Crosswalk.com

CrosswalkMovies.com's Top 10 Films of 2016

Editorial Staff & Film Critics

Call 2016 many things, but on the entertainment front, be sure you recognize it as the year Andrew Garfield helped bring Christian characters back to the mainstream.

The star of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Social Network carried two of Crosswalk's Top 4 movies in 2016, both times playing Christians with strong convictions, albeit from very different backgrounds and time periods. Word is that these experiences made 2016 something of a spiritual journey for the actor himself.

Christian characters also show up in other spots on our list this year, from movies about culture-changing African-American female mathematicians to documentaries about Australian bands responsible for many of your favorite worship songs to a couple of our Honorable Mentions. We fell in love with all of them.

You'll find timely themes of adoption, dreams, sacrifice, courage, hope, conviction, family, love, joy, communication and faith below, too. In a year of incivility and division, these movies that moved us did not shy away from such difficulties but helped light a way home in colorful, powerful, often tear-inducing ways.

But here's the bottom line: every film on our list below resonated in some way with what the seven of us, as Christians, notice when we encounter a work of art that has something to say, and we deliberate long over our selections. We invite you, however, before seeing any film we recommend, to visit our full review (just click on the title or the image) for a list of cautions and objectionable content. And so, without further ado, our editorial staff and film critics proudly present CROSSWALKMOVIES.COM'S TOP 10 FILMS (plus seven Honorable Mentions) OF 2016... (Click here to view our video version instead!)
 

10 FINDING DORY

Ryan's nutshell review: "Finding Dory has all the laughter and tears we've come to expect from a Pixar film. With beautiful animation, lovable characters, and a touching story about the bonds of family, this sequel is one of the best movies you'll see this summer. 4.5 out of 5."

Here because: It's no secret we have a soft spot for Pixar movies. Inside Out was our #1 last year, and seven films from the studio have made our annual list going back to 2006. Dory only barely swam onto our list, however, since, as you'll see below, several of our panelists championed other animated fare. In the end, though, the themes of finding family, creating paths for the lost to find their way home, and recognizing the strengths in our disabilities won us over in typical Dory fashion! ~Shawn McEvoy

See Also: Did You Catch These Cool Parenting Tips in Finding Dory?
 

9 CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

AvengersSusan's nutshell review: "'I'm going, but I don't want to see "my friends" fight,' said my companion. The battles are epic and the quips keep coming, but this dark story opens a wound in Team Avengers that may never completely heal. By all means see it, but expect to come away a little heart-heavy. 4 out of 5."

Here because: Can we prop up this film about Marvel superheroes fighting each other without putting down the one about DC superheroes fighting each other? Sure can! Civil War featured superior writing, including clear motivations from characters acting in ways and with beliefs true to how they have been portrayed for several films now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everyone was given time to shine, and whether you were on Team Tony or Team Cap, you could still understand the points the other side was desperate to make. Not many superhero movies offer fun and creative battles and a real-world context and post-movie talking points all while remembering to sweeten everything with humor. Civil War reminds us: you may be powerful and you may even be right, but if you aren't strong, smart, humble or forgiving enough to achieve unity, everyone loses. ~Shawn McEvoy

See Also: Captain America: Civil War - Best Ensemble Super Hero Movie Ever?
 

8 HILLSONG: LET HOPE RISE

Shawn's nutshell review: "Writing worship music is hard! So is serving the Lord at times. What's easy is sitting back for the experience of Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, where we're invited not only to praise Jesus, but to get an intimate view into what it looks like to be authentic, unapologetic, hopeful Christians in a world longing for God. 4.5 out of 5."

Here because: I remember the noise I made when I first heard there was a documentary being made about a worship team. I remember making a similar noise when the film had trouble finding a distributor. And then when Let Hope Rise finally came to theaters, I remember afterwards standing at my kitchen counter and tearfully telling my family I hadn't done enough with my life. The testimonies are inspiring, the effort and difficulty in creating biblical worship are astounding, and the worship itself glorifies God right there in the theater. May all believers be the subject of such a documentary about living out their calling. ~Shawn McEvoy

See Also: Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is a Theatrical Worship Experience
 

7 LOVING

Susan's nutshell review: "When two simple people who simply want to live in peace find themselves in the middle of a landmark Supreme Court case, their story unfolds with quiet grace, highlighting their commitment. Loving is not just the name of the featured couple in this biopic, it perfectly describes their story. 4 out of 5."

Here because: For a movie that goes out of its way not to be emotionally manipulative, it speaks volumes that in its final moments I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and tears welling up in my eyes. Loving is based on a true story of an interracial couple in the late 1950s American South sentenced to prison for co-habitating as man and wife, despite having been legally married in Washington D.C. It's about their legal battle but even more so their romance, and a life of quiet nobility. Director Jeff Nichols strikes an understated tone, finding power in intimate moments, never grand ones. Loving is about the people who weren't Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it's a landmark elegy to them. ~Jeffrey Huston
 

6 LION

Debbie's nutshell review: "With a riveting first half and probing questions about family, Lion's careful attention to life’s cruelty balanced with an inspiring tenderness and optimism make it a strong 4 out of 5."

Here because: Lion is a journey so captivating, a story so deftly told, you will hardly believe that it actually happened. Tell the average person there may be as many as 800,000 abandoned children living on the streets of India, and the enormity of the suffering can overwhelm the mind. Yet Lion humanizes that suffering with the profound true story of one of those children. Five-year-old Saroo falls asleep alone on a train and ends up hundreds of miles from home and living on the streets of Kolkata. He isn't old enough to tell anyone where he's from or even who he is. Yet he becomes one of the fortunate ones, ending up in an orphanage from which he's adopted by an Australian couple. 25 years later, Saroo is plagued with anxiety over the family he lost and begins a quest to find them, piecing together what little he can remember about his earliest years. As complex as this character is, Saroo (played brilliantly by Dev Patel and newcomer Sunny Pawar) shines as one of this year's most emotionally moving characters. ~Stephen McGarvey

See also: A Lost Son Searches for Home in Lion
 

5 ARRIVAL

Susan's nutshell review: "This thinking person's alien movie is less about creatures from space and more about how humans communicate. Arrival cleverly and unexpectedly takes what you think you know and turns it on its head. It may not touch your heart, but it will provide plenty of material for after-movie conversations. 3 out of 5."

Here because: It's the sci-fi movie 2016 desperately needed. First, Arrival turned the "alien movie" genre upside-down by making the central plot not about fighting for survival, but about language and communication. The personal narrative of Louise Banks, played so beautifully by Amy Adams, is highlighted by tender and smart storytelling techniques, which we've come to expect from director Denis Villeneuve (whose Prisoners made #9 on our 2013 list). Perhaps most significantly, Arrival accomplishes what films of this genre always should: it offers a fresh exhortation to humanity's struggles and weakness, using the power of the otherwordly metaphor. Like classic sci-fi from the '50s and '60s, it reminds us that the greatest danger to humanity will always be our own inner capacity for evil. Arrival speaks to our current world, one with more capacity for communication than ever. Will we use our mighty resources with patience and perseverance? Or will we continue to talk at and past one another, setting down the pen as we reach for the sword? ~Debbie Holloway
 

4 HACKSAW RIDGE

Christian's nutshell review: "Old-fashioned in the best sense of the word—focusing on duty and patriotism—the film also feels contemporary in its post-Saving Private Ryan approach to war footage. Those who can endure it will find that Hacksaw Ridge pays off handsomely. 5 out of 5."

Here because: What if, a year ago, I'd told you that Hollywood pariah Mel Gibson would direct a drama about the horrors of World War II's Pacific theater with a hero who was all at once a real person, a conscientious objector, a non-weapon-carrying medic and a Bible-quoting Seventh-Day Adventist... and this film would receive standing ovations at secular film festivals and be praised by both pacifists and war hawks alike? How in the world was THAT pulled off? Much of the credit goes to Andrew Garfield for his nuanced portrayal of Desmond Doss, and to the admirable beauty of the real Doss's own convictions. ~Shawn McEvoy

See also: Freedom of Conscience on Hacksaw Ridge: A Story for Our Times
 

3 HIDDEN FIGURES

Christian's nutshell review: "This film never comes across as a lecture as it tells the story of three African-American women employed as 'human computers' by NASA during the 1960s overcoming sexism and racial prejudice. It's instead an example of formulaic filmmaking done right—inspirational, enjoyable and educational. 4 out of 5."

Here because: Much like Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures is a movie that makes you genuinely wonder, "How have I never heard this story before?!" The best advancements civilizations make with their societal issues come when they are building toward something, in this case, the race for space. In such times where every hand is essential for pulling on the rope in one direction, we simply don't have time to get tied up in that rope due to ridiculous differences. The cream always rises in true meritocracies. But Hidden Figures isn't just about socieites or organizations learning to give their people - all their people - a chance to shine. It's about how these chances must be tirelessly fought for, sometimes loudly but always respectfully and often creatively, by incredible, courageous individuals. ~Shawn McEvoy

See Also: Get the Girl to Do It: The Important Message of Hidden Figures
 

2 LA LA LAND

Debbie's nutshell review: "Even more original and ambitious than it looked in the trailers, La La Land is a mixture of nostalgic musical numbers and compelling drama. While its leads have fantastic chemistry and the story draws us in, the song and dance numbers are occasionally jarring, landing the film at 3.5 out of 5."

Here because: We think La La Land will and should win Best Picture; only a painfully-crafted, master work of faith could have bested it for our #1. This colorful, relatable, bittersweet film was everything we've been whining about not getting in film today. It's somehow both original and nostalgic as it chronicles the highs and lows of life, pondering what it is that makes dreams come true. Do we commit to dreams of art, or to love? Can we even hope to reach our artistic dreams without a lover to believe in and inspire us? Can we have it all, or do dreams require sacrifice? And how is that question answered when timing also has its part to play? The cinematography is inspired - at times light and color deliver punches, at times darkness becomes a soft blanket. The jazzy melodies that run and repeat through this film are pitch-perfect. La La Land has everything! Now, some do take aim at the ending; some complain it's not a true or complete musical, and some rightly note that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly. But if you've ever performed at all... or dreamed, or loved, or wondered, you'll be thinking about (and humming the tunes from) La La Land for a very long time. Damien Chazelle is fast becoming one of our favorite directors for what he has done here and in Whiplash (Honorable Mention on our 2014 list) with extremely low budgets. See Hollywood? We audiences don't require so much after all. ~Shawn McEvoy

See Also: Why So Many People Loved La La Land... or Not
 

1 SILENCE

Debbie's nutshell review: "No bit of Silence is an accident or an afterthought. This Martin Scorsese adaptation of a Japanese novel by Shûsaku Endô is difficult, slow and lacking in a traditionally satisfying resolution, but its strength as an adaptation and the powerful filmmaking and performances warrant 4 out of 5."

Here because: [SPOILERS AHEAD] The title is no misnomer; this soundtrack-less movie (it instead features an "ambient soundscape") breathes in the quiet landscapes of 17th-century Japan. The audience is similarly silent, pondering the tests of life when God is, likewise, silent. Silence is truly a tale of "faith in its rawest form. Christians have long been enamored with the idea of 'glorious martyrdom,' but Silence quickly disabuses its viewers of any such notions. Like [Andrew Garfield's Father] Rodrigues, or maybe Peter if you need a biblical example, many Christians believe they are ready to suffer and die for Christ. Yet, when the time came, both men apostatized. Stripped of their pride and dignity, both thought themselves beyond the reach of God, only to discover God was still there. He had not only foreseen their betrayals, he had died to forgive them. How many of us would have the courage to rebuild a broken faith? How many of us would have the strength to endure? That is the great and terrible message which haunts every moment of Silence" ("Does Scorsese's Silence Promote Gospel or Blasphemy?"), and which earns it a place as Crosswalk's #1 Movie for 2016. ~Ryan Duncan & Shawn McEvoy

See also: Scorsese's Silence: Prepare to Wrestle with Some of the Deepest Questions of the Christian Faith
 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order)

Each panelist's Honorable Mention is a film that was highly-rated on his or her personal list which didn't end up making it into the overall Crosswalk Top 10.

I expected FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS to be funny, and it was. I didn't expect it to be such a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the power of love. The fact that Florence (Meryl Streep) had no talent didn't stop her from doing what she loved. Meanwhile, her husband (Hugh Grant) and accompanist (Simon Helberg) loved Florence enough to make her dream come true, no matter what it cost them personally. It was hilarious and beautiful and sweet, filled with bravura performances and impressive keyboard skills. Florence's singing was off-key but her heart rang true and so does this delightful film. ~Susan Ellingburg

JACKIE: A mesmerizing masterpiece of biopic risk-taking, director Pablo Larraín paints a psychological (rather than biographical) portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the days following JFK's assassination. It's a dramatization more pensive than narrative; expressionistic, not literal. Natalie Portman goes full Method in her transformation. Through her, Larraín's aesthetic comes alive, grieves, and resonates. Plus, these two refuse to peddle in sentimentality. Jackie is a singular immersion into the fragile yet resilient psyche of an iconic figure in the immediate aftermath of an American tragedy. ~Jeffrey Huston

While not entirely emotionally satisfying, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a stirring and cathartic ode to grief, family, loss, and Massachusetts. The enthralling classical score, heartfelt performances, and lovely landscapes (and seascapes) make this a film to remember, if not one to casually enjoy with friends on a Friday night. It contained some of the most poignant - and most tragic - cinematic moments of 2016, and it's hard to find many flaws in the filmmaking. ~Debbie Holloway

I’ll admit MOANA is fairly formulaic; the film gives off a bit of the typical princess/hero vibe that Disney is known for. It's certainly not as memorable as the wildly successful Frozen, or the hopelessly endearing Tangled. And yet, despite the familiar tropes of a hero's quest, Moana is a delightful version of the typical contemporary princess tale, beautifully set in the mythologies of native Pacific Island traditions. The main character is one kids can look up to and the secondary characters are colorful and hilarious. The animation is so thrillingly and painstakingly rendered that it's practically impossible to tell the difference between some scenes and actual video footage of the gorgeous islands they represent. This current golden age of Disney films has given us so many brilliant throwbacks to the classic Disney movies we all loved as kids. The makers of Moana should be proud that their work can take an honored place in that respected hall of fame. ~Stephen McGarvey

QUEEN OF KATWE: In a year of fiery, acclaimed documentaries about the African-American experience, Disney's gentle, based-on-actual-events story of an African girl (no America here, and what's more, no "white savior" character through whose eyes we might have seen the story) who becomes a chess champion was largely overlooked by audiences. That's a shame. Adding to the vibrant, visual delights and triumphant storyline of director Mira Nair's film is a Hollywood rarity: Christian characters depicted as gentle, kind and admirable. ~Christian Hamaker

Some have called it "The Case for Christ, 33 A.D." or "CSI: Jerusalem," but such monickers are too easy. RISEN is the Resurrection story we all treasure witnessed from an imagined but acceptable point of view - that of a Roman tribune tasked by Pilate with making sure Yeshua's tomb stays sealed and the populace remains at peace. Ah, yes, Peace... and what of Peace? Is there any way to come to know it via our own ambition, for us or for Joseph Fiennes' Clavius? What does doggedly tracking down Jesus Christ and his disciples do to a man? How can anyone ever be the same at the end of such a trail? Like the Gospels from which it takes its cues, Risen holds up to repeat viewings; I've seen it five times and continue to find it captivating. ~Shawn McEvoy

On the surface, ZOOTOPIA appears to be just another kid's movie about talking animals, but take a closer look, and you'll discover so much more. Zootopia is a funny, thoughtful film about prejudice, labeling and fear, and their consequences on a society, particularly when exploited. This may sound like a tall order for young audiences to handle, yet thanks to some clever storytelling, animated wit and spot-on voice casting, the movie never gets lost in the message. Plus, sloths? Working at the DMV? These jokes practically write themselves. ~Ryan Duncan
 

OUR PAST WINNERS

2015: 1 - Inside Out; 2 - Spotlight; 3 - Room
2014
: 1 - Selma; 2 - Calvary; 3 - The Grand Budapest Hotel
2013: 1 - 12 Years a Slave; 2 - Gravity; 3 - Frozen
2012: 1 - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; 2 - Lincoln; 3 - Les Misérables
2011: 1 - Hugo; 2 - The Help; 3 - Moneyball
2010: 1 - Inception; 2 - True Grit; 3 - The King's Speech
2009: 1 - Fantastic Mr. Fox; 2 - Up; 3 - Star Trek
2008: 1 - Wall-E; 2 - The Dark Knight; 3 - Slumdog Millionaire
2007: 1 - Ratatouille; 2 - Amazing Grace; 3 - The Bourne Ultimatum
2006: 1 - The Pursuit of Happyness; 2 - The Nativity Story; 3 - United 93 / World Trade Center
2005: 1 - Cinderella Man; 2 - Because of Winn-Dixie; 3 - Batman Begins
 

CRITIC'S CHOICE

We also asked each of our panelists to name his or her selections for the various categories below.

RYAN DUNCAN, Culture Editor

Best Animated Film - Moana
Best Family Film - Zootopia
Best Date Movie - Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Action Flick - Deadpool
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Silence
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Risen
Favorite Male Performance - Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Favorite Female Performance - Emma Stone, La La Land
Most Disappointing - (tie) The Nice Guys & Captain Fantastic
Most Pleasant Surprise - Zootopia
I Laughed - Hail, Caesar!
I Cried - Silence

SUSAN ELLINGBURG, Film Critic

Best Animated Film - Finding Dory
Best Family Film - Finding Dory
Best Date Movie - Passengers
Best Action Flick - Star Trek: Beyond
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Patriots Day
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Risen
Favorite Male Performance - Simon Helberg, Florence Foster Jenkins
Favorite Female Performance - Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Most Disappointing - The Founder
Most Pleasant Surprise - Money Monster
I Laughed - Florence Foster Jenkins
I Cried - Patriots Day

CHRISTIAN HAMAKER, Film Critic

Best Animated Film - Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Family Film - Loving
Best Date Movie - The Light Between Oceans
Best Action Flick - Hacksaw Ridge
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Hacksaw Ridge
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Last Days in the Desert
Favorite Male Performance - Ewan McGregor, Last Days in the Desert
Favorite Female Performance - Natalie Portman, Jackie
Most Disappointing - Rules Don't Apply
Most Pleasant Surprise - Finding Dory
I Laughed - Central Intelligence
I Cried - Hidden Figures

DEBBIE HOLLOWAY, Film Critic

Best Animated Film - Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Family Film - The Little Prince
Best Date Movie - La La Land
Best Action Flick - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Queen of Katwe
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Silence
Favorite Male Performance - Sunny Pawar, Lion
Favorite Female Performance - Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Most Disappointing - My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Most Pleasant Surprise - Keeping Up with the Joneses
I Laughed - Bad Moms
I Cried - Manchester by the Sea

JEFFREY HUSTON, Film Critic

Best Animated Film - Moana
Best Family Film - The BFG
Best Date Movie - La La Land
Best Action Flick - 13 Hours
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Silence
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Miracles from Heaven
Favorite Male Performance - Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Favorite Female Performance - Amy Adams, Arrival
Most Disappointing - Suicide Squad
Most Pleasant Surprise - Hidden Figures
I Laughed - Trolls
I Cried - Loving

SHAWN McEVOY, Managing Editor

Best Animated Film - Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Family Film - Hidden Figures
Best Date Movie - La La Land
Best Action Flick - Captain America: Civil War
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Silence
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Risen
Favorite Male Performance - Andrew Garfield, Silence
Favorite Female Performance - Emma Stone, La La Land
Most Disappointing - Sing
Most Pleasant Surprise - Hillsong: Let Hope Rise
I Laughed - Florence Foster Jenkins
I Cried - Queen of Katwe

STEPHEN McGARVEY, Editor-in-Chief

Best Animated Film - Moana
Best Family Film - Hidden Figures
Best Date Movie - La La Land
Best Action Flick - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Best Film with a Faith Theme - Silence
Best Faith-Based Film (i.e. 'Christian Movie') - Hillsong: Let Hope Rise
Favorite Male Performance - Andrew Garfield, Silence
Favorite Female Performance - Emma Stone, La La Land
Most Disappointing - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Most Pleasant Surprise - 13 Hours
I Laughed - Trolls
I Cried - Lion
 

OUR MOST POPULAR REVIEWS OF 2016

The films you the audience wanted to know about  - and clicked on - the most.

12. The Light Between Oceans, by Christian Hamaker
11. Miracles from Heaven, by Susan Ellingburg
10. The Young Messiah, by Jeffrey Huston
9. Zootopia, by Ryan Duncan
8. 13 Hours, by Susan Ellingburg
7. Suicide Squad, by Jeffrey Huston
6. God's Not Dead 2, by Christian Hamaker
5. Ben-Hur, by Susan Ellingburg
4. Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, by Shawn McEvoy
3. Top Films of 2015, by Editorial Staff & Film Critics
2. Risen, by Ryan Duncan
1. Deadpool, by Christian Hamaker

Finally, we'd like to thank you for your readership (and viewership of our video reviews) in 2016, especially as we kicked off our new format for text reviews, including star ratings and defined sections to make it easier for you to find what you need to know about any film. Speaking of which, three films in 2016 were given perfect 5-star ratings from our reviewers: Hacksaw Ridge (by Christian Hamaker), Florence Foster Jenkins (by Susan Ellingburg) and Moana (by Ryan Duncan), so it was good to see each of those films represented here!

It was an excellent year at CrosswalkMovies.com, ChristianMovieReviews.com and the CMR Facebook page. If you enjoyed this article or our regular reviews, please be sure to share them with your friends and family! From one set of Christian movie fans to another, thanks for a great year, God bless, and let us hear your reviews of the films listed here!

Publication date: February 9, 2017