My Top Ten Movies of 2016

David Dylan Thomas
4 min readJan 22, 2017

While it’s a year most of us would rather forget; artistically, some amazing things happened.

10. 13th

Ava Duvernay’s blistering take on the injustices African Americans have faced since the passing of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery (with one key exception) helps us understand the systematic in systematic racism.

9. Captain America: Civil War

Arguably the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date sees the crumbling of the Avengers in ways both political and personal. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Joe and Anthony Russo unfold the plot in a way that subverts classic superhero film tropes while paying off conflicts and character arcs that have been building since the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film back in 2008.

8. Arrival

There was plenty of room for contemplative sci-fi this year. Amy Adams’ powerful performance lies at the heart of this keenly felt, highly engaging linguistic course (that’s a good thing) all wrapped up in Denis Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction and ratcheting tension.

7. Fences

Just read this:

6. O.J.: Made in America

How an eight-part series that premiered on ESPN counts as a movie is beyond me, but who cares, it’s awesome. I thought there was nothing left to say about the O.J. Simpson trial, but two shows this year managed to find more. I only saw this one.

O.J.: Made in America basically makes the case that the great irony of the trial was that the verdict was payback for decades of police brutality against African Americans in Los Angeles, but it benefited a member of their community who, up until then, wanted nothing to do with their community.

5. Zootopia

Perhaps the best, most succinct statement about inclusion and the other this year came from an animated film about cognitive bias that just happened to portray a world of talking animals. As watchable as it is woke, come for the sloth gag, stay for the knowing use of the term “articulate”.

This film is, essentially, the exact opposite of Donald Trump.

4. Sing Street

You will not find a more joyful/soulful film this year. Hearkening back to 80’s nostalgia but reaching far, far deeper for human emotion, this story of a boy in 80’s Dublin trying to win the heart of a young woman by forming a band and putting her in home made music videos ends up being a far better finding yourself story than most of its ilk, with charm to spare.

3. Hell or High Water

The othering of poverty-stricken rural whites became an issue after the election, but even before that this film understood what it means to be woke about whiteness without being forgiving about privilege. The motivations behind the bank robbers in this film (a fantastic Chris Pine and damn near relevatory Ben Foster) say more about what this election was really about than a hundred post-election Medium articles.

2. Moonlight

The best exploration of intersectionality you’re likely to see. A perfect poem of struggle with sexuality, race, and identity. Flawless performances from all those involved, incuding Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes playing the main character at three different ages; Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae (who had a helluva year); and Naomie Harris who pulled that shit off in three damn days before returning to the set of Spectre.

Damn.

Oh, and some of the best, most unexpected cinematography in recent memory.

1. Hidden Figures

It’s not that this film does something new with the historical drama. Many of the same Apollo 13 beats are present here as well. It’s who it does it for and what themes it chooses to focus on. This is one of those movies that’s about ALL OF THE THINGS. Most notably, the role women play, unheralded, in progress. Women of color in particular. But it doesn’t stop there. It also focuses on the capability of women in science. The importance of not only reacting to job obsolescence by becoming an expert on the next big thing, but bringing along those around you by teaching them the same so none of you become obsolete (again, what was the last election about?), the power of reframing in argument (witness Janelle Monae’s blistering speech), and, perhaps with some of the most on point exchanges on the subject in film history, the pernicious nature of unconscious privilege. You can sit down with someone and try to explain all these concepts to them over coffee for hours on end, or you could just show them this movie.

Honorable mentions:

Deadpool, La La Land, Where to Invade Next, The Witch, Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Film Ever Made, The Nice Guys

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David Dylan Thomas

Big fan of treating people like people. Author, Design for Cognitive Bias. Founder, CEO, David Dylan Thomas, LLC. Speaker, Lots of Places.