As this year winds down we’ve recapped its highlights to bring you the best of 2016 in fashion, sneakers, music, movies and more.
With 2016 coming to a close (and not a moment too soon), it’s inevitable that you’re gonna be seeing a hell of a lot of end-of-year lists. Sometimes you find yourself scanning those lists just to see if anybody’s opinion lines up with yours, and you might even get that fleeting glimmer of joy when one of your favorite films was also somebody else’s (validation, yeah!).
Or you might get furious and comment on how much of a travesty it was that your favorite thing wasn’t included in a list on the internet, and wish death upon its creator. It’s okay – just write your own list, blog furiously, change the world.
Maybe there’s some films you’ve seen mentioned that have you confused and angry because you haven’t seen them, or even heard of them, and you thought you’d downloaded every piece of worthwhile media that Pirate Bay had to offer and now you feel cheated, and lost in a world that no longer makes sense. (Or maybe you went to the cinema a couple of times, you actual angel amongst mortals. Keep doing that. It’s okay if you missed a few movies – nobody’s perfect).
Anyway, shut up and stop complaining or whatever. Here’s 10 great films from 2016 that you might have missed. (Keyword: might. Nobody likes a showoff, so keep it in your pants, Mr. I’ve-seen-all-these-films).
Swiss Army Man
Let’s kick things off with this incredible debut feature from a directing duo we’ve told you about before. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka DANIELS) were featured in our 10 Music Video Directors You Should Know piece last year, and for good reason. After a string of incredible music videos (including DJ Snake’s "Turn Down For What") the duo made the jump to feature films with Swiss Army Man, or as the press seemed to prefer to call it: “Daniel Radcliffe’s Farting Corpse Movie.”
That’s not hyperbole, really. The film does indeed star Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse (Manny), alongside Paul Dano (Hank) as a man stranded on an island with nothing to live for. When Hank discovers Manny washed up on the island he’s stranded on, he realizes that he can use Manny as a tool to get home – his many talents include an erection that doubles as a compass, farts that propel Manny fast enough that Hank can ride him like a jet ski, and becoming a source of seemingly unlimited drinking water. Over the course of their quest back to civilization, Manny learns to speak as he and Hank bond over what life back home is like.
Embracing the gross-out humor and the deceptively juvenile nature of the narrative, the film is a hilarious celebration of what it means to be a weirdo, and finding friends that love you for your weirdness enough that you don’t mind farting in front of them. DANIELS stated that they wanted the first fart of the movie to make you laugh, and the last to make you cry, and it certainly does that.
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Director Jeremy Saulnier knows dark, real life-like violence. His last film Blue Ruin is a mean, gripping little revenge piece that revels in its hurt in a way that not much else does. Except maybe Green Room. An intense punk-rock thriller that sees a touring band end up being held hostage in a backwoods neo-Nazi bar.
There are moments in this film that will shock even the toughest among you – it’s mercilessly brutal even in its lightest moments. The looming menace of what lurks beyond the titular Green Room where the band are cornered is no less terrifying when seen – screen legend Patrick Stewart playing the brooding head of a furious Nazi gang is an unexpected casting choice, but my god, does he sell it.
Green Room was one of Anton Yelchin’s final roles before his tragic death earlier this year – but his incredible performance in the lead role deserves endless praise, providing a hopeful light in a film steeped in pitch-black darkness.
Director: Ben Wheatley
If you don’t know the work of Ben Wheatley, get to know it immediately. Darkly comedic works such as 2012’s Sightseers and the sinister-as-hell Kill List made the British director a name to watch, and this year he delivered big with an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s dystopian classic High-Rise.
Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing and through him we document the downfall of society from within the walls of a 40-story High-Rise tower in London.
You could tell it wasn’t going to end well when the opening shot of the film was Laing killing and cooking a dog before cutting to three months earlier. The film is brilliant for a number of reasons – the Ballardian darkness of class warfare, mind games and a character that we’ve been following for two hours slowly going insane, mix beautifully with the incredible casting and brutal, retro-futurist aesthetics. Not to mention a killer soundtrack from Clint Mansell.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos’ near-future dystopian comedy is another of 2016’s unique gems. Starring Colin Farrell as David, a recently divorced quiet, sad man who occupies a world in which being single is illegal. He’s sent to a singles retreat where he has 45 days to find a mate, or face being turned into an animal of his choosing (consider the film’s title and take a wild guess what animal he chooses).
Clinical in its sparse cinematography and intentionally stilted dialogue delivery, the movie manages to peel back the artifice of relationships with a uniquely absurdist viewpoint before taking a narrative U-turn and demanding that its protagonist pass an ultimately gruesome test to prove his love to the world.
Director: Jeff Nichols
At first glance, you could almost be forgiven for thinking this is a story you’ve seen before. A kid with supernatural powers, on the run from those who seek to exploit it for the wrong reasons, be they government operatives or members of a doomsday cult. It reads very much like something Spielberg might be behind.
Midnight Special becomes something more than that – a tense chase that spans the entire movie and leaves dialogue mostly to suggestion and murmur. It’s a gorgeous piece of subtle science fiction that exploits the mystery of the unknown, giving you just enough information to start piecing the whole thing together. Beautifully shot sequences from the road, combining the motion of the chase with the alien stillness of roadside gas stations and motels.
With an absolutely sterling cast lead by Michael Shannon (who, c’mon, he should be your favourite actor, for real) supported by a brilliant, stoic performance from Joel Edgerton along with Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. Nichols and his cast utilize every tool in their filmmaking arsenal to find the surreal in the normal, and normality in the surreal.
The Greasy Strangler
Director: Jim Hosking
Where to start with The Greasy Strangler? A completely unexpected movie that came out of nowhere – so original that it’s hard to believe it even managed to get made, yet here it is.
It's a black comedy/horror movie that shamelessly flaunts its love of the no-budget Midnight Movies of days gone by. The film follows Ronnie and Brayden, a father and son duo who run dubious disco walking tours through a shithole city. At night, Ronnie is the Greasy Strangler – which is exactly what it sounds like. Dude just wanders around naked, covered in grease, strangling people.
Ronnie and Brayden fight for affections of the same girl, with Ronnie seeming to win out over his son by sheer virtue of brazen bullying. Along the way you’ll see some hilarious gore-filled deaths straight out of the Troma Films playbook and some baffling and hilarious dialogue exchanges that cycle from bizarre, to funny, to torturous, back around to funny again, to “wow, they’re still doing this same joke” all the way back to funny again. It’s almost an endurance test to watch, and you’ll either love it or hate it with a passion, but don’t switch it off until you’ve seen at least two elephantine prosthetic penises, I beg you.
Director: Alice Lowe
Prevenge makes it into this list on a technicality – while the film won’t be on wide release until 2017, it has had a handful of screenings in indie cinemas and frankly we couldn’t wait another year to write about it.
Written and directed by, and starring Alice Lowe (who co-wrote and starred in Ben Wheatley’s incredible Sightseers, and will be familiar to fans of cult British TV Comedy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) Prevenge follows Ruth (Lowe) – a woman with a fetus living in her womb that is hell-bent on revenge.
Driven by her unborn baby’s bloodlust, Ruth goes about exacting punishment on those responsible for the death of her new child’s father.
Delivered with a wicked deadpan sensibility, the film is as hilarious as it is horrifying, and made all the more impressive knowing that Lowe managed to write, direct and star in a film whilst heavily pregnant. Proving once and for all that she’s an unstoppable force and should be feared.
Keep an eye out for a full release in theaters in 2017.
Director: Robert Eggers
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
The Witch is a truly evil, unsettling piece of cinema. A horror that you feel in your head and your guts with a grip that gets tighter and tighter and doesn’t quite ease up fully until long after you’ve stopped watching.
Set in New England in the 1600s, a family is cast out from their village for their fundamental religious beliefs and are forced to make a new life for themselves in an isolated woodland clearing. After their newborn goes missing, the family is torn apart by their own mistrust. Plagued by demonic possession blamed on a witch residing in the nearby woods, the mistrust soon turns inwards as the children begin spreading rumours about their eldest sibling Thomasin.
Paranoia, the occult, a sinister foreboding and the most unnerving role you’ll ever see a goat play in a movie make The Witch is a standout horror film that embraces its meticulously crafted period setting and dialogue marvelously.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Developed by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions and director Dan Trachtenberg over several years under the codename "Valencia", 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” of Cloverfield, in that they both sort of occupy the same space in the sense of over-arching concept, but that’s where the similarities start to fizzle out.
Rather than going the way of the found footage, big-city monster movie like its spiritual predecessor, 10 Cloverfield Lane is for the most part an isolated psychological thriller. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in her second appearance in this list – the first being a role in Swiss Army Man) wakes up after a car accident, chained to a pipe in an underground bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman), a menacing, looming figure and doomsday conspiracy theorist who tells her that he saved her life, and that a chemical attack on the world above means that they’re the only two survivors in the country along with Emmet, a simple country boy who managed to talk his way into the Bunker, much to Howard’s dismay.
What unfolds is a tense game of psychological warfare – is Howard lying? What is he hiding? How can Michelle escape? Using the tools at her disposal (of which there are not many) she attempts to fashion an escape plan and keep it hidden from Howard. Essentially it’s a science fiction film set on a backdrop of domestic abuse that takes an insane high-concept narrative turn in its final act, which could either leave you picking your jaw up from the floor, or demanding your money back. Imagine Stephen King’s Misery by way of an episode of the Twilight Zone, except it’s got that J.J. Abrams sprinkle over it.
Considering this is Trachtenberg’s first feature, it’s a more than promising start.
Train to Busan
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
I get it, it’s 2016 and nobody wants another zombie movie. That itch is well and truly scratched, but then along comes something like South Korea’s Train to Busan that manages to reanimate the undead and make something deeply enjoyable
As the title suggests, the film is set mostly on a train, which it turns out is a very useful setting for a film like this. We’ve seen what narrative possibilities the train as a setting can offer before in films like Snowpiercer or The Darjeeling Limited (though those two couldn’t be more different). A train can simultaneously be a prison and an escape, it can be a tiny, claustrophobic space one minute, and an impossibly large space to traverse the next. Train to Busan knows this, and exploits it perfectly.
A divorced businessman travelling with his young daughter becomes tangled in a viral outbreak that makes it onto the train, and predictably chaos ensues. Where Busan differs from the norm is that it doesn’t really give anybody an easy route towards "killing" zombies. There are no guns, so the survivors are forced to be stealthy, to be smart, and ultimately to beat the shit out of some people with baseball bats (and fists!) in some excellently choreographed and wonderfully shot action sequences.
What really sets the film apart from a lot of copy-and-paste zombie horrors is the time it spends with its characters. This isn’t your standard 30-minutes with assholes before carnage, this is two hours of character growth – and a film which at its core is about family, responsibility and selflessness.
In case you missed it, here are our 10 Best Movies of 2016.