Stephen Simon’s Top 10 Movies of 2016

January 2, 2017

thAs I note each year, I do not consider this a “best” movies list because I see film as an art form like music and art. Can anyone objectively claim that Rembrandt was a better painter than Van Gogh or Mozart a better composer than Beethoven? I believe that all any of us can honestly say is which film, music, or art we personally prefer.

As a proud member of The Academy who has been voting for the Oscars for more than thirty years, I keep hoping we can change “Best” to “Favorite”…but I’m not holding my breath ;-).

My favorite films of 2016:

Blessed be the children…and those who love them:

1. ARRIVAL is haunting, elegant, poignant, hypnotic, thrilling, mysterious, spiritual, loving, majestic, inspiring, original film making at its very best. On the surface, the film (brilliantly directed by Denis Villenueve) stars Amy Adams as a linguist who is drawn into humanity’s first contact with a totally non-human extraterrestrial species…and who is also haunted by a vision (or is it a memory?) of her daughter. At its heart, ARRIVAL is about love, life, and the very notion of time itself…and is a film that will touch your heart, stimulate your mind, and stay with you long after you leave the theater.

2. LION is based on the incredible true story of Saroo Brierley who wandered onto a train in India at the age of 5 and became hopelessly lost and displaced a thousand miles away. Eventually adopted and moved to Australia by nurturing, loving foster parents, he grew to be an accomplished, charismatic young man (Dev Patel). Haunted by knowing that his mother and siblings had no idea of his fate, and not having any idea where he originally came from, he begins a search for his birth family that ultimately takes him home. Gripping, moving, and triumphant, LION is a stirring tribute to the eternal power of love.

3. In the exquisitely moving, and deeply affecting MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Casey Affleck gives a truly extraordinary, nuanced, vulnerable performance as a man who has experienced one of, if not the most heartbreaking tragedies that any human being could ever have to face. Somehow, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan performs a celluloid magic trick of herculean proportions by transforming such challenging subject matter into a tour-de-force inspirational film about love, compassion, and forgiveness.

4. For me, the most welcome film surprise of 2016 was A MONSTER CALLS. Director J.A. Bayona’s magical and enthralling film follows a young boy who is trying to cope with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, a stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), school bullies, and his own inner fears. One night, a friend appears to help him face those fears and heal his pain. Oh, and that friend happens to be a two hundred foot tall yew tree “monster” (Liam Neeson). Together, they lead us all on a magical, healing journey through dreams, nightmares, and love itself that is achingly beautiful, wise, and life-affirming.

5. COLLATERAL BEAUTY seems a curious title until you see this extraordinary, brave, spiritual, emotional roller coaster of a film and realize that the title refers to the collateral beauty that exists within even the most tragic circumstances. Will Smith plays a father who is so grief-stricken from the death of his daughter that he lets his marriage, business partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Pena), and entire life fall into disarray. One day, he mails letters addressed to Death, Love, and Time but is shocked when they actually come to him in human form (via Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Jacob Latimore) to answer his questions. Are they who they seem to be…or messengers…or perhaps even….?

All of these first five films are inspiring and ultimately uplifting because they illuminate the collateral beauty experienced by children and the parents who love them, no matter the circumstances…and they also remind us of the incredible resilience of the human spirit.

Old Hollywood lives on…

 6. Visionary director Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND is a dazzling homage to both Old Hollywood musicals and also the behind-the-scenes challenges of achieving your dreams in La La Land, aka Hollywood. Ryan Gosling is beyond charming as a young man out of step with his times because he loves old-time jazz and dreams of owning a club that showcases that truly original American art form. Emma Stone gives a virtuoso, career-defining performance as a young actress who endures the heartless, demeaning, and rude nature of endless auditions and rejections to follow her dream. I was utterly charmed and engrossed from the very first jaw-dropping musical number on an L.A. Freeway to its emotional, bittersweet conclusion.

Enter the real life heroes, to whom we owe so much, and whom we need now more than ever….

7. HIDDEN FIGURES is the inspiring true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, three extraordinary African-American women who went to work at NASA in the fledgling days of the space program in the mid-1950s. Despite their brilliance, the women ( beautifully played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Jonelle Monae)  were subjected to blatant sexism and racism, including the humiliating need to use “Colored” bathrooms at the NASA headquarters. Undeterred, they all persevered and contributed so significantly to America’s role in the space race that their fierce determination and patriotism began the process of transforming NASA’s culture. In fact, Ms. Johnson’s genius at celestial navigation compelled the NASA director (played in the film by Kevin Costner) to break both racial and gender barriers by including her in the heart of NASA’s core team. In 2015, Ms. Johnson (now 98!) was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2016 had a building named after her at NASA’s headquarters. HIDDEN FIGURES is a testament to the dignity and bravery of three women who will always stand as inspirational role models for future generations.

8. PATRIOTS DAY chronicles the incredible courage, determination, and heroic actions of the first responders, police, doctors, nurses, and FBI agents who saved so many lives after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Less than 4 days later, due to some amazing police work and the help of the extraordinary people of Boston, the terrorists whose vile and cowardly actions caused so much pain and grief were both identified and then found, with one dying in a police shootout and the other apprehended. This powerful, moving film is also a tribute to the people who died tragically that day, to those who survived, and to the families that were so grievously affected but who recovered to inspire us all. Boston Strong forever!!!

9. SULLY is a riveting film about a real American hero (Chesley Sullenberger), starring the incomparable screen legend Tom Hanks, and directed by the extraordinary 86 year-old (!!) Clint Eastwood. As a U.S. Airways pilot in 2009, Mr. Sullenbereger lost both engines due to a bird strike after takeoff from La Guardia in New York but somehow managed to land the plane on the Hudson River.  While Mr. Sullenberger was immediately hailed by his passengers, the media, and the public as the hero of the “Miracle on the Hudson”, he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart) were subjected to an intense bureaucratic inquisition as to the wisdom and necessity of his decisions because NTSB computers showed he could have returned to La Guardia.. Mr. Sullenberger was eventually exonerated and hailed for his actions by proving that the computer simulation was inaccurate. Human judgment triumphing over a computer. Imagine that.

Lastly, to quote Monty Python….”and now for something completely different…”

10. BAD MOMS. No, that’s not a misprint! In a year that was so challenging for so many people in so many ways, we needed laughter more than ever. BAD MOMS absolutely provided that…and then some. In addition, the film illustrates how challenging it is today for women to have a full-time career and a committed marriage while also finding the time and energy to be a mom who is fully engaged in the myriad of activities of her children. Raunchy, irreverent, howlingly funny, socially relevant, brilliantly acted, and politically incorrect to the max, BAD MOMS made me laugh harder and more often than any film in recent memory. And what’s not Oscar-worthy about all that????

What were your favorite films of 2016?

….and a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous, Wondrous 2017 to all!!!




{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Dewey January 2, 2017 at 10:32 am

Bless you both (Stephen and Lauren) for always enhancing our Movie experiences !!


Stephen Simon January 2, 2017 at 10:33 am

Thanks so much, Dan. Happy 2017!!!


Lynn Anderson January 2, 2017 at 11:36 am

Fabulous – I totally agree, and will make it a point to see those we missed! We also enjoyed “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. We loved the authenticity with which they replicated 1920s New York, as well as the creatures inside the “world” of his suitcase. Utterly charming! Thank you so much!


Stephen Simon January 6, 2017 at 4:37 am

Thanks so much, Lynn….hope you have a great 2017!!!


Zailyn Prada-Blackburn January 3, 2017 at 6:05 pm

I always love your reviews Stephen. Thank you! I take your recommendations very seriously! So far I’ve seen Arrival, which I thought was magnificent, and a bit of a mind bender, and Bad Moms, which I agree was a very realistic look at millenial moms (unfortunately, Gen X, Baby Boomer, and forever more too, lol!) My daughter who is a mother too and I enjoyed it immensely. LION is up next for me… thanks for all the recommends!


Stephen Simon January 6, 2017 at 4:38 am

Thanks so much, Zailyn….I think you’ll love LION–bring tissues!!…..please let me know!


Dave Davis January 10, 2017 at 11:15 am

This list is awesome. There are a few on here that I have not seen yet and now have them added to my list. 🙂 Thanks Stephen! I love the spiritual side of Doctor Strange this year as well. I thought they could have developed his teachings a little more, but still a fabulous romp in a great Marvel character. Benedict Cumberbatch was amazing in it. We loved Rogue One as well. One of my favorite Star Wars movies now. Just for the content alone. “I am one with the Force and the Force is one with me.” Happy New Year!


Denis Naegeer January 10, 2017 at 11:53 am

I like your list, Stephen, and am printing it out so my wife and I can pursue the ones we haven’t already seen (actually have only seen three on your list – Sully, LaLaLand and Manchester by the Sea) – all very enjoyable and meaningful to us. One that is not on your list, but I understand it is Sweden’s entry to the Academy for “Best Foreign Film” is A MAN CALLED OVE. Fantastic! Have recently read the book as well, and is even better than the film, but both superb. We highly recommend. Keep up the good work!


Gary Morrison January 10, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Love all your 2016 pics but would add “Love and Friendship” as a marvelously witty adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel “Lady Susan”, sheer pleasure in language and humor. “Moonlight” was emotionally moving, “Manchester by the Sea” devastating, and “FENCES” captured for us the play by August Wilson with Denzel Washington’s best performance and no one holds in emotional pain like Viola Davis. I found ARRIVAL the most haunting film of 2016, a film that stays with me and made the more powerful by by a career best and indelible performance of Amy Adams.
First time I’ve seen a list like this that completely resonated with me. Thank you Stephen Simon. Your responses are alway interesting.


Stephen Simon January 10, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Hi Gary…thanks so much for your comments. I’m so glad the films resonated with you…and thanks also for adding your favorites!!!


Joan Farano January 10, 2017 at 1:25 pm

I have seen only Sully of your favourite 2016 films. My second viewing of made me even more aware of the ability of Sully to counter the protectionist presentation of the insuring company for the airline, making us aware that the computer simulation was manipulated in their favour. This was a brilliant moment for me. Thanks so much for your choices.
Joan Farano, SCC member since the first month.


Stephen Simon January 12, 2017 at 7:18 am

Hi Joan….first of all—-a big hug and shout out and a deep bow of appreciation for being a CHARTER SUBSCRIBER!!….no words are adequate to express my deep appreciation for your loyalty and faith as enter our 14th (!!!) year this spring…and that would not be happening without your patience and perseverance since 2004….you now have over 600 films—how do you store them??….again–thank you and have a great 2017!!!!


Cohn Nancy January 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Thanks Stephen,
I have a lot of catching up to do as I missed a lot of these. I do have to say that I am a little bummed that “Captain Fantastic” isn’t on your top 10. I found it to be one of the most original and thought provoking films I had seen in a long time. In fact I went to see it twice in one week and I don’t believe I have ever watched a film twice in the theaters.
Always enjoy getting your list and look forward to catching up on your favorites.
Thanks again for putting this list out.


Stephen Simon January 12, 2017 at 7:13 am

Hi Nancy….we loved CAPTAIN FANTASTIC too!!…and a few other films that didn’t make my top 10….like THE COMEDIAN, ME BEFORE YOU, MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN, THE HOLLARS, and others…so happy you went to the theater twice—we need people to go to theaters to keep the movie business alive….thanks again as always for your support–and Happy 2017!!


Helena Leonce January 11, 2017 at 6:11 am

I always look forward to seeing your favorite movies Stephen.
I have only seen three of your picks so far – Collateral Beauty, Patriots Day and Bad Moms. They are also favorites of mine. I plan to look at the others including Fences.

Do have a great 2017



Stephen Simon January 12, 2017 at 7:09 am

Thanks so much, Helena…I hope you have a great 2017 as well!!


Cassandra Scott January 12, 2017 at 2:10 am

Hi Stephen,

I rarely go to the cinema these days (as I invariably have to go alone which is not much fun… long story. You don’t wanna know!) …so your ‘favourites’ list is invaluable for me to go online/out to purchase DVD’s of top films I missed out on. I don’t do this ‘download’/’Netflix’ stuff; don’t even own a TV. My collection however, comprises films that can be watched over and over… and they are! Another reason why it’s good that you get to keep the films on S.C.C.! Looks like LION and ARRIVAL will be 2 on my ‘films to get’ list! Thank you so much for this, Stephen. Appreciated.


Stephen Simon January 12, 2017 at 7:08 am

Hi Cassandra…..first of all, thanks so much for highlighting one of the key decisions we made when we started SCC in 2004—that you should be able to keep the films you receive each month!…also, LION and ARRIVAL are two great films to put on your list…thanks again for everything and your loyalty!!


Bix Bixler February 4, 2017 at 8:39 am

Stephen, first time commenting, after reading your book “Bringing Back the Old Hollywood”, which caused me to join this site. (Found a copy on a visit to the Stephanie Inn, and read it there). My wife and I were original TCM buffs from inception, but grew frustrated with the change in emphasis. We now cast all around with our nets to find worthy stories that someone can really care about. Hard to find, as you’ve said. We grew up (born ’52) in Seattle, in that era when phone lines were clear, customer service existed, and going to the movies was a big treat that could excite everyone from toddlers to the very elderly. We saw live TV, and experienced true entertainers, who you had the challenges and fun of growing up around! Yet today, we struggle like heck to find one movie to see each week that will give us a thrill, or tears, or laughter, or joy and sadness, or all of those together, while we swim in a sea of cinematic junk. Thank you for your perseverance in trying to stem that tide, and create helpful hints for those of us out there with you. We’ve only found two films on your list so far, but plan on widening our search. Arrival and Sully are both wonderful. Any tips on where to find those on your list would be appreciated. A strange but true story: I’ve recently, after a long career in other business ventures, come back to my first love, which is singing and recording jazz standards from the last 100 years or so of American music. (I was a very busy pro musician back in early 70’s in LA) That sparked me to get going with my own versions of the great songs, and now, finding what you’re doing with our great movie legacy, I’m even more encouraged. I’m encouraging male and female jazz and standards singers to find and resurrect great songs that are being lost, as well as create new material that, like La La Land, involves the talents of new generations. I’m not far along with this, as it’s a hobby at this point, but plan on doing simple recordings collaborating with other musicians that keep alive these wonderful gifts to our culture. More power to you, and keep up the good work. Bix Bixler


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