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35 Directors Pick Their Favorite Movies of 2016

Sure, they loved "Moonlight" too, but from "Popstar" to "Childhood of Leader" some of your favorite directors shine a light on 2016 movies that aren't getting discussed.

The Childhood of a Leader

“The Childhood of a Leader”

IFC Films


As the year comes to a close, there is one group we’ve yet to hear from about the Best of 2016: The Directors.

Filmmakers are busy folks, and some were instantly wary about making a list, with “I haven’t seen enough movies to make a top ten list” a common reply. So we decided to keep it loose. Including TV and other forms of entertainment was encouraged, how they chose to frame their list was totally flexible, and even if they only had a handful of projects they wanted to highlight, IndieWire made it clear we wanted to know what inspired them this year.

The most exciting thing, beyond how many great directors replied, is the time and energy they put into their lists. Be it Kirsten Johnson’s tribute to Abbas Kiarostami, Paul Feig’s surprise message to “Ghostbuster” trolls, Jennifer Kent teasing the start of her new film, David Lowery praising the genius of Louis CK, or Matt Johnson making us laugh out loud, the wit and wisdom baked into these replies was a pleasant surprise. It also was a reminder that some of the biggest film lovers in the world are the artists who make them.

The best part of these lists is the spotlight shined on works that haven’t been part of the “Best of 2016” discussions. Directors, like all of us, loved “OJ: Made in America” and “Manchester by the Sea,” but they also were quick to highlight little discussed films like “Spa Night” or the brilliant work of British documentarian Adam Curtis.

So here it is, IndieWire’s Best of 2016, through the eyes of some of our favorite directors.

Sean Baker (“Tangerine”)

"The Other Side"

“The Other Side”

Film Society of Lincoln Center

“The Other Side”

There is one film in particular that had a profound effect on me in 2016. Roberto Minervini’s “The Other Side.”  It contains some of the most shocking yet beautiful images I’ve ever seen on screen. This film premiered at Cannes in 2015 and released by Film Movement in 2016, well before November 8th. In hindsight, this film stands as the greatest warning of a Trump election – an unflinching portrait of the deep social divide in our country. Roberto Minervini is truly one of the most important filmmakers working today.

As far as narrative fiction goes, I have yet to see some of the main contenders this year so I’m not comfortable writing a list of favorites. However, I would like to mention two features and two series that, in my opinion were some of the strongest works of 2016 and have not received the attention they deserve.

Antonio Campos’ “Christine” and Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans”

Both films have incredibly strong visions, are genuine in their intentions and yield some of the tightest direction of set-pieces I’ve seen all year.

Jody Hill and Danny McBride’s “Vice Principals”

Comedy gold in writing, direction, and performance. But also, quite subversive, subtlety exploring themes of privilege and the US education system.

Woody Allen’s “Crisis in Six Scenes”

My favorite Woody in years. Incredibly smart and funny with some stunning one takes that display genius comic timing and delivery from the dynamic duo of Woody and Elaine May.

Mike Birbiglia (“Don’t Think Twice”)

Sausage Party

“Sausage Party”


11 faves (sorry, amazing year for movies, and there are a ton more I loved)

“Hell or High Water”
“Captain Fantastic”
“20th Century Women”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Sausage Party”
“Where To Invade Next” (2015/16)
“Pop Star”
“Black Mirror” (S. 3 episode 4 “San Junipero”— I will fight people on this.)


Gia Coppola (“Palo Alto”)

"Blair Witch"

“Blair Witch”


“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“Blair Witch”
“The Eagle Huntress”
“Swiss Army Man”
“American Honey”
“The Crown”
“Green Room”
“De Palma”

Brady Corbet (“The Childhood of a Leader”)

"No Home Movie"

“No Home Movie”

These are five films I saw in 2016 that had a lasting power.  It’s only five because there are many I haven’t seen yet like “Toni Erdmann” or “Things to Come.”  I’ll spend the holiday catching up.

“No Home Movie”
“Embrace of the Serpent”
“The Red Turtle”
“Cemetery of Splendor”
“Mountains May Depart”

Jonathan Demme (“Silence of the Lambs”)



Sony Picture Classics

(no particular order)
“La La Land”
“Maggie’s Plan”
“Toni Erdmann”
“Gimme Danger”

Jay Duplass (HBO’s “Togetherness”)

Don't Think Twice

“Don’t Think Twice”

The Film Arcade

“Manchester by the Sea”
“Don’t Think Twice”
“20th Century Women”
“Other People”
“La La Land”
“The Eagle Huntress”
“City of Gold”

Ezra Edelman (“OJ: Made in America”)

“Morris from America”

(in alphabetical order):
“Hidden Figures”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“Loving”/”Midnight Special”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Morris From America”

Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot”)

"Green Room"

“Green Room”

“OJ: Made in America”

This stayed with me longer than anything else I’ve seen all year. Storytelling as deep and riveting as this is rare and essential.


“Sicario,” “Prisoners,” “Enemy” and now this– Denis Villeneuve is on a motherfucking roll. Hats off to Bradford Young, showcasing some of the best cinematography of the year.

“Horace and Pete”

Best TV show of the year. Breaks every rule including its own distribution model and had amazing writing, directing and performances to boot.

“Black Mirror”

This show delivers amazing feature length episodes every week that are much better than most movies I’ve seen in the theaters.

“Game of Thrones”

Consistently amazes me on every level, making me feel like a lucky viewer who gets to live in a world where an R-rated fantasy gets made with a deserving budget and great talent behind it.

“The Lobster”

With the exception of the slow forest sequence towards the end, this film was flawless and is the originality king of the year.


Indie filmmaking at its finest. Unique voice rendered in the most artful of ways.

“Manchester by the Sea”

I love Casey Affleck. And he destroys and delivers in this brilliantly written, devastatingly funny tragidramedy.

“Green Room”

This dude wowed me with “Blue Ruin,” and does it again here in this deliciously subversive horror film with Alt-Right monsters. Jeremy Saulnier is a filmmaker to watch.

“Everybody Wants Some!!”

I hate plot. I hate movies or shows that fixate on plot. Because at the end of the day, plot is just an excuse to explore themes, characters and/or worlds. No one understands that more than Linklater, with one of the best hang movies to come around in a long time.

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