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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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I love movies about music.

I’ll give you a moment here to process the shock.

Virtually anyone who knows me could have likely predicted that I would say this, since music is such a big part of my life. It’s a thing that drives me to create, to push my own boundaries and to weather disappointment time and again. So when I watch a film that deals with that process, those struggles, that joyous and heartbreaking expression, it’s easy to see why I immediately identify. Not only that, but music in general, including scores and soundtracks, contributes hugely to making films memorable and impactful – a statement with which I think even the casual moviegoer would agree.

Recently I found myself reflecting on my taste in movies, and as I did so I thought about what it is that makes someone’s list of personal favorites personal. What are those films that are not merely good movies, but that say something about the person who choose them, the person who is moved or enriched by them? After all, that is at the heart of Raptor Reviews’ purpose to be transparent about how our own biases, experiences and preferences shape our conversation about film.

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