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 drawing to a close, you might find yourself wanting to catch up with the year's most revered films, or simply those ones that excited us the most. In the past couple of months alone, there's been a wealth of must-see cinema and – as we near awards season – you'll want to be all caught up.
Like last year’s movie entries, the list below tries to find something creative within a medium that’s really only supposed to do one thing: sell you the entrance fee. But, perhaps more than many years before, the films of 2016 seemed to capture everything perfectly right and everything disgustingly wrong about 2016 itself; opening our eyes to issues both complex, and mysterious, and – at times – just plain terrifying.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 best films of 2016, from kinky indie flicks to churlish superhero blockbusters, to heart-rending depictions of real life.
Director: Sebastian Schipper
The young heroine of this German flick really does have a busy night ahead of her – a matter of mere hours and she’s gone through flirtation, fear, dancefloor euphoria, an impromptu piano recital and – to cap it all – a bank robbery. Victoria is an authentic piece of cinematic magic, taking us deep into one woman’s experience and offering us adrenaline-charged action as good as any mainstream cinema could, only with minimal production frills.
Director Sebastian Schipper (whose previous acting work includes the amazing Run Lola Run) smashes it all into a neat 140 minutes – and one single continuous shot. The film doesn’t flaunt its technical bravado, but you do become aware of the film’s tricks with duration; “real time” in cinema has never been so craftily employed. Berlin has never looked more sexy on film, either. Schipper cites his cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, as his most valuable contributor – so much so that he breaks convention in the end credits to lead with Grøvlen’s name in place of his own.
Director: Chan-wook Park
The acclaimed Korean filmmaker’s latest is a 1930s-set erotic thriller that prioritizes female sexuality and is stylized to within an inch of it’s life… It’s dripping in flamboyant excess and still demands that you pay attention to its clever plot, which follows a woman who is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she’s involved in a plot to defraud her.
Premiering at Cannes earlier this year, exactly a year after the good-looking yet overrated lesbian romance Carol, Park has provided us with something a bit more debauched; unlike Haynes’ chemistry-free drama, The Handmaiden is full of good old rumpy pumpy. As usual, Oldboy director Park has taken the material to extremes – what begins as a refined story of intrigue veers into unmistakeable NC-17 territory.
Park – who’s taken a novel from Welsh writer Sarah Waters about Victorian England and made it into this beautiful beast – is nothing if not a world-class auteur with a distinctive vision.
The Neon Demon
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Drive, Bronson, and Only God Forgives director Refn brought The Neon Demon to Cannes earlier this year, starring Elle Fanning as aspiring model Jesse, who moves to L.A. and finds herself under attack from sinister forces. It’s a characteristically stylish film containing vampirism and cannibalism.
It’s certainly not everyone’s favorite film of the year. Far from it, in fact, having been widely criticized as unstructured and devoid of meaning. But for us, The Neon Demon is decadent and dazzling, with enticing elements of fairytale horror and deadpan satire. From purely an aesthetics point of view, this might also be the best movie you’ll ever see.
Speaking about his inspiration for the flick, Refn commented that, “One morning I woke and realized I was both surrounded and dominated by women. Strangely, a sudden urge was planted in me to make a horror film about vicious beauty.” That’s cool with us!
The Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker
The true story of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner – a slave who is said to have triggered a chain of events that included the civil war and the abolition of slavery – could not have been more timely. The rise of Trump and the blatantly racist attitudes that his candidacy have reinvigorated; the objection to police brutality and the launch of Black Lives Matter; the debate about how to reform the criminal justice system (anyone who’s been smart enough to catch 13th on Netflix is now well aware of this one): These ongoing tensions all come back to the right to live as a free and equal citizen in The Land of Opportunity.
It took first-time director Parker – who also wrote and starred in the film – seven years to get The Birth of a Nation made. Boy, was it worth the wait. His talent gives the film undeniable energy, while he still manages to find a balance between the realistic and the otherworldly, never falling too hard on either side of the line. And it builds to a brutal finale that will cut you deep.
Director: Barry Jenkins
A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight is as gorgeous as it is bleak. It may also restore your faith in cinema, if you got caught on the wrong side of either 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence or The Angry Birds Movie.
The film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. “I feel like it’s an idiotic thing to assume that loving a man is different to loving a woman,” said Trevante Rhodes, one of the three players embodying lead character Chiron at different stages of his life. “You’re born a certain way and loving somebody is loving somebody.”
No movie is probably so “required” right now to prevent another #OscarsSoWhite controversy (let’s just be careful it doesn’t become this year’s token black film). Jenkins’ drama has had an amazing embrace on the 2016 festival circuit; its brilliance has left few of us stumbling out of the cinema unmoved.
Director: Tim Miller
I went into this movie wanting so badly to hate it. I came out of it totally hot for Ryan Reynolds and his motormouth delivery, and utterly in awe of how self-aware, entertaining and engaging a nerdy superhero movie could be: The long-gestating Deadpool movie definitely didn’t disappoint.
Based on Marvel’s unconventional anti-hero, who’s subjected to a rogue experiment which leaves him with accelerated healing powers, it’s a freight train loaded with jokes, dripping in irony, and chock full with pop-culture gags.
It’s massively different from anything we’ve ever seen within the genre and even more different than anything you’ll see this year – a mixture of fourth wall-breaking, irreverent humor and genius casting that leads to the most satisfying rendition of not only this particular comic character but any comic character to ever reach the screen. Ry Rey is beyond perfect.
I, Daniel Blake
Director: Ken Loach
Ken Loach’s new flick takes an uncompromising look at the UK’s welfare system and, in doing so, has reduced hoards of film critics, panel judges, and weekend moviegoers to tears. It was enough to transform even the most stoic among us into whimpering piles of snot.
The drama, set in Newcastle (and shown at the event with subtitles in case people couldn’t understand the Geordie accent), tells the fictional story of a struggling single mother and the titular carpenter, Daniel Blake, who suffers a heart attack and is told by doctors he can no longer work. Loach commented that “the most vulnerable people are told their poverty is their own fault… It is shocking.”
The Palme d’Or winner has been garnering attention on the international film festival circuit of late – and it couldn’t be better timed. It packs a hefty punch, both personal and political, as it illustrates the effects of decades of neoliberal policies on individuals and society – and blends effortlessly into the political landscape surrounding Brexit and Trump.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director: Taika Waititi
These days, New Zealand has a reputation for well-received, weird comedy, thanks to Bret and Jemaine of Flight of the Conchords, the comedian Rhys Darby, and the filmmaker Taika Waititi, whose last film – What We Do In The Shadows – was a hilarious mockumentary about a bunch of undead flatmates arguing about the cleaning.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Waititi’s fourth feature film, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, a New Zealand author of comic novels about his experiences as a “bushman.” Like the novel, the production is divided into chapters, each with its own title. The film fashions amusing little vignettes that are easily digestible – with delectable scenery as a backdrop and a charming musical score.
It’s a big-hearted film full of small, understated moments. Hunt for the Wilderpeople downplays the broad laughs of its predecessor, instead focusing on the emotional thrust of a mismatched buddy movie… It's hard to imagine anybody not being won over by this flick.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
When mysterious spacecrafts land across the globe, Amy Adams and her elite team of expert linguists are brought together to investigate. Mankind teeters on the verge of global war (again, we’re seeing patterns reflected in politics…) and Banks and the team race against time for answers. To find them, she’ll take a chance that could threaten her life.
Some of us have been kind of agnostic about this kind of movie lately, after the slight disappointments of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special. But Villeneuve – the guy behind US-Mexico cartel drama Sicario – brings us a dreamy, freaky, audacious drama that actually makes us interested in another movie about what to do if aliens show up on Earth. It’s neat.
There’s no Independence Day-like bim-bam-boom here (regrettably, for some of us). In fact, this highbrow film is likely not what you’re expecting from a sci-fi blockbuster. Unlikely though it is that many will be going to a Denis Villeneuve film expecting an alien shoot ’em up, let’s state for the record, this is definitely not one of them.
Manchester By The Sea
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Watching Casey Affleck battle his demons is worth the ticket price alone. In Lonergan’s latest, he plays Lee, a handyman with a habit of mouthing off at his clients and starting bar brawls. He also has a dark secret that’s keeping the weight of the world on his shoulders. But most refreshingly, he’s hilarious; Manchester by the Sea would probably be hailed as one of the year’s best comedies if everybody in the audience didn’t spend half of it wiping tears from their face.
The film’s secrets are told mostly in flashback, but the ebb and flow of time feels more like the experience of personal memories than a storytelling device built for the screen. The film generates its own sense of mystery as pieces of the puzzle slowly fall together and you wince as it comes to a crescendo in probably the most dramatic (and heartbreaking) scene of this year.
The insanely beautiful, all-American tale from the writer of Gangs of New York delves deeply into the black hole of grief, without looking back. At times, it’s emotionally overwhelming. But isn’t that a) characteristic of a damn good movie, and b) exactly the kind of escapism we need from entertainment in a post-Trump election world?
For more recent releases, check out the best TV shows and movies that came out in November.