10. The Shallows
In Jaume Collet-Serra’s smart, tense woman-vs.-nature thriller, ace surfer Blake Lively outwits a great and terrible creature of the deep. Sometimes the greatest movie pleasures have nothing to do with awards bait. To mangle one of Jean-Luc Godard’s favorite maxims: All you need for a movie is a girl and a shark.
9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater has called this joyous curveball of a film—a play-by-play of the misadventures of a group of college baseball players in the days preceding the fall semester, circa 1980—a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 Dazed and Confused. It’s that and more, an affectionate and buoyant comedy that captures the essence of all kinds of youthful desires, both those that are easily identifiable and the more aching, unnameable kind.
8. La La Land
Some days, this world just doesn’t seem big enough or generous enough for a modern musical. But with La La Land, Damien Chazelle has carved space for one, and the world is better for it. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play singing, dancing lovers with all of Los Angeles as their fantasy playground. Nothing works out exactly as they plan, but that’s the bittersweet charm of this luminous, openhearted picture. It’s a film in love with a city and with love itself.
Keith Maitland’s nonfiction account of the Aug. 1, 1966, University of Texas shootings, in which 16 people were killed by a gunman perched in a clock tower, is unlike any other documentary ever made. Maitland combines archival footage, eyewitness testimony and animation to vivid and terrifying effect. But the picture is noteworthy for another reason: What does it mean to have a stranger risk his or her life to save yours? Tower brings that feeling home.
6. Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck stars as an embittered, grieving loner who suddenly finds himself entrusted with the care of his teenage nephew. That’s the “what happens” of Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, but the film’s sturdy, subtle magic lies in the “how”—the way Lonergan and his actors capture the way people talk, and what they care about, in a way so detailed, it’s almost Dickensian. Like all of Lonergan’s movies, this one allows you to live with characters until they feel like people you know. Sometimes they’re people you don’t like very much. But somehow, by the end, they’re your people.
Adapted from Shusaku Endo’s novel, Martin Scorsese’s Silence is a grave, gorgeous movie about the nature of faith and the meaning of God. That’s a lot to tackle, but if anyone can handle it, Scorsese can. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver give finely wrought, intense performances as 17th century Portuguese Jesuits who travel to Japan to spread Christianity. Their story, as Scorsese tells it, is meditative and melancholic, an elaborately illuminated prayer book of brutal beauty.
Paul Verhoeven just can’t leave well enough alone—which is one reason, whether you love him or hate him, to pay attention. Isabelle Huppert, in all her autumnal glory, stars as an upper-class Parisian who’s attacked and raped in her home and lives to tell the tale. The picture is a mine-field of complex sexual politics, and Verhoeven and his star creep to the edge of the boundaries of good taste (and maybe beyond) in their exploration of the wild unknowability of women’s sexual desire. This is one of the boldest, most challenging movies of the year—and, when you least expect it, one of the funniest.
Slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865, but as recently as 1967 it was still illegal in some states for interracial couples to marry. Jeff Nichols’ film tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving (played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), a white man and a woman of color who fought the antimiscegenation laws in their home state, Virginia, and won. Nichols’ beautifully restrained approach makes the Lovings’ story feel immediate and vital. It’s also a reminder that change often happens in the margins.
Adam Driver gives a wondrous performance as a bus driver navigating the streets of Paterson, N.J. He also happens to be named Paterson, and in the spare slivers of his day, he writes poetry. Director Jim Jarmusch has written a love letter to our mixed-up, amazing American cities, and he shows how the things we do in our spare time can come to define who we are.
A love story, a mother-and-son story, a story about being closed off from the world until you realize there’s no way forward unless you join it. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight engages on multiple levels, but it’s also a work of astonishing delicacy, a picture that sweeps you up like a wave and drops you, gently, in a place you never expected to be. Three marvelous actors play a single character, Chiron, at various stages in his life—from his youth in Miami to his adulthood as a street-toughened drug dealer—but the picture boasts an off-the-charts number of superb supporting performances too, from the likes of André Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe. Every small, enveloping detail counts in this rapturous picture.