At the Movies

The Envelope, Please: Ten Best Films of 2016

Forest Whitaker stars in a scene from the movie “Arrival,” ranked by catholic News Service as one of the 10 best films of 2016. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Paramount Pictures)

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) – The quality of the best Hollywood films was higher in 2016 than in some recent years. But the outstanding movies of the 12 months just past tended to deal with challenging subject matter. Assassination, the exactions of combat, even religious repression enforced through torture were all dealt with in a skillful way – but also in a manner not likely to appeal to the casual moviegoer.

Following are the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service’s top 10 movies overall and top 10 family films of 2016. The selections in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

Unless otherwise noted, the Catholic News Service classification for films on the first list is A-III – adults, and the Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Top 10 Films:

• Amy Adams delivers an excellent performance as an American linguist trying to communicate with aliens in the gripping and unusually intimate science-fiction drama “Arrival.” Director Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of a short story by Ted Chiang finds profundity on a human scale as well as in the cosmos.

Russell Hornsby and Viola Davis star in a scene from the movie “Fences.” (Photo: Catholic News Service/Paramount)

• Suffering mingles with brutal honesty and joy in unexpected moments in the first screen version of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play “Fences.” Director Denzel Washington stars as an embittered Pittsburgh garbage collector while Viola Davis plays his compassionate and understanding wife, the moral center of this family drama.

• The extraordinary heroism of World War II Army medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a committed Christian and conscientious objector who refused to bear arms but was nonetheless eager to serve his country, is vividly realized in the inspiring, though bloody, fact-based drama “Hacksaw Ridge,” directed by Mel Gibson (L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

• “Hell or High Water” is the morally intricate tale of two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who go on a bank-robbing spree to save their family farm. Their cat-and-mouse game with a duo of Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) has tragic consequences in director David Mackenzie’s hardscrabble story of exploitation and desperation (L; R).

• Director Theodore Melfi successfully re-creates the tension of the Cold War space race and the struggles of the civil rights era in the appealing fact-based drama “Hidden Figures.” Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe star as extraordinarily gifted mathematicians working for NASA, while Kevin Costner plays Henson’s hard-driving boss (PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children).

Janelle Monáe stars in a scene from the movie “Hidden Figures,” ranked by Catholic News Service as one of the 10 best films of 2016. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Fox

• Luminescent and respectful of religion, director Anne Fontaine’s drama “The Innocents,” about a fictional Benedictine convent in post-World War II Poland, gently explores the conflicts between duty to the living and the shattered faith that can result from acts of depravity. Lou de Laage stars as a French Red Cross doctor.

• Director Pablo Larrain’s fact-based historical drama “Jackie” features a mesmerizing performance by Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy, reflecting on loss while building the Camelot myth in the weeks following her husband’s (Caspar Phillipson) 1963 assassination. Catholic viewers will find her conversations with a priest (John Hurt) of particular interest (R).

• The incredible true story of Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) and his 20-year odyssey to locate his birth mother (Priyanka Bose), is retold in the uplifting and emotional drama “Lion,” directed by Garth Davis. A celebration of family, the movie also sends a strong pro-life message by underscoring the joys and merits of adoption.

• “Silence” is director and co-writer Martin Scorsese’s dramatically powerful but theologically complex adaptation of Catholic author Shusaku Endo’s 1966 fact-based historical novel about two 17th-century Jesuit missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) facing persecution in Japan. Often visually striking, the film is also deeply thought provoking (L; R).

• In “Sully,” director Clint Eastwood crafts a satisfying profile of US Airways pilot Capt. Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), whose 2009 feat in landing his crippled plane on the Hudson River gained him instant fame. What emerges is the portrait of a morally deep-rooted and honorable man with a heartfelt concern for those in his charge.

• • •

Top 10 Family Films:

On the family list, except as indicated, the CNS classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The MPAA rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

– “Finding Dory” (A-I – general patronage)
– “The Jungle Book”
– “Kubo and the Two Strings”
– “Moana”
– “Pete’s Dragon”
– “Queen of Katwe”
– “Race” (PG-13)
– “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (PG-13)
– “The Young Messiah” (PG-13)
– “Zootopia”


Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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