1. Arrival: A female myth in which a woman’s ability to see holistically instead of divisively is matched by the story’s structure, and results in a personal and global revolution. This shows the power of story structure in film, and what creating your own unique structure can do for your story.
2. Fences: As talky and uncinematic as you can imagine. But this drama about the moral accounting of a man and his family, a man who has lived his entire life with two strikes against him, has more emotional punch than any movie this year.
3. La La Land: A lovely reinvention of the old musical love stories. But a lack of believable love story beats between the two leads and a hollow, unearned structural twist make the emotional bubbly go flat at the end.
4. Hell or High Water: Using a vortex structure, this crime story, set in the north Texas desert, just keeps getting better. Not great, but it stands out in a weak field.
5. Zootopia: The female bunny in this delightful combination of buddy comedy, detective and myth navigates her way through one of the most richly detailed story worlds in some time, and shows us how living with differences can be, if not a utopia, pretty darn close.
6. Moonlight: An intense drama in which a boy struggles against negative cycles to become a man, and more importantly, become who he really is. Because of the almost hopeless situation and a complete lack of narrative drive, this film is often tough to watch. But hang in there. It’s more than worth it.
7. Hacksaw Ridge: The last third is a gore fest in slow motion. But the heroics of a real medic in World War II are inspiring beyond words.
8. Manchester by the Sea: A family drama whose dominant ghost beat, episodic structure and complete lack of plot make it feel painfully slow. But I loved the anti-Hollywood honesty in the payoff.
9. Sully: A personal myth in which the everyman hero is portrayed as a flying genius and a humble saint. A lot of padding, but they really stick the landing.
10. Hidden Figures: Another personal myth that tracks the contributions three black women made to the space program in the early 1960s. Fun and inspiring if you can overlook gushing sentimentality, social drama clichés and Kevin Costner playing God.
11. 20th Century Women: A family comedy-drama that is one long group therapy session. Apparently, the writer has not heard of plot.
12. Captain Fantastic: A hippie Peter Pan and his family of Lost Boys and Girls try to deal with the modern world by escaping back to a wilderness re-education camp. You have to suffer through a lot of leftist platitudes, preachy dialogue and stupid decisions for them to find out disengagement doesn’t work either.
13. Jackie: An attempt at a personal myth, this one about Jackie Kennedy and the Camelot myth. Unfortunately zero narrative drive means the film is a jumbled talkfest with Jackie angry, sad or just plain looney.
14. Nocturnal Animals: One long self-revelation by a disillusioned artist intercut with a brutal murder in the west Texas desert. As dull, pretentious and unpleasant as it sounds. The most over-rated script in a year with lots of them.