‘La La Land,’ ‘Seventeen’ top Graham’s best of 2016

Adam Graham’s picks for the year’s best and worst films; guess which one ‘Suicide Squad’ is on

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

In a topsy-turvy year for humanity in general, at least we had the movies.

A peek at 2016’s top grossers shows that animated fare (“Finding Dory” is the year’s biggest moneymaker), superhero movies (“Captain America: Civil War” is right behind it) and franchise entries once again ruled the box office. Movies are an escape, and people are using them to check out of reality for a few hours, a trend that will only continue in the years ahead.

While those tentpoles keep the movie business afloat as viewers drift toward more home viewing options, there are still plenty of filmmakers who tell their stories in a language other than Superhero.

To that end, here is my list of the year’s best movies and top performances, as well as a shout out to the 10 worst movies of the year. Hopefully they provide some suggestions of what to watch — and what not to watch — as 2016 mercifully grinds to a halt.

The Best Movies of the Year:

1. La La Land — A glowing love letter to Hollywood, musicals and the possibility of film, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s dizzying second feature delivers everything you could want in a movie. It’s perfect.

2. The Edge of Seventeen — Not since “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” has a film captured the essence of the teenage experience so thoroughly. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig does it with heart, humor and honesty.

3. Moonlight — A magnificent, beautiful, moving film about how identity and environment shape our lives. Look for writer-director Barry Jenkins’ film to show up again on many best-of-decade lists.

4. Krisha — This stunning debut feature marks the arrival of writer-director Trey Edward Shults, who cast his family members in this holiday horror story about the demons that rip families apart.

5. The Neon Demon — Nicolas Winding Refn’s fashion industry horror tale is the year’s best-looking film. This story of beauty and death unfolds in a nightmare L.A., the flip side of “La La Land’s” happy-go-lucky wonderland.

6. Everybody Wants Some!! — The year’s best ensemble celebrates male bonding, baseball, the close of the 1970s and the arrival of the 1980s in Richard Linklater’s ultra-laid back sort-of sequel to “Dazed and Confused.”

7. The Nice Guys — A tough-talking 1970s-set L.A. detective tale with electric performances by the mismatched duo of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Nobody does buddy movies like writer-director Shane Black.

8. The Jungle Book — This graceful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s tale reinvents the Disney classic for a new generation. Christopher Walken is a gas as King Louie, but it’s director Jon Favreau who is the king of the jungle.

9. Jackie — Natalie Portman’s mesmerizing turn as Jacqueline Kennedy and Mica Levi’s hypnotic, eerie score anchor this obtuse look at the first lady in the days following JFK’s assassination.

10. Don’t Breathe — Director Fede Alvarez’ breathless Detroit-set horror tale is a grindhouse thrill ride that never lets up, even in its final gasps.

Ten more with feeling: “Manchester by the Sea,” “The Meddler,” “Zootopia,” “The Love Witch,” “Deadpool,” “Arrival,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lion,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Born to be Blue”

10 Great Performances from 2016:

1. Kathryn Hahn, Bad Moms — Hahn has been stealing scenes for years (see “Step Brothers”), but in “Bad Moms” she made off with the whole damn movie. Bravo!

2. Lily Gladstone, Certain Women — Gladstone’s scenes opposite Kristen Stewart in Kelly Reichardt’s drama are all about repression, and the newcomer paints a full picture of her character while saying almost nothing at all.

3. Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight — As Black, the grown-up version of “Moonlight’s” Chiron, this former track and field star uses his muscular body and tough guy swagger to mask his character’s innermost insecurities.

4. Shia LaBeouf, American Honey — Outside of his modern art stunts, the guy is a wildly charismatic actor, and his performance in Andrea Arnold’s endless road trip tale as a smarmy, oily hustler is his best to date.

5. Emilia Clarke’s eyebrows, Me Before You — Groucho Marx. Frida Kahlo. Mr. Spock. To this list of history’s great eyebrows let’s add Emilia Clarke’s caterpillars, which are nothing less than transfixing in this tearjerker.

6. Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash — The same way Ben Kingsley lit “Sexy Beast” afire, Fiennes torches Luca Guadagnino’s drama and watches everything around him burn. The Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” belongs to him now.

7. Samantha Robinson, The Love Witch — Writer-director Anna Biller needed someone to build her homage to schlock cinema around, and she found her in Robinson, who appears to have been beamed out of a ’70s daydream.

8. Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys — “The Nice Guys” wouldn’t be “The Nice Guys” without Rice, the 15-year-old Aussie who not only holds her own opposite Gosling and Crowe, she steals scenes from underneath them.

9. Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch — The 20-year-old marvel — also fierce in this year’s “Morgan” — is a revelation in this New England folk tale, the innocent-turned-corrupt soul who embodies the evil that lies inside the woods.

10. Bella Heathcote, The Neon Demon — As a vapid model, the model-turned-actress is never less than 100 percent convincing as the living embodiment of L.A.’s soulless, beauty-over-everything ideology.

The Worst Movies of the Year:

1. The Divergent Series: Allegiant — An incoherent, franchise-sinking bomb that was so bad the series’ final installment might not even be released in theaters. Whoops!

2. Yoga Hosers — Kevin Smith was once a hero of Gen-X and an indie trailblazer. Those days are long gone, as evidenced by this dreadfully unfunny story of two teenage girls fighting a Nazi bratwurst. Seriously.

3. The 9th Life of Louis Drax — That’s nine lives too many for this dreck about an unlikable, danger prone child who keeps tempting fate but can’t be killed. It’s an instance where you keep rooting for fate to win.

4. Suicide Squad — Woof. A total jumble of moods and styles that utterly wastes the Joker, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and the time of everybody who watched it.

5. Mother’s Day — Garry Marshall’s final (RIP) holiday-themed monstrosity includes a scene where Jason Sudeikis’ character falls backwards two stories and breaks his leg while doing karaoke to “The Humpty Dance.” That’s less embarrassing than watching this movie.

6. Independence Day: Resurgence — The original “Independence Day” was no masterpiece, but it sure looked like one compared to this brain-dead sequel that couldn’t even muster up any decent explosions.

7. Knight of Cups — Sometimes Terrence Malick’s visual tone poems are moving exercises in beauty and proof of the existence of a higher being, and other times they’re incomprehensible garbage. Guess which one this is.

8. Blair Witch — “The Blair Witch Project” was memorable mostly for its marketing campaign, but director Adam Wingard pays such slavish devotion to the film that he repeats it here note-for-note, including the rip-off ending.

9. Norm of the North — This stinker about a polar bear who gets displaced from his North Pole home by a greedy condo developer is a dud even by the lowered standards of animated talking animal fare.

10. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party — Even leaving politics out of it, Dinesh D’Souza’s latest “documentary” is an embarrassment to filmmaking, with production values that look like a high school homework assignment.


(313) 222-2284

Twitter: @grahamorama

Watch Adam Graham talk about the year’s best movies with Fox 2’s Lee Thomas on “CriticLee Speaking,” airing at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday on Fox 2 Detroit