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The Chimes' Top 50 Movies of 2016: 10-1

Our Top 50 Movies of 2016 list draws to a close with the cream of the crop, numbers 10-1.   |   Maxwell Heilman/THE CHIMES


10. “The Birth of a Nation” - Nate Parker’s "The Birth of a Nation," a truly great and unrelentingly honest film, ushers in a needed heroic retelling of Nat Turner’s story. As the American education system continues to criminalize Turner’s image, never has a film like Parker’s historical art-house interpretation been so vital since students are devoid of Turner’s bona fide heroism. Many viewers blindingly prefer movies where directors purport slaves as everything but righteously reactionary. Thankfully, Parker’s enthralling yet implacable debut upends the whitewashed trend as it tells the true empowering story of a slave rebellion.

9. “Arrival”- For the second straight year, French director Denis Villeneuve seizes the breath of audiences. With 2015’s “Sicario” an obvious steep act to follow, Villeneuve envelops viewers in a cerebral sci-fi like none other. From the very first trailer, “Arrival” resembled the annual, interstellar film touching base upon extraterrestrial existentialism. This film contributes all of the above yet so much more. “Arrival” gracefully explores dense themes of unification, the vitality of language and the shared emotional struggles that connects us as humans, transcending both space and time. With an ending that audaciously circles to the film’s opening sequences, viewers will undoubtedly embrace this purifying adventure of all-pervading spiritual themes emphasizing the human experience rather than becoming mindlessly mutilated by an alien destruction.

8. “Midnight Special” - Michael Shannon, a frequent casting by director Jeff Nichols, finds himself on the run from the FBI and a religious Texas cult who are after his young son, who possesses unfathomable abilities. This dark sci-fi film harkens to the elegant ambience of Steven Spielberg's 1977 “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Similar to its kindred predecessor, it also accentuates a perpetual sense of brooding witchery and a veiled fate that eventually leads to an ambiguously satiating resolution. Nichols’ nimble use of expository dialogue clinches this film’s adroit attempts in maintaining viewers engrossed in ambivalence, only furthering every character’s seeming glut of intelligence.

7. “Nocturnal Animals” - Tom Ford's second film captivated my inner Lynchian with the next best thing to a David Lynch masterpiece. A fascinating and intricate frame narrative from start to finish, Ford’s bewildering noir hits on the motif regarding misconstrued notions of masculinity. Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson provide two of the three best supporting actor performances of 2016, as Shannon’s cunning and vengeful sheriff compliments the sadistic antagonist of Tayler-Johnson seamlessly. Ultimately, Ford’s gift of having a keen eye for detail effectively unveils the tantalizing grip of this film, upholding “Nocturnal Animals” as one of the best films of 2016.

6. “Krisha’ - Director Trey Edward Shults’ “Krisha” cuts deep with his uncanny semi-biographical thriller, which borderlines horror much more than its ads suggested. This under-seen art-house debut wisps in perfectly timed satirical moments involving the lone established acting career of Krisha Fairchild, who portrays Shults’ titular alcoholic and drug-addicted mother. Unfortunately, the mother’s earnest endeavor towards sobriety crashes and burns, unfurling terrifying tragedies. This Thanksgiving family drama surely blurs the line between familial reality and a petrifying nightmare with a blood-curdling score amplifying its anxious aura. “Krisha” undeniably embodies horror for those who resonate profoundly with this film’s conflict and themes.  A deep resonance with this atypical epic prompted to staunchly broke my heart. However, its pervasive transparency makes it a haunting experience that will rattle viewers to their core.

5. “Sing Street” - John Carney’s third film encompasses euphoric simplicity. “Sing Street,” in a sense, personifies an ‘80s new wave album that lauds youth, artistic ambition and innocent love. With every viewing of this homage to ‘80s pop music, it became increasingly difficult to restrain from gratuitously singing along in bliss. Viewers will find themselves fervidly basking in nostalgic synth lines and infectiously beautiful lyrics.

4. “Manchester by the Sea” - Sometimes the sound of silence can elicit the most robust cathartic responses, and nothing is louder in this film than the reticent acting of Casey Affleck, the most sobering performance in 2016. Affleck’s character, in the midst of a haunting, dreary pain, practically speaks truth to so much about the human condition, especially in the halcyon instances where anguish is unspoken but brimming in visual agony. Not to better Affleck’s genuinely human performance, but Kenneth Lonergan shines as well with his direction as he methodically reveals an even richer and more complex human being in Lee Chander. Lonergan's playwright style translates harmoniously to his screenplay, exacting the spirited vitality, satire, misery and humanity of a Shakespearean epic. What really exalts “Manchester By the Sea” so high are two devastatingly poignant moments, amplified by pervading silent suffering.  

3. “O.J.: Made in America” - Up until 2016, documentaries have lacked vigor compared to the traditional film narrative. Ezra Edelman demolishes such misconception with the tour de force of documentaries, “O.J.: Made In America,” a riveting imperative for a contextual and historical acumen of a man who defined an era and the American court system. Edelman simply does not go about explaining the repercussions of Simpson’s trial; instead, he infatuates viewers in comprehending both O.J. Simpson and the racism-filled history of the United States. Edelman’s unconventional narrative style and the innumerable amount of research injected into this five-part epic has achieved immense artistic merit.

2. “A Monster Calls” - While in the midst of crying in remembrance of this crushingly moving film, trying to confidently pinpoint the worth of this piece becomes a progressively strenuous task, as so much emotion and artistic beauty sheathes the entirety of this magical realist piece. “A Monster Calls” debilitates all impermeable walls of emotional strength. J.A. Bayona’s impressive manifestation of hurt through a fantasy works wonders, while it accomplishes approachability regardless of age or situation. “A Monster Calls” communicates three vital themes: everyone must learn to grieve, loss lies as an inescapable truth and death is the only thing guaranteed during one's time on earth. Yet, Bayona still accentuates them with such grace and love. The last 30 minutes of “A Monster Calls” embrace similar inescapability, as viewers know how the story must end. This does not make the foreseeable end of the film any less heartbreaking when the resolution rears its ugly head.

1. “Moonlight” - The magnum opus of film in 2016 is none other than the heartbreaking and ruminative “Moonlight.” Struggles with racial and sexual identity perfectly encapsulate the entirety of this film. Director Barry Jenkins reveals a slow-burning personal touch with a unique grasp on human need for love and understanding. He arouses this desire by means of piercing expository dialogue and visual storytelling. Jenkins brandishes an adept knowledge of the power of sequencing images. Moonlight, with its gentle bravura, breathes as a sensitive and personal entity, trying to maneuver through the shambles of a prejudiced society in order to ultimately discover a loving connection and understanding. I was completely taken aback by the cathartic power of “Moonlight” and its all-pervading themes that can strip the emotions from a multitude of audiences. In a year where minorities have seen a threat to their pursuit of happiness, the intersectional “Moonlight” provides a gleam of hope.

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