Roger Ebert Home

The Individual Top Tens of 2016

Yesterday, we released the consensus Top Ten Films of 2016, led by Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight." Today, we dig deeper, presenting you with all submitted lists from our brilliant critics and independent contributors. There are over 200 films cited below as among the best of 2016, displaying both the diversity in quality at the cinema this year and the unique voices that cover it for our site. We asked contributors to submit whatever they liked in terms of length and some submitted just a list, while others went deeper. It's huge but it should give you an overall picture of the year in film, complete with dozens of links back to our reviews. Just for visual purposes, the people who just submitted lists are first, followed by those who went into more detail, both groups alphabetical. Enjoy.

1. "April and the Extraordinary World"
2. "Elle"
3. "The Love Witch"
4. "Love & Friendship"
5. "Evolution"
6. "Cosmos"
7. "Louder Than Bombs"
8. "Hail, Caesar!"
9. "My Golden Days"
10. "Embrace of the Serpent"

1. "Manchester by the Sea"
2. "Cameraperson"
3. "Pervert Park"
4. "Masterminds"
5. "Blood on the Mountain"
6. "Off the Rails"
7. "Moonlight"
8. "Southside with You"
9. "Sausage Party"
10. "Spa Night"

1. "The Handmaiden"
2. "Elle"
3. "Moonlight"
4. "Love & Friendship"
5. "I Am Not Your Negro"
6. "13th"
7. "Toni Erdmann"
8. "The Love Witch"
9. "Paterson"
10. "Manchester by the Sea"

1. "13th"
2. "Zero Days"
3. "Love & Friendship"
4. "Cemetery of Splendour"
5. "I, Daniel Blake"
6. "Little Men"
7. "I Am Not Your Negro"
8. "Indignation"
9. "A Monster with a Thousand Heads"
10. "Nocturnal Animals"

1. "La La Land"
2. "Elle"
3. "Little Men"
4. "Things to Come"
5. "After the Storm"
6. "Loving"
7. "Sing Street"
8. "The Witch
9. "Krisha"
10. "A War"
Runner-ups: “Everybody Wants Some!!”, “Hail Caesar!” “The Handmaiden”, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”, “Indignation”, “Midnight Special”, “Mountain Cry”, “Southside with You” and “The Wailing” 

1. "Manchester by the Sea"
2. "Jackie"
3. "Moonlight"
4. "Sing Street"
5. "Gleason"
6. "Green Room"
7. "Krisha"
8. "Hell or High Water"
9. "Tower"
10. "The Handmaiden"

1. "Toni Erdmann"
2. "Moonlight"
3. "No Home Movie"
4. "'Til Madness Do Us Part"
5. "Right Now, Wrong Then"
6. "Certain Women"
7. "Elle"
8. "Things to Come"
9. "I Am Not Your Negro"
10. "The Mermaid"

1. "Sonita"
2. "Toni Erdmann"
3. "Life, Animated"
4. "La La Land"
5. "I, Daniel Blake"
6. "Moonlight"
7. "The Lobster"
8. "A War"
9. "Manchester by the Sea"
10. "Newtown"

1. "Arrival"
2. "Moonlight"
3. "La La Land"
4. "Certain Women"
5. "Paterson"
6. "Sunset Song"
7. "American Honey"
8. "Cameraperson"
9. "Everybody Wants Some!!"
10. "Men and Chicken"

1. "Toni Erdmann"
2. "Certain Women"
3. "Paterson"
4. "Love & Friendship"
5. "Happy Hour"
6. "Elle"
7. "The Edge of Seventeen"
8. "Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids"
9. "La La Land"
10. "Cameraperson"

1. "Manchester by the Sea"
2. "Toni Erdmann"
3. "OJ: Made in America"
4. "Silence"
5. "Elle"
6. "Hell or High Water"
7. "Everyboday Wants Some!!"
8. "Kate Plays Christine"
9. "The Other Side"
10. "Hogtown"

1. "Cosmos"
2. "Silence"
3. "Paterson"
4. "Toni Erdmann"
5. "The Love Witch"
6. "Moonlight"
7. "The Fits"
8. "Things to Come"
9. "Hail, Caesar!"
10. "Evolution/Baden Baden" (tie)

CHRISTY LEMIRE (read more here)
1. "La La Land"
2. "Moonlight"
3. "Nocturnal Animals"
4. "The Lobster"
5. "13th"
6. "The Handmaiden"
7. "Hell or High Water"
8. "Kubo and the Two Strings"
9. "Sing Street"
10. "Everybody Wants Some!!"

"Hell or High Water"
"I Am Not Your Negro"
"La La Land"
"Manchester by the Sea"
"The Nice Guys"
"OJ: Made in America"
Runner-ups: "The Edge of Seventeen," "The Handmaiden," "A Monster Calls," "Mountains May Depart," "My Golden Days," "Pete's Dragon," "Queen of Katwe," "Right Now, Wrong Then"
Runner-ups (documentary): "13th," "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week," "Cameraperson," "De Palma," "Kate Plays Christine," "Life, Animated," "Tower," "Weiner"

1. "Moonlight"
2. "Manchester by the Sea"
3. "La La Land"
4. "My Golden Days"
5. "Silence"
6. "Toni Erdmann"
7. "Jackie"
8. "Elle"
9. "Paterson"
10. "Right Now, Wrong Then"

1. "Arrival"
2. "The Eagle Huntress"/"Hidden Figures"
3. "Fences"
4. "La La Land"
5. "Land of Mine"
6. "Moonlight"
7. "A Monster Calls"
8. "OJ: Made in America"
9. "13th"
10. "Zootopia"

1. "Silence"
2. "The Handmaiden"
3. "Manchester by the Sea"
4. "Paterson"
5. "Hunt For the Wilderpeople"
6. "The Nice Guys"
7. "Green Room"
8. "Hail, Caesar!"
9. "20th Century Women"
10. "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"

1. "Fences"
Tied for Second:
"Everybody Wants Some!!"
"Hell or High Water"
"Kubo and the Two Strings"
"La La Land"
"Manchester by the Sea"
"Sing Street"
Runner ups: "Eye in the Sky," "Don’t Think Twice," "Southside With You," "Finding Dory," "Moana," "Love & Friendship," "Arrival," "Loving," "Eight Days a Week," "Keanu," "Edge of Seventeen," "The Meddler," "Hello My Name is Doris," "Weiner," "Zero Days," "Command and Control," "I, Daniel Blake," "Little Men," "A Monster Calls"

1. "Mustang"
2. "Chi-raq"
3. "Creed"
4. "La La Land"
5. "Hell or High Water"
6. "Loving"
7. "Paterson"
8. "Son of Saul"
9. "Lemonade"
10. "No Home Movie"

1. "The Fits"
2. "Moonlight"
3. "Elle"
4. "Paterson"
5. "OJ: Made in America"
6. "No Home Movie"
7. "The Love Witch"
8. "Cemetery of Splendour"
9. "Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids"
10. "Under the Shadow"

1. "Aferim!"
2. "Knight of Cups"
3. "A Bigger Splash"
4. "Mountains May Depart"
5. "The Handmaiden"
6. "Hacksaw Ridge"
7. "Cosmos"
8. "Hardcore Henry"
9. "Moonlight"
10. "10 Cloverfield Lane"

1. "The Handmaiden"
2. "Manchester by the Sea"
3. "Kubo and the Two Strings"
4. "20th Century Women"
5. "Green Room"
6. "Everybody Wants Some!!"
7. "The Lobster"
8. "La La Land"
9. "Arrival"
10. "10 Cloverfield Lane"

1. "Certain Women"
2. "Toni Erdmann"
3. "Knight of Cups"
4. "Love & Friendship"
5. "Hail, Caesar!"
6. "Moonlight"
7. "Rules Don't Apply"/"Cafe Society"
8. "OJ: Made in America"
9. "Manchester by the Sea"
10. "The Mermaid"

1. "Elle"
2. "OJ: Made in America"
3. "Love & Friendship"
4. "Right Now, Wrong Then"
5. "20th Century Women"
6. "Toni Erdmann"
7. "Cameraperson"
8. "Krisha"
9. "Lemonade"
10. "Certain Women"

1. "La La Land"
2. "Elle"
3. "De Palma"
4. "Knight of Cups"
5. "Love & Friendship"
6. "The Handmaiden"
7. "Certain Women"
8. "Rules Don't Apply"
9. "The Shallows"
10. "Silence"

1. "Arrival"
2. "Moonlight"
3. "A Monster Calls"
4. "Kubo and the Two Strings"
5. "La La Land"
6. "Cameraperson"
7. "Sing Street"
8. "Certain Women"
9. "OJ: Made in America"
10. "The Red Turtle"

"The Lobster"
"American Honey"
"Manchester by the Sea"
"Midnight Special"

1. "Certain Women"
2. "Manchester by the Sea"
3. "The Lost City of Z"
4. "Silence"
5. "Neruda"
6. "Knight of Cups"
7. "And Nothing Happened"
8. "Kate Plays Christine"/"Cameraperson"
9. "Cosmos"
10. "The Alchemist Cookbook"

1. "Moonlight"
2. "Manchester by the Sea"
3. "Paterson"
4. "OJ: Made in America"
5. "Silence"
6. "Jackie"
7. "The Handmaiden"
8. "Cameraperson"
9. "American Honey"
10. "Midnight Special"
Runner-ups: "13th," "Certain Women," "Everybody Wants Some!!," "Green Room," "Kate Plays Christine," "Knight of Cups," "Krisha," "La La Land," "Loving," and "Swiss Army Man."

1. "Moonlight"
2. "I Am Not Your Negro"
3. "The Witch"
4. "La La Land"
5. "Green Room"
6. "Manchester by the Sea"
7. "Arrival"
8. "The Handmaiden"
9. "The Fits"
10. "Toni Erdmann"

1. "Cosmos" 
Polish director Andrzej Zulawski’s final film is frisky but very assured, extremely erotic at all times and in all ways, and so alive that it seems to shimmer with possibility. 

2. "The Handmaiden"
A fetishistic delight, this feminist melodrama from Park Chan-wook is filled with pleasurable plot twists and lots of hearty laughs, often at the expense of dim and outfoxed men. Are the vagina POV shots a film first? 

3. "Krisha"
As a wreck of a needy alcoholic trying to re-connect with her family over Thanksgiving, Krisha Fairchild goes all-out Gena Rowlands and makes her swaggeringly unsympathetic character somehow glamorous and magnetic while also allowing very deadpan humor to grow out of the heavy-duty and upsetting confrontation scenes. What’s to be done with the Krishas of this world?

4. "Moonlight"
Fully deserving of its ecstatic reviews. Unconventional and so sharply sensitive that we have to slow down and breathe with it, or go back with it. There is an air sometimes of early Terence Davies movies on childhood, but the triumph of “Moonlight” is how specific it is to a milieu as perceived at various ages. The three actors who play the lead male character all somehow seem to be the same person, and this is one of many things here that seems miraculous.

5. "Hacksaw Ridge"
This is a riveting film, dynamic composition by dynamic composition, especially in its fast and unexpected but smooth editing by John Gilbert. The homoerotic training scenes could not have been intended as such (could they?) but there is grandeur here in everything Mel Gibson touches, from courtship scenes to the final gory battles, which play like musical numbers choreographed by Satan.

6. "Tickled"
This documentary directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve about an online tickling racket is probably the most disturbing and maybe the most relevant release of the year, a true story that seems to uncover a culprit who couldn’t be more purely evil. 

7. "The Witch"
A fine and subtle horror movie, effectively grounded in its Puritan background.

8. "Fences"
The best imaginable film of August Wilson’s major play, which is great partly because it refuses to settle into anything easy or obvious. Not “cinema,” maybe, but this truly is something to see.

9. "La La Land"
A very pleasurable musical lifted by the Michel Legrand-like stylings of Justin Hurwitz’s music and a star performance from Emma Stone that runs the gamut from goofy to hurt to blissful and back again. It’s becoming a badge of coolness to reject this film, but really, I’ll take it.

10. "King Cobra"
A low-down and well-filmed and surprisingly explicit movie about murder in the gay porn world, this would make my list just for sheer chutzpah and libidinal excess. 

1. "Fences"
Denzel and Viola, two of our greatest actors, speak the words of one of the greatest American playwrights, putting their formidable skills to work in service of a Pulitzer-Prize winning tragedy. It has the most acting and the best acting, the most writing and the best writing. So its place at the top of my list is no surprise. My review is forthcoming.

2. "Paterson"
Jim Jarmusch’s gentle, poetic drama is the cinematic equivalent of a comfortable couch, a warm blanket and a hot cup of cocoa on a wintry Sunday morning. It’s a tonic, a boost of goodwill for days when you feel emotionally rundown by life. Adam Driver is excellent; he shows his sensitive side while allowing us to ramble with him on a daily routine as welcome and familiar as our own. Golshifteh Farahani is also great, embodying the quirky spirit that runs through all of Jarmusch’s work. “Paterson” not only gives my commuter’s nemesis, New Jersey Transit, better product placement than it deserves, it also convinced this lifelong dog person that he might be better off with a cat.

3. "I, Daniel Blake"
Ken Loach’s Palm D’Or winner belongs on a triple-bill with Vondie Curtis-Hall’s “Gridlock’d” and the Diahann Carroll-James Earl Jones romantic comedy “Claudine”—three films that savagely critique the endless bureaucratic red tape that strangles the impoverished. As Blake, Dave Johns gives one of the year’s best performances. His desire to play by the rules is heartbreaking, especially since the game slowly and mercilessly shreds him to pieces.

4. "13th"
Ava DuVernay’s timely, engrossing and thorough dissertation on the 13th Amendment’s role in the continuing incarceration of brown people is the year’s best documentary. Like a great math student, it shows all its work, creating a scathing look at how even the most good-intentioned of laws contain loopholes intentionally placed by their creators to ensure the status quo. Considering current events, this must-see film has grown exponentially in importance and urgency.

5. "The Jungle Book"
The most fun I’ve had in a theater in years. Jon Favreau’s live-action Disney remake has all the makings of an enduring classic on par with Walt Disney’s best. The film’s masterful use of CGI is supported by a superb vocal cast that includes Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley and, at her regal best, the great Lupita Nyong’o. Her maternal line readings choked me up; I felt 8 years old again. More of this, please.

6. "Southside with You"
A romantic comedy that works because the filmmakers give us two characters we want to see together, then puts them together. The duo in question are Barack and Michelle Obama, but the film has no political agenda. It’s a love letter to first dates, Black romance, the city of Chicago and the joys of getting to know someone. Politics are ever-changing, but the cinema is forever. So no matter what happens next, we’ll always have this movie.

7. "I Am Not Your Negro" 
Raoul Peck’s excellent James Baldwin documentary shows the timelessness of the late essayist’s words. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, who, using only his voice, gives one of his best performances, this film visually contextualizes Baldwin’s work in such a way that it feels as if he never left us. The sting, the joy and the anger of Baldwin’s words remain as potent as when they were first spoken.

8. "Hidden Figures"
I’ve been a programmer for almost 30 years, so I suppose I would be a tad biased toward a film that used FORTRAN as a means of exacting socially-relevant revenge. But even if I weren’t, as the film calls its heroes, “a colored computer,” I would still have loved every minute of this well-acted ensemble piece. This true story about the Black women who helped NASA with their extraordinary math skills is as well-done as biopics get; it knows when to be subtle and when to cut loose. And it has great work by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. I hope this feel-good history lesson makes as much as a Marvel movie at the box office.

9. "Moonlight"
Director Barry Jenkins’ genius here isn’t in his camerawork, which I found occasionally too ostentatious. The genius is in his ability to seamlessly stitch together the three sections that make up the story of Chiron, the unforgettable character played by three equally unforgettable actors. Moonlight zigs when you expect it to zag, a movement most noticeably seen in the character played by the great Mahershala Ali. Jenkins proudly wields his cinematic influences while presenting a tenderness that’s rarely afforded to, or experienced by, men of color onscreen. More of this, please.

10. "Everybody Wants Some!!"
Richard Linklater’s companion piece to “Dazed and Confused” surprised me with the depiction of its college-aged baseball playing men. They’re goofballs at times to be sure, but they have qualities you don’t often see onscreen in men. They’re vain and concerned about their appearance (they have more costume changes than Bette Davis) and there’s an element of cattiness to the ribbing that serves as shorthand for their platonic love for one another. In other words, they’re real, and a lot of fun. And like the best camp, the film’s gloriously delicious (and sexy) homoeroticism seems purely by accident and completely without shame.

1. "Cameraperson"
Veteran camerawoman Kirsten Johnson's movie is a combination career survey, personal memoir and experimental narrative. It tells the story of her life but also of human existence without seeming to tell a story at all, simply by arranging bits of movies she's worked on in particular patterns. 

2. "Lemonade"
Beyonce's second "visual" album was a collection of new songs wedded to a one-hour film, tightly controlled by the star but directed by seven people (the star included). Hopeful, sad, angry, bleakly funny, politically engaged and consistently provocative, it was one of the year's most original works. 

3. "Moonlight"
Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age story has a symphonic structure and a poetic heart, plus some of the most arresting images and heartbreaking moments of this movie year.

4. "Paterson" 
Another minimalist masterpiece from writer-director Jim Jarmusch, but lighter and sweeter than anyone expected, this film about a poetry-writing bus driver and his artist girlfriend is endearing and surprising because it doesn't inflict any drastic suffering on its heroes. Parts of it feel like "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" for grownups. Less of a story than a meditation on contentment, perhaps—but wow, do we need something like that, not just this year, but every year.

5. "Manchester by the Sea" 
The funniest film about grief ever made, and writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's most assured feature.

6. "Fences"
Decades in the making, Denzel Washington's self-directed adaptation of August Wilson's play features one of his best lead performances, plus sterling work from a backup cast of heavy-hitting characters that includes Viola Davis. But what's most startling and impressive is the direction: this might be the best example in movie history of a filmed play that never for a second pretends that it's not a play, yet embraces the material's "play-ness" in a gloriously cinematic way.

7. "The Handmaiden"
Park Chan-Wook's latest feature is part romantic melodrama, part crime thriller, part puzzle movie, part meditation on identity. Every performance is a gem, every frame is composed for maximum beauty and impact. And the whole thing is just so damned much fun.

8. "The Jungle Book"
There was no reason to expect greatness from Jon Favreau's live-action remake of the beloved Disney cartoon (or sorta-live action; it's filled with motion-capture imagery). But that's what this movie delivered. Eerily attuned to the mindset that produced such children's classics as "E.T." and "Bambi," this fable about a young human child's maturation among jungle animals is one for the ages.

9. "Knight of Cups"
It's fashionable to bash writer-director Terrence Malick for his sentimentality, his purplish voice-over narration, his throw-the-footage-up-in-the-air-and-see-where-it-lands editing style, and his general reluctance to engage anything resembling traditional storytelling structure; but that's what I love about him. This film offers further evidence that the director is becoming more adventurous, freer and less concerned with what anyone else thinks of him as he gets older. 

10. "Sunset Song"
Terence Davies' film about a kindhearted but steel-spined farm woman evoked the sort of lush MGM "women's pictures" that its director adored as a child, although the frank violence, sexuality and political talk never would've been permitted in works like those.

1. “Toni Erdmann" 
My greatest love of all in 2016—film-wise, at least—has to be Germany’s official foreign-language Oscar submission. Yes, at 162 minutes, this account of a divorced middle-aged father desperate to be closer to his workaholic 30-something daughter, is epic-length. And Peter Simonischek takes some getting used to as a shaggy-haired prankster who dons fake buck teeth and assumes false identities as he stalks his careerist offspring. But I can’t recall such a comedy of recent vintage that kept me constantly surprised about would happen next—including an astonishingly committed rendition of a Whitney Houston classic.

2. “Zootopia” 
Animated films, at least the best ones, are rarely just for kids. Certainly, the nefarious strategy afoot in this mammalian metropolis that aims to stir predator vs. prey fear to control the citizenry could not come at a better time than when real-world hate crimes are on the rise and tolerance is at a premium. Plus, achingly-slow sloths manning the DMV? Perfect casting.  

3. “Hell or High Water” 
A modern-day Western that turns upon the aftershocks of the housing market crash of 2008 about two desperate brothers who pull off a sibling version of a Bonnie and Clyde crime spree to save their oil-rich homestead. Superb performances all around—both Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the bank robbers and Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as the Texas Rangers who pursue them—with a script that wastes not a minute of screen time. 

4. “La La Land” 
You know when the last musical came out that won a best picture Oscar? “Chicago” from 2002. It’s time to take this song-and-dance stuff to the next level and director Damien Chazelle does with a rare original spin on the genre that, despite the flashy footwork and breaking into song, digs deep into the hopes and dreams of many in the City of Angels. I fell for it hook, line and waltzing-across-the-starry-cosmos sinker.  

5. “Florence Foster Jenkins” 
They had me at Meryl Streep as this real-life patron of the arts and would-be opera singer who couldn’t stay on pitch if her life depended on it. It would have been easy to mock this deluded songstress, but director Stephen Frears is careful to allow Jenkins a semblance of dignity. But it is incredibly funny nonetheless to hear her butchery of those high notes—especially enhanced by accompanist Simon Helberg’s shuddery reactions

6. “Sing Street” 
OK, I like musicals. I like Irish guys. I like cute adolescent boys who aren’t adverse to trying hairdo-forward pop personas on for size, including Duran Duran and The Cure. Thank you, John Carney, for this contact-high John Hughes-ish high-school alternative to “The Commitments.”  

7. “A Bigger Splash”  
Laugh if you must. But this fan of “Summer Lovers”—essentially, pretty people stripping off their clothes in paradisiacal locales near the water—was thoroughly mesmerized by this four-way seduction Italian style. Tilda Swinton as a pop star nursing her voice, Matthias Schoenaerts as her hunky consort and Dakota Johnson as a spoiled brat rich girl all fulfill their missions magnificently. But it’s Ralph Fiennes as an indulgent rock ‘n’ roll impresario who dances to the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” like a pagan rock ‘n’ roll god who lords over this dangerous lark and ultimately becomes its victim.

8. “Moonlight” 
Much like “Toni Erdmann,” false teeth—or, in this case, gold “grills”—also play a pivotal role in this deeply moving depiction of a young black boy struggling with his sexuality while desperately seeking a male role model and acceptance in his fatherless life.

9. “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”
This Baby Boomer was pleasantly surprised to learn there is actual footage of the Fab Four when they first conquered America in the early ‘60s that hasn’t been seen before. The waves of British invasion nostalgia took me right back to my grade-school years when, after the Beatles were on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the girls in my gym class began to claim their preferred mop-top idol in the locker room.

10. “O.J.: Made in America” 
This five-part miniseries that revolves around the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the mid-‘90s is as powerful and insightful an examination of race relations in this country as it relates to this celebrated football hero as one could ever hope for and is relevant as ever today. 

To read our review staff's list of 2016's Top 10 films, click here

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

The Janes
Crimes of the Future


comments powered by Disqus