Best Films Of 2016

I know I say this every year, but this year I really have missed a lot of films. Though the interesting thing is, while it feels like 2016 has been a particularly bad one for movies, I can only find five worth putting on the Worst list, as opposed to ten here on the Best, with competition. I missed a lot of the blockbuster and traditionally weak summer comedy fare in favour of seeking out only the films I thought I would enjoy, which may go some way to explaining that. In any case, here are the movies which ticked my boxes this year.

*Update: I inexplicably forgot about Bone Tomahawk when I first posted this, but instead of knocking Finding Dory off the list, I decided to just list a top 11. Sue me.

11. Finding Dory

While Pixar would do well to not get too comfortable making sequels, they’ve at least proven they can do it right when they need to. Good enough to share space with their best stuff, Finding Dory is sweet, funny and completely gorgeous to look at.

10. Star Trek Beyond

It still saddens me to think about Anton Yelchin’s passing this year. He was stupidly young and talented, and it could so easily have been avoided. Truly tragic. But at least Star Trek Beyond was a great sendoff. With J.J. Abrams busy on Star Wars, Fast & Furious’s Justin Lin took over to make a movie that’s just a hell of a lot of fun. Old-fashioned fun. The kind of fun that action movies used to be and should be. While other blockbusters were so busy trying to be important and fit into extended universes, Beyond just cut to the core and gave us two hours of escapism and escapades with no faffing around.

9. The Hateful Eight

What’s this? A Tarantino movie and Eddy’s only put it at number 9? Well, yeah. The Hateful Eight was the first time I felt like QT was being just a bit indulgent; it’s his longest movie yet, and some of the early carriage stuff on the way to Minnie’s Haberdashery (where the majority of the whodunit action takes place) is a tad waffly.

That being said, it’s only problematic by my ridiculously high Tarantino standards, and I still really liked it. While indulgent, it’s also typically bold, bloody, intriguing and fun, with a fantastic ensemble who gloriously spend the entire time distrusting one another. Tarantino’s composition with a 70mm frame makes everything look gorgeous, and adds an extra layer to the mystery by expanding what we can see: it is, after all, as much about what characters in the background are up to as those talking in front of us.

If nothing else, Ennio Morricone’s creeping score is completely masterful.

8. Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals is likely to bewilder as many as it captivates, but there’s no denying there’s something special at work in Tom Ford’s subversive drama. It’s seductive and curious and violent, with the type of unbridled artistic impression that doesn’t come along every week. Really impressive stuff.

7. Bone Tomahawk

Brace yourselves. Westerns are definitely on the rise again (which is good for me; I’ve written one), but few will be as savage and startling as Bone Tomahawk. And I probably watched it in the wrong frame of mind, so it’s really a testament to how well it’s put together that I still loved it. In a fairly traditional set-up, Kurt Russell pulls on his cowboy boots for the second time this year to play a Sheriff tracking down a band of cave-dwelling cannibals who have kidnapped some townspeople; among them, Patrick Wilson’s wife and the town deputy.

It certainly works well thanks to that great cast (Lost’s Matthew Fox also shows up in good form), and S. Craig Zahler’s script is a finely crafted piece of work, but the film lingers so long in the memory because this thing is brutal. While the violence doesn’t assume much screen time, the savagery of it is so condensed and sensory shocking, so genuinely nasty, that at one point I had to physically step away for a moment to regain my composure. And yet, it isn’t in any way gratuitous – it actually serves a purpose to the plot by placing our characters in tangible peril. By the time the third act rolls around we’re in such a terrifying situation that we feel genuinely scared for them, and too few movies elicit such honest, visceral emotions. Certainly not for everyone, but there’s no denying Bone Tomahawk does an uncompromising job of getting its point across.

6. The Conjuring 2

There were a few decent horror movies this year (to my surprise I even fairly enjoyed Blair Witch), but I knew James Wan wouldn’t let me down. He just knows how to make an enjoyable movie. Although I’d be lying if I said The Conjuring 2 was as frightening as I had hoped it would be – while certainly not without creepy moments (Lorraine being haunted by Valak in her home is one of Wan’s best scenes, and the whole film is crafted in his typically precise way), it didn’t really get under my skin.

The real strength this time comes from the development of Ed and Lorraine’s relationship; their love is so compelling (helped, no doubt, by the fact that I adore Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), and this time we feel them in danger more than the ostensible victims. Because of how much I now care about both characters, I can’t remember the last time a horror movie made my heart thump so fast during its climax. I was so nervous. A bit like my feelings on The Hateful Eight, I wouldn’t place The Conjuring 2 at the very pinnacle of Wan’s catalogue, but it’s certainly rapping on the door.

5. Eye In The Sky

Eye In The Sky, movie, 2016, review, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, war, drone, funny cats

A complete surprise, this one. Eye In The Sky didn’t create too much of a stir during its brief run in cinemas, but it’s certainly worth seeking out if you get the chance. The story of various cogs in the British and American armed forces, from generals to finger-on-the-trigger drone pilots, deliberating whether they can blow up a house harbouring suicide bombers if they risk killing civilians in the blast radius, is of course going to be politically relevant. But that’s not why the film works so well: it works because it harnesses a real old-school thriller sensibility, bounding along setpiece after the next without any faff, and the thing is genuinely tense. One of Alan Rickman’s final roles is always worth seeking out, too.

4. Hell Or High Water

There were times when I felt like Hell Or High Water was made just for me. As a screenwriter, it’s exactly the kind of story and characters I like to write, and as a viewer, it’s exactly the kind of story and characters I like to watch. A slow-burning, corporeal thriller with real characters in real settings, it’s low concept filmmaking at its best. Complete with plenty to say about America’s strange fascination with guns and some excellent performances (particularly Ben Foster, who’s probably one of the best actors working at the moment), Hell Or High Water is just my thing.

3. Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Sam Neil, Jurassic Park, Thor 3

Hunt For The Wilderpeople is so joyful and funny and sweet, I was tempted to put this at number 1. Alas, it’s probably not technically the very best film of the year, but it is the one I’d recommend to absolutely anyone without reservation. So here goes: find this movie and watch it. You won’t regret a thing. I can’t recall feeling more uplifted and refreshed while walking out of a movie – and in 2016, it seems that feeling has been more necessary than ever.

2. Arrival


Thinking about Arrival excites me for two reasons. For one, contemplating our place in the universe and making first contact absolutely fascinates me; for another, it reminds me how f***ing good movies can be. Arrival is science fiction at its intelligent, poetic best. It managed that rare thing of not letting me down despite the ridiculous expectation going in, and, if anything, I liked it even more than people were telling me I would. If there was any lingering doubt that Denis Villeneuve is one of the finest directors working at the moment, this film surely shatters it. Haunting, heartbreaking and hopeful.

1. Spotlight


It may have been all the way back in January, but Spotlight has somehow held onto the top spot – and the more I think about it, the more I realize how much it deserved that Best Picture Oscar. Which is refreshing, because it doesn’t do the traditionally Oscary things; there are no terminally ill characters, no dramatic speeches about freedom, no teary-eyed moments; it’s just a beautifully-scripted and performed story of a group of journalists trying to uncover a scandal.

And blimey is it watchable.

So what do you think of my choices? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

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