STEELE PICKS: Best Films of 2016

I’m not a film critic although a had a stint as one when I worked at Harvard Business School from 1997-2000. I reviewed films and interviewed actors and directors for The Harbus. I see a lot of films in the theaters as well as on DVD and Netflix.

Here’s my list of the 16 best films of 2016:


written and directed by: Barry Jenkins
starring: Mahershala Ali, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders

gorgeously filmed. intense, heartbreaking yet hopeful film which follows a young black man from childhood to adulthood. Like most of us, Chiron’s searching for connection, acceptance and a sense of place. He’s starting from a much lower point than most as his mom’s a drug addict and neglects him. Chiron ends up finding guidance, protection and a sanctuary with drug dealer Juan, played by the wonderfully talented Mahershala Ali. Visually stunning and devastatingly honest and poignant.


The Handmaiden
written by: Chan-wook Park and Seo-kyeong Jeong
directed by: Chan-wook Park
starring: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Tae-ri Kim

wow. stunning, strange, enthralling, amusing, beautiful, erotic, intense, thrilling, twisty. SEE IT.


Sing Street

written and directed by: John Carney
starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy

I adore John Carney’s other films Once and Begin Again plus I appreciate films about music. In 1980s Dublin, Conor faces challenges at home and at school so why  not form a band to impress a girl. Conor’s parents argue incessantly at home while at school he finds himself not fitting in anywhere. He gathers together an earnest collection of misfits to form the band.  He seeks advice from his older brother who exposes him to all the classics as well as popular music. He tells Conor that he needs to create “happy sad” music like The Cure and Joy Division. He says: “Your problem is you’re not happy being sad. But that’s what love is, happy sad.” That music draws me in as it embraces 80s alternative/ mod. This film is a pure delight that actually makes me smile, makes me happy.


La La Land

written and directed by: Damien Chazelle
starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend

A modern day musical/ love story set in Los Angeles starring the magnetic pair of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an actress and a jazz musician looking to break out. Infectiously entertaining and bittersweet.


Love & Friendship

written and directed by: Whit Stillman
starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Tony Bennett

Oh Whit Stillman I adore you and your cleverness. If you haven’t seen his Metropolitan trilogy you must. Based on the Jane Austen story “Lady Susan,” Love & Friendship is a witty, darkly amusing and smart film. While temporarily residing with her in-laws, Lady Susan Vernon seeks to make a match for her daughter and maybe one for herself as well. Because it’s all about money and position during this time period. Kate Beckinsale dazzles in the lead.


Hell or High Water

written by: Taylor Sheridan
directed by: David Mackenzie
starring: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges

didn’t expect to love a modern Western as much as this one about two brothers plotting to save the family ranch in West Texas.



written by: Noah Oppenheim
directed by: Pablo Larrain
starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

outstanding, gorgeous, moving. I cried! Always a sign of a brilliant film if I’m moved that much. Natalie Portman should win the Academy Award for her stellar performance as Jackie Kennedy in the days following JFK’s assassination.


American Honey

written and directed by: Andrea Arnold
starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LeBeouf, Riley Keough

this one’s difficult to describe. gritty and riveting. exploring Heartland poverty, the film focuses on scrappy young woman who joins a group of street hustlers selling magazines door-to-door (who still does that?) throughout the country. they form a community of sorts. it’s eye-opening, engrossing and heartbreaking.


Certain Women

written and directed by: Kelly Reichardt
starring: Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart

quiet intensity. amazing cast. women in control, women space and exhibiting a modicum of control in the Midwest in three intersecting stories.



written and directed by: Jeff Nichols
starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton

how can you not be both moved and compelled by the story of Mr. and Mrs. Loving who took their right to interracial marriage to the Supreme Court, paving the way for many others. Nothing’s easy about the couple’s relationship but their love endures.


Maggie’s Plan

written and directed by: Rebecca Miller
starring: Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader

having second thoughts on her marriage, Maggie concocts a plan to reunite her husband with his ex-wife. witty. clever. brilliant script and impressive cast.


A Bigger Splash

written by: David Kajganich
directed by: Luca Duadagnino
starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson

when an old friend and his daughter interrupt a rock star’s vacation with her lover, lots of naked debauchery ends in tragedy.


The Meddler

written and directed by: Lorene Scafaria
starring: Rose Byrne, Susan Sarandon

my mom would never become this involved in my life. she wants me to be happy but she’d not going to take an active role in making sure that happens.


Queen of Katwe

written by: William Wheeler
directed by: Mira Nair
starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o

for a film based on a true story about chess this one’s inspirational and impressive.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

written by: Robert Carlock
directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
starring: Tina Fey, Margo Robbie, Martin Freeman

Tina Fey plays and earnest, determined reporter who thrives on the adrenaline rush filing stories in Afghanistan. The film delves into the treatment of female war corespondents and the challenges being a war reporter.


White Girl

written and directed by: Elizabeth Wood
starring: Morgan Saylor, Brian Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth

shocking, gritty glimpse into a college student’s summer when drug binges, partying and an unexpected romance take her a bit too deep and collapsing into danger and uncertainty. It’s as far from Homeland’s Dana Brody as Morgan Saylor may get.





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