Saturday 31 December 2016

My Top 10 Films of 2016

With 2016 coming to a close in just a few short hours, it's time to look back at the year that was and recount my favourite films from the last twelve months. 

2016 has been a fantastic year for film - piles upon piles of thrilling, entertaining and compelling films have graced our cinema screens this year and I really struggled to whittle this list down to 20 films, let alone 10!

Picking a personal top 10 might seem a little redundant when you consider the hundreds of other end of year lists, but I think it's fun and this feature always feels like a nice bookend to round out the year.

So now that everyone reading this post has gotten bored and skipped straight to scrolling through my list (who am I kidding, no-one reads the intro to these things), let's get down to business and look at which 10 films made the cut this year...

Note: Similar to years gone by, my list is pooled from films that were released in Australia during the current calendar year. This means that certain films that might be considered 2015 releases for non-Aussie readers (like The Big Short, Brooklyn or Spotlight) may be included purely because they actually didn't open in cinemas here until January or even February 2016. The same goes for films like Moonlight, Jackie and Manchester by the Sea - they don't open here until 2017 and will have to wait until this time next year to be in with a chance of being included.

Some honourable mentions that just missed the cut: The Neon Demon, Captain America: Civil War, Steve Jobs, High-Rise, Midnight Special, Room, The Hateful Eight, Sully, The Shallows, Kubo and the Two Strings

10th - Everybody Wants Some

Read my review of Everybody Wants Some

Richard Linklater's spiritual sequel to his own film Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some was a breezy romp set over a single balmy weekend late in a Texan summer. Though thin on plot, Linklater's film instead dealt with the feeling of personal freedom we've all felt at some point or another, finally freed from the constraints of high school and thrust into the exciting world of university.

Everybody Wants Some wasn't the first of its kind (there have been umpteen coming-of-age comedies), but it is up there with the best; Linklater's enthusiastic examination of what it means to be young, athletic, macho and swirling with hormones was loose, directionless and brimming with energy all at the same time. 

The fresh-faced cast (Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch), colourful visual design and sublime soundtrack worked in tandem to create a rose-tinted window to a time where the future was wide-open and oozing with possibility. The whiplash back to reality that I felt when the credits began to roll only further proves how captivating and compelling the freewheeling film can be.

9th - Sing Street

Read my review of Sing Street

Another coming-of-age tale that looked to capture the spirit of its setting, Sing Street saw director John Carney use his own youth on the grubby streets of Ireland during the 1980s as inspiration for this hilarious and touching story about finding your voice when everything around you is undeniably crap.

Having fine-tuned the formula through his past work on Once and Begin Again, Carney delivered his most accomplished and confident film yet in Sing Street. The unquenchable enthusiasm of the youthful cast afforded this film an undeniable gawky charm that rang true for all the outsiders and the oddballs who’ve ever set foot in school. The original soundtrack was packed to the rafters with earworm after earworm and the most affecting performance came from Jack Reynor as scruffy older brother Brendan.

Essentially, if you’ve ever picked up an instrument and sucked, Sing Street was for you; if you’ve ever loved someone beyond all logical reason, Sing Street was for you. But, most importantly, Sing Street was for anyone who has ever been young, bright-eyed and had the world at their feet.

8th - The Witch

Few films churned my stomach this year like The Witch. Watching The Witch in a darkened theatre felt akin to witnessing something forbidden or taboo; the twisted foe lingering on the fringes of the narrative only sets up the true conceit of this period horror from director David Eggers which examined the power that distrust and paranoia can have on even the tightest of family units.

Set during the grim Puritan era in New England, Eggers employed a myriad of technical elements (along with a historically accurate lexicon) to realise this rich period aesthetic. A drab colour palette and washed-out lighting worked in tandem with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio to further develop this notion of suffocating claustrophobia and paranoia. Eggers' lingering direction kept the camera rolling when most would cut away, burning some indelible imagery into my brain as well as keeping me perched on the edge of my seat. A bold duo of performances from young actors like Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw really hit home.

If nothing else, this film confirmed my long-held suspicions concerning goats. Damn you Black Phillip!

7th - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Can the Star Wars series flourish outside the confines of the central Skywalker saga? This was the biggest question hanging over Rogue One ahead of its release, a question that people were eager to already have an answer for after hearing about extensive reshoots, rewrites and because of the simple fact that this film is, y'know - a prequel.

However, the finished product was nothing short of a resounding success - director Gareth Edwards has provided fans with an almost perfect (almost, there are plenty of flaws) companion piece to the original 1977 masterpiece.

A diverse crew of ragtag rogues lead by the determined Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) spearheaded an interesting angle for the series; along with the diversity, the film also dispensed with the pleasantries and got down to business, showcasing battles and skirmishes that are certainly not the squeaky clean sci-fi your granddad used to the watch. Planting our boots in the mud, Edwards strived to capture a more grounded and gritty aesthetic to match Lucas' first film - and the killer ending doesn't make this a Star Wars film for the whole family either.

6th - Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hands down the funniest film of the year, Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople has won the hearts of millions through its deft understanding of how to capture both humour and heart.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a film that will stir your soul just as much as it will tickle your ribs, and in an era where 90% of comedies fail to embrace the former, that’s a quality in short supply.

A breakout performance from young Julian Dennison was worth the entry price alone but Sam Neill's delightful performance as a crusty old coot whose heart is melted by a loveable scamp is what really gives this film the legs to linger long in your memory.

Wilderpeople is the kind of film you have to see twice; not because it doesn't work the first time around but because those around you will be spewing with laughter so loud that you'll miss half the jokes. It's the kind of film that generates warm feelings so genuine that you'll struggle to stay cynical once the harebrained antics reach their peak. Energetic camerawork and a freewheeling approach to dialogue ensured that Waititi's film felt fun and effervescent at all times.

It's a crowdpleaser that you will want to revisit time and time again.

5th - Hell or High Water

A bleak and authentic modern western that doesn't take crap from nobody - David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water was one of the more pleasant surprises that 2016 threw my way.

Hell or High Water struck out of nowhere to knock me for six. It's one of those films that dispenses with cheap gimmicks and Hollywood showmanship and keeps things simple. It isn't glamorous or flashy; just a hardboiled, no-nonsense modern Wild West noir that shoots for the moon and sticks the landing.

A trio of excellent lead performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges are each great in their own right but it's Taylor Sheridan's screenplay that makes this film really work. Much like Sheridan's previous work on Sicario, the screenplay here is watertight and compelling from the get-go. The film contrasts two complex brotherly relationships with one another before wrenching them apart, all set against the bleak post-GFC backdrop of a dilapidated and dismal West Texas.

A moody score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is the icing on the cake whilst an absolute belter of a final scene (no spoilers, of course) is what makes Hell or High Water such a memorable and compelling film experience from 2016.

4th - Nocturnal Animals

Read my review of Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford's sophomore film Nocturnal Animals is one of those movies that digs into your brain and continually swirls around your head for days and weeks afterwards.

A grim neo-Western that is beautiful and brutal in equal measure, Nocturnal Animals sees Amy Adams' art gallery owner reading a novel sent to her by an ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). The story is a dark and desperate tale of revenge and loss set against the bleak backdrop of Texas - and although it's fiction, elements of the narrative bleed through and rhyme with reality to bind the two together.

Unashamedly pulpy and pernicious, Nocturnal Animals is an atmospheric thriller that sees Ford up his game behind the camera. It's a neat jigsaw that seamlessly blends several different timelines to form a compelling yarn about love, loss and betrayal. From a technical standpoint, few films are as hauntingly gorgeous or scored by such wonderful compositions (shoutout to Abel Korzeniowski) whilst a sprawling cast that includes Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer and Ellie Bamber affords the film a sense of occasion.

3rd - Spotlight

Read my review of Spotlight

Throwing back to the start of the year and sifting through the raft of Oscar films that hit Australian cinemas in 2016, one film springs immediately to mind; to this day it's Tom McCarthy's excellent Spotlight which continues to swirl through my head as one of the most understated and quietly affecting pieces of cinema from this year.

Starring an all-star cast of A-listers (Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci), Spotlight is a lot like a compelling piece of journalism in that it pieces together scraps of information and binds them to form a heavyweight juggernaut of a film come the end. Howard Shore's score and an Oscar-winning screenplay from McCarthy and Josh Singer give the talented cast the perfect arena for showcasing their talents.

Without wallowing in melodrama, feeling overwrought and able to be shocking without being obscene, Spotlight is an unmissable examination of journalism, religion, responsibility and integrity.

2nd - Arrival

Read my review of Arrival

The timing of Denis Villeneuve's cerebral sci-fi character study Arrival was eerily serendipitous; only 48 hours after Donald Trump's shock victory in the US election, the film landed in theatres and blared a strong message of acceptance, cooperation and understanding through communication. It was the antithesis of everything that the President-elect stood for, a film about breaking down walls and opening up to new cultures and ideas that would leave his wrinkled orange sultana head spinning.

But that's enough politics; aside from its eerily timely arrival (pun intended), Arrival showcases brilliance on so many other levels, not limited to Amy Adams' incredible lead performance. If the loopy narrative and heavy messaging is too much, at least you can sit back and soak in the delicious craftsmanship and acting Arrival has to offer. Direction, editing, cinematography, score - Villeneuve's ability to craft a sense of towering perspectives, brooding atmosphere and unsettling eeriness is nowhere more evident than in Arrival, a film that blends global hysteria concerning an impending alien attack with intimate human emotion on both a macro and a micro scale.

The film teaches us that we could all learn something if only we listened to one another; that our problems stem not from differences but an unwillingness to understand each other. After all, we're all one race - the human race. In a year characterised by division and discrimination, Arrival is a film that everyone should see and at least attempt to appreciate.

1st - La La Land

Seriously, a musical at the top of your list? A musical? Really?

Yes, really.

La La Land is a movie made by and for those who love cinema; it's a film that on the surface seems slight but holds a much greater significance when you sit back and consider how universal the ideas and feelings director Damien Chazelle is working with are to each and every one of us.

It's a spectacular visual and technical achievement that excels through cinematography, score, editing and writing. But it's also a minute love story about two people who meet, fall in love and inspire greatness in one another.

The electric chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone paves the way for a soaring cinematic journey through Justin Hurwitz's score (which doesn't contain a bad song by the way). The cinematography from Linus Sandgren is rich, colourful and textured; the editing is sublime, the choreography is delightful and the aesthetic touches (like a retro title card or scene transitions) are charming additions that capture the spirit of studio era Hollywood.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to 'Someone In The Crowd' one more time.


  1. Cool, more love for Arrival. Love that film. I've seen four others in your top 10, and really enjoyed 3. The one I can't stand is Everybody Wants Some. I found the whole thing pointless. Still need to see the rest.

    1. Rewatched Arrival again the other night - so good!

  2. Great list all around. As you already know, a lot of these films ranked high with me too. Looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings now!

    1. Three months in and 2017 is looking pretty good so far! I can report Logan, Get Out and Lego Batman are all excellent ;)



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