If there’s one thing that 2016 taught us about the cinema, it’s that theatre-goers do not care what critics, or Rotten Tomatoes, have to say about a film.

It felt like most of the time I had the polar opposite reaction to a film than the critics. I still went, even if a film was panned, and saw almost everything that was released this past year. Note that there was one theatrical release that had the potential to make this list that I didn’t find the time to go see, and that was Jackie.

Out of the 187 films that hit my local theatres, I was able to see 169 of them. Not all were in the theatre, but thanks to Redbox I was able to see a bunch for just a few bucks. The following are the ten films, released in 2016, that left a lasting impression on me.


10. Kicks (dir. Justin Tipping)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB — Full Review — Vudu
I initially passed on seeing this in the theatre because it sounded dumb. It’s about a kid and his two friends who set out to get back a pair of shoes that were stolen from them. But, its final ten minutes hit all the right notes to push it beyond “just okay”, and really impressed me with the little things, hitting some emotional notes as well.

9. The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
The trailers for this made me cringe every time I saw them in the theatre. It just didn’t look good. On Twitter, director Joe Lynch was raving about how good this film was, and that everyone needed to check it out. I left the theatre ecstatic that I gave the film a chance because it was just a lot of fun, with a really solid style and vibe to it.

8. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (dir. Michael Bay)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
Yet another film that didn’t intrigue me, but my other half wanted to see it. I don’t hate Michael Bay, but I find that he’s pretty hit or miss. But, man, 13 Hours is thrilling in a way that only Bay could accomplish. It’s shot well, acted well, and it becomes downright emotional later on.

7. Sing Street (dir. John Carney)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
There’s a serious theme this year, and it’s that most of these films looked bad based on their trailers, but ended up blowing me away. My theatre actually didn’t get this one, but I was able to see an advanced screening of it before it got released, which is the only reason I went to see it. I love Once and Begin Again, so I was hoping for some good music, if nothing else. Sing Street throws you into a decade, and has you live in it. It’s so full of heart and warmth that it’s a tragedy it didn’t get a bigger release.

6. Everybody Wants Some!! (dir. Richard Linklater)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
I don’t like baseball. I don’t like Dazed and Confused. But the buzz for Everybody Wants Some!! from the festivals made me want to see it. And what a delightful film it turned out to be. It’s fun, funny, offers a great cast and characters, and, frankly, I loved it. Funny enough, as I was compiling my list, this film wasn’t on it. As I was writing out my thoughts on a different number ten on this list, I realized I had forgotten it, and I had to correct that. For those curious, the documentary Tickled was the film that got bumped off.

5. Nocturnal Animals (dir. Tom Ford)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
A Single Man was one of my favorite films from 2009. I loved it so much that I went to the Tom Ford store in Las Vegas to buy something, only to want to cry because the cheapest item was a $60 bar of soap. Screw that noise! I went into Nocturnal Animals without seeing a single trailer. I knew the bare basics of the plot, and that was it. At first I wasn’t digging it, and there’s a few rough acting moments, but the ending struck a nerve and made the film worth every moment.

4. Arrival (dir. Dennis Villeneuve)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
The buzz for this film was insane after its showing at Fantastic Fest. To me, it looked like just another version of Contact. Boy, was I wrong. Arrival dives head first into the way language works. It hits all kinds of notes, and the ending just swept me away. It wouldn’t be fair to say much more about it, but the cast and directing is top notch.

3. Moana (dirs. Ron Clements, John Musker)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
I’ll admit that I’m a huge Disney fanboy. This doesn’t mean I love all of their films, though. In fact, I hated Frozen because it felt like a wannabe Broadway musical.That said, Moana knocked it out of the park. It is visually stunning with its use of color, and the world that it creates. I regret that I missed seeing it in 3D. Moana has strong characters, and great musical numbers that actually help develop those characters. I can’t wait to have this one in my collection.

2. Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
Sometimes you hear people talking about a film, and you know you just have to see it. I don’t like westerns, but I was willing to go to the theatre to see this one based on word of mouth alone. Sadly, I procrastinated for too long and missed my chance. That is another one of my cinematic regrets this past year. I ended up blind buying a digital copy of Hell or High Water on Vudu, and was just blown away by the film. Everything comes together to deliver a top notch film that is accessible to anyone who’s looking for a good movie.

1. The Neon Demon (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
— Letterboxd — Amazon — IMDB —  Full Review — Vudu
I remember reading about how The Neon Demon was booed at Cannes, yet I still went to see it opening day because I think Elle Fanning is a force to be reckoned with. Nicolas Winding Refn is a hit or miss director for me, much like Michael Bay. This movie, though, was a visually stunning experience. The score was easily my favorite of the year, and the film’s finale left me numb. I exited the theatre conflicted about whether I loved it, or if I hated it. Upon reflection, and a rewatch, I can definitely say that The Neon Demon was my favorite film of 2016.

So those are my favorite films of 2016, but what about you? Which films stood out to you as the most memorable of the year? Let us know in the comments below, or hit us on Twitter @Cinefessions, or using the tag #InFilmWeTrust. Also, be sure to tune in to the next episode of The Cinefessions Podcast (episode 76) to hear Branden, Ashe, and Marc’s top five film discoveries of 2016!


Chris Ranson
Film Critic at Cinefessions

Chris was raised on horror films, which gave him a deep love for the genre, especially its most quirky and offbeat titles (like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2). This love quickly turned into an obsession for cinema in 1997, when he decided he needed to see every major theatrical release. Video games (JRPGs), reading (anything but fantasy), and reality television (Survivor) are just some of his other passions. He’s been with Cinefessions since 2013, and has been writing reviews all over the internet for the past twelve years.