The best movies of 2016, like any other year, were movies that seemingly had to be released in this year, either because of their political implications or their mark of personal, intimate artistry. In the very best movies of the recent years – The Wolf of Wall Street, This is Not a Film, A Touch of Sin, Margaret, Like Someone in Love, and To the Wonder, to name just a few – marry those two elements and 2016 certainly wasn’t light on film’s of that caliber. In a better world, Moonlight would be screened, 24/7, in the main hall of the Louvre; anyone fascinated in the Chinese economy and the social structure in that country would have a field day picking at the ideas that drive Mountains May Depart. Would any other year have produced not one (13th), not two (I Am Not Your Negro), but three (O.J.: Made in America) staggeringly thoughtful and emotionally devastating works focused on the black American experience? I doubt it, and they were all released in theaters, although in inarguable, unfortunate limited runs. Still, even in 2010, this would sound like a tall order.
I saw about 220 new releases this year, including a few magnificent releases slated for release next year – Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion and James Gray’s The Lost City of Z will both almost certainly be on my 2017 top ten – and in reality, there were well over 70 very good to great movies released amongst those 220. That’s why you’ll see an excess of honorable mentions at the bottom of this list, but the top ten deserve especial attention as works of liberating artistic vision and incalculable emotional depth.