I've learned over time that anyone claiming to list the 10 best movies of any year is a fool.
A record 336 movies qualified for this year's Academy Awards and hundreds more didn't.
Nobody can possibly see every cinematic effort released to theaters, streamed on home video, downloaded on devices or projected on some garage wall. Nor would they wish to.
All we can realistically do is list our personal favorites of the movie year, for whatever subjective reasons. As 2016 crawls exhausted to a close, these are nine movies from this year that I most enjoyed sitting through and writing about, plus an Oscar-eligible television production binged later.
Here's to more movies to love in 2017. Happy New Year.
1 Moonlight: Barry Jenkins' mesmeric coming-of-self tale set in Miami "practically vibrates with authenticity, a sense of unique place and unsure purpose, gliding like a dream from which one doesn't wish to awaken." Review: tbtim.es/moonlight.
2 Hell or High Water: Jeff Bridges chases bank-robbing brothers in "a movie with Lone Star swagger matching its dusty characters, scripted by Taylor Sheridan with the arcing tension he took south of the border in last year's thrilling Sicario." Review: tbtim.es/highwater.
3 La La Land: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in "an honest-to-Vincente Minnelli blend of original music and golden age Hollywood presentation. La La Land is a trove of references to musical milestones, not derivative but truly inspired. A more joyful movie for grown-ups can't be found this season." Review: tbtim.es/lalaland.
4 Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck is an Oscar frontrunner for "a gracefully coarse ode to lives knocked down and if not bouncing back at least not splatting at rock bottom. … (Kenneth) Lonergan writes characters too damaged for happy endings then offers them just enough goodness to keep going." Review: tbtim.es/manchester.
5 American Honey: Andrea Arnold's road trip "feels like a postmillennial's graven image on screen. Not that everyone under 25 wants to be itinerant, crammed into a ratty van with a dozen other aimless, pansexual runaways, peddling obsolete things to strangers. It's these merry pranksters' tribal optimism in times without promise, bonded by culture. … This teen spirit smells authentic." Review: tbtim.es/honey.
6 The Witch: Robert Eggers' filmmaking debut is "a creep show of nearly pedestrian dread, not making viewers jump out of their seats but sink deep into them, retreating from a malignant force building on the screen — not a monster or slasher but the movie itself." Review: tbtim.es/thewitch.
7 O.J.: Made in America: Qualifying for an Oscar nomination allows an ESPN production onto the list. More than recapping the trial of the last century, this monumental documentary autopsied race relations and celebrity, never feeling eight hours long.
8 Sing Street: Another John Carney musical valentine "filled with swoon-inducing sequences, like the boys' shoestring attempt at a music video, that squeeze laughs around that lump in your throat. … It's touching, and you can dance to it. What's not to love?" Review: tbtim.es/singstreet.
9 Arrival: Amy Adams stars in "science fiction at its most romantic, a closer encounter with human nature than extraterrestrials. It's one of a handful of movies that have legitimately fooled me; not with an abrupt twist but a dawning awareness of where it's going thematically, how deeply and how distanced from sci-fi as usual." Review: tbtim.es/arrival.
10 The Lobster: Colin Farrell leads "a shrewd piece of social science fiction … (that) remains strangely romantic throughout, an absurdist take on the notion that great love stories — Casablanca, The Way We Were, Gone With the Wind — don't always end tidily. Review: tbtim.es/thelobster
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Fences: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, shown right, are deserving Golden Globes nominees.
2 Jackie: Natalie Portman excels as Jacqueline Kennedy, protecting her late husband's legacy.
3 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Skywalker saga spinoff, dark as Darth Vader's helmet.
4 Lion: An Indian boy is lost, adopted, and reunited with his mother by using Google Earth.
5 Why Him? No awards bait here, just plenty of laughs with Bryan Cranston and James Franco.
(Dates subject to change)
Jan. 6: Hidden Figures; A Monster Calls; Underworld: Blood Wars
Jan. 13: Patriots Day; Live by Night; Captain Underpants; The Bye Bye Man
Jan. 20: 20th Century Women
Jan. 27: Gold