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Warren Beatty returns to the screen for the first time in 15 years as Howard Hughes in "Rules Don't Apply."

Associated Press

Perhaps appropriate for a tumultuous year, 2016's best films were filled with people struggling to find out where they stand in the world, sometimes finding solace or solid ground, sometimes not. There's still quite a few number of major films I've yet to catch up with ("Silence," "Moonlight," "Toni Erdmann"), but at the start of 2017, here are the best films I saw this year.

1. "Happy Hour": The best film I saw this year, a five-hour long Japanese drama about three women who question their lives when a friend announces her divorce from her husband, is the least immediately accessible on my list, but one worth keeping an eye out for whenever it does become widely available. An intimate epic in which intimacy is the epic, no film surprised me more this year with its empathetic reach. 

2. "Manchester by the Sea"Casey Affleck gives the year's best performance in Kenneth Lonergan's film about pain that can and can't be overcome, and how people make it worse. Bottled up and undemonstrative, Lee's late-film encounter with ex-wife Michelle Williams was the year's most heartrending scene, a pair of dueling arias of regret and despair. 

3. "Certain Women": Kelly Reichardt specializes in "small" stories with grand emotional stakes, and this triptych about women in Montana (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, a sensational Lily Gladstone) understood like few other films the difficulty of connecting to people who aren't fully listening. Bonus points for being one of the few modern films to understand how spread out everything is in the Great Plains.

4. "Everybody Wants Some!!"Richard Linklater's spiritual sequel to "Dazed and Confused" equals that earlier film's loose, rambling fun and observational empathy. Few films about college dudes goofing around are as insightful, and few films about the search for truth are this fun. The film is available on home video and on video on demand.

5. "O.J.: Made in America": Released as a miniseries on ESPN but conceived as a film, Ezra Edelman's masterfully edited documentary draws upon centuries of racial animus and cavalier attitudes toward abuse of women to tell an epic story of the rise and fall of an American icon, and the social issues that made a crime (and acquittal) possible. The film is available on Hulu.

6. "Lemonade": Yes, this feature-length Beyonce music video is one of the best films of the year. Drawing upon the landmark works of black women filmmakers (Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust," Kasi Lemmons' "Eve's Bayou"), Beyonce and a cadre of talented filmmakers filtered personal and national pain into a staggering work of healing and catharsis. The film is available on Tidal. 

7. "Rules Don't Apply": A wounded duck of a movie, Warren Beatty's fifth film was weirder, funnier and more moving than the average prestige picture, a tale of idealism gone sour and of how power leads to pain, even accidentally. 

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8. "Elle": Paul Verhoeven ("Robocop," "Basic Instinct," "Black Book") returns with a (very) darkly comic psychological thriller about the overlap between trauma and desire. Isabelle Huppert gives one of her best performances, one that constantly pulls the rug out from under our expectations.

9. "The Witch"The year's best horror movie saw the supernatural acting as a catalyst for familial distrust and superstition. There's little comfort in its unnerving ending, which suggests that the only way to survive hell on earth is to embrace it. The film is available on home video and video on demand.

10. "Kill Zone 2": The year's best action film, meanwhile, saw martial arts stars Tony Jaa and Wu Jing teaming up for some of the most inventively directed shootouts and fist fights in ages. Better still, director Cheang Pou-soi embraces his melodramatic plot, giving even the film's most sentimental sidetracks real flair. The film is available on Netflix Instant.

11-30: "Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids" (on Netflix), "Sully" (on video on demand), "Evolution" (on video on demand), "Right Now, Wrong Then" (on Fandor), "Green Room" (on Amazon Prime), "Tower" (on video on demand), "Krisha" (on Amazon Prime), "De Palma" (on Amazon Prime), "Demon" (on video on demand), "13th" (on Netflix), "High-Rise" (on Netflix), "Weiner" (on video on demand),"Cafe Society" (on video on demand), "The Edge of Seventeen," "Hail, Caesar!" (on video on demand), "The Lobster" (on Amazon Prime), "The Wailing" (on Netflix), "Always Shine" (on video on demand), "Cemetery of Splendor" (on Netflix), "Embrace of the Serpent" (on Amazon Prime)

Max B. O’Connell has written about movies for websites like Indiewire, Movie Mezzanine and his blog, The Film Temple. Follow him on Twitter (@thefilmtemple) for his thoughts on film.

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