Third Way’s Picks for Top Ten Films of 2016

Third Way’s Picks for Top Ten Films of 2016

The quirky personalities, film viewing habits, and divergent ways of putting these lists together (we don’t tell them how to do it) comes through once again in this round of “Top 10 Movies of 2016” from our of our tremendous Third Way reviewers—in the order they were received. Don’t forget about this handy round up when you add must-see flicks to your lists, however you keep them.

Vic’s Top Ten Films of 2016

Counting down a year of mystery and magic from number ten:

  1. Moonlight – Barry Jenkins’ beautifully-acted film about three time-periods in the life of a young African-American boy/man in Miami, focusing on his struggles with sexual identity, deserves to be on every top-ten list. Moonlight features one magical, atmospheric scene after another, but it didn’t make it higher on my list because a few scenes stretched credibility and some of the camera work and pacing made it hard for me to engage with the story as I would have liked.
  1. Captain FantasticCaptain Fantastic also struggles with credibility issues, but Matt Ross’s irresistible tale of a man (Viggo Mortensen) trying to raise his children in the woods has such wonderfully-drawn characters and such a funny, thoughtful and humane screenplay that I enjoyed every minute of it.
  1. Hail, Caesar! – Joel and Ethan Coen have created another winner. This time, it’s a whacky wonderful satire about the golden days of the Hollywood studio system (1951), featuring an incredible array of delightful performances in a somewhat chaotic collection of scenes. I had a grin on my face from beginning to end. Great fun!
  1. Pete’s Dragon – Who would have thought a live-action remake of a mediocre Disney animated film from the 70’s could become one of the most moving and inspiring films of the year? Not me, but Pete’s Dragon (written and directed by David Lowery) is pure movie magic, a slow, poetic family film with my favourite scene of the year (featuring Robert Redford).
  1. Fences – Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play from 1983, Denzel Washington’s Fences tells the poignant story of an African-American man in 1950’s Pittsburgh who’s trying to make sense of his life. Fences had the best ensemble acting of the year, with standout performances from Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo and Stephen McKinley Henderson.
  1. Midnight Special – An underrated sci-fi flick inspired by one of my all-time favourite films (Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special is a tense, slow-moving mystery (as in ‘mysterious’, not a ‘whodunit’). Michael Shannon is brilliant as a father full of doubts and anxieties who is trying to protect his extraordinary son.
  1. Embrace of the Serpent – Easily the ‘best’ film I saw in 2016, only its obscure ending prevents me from placing it even higher on my list. Cio Guerra’s film about an Amazonian shaman’s encounter with two white men in 1909 and 1940 is an old-fashioned masterpiece full of wonder, mystery and magic, with stunning B&W cinematography and phenomenal performances by its indigenous non-actors.
  1. Arrival – With one of the strongest, wisest and most compassionate female protagonists in the history of film (played brilliantly by Amy Adams), Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is an elegant, insightful and poetic alien-encounter film, the second film on this list to remind me of Close Encounters. Complex yet simple, Arrival is about how we communicate with each other, how we make decisions and the profound love of a mother for her child.
  1. La La Land – Strangely enough, given its position on my list, I believe Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is an overrated film. But I’m a sucker for old-fashioned musicals (an almost forgotten genre) and I loved every minute of this magical film, so I’m overrating it as well. Emma Stone is terrific as an aspiring actress who falls in love with a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling). Together, they must face a fundamental question about the meaning of life: is their relationship more, or less, important than their vocational dreams?
  1. I, Daniel Blake – Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s latest film (written by Paul Laverty) is about the potential in each of us to challenge the powers-that-be and be a good neighbour to the poor and oppressed people in our communities. In this unsubtle yet unsentimental masterpiece, Dave Johns plays a 59-year-old widower who discovers that potential in the midst of his own struggles. I, Daniel Blake is one of the most humanizing films I have ever seen, which is high praise indeed.

Vic Thiessen and his brother Walter review films frequently at Thiessen Bros Blogspot and Vic enjoys seeing more than 90 films a year.



So I Can’t Count: Top Movies of 2016

Jerry Holsopple

There are many I haven’t seen and more I wish I had, but for my money, I call this year an answer to the “white wash” of last year’s Academy awards.

There are some amazing 2016 films which feature stories of African Americans. The three I would choose here would be:

  1. Moonlight
  2. Hidden Figures
  3. Fences (Viola Davis should absolutely win for her role.)

Three flicks that celebrate growing up in very challenging situations that are worth enjoying;

  1. Moonlight
  2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  3. The Queen of Katwe’

(The last two have no chance with the Academy Awards, but Moonlight should.)

While I suspect La La Land and Manchester by the Sea will do well, they wouldn’t be my choice this year.

Jerry Holsopple is professor of Visual and Communication Arts Eastern Mennonite University and was the first webmaster of Third Way website.



Top 10 Films of 2016

Gordon Houser

Many good films came out last year—and too many of them were unavailable to me before this deadline. But here are ten I liked. And by “liked” I mean they particularly moved me—emotionally and/or intellectually—and were beautifully made.

  1. Moonlight – Presents three time periods—young adolescence, mid-teen and young adult—in the life of Chiron, an African-American male in Miami. A drug dealer tries to rescue him from bullies, while his drug-addicted mother neglects him. This tender, exquisitely shot film is the year’s best. It reveals how rarely we see a film with complex African-American characters as it explores their sense of self. The acting and cinematography are excellent.
  1. 13th – Documentary by Ava DuVernay. The title refers to the 13th Amendment (U.S. Constitution), which outlaws involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime.” The film moves through U.S. history, showing how African-Americans especially have been labeled criminals in order to enslave them and use their labor for profit. DuVernay uses interviews with historians and others plus historical footage to tell a damning story of the U.S. criminal justice system. One stat to consider: African-American males make up 6.5 percent of the population and 40.2 percent of the prison population.
  1. La La Land – A rarity these days—a musical. It tells the story of an aspiring actress and a jazz musician trying to follow their dreams in Los Angeles. The film works on many levels: with joyous and romantic songs and dances, satire, many movie references and a moving exploration of the cost of following one’s creative impulses.
  1. Manchester by the Sea – The moving story of an uncle obliged to return home to Manchester, Mass., to care for his nephew after his brother, the teenager’s father, dies. When he learns his brother named him his nephew’s guardian, he struggles with what to do. Memories of what happened in his past help explain why he doesn’t want to live in Manchester. Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams (in a brief role) are outstanding and will likely win Oscars. The writing also excels.
  1. OJ. Made in America – A five-part documentary about O.J. Simpson that narrates an American tragedy. It explores in detail his rise to fame, his trial for murdering his wife and her friend, and his fall from fame. At the same time it shows the injustices African-Americans experienced, particularly by the Los Angeles police and court system, that likely led to a jury declaring Simpson not guilty of murder.
  1. Hell or High Water – Portrays two brothers, one a divorced dad, the other an ex-con, who rob banks to save the family ranch in West Texas. Two Texas rangers try to find them before they rob another bank. The film is more than a chase plot, as it explores its characters and saves its ire for the banks that take advantage of people trying to survive in a poor economy.
  1. Loving – Tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who are arrested in Virginia for their marriage and forced to leave the state. Later, their situation leads to a legal battle that ends at the U.S. Supreme Court. The film captures the quiet, ordinary love of the couple and understates the opposition they faced. The acting is superb.
  1. Arrival – Far from the usual sci-fi films of heroes fighting aliens, Arrival is an arresting, thoughtful drama that explores both human emotion and philosophical speculation. It’s also refreshing to see a woman in a lead role as an academic who shows courage and vulnerability. Amy Adams has the ability to communicate emotion with her eyes.
  1. The Innocents – Set in 1945 in Poland, a young French Red Cross doctor assists survivors of the German camps. A Polish nun begs her to come to a nearby convent, where the doctor finds several nuns in advanced states of pregnancy, having been raped by Russian soldiers. Based on a real incident, this powerful film explores themes of faith and suffering as both the unbelieving doctor and the nuns are changed by each other.
  1. Silence – A faithful adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s outstanding novel from 1966 about Jesuit priests suffering for their faith in 17th-century Japan, where Christianity is outlawed. The film is long and at times harrowing, and it raises difficult questions about Christian faith. It’s that rare film that questions simplistic, victorious faith and delves into the depths of God’s mysterious silence and suffering with us.

Gordon Houser, Editor, The Mennonite




Top Ten Movies of 2016

Matthew Kauffman Smith

Believe it or not, I actually have a top 10. I saw 25 movies, which is a record for my years of parenting.

10. Star Wars: Rogue One. Yes, this stand-alone chapter was a big-studio, money grab, but it was also well executed and entertaining.

9. The Fits. The antithesis of a Hollywood blockbuster, this is a subtle, slow-moving story about an 11-year-old girl who trains to be a boxer who becomes intrigued in a dance team. In a day of cookie-cutter film storytelling, this is an original.

8. Harry and Snowman. This documentary is a true underdog story about a Dutch immigrant who saves a former Amish plow horse for $80, saving him from the glue factory. The horse, Snowman, went on to become one of the greatest show jump horses of all time.

7. Landfill Harmonic. A simple, effective documentary about the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in Paraguay, featuring students in the town playing instruments made from garbage from the town’s landfill.

6. Sully. Tom Hanks is excellent (duh) as real-life pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who rose to hero status after landing a U.S. Airways flight in the Hudson River, saving the lives of the 155 people on board

5. The Eagle Huntress. This documentary about a 12-year-old Kazakh girl Aisholpan is a great family movie. Despite some resistance among elders who thing eagle hunting is a man’s game, Aisholpan, with the support of her parents, bucks the trend with great success.

4. Captain Fantastic. Yet another movie with a parenting focus, Captain Fantastic isn’t easy to watch. But the story of a widower trying to raise his kids outside of society is a good, albeit extreme, look at how parents stick to their philosophies, for better or worse.

3. Sing Street. In my review of this movie, I said that I have never liked a movie so much despite having so many issues with it. I still have issues, but I’ve now seen it three times. And I’m thinking about a fourth.

2. Zootopia. An entertaining movie with a message of inclusiveness and embracing differences, Zootopia exceeds in terms of entertainment and in delivering its message.

1. OJ.: Made in America. Yes, a five-part documentary about the O.J. Simpson trial is a tough sell, especially since many people have no interest in reliving a surreal moment in history. This ESPN documentary, however, puts the trial in a 30-year context of Los Angeles and race in America, proving that it wasn’t just a solitary moment in history. This type of in-depth journalism is rare nowadays.

Matthew Kauffman Smith works in middle management, frequently also reviews music, and loves it when his two daughters can help him review a film.




Here baby #2 inspects a “mirror” image of himself looking at his older brother, #1.

And in case you wonder what our lone female reviewer, Michelle Sinclair was up to in 2016, her life did not involve going to a lot of movies. She gave birth in January 2016 to their second son so there was not a lot of going out to movies; moreover, here’s a current snapshot of media use at their house. She will continue reviews in 2017 watching things mostly on Netflix or other online options.