I’m not particularly interested in Best Of lists. After the third list it gets stale and instead of discussing art that moved us, the discourse instead seems to focus on who wrote the best list, what rank the obviously good things appeared in. So this year I asked our writers to tell me about the movies that moved them. The ones that made them ugly laugh or ugly cry and the ones that kept them thinking for weeks after. Here’s what they said:
Note: Spoilers range from light to severe for lots of movies released this year. Continue at your own risk.
Directed: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.
Written: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Cast: Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, Emily VanCamp, Scarlett Johansson
Civil War packed a massive cast into a cohesive story. Every character had at least a moment to impress or entertain us, from Black Widow and Sharon Carter’s fight choreography to Black Panther’s scene-stealing performances. Despite being more of an Avengers movie than a Steve Rogers movie, we also got subtle scenes between Cap and Bucky that are probably the most Stucky shipping the MCU will ever show. Civil War exposed the cracks and rifts within people (like Tony Stark) and relationships (like Wanda and Vision). It’s a beautifully shot tragedy where every character is their ideal self, none more so than Steve Rogers—and we believe them.
Directed: Paul Feig
Written: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Ghostbusters (2016) gave me losers and freaks and the unbelieved, hangin’ out, down the street, and all of them were girls, like me. It had a little too much of the “I must PROVE my friendship!!” but it was still a Ghostbusters; the benefit of the franchise came landed atop it and kept me mellow and centred in Holtzmann’s supremely confident weirdo shenanigans when Erin got a little too anxious to be aspirational. It gave me women who are just super into ghosts and buildings (which is odd, and a little tiresome, lbr, but there’s an admiration for enthusiasts I just can’t resist), people who navigate by their own values in express incompatibility with general, professional, media and civic approval. It even gave me MAN CANDY—not in my flavour, but you gift me a horse? I love that horse. Keep its equine mouth closed. More than just a Ghostbusters with girls it was a Ghostbusters for girls: chased by mannequins, berated by nerdbros, allowed a base and ugly inappropriate horniness… and an awestruck combat set piece all to themselves. All that, drippings wiz goo, and a vocational workplace joviality between peers, complete with sarcastic eyerolls and petty interpersonal complaints. This is my life! My life in metaphor. Knocked me right over.
Directed: Denis Villeneuve
Written: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), based on “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
This movie hit me on so many levels. It reminded me of the best of the short stories I used to read in my Dad’s classic Analog collections in that it was about wonder and science (in this case linguistics, which doesn’t get nearly enough love in science fiction) and aliens who are vastly, marvelously alien to humans. It’s a sci-fi movie whose spectacle is mostly quiet, and mostly lacking in the explosions, gunfire, and battle scenes that I, at least, get tired of after a while. For a wimp like me, it’s nice to walk into a sci-fi movie without worrying about lots of gunshots and jump-scares. It was also a great change that the female scientist (Amy Adams) was the one at the center of our story, while the male scientist (Jeremy Renner) was the one who seemed to be there mostly as a foil and love interest for her. A lot of expected tropes show up, with governments and military personnel assuming that the aliens are a threat to humanity, but I found the solution this time to be both unexpected and thought-provoking. I loved what this movie had to say about hope and the way we live our lives, and I’ve pretty much been waiting my whole life for aliens who look exactly like the aliens in this movie, so I really couldn’t have been happier.
Directed: Garth Davis
Written: Luke Davies
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Priyanka Bose
This movie touched a part of my soul that I have hidden and kept silent my whole life. Adoption is rarely in mainstream media, and if we are lucky to see stories, they are often horror stories about orphans or grand happily ever afters. Dev Patel’s portrayal in the real life story of Saroo Brierley, an orphan adopted by an Australian couple, is haunting and stayed with me long after I walked out of the theatre. Perhaps the best thing about Lion is that it isn’t trauma porn and it also doesn’t fall into trite melodramatic happily ever after stories. It touches on real post-adoption issues that families face and I found myself (an adoptee) relating to each one. The imagery is beautiful, whether in India or Australia and the way the movie makers chose to have Saroo’s first family literally haunting him in mirages and visions was stark and raw. There was a moment where I think every single person in the theatre was crying alongside me and it wasn’t forced tears, it was real genuine compassion and ethos evoked from the amazing true story. I walked out a bit dehydrated from crying but filled with an understanding I have never received from any other movie. But you don’t have to be adopted to relate to this; it’s a story of love, the different kinds of families we have and make and about finding one’s self. I am lucky to have seen and experienced Saroo’s story.
Directed: Tim Miller
Written: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand
I wouldn’t say that I look at Ryan Reynolds and feel represented. He’s a hulking piece of white dude flesh and I’m a fat Jewish lesbian after all. But Reynold’s character Deadpool is dying. He is just full of cancer and he knows he’s not going to make it. Living with my own ticking timebomb of an illness I could feel his out-of-body acceptance of the disease. I too respond to self-grief with sarcasm and dad-jokes. I too have loved ones who refuse to just let the disease take its toll. Deadpool did a great job in just a few minutes of explaining the relationship between a person with a terminal illness and the person who loves them. Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) wants him to drink green smoothies and try experimental treatment, but when your body turns on you sometimes you just want to let it go and spend your remaining time remembering what/who you love. Deadpool decides to save Vanessa from the more upsetting aspects of his dying and leaves her—I went to therapy instead of doing that, but to each their own! This is such an important dynamic to see playout, I loved it.
Also Negasonic Teenage Warhead is the angsty butch teenage girl I aspire to be daily.
Directed: Dan Trachtenberg
Written: Josh Campbell, Damien Chazelle, & Matthew Stuecken
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Steadman, & John Gallagher Jr.
A few months ago, I felt surprisingly moved while watching 10 Cloverfield Lane. This movie is ostensibly a sequel to the 2008 city trashing, stompy monster movie Cloverfield. However, instead of more grainy, mega-destruction, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers as a psychological thriller which delves into the many facets of female hysteria/gaslighting and delivers a nuanced exploration of Michelle’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) ingenuity and power. At times I felt as if I were watching a Millennial Ripley as Michelle gathers all available resources and strength to escape and survive. When the viewer discovers, along with Michelle, that both terrible possibilities (she is trapped with a mad man and the world has been overrun with murderous aliens), are true, she becomes a truly iconic feminist character. Michelle is one of the heroes we need right now as we wait in our current lives ala Walter’s bunker for the possible apocalypse of Inauguration Day.
Directed: Mira Nair
Written: William Wheeler (screenplay) and Tim Crothers (book/ESPN article)
Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o
I cried many times during this film. I cried happy, sad and empathetic tears. I cried at the breathtaking performances and cried laughing at the children who were hilarious and sweet. I cried at the idea that we could have a movie set in an African nation, Uganda, that focused on the people there and their stories where they saved themselves. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t community support. This story couldn’t have happened without it. It does mean that they didn’t need a white saviour to have a story that many of us could connect to across oceans and races. At the heart of it, it’s about recognizing your potential and then trying to live up to it. That was a very moving experience for me.