This was, secretly, a pretty good year for movies when all was said and done but in a very quiet, unobtrusive way where Big Box Office was unaffected by it.
The biggest movies for box office in 2016 weren't all that great; the best movies weren't very big. God help February's Academy Awards telecast in search of ratings. In the year's Top 10 Films, there are, to understate, no "Titanics."
These are not big audience films. But some of the very best and boldest films in years are on the list. Many of them are "sleepers" -- wonderful films that arrived with no neon illumination whatsoever in the channels of movie hype. And not all that much afterward either.
My Top 10 in Alphabetical Order:
"Beatles: Eight Days a Week" by Ron Howard. An exemplary musical documentary that showed us how very much MORE to say and to see there was about one of the most exhaustively documented subjects in the recent history of Western Civilization.
"Captain Fantastic" by Matt Ross. One of the biggest sleepers of the year, a hilarious and heartbreaking comedy about the very real human cost of taking '60's countercultural ideas into a 21st century world. Viggo Mortensen will never be better but this film is far better than he was. Here is a movie whose big joke was that people in it preferred celebrating "Noam Chomsky Day" to Christmas.
"Don't Think Twice" by Mike Birbiglia. A little film about a no-name improv comedy troupe that has the real texture of recognizable human life. It also has one of the great untouched subjects: the reasons why talent and success so often have nothing to do with one another. You'll feel tenderness and sympathy for almost everyone in it and snarky superiority to no one.
"Hacksaw Ridge" by Mel Gibson. We all know Mel is nuts. But he's also one of the greatest action filmmakers alive. And you have to wonder why on earth no one ever before made a film about the first Medal of Honor winner to be a conscientious objecting medic. (For long delayed movie subjects, see too the upcoming "Hidden Figures.")
"Hell or High Water" by David Mackenzie. One of two great movies this year to postulate West Texas as Hell (see also "Nocturnal Animals"). This is the one with the great performances by Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges.
"Jackie" by Pablo Lorrain. It's been widely known for months how great Natalie Portman is in the lead role. (Hint: don't argue with any shiny statues going her way.) But the movie itself is tough and clever and, incredibly, gives us a Jackie we've never seen before.
"Lion" by Garth Davis. The all-stops-out tearjerker of the year. An incredible but true story of a little, five-year-old boy from an Indian slum who is separated from his family, grows up in Australia and seeks them out after 25 years, when he has become Dev Patel. It puts you though the ringer and you come out better for it.
"Manchester by the Sea" by Kenneth Lonergan. The OTHER high-octane tearjerker of the year is a brilliant film about different kinds of grief. Casey Affleck is great and headed for statue-land but not nearly as great as Michelle Williams in one tiny scene you'll likely carry with you for the rest of your life after seeing it.
"Moonlight" by Barry Jenkins. A freshly structured and conceived movie about poverty, drugs, race and a gay boy coming to terms with himself and the world. Cliches lay in wait for this film all over the place but it never succumbs to a single one of them.
"Nocturnal Animals" by Tom Ford. With "Captain Fantastic" it was the other secretly great film of 2016. In neither case are there awards calling out to them. They're both too original--especially this one which tells two separate stores which don't even run parallel. You discover in the final scene, that they connect as perpendiculars which you finally understand. An amazing, gripping, original film.
BONUS: "Eye in the Sky" by Gavin Hood, starring Helen Mirren. Completely forgotten at year's end was this nerve-searing thrlller about the age of drone warfare.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: "Arrival," "La-La Land," "Doctor Strange," "Sully," "Midnight Special," "American Honey," "Birth of a Nation," "The BFG," "Finding Dory," "A Bigger Splash," "Fences."
WORST TITLE OF THE YEAR FOR THE WEIRDEST FANTASY: "The Lobster."
SECOND WORST TITLE FOR A FUNNY MOTHER/DAUGHTER COMEDY: "The Meddler" which wasn't nearly as dreadful as it sounds but was, in fact, quite lovable, courtesy of Susan Sarandon.
FORMER HOLLYWOOD BIG SHOTS STRANDED IN A WORLD THAT HAS PASSED THEM BY: Warren Beatty, who discovered that only professionals gave a fig about "The Rules Don't Apply." And Eddie Murphy, who discovered not even they cared about "Mr. Church." At one point there was talk of him starring in "Fences" but, thank God, Denzel Washington took the film over completely.
WHY MARVEL HAS IT ALL OVER D.C. COMICS AT YOUR LOCAL MEGAPLEX: Forget Margot Robbie having so much fun in "Suicide Squad." See instead Ryan Reynolds in "Deadpool." And then try, if you can, to sit through "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" in which Superman died at the end and no one gave a flying cape.
CRITICALLY OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR: Robert Eggers' well-photographed bore "The Witch."
SURVIVAL OF THE COOL: Two jazz trumpet players had their stories told. One was giant Miles Davis in "Miles Ahead," a film far inferior to the film about Chet Baker, "Born to Be Blue," a much-lesser musician. Go figure.
TERRY MALICK SURVIVES TOO: See "Knight of Cups." Not many other people did. It's worth it.
MOST UNNECESSARY INTERNET TROLL ATTACK OF THE YEAR: The swarm of idiots who tried to murder the all-female "Ghostbusters" in the cradle. The film wasn't much (beyond Kate McKinnon, that is) but it didn't warrant all the hostility.
MOST UNNECESSARY REMAKE: "Ben-Hur," the budget version. Say what?
COOLEST NEW MOVIE USE OF NIAGARA FALLS: See Jenna Ricker's "American Falls."
THE GOOD PAL OF MEL GIBSON WHO ALSO MADE A GOOD -- IF UNDERRATED -- MOVIE THIS YEAR: Jodie Foster, in "The Money Monster," suddenly showed up as a director again to prove she could make a New York film as good as Sidney Lumet's. She couldn't but the attempt alone was pretty inspiring and wonderful.