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2016.

Just saying it is enough to make some of you cringe.

There’s an ongoing narrative about how awful this year has been, and not just in American politics. I’ve heard more than a few people say that 2016 has been underwhelming for movies, too, and I can certainly see where they are coming from. Personally, I’ve found a great many movies this year to be disappointing. In a lot of cases I was either let down by something I was anticipating, or I didn’t share my peers’ enthusiastic response to films I enjoyed. I found Deadpool, Jackie, Zootopia, and The Magnificent Seven to be uninspiring at best. Two of my favorite up-and-coming directors (Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve) released three films between them and none was particularly strong. And even though I liked Arrival, Rogue One, Sing Street, Hell or High Water, The Wailing and others, I wouldn’t say any of them were better than pretty good. So in some sense my experience fits the concept of a weak year.

However, we live in a time when the media harvest is nothing if not plentiful. There are so many movies being made by so many people that you’re bound to find the good ones if you look long enough. While I merely scratched the surface of all the films released this year, that was enough to reveal gold amidst the dross. This year saw new films by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Verhoeven, Shane Black, Clint Eastwood, John Carney, Richard Linklater, Whit Stillman, and Pixar. We had exciting debuts from Robert Eggers, Kelly Fremon Craig, Dan Tractenberg, and the Daniels; and auspicious new features from such talents as Jeremy Saulnier, Damien Chazelle, and Fede Alvarez.

It’s not every year you witness a masterpiece, but my number 1 film of 2016 is just that. So let’s get there, shall we? Here are my 15 favorites from 2016:

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2015 wasn’t a bad year, but I’m calling it a “bag” year.

What am I talking about?

Well, you know how sometimes movies just aren’t your bag? In an attempt to be a well-rounded cinema goer, I try to appreciate things that aren’t necessarily my bag. It’s one of the reasons that I do things like complete film lists, because then not only will it force me to confront things that aren’t my bag, it might also help me find new things that are my bag that I’d never have suspected were my bag. Most years I end up trying to catch up with some critical favorites which, on the surface, would seem not to be my bag. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t watched nearly enough movies to even have favorites. For example, what if instead of the ~60 new movies I saw this year, I had watched a different 60? That’s entirely possible. What if I have a bunch of favorite movies that I don’t know are my favorites because I never saw them?

Yet I feel like this year has been uncommonly predictable in the sense that I pretty much knew what I was going to like and dislike before I ever watched it. Most of the stuff that I thought would be my bag was my bag, and there weren’t a lot of surprises when I went looking for things that weren’t my bag. I mostly enjoyed movies from directors that I already favor (Baumbach, Tarantino, Villeneuve, Inarritu, Del Toro) and from genres that I favor (thriller, sci-fi), and disliked movies I didn’t expect to like (Jurassic World, Pixels). There were a couple of minor surprises – I liked Tomorrowland more than the consensus, didn’t love The Martian – but when I sought things a bit off the beaten path, like Tangerine or The Duke of Burgundy, none of it really made a big impression.

So while I’m pleased as punch to be a film aficionado right now, I can’t help but feel my own habits – and by extension, my year-end list – failed to capture the breadth of what filmmaking looked like this year. There’s no Holy Motors on my list, and no A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, no Sleepwalk with Me. It just feels like I didn’t see any stalwart indies or ambitious art films that I really fell in love with. Maybe that means I missed out. Or maybe it means mainstream movies were uncommonly good this year. I’d be more than happy to recommend Buzzard, for example, but to say I liked it better than any of the movies on this list would be dishonest – and there’d be no point in doing a personal list if it isn’t honest.

So with 2015 in the bag, here are the movies that are my bag this year:

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You read that right: top 15. I’m departing from my established pattern of doing an annual top 10. Part of me sees this as a failure of will, a refusal to make the hard choices. Maybe so. However, the prevailing thought in my mind is that although I am attempting to name my absolute favorite films of the year, the goal is less about canonization of well-respected movies than it is about the hope that the list might encourage someone to take a chance on a film they otherwise might not.

It was a good year for movies by my account. Godzilla returned to US multiplexes. Keanu Reeves got back into the action game with John Wick. We saw new films from auteurs such as David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, and Woody Allen. We saw exciting work from new and up-and-coming directors like Jennifer Kent, Damien Chazelle, Justin Simien, Dan Gilroy, Jeremy Saulnier, and Ana Lily Amirpour. We got two movies from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, both of which were anarchic fun. Reese Witherspoon was also in two movies and wasn’t awful in either of them. Even some of the usual superhero/blockbuster mish-mash was of an unusually high caliber (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy). Oh, and I think there was a movie by some guy named Christopher Nolan…

So in a year this crowded I feel a top 15 is the way to go. Let’s get at it, then, and may the hottest flicks rise to the top. Here are my picks for the best movies of 2014:

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I saw 64 movies for 2013, more than any year in memory. A good year for it, too, since I enjoyed most of what I watched. The top 10 was harder to narrow than ever. I could have made a top 25 list and I would have felt good about every choice. Still, the value of such lists lies in their exclusivity, the ruthless paring down that forces only the exceptional to rise to the top. I’ll honor my runners-up below, but for now let’s cut right to it. Here are my favorite movies of 2013. READ FULL ARTICLE

Top 10 Films of 2012

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If 2011 was a disappointment, movie-wise, 2012 has more than made up for it. It’s been a great year in film, the best since 2007. That was the last time I remember seeing so many excellent titles over such a short period. And while I’ve seen a decent number of limited release, independent and art-house movies this year (though sadly few foreign ones), we’ve actually witnessed an unusual swath of quality in more popular flicks. Kicking off with the incredibly popular Avengers movie, 2012 saw the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s beloved Batman trilogy, new and improved installments of the Men in Black and Alien franchises, an adaptation of a young adult novel that wasn’t terrible in The Hunger Games, one of the best James Bond movies in history, a cool original sci-fi time travel movie in Looper, and much more. That’s not to say that the festival favorites didn’t produce anything worthwhile either; between The Sessions, Headhunters, Robot & Frank, Killer Joe, Hitchcock, Bernie and more, there was plenty to savor just off the beaten path. Then when you add end-of-the-year awards contenders like Lincoln, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty, you start to see the breadth of what was available on the big screen this year. 

I feel my list definitely reflects the emergence of these popular movies, but I also feel good about recommending everything that’s here. These are my favorite movies of 2012. READ FULL ARTICLE