Best Movies 2016

As we reach the end of January, and before 2016 is lost to the ether entirely, it’s time to get the first of four annual movie posts out there for all the world to… well… largely pay no great attention to probably. But as long as it’s out of my system and on the page, I can ask for no more than this.

This year-end movie quartet will be issued every January through February going forward and will encompass the following opinions of yours truly;

  • 10 Best Films of the Year
  • 10 Worst Films of the Year
  • 10 Most Underappreciated Films of the Year
  • 10 Most Anticipated Films of the Year Ahead

All rather self-explanatory but with the added twist that they are MY picks for their respective categories and – as you’ll no doubt learn in time, dear reader – my taste is a touch individual. Moonlight, La La Land and Silence I’m sure will be award season darlings, and great movies in their own right, but much like Boyhood and the Hurt Locker in years gone by, in my view they are only worth one watch, and that does not a great film make. Conventional for the most part, in time I suspect my particular cinematic proclivities will make themselves known.

Now some of the below-listed recommendations might come under scrutiny owing to the fact that they weren’t necessarily released in the UK in 2016, so allow me to quickly clarify my approach, so that there is no ambiguity going forward. I do not compile my lists based on UK release dates; instead I adhere to the date the film was completed.

Put simpler: look at IMDb. See that date next to the title of the movie? That’s what I go by.

Now that that’s all cleared up, ONWARD! To the first Fantana Top 10 of the year…


10. Captain Fantastic

In a year that brought us a plethora of emotional powerhouses, rather than the obvious choices – Manchester by the Sea, I, Daniel Blake, Moonlight, et al – I found myself revisiting Viggo Mortensen and his family of wunderkinder in this stirring tale of one stubborn man’s quest to respect his dead wife’s wishes, even if that means upheaving his children from their wilderness environment and launching them headfirst into the even wilder world as we know it. This movie is chock full of charm, with a wealth of scenes both touching and funny, painful and tender. A must see.

Fantana Score: 8

Trailer Credit: KinoCheck International

9. Sing Street

And the award for most Charming Film of the Year goes to…

It seems every year there is one wee film that pops up out of nowhere and bedazzles in the most inoffensive and light-hearted manner. Previous offenders over the last few years include Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Chef and (most notably) the Kings of Summer. Little classics that demonstrate so much heart, it’s virtually impossible to hate them. This year, with its 80’s throwback stylings, its catchy collection of original songs, its ever so charming protagonists and its real portrayal of young relationships, both familial and not, Sing Street undoubtedly holds that accolade.

A love letter to brothers out there everywhere.

Fantana Score: 8

8. The Wailing

A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. That is the basic premise of Hong-jin Na’s horror-noir hybrid, as we follow investigating police officer, Jong-Goo’s (Do-won Kwak) pursuit of answers in the wake of a string of related, equally inexplicable, deaths. Admittedly a bit of an ask at just over two and a half hours, I found the pacing of the Wailing to be just right and no screen time wasted. The plot flows consistently and offers enough twists and tension to keep you gripped ‘til the end and Kwak is a charming, bungling lead who you will want to see this through with. The tone is dark and foreboding, although lightened in the first half by random comedic turns before plunging full on into the darkness in the second half, when Jong-Goo’s daughter is also embroiled in this unexplained epidemic.

Fantana Score: 8

7. Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford. Who knew, eh? What an eye. This movie looks spectacular – in fact I can’t decide between this, Arrival and Goldstone who boasts the better cinematographer. But that’s the least of the praise to be heaped upon the slow-burning thriller; Ford balances the three intersecting timelines seamlessly and with a confidence and expertise both inspiring and unexpected. The tension and anger and grief that permeates each and every scene is tangible, building to a finale that leaves you begging for just a few minutes more, just one scene more. If that isn’t the mark of a winner, I’m not sure what the definition is.

Don’t let the opening credits put you off; once you’re past them, it’s one hell of a ride.

Fantana Score: 8

  1. Split

Oh man, oh man, this was tremendous fun! James McAvoy steals the show in M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form about three girls who are kidnapped by Dennis, just one of McAvoy’s 23 distinct personalities who battle for their time in ‘the light’. His turn as Dennis/Patricia/ Barry/Hedwig/et al is as inspired as it gets, right down to the subtle nuances, the ticks and most of all, the conveyance of the unspoken wars for power going on inside their host, Kevin (the “who am I talking to?” scene is a particular standout).

Despite a number of turkeys on the CV, Shyamalan has never really lost his sense of tone, and that is so important in Split; the building sense of dread – while Dennis and his cohorts await the arrival of an ominous 24th personality – is palpable and despite the captives’ repeated lapses in common sense (we wouldn’t have many movies if they took the sensible action, would we?), there was never a point where my support of Anya Taylor-Joy’s well-rounded, versatile Casey wavered.

Fantana Score: 8.5

5. The Nice Guys

Simply put: Shane Black can do no wrong for me. And I’m talking since the 80s (those that haven’t seen Monster Squad, correct that immediately!).

Since Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang I have been waiting patiently for his next hardboiled caper, and this beauty did not disappoint. Sure, the chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is flawless; sure, Angourie Rice steals much of the show; sure, Matt Bomer proves a fantastic bad guy (one amongst many). But this is all about Shane Black. That script… oh that script!

All I can say is it’s shocking how under-seen this movie is. If you can, go out and buy the DVD. Support this film. Shane Black has already voiced a desire to do another movie – he just needs our backing. As Shia LaBeouf would say…. DO IT!

Fantana Score: 8.5

4. Midnight Special

From the opening scene, when Joel Edgerton slips on those night-vision goggles in order to traverse the highway in total darkness, an on-edge Michael Shannon riding shotgun and gifted child, Jaeden Lieberher, in the back, I was all in. Midnight Special took everything I loved about 80’s sci-fi adventure as a kid and applied some gritty adult science fiction and dirty drama to the proceedings, effectively churning out a modern hybrid that encapsulated all that I love about cinema both then and now.

Fantana Score: 9

3. Arrival

The 4th year on the bounce that a Denis Villeneuve vehicle has landed in my Top 3 and ratifying his place as my new favourite director working today. Admittedly Arrival doesn’t reach the glory, for me, that Prisoners, Sicario and Enemy achieved, but when it boils right down that really means diddly. This is a beautifully-shot, dramatic monster a movie. From the moment that sweeping helicopter shot introduces us to the alien craft in all its glory at the foot of a mist-laden mountain range, my breath was swept from me, only to be returned after the touching, bittersweet closing sequence. I loved the science fiction on display, I loved the science fact accompaniment, I loved the narrative, the cinematography and the script. I even loved Amy Adams, whom I have previously discredited where others have swooned.

This movie makes me very excited for Blade Runner 2049. ‘Nuff said.

Fantana Score: 9

2. Hell or High Water

You may or may not have noticed a running theme throughout this list: I like a little noir now and then. Of all the gems 2017 has offered in this genre, Hell or High Water is the one to beat. Admittedly not strictly a noir, it certainly drips with that hardboiled edge I tend to measure the crime and western genres by. As a counterpoint, the film depicts the tenderness and comfort of relationships with just as much skill and care, striking the perfect balance of relatable, sympathetic characters, on both sides of the law (the friendship between Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham is just as warming as the brotherhood between Chris Pine and Ben Foster), which makes the gripping final act all the more substantial.

Fantana Score: 9

1. Hacksaw Ridge

Where to start with this one… direction: yes. Acting: yes. Cinematography: yes. Script: yes. Editing: yes. Emotion: yes. Score: yes. Heart: YES!

This little more I can say other than “wow”! From start to finish Hacksaw Ridge hooked me and didn’t let go. Highlights include the first meeting between Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss and Teresa Palmer’s Dorothy and the hospital, the introduction of Vince Vaughn at boot camp, the ridge-top heart to heart between Doss and Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey), the rousing montage as Doss goes back for survivor again and again and again, or even the closing shots, which I won’t spoil.

Mel Gibson has another triumph on his hands. You don’t need me to tell you – before a few days ago, Gibson had been frozen out by the Academy… now Hacksaw Ridge is up for Best Picture and Gibson himself Best Director. What more needs to be said?

Fantana Score: 9

And some honourable mentions:

La La Land (don’t care how many Oscar noms it has; good, not great!), Zootropolis/Zootopia, The Light Between Oceans, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Handmaiden, Kubo and the Two Strings, Deadpool, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story all fell out of the Top 10 line-up as the year progressed. One or two of these might rear their heads again in my 10 Underappreciated Films of the Year list, but considering most were very much imparted upon the public consciousness, now will probably be the only chance I get to give them a shout out.

Anyway, that is that. Hope you’ve enjoyed this list – feel free to agree or call me out in the comments below; I love a good movie debate – and stay tuned for part two of four shortly.

  • Kieran
    Posted at 01:14h, 30 January Reply

    Solid list. I’m going to watch them all this week because I haven’t seen a single one on this list.

    • Joey
      Posted at 08:19h, 31 January Reply

      List updated, sir – be sure and add Split to the watch list. It’s a cracker.

  • Calzo
    Posted at 11:23h, 03 February Reply

    I enjoyed Sing Street. Even the mental ending RIGHT OUTTA NOWHERE. Going to see Split this weekend. Hoping it’s not another M Night Shazamalam turdfest.

    • Joey
      Posted at 12:14h, 03 February Reply

      Ha ha yeah that was proper leftfield stuff! Even if you’re not loving Split, stick it out – the final scene might turn your opinion on its head…

  • Susan Mullen
    Posted at 17:36h, 05 February Reply

    Love your reviews Joe! Think Kubo & the 2 strings was my favourite of the year (Still need to catch Captain Fantastic too!) xx

    • Joey
      Posted at 19:41h, 05 February Reply

      Thanks, Susan! Glad you liked it – I’ll certainly be slapping some more on here soon. Kubo was outstanding – hope it gets the Oscar but think Disney might pip it to the post.

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