Staff Picks: The Best Films of 2016

The staff of The Pop Break got together to talk about something they hold very dear to their hearts – movies. We submitted our Top 5 lists, tallied them together and determined the Best Films of 2016. Enjoy!

5. (tie) La La Land

La La Land is a much welcome return to the true musical format. While some may scratch their heads and say, “well, what about all the great musicals we’ve seen on NBC and such?”  Well, sir, I’m just going to continue to ignore your sentiment and go on with my reasoning on why La La Land is not only one of the best musicals ever made, but a return to the true spirit of the genre.

La La Land gives you the feel of a 40-60’s musical, allowing you to reminiscence about the days of Gigi and The Sound of Music, while giving your more modern tastes a pleasing sensation all on its own. The film itself transports you into another world, full of music and romance, allowing you to escape the dreaded year that was 2016. The films lead song, “City of Stars,” is enough to make you fall in love with it at first glance.

La La Land will not only be a contender in my heart for film of the year, but the Academy’s as well, as it faces off against films like Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and many others at the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony.

-Laura Dengrove

5. (tie) The Witch

When I saw The Witch all the way back in February, it was the first film of 2016 that I had seen. Like many critics, I like to keep track of every movie I watch throughout the year and actively update my rankings with every new film I see.  For the first time ever that I’m able to recall, The Witch managed to stay in the #1 slot the entire year, despite every other release over the following ten months.  It was almost, almost knocked off by the documentary epic OJ: Made in America – which, for the record, is probably the best documentary film that I’ve ever seen.  The Witch stayed my #1 above everything else for one reason:  It is objectively flawless.

This is a bold claim, I know, but I believe it to be true. At the end my review for the film (which is still probably the most praise-ridden gushing one I’ve written), I gave the film an overall rating of 10 out of 10. In the entirety of my time as a published critic, it remains the only time I have ever awarded that perfect score, including television episodes, albums, songs, and other such media. While a review is an assessment of a film’s quality, it’s also a first impression. I can indeed recall many other of my favorite films which initially were awarded 10’s, but were later downgraded to slightly less ratings.  These reasons can be attributed to objective flaws that become more noticeable on repeated viewings, be it technical issues, story problems, or whatever else (this happened with recent favorites such as Blue Is the Warmest Color and Django Unchained).

I now own The Witch on Blu-Ray and have seen it four times.  I’m happy to report that it has remained a 10 out of 10 on every viewing. It is a perfect film. There is just nothing wrong it. I stated in my review how flawlessly every element of the film is executed and nothing has changed.  Many have expressed their reservations about the film’s ending, claiming it’s too rushed, too out of place tonally, and a betrayal of everything that came before it. I do not agree with any of this.  In fact, the ending may be my favorite part. It’s the icing on the cake, as far as I’m concerned.  I usually like to keep my best-of-the-year lists more objective than subjective because it is true that I sometimes am over-enthusiastic about films I know are colossally flawed (a la Batman v Superman being at #16 in my Top 20), but The Witch is a film that tops both categories. It is my favorite film of the year because it’s the best film of the year, and vice versa. It is simply better than all the others.

I’m just rambling now, but my point is this – see The Witch. Every remark I made in my initial review, I stand by it. It is a masterpiece of modern horror and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

-Dylan Brandsema

4. Deadpool

If 2016 had one bright shinning glimmer of hope it was Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds and co. successfully adapted the 4th wall breaking mercy with a mouth and set records at the box office. The film went on to become the highest grossing R-Rated comedy of all time. But money isn’t what makes a movie great (even Batman v. Superman made money and that was an epic dumpster fire). Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wrote a fantastic script that felt like it contained one joke per minute and director Tim Miller knocked it out of the park with his feature debut combining nonstop action and fantastic effects (including the underrated use of CGI for Colossus).
All of the supporting cast brought something to the table, but it was Reynolds who stole the show and became an A-List actor in the process. When people usually discuss their favorite comedies, it’s usually one or two scenes that are constantly brought up in conversation. With Deadpool, the entire movie is the conversation. When we look back on this year with all the death, destruction, and Trump, we can at least say that 2016 brought us Deadpool, and that’s one reason to be happy.
-Al Mannarino

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

In every podcast I did about movies for The Pop Break  there was one constant — I was worried about Rogue One. A Star Wars spin-off directed by the guy who did that awful Godzilla remake a few years ago? A trailer that had the awful line “I’m a rebel, so I rebel.”  I was worried.

Within 10 minutes, my worries were assuaged. Rogue One was one of the most surprising films I’ve seen in years. It was an absolutely unique take on the Star Wars saga — in essence it’s a World War II-style team-up movie a la The Dirty Dozen. It was dark, it was gripping, and it synched perfectly with the official canon. Now our review on the site does not reflect my sentiment, and I respect this difference of opinion. Sure, there could’ve been some better character development, and some fan service could’ve been eliminated. But, honestly that bothered me not one iota. That third act alone atones for any sins the beginning could’ve created (those sins were minor at best). It was hands down one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences I’ve had with in forever. It was an absolute blast to watch. And yes, even though I knew how the whole thing worked out, I was so hooked to see how they got there, that I nearly forgot that I’ve known the end of this movie since I was born. This is a must-see film.

-Bill Bodkin

2. Arrival

Adapted from Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, Arrival seems more like the greatest story Kurt Vonnegut never got to write. Like any great piece of science-fiction, the messages circle right back around to our own reality, to make us question the choices we are making in our own lives. The film embraces a wide spectrum of themes, from the human race’s importance in the larger scale of time and space to the ethics of how decisions one person makes will never affect only that individual.

Director Denis Villenueve trusts the audience, and lets us infer and interpret moments so that we may each take away a different message by the end of the film. I cannot remember the last time I was so existentially distraught after leaving the theater. In a year as turbulent as 2016, Arrival is just about as close to required viewing as it gets.

-Justin Matchick

1. Captain America: Civil War

In a year where major comic book inspired movies seemed to get released every month, Captain America: Civil War set itself apart from the pack with a smart storyline, the introduction of two major characters and not one, but two of the best fight sequences in super hero movie history.

Following a lukewarm 2015 (by MCU standards) that consisted of the somewhat ignored Ant-Man (there are actually jokes about people not knowing the character in Civil War) and the divisive Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel unleashed the big guns with a team-up for the ages in Civil War.  There are two compelling stories driving the plot.  The first is the idea that people with super powers should register with a governing body and be held accountable for their actions, and the collateral damage they sometimes cause.  (Spoilers Next) The second involved Captain America’s undying loyalty to Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier) and his involvement in the deaths of Tony Stark’s parents.  Both of these premises are effective, and proved to resonate with audiences well beyond the context of a “Guys-Wearing-Tights-And-Fighting” movie.

Civil War also continued to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe by introducing both Spider-man and Black Panther in ways that had movie-goers excited for their solo films before the credits even finished rolling (at least at my showing).  The teenaged, star struck, motor mouthed version of Spider-man immediately struck a chord with fans, and the austere, regal Black Panther and his African Kingdom of Wakanda made fans curious to learn more about the character and his background.  These new characters were also expertly cast, with Tom Holland and Chadwick Bosman immediately seeming like great choices.  The inclusion of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May also stoked anticipation for the next few Marvel films.

The film also contained two of the best fight scenes in comic book movie history.  The royal rumble style battle at the airport remains thrilling after repeated viewings, and the Captain America vs. Ironman face-off is as powerful as any comic book fight ever seen on the big screen.

Captain America: Civil War not only got the MCU back on track, but set the standard for comic book movies in 2016.  The characters appeared to be having fun without the “locker room humor” of Deadpool.  It had two powerful heroes face off over a serious issue without the heaviness of Batman v Superman, and it featured an ensemble cast of characters without the forced “Extreme-ness” of Suicide Squad.  Also, it’s now a fair argument that Civil War completes the best trilogy of the 2010’s.  Combined with the origin story in The First Avenger and the political intrigue of The Winter Soldier, the climactic battle in Civil War just might complete the defining trilogy of this decade.

-Angelo Gingerelli


Tommy Tracy: 5. Captain America: Civil War, 4. Kubo and the Two Strings, 3. Green Room, 2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 1. The Nice Guys

Matthew Kelly: 5. Doctor Strange, 4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 3. The Jungle Book, 2. Captain America: Civil War, 1. Mr. Right

Dylan Brandsema: 5. Weiner, 4. Arrival, 3. Moonlight, 2. O.J.: Made in America, 1. The Witch

Mark Henely: 5. Doctor Strange, 4. Café Society, 3. Deadpool, 2. Hell or High Water, 1. Captain America: Civil War

Justin Matchick: 5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 4. Shin Godzilla, 3. Star Trek Beyond, 2. The Witch, 1. Arrival

Marisa Carpico: 5. 30 for 30: The ’85 Bears, 4. Weiner, 3. Sing Street, 2. 10 Cloverfield Lane, 1. Moonlight

Angelo Gingerelli: 5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 4. Ghostbusters, 3. Doctor Strange, 2. Deadpool, 1. Captain America: Civil War

Matt Taylor: 5. La La Land, 4. The Witch, 3. The Handmaiden, 2. Moonlight, 1. Jackie

Christopher Diggins: 5. Zootopia, 4. Hell or High Water, 3. Arrival, 2. Manchester by the Sea, 1. The Handmaiden

Aaron Sarnecky: 5. Arrival, 4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 3. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2. Captain America: Civil War, 1. Hacksaw Ridge

Taylor Bowne: 5. The Nice Guys, 4. Manchester by the Sea, 3. The Neon Demon, 2. Green Room, 1. The Witch

Matt Gilbert: 5. Jackie, 4. Arrival, 3. Eye in the Sky, 2. Manchester by the Sea, 1. La La Land

Lucas Jones: 5. Star Trek Beyond, 4. Doctor Strange, 3. The Girl on the Train, 2. Hacksaw Ridge, 1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Laura Dengrove: 5. Zootopia, 4. 10 Cloverfield Lane, 3. Deadpool, 2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 1. La La Land

Al Mannarino: 5. The Nice Guys, 4. Sausage Party, 3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2. Deadpool, 1. Captain America: Civil War

Bill Bodkin: 5. Doctor Strange, 4. Captain America: Civil War, 3. Deadpool, 2. 10 Cloverfield Lane, 1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

And if you were interested on hearing what we thought about last year’s movies…

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.