2016 was quite a year — good in some ways, rough in others. I was actually in the process of putting together my annual entertainment year in review post when I saw the news that Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher had passed away. Although there have been many (too many) notable celebrity deaths this year, hers hit me the hardest. While I’ll miss performers like her and Alan Rickman — another celebrity we lost too soon — I’m thankful we can still return to their bodies of work. Princess Leia and Snape will live on for many new generations of fans!
Here are the movies that meant the most to me in 2016; I’d love to hear which ones meant the most to you this year!
Honorable mention: Arrival
Although I love a big budget, action-packed space opera, I also enjoy seeing smaller-scale films in the sci-fi genre. “Arrival” is a surprisingly intimate, personal viewing experience despite being a film about a worldwide alien invasion. It centers on a linguist (Amy Adams) who tries to speak to the aliens and decipher their language so humanity can figure out whether the aliens are peaceful or threatening. She actually ends up learning a lesson about the power of communication and the importance of embracing life to the fullest, with all its moments of joy and heartbreak.
5. Kubo and the Two Strings
This movie wasn’t really on my radar at the beginning of 2016, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it would end up on my “best of the year” list. However, this beautifully animated tale about a boy and his magical Japanese instrument deeply moved me. While this movie didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, I’m glad I had a chance to see it on the big screen. It might have performed better with a less puzzling title, but after watching the movie, the title makes perfect sense. The ending is poignant and powerful, and it feels particularly timely after this year.
4. Doctor Strange
Marvel keeps pushing the boundaries of its cinematic universe, and it began to delve into the magical realm with “Doctor Strange.” Benedict Cumberbatch joins the MCU as Dr. Stephen Strange, who loses his career as a surgeon after a devastating car accident. When modern medicine fails him, he overcomes his skepticism and discovers a world of magic, where he learns to wield an ancient power beyond understanding. The film has some trippy, psychedelic visuals that take the “Inception” concept to a new level, and Strange will be a welcome addition to the Avengers lineup in future films.
3. Star Trek: Beyond
While not everyone loves the Star Trek reboot films, I have personally really enjoyed them. I think they’ve found a way to capture the magic of the Original Series while also saying something new. “Star Trek: Beyond” feels, in many ways, like a jumbo episode of the Original Series, stranding the crew on a hostile planet and forcing them to figure out how to escape and save the day. While there’s plenty of action, the film makers never forget that the heart of the story is the interactions between the characters. This may or may not be the final reboot film we get, and while I hope it’s not, at least the series will end on a very good note.
2. Captain America: Civil War
Although this technically wasn’t an Avengers film, for all intents and purposes it was an Avengers film, and it’s actually the best one yet. “Civil War” finally turns the Avengers against each other, as they debate how and to what extent superheroes should be held accountable. Whether you ended up on #TeamStark or #TeamCap, this film took the MCU in an exciting new direction by delving into tricky ethical issues and resisting the temptation to give us a perfectly wrapped-up ending. It also introduced some fantastic characters to the MCU, including Black Panther and a new Spider-Man.
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
As you know, Star Wars is my all-time favorite film franchise, so of course the No. 1 slot was always “Rogue One’s” to lose. Thankfully, it lived up to the hopes I had for it. “Rogue One” is, at its heart, a war movie, and it shows us how hard the Rebellion had to struggle to defeat the oppressive Empire. It gave us a band of ordinary heroes without any special powers, and none of them were the “chosen one” destined to single-handedly save the galaxy. Yet without their sacrifice to steal the plans to the Death Star, there would be no Rebellion. “Rogue One” has the most thrilling (and emotional) final act I’ve seen on screen in a long time. After last year’s success with “The Force Awakens” and now “Rogue One,” the Force is indeed with Disney.