Jean-Luc Godard once said that every film has a beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order. Manchester by the Sea is a film almost exclusively set in the middle, the moments in between direct drama, the situations in between shock and healing, and the depression before any forms of catharsis. Manchester by the Sea isn’t about endings or resolutions but the intersecting interruptions, instances where petty trivialities get in the way of catharsis: a cell phone buzzing at a funeral, a gurney that won’t fold properly into an ambulance, a conversation about Star Trek immediately following a visit to the morgue. Kenneth Lonergan’s anti-three act structure takes Lee Chandler grief seriously, denying any simple narrative of recovery, recognizing that things will never be the same. Lee will always exist in a no man’s land between tragedy and closure.- Josh Cabrita
In a time where most Hollywood movies are overblown, overstuffed, and needlessly over complicated, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a movie with such basic charms be its outstanding features. Case in point: this modern-day western about two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) cruising through Texas robbing banks to save their family farm. Two Texas rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) are hot on their trail as both duos contemplate their futures in their dusty, desolate homeland. What makes Hell or High Water outstanding is how director David Mackenzie sees his characters as the most interesting part of his film. He stages some thrilling robbery scenes and an exceptional climax, but he knows the real story is seeing the journey his characters are on and where they end up. Thankfully, the writing of Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) created four interesting and very human characters for audiences to follow, all played by four actors in their prime. Birmingham and Foster are exceptional, with the latter bringing raw emotional intensity spaced out and the former providing his own brand of soul to the film. The aces in the group are Pine, in the most heartfelt and adult performance of his career, and Bridges being Bridges, which is better than 75% of most actors working in Hollywood today. – Jon Winkler
To simply say that Moonlight is one of the best films of 2016 would be a disservice. Because it isn’t only one of the best films, but also one of the most beautiful and important films of our generation. Barry Jenkins’ film, about a young man struggling to find himself while also contending with the exploration of his sexuality, is gripping. The film’s subtlety and gentle calm, like an ocean’s waves lapping at the beach, is intense and full of emotion. This, paired with fantastic performances by Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harrisnd the rest of the cast, solidifies the film as a coming-of-age story that is unlike any other. Jenkins’ use of the film’s setting plays a large role in the development of his lead character and the cinematography is simply breathtaking. Moonlight is engaging and compelling, emotional and honest. Quite simply, it’s a powerful movie that should be at the top of everyone’s must-see list.- Mae Abdulbaki
If there is one film that La La Land reminds me of, it’s the classic Hollywood musical, Singin’ in the Rain, starring the late and incomparable Debbie Reynolds. As I write this piece, I am just learning that Reynolds has passed away, but it’s because of movies like this one that her legacy along with many of the other greats lives on. A homage to old Hollywood and love letter to all the dreamers out there, La La Land is modern opus of hope, a brightly colored light sparkling at the end of the tunnel. It’s the epitome of feel-good, while also showcasing filmmaking at its greatest and most sincere. A reminder that it’s the fools, both past and present, the ones still working and even the ones no longer with us, that can still inspire dreams to come true. – Gabrielle Bondi
Other notable films that just about made our list were: Knight of Cups, Loving, Nocturnal Animals, Zootopia, The Lobster, Elle and Captain America: Civil War.