2016 was an exceptional year for film. The level of quality was so high that I’ve decided to extend my list from 10 films to 15, and even so there are a couple of absentees such as “Sausage Party” and “Don’t Breathe” that I was very tempted to add.
My favourite films of the year will appear on this list in ascending order from the ones that I liked a lot to the ones that I liked the most. If you think that I’ve missed out any exceptional films then please feel free to comment with the ones that you think should appear – you may recommend something that I end up loving! Otherwise, please read and enjoy!
15. Hardcore Henry
“Hardcore Henry” captures everything that’s good about the action genre and crams it into 90 minutes. It’s an adventure that feels so much larger than life that it could never possibly happen, yet the first-person camera allows the audience to experience the action through their own eyes much like they would if they were playing a video game.
The similarities between how this film is presented and how a first-person shooter would be presented are undeniable, and even someone like my dad who doesn’t actually play video games immediately mentioned that “Hardcore Henry” reminded him of that medium. As such this film isn’t particularly pretty; much of it passes by in a blur just as it would if it were happening to you in real life, as quick movements by the leading man result in disorientation and a lack of camera focus. This might prove challenging for some, and as such I wouldn’t recommend this movie to absolutely everyone, but I thought that it worked for the most part and felt like a natural extension of the found footage genre.
The film’s biggest shortcoming is undoubtedly its story, which feels as though it belongs in a game more than it does on the big screen, but this doesn’t ruin the movie as a whole. It’s not that the story isn’t clear throughout or that it doesn’t feature prominently, it’s just that it acts as a vehicle for the action rather than the main attraction, and you’re never really able to care about the hero or the villain because the natural association to video games neutralises any sense of danger. It’s simply impossible to become invested in the way that would be required to make the story feel worthwhile because other aspects of the film take centre stage and push it to one side.
Nevertheless, from start to finish this film is pure entertainment and if you like gore and well-choreographed action set pieces then there’s no reason that you can’t enjoy it for what it is.
“Hardcore Henry” isn’t a film for cinema purists, but in my opinion it encapsulates everything that a film of this ilk should be; funny, violent, and visually captivating, it’s escapism at its finest.
14. The Accountant
Like “Hardcore Henry”, “The Accountant” is an entertaining film that’s fun to watch from start to finish but isn’t always intelligent. That isn’t to say that its story is lacking in any meaningful way or that it’s a simple blockbuster, but in order to buy into what’s happening on screen you often have to rely on the suspension of disbelief. I’m fine with this provided that the film in question is able to retain my attention and keep me invested in its characters, so whilst I don’t think this film’s story is particularly ground-breaking I was very happy once I’d left the cinema.
Affleck’s lead performance was the standout feature of the film as his comedic timing made what could’ve been a clichéd action movie feel more like a nuanced black comedy, and his mannerisms made his character undeniably likeable throughout.
Whether or not you’ll have an affinity for this film depends on whether or not you can become invested in the story that it presents, and this is something which could prove to be problematic for some viewers as there are parts that fall flat and unintentionally muddy the waters, but in my opinion it’s a nice movie with a couple of standout moments that elevate it towards being fantastic.
Perhaps if the story had been tighter and less reliant on convenience then “The Accountant” would’ve placed higher on this list, but even so from my perspective the positive aspects comfortably outweigh the negatives.
13. 10 Cloverfield Lane
I love psychological horror, and whilst this film is a little bit tame to confidently place within that genre, it packs everything that’s great about it into its 104 minute runtime.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is at its most effective in its quieter moments as the audience is left alone to wonder what’s really going on both within the underground bunker and beyond its walls. John Goodman’s powerful performance makes Howard (his character) the focus of attention, with his true intentions being the main source of horror in the film. Goodman provides a sense of unease to every scene that he’s in, even when he’s not losing his mind over the smallest of discourtesies, and it’s because of his performance that this movie works so well.
As the audience you never really know what to think about Howard, and because Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance as Michelle is also perfectly considered you can easily buy into what she’s feeling and empathise with her situation.
The only real issue I had with “10 Cloverfield Lane” was that for all of its tension there wasn’t what I would call a significant payoff. Being part of the “Cloverfield” series was both a blessing and a curse for Dan Trachtenberg and his team, because whilst the film gained exposure through its title it also became predictable as a result of it.
The performances and the pacing of the film made it a fun watch and kept you guessing, but once the back and forth was over there was nothing left. Anyone who has seen “Cloverfield” had a reasonably good idea of what kind of disaster was waiting outside, and whilst this didn’t devalue the middle section of the film it did make the ending rather stale. More time spent in the bunker and an ambiguous ending could’ve made “10 Cloverfield Lane” a ten out of ten film, but what we ended up getting was a measured, powerful, and thoughtful film which was robbed of greatness by unfortunate limitations. I still loved it, but it could have placed much higher on the list.
12. Nocturnal Animals
“Nocturnal Animals” is one of the more recent releases on this list and it’s also one of the hardest to place. I really liked this movie, more than I expected to going in, and the more that I think about it the more that I want to watch it again.
It plays out like a dream within a dream as Susan (played by Amy Adams) imagines the events of a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whilst we as the audience watch her deal with the feelings that the story evokes. The novel as it plays out on screen is compelling in itself, even though we know that it doesn’t directly effect anything that’s happening in the film’s depiction of the real world. The novel is just a narrative within the narrative; yet in virtue of the fact that the story being told is about loss and revenge I couldn’t help but become invested in everything that was happening on screen.
I was so invested in the story taking place within the story that its purpose escaped me at various points in the film, making the ending all the more impactful when the credits rolled. The events that occur in Edward’s novel are ‘for Susan’, and the novel is actually an allegory for their marriage and the way that he felt when it came to an end. The novel is designed to emotionally manipulate Susan and validate Edward’s career as a writer at the same time, and this all becomes wonderfully clear when the movie ends.
As I said in my original review, “Nocturnal Animals” is a wonderfully realised revenge film on two fronts. Edward’s book is a tale of revenge in itself but there’s also a calculated act of vengeance taking place in the real world as Edward emotionally torments Susan, and thus it works incredibly well.
11. The Big Short
I gave “The Big Short” a rave review back when it came out at the start of the year, and at the time I thought that it had a great chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture. I thought that it was a very well-written take on a relevant event in our recent history, and I was also impressed by the performances of ensemble cast, but whilst that opinion remains I’m not as high on the film as I was back in January.
The thing that I liked the most about this film was that it didn’t try to force-feed information to its audience in order to get the story going, or at the very least it didn’t try to hide important exposition within conversation. This might’ve meant that for some viewers the film wasn’t instantly accessible, but personally I found it quite refreshing. I didn’t feel as though anything was being dumbed down for the sake of making the film easier to consume, and it seemed as though there was a conscious effort on the part of the writers to explain things in as interesting a way as possible without watering down the content, which I feel is far too rare in film.
Adam McKay used his background in comedy to inject a sense of playfulness into the film when explaining difficult concepts, and thus he made moments in which the audience had to learn technical jargon stimulating when in less capable hands they could’ve been incredibly dull. I can imagine a version of this movie in which extended periods of time are spent on one character explaining the ins and outs of subprime mortgages to another character for no other reason than to clue the audience in, and I think it’s safe to say that that version of this film would not have been nominated for an Oscar.
Overall I’d say that what I liked the most about “The Big Short” was that it was smart and confidently executed. It’s a superb film and the director’s vision feels as though it was realised almost perfectly. The only reason that it doesn’t place higher on this list is that having watched it again and watched many of the films on this list multiple times, I don’t think it’s as entertaining as those films which I’ve placed above it.
10. Green Room
“Green Room” is vicious, relentless, aggressive, and shocking. When I wrote my review on this film I described it as honest and that’s exactly what it is. Violence is violent. Pain is painful. Death is quick, brutal, and inevitable.
I wouldn’t describe “Green Room” as a movie for the masses, but from my perspective it’s one of the more realistic and grounded stories of its kind, and if you’re unfazed by graphic violence then it’s also a lot of fun. I’m sure that it would be seen as overly graphic by some, but it was completely palatable for me and I loved the film’s slow build towards a hectic finish. I enjoyed the pacing, the performances, and the overall cinematography, and having watched it again since its release I can say with confidence that it’s better the second time around.
When “Spotlight” came out it received positive reviews and a lot of Oscar buzz, and as we now know it ended up taking home the big prize at this year’s ceremony. However, upon seeing it I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. I liked it and I thought that the performances were all admirable, but there was something about the approach it took to its narrative that I wasn’t overly enamoured by.
In my review of the film I described it as procedural, in that rather than focusing on the emotional aspect of a very troubling narrative it chose to cast its eye on the way that the story was handled by the news team charged with covering it. This is an unusual way to tackle such an easy to milk topic, and it was one which I found hard to get to grips with on my first watch. I don’t know if perhaps my expectations were slightly high because of the reviews that the film was getting, or if maybe the trailer was a little misleading, but something about the film managed to underwhelm me.
However, after watching it again my opinion has changed quite drastically. I still don’t think that it should have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture, but having now watched the film knowing exactly what to expect I can appreciate what the writers were going for and enjoy the way that the narrative progresses in a way that I wasn’t able to before. The story of how a news team researches, writes, and then reveals such a delicate story is one that is more than worth telling, and this is one of the few instances where a film being inspired by true events really does make it that much more effective.
“Spotlight” isn’t a flashy film, so if you’re expecting fireworks going in then you’re going to be disappointed when things don’t go bang. On the other hand, if you approach the material with an open mind and understand its purpose then it becomes much more interesting and worthwhile. On second viewing I enjoyed “Spotlight” a lot more than I did the first time around, and that’s something that I can’t say for many of the films on this list, which is why it ranks so highly.
8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
It seems as though “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” disappeared from cinemas almost immediately after its release earlier this year, which is a crying shame considering its undeniable quality and wonderful sense of humour. As far as straight-up comedies go this one was easily my favourite of the year, and it’s just a shame that more people couldn’t have experienced it in cinemas.
Still, it’s now on Netflix along with director Taika Waititi’s “What We Do in the Shadows”, which is arguably as good if not better than this film, so it’s definitely worth watching if you get the chance.
The film revolves around Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a teenage boy struggling with life having been dubbed a “bad egg” by child services. The story behind the story is emotional and tragic, but for the most part Ricky’s background is used for comedic effect, and he often references darker moments in his past with a childlike disinterest. This disinterest serves the character and the film’s tone well, but it would be unfair to say that the narrative is devoid of genuine emotion or sadness. It’s clear that when Ricky speaks about his past his foster father is taking it all in and growing in affection for the boy, and we quickly pick up on the fact that Ricky is labelled as a “bad egg” because he’s acting out given that most of the people in his life have either died or neglected him.
This provides the background behind the hijinks that make this film as humorous as it is, as Ricky runs off into the Australian Outback sparking a terribly organised manhunt. Again, I wouldn’t recommend “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” to everyone, because this type of comedy won’t resonate in the same way with others as it does for me, but if you like the sound of an overweight child reciting explicit haikus to a grumpy old man whilst trying to evade child services then this film is for you!
7. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino tells a story like no one else. The dialogue in his movies is distinct in both its delivery and its style, and from the moment that one of his films starts you know exactly what tone he’s going for. Expletives punctuate every sentence and violent death is played for comedic effect in spite of how ugly it may be, and everything is just so refreshing throughout.
If nothing else Tarantino’s films are engaging provided that you’re willing to pay attention. “The Hateful Eight” is probably the most dialogue-heavy film that Tarantino has made to date, so if you aren’t willing to sit back and listen then you aren’t going to enjoy this movie. However, if you are then you should be able to appreciate the fact that Tarantino makes exposition more entertaining than any other filmmaker, and that this film is as polished as any of his previous endeavours.
Similarly to “Reservoir Dogs” this film takes place almost entirely in one location, using an ensemble cast to make motivations unclear and generate tension without the need for excessive action on screen. It’s a slow burn but you always feel ready for things to go south, and when they do it’s both humorous and violent, making you laugh and wince at the same time. If you love Tarantino’s movies then this is exactly what you want going in, and I think it’s fair to say that any fan of “Pulp Fiction”, “Django Unchained”, “Kill Bill”, etc., will enjoy this film from the first minute to the last.
6. I, Daniel Blake
“I, Daniel Blake” is a soul-crushing film in the best kind of way. It makes you question the established order and re-evaluate your feelings towards people who are struggling around you. It takes the prejudices of society and turns them on their head, demonstrating how the unemployed in Britain are hampered by a system which is set up to help those who know how to exploit it rather than those who need it the most.
Daniel (played by Dave Johns) is a widower who has suffered a heart attack on the job and has been deemed unfit to work by his doctor, yet he is denied the help that he needs from the government and instead has to apply for Job Seekers Allowance despite the fact that he can’t actually take a job without endangering his life. We watch as he tries to do everything that’s required of him in order to get the money that he needs to survive, whilst also failing to meet the demands placed on him by the Job Centre due to his inability to handle modern technology. Nobody is willing to help Daniel despite the fact that the issues that he’s having could easily be resolved with the proper guidance, and he’s treated like a nuisance despite his best intentions.
“I, Daniel Blake” is a grim but exceptionally good film. As someone who has been unemployed for a long stretch of time and who has also worked in customer services, I can say with certainty that the barriers that are put in place to stop people accessing the help that they need in this film are completely accurate, and also completely ridiculous. As such, “I, Daniel Blake” is simultaneously beautiful and despicable; casting a light on just how broken the world is, and on how we systematically fail to treat people with the respect that they deserve on a daily basis.
“Arrival” takes what I would call the traditional alien invasion movie formula and throws it out of the window, focusing on the communication barriers that stop us from coming together in the face of disaster rather than on how we could fight back against an extra-terrestrial aggressor.
It’s a time consuming and deliberate approach which may not appeal to all cinemagoers, but it’s one that makes this film feel utterly unique. It makes the idea of an alien invasion seem almost plausible by approaching its concept with a scientific eye, which makes it more engaging to watch than any blockbuster could ever be.
The film’s pacing allows the audience to come to their own conclusions and add to the mystery behind the narrative, which in turn creates tension without the need to present conflict on screen and gives the film a technical feel. It grounds the movie with a sense of realism that it has no right to have and gives it an urgent, foreboding tone.
It’s an interesting take on a genre which has been explored many times before, and it was one of the most visually striking movies that I saw this year. It’s a focused and intelligent film with a clear narrative thread, and the understated performances of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner make for a captivating experience.
4. Goodnight Mommy
“Goodnight Mommy” is an Austrian horror film about twins whose mother comes home from the hospital with a face full of bandages after an undisclosed accident – do I really need to explain why I love this movie?
As a fan of the horror genre and a twin myself I made it my mission to see this movie, and I even dragged my dad along with me. What we saw was a harrowing but ingenious film carried by two exemplary performances from real life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz, and a story which was perfectly paced and wonderfully twisted. In no way does “Goodnight Mommy” rely on jump scares in order to unsettle its audience, instead it uses silence and children’s laughter to create an eerie and almost idyllic tone, interspersed with moments of tension within the family dynamic as ‘The Mother’ is incredibly tired and quick to temper due to the struggle that is her recovery.
The real meat of the story doesn’t take place until the closing moments, at which point the writers take the film from first gear straight into fifth in a chaotic explosion of grief and denial. This ending is measured and carefully presented so as to allow you to empathise with every character whilst also hoping out of curiosity that the worst will happen, capping off what is an almost faultless film.
Upon its release “Anomalisa” was called the most human film of the year, and although this was a slightly superficial tagline, it still rings true today.
Essentially this is the story of a man going through a mid-life crisis, and although it’s an inventive and insightful take on its subject matter it’s actually very simple in its execution. The majority of the movie takes place in the Fregoli hotel and in truth not a lot happens on screen. There’s nothing grandiose about the narrative, no significant twists or turns to propel the film towards greatness, just puppets created by 3D printers and the genius of Charlie Kaufman.
“Anomalisa” achieves excellence through charm, clarity, and intelligence. Through the medium of stop-motion Kaufman and co. are able to portray true human emotion as they are unstifled by the intricacies of an actor’s performance. As such the characters’ mannerisms are accurate and honest throughout, making the internal struggle of Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) in particular abundantly clear and allowing the audience to empathise with him as a result.
I’ve seen plenty of animated films in the past year, but none of them were quite as endearing or thought-provoking as this one. “Anomalisa” is a masterpiece created by one of the best filmmakers alive today, and although its story is simple its examination of the human condition is a triumph.
“Deadpool” is the second movie on this list that I paid to see twice at the cinema; it never stops being funny, no matter how many times I watch it, and although it can be vulgar at times I still think that the scenes between Wade (Ryan Reynolds) and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are as powerful as any in terms of raw emotion.
A lot of people treat “Deadpool” as either a comedy or a superhero movie when they talk about it, but I think that that kind of categorisation is unfair and does the film an injustice. “Deadpool” is a movie which would be entertaining even if we had no idea how to characterise a ‘super hero’. It’s a great action movie due to its well-choreographed fight sequences, witty one-liners, and commanding lead performance; a hilarious comedy with pitch perfect writing and excellent delivery, and a compelling love story with the two lead actors demonstrating genuine chemistry and warmth in their respective roles.
“Deadpool” is a near perfect movie and it just works. It feels as though it turned out exactly as intended and as though everyone was pulling in the same direction, and it treats its source material with respect. Not all of the jokes find their mark, but as I’ve said I don’t think that this movie should be treated solely as a comedy, and for each joke that doesn’t land there’s another that leaves you breathless with laughter.
From the moment that I saw this film I knew that it would be at the top of this list. “Room” is a beautiful film, and it isn’t just one of my favourite movies of the year, it’s one of my favourite movies period. It made me feel regret, sorrow, sadness, and joy in equal measure, and despite the bleak reality of the situation there was a genuine sense of hope echoing throughout.
Jacob Tremblay’s performance was a revelation and his character’s obliviousness towards his own reality was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. His rapport with Brie Larson was obvious throughout and both of them deserved the acclaim that they received for their performances.
There was something about this film that I found immensely captivating and emotional, and I came out of the cinema after seeing it with the urge to watch it again immediately. It’s a tragic film but it’s also uplifting because of the relationship between Jack (Tremblay) and Joy (Larson); it would be easy to think of Room as Jack’s world because it’s all that he knows, and to him it’s all that there is, but really his world is his mother. She’s the only person that matters to him and he doesn’t need anyone else, and it’s this bond that makes “Room” as emotional as it is.
In my opinion, “Room” is everything that a film should be. It’s insightful but tells a contained story, it’s performed amazingly, it’s well-directed, and most importantly it’s wonderfully written which I’m sure is down in no small part to Emma Donoghue’s book of the same name; I just don’t see any kind of flaw in the entire movie. Clearly I would recommend this film to just about anyone and it’s one that I’ve watched many times since its release, and although I enjoyed every film on this list “Room” sits comfortably above them all as my favourite of 2016.