The PDC Staff Picks The Best Movies Of 2016

Here we are at the close of our 8th year on the web, a feat we'd be remiss if we didn't stop to thank all of you for, the loyalty and support of our readers means everything and has kept the site going for nearly a decade! This was a year that, by most accounts, many are happy to see go. It's been an interesting year at the movies, that's for sure. We saw DC stumble in their quest to meet Marvel studios at the box-office while we watched Marvel effortlessly take us into the realm of mystics while collecting that coin the whole way. We watched in amazement as an R-Rated comic book movie broke all preconceived notions by making almost a billion dollars. Hollywood's most charismatic on-screen couple brought back the glory of a 50's style musical and Mr. Newt Scamander apparated us all back to the Potterverse.The year ended with an amazing crop of awards contenders capped off by one of the best, and most surprising, entries from the Star Wars universe! So look on, dear reader, as we take you through the staff picks for the Top Films of 2016!

Roxana Hadadi


In a summer full of blockbuster action movies, Shane Black's The Nice Guys got a little lost, but this is the kind of stuff Black -- who, funnily enough, can be partially blamed for the ubiquitous nature of Marvel movies because of his role in the Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man domination of pop culture -- does excellently. This noir spin on '70s buddy comedies got great mileage out of the Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling pairing, and its twisty-turny plot paid off with relevant themes about climate change and corporate corruption that especially resonate in our post-Nov. 8, 2016 America. Not enough people saw this R-rated comedy, but it's up there with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as one of Black's best. If you missed out on Baby Goose's physical comedy chops in The Nice Guys, you should remedy that shit immediately.


What a strange, uncomfortable, unforgettable little movie. Starring a perfectly cast-against-type Colin Farrell, the always sympathetic Rachel Weisz, and a radically motivated Lea Seydoux, The Lobster takes place in a near future where single people check into a hotel, are given 45 days to find a partner, and are turned into animals if they don't. It's a strict system that means people who don't really have much in common end up together, and people who run away from the hotel and reject that system of "marital bliss" operate on the fringes of society, hiding from the mainstream, forced to scavenge and scrape together a living of independence. What a chilling sight to see people on dates hunting loners who ran away, forcing themselves to fall in love while relishing other people's pain. The Lobster was a black comedy that dared to be so much weirder than you ever expected, and its critique of the modern marriage machine will prickle at the edges of your brain for a long time.


Nicolas Winding Refn reaches peak style-over-substance with The Neon Demon, once again one-upping himself in terms of violence, depravity, and gorgeous visuals; his progression from Drive to Only God Forgives is amped up with his transition from Only God Forgives to The Neon Demon. You thought Ryan Gosling didn't speak enough in Only God Forgives? Elle Fanning speaks less in The Neon Demon, but her observant, uncanny gaze seems to follow you right back as you watch her. You thought the exquisitely saturated, magnetically strange visuals of Only God Forgives were eerily haunting? The Neon Demon gives us a supernatural rave sequence, a haunted house in the Hollywood hills, and a glitter- and blood-soaked photoshoot that redefines the notion of beauty as pain.

The Internet argued for months over whether The Neon Demon was deeply sexist or profoundly feminist, and that's an argument worth having, but put that aside and the movie is, full stop, the most lush, grotesque, visceral viewing experience of the year. Those final five minutes! They had me bouncing up and down in my seat with glee.


What beautiful heartbreak. What thrilling highs -- Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone waltzing among the stars -- and devastating lows -- a fight between the couple that transforms from questions about the status of their relationship to queries about the nature of their individual creative passions and their fundamental definitions of selfhood. La La Land is being marketed as an escapist fantasy for our particularly despondent 2016, and it is that, but that final act will set all your dreams on fire and step back while you realize everything you thought about love was a lie you told yourself to swallow compromise. No other movie in 2016 pushed viewers down a complex cliff of emotions like La La Land did, and if I talk about it anymore I'll start crying, so let's just stop here.


It's been a tough year for America. Hell or High Water made you feel that desperation -- the frustration with the status quo, the desire for something better, the acceptance of using any means necessary. In my review of Hell or High Water this past summer, I wrote "Everyone in Hell or High Water is struggling to survive -- either financially or spiritually -- but the film treats all of them, criminals or lawmen, with respect. Everybody makes their choices for their own reasons. Hell or High Water shows you what they are and who you are, and lets you judge for yourself -- to tense, aching, and memorable results." This is modern American filmmaking at its best, a searing glimpse into a kind of dusty, outlaw-modeled, poverty-defined lifestyle that we thought the country had left behind, and that we should be admonished for forgetting. Hell or High Water is the old adage of "go West, young man," brought to life, and it's the best film of 2016.

John Nolan


If you haven’t heard this title yet, and the marketing blitz has been on so I’m sure you have, you soon will. The throwback to the days of Gene Kelly starring the Bogey and Bacall of our day, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is not just a great film but a great film that shouldn’t be acceptable today. What I mean by that is the world was different when Gene Kelly danced with an Umbrella in the rain, our cynical realm shouldn’t think this movie is good. It’s bright, it’s light (in the heaviest of ways), and wonderfully written. Let’s not beat around the bush, the movie soars past being just a good movie thanks to its aforementioned leads…. seriously is there a better on screen male/female duo in today’s talent pool?


Starting the year that everyone would come to lament off with a surprising BANG Deadpool is a fun movie that knows what it is, hits all marks, and above all else entertains it’s audience from beginning to end, it’s a movie that offers proof. If that was it I’m not sure it would make most lists (it would still make mine but I judge solely off my personal enjoyment), but Deadpool serves as more then just a movie. It stands as proof positive that you don’t have to water down all superheroes for that PG-13, that sometimes being loyal to the character with a group of filmmakers and actors that love the source material will warrant you a bonafide megahit!


This was my most pleasant surprise of the year, I’m not sure why since I’ve loved most of everything Shane Black has done, add on Ryan Gosling (who’s charisma I mentioned earlier) and Russell Crowe with a funky 70’s noir-ish setting and you have something that’s so in my wheelhouse it may as well BE my wheelhouse. It’s pure Shane Black, so if you liked Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang or Lethal Weapon you’re going to like this. Gosling and Crowe are a perfect pair up elevating the already quality material to a whole new level.

C’mon was there a more satisfying movie in theaters this year? For the airport scene along this film would make the list but it was SO much more than that. The only complaint that could really be lodged is the title, since it’s not Captain America: Civil War as much as The Avengers: Civil War. A movie that introduced us to the MCU’s amazing new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, and gave us one of the best close-quarters fight scenes in recent memory with Cap and Bucky Vs Iron Man, I can’t think of any reason that someone would have left the theater disappointed, and not only that but with a renewed (if it happened to be dwindling) confidence in the future of the MCU


Talk about pleasant surprises. I never put much stock in the stories that reshoots were going to have ruined the movie when it premiered, but I also never had faith that this would be anything more than Star Wars Lite. Surely there would be some galaxy expanding, and some cool new battles we would see, sure the story of following the suicide mission to retrieve the death star plans is a hell of a pitch line, but it’s going to be what it is, a side story. What we ended up with is something SO satisfying that true fans of the holy trilogy are ranking it up next to The Empire Strikes Back…which is about as flattering as you can get when talking Star Wars. Gareth Edwards played a perfect balance of new story and fan service, giving us more “OMG” moments then I think anyone was predicting while at the same time managing to make characters who were essentially starring in “Titanic: In Space” not just interesting but endearing. I could go on for another three pages about why this was my number 1 film of the year but if you wanted to see me over-verbalize the quality of this film you could just go to my review.

Mae Abdulbaki


I wrote in my review for the film that “there’s something fulfilling about seeing a movie like [Hidden Figures.] There’s nothing surprising about its finale, no twists and turns, but it’s special in its delivery of emotion and the choices it makes in regards to characters and storytelling.” Led by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, you'll find that Hidden Figures is easily one of the most uplifting films of 2016. It explores important, serious issues and maintains a balance between humor and drama. It's heartwarming and motivational, will make you cry at some point, I'm sure, and the narrative is strong and moving. The finale gives us an immensely satisfying ending and really, there's just so much to love about this film, right down to its execution.


Damien Chazelle’s La La Land found a way to bring back the magic of a musical. The film goes about the high and lows of following your dream and, even though criticisms of the film are valid, one of the reasons I found it endearing was the romance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s characters. Chazelle touches on what is and what might have been, the validity of dreaming, and the fantastical poeticness of Los Angeles even in its dimmer qualities. At the same time, the film explores the leads’ romantic relationship from its humble beginnings to the very end. Honestly, the film is utter fluff, but between the sets and the thrill of watching two people fall in love as a stepping stone toward realizing their ultimate goals, La La Land is visually and emotionally appealing.


Sometimes, it’s easy to forget the economic disparity this country still struggles with. Hell or High Water doesn’t let you forget it. Two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are on their final bank robbery when a retiring cop (Jeff Bridges) and his partner (Gil Birmingham) gain ground in stopping them. The film is far more than a big chase movie. It speaks to the unfairness of the status quo, the people left behind by those in wealth and power, and the law that seeks justice regardless of either. Hell or High Water, which plays out a lot like a new-school Western, is a good glimpse at the decline of economy in a forsaken and rotting part of America, where nothing can be so easily dismissed as right and wrong.


I am not a huge fan of the horror genre, so the fact that this film even made my top 5 list is impressive. Under the Shadow is set in the middle of post-revolution Iran in the 1980s and follows a mother and daughter as they face an evil force that enters their home and threatens to tear them apart. There’s a lot of tension in the film between neighbors, mother and daughter, husband and wife and so on. Director Babak Anvari isn’t simply focused on the horror, but rather on the relationship dynamics between the two main characters. The horror aspect of the film is just an extension of that. Under the Shadow combines a great story as well as the best parts of the horror genre and has been on my top list since January of this year after seeing it at Sundance.


How many films do we get that are as moving, thoughtful, and beautifully executed as Moonlight?Barry Jenkins’ film, about a young African-American boy growing up in 1980s Miami while exploring his sexuality during three different stages in his life,is poignant. The film is gorgeously shot and compelling as we follow this sometimes rocky journey. Moonlight is emotionally raw and honest. Themes of hardship are prevalent throughout, but the film still manages to maintain a distinct sense of innocence and wonder. Trevante Rhodes, especially, gives a phenomenal performance. His character is lost,full of heartache, but hopeful and always searching. The film is able to capture so many emotions in a genuinely compassionate way and is by far the strongest film of 2016. I loved every minute of it.   

Julian Lytle


Disney making animated fare with anthropomorphic animals is pretty standard for them. A tale about a young rabbit wanting to be a police officer in the big city and teams up with a street hustler fox could’ve been a just cute idea. What stands Zootopia apart is that somehow decided to deal with some pretty serious issues that most live actions dramas don’t even do well. It’s crazy that in such a tumultuous year especially in regards to race and differences that the best film of the year to deal with this is a Disney movie about a Rabbit and Fox. Great voice acting, great rendered settings and characters and wonderful writing. This was the year where Disney Animation took all of Pixar’s story swag. 4. THE NICE GUYS

Shane Black after making that wacktacular Iron Man 3 movie went back and got to make something smaller. It was like he spoke to me in my head, it went like this “Yo, fam I know you hated that marvel movie I made with the annoying kid and played out Rhodey.” I was like “Yeah man, that joint is trash. You helped mess it up for me.” He was like “Dang man, my bad but guess what I got a movie coming out with Baby Goose and the Gladiator Russell Crowe”. “OH BABY GOOSE!! THAT’S MY DUDE RIGHT THERE!”I say. Then he replies “…and it’s a Christmas movie.” Cue flex bombs. Yep the Nice Guys, the most unsung banger of the year and a new Christmas classic up there with Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Ryan Gosling gave one of his funniest and heartwarming performances. This might be the only movie this year I could watch over and over again. 3. FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Since everyone else has Hell or High Water on their list I can let this live. See I never read the Harry Potter books but I loved the films. I really like the story of J.K. Rowling and what she has accomplished. So far this year this was the only franchise film I thought about in terms of needing to see. What I got is a lovely surprise, she basically wrote a Doctor Who film. You have a caring, young mysterious smart man who travels with a box that bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. He meets some cool companions and has an adventure that at times puts him at odds with the folks in power and still manages to save the day without hurting anyone. Except instead of sonic screwdriver he has a wand. It was a lot of fun and had a lot of heart and was full of wonder and as I get older I like that more and more. 2. LA LA LAND

Man here’s the thing, this movie gets way too much hype. I almost didn’t want to see it because too many critics gave it too much love. Going by the ads it was just another movie where two young pretty white folks fall in love in Los Angeles and this time without Steve Carell in it. Now I know but Julian it’s a musical and I was like the musical is already back in style. Glee was on for 5 years, we got visual albums and every few months we have live musicals on network television. All that plus Hamilton. So after seeing it I had to admit it was very good, Chazelle clearly has a love and understanding of music after this and Whiplash. The songs really stand out, the dancing is great and the use of color and costume is amazing. For me, the real stand out part is how it deals with two people who are trying to make lives for themselves while trying to achieve creative dreams. That is a personal entry point for me to get into the story being that I am a creative. The way it handles the love story is interesting and something you don’t usually see but the real gem in the tale is ambitions of the characters more than anything. 1. MOONLIGHT

Moonlight was a surprise. I didn’t even know it existed until a facebook ad in the summer. Something about piqued my interests. I don’t go to festivals and I’m not looking at every little piece of news. I like surprises and Moonlight was the biggest surprise and I feel the best film of the year. The way in which Barry Jenkins explores masculinity within the black community while also making a story about this late Gen X – Older Millennials time period of growing up in the crack era I’ve never seen documented in that way. Yes is also about sexuality but it’s also about raising a boy, being a boy and growing up in this setting that all feels so familiar to so many, the fronting, the fighting, freedom and lack thereof at the same time. I don’t know if Moonlight will get any awards but hope more and more sees this film over time because it deserves to be seen by as many as possible.

Zack Walsh


Man did this year start off strong or what? February 20016 saw Fox finally cave in, giving us fans exactly what we wanted and then some with this fantastic adaptation of Marvel’s classic Merc with a Mouth. Ryan Reynolds continued his McConaughey-like quest to make us suddenly love him with another truly brilliant performance in an unexpected place. Not only did he absolutely nail the titular fourth-wall breaking antihero from the comic books, but he also made us deeply care about his real-world alter ego: a man who’s haunted by his past and slowly succumbing to terminal cancer. The film brilliantly blends the two conflicting tones, giving us the best comedy of the year, and a somber, character-driven film at the same time. Legit, Deadpool had everything I could have possibly wanted from it - laughs, thrills, emotional depth, and hard-R shock. 


It’s very possible that this is my new favorite film from the stop-motion animation studio Laika, which is really saying something considering their awesome history (ParaNorman, Coraline). Kubo is a visual masterpiece- just the fact that it exists blows my mind. Human hands physically constructed a movie this beautiful. It’s absolutely daunting. The story is both intricate and solid, with carefully integrated elements of fantasy and cultural mythology throughout. Each character is brought to life with powerful voice performances from the whole cast, assisting the gorgeous animation in creating characters that are grounded and complex, but never inaccessible to the children in the audience. It’s exciting, it’s engaging, and it has one of the most heart-warming resolutions I’ve seen all year. 


This is one of the few rare sequels as good as the original. With Finding Dory, Pixar returned yet again to what they do best – telling honest, emotionally compelling stories with memorable characters and tons of wit. Continuing their Inside Out approach of using family friendly animation to discuss important issues, Pixar beautifully explores the life of a family with a disabled child. Having grown up with a developmental disability myself, the film really hit home for me with its honest and accurate portrayal of how that can affect a life. Ellen DeGeneres still has a total understanding of her character, even after so many years. If there were an Oscar for voice-over performance, surely she would win it. Somehow, even the studio’s animation continues to improve. It’s a clever, fun, poignant, and impact movie that adds to the world of Finding Nemo without ever compromising that original story’s intentions.

I cried a lot. It’s really good. 


A sci-fi thriller about using your words! That’s one of my favorite obscure sub-genres of film! I loved it last year with The Martian, and now I have Arrival! It manages to make language seem exciting, and it makes space feel hopeful. It creates an edge-of-your-seat intensity from the idea that words can take on multiple meanings. I had such a visceral, thrilling reaction to such heady verbal concepts, and I loved it. Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of the year, with a deceptively complicated role to play. Technically, the film is incredible. The script uses every tool film has to offer to tell its story, and the result is beautiful and mind blowing. The ending is truly shocking, and masterfully handled. If you haven’t seen Arrival yet, and it hasn’t been spoiled for you, you should certainly go experience it for yourself. The direction, editing, cinematography, and score all come together to make a movie that absolutely floored me. It’s exciting and intelligent, optimistic and heart-breaking, and I love it. 


As many people have observed by this point, La La Land is fantastic. I feel a little unoriginal adding my praise to one of the most universally beloved movies of the year, but alas, La La Land was my absolute favorite film this year. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle achieved the impossible in modernizing the classic Hollywood musical. The musical set pieces are truly awe-inspiring. Not only are the original songs genuinely fantastic numbers, but they’re all staged, filmed, and performed in such a way that you really can’t help but be stunned. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both endlessly charming as the leading couple. Stone’s 11 o’clock number is going to win her some serious awards. The costumes and scenery are flashy and noticeable without being distracting. It’s just so good. I really don’t have much else to say about it past that. I like musicals. Movie musicals are really cool to me, and actually good movie musicals are amazing. So La La Land just really nailed it for me… and clearly most other critics agree.
   Khalil Johnson


In our current age of superhero films, most studios are afraid to take big risks. Just about every movie that comes out is using the “Marvel Formula.” While most superhero films may be PG-13 and have a little bit of edge, for the most part, they are family friendly. This way they can get as many butts in seats and make the movies the billion dollar blockbusters we all love (plus they can sell a lot of toys!). However, Deadpool is the exception to the rule. This is a superhero movie where not only is our hero pretty much a “bad guy,” but we root for him the entire time! A passion project for a long time by Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller finally brought to life, in all its R-rated glory did not dial it down one bit. Faithful to the comic book, the film showed us that superhero movies can be filthy, as well as fun. Deadpool was one of this year's biggest surprise hits, and proved that you can do grown-up superhero stories, to the point that now other more mature comic book films are being greenlit.

Pretty much out of nowhere a pseudo-sequel to 2008’s “found footage” kaiju film, Cloverfield came to us. For the second go-round, the found footage angle was dropped, as was the giant monster. Instead, we got a film within the same universe that was much more intimate. No longer a disaster film, but instead a psychological thriller where we are caught in a bunker with our main characters as they are trying to survive the end of the world. After a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself at the “mercy” of Howard (John Goodman giving one hell of a performance), who is deranged as hell. The film works on so many levels because there is the fear of what might be going on outside with an alien invasion, but the real terror is Howard as he goes from being a gentle giant to an acid-boiling psychopath the next moment. The ending was a little predictable to some, but the ride up to it was intense! 3. TRAIN TO BUSAN

It’s friggin zombies on a train- Nuff said. Combining everything awesome about both Snowpiercer and The Walking Dead together in a film, Train to Busan told the story of a man and his daughter on a cross-country train ride as a zombie outbreak is occurring. They must travel from car to car trying to avoid the undead as they meet new friends (and some enemies) to help (or stop) them along the way. The film had the right amount of terror and heart with a very well done dramatic ending that paid off very well. The South Korean film did not get much play here in the States (except for a limited release) but given its worldwide success, there will be an American Remake coming soon. 2. GREEN ROOM 
I saw this on the strength that I heard Sir Patrick Stewart would play an evil Neo-Nazi and boy was I not let down! The film follows a punk rock band who while playing a set for a Neo-Nazi gang is just in the wrong place at the wrong time and witness something terrible while waiting in their Green Room. The rest of the film is about them trying to survive from the Nazi who want to ensure that no witnesses remain. The film operates halfway like a horror film and halfway like a thriller as the group is not only hunted by machete-wielding bad guys, but also their killer dogs. I did not expect such a high level of gore and as many twists and turns as the movie provided. In typical horror fashion, you don’t know who will survive as the nail-biting continues throughout the film. Green Room was one of Anton Yelchin’s last performances before his untimely death. Both he and Stewart shine throughout the movie! 1. Tie- CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Both of these movies have impressive fan bases that require the filmmakers to bring their A games, and both completely nail it! The second Marvel film headed by the Russon Bros, Captain America: Civil War is the accumulation of more than 12 Marvel Cinematic Universe film, so there’s a lot of history for these characters. The philosophical disagreements between Iron Man and Captain America split the superhero community right down the line. Should the Avengers remain an independent vigilante group without oversight, or should they fall under the control of the United Nations? Both characters make effective points, but both cannot come to an agreement, hence the battle between the two groups. There’s action, drama, and everything that works in a Marvel film done flawlessly. The film also gives us our first introductions to both Black Panther and the newest (and best) version of Spider-Man, who will be getting their own solo Marvel films over the next two years. Disney purchased Lucasfilm and promised that we will be getting a new Star Wars film every year… until the end of time probably. Last year we got the first of a new trilogy, The Force Awakens, and this year we got a “non-saga” Star Wars film. This one centered on the rebel squadron that had to steal the plans for the original Death Star (from Star Wars: A New Hope). Rogue one had an impossible task: to be a Star Wars prequel, and not suck! The film gave a new (and VERY diverse) heroes to root for. The final 30 minutes of the film is everything! Not only does it perfectly tie up any loose ends we have debated amongst ourselves since 1977, but gave us an almost flawless 3rd act as our heroes mounted an awesome mission to get the plans which ensured that Luke Skywalker was able to save the day in Episode IV. The film also helped flesh out the Star Wars universe as we really haven’t seen that much of it over the last 30+ years. If each spin-off movie is done as well as Rogue One, then we can continue to see more Star Wars film for a long, long time!

John Armstrong


Based on a short story by Ted Chiang, one of the finest current science fiction writers around, Denis Villeneuve delivers the calm, contemplative film I knew he was capable of. Eric Heisserer's script builds on the existential meditation of Chiang's story and renders it into a form more accessible to a mainstream audience. No mean feat when dealing with seven-fold symmetric aliens who view time as a completed, unchanging whole.


Nicholas Winding-Refn loves to push audiences' buttons, and he pushes them with abandon in this first of his films to explore some of the darker recesses of female psychology. On the surface, a glib indictment of the fashion industry as a horrifying -- and almost literal -- meat-grinder, it hides an even darker descent into the ambivalent id of an adolescent girl who finds her own nascent sexuality both disturbing and enthralling. If there were doubts of Elle Fanning's ability to take on more adult fare, they're gone now.


Somewhere along the way, Mike Mills' tribute to his mother turned into something much more. The post-punk and new-wave setting was a high-water mark for the feminist movement, as well as for the 20th century's entire progressive New Deal project. In a way he couldn't have predicted when writing the script, we can now look back forty years to see where we once stood, and what gains may finally be washed away as the tide runs all the way out.

Denzel Washington takes up his new mantle as the man bringing August Wilson's "Century Cycle" of plays to screens both big and small, and hits his first one out of the park. This is easily his best work as a director, not to mention a top-shelf performance in front of the camera, where Viola Davis proves herself his match with her own powerhouse performance. Gorgeously photographed, beyond what you might expect from a play brought to screen, the texture of 1950s Hill District Pittsburgh comes alive. And this project is just getting started.


Barry Jenkins' adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney's unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is like nothing that has been seen in a feature film before, and especially not one that played at so many mainstream multiplexes. A complex, nuanced portrait of a young, black, gay man at three formative stages of his life, it's a raw and honest look at someone who refuses to fit neatly into any of our preconceived boxes, as much as life may try to shove him back into one or another. A film like this is a leap of faith for any cast and crew, and their efforts have paid off handsomely. We are all the richer to have the chance to see this story.