2016: the best of
This year has arguably been a disappointing one for films, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t still some great movies released – so many, in fact, that I couldn’t limit myself to just a top ten.
[The following list includes films that were released in the UK in 2016, which means that there may be some films that the rest of the world got to see in 2015, as well as a few notable ones that are missing because, sadly, they’re not out over here until next year].
15. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Synopsis: Following a car accident, a woman wakes up trapped in an underground bunker with two men, who claim that the outside world has been affected by a widespread chemical attack.
Hardly anyone knew that 10 Cloverfield Lane existed until a trailer for it dropped at the start of the year. While the trailer didn’t give much away in terms of a plot, the word ‘Cloverfield’ was more than enough to get people excited at the prospect of a sequel to 2008’s found-footage monster movie. The film that followed was a claustrophobic psychological thriller, built around John Goodman’s terrifically terrifying performance that kept the audience guessing as to whether he was the good guy or something much more sinister…
14. The Witch
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Anya Taylor-Joy
Synopsis: A devout Christian family in 1630s New England is torn apart by witchcraft.
There was no other horror film this year that was more – well, horrifying – than Robert Eggers’ directorial debut, The Witch. Eggers painstakingly recreated the 1630s New England setting right down to the dialogue, which only added to the film’s unrelenting atmosphere of dread and unease.
Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson
Synopsis: When a terrible ancient curse incurred by the demigod Maui reaches the island of spirited chieftain’s daughter Moana, she answers the call of the ocean to seek out Maui and save her island.
It’s been an undeniably good year for Disney (of the three films to reach $1 billion at the box office, all of them were Disney’s), and Moana was the cherry on top of their 2016 cake. With two loveable main characters brought to life by beautiful animation, and some of the best Disney songs in recent memory thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana is proof that the studio still knows exactly how to make an excellent family adventure.
12. The Girl with all the Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine
Synopsis: In a dystopian future where humanity has been devastated by a fungal disease, a group of survivors go on the run with a special young girl named Melanie.
The Girl with all the Gifts is a stunning British film that offers a fresh new perspective on the zombie apocalypse genre. The film creates an immersive dystopia in which humanity’s only hope is a group of children who crave flesh and blood but still remain sentient human beings. More than just a mindless zombie movie, The Girl with all the Gifts raises some unsettling moral dilemmas too.
11. Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams
Synopsis: Following a car accident that rendered his hands useless, talented neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange embarks on a journey of healing, only to be drawn into a mystical world of magic.
No one really knew what to expect from Doctor Strange – after all, this was a hero that we were yet to encounter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The result was something of a pleasant surprise: we were treated to one of the best Marvel origin stories since Iron Man, as well as some mind-bogglingly beautiful visual effects, which were as much of a crucial addition to the film’s plot as the arrogant neurosurgeon himself.
10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker
Synopsis: Before the events of A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s super-weapon, the Death Star.
Rogue One had a lot to live up to, but thankfully it turned out to be a brilliant and necessary addition to the Star Wars saga. Perhaps most amazing of all, however, is an ending that managed to shock us all (despite everyone knowing what happens next), amid a gripping final battle on and above the tropical planet of Scarif.
9. Nocturnal Animals
Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Synopsis: Art gallery owner Susan is haunted by a novel written by her ex-husband, a dark, violent thriller titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ in which Susan finds startling parallels with her past marriage.
2016 was Amy Adams’ year. It was Aaron Taylor-Johnson, though, who stole the show in Tom Ford’s second film, Nocturnal Animals, in which Taylor-Johnson was almost unrecognisable in a terrifyingly violent role. He starred alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in the film’s most memorable scene; an unbearably tense moment in which Gyllenhaal’s car is driven off a deserted highway in the middle of the night.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci
Synopsis: The true story of the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team’s investigation into allegations of abuse within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
Released in the UK in January, Spotlight was more than deserving of its Best Picture win at the 2016 Academy Awards. Far more suspenseful than a film that spends large periods of time with its characters carrying out the more mundane aspects of journalism had any right to be, it was a shocking look at a devastating true story, supported by superb acting from its talented cast.
Director: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, T.J. Miller, Morena Baccarin
Synopsis: The origin story of mercenary Wade Wilson, who adopts the alter ego Deadpool following a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers. Armed with new abilities and a twisted sense of humour, Deadpool sets out to find the man who ruined his life.
Deadpool, a film which Ryan Reynolds had been trying and failing to get made for years, finally got the green light and hit our screens in 2016, becoming the highest grossing R-rated film ever. Deservedly so, too – not only is Deadpool a great comic book movie, it’s also absolutely hilarious (and R-rated for a reason, so maybe don’t watch this one with your grandparents).
6. Eye in the Sky
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul
Synopsis: A military officer in charge of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya sees her mission escalate when a child enters the kill zone, triggering an international dispute.
As well as being an impossibly tense ninety minutes of cinema, Eye in the Sky also features a dispute over the implications of modern warfare which couldn’t be more relevant at the moment. Furthermore, it was the final onscreen performance of the late, great Alan Rickman, and his final line reminds us of what an incredible talent he was and just how much he’ll be missed.
5. The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger
Synopsis: In 1970s Los Angeles, a mismatched pair of private investigators try to get to the bottom of a case involving a missing girl, the mysterious death of a famous porn actress, and a possible government conspiracy.
I know that I’m definitely not alone in saying that The Nice Guys was one of my favourite films of the year. As well as being genuinely, laugh-out-loud hilarious, it also introduced the world to the unexpectedly genius pairing of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, which is something we all desperately need more of.
Directors: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Synopsis: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie rabbit cop teams up with a con artist fox to investigate a mysterious conspiracy.
Yep, it’s Disney again. While the noir-ish mystery at the heart of Zootropolis wouldn’t have felt out of place in The Nice Guys, it’s the meaningful metaphor for racism and the message of discarding stereotypes and prejudices that elevates Zootropolis from a great animated film to a really great film, full-stop.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Synopsis: A mother who was kidnapped as a teenager raises her son within the confines of the room that they are trapped in.
Another 2015 film that didn’t make its way to the UK until January, Room tells a story that is both heartbreaking and beautifully uplifting. Brie Larson’s Best Actress win at the Oscars was more than deserved, but it’s newcomer Jacob Tremblay who impresses the most, playing a boy who cannot comprehend that an entire world could possibly exist outside of Room.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Synopsis: When twelve mysterious spacecraft land at various locations around the world, an expert linguist is tasked with interpreting the language of the aliens.
Solidifying Denis Villeneuve’s position as one of the best directors working today, Arrival is a stunning, intelligent sci-fi drama, focusing on the intricacies of language and communication. Each individual piece of Arrival‘s puzzle fits together perfectly, coming together to form one massive wow moment that is, quite simply, mind-blowing.
1. Captain America: Civil War
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Brühl
Synopsis: Political interference in the activities of the Avengers causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
Perhaps Civil War isn’t the best film of the year, but it’s undoubtedly my favourite, if not only for the reason that it’s the one film that managed to live up to and then completely exceed my expectations. Everything a superhero movie should be, it merges high emotional stakes with breathless action sequences: the airport scene where Team Cap and Team Iron Man finally go head-to-head is outstanding. Most impressively of all, it balances its huge cast of characters without sacrificing character development in the process.
2016: the worst of
The best thing about watching and reviewing films for fun, rather than professionally, is that I’m not obligated to watch movies that I think look terrible or that I know I’m not going to enjoy. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t make me immune to the occasional bad film…
10. Independence Day: Resurgence
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman
Synopsis: Twenty years after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new alien threat.
An entirely ridiculous sequel that literally no one wanted.
9. Lights Out
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello
Synopsis: When her younger brother begins to experience the same events that once haunted her, Rebecca comes face-to-face with an entity that is attached to their mother.
A good concept that unfortunately still couldn’t escape every horror movie cliché in the book.
8. Suicide Squad
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jared Leto
Synopsis: A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a task force and save the world from an impending threat.
Possibly the year’s biggest disappointment, a film that could have been great was instead rendered virtually unwatchable by horrendous editing that was carried out by a company that makes trailers (not feature-length films) for a living.
7. Triple 9
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul
Synopsis: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plot the murder of a police officer in order to pull off a heist.
Proof that a good cast can’t save a bad film.
6. Collateral Beauty
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley
Synopsis: Retreating from life after the death of his daughter, a man questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death, and receives unexpected answers.
Potentially the most emotionally manipulative movie you will ever see; a film that is less about grief and more about horrible people doing horrible things to each other.
5. The 5th Wave
Director: J Blakeson
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Liev Schreiber, Mario Bello
Synopsis: Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left Earth all but destroyed. Survivor Cassie is on the run with her younger brother.
Yet another adaptation of a YA novel set in a dystopian future, The 5th Wave might have been the worst of the lot, were it not for:
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller
Synopsis: Following the events of Insurgent, Tris and Four must escape beyond the wall that surrounds Chicago to finally discover the truth of the outside world.
So bad that the sequel is being made into a TV movie instead.
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt
Synopsis: A spacecraft transporting thousands of people to a distant colony planet malfunctions, resulting in two passengers waking up ninety years too soon.
A film that teaches the positive life lesson that if you stalk a girl, she’ll definitely fall in love with you. On the bright side, it was one of the biggest box office flops of the year.
2. Office Christmas Party
Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon
Synopsis: After his CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, manager Clay throws a huge Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day.
Can it technically still be called a comedy if it isn’t funny in the slightest?
1. London Has Fallen
Director: Babak Najafi
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Synopsis: Mike Banning tries to stop a plot to assassinate all of the world leaders who are in London for the Prime Minister’s funeral.
Probably should have been called Gerard Butler Shoots Numerous Terrorists While Making Dubious And Actually Rather Racist Remarks instead.
2016 in television
The Night Manager
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivia Colman
Synopsis: The night manager of a hotel in Cairo is recruited to infiltrate an arms dealer’s inner circle.
In early spring, the world was gripped by BBC miniseries, The Night Manager, based on the John Le Carré novel of the same name.
Daredevil; Season 2
Starring: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, Elodie Yung
Synopsis: Matt Murdock fights crime in Hell’s Kitchen as a blind lawyer by day and as vigilante Daredevil by night.
Season two of Marvel’s excellent Netflix collaboration, Daredevil, dropped in March. While not quite as good as the first season, it did introduce us to Jon Bernthal’s antihero Frank Castle, who thankfully is getting his own spin-off series in 2017.
Game of Thrones; Season 6
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington
Synopsis: Nine noble families fight for control over the lands of Westeros.
Game of Thrones enjoyed its best season so far this year. Our favourite characters seemed to be in safe hands after Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) was brought back from the dead in the first episode, but an explosive season finale proved that anything is possible and anyone could still die…
Bates Motel; Season 4
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Nestor Carbonell
Synopsis: Focusing on the twisted relationship between a mother and her son that leads to the events of the iconic film Psycho.
Bates Motel was already binge-worthy, but in season four it gave new meaning to the phrase ‘just one more episode…’, building up to a jaw-dropping season finale.
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown
Synopsis: When a young boy disappears, his mother and friends must confront terrifying supernatural forces and a mysterious government agency in order to get him back.
Netflix’s Stranger Things became a cultural phenomenon in 2016. Loved for its nostalgic ’80s feel and a group of loveable kids, you need to watch it to find out why everyone is talking about Eggo waffles and a girl called Eleven.
The Night Of
Starring: Riz Ahmed, John Turturro
Synopsis: After spending the night with a girl he’d never met before, Naz Khan is shocked when he wakes up to find her stabbed to death.
The Night Of is a compelling miniseries that serves as an in depth look at the U.S. justice system, while making us all absolutely terrified of being arrested for a crime that we didn’t commit.
Starring: Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Rosario Dawson, Alfre Woodard
Synopsis: After a sabotaged experiment gives him super strength and durability, a wrongly accused man escapes prison to become a hero for hire in Harlem.
In September, the latest addition to the MCU’s collaboration with Netflix hit our screens, telling the story of bulletproof hero Luke Cage, who we first met in Jessica Jones.
Black Mirror; Season 3
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Mackenzie Davis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Kelly Macdonald
Synopsis: An anthology series that shows the darker side of technology.
Charlie Brooker’s excellent anthology series Black Mirror collaborated with Netflix for its third season. Highlights include a society controlled by social media ratings; a terrifying virtual reality gaming system; and a heartfelt romance in the 1980s. Be prepared to want to throw away your phone and laptop and delete all social media after watching.
American Horror Story: Roanoke
Starring: Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kathy Bates
Synopsis: TV show ‘My Roanoke Nightmare’ tells the story of Matt and Shelby, a young couple who move to a farmhouse in North Carolina where terrifying things begin to occur.
Anthology series American Horror Story is notoriously unreliable when it comes to quality, but mystery season six (the theme was eventually revealed to be based on the lost colony of Roanoke) was a big step back in the right direction.
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton
Synopsis: A Western-themed futuristic theme park, populated with artificial intelligence, allows high-paying guests to live out their wildest fantasies with no consequences – until now.
The much-anticipated Westworld finally aired in October, generating a million fan theories in the process and ending with a season finale that raised a brand new question for every one it answered.