John’s top 10 movies of 2016

These were my 10 favorite movies of 2016:

1. “The Witch” – This horror film set in Colonial America delivers a striking sense of time and place (so much so that you might want to put the subtitles on to grasp the language), with life-threatening poverty as an omnipresent invisible character. On top of that, it invokes another layer of foreboding horror: The religion-fomented fears are so real to this family – including Anya Taylor-Joy in a breakout turn as teenager Thomasin — that they become real to us. Against this backdrop, the idea of “living deliciously” as a witch becomes a viable — although still creepy as hell — escape hatch. (Full-length review)

2. “The Conjuring 2” – A lot of horror films are superficially like “The Conjuring 2,” but this one goes deeper to become a rich and smart work of art. Layers that will draw you in include the rickety and drafty London flat, the multifaceted mystery behind the alleged haunting, the way the American ghost hunters (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, returning from the first movie) piece together the clues, and the girl (Madison Wolfe) who is either faking or fighting her possession. (Full-length review)

3. “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” – 2016 was a breakthrough year for “girls acting as dumb as the guys” comedies, but while “Neighbors 2” was a strikeout and “Bad Moms” was a solid single, “Mike and Dave” is a home run. Watching Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick be even more uncouth than Zac Efron and Adam Devine is part of the fun, but the film also delivers a bigger dose of funny set-pieces than any other comedy this year, highlighted by the insane massage scene starring “X-Files Files” podcaster Kumail Nanjiani and the vocally unique Sugar Lyn Beard. (Full-length review)

4. “10 Cloverfield Lane” – Some J.J. Abrams (he’s a producer here) puzzle boxes get too bogged down in complexity (like “Fringe” and “Lost”), but others – like this self-contained movie – know when to wrap things up. Sure, it’s part of the “Cloverfield” franchise for those who want to look at the big picture, but it mainly plays as taut thriller about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who finds herself in the underground bunker of a kindly/crazy man (John Goodman), who claims he has saved her from the nuclear fallout above. (Full-length review)

5. “Independence Day: Resurgence” – This long-overdue sequel is “ID:4” on steroids, but in a good way, similar to last year’s “Jurassic World.” More cities get destroyed in hilariously over-the-top fashion, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman chew more scenery, and the “ID:4” franchise grows into a grand sci-fi adventure saga with stakes beyond Earth. A new group of young stars – including Maika Monroe and Jesse T. Usher as the offspring of the first film’s heroes – emerges to take the series into more sequels. (Unfortunately, audience malaise toward “ID:R” will probably prevent that from happening.) (Full-length review)

6. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – After the tightly plotted “Harry Potter” saga seemed to preclude further stories, J.K. Rowling — in her film writing debut — delightfully gives us more of her wizarding world with the start of a five-film prequel saga set in 1920s New York City. The period scenery and the creatures – like the jewelry-grubbing niffler – are a blast, but the most pleasant surprise is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a rare blockbuster-movie hero with extreme (but disarming) social awkwardness. (Full-length review)

7. “X-Men: Apocalypse” – The entertaining reset button that was 2014’s “Days of Future Past” allowed “X-Men” to do an in-universe reboot without scrapping the previous mythology, and both “Deadpool” and “Apocalypse” took advantage of it this year. While the R-rated former was more widely liked, I appreciated the latter, which features an intriguingly casual turn by Oscar Isaac as the titular villain and a bevy of fresh mutants – including Olivia Munn’s striking Psylocke – who will choose their sides in future installments. (Full-length review)

8. “The Edge of Seventeen” – With the innately likable Hailee Steinfeld in the lead role, rarely has a film about the shallow concerns of teenagerdom felt quite so deep. Rather than being a frustrating experience following Nadine’s self-sabotaging actions, we sympathize with her victims — a potential love interest, a dismissed best friend, and a brother who never gets the benefit of the doubt – as she gradually figures it out with a bit of tough-love guidance from teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). (Full-length review)

9. “The Boy” – This horror flick starts with a “What the heck?” mystery: Greta (“The Walking Dead’s” Lauren Cohan) takes a job house-sitting, and also babysitting a ceramic doll known as Brahms, whom the house-owners sincerely believe to be their son. After the predictable hints that maybe the doll is indeed a real boy, the mystery deepens, leading to a creepy and satisfying payoff. (Full-length review)

10. “Allegiant” – The third entry of the “Divergent” film series left viewers so uninterested (even though many admit it’s better than the book of the same name) that there’s now some question of whether the fourth and final entry will even be made. So I find myself in the weird position of being an apologist for an installment that takes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Friends beyond the wall of dystopian Chicago and deepens the mythology. In an effective introduction to big ideas for the Y.A. crowd, it also asks whether handing power, money, industry and technology to a select few will lead to a fair and equal future, or one that devastates all humanity — even if Jeff Daniels is the overseer of those select few. (Full-length review)

What were your favorite films of 2016? Share your lists in the comment threads below.