Well folks, we reached the end of 2016. And well…. it sucked. In many, many ways, 2016 was not a great year. The number of amazing films, particularly in the blockbuster department, was lacking compared to recent years. The number of great film and entertainment personalities to pass away was horrifying. And in the real world, outside of movies, well – let’s just say that I’m very much hoping for an improvement in 2017. Never know your luck.
That said, not here today to moan about the sorry state of this calendar year. We’re here to celebrate! Because even in a weak year, there’s always far more than 10 movies that were absolutely fantastic, so any movie that makes it into my Top 10 list is deserving of all the praise it can get. And I have 10 fantastic movies to show off for you today.
Full disclosure: Didn’t see every single movie that was released in 2016, so I may have missed a movie that would have ended up in this list. In particular, a number of well-received films that I couldn’t find time for were missed and include:
- Swiss Army Man
- American Honey
- Hell or High Water
- Nocturnal Animals
- The Lady in the Van
- I, Daniel Blake
I’m sure there were many more. But I did see Trolls though. So that… that was good. *shudder*.
In addition, this list is based upon the Australian Release Schedule. So, if you are from elsewhere and you see a movie that came out in your neck of the woods in 2015, then I’m so happy for you, but it’s a 2016 movie here. Also, many of the big Oscar movies that are out now in the States are yet to come out here, so they don’t count for this one.
Anyway, without any further ado, here are my top 10!
NUMBER 10: Captain America: Civil War
One of only two “blockbusters” to make my list this year, Captain America: Civil War was a very worthwhile entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While technically the 3rd movie in the Captain America series, the film operated more as an Avengers 2.5, as events within the universe force a rift between the superheroes we know and love, and they try to negotiate government supervision for powered people.
With half of our heroes siding with Captain America (Chris Evans) and calling for the government to stay out of it, and the other half rallying behind Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), who wants accountability and boundaries, the war is on, as hero takes on hero in a bitter feud. Meanwhile, Cap has to find and restore his brainwashed friend, Bucky, who is operating as the fearsome assassin The Winter Soldier.
The film ends up being one of the best in the MCU, behind only Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in terms of quality. It does require some knowledge of past events in other Marvel films, but since these films dominate the box office without fail that doesn’t seem to have been an issue.
NUMBER 9: Hacksaw Ridge
From a Civil War amongst superheroes into a real life war that caused great misery and cost countless lives, the Number 9 spot on this year’s list goes to Mel Gibson’s WWII drama Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot whenever a war movie comes out, but this truly is a film that is comparable to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.
After an incident in his youth that nearly killed his brother, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) turns to Christianity and swears off the use of violence in any capacity. Years later, when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the US joins the Second World War, Doss is determined to aid his brothers and countrymen, but is equally determined to stand by his vows. Fighting the military leadership, Doss is finally allowed to serve as a medic without even carrying a rifle, and the intrepid young man heads out to Hacksaw Ridge on the Japanese front with one goal – to save lives.
This is a movie that is dark, gruesome at times, but captivating and emotional. The scenes at war are particularly memorable, and the cast is exceptionally good. It’s a return to the good books for Mel Gibson after something of a torrid decade, and simply one of the best war films in years.
NUMBER 8: La La Land
Onto something a little bit more light hearted than the War, as the next slot on my list goes to the recently released La La Land. A charming and lovingly crafted musical that exists as a love letter to classic cinema, this is a wonderful experience that must be seen on the big screen.
Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress juggling a barista job with auditions in the hope of being the next star of the screen. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club, but finds himself playing “Jingle Bells” in empty restaurants. The two meet and begin juggling a love affair with their personal ambitions and dreams.
This is a film filled with memorable songs and dance routines, borrowing heavily from the likes of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly. It’s beautifully shot, and there’s not a single wasted frame. Unless you actively despise musicals, you’ll enjoy this film a lot.
NUMBER 7: Moana
Coming in 7th place is, like La La Land before it, a Boxing Day release that is only recently in theatres. Moana is one of Disney’s best animated films to date, and at it’s peak it can hold it’s own against the best of Pixar. It’s also one of two very good animated films that will be battling for their award category this year (more on that later).
Moana (Aul’i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chieftan and destined to rule the Polynesian island where she was raised. Her father has only one rule – do not go on the ocean. Yet, when the food on her island begins to rot and life fails to continue all around her, Moana takes to the seas to find the trickster God Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who can help her restore the mystical Heart of Te Fiti and bring life back to the islands.
Combining some fantastic music by Lin Manuel-Miranda with some gorgeous animation and likeable characters, this film is just a joy to watch from beginning to end. It’s not afraid to poke fun at itself, and becomes very exciting and gripping. In my mind, this is a far superior film to Frozen.
NUMBER 6: Kubo and the Two Strings
The other animated film on this list, and the fellow contender for the best animated film of the year is Kubo and the Two Strings. Given their positions on my list, there’s no prize for guessing the one that I prefer, but I did find that Kubo just had a smidgen more charm than Moana. Still, whichever film doesn’t win the Academy Award would be forgiven for feeling hard done by.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is the son of a missing samurai and grandchild of a powerful being called the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). When Kubo’s mother, and the daughter of the Moon King, is killed, Kubo must journey in order to learn to use his magic to defeat the Moon King and save his village. Along the way he gains the help of an enchanted monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed samurai that now takes the form of a beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
Kubo is rooted in Japanese mythology, and has some powerful messages. It is also, like all productions from Laika studios, created using stop-motion, which is a dying art but one that I enjoy very much. It’s charming, it’s sad, the story goes to place that you wouldn’t expect and while it lacked the Disney marketing machine, it is just as good as anything they’ve made.
NUMBER 5: Spotlight
From this point on, we are entering a world of movies that I awarded a perfect score to, so the separation at this point is mere nitpicking. At Number 5, I have selected Spotlight, a film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the most recent Oscar ceremony.
Spotlight is a true story following the reporters at the Boston Globe. In particular, the team of reporters form the Spotlight division, and are responsible for investigative journalism and exposés. Led by the department boss “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), the team begin to uncover a raft of evidence that reveals the systemic abuse of children and the consequent cover-up efforts within the Catholic Church.
This is the type of movie that makes you leave the theater feeling angry at what humanity is able to do, but also proud that there are always good men and women ready to put an end to this behaviour and expose those who would defend it. It’s incredibly crafted, all of the characters have their moment to shine and this was a deserving winner of the Best Picture last year.
NUMBER 4: Eye in the Sky
In the Number 4 slot is a movie that I wasn’t expecting greatness for when I walked into the theater. I was expecting a standard war/spy thriller, and what I got instead was an edge-of-your-seat exploration of the morals behind drone warfare in the Middle East.
No-nonsense military Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) launches a long-planned mission to capture a British citizen believed to be a leader in the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. When the mission is altered due to the discovery of suicide bombing equipment in the target’s home, the objective becomes to kill the target. But an American drone operative (Aaron Paul) refuses to pull the trigger to kill the terrorists when he notices a small girl in the blast zone selling bread on the street. With the clock ticking, the question is asked at all levels of military and government – would you kill one innocent child to potentially save hundreds of lives?
Also featuring one of the final performances from the late Alan Rickman, Eye in the Sky has been criminally underrated since it’s release. It’s gripping and tense, and impossible to look away from. And no-one seems to have seen it. You can currently find Eye in the Sky in the bargain bin at your local entertainment shop and I highly suggest you snap up a copy before people begin to realize what a fantastic movie they ignored.
NUMBER 3: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
BAAA BAAA BA BA BA BAAAA BAAA BA BA BA BAAA BAAA BA BA BA BAAAAA! At Number 3 on the list (and, funnily enough, the highest ranked American film of the year) is the latest entry into the Star Wars franchise, and the first of what Disney hope are many spin-off films away from the main saga we know and love. It also happens to be the franchise’s best film since The Empire Strikes Back.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a rebel without a cause, lashing out at a life which has seen her abandoned more times than she cares to count. But when she is freed from an Imperial prison and recruited to a small team of Rebellion fighters led by Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Jyn finds a message from her father (Mads Mikkelsen) that sees the Rebels head on a desperate mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s fearsome planet killing superweapon, the Death Star – pitting the Rebels against the ambitious Director Krennic (Ben Mendehlson) and a powerful Sith Lord….
Leading right into the event of the first ever Star Wars film, this is a very dark entry into the saga. It’s a War movie, not a science fiction epic or a whimsical fantasy. And the final act of the movie is perhaps the best battle sequence ever put on film (at least as far as fictional battles are concerned). This movie gets better the more you think about it, and is very rewatchable (trust me on that one!).
NUMBER 2: Sing Street
In at Number 2 we have an absolutely delightful little Irish number for director John Carney. Another film that perhaps deserved a little more love from the audiences than it got. It’s one of the greatest movies about music, and one of the greatest coming-of-age movies, I’ve ever seen.
When Conor’s (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) family enters into financial difficulties, Conor is transferred from his expensive private school into the local state school, Synge Street. While Conor struggles to fit in with his classmates due to the difference in background, he finds himself attracted to a young model, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who lives across the street. In the hopes of hanging out with her, Conor invites Raphina to be in a music video his band is shooting. She agrees, and Conor just needs to do one thing before the big day – put together a band, write a song and plan a music video. With help from his brother (Jack Reynor), Conor begins to fall in love with music, and Raphina, and his life begins to take meaning.
It’s incredibly sweet, and the film features incredible original music that feels like it’s come straight from the 1980’s. There’s fun, there’s heartache, there’s hope. It’s a brilliant feel-good movie, and easily one of the best of the year. I mean, it would be THE best of the year if it wasn’t for:
NUMBER 1: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, also known as the best movie of the year, is the latest effort from one of my favourite directors – New Zealand’s Taika Waititi. Following on from the quirky comedies Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi returned this year with his most accessible movie and probably his best movie.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a troubled youth who finds himself in and out of foster care and state facilities. He has a long list of petty crimes and the state are losing patience when he’s taken in by Bella, who finally makes Ricky feel at home. When Bella passes away, Ricky is to be returned to state care, but runs away instead. Pursued by Bella’s cantankerous husband Hec (Sam Neill), the two find themselves stuck on the run following a series of misunderstandings, living off the bush and developing an appreciation for each other and their differences.
This is a very funny movie, filled with great characters, fantastic scenery and inspired set-pieces. The supporting cast is full of laughs, from Waititi himself appearing as a slightly confusing priest to Rhys Darby hamming it up as “Psycho” Sam. It also has a lot of heart, and you end up really feeling for all the characters in their own way. New Zealand can be proud for taking the top spot in this year’s list.
So there it is. The 10 best movies of 2016. According to me. Were there any that you think I missed? Any films in my list you disagree with? Or do you have your own Top 10 that you’d like to share.
Comment and let me know, have a fantastic New Year dear readers, and I’ll see you next year as we begin the long search to complete another pointless Top 10 list at the end of 2017.