It seems that the events of 2016 have birthed a new generation of cynics, and at the turn of the new year, all one can hear around are people crying over the horrible year that has passed. However, being one who prefers to count gifts over curses, I consider ourselves blessed to have received a stellar list of films, taking various different genres to stranger waters, and realizing the full potential of some others. Now while the movies that big franchises and studios have churned out were more in the form of financial investments than works of art, 2016 has witnessed masterpieces from global filmmakers and the independent categories. The following is the list of films that I think made the most of their run-time this year, and deserve to be seen by one and all. (This year, I’ve added suggestions of old movies similar in some way to each film on this list, so the doubtful ones can decide what to watch.)
[YOU CAN CLICK ON THE NAMES OF THE MOVIES TO SEE THE DETAILED REVIEW]
Let’s start with the honorable mentions:
One of the most confusing and yet incredibly interesting movies of the year, this exploration into the human psyche and relationships is thoroughly sinister in its execution. Great performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, and even greater performances from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson – the latter in one of the most disturbing roles ever conceived – makes for a great conversation piece.
Watch if you like: Mulholland Drive, Enemy
A heart-warming story about a nun’s return to the ultra-liberal, atheist family she ran away from years ago, this is an unexpectedly funny story set against an unlikely premise.
Watch if you like: Weird black comedies
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Coming out of nowhere, with zero promotion and zero hype, this is a film that excels in the small scope of its story, and the sheer tension between its characters. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman portray rich and well-developed characters, in this story partly penned by Damien Chazelle, and which deserves to be enjoyed with no prior knowledge of its plot.
Watch if you like: The Thing, Ex Machina, Identity
It’s very uncommon for remakes to match up, much less surpass the original in execution, and Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book teaches you that even beloved Disney classics are capable or being fine-tuned. A must-watch for the unbelievable use of CGI alone, this is a masterclass in film that is the biggest stride in computer animation since Avatar.
Watch if you like: The original Jungle Book, and being amazed at the possibilities of digital animation.
Deservedly called the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, this is Richard Linklater taking the good times to the ‘80s, and the first weekend at college. Promising and delivering on a relaxing time that still makes you reflect on the dynamics of your own ‘pack’, it is best enjoyed over the weekend with friends and some beer.
Watch if you like: Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, Animal House
And now for the top fifteen:
Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy is neither the most original nor affording new perspective like the Hamlet adaptation with Ethan Hawke, but by god, this faithful translation perfectly hits all the notes of the play. Painted with soul-crushing performances from both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (born to play the Macbeths) and wielding an expressive palette, this one is a must-watch for any fan of the Bard.
Watch if you like: Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet, Gladiator
A completely original neo-noir satire from Disney, this layered story discussing relevant socio-political issues has more than enough meat for both kids and adults to chew on for ages.
Watch if you like: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Wall-E
Perhaps the least attractive looking film of this lot, Birbiglia’s film is a staggeringly honest portrait of the six people who together make a struggling New York improv comedy group, and have dedicated their best years to the dream. Sweetly hilarious in all the right places, and leaving a lump in your throat in the others, Don’t Think Twice is as real as cinema gets.
Watch if you like: Obvious Child, Sleepwalk With Me
Civil War is the definitive reason as to why Marvel needs the Russo brothers to take over the reins of their cinematic universe, coming hot off their critically acclaimed Winter Soldier. The third page in what has surprisingly become one of the best superhero trilogies of all time, this is also an Avengers movie that pits the members of the team against each other on differences in political ideologies, somehow getting the audience to buy the case for both sides and switch allegiances throughout the film. If none of that intrigues you, then maybe that infamous airport sequence, undoubtedly one of the best all-out superhero showdowns in cinematic history, will.
Watch if you like: The Winter Soldier, and didn’t like Batman v Superman’s take on people with power.
Nowadays, it seems that the only way to sell a movie is to have a superhero protagonist, or have lots of easter eggs and references to popular culture, or if neither, to have a groundbreaking story and theme to anchor it. This is all the more reason why you ought to watch Hell or High Water, a neo-western thriller that tells a pretty straightforward story, but does a hell of a great job handling it. Jeff Bridges as the sheriff and Ben Foster as one of the robbers are revelations, but the real star of the story is the delicious tension that can be cut with a knife.
Watch if you like: No Country for Old Men, True Grit
If there is one comic book film I would recommend you watch this year, it would definitely be Deadpool. The closest to perfect an on-screen translation can get, Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller’s film is exactly what you need if you feel tired of the endless barrage of superhero films that follow the same formula of threats on a global level, aliens and larger-than-life heroes.
Watch if you like: Kickass, I guess? Honestly, there’s nothing else like this.
There is nothing more endearing or wonderful to experience than a leap of faith, and adopting the lifestyle of an ‘80s punk rocker in a boys’ school in Dublin in order to impress a girl is just as good as any. Telling a tale of the ridicule and risks of adolescence, but more importantly, one of the bond between brothers, Sing Street is raw, emotional and powerful enough for anyone to hop on board and come out feeling infinitely more hopeful about the world. With great music, unrestrained performances and carrying an unrivalled charm of growing up and chasing what you love, this is one for everyone who loves the works of John Hughes.
Watch if you like: Begin Again, American Graffiti, John Hughes movies
It is criminal just how few people have heard of this film, and just how underseen it is. The latest film from Taika Waititi – coming off the hilarious 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, and right before he gets onto Thor: Ragnarok – is the most refreshing comedy this year. Making full use of the stunning New Zealand landscape and sure to have you rolling on the floor clutching your sides in laughter, this is at heart, a genuinely sweet story about the relationship between a grumpy old man and an orphan brat, that somehow shrugs off all similarities to Up.
Watch if you like: What We Do in the Shadows, Rushmore, Little Miss Sunshine
This puppet-animated, dream-like story about a customer-service expert stuck in a strange hotel room is the latest work from the incredibly complicated mind of Charlie Kaufman, who gave us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York. Following an egotistic man through a surreal journey of love, this is also the most hard-hitting human experience of the year.
Watch if you like: Being Jon Malkovich, Adaptation, and basically anything Charlie Kaufman makes
- THE HANDMAIDEN
If you’ve seen Oldboy, then you might have some sort of an idea about what Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden has in store for you. From the same deliciously twisted mind comes this Korean-Japanese masterpiece that explores sexuality, temptation and deception, among many other things. Finding a flaw in this film would be pretty tough, and it is sure to light up the eyes of any fan of cinema, with its flawless direction and gorgeous visuals. Since I only got to watch it a couple of days ago, I haven’t had the chance to do a full review yet, but boy am I glad I caught this sinister film before this list.
Watch if you like: Oldboy, Stoker, Lady Vengeance
The scariest and best horror film of the year by miles, Robert Eggers’ The Vvitch has an unnerving vibe that makes you feel like you’re watching something forbidden. Fairytale-like in its story of a puritan Christian family in 17th century New England, it is a masterful exploration of seduction by evil. Drawing from many biblical stories and the concept of original sin, this is a defining milestone in horror and atmospheric filmmaking that plays its hand well by not blowing its load at any point.
Watch if you like: The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Babadook
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling together make for some of the best chemistry as well as physical comedy on screen, not only of 2016, but any year. Directed and written by Shane Black, the buddy-cop comedy maestro who gave us Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, this is the most entertaining time I’ve spent at the movies all year. Smartly written and even better in visual execution, this film noir set in ‘70s Los Angeles succeeds not only in being the funniest film of the year, but is also all set to become a modern comedy classic.
Watch if you like: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the Lethal Weapon series
If you’re wondering where the future of Hollywood cinema lies, and which directors are talented enough to take over from the past generation of classics, look no further than Denis Villenueve, the director who has already gifted us the masterpieces that are Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario. His latest feature is perhaps the most thought-provoking film of this year, as intelligent as I’d hoped Interstellar would be. Starring Amy Adams in a role to remember her by, Arrival is a cerebral cinematic experience like none other – whether we’re talking about story, direction or atmosphere – and is the farthest from the alien invasion blockbuster that you expect.
Watch if you like: Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact
Ryan Gosling appears a second time, this time accompanied by the outstanding Emma Stone, who I believe deserves all the awards this year has to offer. Throwing back to the great musicals of golden age Hollywood, and spinning the timeless story of dreamers in his own special way, Damien Chazelle proves that he isn’t just a one-hit wonder (he directed Whiplash from 2014). A true celebration of cinema and romance, this is one for anyone who dares to dream.
Watch if you like: Casablanca, Swing Time, Whiplash
Until just a few days ago, I thought nothing would beat La La Land to be my favorite film of the year, but that was before I sat down to watch this unassuming animated film from Japan, from the mind of Makoto Shinkai, who many claim to be the true successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Erupting with emotion beneath its elegant exterior, Your Name is a lesson to animators around the world who have switched to computers and 3-D, that there is still nothing as magical as hand-drawn animation, something Shinkai does best. Telling a tale of lives that cross and come into each other through the thread of fate, it weaves urban ennui and mythical surrealism together in an experience that far exceeds anything Disney-Pixar has to offer.
Watch if you like: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 5 Centimeters Per Second, anything by Hayao Miyazaki
Better get the popcorn ready.