After some time to digest the year at the cinema, I’ve considered my feelings, allowed myself to sit in contemplation and looked inward. I thank you for patiently waiting for this reveal, and to reward you for your patience, I have compiled the most comprehensive list of the very best films of 2016. In my humble opinion.
By my own calculations, I took in upwards of 50 films that were released in 2016. As with any year, I wasn’t able to see every film I wanted to, and unfortunately I missed out on some of the most high profile films, notably Arrival, Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea. But even without those supposed gems, I can’t say I’m disappointed with the year in film. I saw some bad movies to be sure, some infuriatingly bad, but there was a great deal of brilliance to be found as well. Smaller films stood out over the pile of summer garbage, the number of high quality documentaries was staggering, and there may have been one or two films that I rank among the best I’ve ever seen.
Honourable mentions: Captain Fantastic, Don’t Think Twice, Nocturnal Animals.
This is the cinematic train-wreck of the year and you just can’t look away. We get a front row seat to the implosion of Anthony Weiner’s supposed comeback campaign, all brought down by his own hands. Honestly, these filmmaker’s are the luckiest bastards alive, as they are given unlimited access and then just have to sit there as Weiner burns it all down. And, yes, the film shows the media as trashy and very much a part of the problem, but there is no sympathy to be had for Weiner when it’s all said and done. He may very well be a born politician, but unfortunately he’s definitely a born fuck-up, and this disaster is all on him, right down to letting a camera crew document it.
9. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
As it turns out, despite the world crumbling around us, 2016 was a pretty funny year at the cinemas. I didn’t realize it until I took a list at my top 10 list and saw an unusual amount of comedies, and this movie delivered some of the biggest laughs of the year. The tale of a self-centered popstar is a sharp satire of today’s music industry, while not being afraid to embrace the stupidity. It helps that the songs are as catchy as they are hilarious, the best of which is the gay marriage anthem “Equal Rights”. What could have been a one-note film exceeded expectations, partially due to a great cast (Tim Meadows being the MVP). Sorely underrated but destine for cult status.
8. Hail, Caesar!
If the Coen Brothers release a movie, you can bet paper money it will wind up on my end-of-the-year list. The fact that it is not closer to the top of the list confirms it is a lesser entry into the brilliant brothers’ filmography. While it didn’t leave as big an impact as some of their other work, I loved every second and was sad to see it end. I love being in the Coens’ world, hearing their dialogue and spending a few hours with their unique characters. The tale of old Hollywood is the perfect venue for them as they have a field day trying their hands at every genre imaginable; sword-and-sandals epic, big song and dance picture, old school Western- it’s evident, they’re having a blast. The kidnapping plot is all a distraction, as the movie is really just a look at the vanity of the picture business and the people who fool themselves into thinking it’s something bigger than just entertainment. And years from now, we’ll look back on this film as the one that introduced the world to the remarkable talent of Alden Ehrenreich.
7. Captain America: Civil War
I am a massive fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was more of a Batman fan as a kid and when I first heard of what they wanted to do with these movies I thought it was stupid, but they have won me over time and time again. While Doctor Strange was a fun retread of the Iron Man story, Civil War was a big, awesome thrill ride that I hesitantly call Marvel’s best offering to date. Yes, it’s a popcorn movie, but it’s made batter than any popcorn movie has a right to be. The script is smart, the characters are rich and the action is thrilling in every single scene. The way the film constructs the hero vs hero dilemma at its center is expertly done, especially in comparison the this year’s disappointing Batman V Superman. You understand what brings them to fight each other, you buy the reason they stop fighting, and then the ultimate conclusion is a strongly effective gut-punch.
6. The Nice Guys
I’ve always been a fan of Shane Black, but so much of his writing I feel has been buried by the Hollywood process. The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight are fantastic scripts totally misinterpreted by their directors. Thankfully, Black has taken charge of his own material and is letting his voice be heard but good. This detective caper is such a throwback you can almost taste the pulp, but Black, of course, infuses his own dark humor into the proceedings liberally. His clever subverting of genre tropes and willingness to let the heroes be decidedly unheroic was a breath of fresh air this summer season. Speaking of the heroes, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are stellar in their roles, relishing the opportunity to be a little more light and a lot more foolish than normal. If only the film had been a bigger success, I could watch many sequels about these two clowns.
5. Everybody Wants Some!!
This is the so-called “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused one of my favourtie movies of all time, and Richard Linklater proves he still has the chops to give us a perfect hang-out movie. Unlike Dazed which explored a variety of cliques in high school, this film centers squarely on the jocks, yet is totally universal. Anyone who has been to university will recognize the parties, the personalities and the vague searching for identity in between beers and bong hits. It’s the kind of movie that puts a smile on your face without being laugh-out-loud funny. Here’s hoping Linklater goes for the “spiritual trilogy”.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I love the feeling of hearing a new voice in comedy, and I very much got that feeling when I watched Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows, but I still didn’t see his follow-up coming. Yes, it’s a very funny movie, branded with Waititi’s distinct New Zealand dry humor, but it provides so much more than laughs. Impossibly charming, it’s a heartwarming adventure without ever approaching sappy. The relationships are real and the moments are earned. I hesitate to say it has a Wes Anderson-feel to it as that’s a disservice to its uniqueness, but it left me with the same feeling of watching a storybook come to life. Waititi is a real talent to watch.
3. Hell or High Water
There’s not too many greater things in cinema than a well-constructed heist movie. This neo-Western goes for the more realistic smash-and-grab approach than glossy bank jobs, and I think it’s better for it. The setting of the desolate and fading small American towns, sucked dry by the very banks that are in turn being robbed, adds a lot to the picture, as do the performances. Jeff Bridges doesn’t break the wheel but continues to show why we want him to play every cowboy role out there. And the journey of the two outlaw brothers and their very authentic relationship gives the film a lot of heart. It’s a tight script and solid direction that makes it a thrilling and engaging modern crime story.
2. Sing Street
One of the most spot-on films at recapturing the feeling of love at a young age since Moonrise Kingdom. Though set in the financially crippled world of middle-class Ireland in the 1980s, the film is endlessly optimistic and will charm your socks off. And while the central love story gets the plot moving, someone astutely pointed out to me what should have been glaringly obvious before the credits roll; this is a story about brothers. The older brother character in the film brings so much to the story and his unexpected and heartbreaking speech midway through the film is one of the highlights in the year of cinema. The songs are effective, the young actors are quite good and the whole thing leaves a big grin on your face.
1. Green Room
This is the movie that will wipe that grin right off your face. The feel-bad movie of the year and one of the most accomplished, engrossing thrillers in recent memory. The battle between punk rockers and neo-Nazis is like something John Carpenter would make in his early days. Brutal, shocking and unrelenting, it’s an epic ride from start to finish. The performances from Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart and the late Anton Yelchin draw you in so well, but the real star is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier. As writer, he crafts a tight and smart thriller in which characters act like people would act rather than follow a plot, which is so refreshing. As director he does wonders with the confined, claustrophobic setting, stages the violence in impactful and cold ways, and keeps your heart pounding from start to finish. It’s a film that has stayed with me long after I saw it and one I plan to revisit many more times. A genre masterpiece.