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20 Best Movies of 2016

From incendiary tragedies to indie musicals, Martin Scorsese to ‘Manchester by the Sea’ – Peter Travers picks the year’s top films

In 2016, Hollywood showed us a world where black lives matter, a musical had meaning, young filmmakers could strut their stuff alongside the classic likes of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and the Coen brothers – and no subject was too hot to handle. Here are 20 movies that reminded us that the best of cinema, whether studio-financed or independently-produced, is capable of lots of things beyond sequels, prequels, remakes, retreads and the Marvel Comic Universe. (Check out our 25 Best Movie Performances of 2016 list here.)

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Clint Eastwood's brand of classic, no-bullshit filmmaking finds perfect form as a beautifully understated Tom Hanks plays Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the hero pilot who ditched his disabled plane on the Hudson River and saved the lives of all on board. Job well done. That goes for the man and the movie.

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Jackie Kennedy has been so microscopically examined in the media that you wonder what else is there to tell. And then you see her in Jackie, in the days following JFK's assassination, and you think you hardly knew her. Such is the revelatory vision of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín and the astonishing Natalie Portman in the title role.

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Martin Scorsese's passion project (in development since 1990) follows two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) to 17th-century Japan, where they search for their mentor priest (Liam Neeson) and risk torture and death for preaching Christianity. Matters of faith and its meaning in a material world have long obsessed Scorsese. Silence is alternately brutal and cerebral. Some may balk at grappling with moral ambiguity for two and a half hours. Who needs them. Scorsese has crafted a film of potent provocation and fervent heart.

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What a triumph for Denzel Washington, who directs and stars in the film version of the stage success by the late, great August Wilson. Washington is monumental as a former Negro League baseball player now collecting garbage in Pittsburgh and roaring against anything that challenges his authority as husband and father. Viola Davis is Oscar material as his wife. The film betrays its origins as a play. But what a play. And you won't see performance fireworks like this anywhere.

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Three wonderful actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) play the same boy at different stages of growing up black, gay and alienated in the Miami projects. Director Barry Jenkins handles every aspect of filmmaking, from dialogue to visuals, like the young master he is.

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‘La La Land’

A musical as movie of the year? You bet your ass. Damien Chazelle directs this rapturous song-and-dance romance as if cinema was invented for him to play with – and for us to get high on. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling hit career peaks as lovers who try to make their creative dreams come true on the mean, art-fearing streets of the New Hollywood. La La Land swings for the fences. Chazelle puts his heart right out there where hipsters can mock him as tragically untrendy. He's not. He's an innovator, a fresh talent who puts technique in the service of feeling and makes the future of film seem like a bright prospect.

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