Best of 2016: Top 10 Movies

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I’m not sure if 2016 was a better year for going to the movies than 2015, but it was definitely a much better year for my motivation to go to the movies, and that mostly came about due to the comparatively high volume of “event movies” – or films a large number of people were talking about – that hit cinemas throughout the year. And as it turns out, even though a handful of those event movies were pretty average (spoilers: you won’t see Independence Day: Resurgence on this list), more than enough of them were good to make up what I think is a fairly decent top ten. So let’s finish this.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.
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10. Doctor Strange

While it’s easy to look at the plot of Marvel Studios’ adaptation of Stephen Strange and point out its rather generic “origin story” flow, leaving the assessment of the movie at that would be dramatically underselling it. Doctor Strange‘s place in the catalogue of MCU movies is as much about its unique look as its plot, characters and corresponding performances (which are great, by the way). The action that unfolds on screen is visually creative in ways matched by no other superhero movie – and the sequences only escalate in creativity and impact throughout the movie right up until Strange’s memorable final confrontation. Another good one, then.

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9. Deadpool

Opinion on Deadpool is understandably mixed depending on who you talk to, but the insane level of success enjoyed by the crude X-Men spin-off would suggest that an awful lot of people enjoyed it, and I was one of them. The movie is full of surprises – it boasts a shockingly likeable cast of supporting characters, its heart is ultimately sweeter than many might have expected, and it’s action comes mostly from just two stretched-out sequences. But one thing that isn’t surprising is the way Ryan Reynolds fits the leading role like a red-and-black glove. It has been way too long since the actor has had a chance to be at his unhinged comical best, and he is well up for it as a result.
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8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The quality of this movie was probably always going to have a big impact on the wide perception of Star Wars as a franchise – spin-offs and all – going forward, and for now the recent reputation of the saga remains intact. Gareth Edwards’ gritty alternate take on the way Star Wars movies are filmed – and what kinds of characters star in them – uses familiar elements in a refreshingly earthy way, but it is the most familiar part of the whole movie – its amazing final act – that really elevates the whole project. In that sense it’s difficult to ascertain just how successful the gritty experiment really was, but at this point I don’t really care, because the movie just finishes so incredibly well.
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7. Moana

Moana continues the recent run of Disney Animation Studios movies being really good, even if it doesn’t quite match up to Frozen on the musical front or really do much that could be considered new when it comes to plot. Not that this means much anymore, but I teared up a few times throughout the sea-faring journey of our eponymous wannabe explorer and her demigod sidekick Maui. What’s more, the movie’s animation quality represents yet another step up for Disney’s flagship house, in the realm of water and lighting effects especially. The streak is alive and well!
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6. Zootopia

Yep, we’re going back-to-back Disney here. The House of Mouse’s earlier 2016 film is somehow even better looking than Moana, as each diverse biome within the imaginary super-city where Zootopia gets its name has a calculated moment to show off as the movie progresses. Zootopia is also probably Disney’s densest feature in terms of visual gags, rewarding repeat viewings, and of course it’s also a smorgasbord of social allegory to be chewed on for years to come. Above all though, Zootopia is a great deal of fun to watch, with an instantly memorable cast of characters and a believable central relationship holding everything together.
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5. Star Trek Beyond

Every time I talk about this movie – or indeed the franchise it represents – I always feel oddly under-qualified. But even though I don’t get every long-standing larger reference lurking in its margins, Star Trek Beyond is my third outing with the world’s newest version of the Starship Enterprise’s crew and I quite like them. It’s a good thing that Beyond seems to be the favourite of the three new movies among Star Trek fans, because its also my favourite, as it wisely spends almost all of its time either on its cleverly sectioned-off character interactions, or on its impeccable action sequences.
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4. The Nice Guys

It is scarcely believable how many jokes Shane Black and his crew manage to cram into the first half of The Nice Guys, a relentlessly entertaining crime thriller about two dim-witted would-be detectives who unravel a political conspiracy far bigger than either of them are equipped to handle while attempting to find a missing girl. Russell Crowe’s brawn-for-hire co-lead is fantastic but Ryan Gosling positively steals the show with his best ignorant, emotionally-fragile egomaniac act. The Nice Guys goes to some fun places with its take on film noir tropes, but it’s just so funny that the plot often seems like a formality. Any Lethal Weapon fan needs to see this.
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3. Captain America: Civil War

After the relative disappointment of the still-good Age of Ultron, legions of Marvel Studios fans put their hope in Captain America: Civil War to deliver the kind of blockbuster multi-superhero action goodness that the first Avengers movie nailed so well, and what do you know, it delivered. Civil War does so many things well – It sets up Black Panther as a respectable, badass character, it brings in Spider-Man as a believable part of the MCU, it furthers the character development of several existing characters who will be more important later, it keeps the banter flying from multiple sources, and it tells a very personal story about friendship and betrayal.
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2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The quirkiest movie on this list, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is more gold from the team behind Boy, Eagle vs Shark and What We Do in the Shadows. Taika Waititi directs a funny, heartwarming movie that weirdly showcases a great deal of promise for his upcoming MCU appointment with Thor. The action is well-shot, each line of dialogue enriches the character speaking it, and newcomer Julian Dennison’s performance matches that of kiwi acting veteran Sam Neill every step of the way. The funniest police characters since Hot Fuzz are a nice bonus to add on top of all the other goodness.
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1. Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika’s reputation as a phenomenal stop-motion-animation studio is not exactly new information anymore, but Kubo and the Two Strings is my new favourite movie from the dedicated team, so it bears repeating – these guys make truly incredible stuff. Kubo may be one of the more straightforward narratives put to the big screen by the team behind Coraline and ParaNorman, but it is completely engrossing from its stormy opening to its bittersweet ending. Great voice work by Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Rooney Mara supports the onscreen action and beautiful score, the dark story is balanced by a generous smattering of well-timed jokes, and the plot’s twists are well-paced. Kubo and the Two Strings is a wonderful movie.

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Honorable Mentions
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Finding Dory

Probably the best Pixar sequel since the last Toy Story movie, Finding Dory is surprisingly effective at reaching a similarly heartfelt message as its highly-praised predecessor, thanks in no small part to half a dozen fresh supporting characters every bit as memorable as those in Finding Nemo.

–Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This was a surprise. What could have been a cynical cash-in on Harry Potter nostalgia is very much its own intriguing, ehm, beast. It struggles at times to set up all its new USA-specific lore, but it could actually be the start of something half decent franchise-wise if it retains its strong supporting cast.

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