10. “The Queen of Katwe” – A girl rises from a Uganda slum to become a chess master in this colorful true tale of challenge over impossible odds, propelled by actress Lupita N’yongo and director Mira Nair.
9. “Sully” – The “miracle on the Hudson” is only the beginning of the trials for steely pilot Tom Hanks, co-pilot Aaron Eckhart and director Clint Eastwood, all in top form.
8. “Arrival” – Linguist Amy Adams struggles to communicate with aliens and hold off her own demons as director Denis Villeneuve turns time into a Mobius strip in this haunting sci-fi parable.
7. “Loving” – Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as a real-life biracial couple need few words to speak volumes about race relations and the depth of true love under Jeff Nichols direction.
6. “Manchester by the Sea” – Casey Affleck must confront his broken soul after being named guardian of his dead brother’s son as writer-director Kenneth Lonergan probes the resiliency of the human spirt in picturesque New England.
5, “Moonlight” – Three actors play a kid growing up poor, black and gay in Miami as Barry Jenkins directs Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s autobiographical story with equal measures of strife, resilience and poetry.
4. “Jackie” – Natalie Portman brilliantly channels Jackie Kennedy through endless levels of complexity in this mesmerizing dream of a movie set in the days following JFK’s assassination.
3. “Hell or High Water” – Jeff Bridges’ crusty Texas Ranger anchors this sly political sleeper starring Chris Pine and Ben Foster as bank-robbing brothers fighting The System in modern Texas.
2. “Nocturnal Animals” – Amy Adams gives her second Oscar-worthy performance this year framed by Tom Ford’s spellbinding cinematography as a beautiful woman whose not-quite perfect life is undone by a manuscript from ex-husband Jake Gyllenhaal.
1. “La La Land” – Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling make beautiful music together as Damien Chazelle reinvents the classic movie musical in today’s Hollywood, producing the happiest sensation on any screen in 2016.
–originally published in The Maui News