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: Resurgence, X-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.