Critics’ choice: The year’s top 10 movies
The consensus choice for film of the year is “a work of astonishing delicacy,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. Told in three chapters, Moonlight is both a comingof-age tale and a love story, each centered on a character who, when we meet him, is a scrawny black kid in Miami who finds a role model in a local drug dealer. Three “marvelous” actors play Chiron, allowing us to see how a lonely boy became a teenager uneasy with his homosexuality and then a street-toughened dealer himself. But it remains a love story, one that “sweeps you up like a wave and drops you, gently, in a place you never expected to be.”
2 La La Land
This “thrillingly ambitious, unapologetically romantic” musical “arrives at just the right time,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play two dreamers in Los Angeles who meet amid a traffic jam that, thanks to new love, “erupts into a frenzy of singing and dancing.” The next 120 minutes offer “an irresistible cocktail of heartswelling joy and heartrending sadness” as the couple ride love’s ups and downs. It’s “pure movie magic”—and “a testament to the timeless, transporting power of cinema.”
3 Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s blue-collar New England drama “seems reverse-engineered to leave its audience feeling walloped, but in the best of ways,” said Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post. Casey Affleck, getting “the breathtaking breakout role he’s long deserved,” plays a handyman forced by a family death to become a father figure to his teenage nephew. A deeper sorrow plagues Affleck’s character, but Lonergan keeps him bantering and shows us how even sad or mundane moments “teem with life and buried emotion.”
4 Hell or High Water
“A great genre picture, perfectly executed, is a thing of beauty,” said Roger Moore in RogersMovieNation.com. This “exceptional” heist movie unfolds in contemporary West Texas, where two brothers who go on a small-time bank-holdup spree might just become heroes if their venture goes according to plan. The droll dialogue provides an early tip-off that this picture is too smart to follow a straight line, and it rewards stars Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, and Ben Foster with a third act worthy of the three memorable characters they inhabit.
5 O.J.: Made in America
Yes, this five-part, nearly eight-hour documentary about O.J. Simpson was primarily seen by TV viewers. But a limited theatrical run makes it Oscar eligible, and it “has the grandeur and authority” of great literature, said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Simpson’s murder trial anchors the story, but the film also offers a biography of the ex–football star that’s so thorough, it becomes a social history of race, fame, sports, Los Angeles, and “nearly everything horrible and fascinating in the last halfcentury of American life.”
This fictionalized portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination is “probably not a movie for mass audiences,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. “It’s a chamber drama rather than an epic,” probably too strange to win any Oscars, save one for its “thrilling” string-laden score. But the mission of this movie is to dramatize everything buzzing through the head of a traumatized icon, and Natalie Portman’s brave performance lets us see sorrow, resentment, and fear. “Of course, it’s all fiction”—all theater. But the real Jackie Kennedy was playing a part, too.
Clint Eastwood the director is a far greater spirit than Clint Eastwood the political thinker, said Richard Brody in NewYorker.com. He’s proven that again with his dramatization of the 2009 near disaster that pilot Chesley Sullenberger averted when he landed a damaged, crowded airliner in New York City’s Hudson River. Tom Hanks stars, but it’s Eastwood who finds gripping drama in one man’s psychological response to an existential scare. This “paean to steadfast character” is also “a work of tragic imagination.”
Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker who “dares to be quiet, authentic, and true,” said Anne Thompson in IndieWire.com. When the director of Midnight Special decided to tell the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a biracial Virginia couple who won a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that made their union legal across the nation, he could have made a very conventional law drama. Instead, he leaned on the “stellar” work of co-stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga and made a quiet movie about a marriage. “That’s why this movie is so rare and brave.”
Aliens land on Earth, and a linguist is tapped to figure out a way to communicate. In this “intelligent, moving, and wholly original” sci-fi thriller, said Bill Goodykoontz in the Phoenix Arizona Republic, brawn is sidelined while brains— and an “Oscar-caliber” Amy Adams— decide the planet’s fate. “The final act is stunning,” scrambling the viewer’s understanding before revealing how much we still have to learn about humanity, communication, and time.
How can God allow suffering? How meaningful is a person’s silent faith if it’s masked by public disavowal? Martin Scorsese’s passion project—about two 17th-century Jesuits who risk torture and death to search Japan for their mentor—is “alternately brutal and cerebral,” said Peter Travers in RollingStone.com. “Some may balk at grappling with moral ambiguity for two and a half hours”—but “who needs them?” Scorsese has crafted “a film of potent provocation and fervent heart.”
Sources used to establish our rankings include Entertainment Weekly, IndieWire.com, New York magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate.com, Time, VanityFair.com, Variety, and The Washington Post.