The Best Movies of 2016

From 'Moonlight' to 'Deadpool' to 'Rogue One,' these are the best movies of 2016.

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What is there to say about movies in 2016? In some ways, the year in film was defined by failed blockbusters, at least in the critical sense. “Marvel ran the game last year, but DC is taking its shot this year with two enormous releases,” we wrote at the beginning of this year. DC certainly did take their shot with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but they missed badly with both. Joining those two blockbusters in the dumpster were the likes of Independence Day: ResurgenceX-Men: Apocalypse, and Star Trek Beyond. Marvel meanwhile, ever the exception, chugged along with Civil War and Doctor Strange. Really, the most successful blockbuster of the year wasn’t even a blockbuster—it was Deadpool, Marvel’s irreverent, made-for-cheap sensation. But on the whole, as time goes on, it seems clear that the bigger a movie is (and usually, the more money it makes), the more devoid of feeling it will be. Stories are lacking, a sense of life missing: a disconcerting trend if there ever was one.

But 2016’s film slate wasn’t all bad; there were still plenty of movies and performances that charmed us in the theaters. The year included some great cinema, with movies featuring unimaginable creativity and bold, captivating statements—including, most surprisingly, documentaries so evocative and well-executed that they transcended their genre. And in another positive turn, 2016’s palette was far more diverse than years previous; genres that made the list run the gamut from bigger-budget comedy to indie thriller, and the stories being told reflected a wide spectrum of different walks of life. This array of narratives were reflected in the Oscar nominations of the year: though there is always room for improvement, it certainly was not mired in quite the underrepresentation debacle as it had in prior years. 

There’s plenty from that year to celebrate. Just keep reading for our favorites; these are the best movies of 2016. 

25. Doctor Strange

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Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

When it works, Doctor Strange, the fourteenth film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, is a joy to take in. Considering it had to do two things—establish Strange’s origin story while also making him a force to be reckoned with—in one film, Marvel succeeded, turning an asshole-in-residence into the Sorcerer Supreme. Benedict Cumberbatch shined as Stephen Strange, a brain surgeon bent on reclaiming the gift of his broken hands. Instead he ended up receiving the gift of all of the magical powers. While Mads Mikkelsen wasn’t the big bad many would imagine (and while the real big bad, Dormammu, ended up being an even weaker final boss), the real crime was having Rachel McAdams on payroll and giving her next to nothing to do. That said, the special effects in this film are the real king, and if you haven't seen this one in IMAX 3D yet, you're truly missing out. —khal


24. Arrival

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

That boy Denis finally found a script and story worthy of his reliably gorgeous filmmaking, which, he hasn't truly had in full since Enemy imo. (I realize I'm in the minority but, Sicario was...not for me.) Amy Adams goes Peak Jodie in this thoughtful and engrossing first contact story that refreshingly unfolds more or less how an actual alien arrival would in real life. U.N. politics and paranoia drive the story but the real draw is watching Adams expertly navigate the language barrier. Arrival is what I like to call, Fire/Boring. Nothing's going to get your blood pumping—it's tailor made for a turnt down winter watch, but it plays to those strengths. And it all builds to the most emotionally affecting reveal/twist/ending/whatever you want to call it. Just have a fucking hanky on deck. —Frazier Tharpe


23. Hail, Caesar!

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Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton

Sure, the Coen brothers’ latest film is a bit of a Hollywood jerk-off machine, playing into the old studio nostalgia that’s getting La La Land the “favorite child” spot. But it’s also such a stellar example of what the Coen brothers are great at, it almost feels like a best of compilation of the duo that brought us Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and many more. Joel and Ethan Coen have proven their strength in both drama and comedy throughout their robust careers, and here they slide the scale all the way to the comedic side. Hail, Caesar! may not live up to the classics in their filmography, but it’s honestly their funniest film yet, taking us from one set to another on a 1950s Hollywood studio lot, where there’s more drama and ridiculousness behind the scenes than in front of the camera. Coen regulars George Clooney, Josh Brolin, and Frances McDormand come out to play while Scarlett Johansson gives us perfect mermaid diva vibes and Channing Tatum makes us howl with a song and dance number beyond anything we’ve ever seen in all the Step Up movies combined. Also featuring twin Tilda Swintons, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, and breakout star Alden Ehrenreich, this star-studded misadventure boasts what is probably the highest concentration of the finest actors working today. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


22. Manchester by the Sea

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Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

I’m a sucker for emotional movies set in New England—there’s something about seeing those dudes with steely exteriors crack while mispronouncing their Rs. So I was prepared to lose it watching Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s indie about a down-and-out Massachusetts man whose life is thrown off course when his older brother dies and leaves his son to him. But while Manchester does strike a chord, its strength lies in how understated and careful it is. Lonergan doesn’t revel in the pain that surrounds his movie’s characters; he studies it, displays it in a surprisingly varied number of ways, and captures some sort of truth when it comes to the human capacity for coping. Buoyed by near-perfect performances from Casey Affleck (whose sexual assault allegations should be talked about as much as his acting) and newcomer Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea is a beautiful melodrama that says so much by not really saying much at all. I don’t know if it deserves all the praise and awards it’s currently getting, but it is something you should see. —Andrew Gruttadaro


21. The Love Witch

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Director: Anna Biller

Starring: Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell

It’s time to add another great witch film to that IMDB list of “great witch movies” that I know you’re sitting on. In The Love Witch, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) has moved to a small town in Northern California to run away from her demons—particularly one in the form of her deceased ex-husband. She’s gorgeous, sexy, and a witch—however, where Elaine’s magic and personal interests dovetail is on the topic of love. She’s desperate to find a man who will just love and provide for her, and will do anything with her incredible set of powers to get one. In doing so, Elaine upends the town with her love magic and obviously, chaos arises. It’s a campy, sexy, weird play on 1960s horror—more funny than scary—but don’t let any of that make you think The Love Witch is without substance. Director Anna Biller’s watchful writing and direction make Elaine’s seemingly idiotic quest for true love one that dives deep into the feminist implications of such, and the gender politics between men and women, all with a winking, blue eyeshadow-covered eye. —Kerensa Cadenas


20. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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Directors: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

​Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Chris Redd

Popstar might be the dumbest movie of the year so far, and that’s not an insult. Created by the Lonely Island guys, it's a pitch perfect parody of a Justin Bieber-esque pop star Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), who is going through a rough patch after his album tanks. The fauxmentary (which definitely pulls from Bieber's Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) captures Conner's every move, and documents his downward spiral as he adds a Tyler, the Creator-type rapper (Chris Redd) to his tour to boost sales, encounters a multitude of PR nightmares (including getting Seal killed), and pushes everyone away with his own stubborn behavior. 

Chock full of insane celebrity cameos, the best dick joke in recent memory on film, and ridiculously catchy songs, Popstar distils everything you love about the Lonely Island into a perfectly timed package where you might not ever stop laughing. —Kerensa Cadenas


19. Knight of Cups

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Director: Terrence Malick

​Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots

Does a Terrence Malick movie need to make any sense? Not really. 

In typical Malick fashion, Knight of Cups isn’t about much on the surface—it's philosophical or whatever. Cups follows Rick (Christian Bale), a depressed but decidedly #blessed L.A. screenwriter, who while flourishing professionally is missing something deeper that he can’t quite figure out. That self-exploration, in the case of so many L.A. men, comes in the form of women. Rick’s story is told in dreamy, gorgeous vignettes about the women in his life, from a former marriage (with Cate Blanchett no less!) to an affair with a married woman (Natalie Portman). There’s more to it than just women though, as it explores Rick’s clearly complex relationship with his addict brother (Wes Bentley) and his thoughts about Hollywood. More than anything, Knight of Cups is more about the experience. If you’ve ever lived or been in L.A., it captures the languid sprawl of the city, drenched in sunshine, capped by palm trees. It’s a specific corner of L.A., one exclusive to few, as shown in the outstandingly surreal mansion party scene, but you’ll more than want to go on this journey with Malick. —Kerensa Cadenas


18. The Nice Guys

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Director: Shane Black

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice

Before he went and wrote and directed the third Iron Man, Shane Black had an underrated movie called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was a weird, twistedly funny neo-noir depiction of Los Angeles. The Nice Guys is more of the same, teaming up a shabby private investigator (Gosling) with a gruff enforcer-type (Crowe) who unreel a conspiracy theory involving both the porn and auto industries in the '70s. The movie is impeccably styled, and the plot is amusingly winding, but not so much that it'd break your brain. But most of all, The Nice Guys hangs its hat on the chemistry and performances of Crowe and Gosling, an unlikely bro-pair who are a pleasure to watch. Crowe is great as a laconic, emotionally damaged tough guy, and as Holland March, Gosling proves that maybe he's at his best when he's talking A LOT, rather than when he's barely muttering a word. —Andrew Gruttadaro


17. Love & Friendship

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Director: Whit Stillman

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel

Don’t get it twisted: Love & Friendship might be the meanest movie of the year. It’s not your typical Keira Knightley/Jane Austen period romantic drama shit—it’s truly wicked and even a tad evil. Whit Stillman, who excels at comedy of any era, reunites two of his favorite conspirators, indie darling Chloe Sevigny and action heroine Kate Beckinsale. Beckinsale has been easy to write off for years as she continues to star in action film after action film, but in Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Lady Susan, she proves that she’s so much more than the Matrix-like moves we know her for. She plays the titular character Lady Susan, a cunning woman who is trying to marry her daughter off to a rich older man and looking for one herself as well to restore her family’s fortune and standing. She’s utterly shameless in her pursuits, from flirting with younger, rich men to sleeping with married men to blatantly lying to get her way. Even as Susan’s web gets more tangled, her charm, in spite of her serpentine bite, proves that sometimes being mean might work in the long run. —Kerensa Cadenas


16. La La Land

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend

Okay, yeah we get it, liking musicals is either aggressively uncool or very, very cool if you’ve actually been able to see Hamilton. But don't let any of that affect how you see this movie musical. If you’ve been on the internet at all since September, it’s likely you’ve heard of La La Land, from Whiplash mastermind Damien Chazelle starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. You’ve seen the candy colored, L.A.-sun-drenched trailers with Gosling’s mournful croon of “City of Stars.” And if you’re a musical hater, you may have convinced yourself that you can’t “deal with this corny musical shit.” But that’s the thing—La La Land is a shaggy, flawed musical, one for the times. And that’s a good thing. It has spectacular numbers that have a hint of imperfection, that echo the relationship between struggling artists Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling). It peers into the Los Angeles that can make you hard and tough, the one that can easily disillusion your dreams with failed auditions and towed cars. But despite all that, Mia and Sebastian fall in love, though still, their swoony romance is ultimately grounded in undeniable, gut-punching realism. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make an effective musical in 2016. —Kerensa Cadenas


15. Jackie

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Director: Pablo Larraín

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup

Though divisive upon release, there’s at least one thing both Jackie stans and Jackie haters can agree on: The score is absolutely incredible. Mica Levi (who scored the Scarlett Johansson-starring sci-fi Under the Skin in 2013) adds discordant strings to America’s most iconic piece of history, striking a chord that makes it impossible to deny that what Jackie Kennedy lived through—watching her husband, President of the Unites States John F. Kennedy, assassinated and then holding his collapsed head of spilling brains on her lap—was a nightmare unknown to most. Through Pablo Larraín’s unconventional approach to a biopic and the lens of a gorgeous 16mm camera, Jackie brings to the forefront how trauma can affect someone, especially someone so dearly beloved in the spotlight as Jackie, with cinematic flourish. Natalie Portman, adopting Jackie’s curious finishing school accent, gives the performance of her career as a woman whose entire public persona has been a series of performances. At times it’s hard to shake off the sense that Portman is actively performing—and that’s not an insult to her skill. I’d argue that what she does here with Jackie, in Jackie, is actually the point of the film. As she gives an interview to a journalist, we see the sly, image-controlling side of Jackie; as she argues for a public funeral, we see the side of Jackie that’s too immersed in image. And in the best parts of Jackie, the ones that take place behind closed doors, we see a woman shattered. In those moments, Jackie may shatter you. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


14. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Director: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Gareth Edwards turned what many, including myself, would be Rogue One’s biggest disadvantage into an asset: the glaring lack of lightsabers. The first Star Wars standalone film largely avoided fan service and was able to tell a compelling, emotional, and explosive story about the rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star, which allowed Luke Skywalker to destroy the moon-sized weapon with just one well-placed shot. The simplicity with which the Darth Star was destroyed has always been one of the most undeniable criticisms of the franchise, but, with the narrative of Galen and Jyn Erso (Mads Mikkelsen and Felicity Jones, respectively), that writing fail has been all but erased. Galen was the heart of Rogue One, but he was joined by a batch of delightful characters completely outside of the Skywalker lineage. Diego Luna’s Captain Andor added a moral gray area that had yet to exist in the franchise, and Alan Tudyk’s brusque K-2SO may just be the best comic relief yet. And if you haven’t seen that Darth Vader scene yet, well, trust you’ll be screaming with joy when you do. —Ian Servantes


13. Green Room

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart

If you find yourself needing a glorious, revenge-fueled fight against Neo-Nazis after the flyover state garbage tornado that was 2016, Green Room is your therapy. These aren’t the supposedly “dapper” folk hiding behind the thinly veiled title of “alt-right.” These are punk rock, red-laced white supremacists. And when they hold hostage Anton Yelchin (RIP) and Imogen Poots after the two come across a dead body, they get the shit murdered out of them as our punk rock but non-Hitler-worshipping protagonists try to escape a gig gone horrid inside a venue/compound that’s all but hidden in the forest. Yelchin and Poots shine as they progress from scared youths into survivors at all costs, and Patrick Stewart steals every scene he’s in as the highest ranking skinhead. Shouts to writer/director Jeremy Saulnier for serving up in April the awesomely brutal and tense thriller we didn’t know we’d need even more at the end of the year. —Ian Servantes


12. Toni Erdmann

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Director: Maren Ade

Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn

Who knew a disgusting set of yellowing fake teeth could stir up such a tender moment between father and daughter? Tender isn’t really the word you might describe Toni Erdmann off the bat, but beneath this German film’s laugh-out-loud comedic gags lies something a little more bittersweet—a longing for familial reconnection, an apology for years of fuck-ups disguised as a series of pranks because you know what, being earnest is goddamn difficult sometimes. In Maren Ade’s masterful new feature, “Toni Erdmann” is the alter-ego adopted by Winfried, a troll of a father whose attempt at absolution involves a horrible wig and the aforementioned fake teeth as he follows around his career woman daughter Ines in Bucharest. She welcomes him into her life with mixed feelings, and what starts off as a relationship that feels stifling eventually liberates her through an awkward and unforgettable Whitney Houston rendition, the most uncomfortable office party ever (it’ll have you simultaneously squirming and howling in your seat), and a Bulgarian folk monster that’s eight feet tall and covered in hair. Toni Erdmann, Germany’s official Oscar pick, is an endearing oddball of a film that’s surprisingly full of heart. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


11. Everybody Wants Some!!

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Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Tyler Hoechlin, Glenn Powell

Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to his 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, isn’t about shit else but having a great time. It’s nostalgic escapism drowned in beer and surrounded by pot haze. And Linklater is so damn good at it. You don’t even have to have been alive as the ‘70s bled into the ‘80s, or jumped head first into the debauchery of college as a freshman to enjoy this party. It’s pure, mindless fun that captures the precise era and timeless insouciance of college in rigorous detail. The story is as simple as it needs to be: a freshman baseball player moves into the team house, which could just as well belong to a fraternity or an unaffiliated pack of bros. They crush beers, chase women, and hang out shirtless a lot—a pursuit many of us may miss, one so tempting in the movie, a grown-ass man poses as a college baseball player (no spoilers because you’ll have to guess who) to continue past his expiration date. Linklater is a master of nostalgia and youthful revelry, and Everybody Wants Some!! is his latest masterpiece. —Ian Servantes


10. American Honey

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Director: Andrea Arnold

Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

In the first ten minutes of American Honey, Sasha Lane’s Star is picking through a dumpster for dinner, keeping a watchful eye on her much younger siblings, and being subjected to borderline sexual abuse from a father figure. Ten minutes later, she’s sitting in the back row of an Astro Van, leaving her hometown and life behind with a ragtag group of 20-year-olds who travel the United States selling magazines door-to-door. American Honey isn’t so much about escaping though, as it about finding yourself once you’ve escaped. Star finds love in that van—and in a hopeless place, in the movie’s most iconic scene—with a rat-tailed guy named Jake (LaBeouf); she finds conflict with Krystal (Keough), her boss and Jake’s apparent keeper; and after hopping from Oklahoma to Kansas to Texas, she finds inner peace and self-acceptance. Clocking in at almost three hours, American Honey is a trek, but that’s the point: director Andrea Arnold recreates the feeling of a too-long road trip with surprising empathy and understanding. And with the best soundtrack of the year, which includes everything from Kevin Gates to Rihanna to Lady Antebellum, the trip is definitely worth it. —Andrew Gruttadaro


9. Deadpool

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Director: Tim Miller

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein

​With a budget of about $58 million, it's clear Fox didn't realize the potential of Deadpool. I mean damn, just look at how long they let that amazing test footage (which essentially became the ultraviolent opening sequence of the film) sit on someone’s hard drive. But no bother. What the folks behind the film did, budget be damned, was nail the voice of Marvel’s Merc With a Mouth perfectly, demolishing the fourth wall while dropping a billion pop culture references in the middle of a gun brawl. Deadpool was the role that Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for his entire life, and with the hard-R rating in place, the movie not only subverted the tropes of the superhero genre on their ears, but showed that these comic book franchise films don’t have to be PG/PG-13 catfights. Deadpool catered to its bloodthirsty audience, and smashed a shitload of records while doing so. If Wade were here right now, he’d just say “you’re welcome; now give me my chimichanga.” —khal


8. Captain America: Civil War

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Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Bruhl

Marvel had some high expectations going into Captain America: Civil War, the thirteenth film in their Cinematic Universe, and the kick-off of Phase Three, meant to set the tone for everything Marvel plans to release through 2019. With Batman v Superman also trying (and kind of failing) the whole “when heroes collide” thing, Marvel upped the ante, piling on new characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther, both of whom come off swimmingly. While the story was a solid culmination of all of the insanity that has happened on the Avengers’ watch, it also did a great job of showcasing just how far Cap will go for his day-one, Bucky Barnes. On the whole, it continued to establish the Captain America series as one of the most untouchable franchises under Marvel’s umbrella, and ended up being the epic that Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been. Maybe we can retcon the titles; we’d all be OK with Iron Man: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Civil War, right? —khal


7. 13th

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Director: Ava DuVernay

Unfortunately, the trends and statistics in this film are nothing new to people of color—we’ve been screaming and protesting and rioting about mass incarceration for decades. Much of this conversation was sparked by Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow, which went into the effects a prison industrial complex can have on families and generations of children in textbook-like detail. With that inspiration, Ava DuVernay and company do a great job processing much of the information available, supplemented by in-depth interviews from Angela Davis, Newt Gingrich (!), and Van Jones, to name a few. They also provide moving graphics breaking down stats and facts not known by the general public. Some of the quotes and numbers should be eye-opening to those who say people of color practice in victim-blaming when it comes to their socioeconomic standing in America. That argument has always been flawed, and now it can be proven wrong in an efficient way. —Angel Diaz


6. The Witch

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Director: Robert Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Modern horror films can still be great even when sticking to traditional forms, and jump scares aren’t essential for good hauntings; just look at the The Witch, without a doubt the best horror movie of the year. The Witch’s scares strike deeper than just cheap thrills, and like some of its greatest genre predecessors (see: Rosemary’s Baby or The Shining), it marries actual horrors—in this case, witches, of course—with very human paranoia. While The Witch deals with possession and evil lurking in the woods, there’s another, parallel story at work—that of a family dissolving because of brewing mistrust. This suspicion gets aimed at eldest daughter, Thomasin, who’s blamed for her infant sibling’s disappearance, and the other inexplicable things that start to happen. Though the film takes place about 60 years before the Salem Witch Trials, it draws a direct line to the widespread fear that caused such hysteria in late 17th Century America. Director Robert Eggers went into the film with such meticulous research (many historians have attested to its historical accuracy) and filmed with masterfully eerie atmosphere, he brings you right into the midst of puritan unease. Plus, The Witch made an icon out Black Phillip, a real, live goat that gave one of the performances of the year. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


5. The Lobster

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Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly

Of all possible dystopian futures, no scenario is scarier than that which hinges on a successful love life. We're all, some more than others, messy bitches who can't seem to get it right, find The One, keep The One, acknowledge whether we want One even. Now imagine your life hangs in that balance. 

Thankfully, The Lobster is many things at once: terrifying in concept, darkly funny in execution, laugh out loud funny at moments, and full of quirks all around. It's the mark of a great premise when the audience is left ravenous to see more details of just how everything in a world works, even when a story must go on. I could've stayed at The Lobster's hotel for the entirety of the film. But Yorgos Lanthimos' film has more important questions to pose beyond whether Colin Farrell's David can find a suitable mate lest he become an animal of his choosing (yes, the title is his choice). What does it say when rules and deadlines are imposed on something as intangible as chemistry? Note the parallels between both halves of the movie, when David essentially escapes from the frying pan and nosedives right into the fire. The crux of both conflicts is the same, stemming from the most important, satirical detail about this world's Laws of Attraction. A commonality between mates is required, more often than not one that is largely irrelevant to mating. The gut punch of an ending asks how important being a "perfect match" truly is. Despite how messy it can get unchecked, love is best left to its own devices. —Frazier Tharpe


4. Elle

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Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny

If we’re being real here, I was terrified to watch Elle. Knowing that the momentum of its plot is spurred by a brutal rape, to say that I didn't think my trigger warning would explode watching the movie is an understatement. But after much nudging from several women whose film tastes I trust, I bit the bullet and watched. And goddamn, if Elle isn’t one of the year’s best, cemented by one of the best performances of the last 10 years from legend/goddess Isabelle Huppert. Huppert plays Michele, head of a video game company, single with a grown up son. She lives a pretty free life—until she’s raped in her own home. Rightly, she’s terrified, but instead of licking her wounds, Michele becomes determined to find out who her rapist is and exact revenge on him. Huppert is fearless in her performance, and the film around her is at times incredibly funny. Michele’s rape doesn’t define her story, as we learn more about her life and who she is as a woman and what she can handle. Elle doesn’t handle rape in the ways that we’ve been conditioned to experience it, which has ruffled some critics’ feathers, but nonetheless, it cannot be denied as one of the best movies of the year. —Kerensa Cadenas


3. The Handmaiden

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Director: Chan-wook Park

Starring: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Ja

Previously dubbed (by yours truly) a film about "fraud and fucking," The Handmaiden really is a deliciously twisted erotic thriller with a potent dose of humor. Each scene throbs with sexual tension and betrayal. Set in 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, The Handmaiden is about a young Korean con artist named Sook-Hee who goes undercover as a maid to the beautiful and wealthy Lady Hideko, a Japanese noblewoman with an insane inheritance to her name and an even more insane uncle who wants to marry her for the money. Sook-Hee’s mission is to convince Hideko to instead marry Count Fujiwara, a con man she’s conspiring with, but her mission gets derailed by her own unanticipated lust. Director Park Chan-wook—the Korean auteur who helmed Oldboy—reveals his hand through three acts, peeling back layer after layer with a mischievous smirk, revisiting the same scenes to lay out twists and secrets (and one extended sex scene). Many are calling The Handmaiden the filmmaker’s best work yet; even those who disagree would probably say that it’s his best-looking, thanks to the grandeur of the set and costume design. It may also be the funniest and most provocative film from Park’s 25-year-spanning filmography. It’s a goddamn shame The Handmaiden wasn’t picked as Korea’s Oscar submission. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim


2. O.J.: Made in America

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Director: Ezra Edelman

After FX blessed the TV-viewing audience with the brilliance of The People v. O.J. Simpson, it was hard to believe that viewers would then spend another seven-and-a-half hours taking in this story in documentary-form. It was a fear that Ezra Edelman, the director of O.J.: Made In America, shared. The brilliance is that while both properties attacked the same story, Edelman had the freedom to truly expand on Simpson’s trials and tribulations, painting a much larger picture by widening the scope and highlighting not just the racial issues in this case, but the America that turned O.J. Simpson into O.J. Simpson. There were systemic issues that led right to this infamous court case and earth-shattering decision, and Edelman took the time to not only discuss the racial tension that a poor O.J. was born into, but how he morphed himself into the color-less celebrity that became a reluctant example of the racial divide between the haves and the have-nots. You could say it was an issue of class, and you’d be right. You could also say it was the people of color of Los Angeles growing tired of the way they’d been railroaded by the police in the past, and you’d be just as right. No matter how you sliced it, this five-part series was peak viewing over the summer, finding ways to educate those who grew up through the Trial of the Century, as well as those who might not have known who O.J. was. O.J.’s historic rise and well-documented fall is the tale of race in America; it just took Ezra Edelman spelling it out for America to make the nation realize it. —khal


1. Moonlight

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