This year gifted moviegoers with another “Star Wars,” blockbuster animated films and the usual array of superheroes. For us, though, the richest cinematic experiences were found in a pair of real-life stories: “O.J.: Made in America” and “Tower”:
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Stephen Becker’s Top 10 Movies of 2016
- Tower – Director Keith Maitland’s documentary revisits the UT Tower shooting 50 years later to tell a story not of tragedy but of everyday people leaping into action and becoming heroes in the process.
- Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford builds on the promise of his first feature (2009’s “A Single Man”) in telling a complex story-within-a-story with clarity and style. Fingers crossed that the Austin native best known for his fashion career continues his foray into filmmaking.
- Moonlight – It’s hard to recall a character who’s had the deck stacked against him more than Chiron – a black, sexually confused child who’s bullied at school and neglected at home. It’s a close cousin to 2009’s “Precious” – if you remember wanting to reach through the screen to comfort that film’s title character, those feelings will return watching “Moonlight.”
- Fences – Denzel Washington stars in and directs this adaptation of the August Wilson play about a bitter man frustrated by the lack of opportunities in his life. Washington has made a career playing characters who are charming one minute and menacing the next, and his Troy Maxson is as good as I’ve ever seen him. Viola Davis is also excellent as Troy’s long-suffering wife, Rose – between this film and “Moonlight,” there’s no reason for a return of #oscarssowhite.
- Jackie – Director Pablo Larraín calls Jacqueline Kennedy “the most unknown-known figure of the 20th Century” – a two-dimensional icon that we’ve all seen without really knowing. Natalie Portman turns her into a living, breathing person worthy of our empathy and respect through her dynamic performance.
- The Handmaiden – Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) shows a deft hand in building both creepiness and sexual tension in this story of a maid in cahoots with a partner to defraud a wealthy heiress. The movie just gets better and better as layers of the story are peeled back and new alliances are revealed.
- La La Land – This old-school Technicolor musical proves the old Howard Hawks adage that a good movie has “three good scenes and no bad ones.” You’ll hum the music for at least a week.
- Hell or High Water – Between “Nocturnal Animals” and this film, West Texas was a major character in two of the year’s best films. This one’s a pretty straight ahead cops-and-robbers story but one in which it’s hard not to root for both sides of the law.
- Manchester by the Sea – Yes, it’s depressing. It’s also a rewarding watch, though, and Casey Affleck says the most with the fewest words of any performer this year.
- Allied – Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are spies doing dirty deeds for the good guys in the thick of World War II. She, however, might (or might not!) be playing him in the process – a question the movie seductively keeps in play right up until the final scene.
Honorable mentions: Arrival, Pete’s Dragon, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Birth of a Nation