A perfect 5-star rating is hard to achieve. It SHOULD be hard to achieve, by design. Movies rarely are perfect, though we appreciate the ones that strive for greatness. And this year, though we handed out numerous 4.5-star grades to movies like Moana, American Honey, Hell or High Water and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we only distributed 5-star ratings to eight films.

These, then, are the cream of the crop. They are the best films that the critics at CinemaBlend saw, the ones that made us go all the way to the top of our ratings scale and give out the perfect grade. Chances are you will read about these movies again as we start to publish our personal Top 10 lists on the site this week. So, how many of these perfect films did you see? And do you agree that, for 2016, these were as close to perfection as the year could manage?

Arrival

Denis Villeneuve, who is about to break it big with Blade Runner 2049 and a possible reboot of Dune, shows off his knack for intelligent science-fiction with this astounding contemplation of the global community's reaction to First Contact. Amy Adams plays a key linguist brought in to establish communication with an alien species, potentially preventing World War III in the process.

From our review:

Like the best examples of science-fiction, dating back to the earliest examples of stories in the genre, Arrival says as much about what is happening in our current global-political environment as it does about what could happen if we don't learn from a few of this movie's messages. Villeneuve announced his presence as a complicated and challenging storyteller by delivering smart and difficult dramas like Prisoners and Sicario. Here, he argues that in our tense and trigger-happy world, we rarely take the time to clarify intent before we act. Not just on a national level, but also in our own personal relationships. And how many conflicts, both massive and minuscule, could be avoided -- politically, religiously and socially -- if the parties involved paused long enough to discuss a supposed problem, particularly if it springs from a miscommunication?

The Nice Guys

Welcome back to the land of film noir, Shane Black! After a detour to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Iron Man 3 with his frequent collaborator Robert Downey Jr., Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) once again is telling a seedy detective yarn in his favorite city (Los Angeles) during his favorite time period (the dirty, grimy 1970s). Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are a dream team for private dick jokes, the case is deliciously twisted, and Black's attention to period detail are to die for.

From our review:

The Nice Guys is, obviously in many ways, a throwback, in not just its aesthetic and larger mystery-driven narrative, but it often takes advantage of those sensibilities by generating certain expectations and surprising the audience with last minute sharp left turns. As winding as compelling as the plot is, there is also no sacrifice of character building at all, as we intimately get to know all of the key players at the center of the story, and genuinely care about what happens to them by the end.

La La Land

The other "Ryan Gosling in L.A." movie to come out this year, and one that's equally delightful, just in a different way. Whiplash director Damien Chazelle tries another musical, this one more traditional than his little-seen directorial debut Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Focused on the dreamers who chase impossible goals in Los Angeles, La La Land is drunk on the chemistry between Gosling and Emma Stone, and boasts the year's most memorable and rewarding soundtrack of original hits.

From our review:

The director blends the hazy glow of Old Hollywood allure with the depressing grind of making it modern show business, and he improves his already electric skill and precision at marrying striking visual imagery with snare-tight musical cues and edits. La La Land opens like gangbusters, and builds to a magnificent conclusion that should lock up its spot in the annual awards race.

Captain America: Civil War

You knew a superhero movie would have to make this list (and Deadpool came close to joining the ranks). This is the Golden Age of comic book adaptations, and Joe and Anthony Russo's Captain America: Civil War expertly continued to expand the tapestry that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe by: introducing new heroes; tearing apart existing heroes; bringing majestic Marvel storylines to life; and laying a strong foundation on which future MCU directors can build.

From our review:

Functioning as both a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Solider and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the film is the most comprehensive Marvel Cinematic Universe chapter to date, and while that put a great deal on the plate of writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the movie soars because the challenge is accepted and responded to in brilliant and entertaining fashion. Bringing together tremendous character dynamics; bold structure; an emotional narrative earned after years of story work; and spell-binding, fun action sequences, it's everything a blockbuster should be.

High-Rise

Ben Wheatley makes odd, arresting and engrossing films, from Kill List (2011) to Sightseers (2012). With High-Rise, he pushes the envelope of what's expected from even a Wheatley movie, setting off a towering building where every floor promises something more bizarre than the next. Wheatley is an acquired taste, for sure, but those who dig him will no doubt be hungering for his next film, Free Fire, due in theaters in 2017.

From our review:

Comparisons to David Lynch or Federico Fellini are inevitable, but Ben Wheatley's tongue in cheek tone and cinematic charismatic and personality is more akin to the work of Ken Russell and Robert Downey Snr as he is able to find the humor in every scene, even when he is dealing with serious themes, as he showers his dialogue thick with subtext and meaning. Despite being darkly comedic, High-Rise's lack of equilibrium means that there's an edge and unpredictability that's uncomfortable yet engrossing. All this does is make High-Rise gloriously idiosyncratic, though, especially for modern mainstream cinema.

Zootopia

What a year for Walt Disney Animation. The studio behind Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph is ending very strong with Moana. But it also delivered a modern masterpiece with surprising cultural commentary in Zootopia, a story (on the surface) of a dedicated bunny doing everything she can to make it as a police officer on the streets of the title town. But dig down deep, and Zootopia talks at length about the labels that divide us, all in a colorful and exciting animated package that'll entertain the whole family.

From our review:

Inside this fun Disney movie is a real look at what happens when different people and cultures find themselves crammed together in the same space. It's not always peaceful, and it's not pretty. Bias, and outright prejudice, exist. Some is overt, much is born from fear, and some comes from the most well-meaning of places, from those who simply don't think their actions through. Sometimes it comes from us, even when we don't mean it to. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar, in a ripped-from-the-headlines kind of way. However, Zootopia doesn't push, and it doesn't preach. There's an important lesson to be learned here, and as it is located inside of a Disney animated feature, it has the potential to reach places where it might not otherwise be heard.

The Witch

For all the talk about 2016 being a disappointing year, the horror genre produced several winners. Only one, though, received a perfect 5-star grade from us, and that was Robert Eggers' New England folk tale, The Witch. Set in the 17th century, the story wonders if the responsible teenage daughter of a fractured family may or may not be possessed by an evil entity. There's also a gruff goat named Black Phillip, as if the central scares in the movie weren't terrifying enough. The end of The Witch will have you debating with friends for months.

From our review:

It's very rare to say this, but everything about The Witch is exquisitely constructed. Its acting, lighting, music, writing, production design, cinematography, editing, and direction all immediately impress. While, at the same time, they combine to create an innately bewitching tale that keeps you on tenterhooks all the way up until its grandiose but enthralling finale.

A Monster Calls

One of our most recent reviews, yet still, one of the best films of the year. We are huge fans of director J.A. Bayona on CinemaBlend, after he took us on incredible rides with The Orphanage and The Impossible. His new A Monster Calls is a total tear-jerker, with an astounding performance by young Lewis MacDougall as a boy losing his mom (Felicity Jones) to cancer. Bring tissues, but be prepared to love every frame of this masterpiece.

From our review:

J.A. Bayona is a masterful filmmaker with a spectacular visual eye, a high-bar taste for visual effects, impeccable pacing skills, and the power to play our heartstrings the way a harpist gracefully plucks his or her prized instrument. His previous films -- The Orphanage and The Impossible -- were brilliant genre exercises that surprised with the staggering amount of heart and wisdom that could be found beneath the surface of his story. After The Impossible, I called Bayona the next Steven Spielberg. If that's true, then A Monster Calls is his E.T.

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