My Top Ten Movies for 2016


1.  “Hacksaw Ridge”:  The true story of the conscientious objector medic who won the Medal of Honor in World War II for his heroics in saving lives.  The first part develops the back story, the second part is the grisly battlefield fighting.  But here's a war hero for the ages who never fired a shot.  Starring Andrew Garfield in a winsome performance.


2.  “Allied”:  Not a true story this time, but feels like it could have been.  French Canadian soldier (Brad Pitt) parachutes behind the German lines in Morocco to meet up with a French spy (Marion Cotillard) in order to assassinate the Nazi ambassador.  The twist is that she just might be a double agent.


3. “Sully”:  Another true story about a real hero, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the U.S. Airways pilot who not only successfully crash-landed on the Hudon River, but in so doing saved everybody aboard.  Clint Eastwood's spare direction lets the heart-warming story tell itself.


4.“Loving”:  Another true story about real heroes, but this is a different kind of struggle.  Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are an interracial couple who marry in the 1950's, when it was illegal in Virginia.  All they wanted was to live their lives quietly, but their case had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to allow them their simple freedom to choose.


5.“Hidden Figures”:  Another true story about real heroes, and also a racially-charged context. In 1950's America, even talented employees at NASA was routinely overlooked if they were black females.  But Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) rose to prominence the old-fashioned way:  they earned it.  And now, after all this time, they're receiving some well-deserved recognition for their important achievements in assisting the sucessful launch of John Glenn's first orbital space flight.


6.“Arrival”:  What if the aliens landed and it takes a renowned linguistics professor (Amy Adams) weeks to understand what they're trying to communicate?  They mess with your mind on the time travel thing, and then mess with it again by claiming that time is circular, not linear.


7.“Hell or High Water”:  Two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) decide to go on a bank-robbing spree in small towns in West Texas.  What they don't count on is the persistence of almost-retired Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham).  But it's the repartee that we enjoy the most.


8.“The Finest Hours”:  the true story of how a small Coast Guard ship churns into the teeth of a mighty Nor'Easter to rescue the trapped crew of an oil tanker, in 1952.  Chris Pine stars again.


9.“Free State of Jones”:  based on the true story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), the rebel Civil War soldier who deserted, then gathered a small eclectic band of other deserters and runaway slaves to declare independence from The Confederacy and form a “free state” in the middle of Mississippi.  Of course it was doomed from the start, as all utopias are.  But for a few brief, shining moments, it was the land of the free and the home of the brave for a few harried souls longing for peace.


10.“The Birth of a Nation”:  Another true story about slaves in rebellion, this time 30 years before the Civil War, when Virginia slave Nat Turner (Nate Parker) leads a brief bloody revolt against local slaveholders that is quickly quashed, but not before scores of deaths and untold retaliations.  Difficult to watch but effectively told, and an important history lesson.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DfW Film Critics Association