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2016 Critics Poll: The Best Films and Performances of the Year According to Over 200 Critics

One film headlined this year's collection of critic picks, but the full results have even more stories to tell.

Moonlight” has been a critical favorite for months, but this may be its biggest endorsement yet: Barry Jenkins’ decade-spanning portrait of a young black man growing up in Miami dominated IndieWire’s 2016 Critics Poll, winning five of the 10 categories in which it was eligible. See the full results here.

More than 200 critics voted in the poll, which found “Moonlight” winning Best Film, Best Director (Jenkins), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali as the film’s paternal drug dealer), Best Cinematography (James Laxton) and Best Editing (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon). But there’s a lot more to dig through in this year’s results, as they reflect our largest participation to date.

In a dramatic year for voting processes, it’s only appropriate that our year-end critics survey featured a particularly dramatic turnout. With hundreds of critics voting on their their favorite films and performances, IndieWire’s annual Critics Poll presents a resounding endorsement of the year’s highlights, but it’s not just the winners that stand out. Our results contain a number of intriguing outliers that are just as worthy of inclusion in a survey of the year in cinema as the most popular entries. After all, consensus is only one part of the story.

“Moonlight” wasn’t the only 2016 highlight that many critics singled out on their ballots.


Other winners gaining steam this fall season include Casey Affleck, who won Best Actor for his melancholic turn in “Manchester By the Sea,” and Best Actress winner Isabelle Huppert, for portraying the resilient rape survivor at the center of Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle.” Kenneth Lonergan won Best Screenplay for “Manchester,” and in the documentary category, Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” continued to silence naysayers refusing to regard the ESPN series as a movie by landing first place. Mica Levi’s propulsive soundtrack for “Jackie” won best score.

While most of these films have become fixtures of awards season buzz, one major category contained a nice surprise, with newcomer Lily Gladstone landing Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a horse caretaker dealing coping with loneliness in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women.” Holding her own opposite Kristen Stewart, Gladstone’s quiet performance caught critics off-guard when the film premiered at Sundance in January, and has continued to stand out in year-end discussions many months later.

The Fits

“The Fits”


Needless to say, our poll showcases a lot more than awards season favorites. Robert Eggers’ creepy New England folk tale “The Witch” won Best First Feature, but it wasn’t the only narrative debut to top a major category. This year, we also asked critics to vote on the Best Overlooked Film of the year, and the winner in that category was Anna Rose Holmer’s “The Fits,” a dreamlike look at young dancers in Cincinnati struck by a mysterious contagion.

And then there’s the Best Undistributed Film category, which highlights 2016 premieres that have yet to find U.S. distribution in theaters or VOD. With distribution deals often obscured from the public, it can be tricky to determine which films qualify for this category. But critics found plenty of orphans to champion, starting with Cristi Puiu’s “Sieranevada.” The Romanian director’s droll look at a family gathering to honor a dead patriarch, which finds modern Romanians coming to blows with their traditionalist roots, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. But even as some critics were intrigued by its slow-burn approach, no U.S. distributor has taken a risk on it yet. It topped the category.

As usual, we’ve included much more than simply the winners in each category. The top finalists paint a much wider picture of the year in cinema: “Manchester” and “La La Land” nip at the heels of “Moonlight” in Best Film, while “Cameraperson” and “I Am Not Your Negro” found a swell of support in the documentary category. Many critics felt strong enough about Alden Ehrenreich’s bumbling cowboy in the Coen brothers’ Hollywood satire “Hail, Caesar!” for the actor to land second place in best supporting actor. In the undistributed film category, “Sieranevada” is followed closely by Bertrand Bonello’s “Nocturama,” the tense story of young radicals hiding out in a clothing store after enacting a brutal terrorist attack in Paris.

While critics can’t predict the future, they can anticipate it. We invited this year’s participants to share their most anticipated film of 2017, and so far it seems like a lot of people are excited about the return of another sci-fi universe to give the “Star Wars” resurgence some company — Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming sequel to “Blade Runner” topped the category, but it’s worth perusing all the votes in this category to get a clearer idea of what the next 12 months will offer.

This year’s participants include critics from major print outlets such as our sister publication Variety, The Los Angeles Times, the Voice, Rolling Stone and Film Comment. Prominent online publications like Buzzfeed, Slant, ScreenCrush, The Playlist and The Wrap also weighed in, as did stalwarts of the profession including J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Amy Taubin. Browse the individual ballots here.

We encourage readers to peer beyond the films that received the largest number of votes to find those that received only one or two. There is much to explore.

It has been a complex year at the movies, which have spoken to our collective anxieties and given us numerous memorable scenes. However, we’re especially indebted to the movies for continuing to stimulate new conversations about the world, and we hope the vast range of contributors to this year’s poll offer a promising indication that those conversations won’t stop anytime soon.

FULL RESULTS: 2016 IndieWire Critics Poll

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