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Year's best films made viewers think

Profile image for By Preston Barta
By Preston Barta
Annette Bening and Lucas Zade Zumann are part of the stellar ensemble cast of “20th Century Women.”A24
Annette Bening and Lucas Zade Zumann are part of the stellar ensemble cast of “20th Century Women.”
“Everybody Wants Some!!” peeks inside the home of a handful of 1980 college baseball players (Austin Amelio, Tanner Kalina, Forrest Vickery, Tyler Hoechlin and Ryan Guzman).Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures
“Everybody Wants Some!!” peeks inside the home of a handful of 1980 college baseball players (Austin Amelio, Tanner Kalina, Forrest Vickery, Tyler Hoechlin and Ryan Guzman).
Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures
Tom Hanks stars as the title character in “Sully,” with Aaron Eckhart.Warner Bros. Pictures
Tom Hanks stars as the title character in “Sully,” with Aaron Eckhart.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Year in review: Best movies (and the worst)

Looking back on 2016, you could easily label it as a bad year for movies. Plenty of titles harbored the potential of climbing the cinematic ladder to greatness, but many struggled to break through and find their audience. Thankfully, there was also an overwhelming amount of quality filmmaking if you looked in the right places, especially during the fall movie season.

For me, the year was strong enough to make a few Top 10 lists. The titles below aren’t ranked in any particular order, but instead reflect a roulette wheel of the movies I considered the best of the best. It’s purely based on how much I personally thought about each film and how it held up upon multiple viewings.


How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change

Josh Fox (Gasland) held the regional premiere of his riveting climate change documentary at Denton’s Thin Line Film Festival back in February. Since then, no other documentary has come close to widening my eyes to what’s going on in the world that surrounds me. It’s a well-balanced offering of facts with touching firsthand accounts, humor and striking images to inspire one to bring about change.



With so much negativity crowding the headlines these days, it’s rewarding to behold a true story that doesn’t turn into tragedy. Clint Eastwood expertly recounts the story of how Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (an excellent Tom Hanks) successfully landed a disabled airplane in the Hudson River off Manhattan. It’s a testament to Sully’s bravery but also a testament to what people can achieve when you remove politics, egos and prejudices.


Captain America: Civil War

This third outing in the Captain America franchise is every inch a blockbuster in the best sense of the word, but it also delves into the repercussions of being Earth’s mightiest heroes. This is what takes the movie from your typical superhero movie to the level of great drama. With its ambition, scope and surprising emotional depth, Civil War sets both head and heart running.



There’s a reason Martin Scorsese is one of the best living directors in the film business: He knows how to transcend geographical boundaries and tap into universal themes in a compelling manner. His spiritual quest of two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, in top form) in search of their mentor (a moving Liam Neeson) is a remarkable meditation on pain, faith and doubt.


A Monster Calls

Talk about a movie that shatters expectations with its striking visuals, emotional heft and magical tale of grief and loss. Director J.A. Bayona (the upcoming Jurassic World sequel) paints a vivid picture for audiences to escape from reality and get in touch with one’s self on a deeper level.


20th Century Women

For a person who identifies with the complications of being man with a feminine side, 20th Century Women couldn’t hit home better with its inventive story of an adolescent’s upbringing during a moment of cultural change and rebellion. Anchored by the best ensemble of the year (Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup), Mike Mills (Beginners) continues to be a filmmaker to watch and admire.


Everybody Wants Some!!

Sometimes it’s nice to not put on the thinking cap while watching a movie and just hang out. While Richard Linklater (Boyhood) doesn’t much concern himself with traditional plot progression, he can cut to the core of humanity in a compelling fashion. His spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused is loaded with laughs, smiles and everything to celebrate about l-i-v-i-n.


Manchester by the Sea

The tragic departure of a family member or friend is something that permanently changes the manner in which we deal with others. Even though it is said that grief is indescribable, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan does an award-worthy job of capturing that sensation through forceful performances (Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams) and nuance.



Every awards season is littered with biopics, but Pablo Lorrain’s Jackie replaces predictable story beats with haunting experimentation. Through its unique combination of Mica Levi’s scary-good musical score, Natalie Portman’s stunning lead performance and Noah Oppenheim’s memorable screenplay, Jackie is one of the year’s finest achievements.


Captain Fantastic

Every parent wants their child to lead a happy and fulfilling life, and Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is an astonishing exploration of this notion. It’s one of those rare films that comes along and burrows in your brain. Not in the mind-marathon-running manner that Christopher Nolan (Inception) employs, but in a means that causes you to reflect and question your own values.


Honorable mentions

The Handmaiden

Don’t Think Twice

Sing Street

The Lobster

Nocturnal Animals

Love & Friendship

The Founder

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Hell or High Water



Worst of the year

Zoolander 2


Man Down

Dirty Grandpa

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Independence Day: Resurgence

Nine Lives

I Saw the Light


The Boss


PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.