Our 15 favourite films of 2016

By ·December 10, 2016 9:00 am

People’s collective opinion is that 2016 was a terrible year all round, for obvious reasons, but we beg to differ on one aspect; the quality of 2016 cinema.

While we haven’t caught every 2016 film that we’d like to see yet (The Light Between Oceans and American Honey, to name a couple) and while the forthcoming titan that is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hasn’t been released yet at the time of writing, we provide below our 15 favourite films of the year.

Please note that this list represents the view of one solitary writer, rather than the collective view of all of The Nerd Recites writers.

Please also note that there may be spoilers below, for the films that are addressed.

15] The Witch

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, after bloody events have befallen her family.

Contrary to popular opinion, we found The Witch  to be a mixed bag, but it’s an assortment that’s unique and original enough to warrant a place on our list. Where the films shines is in its intense and unrelenting atmosphere, its aptly sparse depiction of the witch herself (as both as the epitome of beauty and her true unsightliness) and its Black Phillip revelations. Where is falls down a little is mainly in its narrative arc, which doesn’t provide much, but we get the feeling that it’s a film that would be appreciated more on subsequent viewings. It’s certainly a powerful horror from Robert Eggers and it also highlights the exceptional talents of Anya Taylor-Joy.

14] Keeping up with the Joneses

Jon Hamm as Tim Jones (left) and Gal Gadot as Natalie Jones (right).

While some might choose to label this as a cheap comedy and nothing we haven’t seen before, we’d argue that while playing with a basic toolkit, the film offers far more than people give it credit for. Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot are a duo made in heaven (one far better than Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie, in our eyes). They provide a beautiful and incredibly skilled spy couple who achieve that exude that delicate balance of professional facade and genuine personalities poking through the surface. Parallel are golden couple are (a now almost unrecognisably skinny) Zack Galifianakis and Isla Fisher (who appears in more than one film on this list). The delicate and caring nature of Jeff (Galifianakis) is one of the film’s key strengths and it pries a real compassion out of our spies, create a quartet that adore. It’s pure heartfelt fun and we’re eager to see again.

13] Suicide Squad

Harley swinging high while imprisoned in Belle Reve.

Whether Suicide Squad sits in this list or Captain America: Civil War will largely depend on whether you’re a DC or a Marvel fan. I myself fall firmly in the DC camp, which is why Suicide Squad has made the cut for our list. As with all recent DC films, Suicide Squad was a phenomenally underrated effort from David Ayer and we loved it. The chemistry between the team is electric, Harley Quinn and Deadshot are both brilliantly well-rounded and fleshed out characters, and Jared Leto’s Joker (despite the deleted/altered content) was brilliant. The only area where the film falls down a little is Incubus and the cliche city destruction ending, but those small flaws can’t mar this thrilling and vibrant DCEU entry.

12] The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

Margaret Qualley as Amelia Kuttner in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys.

We’re big fans of Shane Black, including his 2005 effort Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Black actually co-wrote The Nice Guys before he directed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and you can truly feel the similarities to that 2005 self-directed project here. Instead of Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer verbally riffing, this time we had Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe exchanging quips. Throw in too The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley and it feels like it’s a concoction designed just for us. While the film isn’t as perfect as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, it is Shane Black-enough to make us very happy indeed.

11] 31

Sheri Moon-Zombie as Charly, in Rob Zombie's 31.

Sheri Moon-Zombie as Charly, in Rob Zombie’s 31.

Rob Zombie’s strongest films sit firmly towards the beginning of his career. Although we enjoyed some of his project along the way, like Halloween, we’ve always hoped that he would return to the glory his former films. With 31 we pretty much got exactly what we wanted and we loved it. Doom-head shines in a film that reminded us of the feel and power of The Devil’s Rejects. It’s a wacky narrative that’s lined with an effective mythology and a truly exceptional performance from Richard Brake. Even Rob’s use of Sheri Moon Zombie felt apt and spot on here, rather than just the usual over-casting of his wife.

10] Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen as Ben; father of six children.

American Horror Story‘s Matt Ross impressed us immensely with this intelligent and endearing tale of a man who raises his family in the wild, far away from society. It reminded us a lot of Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, in which Harrison Ford’s character adopts the same approach. Where Weir’s narrative was more about science, Ross’ narrative leans on political and ideological reasons for the withdrawal. The idea of living outside of society being a detriment to children is explored in a very realistic and honest fashion, with Viggo Mortensen’s Ben coming sharply to the realisation that maybe – despite his flawless home schooling – his kids are better off within society than outside of it.

9] The Edge of Seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen

Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine (left) and Haley Lu Richardson as Krista (right).

While you might expect this, at first glance, to be a girly comedy, Kelly Femon Craig’s debut is far from it. Instead, she provides a dark, slickly written and wonderfully honest film. Steinfeld provides similar acting clout to what made her so loveable in True Grit, while Woody Harrelson supports as a ball-busting yet ultimately caring teacher. The film tackles real and important problems like hating yourself, having few to no friends and struggling to fit in. Brimming with complex and layered characters, all of whom hold goodness under the surface, it’s one of our favourite teen films of all time and we’re dying to see it again.

8] Hardcore Henry

Hardcore Henry

Haley Bennett as Estelle, being held captive by one of Akan’s men.

Walking into this film, we knew the general concept; that it would be the first film to adopt the video game-like first person perspective for the entirety of its runtime. But we didn’t expect what was delivered, which was incredible stunts, wonderful comedy from Sharlto Copley and a duplicitous plot worthy of any great video game. It’s often said that no good film has ever been made of a video game, however, this film – although not an adaption of a game – for us is the best proof out there of the contrary. Video game tropes and structuring can be used to exquisite effect in cinema and Hardcore Henry proves that tenfold.

7] Midnight Special

Midnight Special

Michael Shannon as Roy, carrying Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) to safety.

We’re huge Jeff Nichols fans so the idea of him tackling a calm SF narrative of this ilk excited us immensely and the film didn’t disappoint. Nichols crafts a calm, clever and subtle SF film, which is elevated by Liberher’s performance, particularly when combined with Adam Driver’s character Sevier. The film nods towards the Superman comics for part of its influence and it clearly very heavily draws from E.T. too. For us, the ending is perhaps the film’s weakest point; while visually impressive, the closing act opts for otherworldly grandeur in a film that perhaps required none. All round, the film is a commendable achievement and holds exactly the kind of smarts that we cherish in modern SF.

6] 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, in Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane.

2008’s Cloverfield impressed a lot of people (including us) to the point where many were dying for a sequel, but years passed by and a sequel never reared its head. So much time passed, in fact, that most fans lost hope of a sequel ever arriving. Then JJ Abrams and Dan Trachtenberg began a little film together titled Valencia, which turned out to be a a fake title and a secret Cloverfield sequel, but with more of an anthology-style approach. Trachtenberg crafted a stylish and claustrophobic horror that wonderfully subverts expectations in its closing act by providing a Twilight Zone-style unveiling. It’s a film that has not only resurrected the Cloverfield universe, but it’s taking the universe in a bold and exciting new direction (we think these aliens do link in with Cloverfield‘s alien monster and that the films will all interconnect).

5] The Invitation

The Invitation

Michiel Huisman as David; co-host of the dinner party.

This is one of those films that had worldwide releases that crossed the border of 2015 and 2016. Technically the UK release date for the general public was 8th April 2016 (with an online release), so we’ve included The Invitation in our list on this basis. The narrative of Karyn Kusama’s film is one drenched with paranoia, uncertainty and suspicion; not only for the film’s protagonist, but for the viewer too, which is what makes it unlike any film we’ve ever seen. The subtle etiquette of the dinner party overflows with tension, culminating in a reveal that is truly gratifying. We won’t spoil the conclusion for you if you haven’t yet caught Kusama’s film.

4] Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

Brothers and bank robbers Tanner (left) and Toby (right), played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine.

Truly exceptional modern Westerns are few and far between, and although this more firmly fits into the heist sub-genre, at its core David Mackenzie’s film is a powerful Western with a lot of wit and heart. It’s a tale of two brothers – one selfish (Ben Foster) and one kind at heart (Chris Pine) – who find success at robbing banks and then don’t know when to stop. Hunting them down are Jeff Bridges’ detective (in one of his best and wittiest performances) and his partner played by Gil Birmingham. The films shines both in its sibling relationship and particularly in the way in which Bridges and Birmingham’s character ultimately coincide with the two thieving brothers. Simply put, we expected it to be a good to middling heist-Western and instead it blew us away with its power and its ingenuity.

3] Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals

Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, sitting next to part of her latest art exhibit.

Few films leave you with intriguing theories churning in your mind after leaving the cinema and Nocturnal Animals achieved just that for us. The more we thought about Tom Ford’s film, the more we arrived at the likely secrets of the film and the more we adored what Ford created (adapted from Austin Wright’s novel). What begins with a challenging opening montage turns into a beautifully layered tale of weakness, acceptance and realisation of ones missteps, which holds an ending that is certainty aggravating, but which is also marvellously ingenious. This was the most thought-provoking film of the year for us and we can’t wait to see what Ford does next.

2] The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon

Elle Fanning as aspiring model Jesse in Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon.

Technically, this is the film that blew us away the most this year. Upon exciting the cinema we were reeling with glee at Nicholas Winding Refn’s marvelous return to form. It was very nearly our number one pick for the year; the only things that made it fall short was that it didn’t slow us away quite so much on a second viewing (on blu-ray) and that we don’t feel that it is endlessly re-watchable, like our actual number one choice is.

While master director Nicholas Winding Refn went considerably astray with the mess that was Only God Forgives, he’s returned to marking himself out as one of the greatest directors in the business, with what we feel is his best film to date. Visually stunning, unerringly cool and boldly daring, it’s a masterpiece in which Elle Fanning truly shines and highlights her worth. Yes, there’s one or too scenes that are a little hard to stomach, but the grotesque contributes rather than detracts, in this instance.

1] Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky and Hector gazing out into the immense wilderness.

Ricky and Hector gazing out into the immense wilderness.

Taika Waititi is, simply put, one of the most creative and talented directors working today. His back catalogue is full of gems (particularly What We Do in the Shadows, which we’ve watched endlessly, and even his lesser-seen films like Boy are exceptional). He’s truly a director to watch out for (which is no doubt why Marvel hired him for Thor: Ragnarok). This year, he proved his genius better than ever, with the hilarious and expertly crafted comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople. We were lucky enough to catch this at an intimate press screening and it simply blew us away.

Even though it’s adapted from a novel and isn’t original Taika content (though he did write the screenplay), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is ridiculously endearing (Ricky Baker!), thoroughly well-acted (Sam Neil perfects gruff yet caring) and utterly hilarious. It works both as an outright comedy and also, importantly, as a heartfelt drama. We’ve seen it twice and we know that it will be another of those Taika masterpieces that we will watch endlessly.

So while certain other films on this list were cinematically more sumptuous, Hunt for the Wilderpeople hits the target all round, serving up a timeless classic that will survive the test of time. If you haven’t caught it yet, we thoroughly urge you to seek it out. Otherwise we’ll be The Terminator and you’ll be Sarah Connor. And in the first movie too – before she could do chin-ups.

Image credits: Piki Films, Defender Films, Curious Film, Space Rocket Nation, Vendian Entertainment, Bold Films, Fade to Black Productions, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, Film 44, OddLot Entertainment, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Gamechanger Films, Lege Artis, XYZ Films, Paramount Pictures, Bad Robot, Spectrum Effects, Faliro House Productions, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Tri-State Pictures, Warner Bros., Bazelevs Production, Versus Pictures, Gracie Films, STX Entertainment, Electric City Entertainment, ShivHans Pictures, Bow and Arrow Entertainment, PalmStar Media, Protagonist Pictures, Spectacle Entertainment Group, Spookshow International, Windy Hill Pictures, Misty Mountains, Bloom, Lipsync Productions, Silver Pictures, Waypoint Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation, Parts and Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Pulse Films, Very Special Projects

Written by Christopher Hart

Lead Writer and Copywriter

Chris is a Copywriter for a major bank. He an MA in Publishing and a BA in Comparative Literature. He's also a self-published author (Altered Stone).

His areas of interest include LOST, The Leftovers, The Prisoner, Y: The Last Man, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, BioShock, Supergiant Games and Josh Malerman.

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