The Best of The Best 2016: Kurland On Film’s Top 10 Films

By Scott Kurland

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for me and it has nothing to do with Christmas. Who needs presents when I can tell you the greatest gift of them all…MOVIES!!! Cinemas across the country have been reinventing themselves for the last few years. Recliners, fully stocked bars, and full meals are all provided to get those butts in the seats. However, in my most humble opinion, none of that holds a candle to the ten best films of 2016. Before I begin this list, I want to state for the record that this has been one of the worst years for film in quite some time. Actually, it’s been 21 years since we’ve had such a lackluster film year…if you want to know, the last time was the year that “Babe” got nominated for best picture. Now, submitted for your approval, are the ten best films of 2016. Ok, I should post a disclaimer. These are MY top ten films. In no way shape or form does this list reflect that of any others, including you, dear reader. So please enjoy this top ten best of 2016 list.

10. “Moonlight” 
This may come as a shock to some people that I have placed this acclaimed film so low on the list. As wonderful as this film is, there are stronger films. Barry Jenkin’s Atlanta coming of age tale showcases the life of Chiron (played in three different periods by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes.) What makes “Moonlight” a masterpiece is the supporting performances of Mahershala Ali as Chiron’s surrogate father-figure and mentor Juan. I’d watch an entire movie about the life of this guy. When he’s not on screen, you’re wondering where he is. When he is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him. “Moonlight” is one claustrophobic montage of life and pain. Some people will be angered by “Moonlight” and others will be moved. “Moonlight” earns its number ten spot.

9.  Zootopia

This is the first of two animated films to make this list. I must say, this has been an amazing year for animated movies. I went back and forth as to which Disney animated film to include on this list. Do I include “Moana” or “Zootopia”? I debated this for a very long time until I remembered how powerful the message of “Zootopia” was. Aside from the "you can be anything you want" moral, there’s also a deeper theme of the dangers of profiling based on prejudice. This is an 80’s action comedy covered in a an anthropomorphic coat. There are some adult themes and scary images but this family film is filled with great writing from Jared Bush and Phil Johnston.  Jason Bateman as a sly Fox and Ginnfer Goodwin as a smart rabbit help make this 2016’s best action-packed animated film.

8. Tickled 
I had to include at least one documentary on this list and it came down to this documentary or “Weiner”. I picked “Tickled” because it scared the crap out of me. Never in my life have I been more terrified of the real world and it’s all because of a documentary about tickling. Directors Dylan Reeves and David Farrier take us into the world of professional tickling. However, there is no professional tickling federation and what unfolds is an investigation with these two filmmakers at the helm. Reeves and Farrier go to extremes to get this story and risk their careers/reputations to find out who is behind this fetish porn ring masked as “harmless fun”. If you can, see this film, but remember that its meant to be both dark and disturbing . It’s also one of the best documentaries of 2016.

7. Sing Street
Over the course of 2016, I’ve must have seen thousands and thousands of films. Yet, there's  only one that I’ve watched over and over again and never once lost interest. That film is “Sing Street”. John Carney’s third album film (a.k.a modern musical where the singing flows naturally), might be his best. He takes the realism he showed us in “Once” and “Begin Again,” but takes us back to the magical glossiness of the 80s. “Sing Street” is a magnificent story about Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a young boy who must face the challenges that come with attending a strict catholic school. He hides his pain by starting a band to impress a girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton).  “Sing Street” was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical of 2016 and, if you’ve seen the film, you know why. Everything about “Sing Street” is perfect; the script, the songs, and entertaining characters filled with pain and regret. If you like musicals, coming of age stories, or the 1991 indie film “The Commitments,” you’ll know why “Sing Street” is number seven on the list.

6. Hell Or High Water
The last few years of filmmaking have served to remind us of how much we missed certain neglected genre's in Hollywood's history. “Hell Or High Water” feels like it’s straight out of the 1970’s or what came to be known as the “New Golden Age of Hollywood.” This is the time period that gave us “Chinatown”, “The Godfather”, and “The Conversation”. “Hell Or High Water” is the story of two bank robbers played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine who rob a bank chain that is trying to foreclose on their family farm. Hot on their trail is Texas Ranger Hamilton played by Jeff Bridges who is a few weeks from retirement and this is his final case. “Hell Or High Water” is part Robin Hood and part Sam Peckinpah shoot’em-out thriller. Originally, I thought I only liked this film because we had a terrible summer movie season. After a second viewing last week, I’m happy to report that this is one of the best films of the year. I’m glad it got so much play in the theaters because it had no budget. All the actors worked for nothing, and the marketing for this movie was word of mouth. I love it when an indie film is able to grab hold of the box office and make its way up the list. Here’s hoping the Academy remembers this one come voting time.

5. Kubo and the Two Strings 
This is the second and final animated film on this list but, I must say, in my eyes Laika studios don’t make animated films. This may sound super pretentious, but if you’ve seen their movies, you’ll soon discover what I'm talking about. Laika doesn’t make animated films, they make beautifully moving art exhibits. “Kubo and The Two Strings” is Laika studio’s most ambitious and best film to date. I do have a soft spot for “ParaNorman” and that will always be my favorite, but “Kubo” is Laika’s masterpiece. Every inch of this film is breathtaking to look at. You could capture any frame from this film and put it in an art museum. “Kubo and The Two Strings” has an impressive list of actors including: Charlize Theorn, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and Matthew McConaughey. Oh my! I seemed to have forgotten to mention George Takei as well (wink*). “Kubo and The Two Strings," takes a Japanese fable and blends it with a classic Kurosawa Samurai outline. I could watch this film everyday for the rest of my life and notice a new detail every time, that’s how good “Kubo and The Two Strings”  is. As long as Laika continues their stellar work, they will always end up on this list.

4. La La Land
I love old Hollywood, and I especially love how weird it is. If you watch any film from the golden age of musical  cinema, you’ll see how beautifully bizarre it is. They break out into song for no reason and a girls dress always gets blown upward for no reason; revealing spanks that morph into a leotard. It’s just odd, and that’s why I loved Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”. It’s an old 1960’s musical set in present day Los Angeles. What unravels is a love story between Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian and Emma Stones' Mia. This is the most beautifully shot film I’ve seen all year, and it was in fact shot on real film. Gosling is perfect in his subtlety, and Stone will break you heart. Yet, the real star here is Chazelle who took a risk that paid off. The songs are catchy, the score is incredible, and after watching “La La Land,” I realized just how much I missed movie musicals like “Top Hat” and Vincente Minelli’s “The Band Wagon”. I loved “La La Land” and if you want old school Hollywood cheesy-goodness, this is a movie you'll want to see.

3. Lion 
“Lion” did something I didn’t think was possible anymore. It told us a true story that felt real. By today’s standards, true story films embellish a lot of details for cinematic effect. “Lion” captures the arduous journey of Saroo (played at age 5 by Sunny Pawar and 30 by Dev Patel) as he is separated from his family in Calcutta and adopted by an Australian family. This is a powerful film. It's also a period piece as it starts in 1986 and goes up to 2010. Patel shines as Saroo in his most powerful role to date. Patel brings an intensity to Saroo, and the urgency he faces is so crucial to the pacing of this film. “Lion” is further proof that you don’t needy flashy effects or a big budget to make a great film. All you need is great actors and a good story at the heart of your film.

2. The Edge of Seventeen 
It pains me that no one saw this film, because it’s the second best film of 2016. Hailee Steinfield gives the performance of her career as Nadine, our emotionally damaged seventeen-year-old protagonist. What I loved best about this film is how accurate they portrayed teenagers. Teenagers aren’t evil or malicious; they’re just selfish due to their own crippling pain. “The Edge Of Seventeen” also gives us one of Woody Harrelson’s best performances ever as a smart-ass history teacher who acts as Nadine’s mentor and father-figure. Hollywood needs to make more films like “The Edge Of Seventeen”. This is a raw, real, and rare masterpiece that shows how perfectly screwed up life can be. “The Edge of Seventeen” is the second best film of 2016.


1. Manchester By The Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s heart wrenching Love/Dear John letter to Massachusetts is my favorite film of 2016. “Manchester By The Sea” is a perfect film in which Casey Affleck gives the performance of his life. Affleck’s Lee Chandler is so full of pain in the present, but we see how easygoing and loving he was in the past. It’s almost like Affleck is playing a dual role as Lee, because these are two completely different people. Lonergan is a master of storytelling, and the stories he tells best are those that feel real. The dialog sounds real, the Massachusetts setting is beautiful, and Lucas Hedges gives a breakout performance in his young career. With the best and most shocking twist I’ve ever seen in a movie “Manchester By The Sea” continues to stick with me weeks after seeing it. I love everything about “Manchester By The Sea” and it earns its #1 spot on the Kurland on Film's "Best film's of 2016" list.
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