“Moonlight” and “La La Land” made the list, along with a few surprises.
We go to the movies to escape — to slip out of the everydayness of our lives and get lost in the faces we see on a vast screen. This year might have brought more reason than most to disappear into a movie theater, order up a large popcorn (OK, maybe that’s just me) and settle into a seat, ready to be transformed.
In 2016, thanks to some temporary changes in my work assignment (a couple of interesting stints in travel and books, filling in for absent colleagues), I didn’t see or review quite as many movies as usual. But of the 150 or so that I managed to squeeze in, here are my 10 favorite movies that opened theatrically in Seattle this year. The 10 have little in common, except that they mesmerized me in their very different ways — and that my response to each, when it ended, was “I need to see that again.” (In most cases, I did.)
Here’s the list, in alphabetical order, because I’ve never understood how it’s possible to rank movies against each other. Each of these was for me, however briefly, the best movie of the year — and I hope you saw at least 10 that made you feel that way, too.
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“Arrival.” I didn’t expect Denis Villeneuve’s eloquent science-fiction drama, based on a short story by Ted Chiang, to knock me for an emotional loop, nor did I think I was capable of being dazzled by the sight of Amy Adams thinking. Wrong on both counts.
“Fences.” Like having a front-row seat for a dream version of August Wilson’s play. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, as a longtime couple facing cracks in their marriage, remind us how great actors are like magicians, disappearing into a role without a trace.
“The Handmaiden.” The year’s most heart-stopping roller coaster ride – and one of its most visually-stunning films — was this period drama gone mad: a 1930s-set South Korean Gothic lesbian revenge thriller from Park Chan-wook. A true original. Don’t look away for a second.
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“Hell or High Water.” David Mackenzie’s timely, haunting Western brought us a pair of bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster), a dust-choked Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges, in one of the year’s great performances), and a clear villain: a faceless, predatory bank.
“The Innocents.” In and out of theaters in a heartbeat this summer, Anne Fontaine’s exquisitely filmed story of a convent of nuns in post-World War II Warsaw deserved a wider audience. It’s that rare movie that eloquently explores the idea of faith – “24 hours of doubt,” one character explains, “and one minute of hope.”
“La La Land.” I fell, hard and hopelessly, for Damien Chazelle’s Technicolor dream, in which Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone channeled the wistful, gotta-dance joy of old-school movie musicals. No film this year left me happier.
“Loving.” So few words, so much power. Jeff Nichols’ based-on-a-true-story drama about an interracial couple in 1950s Virginia eschewed stirring speeches and swelling music, relying instead on the quiet dignity of the performances (Joel Egerton, Ruth Negga) to paint an enduring portrait of love.
“Maggie’s Plan.” I am quite incapable of resisting a rom-com in which one character murmurs adoringly to another, “Nobody unpacks commodity fetishisms like you do.” Rebecca Miller’s love-among-academics comedy is faintly Shakespearean, faintly screwball, and entirely charming.
“Manchester by the Sea.” Utterly heartbreaking and yet curiously uplifting, Kenneth Lonergan’s drama is a movie of uncanny honesty and wisdom, centering on a grieving New England man (Casey Affleck) desperately trying to put his life back together. And oh, that scene. (If you’ve seen it, you know the one.)
“Moonlight.” Barry Jenkins’ lyrical, lovely coming-of-age drama felt more like a visual poem in three acts: a child, a teen, a man. Beautifully acted by an ensemble cast, you leave it feeling like you’ve spent time in someone’s dreams.
Other movies I loved, any of which might have made the first list on a different day, were “L’Attesa,” “Certain Women,” “Christine,” “Dark Horse,” “Don’t Think Twice,” “Finding Dory,” “Little Men,” “Love & Friendship,” “Our Little Sister,” “Southside With You,” “Tower.”
As always, I’ll close out the year by wishing all of us a New Year of beauty, laughter and hope — at the movies, and elsewhere.