‘Moonlight’ shines over list of year’s best films

By Jake Coyle

Associated Press

Associated Press film writer Jake Coyle names his choices for the best films of 2016.

1. “Moonlight.” The life of Chiron, the young man who grows up in three distinct chapters in Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece, is hard and full of pain. And yet “Moonlight” is so abundant with transcendent moments of grace and lyrical splendor. In the film’s blue-tinged darkness shines a tortured soul, one of the most intimately and fully realized ones I can remember encountering in a movie.

2. “Cameraperson.” In Kristen Johnson’s memoir-like montage of film, momentary intimacies from a lifetime of making documentaries accrue a staggering poetry. From war zones abroad to her family at home, her camera is a force of connection that binds us, fleetingly.

3. “La La Land.” It’s not like we’re so overrun with blissfulness and charm that we couldn’t use Damien Chazelle’s light-footed celebration of classic musicals, Los Angeles, dreams, keytars and Emma Stone. It’s not a revolutionary work. It’s a knowing and full-hearted resurrection. It’s a conversation with nostalgia, held at golden hour between lampposts and tap shoes.

4. “I Am Not Your Negro.” Does anyone’s voice sound more urgent today than James Baldwin’s? Raoul Peck’s documentary, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, is culled largely from an unfinished manuscript of the writer, intellectual and social critic. Baldwin’s words wash over you, at once inspiring in their passion and alarming in their frightful insight into America. But Peck doesn’t need to mix in more recent footage to connect Baldwin’s thoughts with today. Amid the shards of 2016, Baldwin’s relevance is apparent enough.

5. “Sunset Song.” Rare is the combination of formal beauty and deep inner-life that’s found in Terence Davies’ adaptation of the 1932 novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. “Sunset Song,” about a young woman growing up in rural Scotland in the years before World War I, is one of the more exquisite and wrenching portraits of lives shaped and ripped apart by history.

6. “American Honey.” Nothing was more thrillingly alive this year than Andrea Arnold’s bass-thumping plunge into the American heartland. Arnold, the British director of “Fish Tank,” has both a keenly critical eye to what she sees around her and a deeply affectionate one for her young characters. Rihanna (played in a scene set in a Walmart) supplies Arnold’s anthem: She finds love in a hopeless place.

7. “Manchester by the Sea.” It might be my third-favorite of playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s three films (the others are “Margaret” and “You Can Count on Me”), but it’s still one of the year’s best. Scenes this natural just don’t come along. Seemingly quotidian moments flicker with the past, with pain, with humor, with glimpses of insight. Lonergan’s way with words is trumped only by the great reaches of his empathy.

8. “O.J.: Made in America.” It’s an L.A. story. Ezra Edelman’s 467-minute documentary, released both as one long film and a five-part television series, has an almost Dickensian scope. Edelman uses the case as a prism through which to make a grand portrait of Los Angeles and of America.

9. “Hell or High Water.” David Mackenzie’s West Texas heist tale is a genre movie firing on all cylinders. There’s the fine acting of Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. There’s the economical but loose direction of Mackenzie (“Starred Up”). And there’s the flavorful, comic dialogue of Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”). Add it all up, and you get a hell of a movie.

10. “The Edge of Seventeen.” The pleasures are similar in Kelly Fremon Craig’s spectacular debut: a genre movie (this time a teen coming-of-age comedy in the John Hughes mold) made with uncommon authenticity and wit. And I’m not sure I enjoyed any performance this year more than Hailee Steinfeld’s beset high-schooler who curses her generation as “mouth breathers.”

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