'La La Land,' 'Manchester by the Sea' Top the List of 2016's Best Movies

'La La Land,' 'Manchester by the Sea' Top the List of 2016's Best Movies

I liked Finding Dory, you liked Finding Dory. But with all due respect to the year's box office champ, let’s admit that it wasn’t quite as clever or as enthralling as the original. That's the beauty of out-of-the-box movies: They catch us by surprise and fill a space in our hearts that we didn't even know existed. At least 10 films fit the bill in 2016. These works challenged us to laugh amid tough times, weep amid happy times and think about the world around us. And if you haven’t seen ’em all yet, better do it now before 2017's version of Sequelitis sets in. (Four words: Smurfs: The Lost Village). 

10. Bad Moms

First, a toast: Here's to an often-hilarious comedy in which three moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) get wasted in a bar when they should be taking notes at a PTA meeting. Here's to a movie not interested in a Big Message, unless that message is "Don't smoke pot until after the kids have gone to bed." Here's to the girls who still just wanna have fun — and occasionally tell off their husbands. Bottoms up! (Now on iTunes)

9. Nocturnal Animals

All this time, who knew designer Tom Ford had such a twisted mind? He wrote and directed a stylish revenge noir in which a repressed art gallery owner (Amy Adams) flashes back on her failed starter marriage while reading a brutally grisly novel written by her cuckold ex (Jake Gyllenhaal). The esoteric closing moments shouldn't detract from the heart-stopping thrills. Special shout-out to Michael Shannon as a crusty sheriff who looks and acts straight out of the old Marlboro Man ads. (Now in theaters)

8. Hell or High Water

The dog days of summer produced exactly one high-quality movie. And, boy, was it a winner. In the heart of Texas, two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob a string of local banks as a means of post-recession-era payback — and refuse to stop even after a ranger (Jeff Bridges) wises up to them. The Western is so gritty that moviegoers could feel the sweltering heat from the sun and taste the dusty roads. (Now on iTunes)

7. Zootopia

For kids, this was an adorbs little tale about a strong-willed bunny cop (Ginnifer Goodwin) learning how to get along with a sly fox (Jason Bateman) in a metropolis called Zootopia, the end! All the kids at heart, though, were able to appreciate a nifty Disney gem that imparted ingenious lessons on prejudices and inclusivity. The themes have never been more relevant. (Now on iTunes and Netflix)

6. O.J.: Made in America

As if 2016 weren't bizarro enough, this was the year of the O.J. Simpson renaissance. In addition to the Emmy-winning miniseries, this seven-hour documentary used interviews and fascinating archival footage to brilliantly illustrate how the onetime football star devolved into a controversial murder defendant and incarcerated senior citizen. It's also exhibit A as to how race, class and celebrity have the power to affect us all. (P.S. This ESPN-produced pick, which aired on ABC in June, counts as a movie because it was initially released in theaters. So there.) (Now on iTunes)

5. Patriots Day

Boston Strong. That motto —well, more of a rallying cry — was thrown around a lot in 2013 after the city came together in the wake of a deadly terrorist bombing. This riveting procedural proves why. Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon and J.K. Simmons play just some of the heroes who gave their blood, sweat and tears during those four tense days. It's a powerful and ultimately uplifting account of a trauma. (Out December 21 in limited theaters; everywhere January 13

4. Moonlight

In Act 1 of this moving indie, an introverted black boy in Miami named Chiron copes with his drug-addled mom (Naomie Harris) and finds a loving father figure (Mahershala Ali). In Act 2, he tentatively kisses his male best friend on a silent beach. In Act 3, he confronts his past while grappling with his present. His deeply intimate and unique coming-of-age struggle should be treasured for years to come. (Now in theaters

3. Arrival

"I used to think this was the beginning of your story" is how Amy Adams, as a linguistics professor mourning her daughter, opens this alien invasion drama. By the time said story ends (or does it????), she has undergone a mind-exploding journey so intricate that it's impossible to describe. It simply must be experienced. Props to anyone who fit all the pieces together on the first viewing, but see it again anyway just to let every last drop of emotion seep in. (Now in theaters)

2. Manchester by the Sea

Oh, it's so much more than a slice-of-life tale of a soft-spoken Boston janitor (Casey Affleck) keeping his head down after his beloved older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Affleck's devastating performance is enormously powerful, as he cast a large shadow with every brooding step. Only a masterful drama has the guts to offer up a sympathetic hero unable to redeem himself. This is it. (Now in theaters)

1. La La Land

Wanna know what pure cinematic joy looks like? Gaze at Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone flirtatiously singing and tap-dancing to each other in a luminous moonlit version of Los Angeles. Their magical chemistry is just one high note in writer-director Damien Chazelle's magnificent ode to the pursuit of happiness and, as Stone puts it in her showstopping solo, the fools who dream. (Now in theaters

Rest of the Best: Captain Fantastic, Toni Erdmann, Fences, The Nice Guys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Moana, Gleason, The Edge of Seventeen, Don't Think Twice, Deadpool

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