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Best Movies for Grownups of 2016

AARP celebrates the 2016 films that made us feel, think, laugh and hope

  • Fences, Manchester by the Sea and Jackie made the 2016 MFG Reader's Poll
    David Lee/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Claire Folger/Courtesy Roadside Attractions, Pablo Larrains/Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    The Best of the Best

    Many great movies take up the complex subject of human relationships, but virtually all of this year’s Movies for Grownups Awards winners and nominees pay extra-special attention to the unique ebbs and flows of the bonds between people of a certain age. In a year that offered an unprecedented bounty of movies for grownups by grownups, here are our editors’ choices for 2016’s best of the best.

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  • Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in 'Loving'
    Ben Rothstein/Courtesy Focus Features

    Best Movie for Grownups

    Loving: When Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man, and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a black woman, convinced the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 that laws against mixed marriage were unconstitutional, America underwent a revolutionary change. In the hands of the stars and writer-director Jeff Nichols, Loving touches on grownup issues of racism, fairness and personal resilience with a gentle yet sure hand.

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  • Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in 'Manchester by the Sea'
    Claire Folger/Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

    Best Director

    Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea: Intimate as a tintype, expansive as the open sea, Lonergan’s vision of life in a small Massachusetts port town encompasses the calamities, big and small, that befall us on a daily basis. With an uncanny sense of timing, Lonergan slowly unfolds the awful secret behind his central character’s quiet agony and forces us to share in his profound realization: Sometimes life brings memories that are too awful for us to live with ... and yet live we do.

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  • Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in 'Fences'
    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Best Actor

    Denzel Washington, Fences: He smiles, yet the smile is poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “mask that grins and lies.” As a former Negro Leagues baseball player now working as a trash collector in 1950s Pittsburgh, Washington (directing himself) breathes anguished life into playwright August Wilson’s iconic character. He laughs with his best friend (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and professes devotion to his wife (Viola Davis), but through it all, Washington, in the performance of a lifetime, vibrates with rage and disappointment. 

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  • MCDTWCE EC02Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann in '20th Century Women'
    A24/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Best Actress

    Annette Bening, 20th Century Women: It’s possible that director Mike Mills could have told the film's entire story simply by focusing his camera on the achingly expressive eyes of his star. As Bening’s character experiences the travails of being the single mother of an adolescent boy, those eyes dance with joy, flicker with anger and mist over with regret — sometimes in a staggeringly affecting sequence during the same long take.

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  • Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in 'Hell or High Water'
    Lorey Sebastian/Courtesy of CBS Films

    Best Supporting Actor

    Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water: As a tired Texas Ranger on the trail of a pair of bank robbers, the Oscar-winning actor could have simply reanimated any one of his previous gruff, no-nonsense Western characters (from True Grit or Crazy Heart). But as always, Bridges digs in and finds the gristly heart of his guy.

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  • Viola Davis in ‘Fences’
    Lorey Sebastian/Courtesy of CBS Films

    Best Supporting Actress

    Viola Davis, Fences: From the get-go, we understand that Denzel Washington’s dark-souled Troy would be helpless without his long-suffering wife, Rose. But when an unforgivable indignity is heaped upon her character after decades of unbridled love and patience, Davis erupts in a tsunami of emotion that’s almost too powerful to be contained on-screen.

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  • Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in 'Manchester by the Sea'
    Claire Folger/Courtesy Roadside Attractions

    Best Screenwriter

    Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea: “Some of the funniest things happen on the saddest days,” says Lonergan — and Manchester exquisitely captures just how life refuses to separate comedy and tragedy, weaving the two into a single experience. Here, a deeply troubled handyman (Casey Affleck) is thrust into the role of guardian to his nephew (Lucas Hedges). We weep with the characters, yet humor lurks around every corner.

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  • A caucasian middle aged couple eat popcorn in movie theater with text that reads keep life fun and your calendar full.

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  • Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in 'La La Land'
    Dale Robinette/Courtesy Lionsgate

    Best Comedy/Musical

    La La Land: Lushly filmed, lovingly designed and endearingly performed by a pair of not-so-musical stars (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), La La Land meets and exceeds the prime directive of any movie musical: This old-fashioned, toe-tapping, earworm-inducing tune fest makes you forget everything that’s going on outside those theater doors.

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  • Natalie Portman in 'Jackie'
    William Gray/Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

    Best Time Capsule

    Jackie: For those of us who lived through the JFK assassination, it seems as if director Pablo Larraín has excavated our collective consciousness. There’s an uncanny rightness everywhere: the bright Dallas sun, the long Washington shadows, the delicate bouclé of that pink Chanel suit, the seamless incorporation of newsreel footage, the dreadfully dull thud of a drum along Pennsylvania Avenue. Being there again is no fun, but it is positively transfixing.

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  • Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in 'The Hollars'
    Jonny Coumoyer/Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Best Grownup Love Story

    The Hollars: She’s the matriarch, putting on a brave face despite impending brain-tumor surgery; he’s her doting husband, doubly distressed by her condition and the fact that his business is going belly-up. They laugh, they bicker, they cry (when each thinks the other isn’t looking). He depends on her for everything; she depends on his needing her. Throughout the film, we want only one thing for this pair: that they’ll have more years together.

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  • Isabelle Huppert in 'Elle'
    Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Best Foreign-Language Film

    Elle (France): Isabelle Huppert is astonishing as a businesswoman who takes charge of everything — even the quest for the masked man who attacked her in her home. And when she finds him, well, she takes command of that matter in a most unexpected way. The film’s comic undertones infuriated some filmgoers, but there’s no denying that the team of Huppert and director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) have crafted a bravely unconventional thriller.

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  • Treat Williams in ‘The Congressman’
    Thomas Hurd/Shadow Distribution/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Breakthrough Achievement

    Robert Mrazek, First-Time Director, The Congressman: A five-term U.S. congressman from Long Island who helped write the National Film Preservation Act, Mrazek decided to try something else at age 70: He wrote, produced and codirected his first feature film, the story of a disillusioned Maine congressman (Treat Williams) who returns to his home district to rediscover why he got into politics in the first place.

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  • Jennifer Saunders as 'Edina' and Joanna Lumley as 'Patsy' in the film ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE
    David Appleby/Twentieth Century Fox

    Best Buddy Picture

    Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley: They’re boozy, bawdy and basically clueless — but there are no more fiercely devoted friends than London PR party girl Edina and her martini-swilling pal Patsy. Saunders and Lumley have been playing this pair since 1992, and their alter egos are still shoulder to shoulder, vainly casting themselves as tastemakers of the 21st century.

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    Abramorama/courtesy Everett Collection

    Best Documentary

    The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years: Yes, Ron Howard’s tribute to the Beatles’ brief concert career includes every major song from the lads’ early canon. And yes, there’s a unique raw energy in this live footage. But mostly this film is about us — the screaming, dancing, mop top–crazed kids who couldn’t get enough of these blokes and who thought it would never end.  

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  • Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Annette Bening in 20TH CENTURY WOMEN
    Gunther Gampine/Courtesy of A24

    Best Intergenerational Film

    20th Century Women: Dorothea, a middle-aged single mom (Annette Bening), has a lot to learn about America’s emerging post-’70s culture — and she gets the lowdown from a young boarder (Greta Gerwig) and the best friend (Elle Fanning) of her teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann). But writer-director Mike Mills’ tendrils of intergenerational sharing stretch in all directions.

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    Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up

    Kubo and the Two Strings: No snide pop-culture references here, no annoying wisecracking. This thrilling and often melancholy adventure, about a Japanese boy who sets out to solve the mystery of his fallen samurai father, unfolds like a wide-screen work of origami, its images and characters seemingly crafted from intricately folded paper.  

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