The Year in Film: The 10 Best Movies of 2016

At least once a year, some bit of traffic-grabbing commentary posits that the movies are dying or dead, and gets all of us who care about film in lather. This year, it came in early September, which was sort of understandable – being, as it was,the conclusion of one of the grimmest summers for the art form in recent memory, a season in which we didn’t even get the usual one or two passable mainstream entertainments.

“Someday we may look back on 2016 as the year the movies died,” predicted Boston Globe critic Ty Burr, a fine writer but, I’m guessing, a poor prognosticator; the headline insisted “Most of 2016’s movies have been soulless, noisy, and dull,” which is, at best, willful ignorance.

Most of 2016’s big movies were soulless, noisy, and dull, yes. But with movies, as with most pop art, the most popular stuff and the best stuff don’t always overlap. If you want to see great movies, you have to go find them – at festivals, at art houses, on the Internet. And I, for one, had great difficulty assembling a list of the year’s ten best films, not because there weren’t that many, but because there were so many more than that.

Most of the titles I settled on were independent releases. One was spurned by a studio and saved by Netflix. And one, I kid you not, was made and distributed by that same studio, which reminded us that when put to proper use, the resources afforded by that tried-and-true model can still create something wonderful. There might be a glimmer of hope, after all.

10. The Little Prince

This is the aforementioned dump-off title, initially set for spring release by Paramount Pictures (which distributed it to several foreign territories), then abruptly dropped from its slate a mere week before its release date. One can only presume that they were scared off – in this increasingly sequel-and ripoff-friendly family film landscape – by what makes the picture so special: its ingenious structure (in which the original Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book is a story within the story, told by its now aged aviator, in contrasting animation styles), its tricky and particular tone, its prickly charm. But there is magic in this movie; I’ve watched it countless times with my daughter and it only grows richer with each viewing. And yes, even after the 20th or 30th viewing, I still get misty-eyed when they smash that globe full of stars.