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We talk about movies a lot, and every year there’s the inevitable conversation where someone complains about how the business has run out of ideas. You know the complaints: some curmudgeon talks about the overabundance of remakes and sequels, noting how the dumbest properties now get a movie deal. Whenever this conversation happens, we think, “If you’re whining about the state of movies, obviously you’re not paying attention enough.” This year has been terrific for film buffs: there were intimate epics, batshit insane action films, and profoundly creepy horror. The breadth and quality of the year’s movies is, well, overwhelming. In a year like this, it’s difficult to pick a conclusive list of the best films, so the BYT film team got scientific. All our movie writers – Jeff Spross, Svetlana Legetic, Alan Zilberman, Kaylee Dugan, Trisha Brown, Vesper Arnett, Ross Bonaime, and Max Bentovim – submitted their top fifteen movies of 2016, which were then tallied and ranked. So, without further ado, here are our top eleven movies of 2016, complete with a silly (but still relevant) superlative and our concluding thoughts.

11. Shamelessly effective millennial pandering: La La Land

The vast majority of moviegoers haven’t had a chance to see La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s musical follow-up to Whiplash, and yet there is already intense partisanship over whether it’s any good. Some critics call the film “pure joy,” while doubters say it is “empty on the inside.” Rest assured, I’m in the former camp: from its snappy opening number, set in the middle of a traffic jam, La La Land plastered a goofy smile on my face that never went way. Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not super-accomplished singers, but they crucially sing and dance with unforced emotion. Still, the film’s best number is “Someone in the Crowd,” which is ostensibly about the possibilities that arise from going to a party in the Hollywood Hills. Its lyrics are both light and perceptive – conflating professional/personal yearning with a deft touch – while composer Justin Hurwitz frames the song with muscular, infectious melody he repeats again and again. This mix of hope with resignation is pure millennial pandering – the song argues that we’re all special and will make it if only we get the chance – yet La La Land sells it through the sheer force of its music and filmmaking. The camera twirls faster than the dancers, creating a jazzy kaleidoscope of shimmering primary colors, so my dumb smile grew into a full-on grin. La La Land is not empty on the inside, but it is a litmus test to see whether audiences can appreciate cinematic delights at their purest.  –Alan Zilberman

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10. Funniest cancer movie: Deadpool

Once upon a time, films that had a main character with cancer were weepies, but no more! Amazing advances in non-medical “science” from Marvel have brought to the fore the single best lone wolf character we’ve seen since the birth of Bugs Bunny, the OG action-comedian. As we watch Wade Wilson, MegaAsshole, become Wade Wilson the winner of the Dead Pool, we begin to realize that maybe this whole Anti-Hero thing isn’t so cut and dry: sometimes these Anti-Heroes really aren’t heroic, they’re selfish, lazy, and a little bit tardy to every party. Our guy Mr. Pool doesn’t pay his cab fare because apparently Uber doesn’t exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his favorite driver doesn’t want to get his head sliced off, probably. This is the best Marvel film of the year, which makes it the best superhero film of the year. Don’t @ me. –Vesper Arnett

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9. Best cinematic mediation on the 2016 election: Hell or High Water

If you want to viscerally understand the political rise and shocking presidential victory of Donald Trump, watch Hell or High Water. The stark cinematography by Giles Nuttgens perfectly captures the sand-blasted environs of the the film’s southwest small-town setting, where society is in slow rot and everyone is hanging on by their economic fingernails. The virtuoso opening shot literally encompasses a weather-beaten working-class woman on a cigarette break, some “Where was our bailout?” graffiti, some glass crosses embedded in the nondescript wall of the local evangelical startup, and finally the two ruffians robbing the local bank where the woman works. They’re Chris Pine, who turns in his best work as Toby, a man born into poverty but smart enough to figure out how to screw the system; and Ben Foster as his brother Tanner, who could stand in for the working-class Trump voter. Tanner overflows with cockiness and anger, but has nowhere to put it that isn’t destructive to himself and society. Jeff Bridges is the aging lawman who must track them down. The direction by David Mackenzie has the slow burn exactness of No Country for Old Men, and the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan balances between sympathizing with the characters and acknowledging the way their casual racism divides them from people who should be their allies. After Tanner mocks a native American at the poker table, the man tells him “Comanche” means “enemy of all.” Tanner replies, “Know what that makes me?” The native American: “An enemy.” Tanner: “No. It makes me a Comanche.” –Jeff Spross

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8. Conclusive argument in the debate over whether time is, in a fact, a flat circle: Arrival

Arrival is about a choice. This may not, after initial reflection, be obvious; it may even be the opposite of the conclusion many if not most viewers draw. This is understandable. Arrival is far from the first tale of time to depict events that seem to lead inexorably towards a deterministic view of time. In that view, Arrival is a tragedy about, and because of, no choice at all. But this would be to cave too quickly to what, superficially, appears to be Arrival’s logos while ignoring that what compels, what transfixes, what moves about Arrival is its ethos. Arrival is unique, almost brave in not just being sad, but being about sadness, about finding the joy of life, about living, and about the great mysteries of the universe near and far. In the end, Arrival is an argument for embracing the choices we have, even when all of them end in sadness. And end they do; it is the conclusion of things, of lives, of stories on which all of Arrival’s meaning and movement is built, the melody at the heart of Arrival’s haunting, melancholy music. Arrival is about courage in a lot of ways, but fundamentally it’s about the courage to make a choice knowing with absolute certainty how much sadness it will bring, and choosing it anyway. –Max Bentovim

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7. Best movie to make a grown man cry: Manchester By The Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s story about family about love, loss, anger, penance, and redemption is 2 hours and 17 minutes long and there’s not a wasted second in it. It is a movie you maybe don’t want to see because, well, it is 2 hours and 17 minutes long and that is a lot of time to spend in a dark room with loss and anger, but you should go see it. Lonergan approaches this ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances with operatic scope (aided immaculately by Lesley Barber’s fantastic classical score), and the ensemble led by the break-your-hear-and-then-break-it-again Casey Affleck (Michelle Williams is as close to perfect as we’re going to get this year). But, without giving too much away, there is this one moment you will never be able to let go. in a movie that never lets go of your jugular, the second when we find out that the precise nature of loss that’s been alluded to for the last hour or so is not even close to the biggest, most painful, most life altering loss he’s experienced of late, is when, I swear, there was not a dry male eye in the movie theater. And, in 2016, when bravado seems to be what America responds to best, letting yourself cry openly and unabashedly (even if it is in the dark, surrounded by strangers) may be just what the doctor ordered. –Svetlana Legetic

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6. Best reminder that Jane Austen was sharp as hell: Love & Friendship

200 years after her death, Jane Austen has been unfairly romanticized. Sure, she wrote a lot of love stories, but a lot of those same stories are also smart, scathing social critiques. Many women nowadays women marry for reasons like “love” or “social norms,” so we forget power dynamics between the sexes in the 19th century were more screwed up than they even are today. Luckily, Love & Friendship, the sharpest comedy of the year by far, is here to remind us of that. The film, based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan, stars Kate Beckinsale as a calculating widow who ruthlessly and happily manipulates the people and protocols around her to obtain the security she needs and the life she wants. It makes her something of a social pariah, a consequence about which she gives approximately zero fucks. Sharp writing, the complicated costumes/hairstyles, the quick pace, the lighthearted tone, and everything related to Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) make Love & Friendship worthy of Austen’s name and your time. –Trisha Brown

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5. Best allegory with anthropomorphic animals since Animal Farm: Zootopia

2016 was an exceptional year for mainstream animated films – Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, and Finding Dory all brought something more to theaters than just famous voice actors and zany sidekicks. But Zootopia stands out for using a funny, pretty, inventive film to analyze power dynamics, bigotry, and even some of the problems with well-intentioned allies. The movie centers on Judy Hopps, a bunny from the country who faces discrimination as she becomes the first rabbit police officer in metropolitan Zootopia. The plot twists a couple of times to drop characters – mostly Judy – into different positions. She finds uncomfortable circumstances and sometimes she screws up, reminding viewers of all ages that it’s very easy to do the wrong thing even when you have the best intentions. Zootopia isn’t going to solve all of discrimination in America – 30 seconds of watching the news could tell you it didn’t do that – but it’s an entertaining movie that’s not afraid to lean hard into some difficult, important, and very timely themes. -Trisha Brown

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4. The most fucked definition of a “rom-com”: The Lobster

No one would’ve watched Yorgos Lanthimos’ last two films—Dogtooth and Alps—and thought “well, that was romantic.” But with Lanthimos’ The Lobster, his approach to love is just as clinical and dark as his previous work, yet still loving and at times, even sweet. Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou create a world where people must find their soulmate at a hotel within 45 days, or be turned into the animal of their choosing. It’s even more bizarre and brilliant than it sounds, but it somehow still works. And yes, this is a film where a dog is murdered and John C. Reilly must put his hand in a toaster as punishment for masturbating. But the core relationship of David (Colin Farrell), a man who comes to the hotel looking for love, and literal outsider, known only as “Short Sighted Woman” (Rachel Weisz), creates one of the most compelling relationships in a film this year. Lanthimos has made a twisted world that belongs in a horror film and decided to put a restrained love story in the middle of it. It should all be a mess falls apart. But The Lobster makes all of its insanity come together with a beautiful and disturbing story that is wholly original. –Ross Bonaime

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3. Best critique of fundamentalist Christianity from the inside: The Witch

Movies about the extremist Christian religiosity bequeathed to America by the early colonists tend to follow a familiar pattern: They assume that things like Satan and witchcraft don’t exist, and that such beliefs simply underline the irrationality behind the reactionary norms and moral paranoia of the belief systems in question. The Witch takes a different route: In its narrative world, Satan and witchcraft are very real, and the film’s fervently religious characters are right to fear them. Yet instead of validating the characters’ moral outlook, this approach condemns it even more eloquently. Faced with an unimaginable and predatory evil, the small pioneer family in The Witch should band together into an unshakeable unit of solidarity. Instead, their rigid moralism and barely-concealed psychosexual tensions tear them apart, allowing the evil in the woods to pick them off one by one. The dialogue by writer-director Robert Eggers is hypnotic, and he creates a well-crafted and supremely eerie tone poem. But as it barrels towards its ghastly-yet-exhilarating conclusion, The Witch also becomes an argument by implication: that a humane, progressive, and socially accepting moral code is necessary, not because the demonic isn’t real, but because it very much is. –Jeff Spross

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2. Best takedown of the worst interview question: Green Room

There are a lot of reasons to praise Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. It’s fast paced and action packed, while also managing to be subtle and delicate. It’s beautifully shot. It has the perfect amount of gore. It doesn’t hold your hand or over explain, but still gives a logical reason for everything that happens. But the best part of Green Room is in the same way you get to see our heroes kill the shit out of some Nazis, it also takes down the banal “desert island” question. In the beginning of the film, before The Ain’t Rights even lay their eyes on skinheads that permeate the rest of the movie, they’re interviewed by a punky looking guy for the local radio station. He wraps up the interview with what he considers his special question, “What’s your desert island band?” The members all namedrop classic punk bands. Of course, the nature of that question changes as the group finds themselves in a far more literal desert island situation, but by the end of the film, when you get down to brass tacks, it’s revealed for the shitty, boring meaningless question it is. Tell somebody who gives a shit. –Kaylee Dugan

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1. Best reminder that, sometimes, the only one way to criticize one movie is to make another movie: Moonlight

You’ve probably heard of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. It was a box office phenomenon, eventually earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Patricia Arquette. Did you also know it took twelve years to make?! Twelve years! That’s probably all you can remember about Boyhood, since it’s badly directed, way too long, and has an obnoxious lead character. In order to make Boyhood seem universal, Linklater crammed his film with dated pop culture references (e.g. Harry Potter), as opposed to, I don’t know, focusing on a tight narrative. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is the year’s best film in part because it’s a rebuke of Boyhood. The films share some basic DNA, since they have episodic structure and are about a sensitive young men who comes of age in the South. But Moonlight is lively, timeless, and urgent in ways that Boyhood is not. Anchored by an astonishing a trio of lead actors, each one playing the same person at a different age, Moonlight has a gorgeous sense of specificity. It evokes a time, place, and emotions all their own. This specificity is ultimately what makes Moonlight is a film for everyone. Few have a path quite like its hero, yet there are times where we felt like him: hopeless, vulnerable, and ultimately rescued. –Alan Zilberman

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