song and dance musicals was a joyous, technically dazzling feat of filmmaking. But it’s the love story at its center, played out by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, that gives the movie its soul.
Working from an unproduced autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer-director Barry Jenkins took three chapters in the life of a young gay man growing up in Miami’s crime-ridden Liberty City neighborhood and turned them into a work of great, luminous beauty and immeasurable emotional depth.
Kenneth Lonergan’s portrait of a solitary man forced to take care of his teenage nephew after a death in the family was one of the funniest movies about grief ever made, capped off by a career-high performance by Casey Affleck as a man who wishes he could crawl into himself and disappear.
5. “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Richard Linklater’s comedy about a group of baseball players partying the weekend away before classes start at a Texas college in 1980 was a deceptively wise and humane look at the moment in the lives of young men who are on the verge of becoming adults but still harbor the hearts of playful children.
A week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver (Adam Driver) and his artistically-inclined wife (Golshifteh Farahani). Almost nothing happens in the movie, yet director Jim Jarmusch makes it all absorbing anyway, celebrating the abundance of beauty in the quotidian details of everyday life.
7. “The Lobster”
In the near-future, single people have 45 days to find a romantic partner or else get turned into an animal. That’s the absurd premise for Yorgos Lanthimos’ English-language debut, but although the movie was accordingly funny, it was also a thoughtful exploration of the expectations society places on us, what happens when you don’t follow norms and the lengths we go to in order to find love — or the closest equivalent we’re willing to settle for.
8. “The Neon Demon”
Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultra-stylized horror movie about an aspiring model (Elle Fanning) trying to succeed in carnivorous Los Angeles was pretentious, ridiculous, gory, and wonderfully, gloriously mad, a descent down a rabbit hole of provocations and beautiful depravity.
9. “A Bigger Splash”
Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Fanning and Matthias Schoenaerts spend a fateful summer vacation on an island off the coast of Sicily. Director Luca Guadagnino basks in the natural beauty of the setting (and his cast) while subtly building a hothouse atmosphere in which anything — even murder — can take place, and does.
10. “Knight of Cups”
Every time I’m ready to write off Terrence Malick as an artist who has run out of ideas, he comes up with another movie that pulls me back into his orbit. This story about a Hollywood screenwriter (Christian Bale) and the various women in his life (including Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett and Imogen Poots) didn’t approach the heights of “Tree of Life.” But it was still the year’s most hypnotic cinematic reverie, the kind of movie you don’t watch as much as you take in.
Connie Ogle’s picks for best movies of 2016:
I kept waiting to see a movie that moved me as much as Barry Jenkins’ made-in-Miami film about a young gay man growing up in Liberty City. I’m still waiting. With a terrific ensemble cast and a script based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story, “Moonlight” told its coming-of-age story in a fresh and magnetic way, infusing the simplest of moments with gravity and poignancy.
Kenneth Lonergan’s character-driven portrait of grief could have been too depressing to watch. Instead, it’s infused with humor, insight and three award-worthy performances. Casey Affleck plays a man frozen by tragedy, with Michelle Williams as the ex-wife who has somehow managed to move on and Lucas Hedges as the nephew coping with his own loss.
3. “20th Century Women”
In Mike Mills’ engaging followup to “Beginners,” three women (Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) help a teenage boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) grow up in 1970s California. But really, they’re learning their own lessons about love, life and a new sort of freedom, and watching them spar and stumble and finally shine is truly a delight.
4. “Train to Busan”
Dismissing Korean director Sang-ho Yeon’s breakneck thriller as “Zombies on a Train” would be easy. But no other film came close to matching its exhilarating action or its inventive twists on a beloved genre.
5. “Love & Friendship”
Whit Stillman’s sly, witty “Love & Friendship” is a different sort of Jane Austen adaptation, but then, Lady Susan isn’t exactly your typical Austen heroine. Played to perfection by Kate Beckinsale, she’s a manipulator extraordinaire, and watching her run rings around the guardians of propriety make “Love & Friendship” one of the funniest movies of the year. Also hilarious: Tom Bennett’s performance as a dimwitted suitor.
6. “The Handmaiden”
Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith” was set in Victorian England. Director Park Chan-wook ( “Old Boy,” “Stoker”) takes the story about a pickpocket running a scam on a sheltered rich girl, moves it to Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s — and runs gleefully amok, serving up a visually rich, twisted, unnerving, surprising and wildly sexy film.
7. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
Animation studio Laika delivers a jawdropping blend of stop-motion puppetry and CGI in this breathtaking film about a boy who must flee into a wilderness to escape an old family vendetta. In a year when other animated films claimed attention — the excellent “Moana” and “Zootopia” among them — “Kubo” stands above the pack.
8. “Sing Street”
The third installment in John Carney’s ongoing series of films about music, “Sing Street” — about a group of kids starting a New Wave band in 1980s Dublin — captures the sheer, exuberant joy of being young and alive. Forget the “La La Land” soundtrack — this is the one you really want to listen to on repeat.
Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a Pittsburgh family still feels like a stage drama, despite its director’s attempts to open it up. But that fact does not diminish the power of Wilson’s examination of an African-American family or the performances from Washington as the embittered Troy Maxson and the great Viola Davis as his patient (for now) wife Rose.
10. “Hell or High Water”
Finally, a modern-day western with a real 21st century punch. As one of two bank-robbing brothers, Chris Pine gives his best performance to date; Jeff Bridges is the salty old law officer aiming to bring him and his brother (Ben Foster) to justice.