Top 16 films of 2016

City of Stars: Films topping our list such as “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” “Arrival” and “Manchester by the Sea” have swept up most of the awards so far this season. Other favorites such as “The VVitch,” “Green Room,” “The Nice Guys” and “Sing Street” are receiving little to no attention, unfortunately. 

2016 has been a rocky year, but the film industry certainly didn’t pull its punches this year. Colleen and Andrew –the Washburn Review’s two resident film critics– have watched dozens of movies this year, from blockbusters to indie flicks, documentaries to rom-coms. Film broke our hearts, raised goosebumps and gave us a reason to belly laugh with our friends. This was a year that raised the bar for film not only as an art form, but as an enjoyable experience as well. Bravo to all the great films that have come out this year, please enjoy Andrew and Colleen’s cumulative top 16 picks of 2016.

Honorable mentions (films that one of us was unable to see or was edged off the combined list): “Edge of Seventeen,” “Everybody Wants Some,” “20th Century Women,” “Hidden Figures,” “Love and Friendship,” “The Handmaiden,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Deadpool,” “Doctor Strange” and “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.”

16. “Moana”

This has been a banner year for Disney, kicking off the year with its clever social-commentary “Zootopia” and ending strong with one of its best additions to the Disney Princess roster with “Moana.” This film had everything going for it– breathtakingly vibrant and detailed animation, a unique story, a great blend of comedy and drama and outstanding music by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Disney knows what it’s doing by now. It knows which switches to flip to make us laugh and our hearts clench, and as easy as it would have been to phone it in with “Moana,” Disney thankfully didn’t. What they gave us was a truly unique experience: a well-rounded glimpse at a largely ignored culture, thrilling adventure and a modern take on a leading lady we can all look up to.

15. “Sing Street”

From writer-director John Carney comes the fantastic musical “Sing Street.” Set in 1980s Dublin, the film regales the story of a young boy forming a posh rock band. The film is send-up of the power of music, the rebellion of rock-and-roll, and the power of brotherhood. It’s an amazingly well-handled film with great music, spectacular acting from many newcomers, and a wonderful story. There’s a reason it is dedicated to “brothers everywhere.”

14. “Zootopia”

As much as we adored “Moana,” “Zootopia” was barely edged it out. Nobody saw “Zootopia” coming. We expected the typical talking animal movie where we learn a lesson about friendship and being true to yourself, maybe have a dance number or a generic romance thrown in. What Disney did instead was produce arguably the most woke film in a decade. “Zootopia” was a comedy at its core, but it tackled issues of racism, discrimination, sexism, political corruption, racial profiling and bullying with the grace of a traditional drama on the Oscars’ short list. Disney response to the buddy cop movie genre was the a “bunny cop” movie. On paper, “Zootopia” sounds ridiculous, but an animated movie about talking animals full of relevant pop culture references, clever world building, incredibly clever character arcs, detailed animation and wonderfully dry comedy cannot be ignored. It was a gem of an idea that was perfectly executed. Keep pushing the envelope, Disney.

13. “Rogue One”

Prequels should be created to expand upon the themes and story set by the movies they chronologically proceed. The worst prequels detract from their predecessors and make them less palpable. The best ones make for amazing one-shots that also empower the actions and story of their sequels. “Rogue One” does the latter in an exquisite manner. It strengthens the story of “A New Hope” while also introducing incredibly an incredibly original and likable group of protagonists. Not to mention its great action and amazing message urging people to fight for what is right. “Rogue One” is another triumph in the “Star Wars” canon.

12. “Tickled”

Who would’ve thought that the craziest thriller of the year would be a documentary about competitive endurance tickling? New Zealand journalist David Farrier investigates the mysterious world of this pseudo-sport and gets pushed back by executives and lawyers every step of the way. Tickled unfolds in a completely unexpected way, making you assume that you have everything figured out before another shock drops down on you. Tickled is a documentary film done spectacularly right, a movie that is more suspenseful, mysterious, and riveting than half of the thrillers that came out this year combined! Tickled is a rollercoaster ride and one that you should take right this moment. What starts out as a profile of a silly tickling sport becomes a story about two men embroiled in what could be an international conspiracy. David Farrier and Dylan Reeve go out of their way to stop bullies and fight back against people who have tormented so many innocent young people, and that is what makes Tickled so incredible and so poignant for our time.

11. “The Nice Guys”

Set during Christmastime in the ’70s, “The Nice Guys” is an incredibly hilarious and action-packed crime-thriller. The movie has it all with charismatic leads, an incredibly well-constructed conspiracy plot, and absolutely laugh-out-loud gags. Its dedication to its ’70s setting never feels unnecessary with the commentary focused on the decade still translating to our current time. “The Nice Guys” is absolutely a joy to watch and deserves your time.

10. “The VVitch”

This is horror done right. The story of a Puritan family tormented by a witch while living in isolation, “The VVitch” is one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking scripts penned in ages. The dialogue and New England folklore were all researched by the director for years, much of it quoted directly from firsthand accounts of Puritans who claimed to have witnessed witches in their village. The intricate lore and subsequently top-notch suspense aside, the acting was what truly sold this film. The cast, much of whom has worked in other horror films or are of “Game of Thrones” fame, nailed their characters’ Middle English dialect and accents, allowing the viewers to be sucked into their horrifying world without a second thought.

9. “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Not so much a direct sequel to the 2008 found-footage horror flick “Cloverfield,” as it is an expansion. J.J. Abrams has recently stated that he plans to expand the “Cloverfield” franchise into a cinematic universe. Each film framing and connecting the others but still allowing the movies to be substantially different in tone, setting, and characters. “10 Cloverfield Lane” was the first test of this experiment and it goes off with a bang. It is tense, uncomfortable, and downright scary. With incredible performances from its small cast and the great direction from newcomer Dan Trachtenberg makes “10 Cloverfield Lane” one of the best and most unique thrillers of 2016.

8. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

New Zealand didn’t disappoint with this scrappy little coming of age story. Set in the New Zealand Bush, a young boy named Ricky is placed with a farming couple’s foster care. In an unfortunate series of events that unfold in quick succession, the boy and Uncle Hec, his foster father, are forced to live off the grid and avoid capture by authorities. This comedy was as strange as it was touching. The sense of humor fluctuated between slapstick and deadpan nicely, giving everyone something they could identify with and enjoy. The best aspect of this film was how it so perfectly married its beautiful, natural setting with the story itself. By the end of this, you will want to visit New Zealand, too.

7. “Hail, Caesar!”

The Coen Brothers always release great films and their newest addition about the struggles of a producer in 1950s Hollywood is another addition to their impressive oeuvre. It’s got great humor, amazing writing, an incredible cast, and some great commentary on Hollywood culture and the obsession that surrounds it. Focusing on unique points of the 1950s such as the Red Scare the movie frames itself as almost a parody of everything that people love about the cinema of the ’50s. Not to mention its an incredibly captivating mystery woven into it as well.

6. “Green Room”

One of the stranger films to come out of 2016, “Green Room” follows a fledgling punk band playing a gig at a biker bar. After witnessing a murder in the bar’s green room, the band is holed up in the building and hunted by the bar owner and patrons, who turn out to be a part of a neo-Nazi drug ring. Obviously this film will not be for everyone. The violence, language and claustrophobia of this thriller is designed to make you incredibly uncomfortable, and it achieves this in spades. However, for those with stronger stomachs, this is one of the best, most original and suspenseful thrillers to come out in a decade.

5. “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Laika is an animation studio specializing in incredibly artistic renditions of stop motion animation. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is their fourth film and at this point they have proved that they are incredibly good at what they do. “Kubo” bursts with talented animation that is unprecedented in terms of its skill and beauty. There are sequences in the film that are absolutely stunning and are a wonder to behold. Not to mention the fact that “Kubo’s” story and characters are also quite beautiful and lovely. “Kubo” is an amazing adventure tale with a great message for kids and its talent and skill is on par with the best animation studios in the world.

4. “Manchester by the Sea”

This is one of those films you go into knowing that you’re going to cry, yet are strangely alright with that. “Manchester by the Sea” tells the story of a recently divorced man grieving for his late brother now having to care for his orphaned nephew. It’s a highly emotional story that never feels like it’s reaching or being emotionally exploitative. As much as you may not like them initially, you genuinely sympathize for these characters over time, watching them live through unimaginably difficult life choices. This is one of those difficult dramas you will be glad that you saw, and will likely put on every time you need an excuse to feel sad.

3. “La La Land”

What can be said about “La La Land” that hasn’t been said before? It’s a modern day homage to the golden age of Hollywood, a musical for people who don’t normally like musicals, our generation’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” etc. But it’s so much more than that– it’s actually fun. A lot of great film nowadays that clean up during awards season just aren’t fun anymore. At times it feels as though Hollywood makes us choose between smart, well-crafted projects and light-hearted entertainment. “La La Land” proves that we don’t have to choose, the film industry was just a in rut. What we have hear is of course a beautiful score and musical numbers, but on top of that we have the pleasure of watching Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s dynamite onscreen chemistry as they give one of the most honest and healthy portrayals of a modern romance. Anyone familiar with the entertainment business will feel a little vindicated having watched this film, and casual viewers will be left wanting to learn the film’s iconic tap dance routine. There’s something here for everyone, and it’s a triumph in film-making.

2. “Moonlight”

“Moonlight” is an absolute marvel to behold. Chiron’s coming-of-age story shines a new light on humanity. Chiron lives in a world that will not accept the way he is. He’s a boy who grows up in a distant home with a mother struggling with drugs and he has no one to turn to. The people he meets who love him and encourage him are incredibly uplifting. Not only is “Moonlight” a beautiful film detailing the life of people we rarely see in cinema it has a powerful message about compassion, kindness and love. Its auteur filmmaking and one of the most beautiful love stories of the year.

1. “Arrival”

To praise “Arrival” on the grounds of what makes it so spectacular means spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. Denis Villeneuve is an incredible director behind the camera and his adaptation of this amazing Ted Chiang story is the best film of the year for a number of reason. It’s about life and death, sadness and joy, how clinging to the past holds us back as a society. The film urges people to work together and to learn to stop fighting over trivial foolishness. To stare the unknown in the face and say “I accept you,” is the beauty of this film. It’s about knowing your fate and still embracing tragedy with open arms. “Arrival” rocked me to my core, it surprised me at every turn and then surprised me again. It is a truly riveting film filled with emotion, honesty, and beauty. I will never forget it and I can’t wait to see it again.

Independent from one another, here are Andrew and Colleen’s top 16 picks.


  1. Arrival
  2. La La Land
  3. Moonlight
  4. The Edge of Seventeen
  5. The Nice Guys
  6. The VVitch
  7. Manchester by the Sea
  8. 10 Cloverfield Lane
  9. Zootopia
  10. 20th Century Women
  11. Hail, Caesar!
  12. Kubo and the Two Strings
  13. Moana
  14. Sing Street
  15. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  16. Tickled


  1. Arrival
  2. La La Land
  3. The Handmaiden
  4. Tickled
  5. La La Land
  6. Kubo and the Two Strings
  7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  8. Green Room
  9. Manchester by the Sea
  10. Captain America: Civil War
  11. Hell or High Water
  12. Rogue One
  13. Deadpool
  14. Moana
  15. Hail, Caesar!
  16. The VVitch