la la land 3

ryan gosling and emma stone star in "la la land."(p o: dale robinette/lionsgate)

“some men you just can’t reach.”

so strother martin tells paul newman in “cool hand luke.” women, either, he might have added.

the quote e to mind after a couple of social-media posts about compiling an annual top 10 movies list. like clockwork, the reactions e in — this was a horrible year for movies. there weren’t any great movies this year. there weren’t even any good movies this year.

related: the worst movies of 2016

wrong. wrong. and wrong.

this was, in fact, a terrific year for movies. were there dogs released? of course. that’s what the five worst movies list is for.


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bill goodykoontz picks his top 5 movies of the year.

even if you go strictly by the numbers, though, 2016 was an outstanding year for good movies — great, even. i’m not the be-all, end-all arbiter of what’s good and bad, but i see just about everything, so at least i know what’s out there. i rarely give a movie 5 stars. maybe once a year. maybe twice.

this year i gave four movies 5 stars, and there were a couple that almost made the grade.

you’ll find those below, along with the rest of the best of 2016.

do you disagree with the picks? i certainly hope so. arguing about them is half the fun.

the usual caveats apply. there are four or five other movies i could easily swap in, and the top four are close enough that i could switch them around and still feel ok about things. but you’ve got to pick 10, and you’ve got to rank them. rules are rules. so here you go:

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mike birbiglia is a talented filmmaker as well as a terrific improv comic. he merges those worlds here, with a perfectly cast movie about a new york comedy troupe struggling to succeed and, for some of its members, struggling with success. birbiglia wrote, directs and stars as the leader of the group, bitter after being p ed over for stardom. keegan-michael key plays a star about to hit it big; gillian jacbos is maybe the best of the bunch as a real talent who can’t get out of her own way.

"don't think twice" stars tami sagher, gillian jacobs, (p o: jon pack)

na hong-jin’s film is a genre buffet: it’s a horror movie that also fits in mystery, crime drama, black comedy and family relations, along with religion, superstition and ritual. kwak do-won is both funny and moving as a police sergeant in a south korean backwater investigating a double murder. he’s in way over his head, but his journey is a fascinating one.

jeong-min hwang in "the wailing." (p o: well go usa entertainment)

even in a year of truly bizarre politics, josh kriegman and elyse steinberg’s documentary about disgraced former congressman anthony weiner — whose idiocy may well have affected the presidential election, thanks to an fbi investigation into his actions — stands out as bizarre. weiner, once a rising democratic star, quit congress after tweeting inappropriate p os of himself, some explicit. it seemed like he was on the comeback trail with a run for mayor of new york when more texts surfaced. his wife, hillary clinton aide huma abedin, was understandably upset when weiner talked to her about it — and weiner let the eras stay in the room for the conver ion. he gives the filmmakers near-total access. not, it seems, because he wants to be part o reat film, but more because he simply can’t help himself. even in politics, this is damaging ego, but he is part o reat film that gets at the in iable need some people feel to be someone, a need only fulfilled if they’re seen by others.

anthony weiner's paign for new york mayor is the (p o: ifc films)

another cinematic smorgasbord, chan-wook park’s latest film blends mystery, g hically erotic romance, black comedy, violence and some horror (the latter two are not surprising from the director of “oldboy”). a korean woman is hired as a handmaiden for a japanese heiress, who lives with her uncle. but the handmaiden is actually a pickpocket who works for a count, who in reality is a con man. this isn’t really a spoiler because it only scratches the surface of misrepresented identities and plot twists and turns. no one is who they seem to be. it’s breathtakingly s , a rich, complicated from start to finish.

count fujiwara (jung-woo ha) has some plans for hideko

count fujiwara (jung-woo ha) has some plans for hideko in "the handmaiden."

 (p o: magnolia pictures)

taika waititi gets a free p for life for making “what we do in the shadows,” the best faux-documentary about vampires you’re likely to see. here he goes for the heart instead of the jugular, telling the story of ricky (julian dennison), a 12-year-old boy adopted into a foster home in new zealand. this improves his life considerably, though he doesn’t know it yet, and eventually he and his reluctant new dad, hec (sam neill), are holed up in the bush, turning into folk heroes along the way. it’s heartfelt and moving, but also tough and unforgiving. a real treat.

julian dennison in "hunt for the wilderpeople." (p o: madman entertainment)

denis villeneuve’s film is about aliens landing on earth. so what, right? that’s the plot of about a million science-fiction movies. but villeneuve’s film, powered by an oscar-caliber performance by amy adams, is so much more than that. adams plays a linguist the government enlists to try to communicate with the aliens. it’s an important job — the fate of civilization eventually will rest on the translation of a single word. she works with a mathematician played by jeremy renner, and it’s exceedingly cool that, in this movie at least, we try to solve problems with brains, not brawn (up to a point). and then, before you know it, you realize villeneuve is playing with time, shattering the structure of the story and piecing it back together in most- isfying fashion.


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in "arrival," ian (jeremy renner) and louise (amy adams)

in "arrival," ian (jeremy renner) and louise (amy adams) make contact with aliens.

 (p o: jan thijs)

a beautiful film by barry jenkins, about a young man growing up in miami as he struggles with his identity, ual and otherwise. to say that it is lovingly told, while accurate, may make it sound as if jenkins soft-peddles the story (based on an unproduced play by tarell mccraney called “in moonlight black boys look blue”). nothing could be farther from the truth. chiron, the young man, has the deck stacked against him in many ways, particularly as he navigates life with a crack-addicted mother (naomie harris, a lock for an oscar nomination). played by three different actors, chiron can’t take the easy way out because there isn’t one. he longs for connection, and while we hope he finds it, jenkins doesn’t offer easy answers. the film is all the better for it.

naomie harris stars in "moonlight."

naomie harris stars in "moonlight."

 (p o: a24)

a bank-robbing cowboy movie that is also a scathing commentary on the financial health of the country (diagnosis: critically ill). david mackenzie’s modern-day western features outstanding performances from chris pine, ben foster and jeff bridges. pine and foster play brothers who rob banks, but only for certain amounts, and only from texas midland branches. why? ah, therein lies a tale. it falls to bridges’ soon-to-retire texas ranger to figure it out. it involves the skeevy behavior of banks and its cost to regular folks (“that looks like a man who could foreclose on a house,” bridges says during an investigation). the movie works on all its levels, an entertaining film that actually has a lot to say about the state of things.

chris pine (left) and ben foster star in "hell or high (p o: cbs films)

ok, if it sounds depressing, maybe that’s because it is, a little. casey affleck likely will win an oscar for his portrayal of a man whose life is almost entirely defined by guilt and grief in kenneth lonergan’s film. but it’s not just depressing. it’s also funny and never, for a second, anything but bracingly honest. lonergan filters information out slowly, so it takes a while to figure out why affleck’s character, a boston janitor, behaves as he does. after his brother dies (not the catalyst for his grief), he must care for his nephew (a hilarious lucas hedges) in manchester. but he can’t sustain a life there, for reasons that become painfully clear. please don’t let this scare you away — this is a masterpiece.

lucas hedges stars in "manchester by the sea."

lucas hedges stars in "manchester by the sea."

 (p o: claire folger)

just to be clear, this is a full-on al. there are dance numbers, to boot. not just a little toe-tapping but busby berkeley-type productions. damien chazelle’s film manages to be a throwback that still feels contemporary. he’s isted greatly in this by emma stone and ryan gosling, playing an aspiring actress and ian, respectively, who fall for each other. yeah, yeah, boy meets , etc. yet this is anything but a frothy romance. it’s tough, it’s smart, it’s magic. pure magic. it’s the best movie of the year.

in "la la land," sebastian (ryan gosling) falls for

in "la la land," sebastian (ryan gosling) falls for mia (emma stone).

 (p o: dale robinette)

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