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Top 5 on-screen highlights from 2016 that didn't play a theater near you

Scanning the images from a crazy, exhausting year, it's hard to measure their collective weight because with the election results we've just had, well … Karen Carpenter was right. We've only just begun.

I've done my best/worst films of 2016. Going through the titles, however, the "Moonlights" and "Suicide Squads," it kept nagging at me: The images I have yet to shake did not play at a theater near me.

We film everything all the time. A generation from now we'll know what that did to our lives, as we lived them.

Because we film everything all the time, we now know a little something about that down-home charmer in the checkout line at a  J.C. Penney store in Louisville, Ky., the one who couldn't stop telling the Latinas ahead of her that they were "nobodies" and welfare queens and drains on what Bill O'Reilly recently called, without questioning its birthright, "the white establishment."

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It's undeniable: Some of 2016's most compelling and truthful short- and long-form visual storytelling, professional or amateur, existed in a realm far, far away from "La La Land" or "Manchester by the Sea." So here's a Top 5 that has very little to do with the film industry per se, foreign or domestic. But their images stick with us for a reason.

5. "Lemonade": Beyonce's hourlong video album accompanying her new song cycle premiered on HBO in April. For its dazzling visual variety, its assured juggling of personae, its expression of what it means to be not just a superstar diva but a woman of color in early 21st century America, this was the best kind of mainstream wow.

4. The Mannequin Challenge: The meme of the year inspired spinoff video after video of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and your nephew Willie striking a pose, as part of a narrative tableau or a one-off sight gag, and then holding it as best they could. Chicago film professor and videographer Kevin B. Lee put it wonderfully to me the other day: "It's the next-level selfie. It's social self-documentation. It's how people chose to communicate their lives to one another, with a mix of nonfiction authenticity and creative filmmaking."

3. Game 7 of the World Series: Nearly five hours of suspense, drama, psychodrama, offstage mystery (that inspiring pep talk during the rain delay), nail-biting thrills, ending in the removal of a curse and a bursting dam of jubilation. I almost didn't buy the ending.

2. The Megyn Kelly/Donald J. Trump interview: Back in May the Fox News star, whose broadcast journalism strengths are in constant, ratings-friendly struggle with her more craven show business instincts, sat with the Republican presidential nominee for roughly 16 on-air minutes of slow, easy softball pitches right down the middle.

Kelly told Stephen Colbert in advance that she wanted to reveal to the American voters a softer, more "restrained" side of the man who called her a menstruating bimbo during one of the Republican debates. The second Trump started tweeting his adoration of the kiss-and-make-up session, it was clear that Kelly's humanizing mission had been accomplished. And thanks to a hundred other quirks of fate, here we are.

1. The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey: So much real-life horror took place before so many cameras this year. On Dec. 19, Russian envoy Andrei Karlov was shot to death in an Ankara art gallery, its blinding white walls recalling the 1967 John Boorman thriller "Point Blank." Soon video of the assassination went viral, and it's scarily watchable because of what happens before the gun comes out (the killer, an off-duty Ankara police officer, edging into frame like Trump stalking Clinton in one of their debates) and the numbing political screed immediately afterward.

But in a world ruled by rampant digital video chronicling our planet's daily tragedies, it was the still images captured by Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici that grabbed the world's attention. Yes, these photographs are easier to stomach than the raw video. But we see more, and think more about what we're seeing. And that's what happens when you have a professional in the room, doing his job, even — literally — under the gun.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

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