2016 Ten Best List 


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     In 2016, the stories of the forgotten men and women who made a profound impact on our country’s history reigned supreme, as films were produced which would finally comemmorate the enourmous contributions of those who until now were missing from the minds of the mainstream audiences and critics who made these films some of the most celebrated of the year.  The films I speak of, Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” and “Mel Gibson’s  “Hacksaw Ridge”, were just two of a quality crop of films released in 2016 that captivated the public and brought recognition to people whose names should have occupied the pages of our history books in school, rather than falling into relative obscurity for the past half century or more.

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     Filmmakers love to tell stories about crime and the fall out effecting both sides, be it the victim, the criminals themselves, or the men and women charged with bringing them to justice.  Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” and David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” both cover plenty of ground on this subject, exploring the desperate motivations that drive a person to commit such atrocities, as well as the frustration a law officer experiences in bringing these people to justice.  

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     Perhaps the most exhilarating film of the year, simply due to the fact the incident was only a few years ago and played out on television sets across the country, Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” brought to startling realism the dread of knowing a plane carrying more than 150 people has lost engine power and its pilot is looking for options on where to conduct an emergency landing.  The chant by the flight attendants as the plane skims the Hudson River still haunts me to this day.  And haunting circumstances are what drives Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea”, as we seemingly enter the lonely life of a Boston area janitor whose older brother dies of a heart attack and makes him the guardian of his teenage nephew.  The story remains lighthearted as the reluctant guardian attempts to deal with the roller coaster of emotions exhibited by the boy, but it’s the backstory of the character, expertly acted by Casey Affleck, that defines what dealing with tragedy and loss can do to a person long term.

     And while Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” came out of no where to literally redefine Science Fiction as we know it, with a combination of errie suspense and a smartly written narrative, it was the performance of a surprising non Oscar nominee, Amy Adams, who took her lead character to new found heights, displaying the kind of heartfelt emotion normally not seen in a genre film.  Two of the very best performances of the year were featured front and center in the Broadway stage play turned feature film “Fences”, directed by and starring Denzel Washington.  Along with Viola Davis, the dialogue embodies the characters and their emotions as they navigate the pitfalls of family life in the 1950s and the difficulties of teaching children what they need to know in order to succeed.

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     Perhaps the most inspirational film of 2016, Garth Davis’ “Lion” tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a 5 year old boy who was seperated from his family in India and for 25 years was raised by an Australian couple, only to come to realize as an adult that he needed to somehow find his family.  Another stand out performance that was not recognized with an Oscar nomination is that of child actor Sunny Pawar, who portrays the 5 year old Saroo during the first half of the film.  Under Davis’ direction, Pawar turns in the most heart wrenching performance of the year, while doing so without speaking a single word of English.

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     With the utmost in respect to the other nine films on my list, no film resonated more with me in 2016 than Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”.  In bringing back a true Hollywood style musical set in and around some of the most famous locations in Los Angeles, Chazelle continues with the trend he began with his 2014 film “Whiplash”, as he writes his characters in a way that consistently functions as a love letter to Jazz music and the arts in general.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling turn in powerhouse performances as two people pursuing their dreams in Hollywood, while trying to find time for each other in a budding but difficult relationship.  The film is full of color and energy, exhibited by several notable original songs performed by Gosling and Stone which are sure to be awarded come Oscar night.  And while the glitz and glamour of the production is what tends to stand out, at its core, “La La Land” is a love story that explores the road relationships often travel, only to one day come to a roadblock when both people realize one of them will have to give up their dreams in order for the relationship to continue.  At the most personal of levels, that is something everyone can relate to.  

THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016 BY JASON HARNEY

10.   NOCTURNAL ANIMALS - My Review

9.     ARRIVAL - My Review

8.     HIDDEN FIGURES - My Review

7.     MANCHESTER BY THE SEA - My Review

6.     SULLY - My Review

5.     FENCES - My Review

4.     LION - My Review

3.     HACKSAW RIDGE - My Review

2.     HELL OR HIGH WATER - My Review

1.     LA LA LAND - My Review