Heat Vision's Top 10 Movies of 2016

This year's genre films delivered thought-provoking endings, a gut-wrenching love story and (of course) plenty of action.
Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm
'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'

Leave the La La Lands, the Moonlights and the Hell or High Waters to other pundits. For in this place, we celebrate the movies where heroes fly, alien monsters dwell, snow monkeys talk and killers strike from any which side.

And 2016 was a pretty good year, both from a studio standpoint and an indie perspective. Superheroes saturated the screen, sci-fi came back and animation had a banner year.

Not all of it was good, but some of it was great. Let's take a look.

10. Zootopia

A movie about a wide-eyed bunny cop and a street-wise con-artist fox might sound like something just too cute to bear, but this Disney animated movie did two things amazingly well: 1) It featured some of the best world-building of the year, with a fully realized anthropomorphic realm that was ready to step into with characters you wanted to spend time with; and 2) It proved to be one of the year's timeliest movies, with its theme of us versus them and question of inclusion or segregation lending an unexpected depth to the movie.    

9. The Jungle Book

Disney pushed the bounds of technology in 2016 like no other studio with its work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (you know what I’m talking about) and Captain America: Civil War (the scenes with a young Robert Downey Jr.), so it's easy to forget that it first began with this groundbreaking and eye-popping live-action remake of its own animated The Jungle Book (1967). Never have animals felt so alive and believable under Jon Favreau’s direction and rarely has voice casting been so spot-on.

8. 10 Cloverfield Lane

The spirit of The Twilight Zone lives in this movie, which took a smart and original look at the alien invasion and contained thriller genres, just as Arrival and Don’t Breathe did, respectively. John Goodman plays a man who holds a woman (Elizabeth Mary Winstead) plus a companion (John Gallagher, Jr.) in an underground bunker with claims of attacks on the outside world. But as the story unfolds, his claims prove to be false … or are they true? The movie keeps you guessing until a left turn at the end, where it becomes another movie altogether, but there’s no denying that Goodman is one shady and creepy father figure.

7. Kubo and the Two Strings

This stop-motion fantasy adventure is the most accomplished movie yet from Laika, the company behind Coraline and Paranorman. A samurai in the form of a beetle, magical origami and a grandfather who wants to steal his son’s other eye (yeah, that’s right, after already having taken the first one) are just some of the crazy ideas in this tale of a boy and his musical instrument, a shamisen. The animation is lush and gorgeous, while the score by Dario Marianelli is among the best of the year.

6. Don’t Breathe

Somebody give Fede Alvarez another movie, quick! The director burst onto the scene with his internet short Panic Attack! and made his feature debut with a remake of Evil Dead. But here he shows his chops with what at first seems like a simple home invasion movie: Three desperate young people target the home of blind man in rundown Detroit. But that premise is turned on its head in topsy-turvy fashion when the three hunters become the hunted in a slickly made chamber piece that never feels small and contained yet keeps you on the edge of your seat feeling for the trapped characters.

5. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gave us a Van Wilder for the superhero set with his turn as a facially scarred mercenary trying to get revenge on the men that made him indestructible while also pining for a lost love. Fourth walls are broken, romance is in the air, comic book movie in-jokes whiz by and bodies are shot, sliced and tossed in the air as director Tim Miller balances action and attitude. Deadpool was a breath of fresh air in the superhero and comic book movie genre that flew on style and charm in what was one of the funniest and most fun films of the year.

4. The Eyes of My Mother

“Loneliness does strange things to the mind,” says the mother in question to her young daughter, presaging perhaps the most horrifying journey a moviegoer could take all year. The Eyes of My Mother, an indie horror movie written and directed by Nicolas Pesce, was shot entirely in black and white and is more like a character piece than the usual roller coaster thrill or gorefest as it follows the life of an isolated woman (Kika Magalhaes) who, after losing her mother to a killer — a parent who taught her the intricate ways of animal surgery, by the way — tries to connect with others in all the wrong and most tragic of ways. Pesce uses POV shots, long stretches of silence and the black and white to wring true horror, not terror, out of every scene. And every time you think the movie can’t creep you out anymore, along comes a scene that is even more uncomfortable. Almost all the violence is offscreen, yet it hovers above the viewer like a sword of Damocles and informs every scene.

3. Arrival

By following the travails of a translator (Amy Adams) recruited to work on deciphering an alien language, Arrival flipped the alien movie genre on its head, taking risks by going micro instead of macro on a story that not only slowly builds to a race-against-the-clock thriller but also a gut-wrenching love story. And that ending. That. Ending. When the pieces fall into place and you realize where and what the characters are inexorably heading to, the film, which until then seemed to be all brains, reveals itself to be all heart. Arrival is not just the smartest sci-fi pic of the year, it’s one of the smartest movies of the year, period. Perhaps even more than Sicario, the film, with its precise attention to mise en scene and sound design and score, heralded French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve as an auteur and made us excited about the Blade Runner sequel.

2. Captain America: Civil War

Overstuffed? Says who? Marvel generously gave us an unexpected Avengers movie this year that was also the best superhero movie of the year. With phenomenal action sequences that never overshadowed character development, the pic not only redeemed the very blah Avengers: Age of Ultron but also cleansed the palette for the next Spider-Man movie. But more than that, it was the very essence of a classic Marvel comic come to life: the melodramatic angst, the team-ups and the in-fighting between characters.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

While The Force Awakens gave us the Star Wars release we were all yearning, Rogue One gave us the movie we never knew we wanted. And in light of Carrie Fisher’s death, it becomes even all the more poignant. Cannily tapping into the opening crawl for inspiration, the movie tells of mythic story, in Star Wars lore, of how Princess Leia came to possess the Death Star plans. But the film is dazzlingly so much more: It’s a heist movie, a war movie and the best action movie of the year with the best ending of any movie of 2016, even as it slyly keeps the trappings of what we have come to expect or want from a Star Wars installment. It expands the black and white Star Wars universe into shades of gray with its portrayal of the Rebels as conflicted and even morally ambiguous men and women.

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