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The Best Films of 2016

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Of all the end-of-year lists, we finally arrive at the most quintessential: the one list to rule them all, our writers’ collective Top 20 Films of 2016.

And whilst it may well have been one of the most bonkers years on record, film-wise we’ve been treated to a fair few good’uns.

They might not all be Oscar-worthy, big-budget masterclasses, but the following collection definitely outlines the brightest and boldest our student writership could muster. 

So without much further ado, let the countdown begin!

20. American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)

What we said: American Honey is a film of a dozen contradictions. It’s captivating and fresh, yet it’s also repetitive and utterly familiar. It’s pretentious and ordinary, gorgeous and ugly, stupid and yet profoundly intelligent; it goes from being wildly energetic one moment, to punishingly stationary the next. This is a road movie not only where the destination doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist – we’re all navigating life without a road map and maybe that’s just something we have to come to terms with.” 

Read our full review here

19. Train to Busan (dir. Sang-ho Yeon)

What we said: “There’s simply no avoiding the fact that Train to Busan is an absolutely, barnstorming crowdpleaser of a movie, that’ll easily satisfy everyone from zombie fans, to disaster junkies and even the non horror-converts. It might be more Towering Inferno than Dawn of the Dead at heart, but Yeon hits all the right buttons over a bizarre (but truly thrilling) mishmash of genres, that’s resulted in not just one of the best movies of the year, but probably one of the finest zombie reinventions to date too.”

Read our full review here 

18. Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller)

What we said: Deadpool is a great change for Marvel films.. An underwhelming villain and finale do not take away from what is an otherwise great film, with all the cursing and audience interaction fans could wish for.” 

Read our full review here

17. Zootropolis (dir. Byron Howard & Rich Moore)

What we said: "Talking animals in an animation? Nothing new there, but Zootropolis is strangely philosophical for what is usually considered a kids movie. It’s yet another example of Disney’s genius ability to include silly humour and witty pop culture references that everyone can enjoy, while simultaneously tackling tough issues such as immigration and xenophobia in a way that doesn’t make anyone angry – an impressive feat for anyone, let alone a talking bunny.”

Words by Harley Alexa

16. Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight)

What we said: “It’s a film that’s completely spellbinding in almost every department from even just its opening alone. From the sharply cut animation, to the endlessly creative plotting, to Dario Marianelli’s positively entrancing (and neatly oriental) score, every single painstakingly rendered frame just oozes with subtle Japanese nods and inspired artistic vision. Throwaway kids movie this most definitely is not.” 

Read our full review here

15. Sing Street (dir. John Carney)

What we said: “Powered almost entirely by a ridiculously talented cast of newcomers (and Jack Reynor), Carney really took things back to basics with this one, building on some of his best original songs to date to pretty much chart the entire history of 80s pop rock. It might be small in its overall ambitions, but Sing Street is a total treat for the romantic artist in all of us; although it does help a tad if you have a similar affection for Duran Duran and/or The Cure.”

14. I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach)

What we said: I, Daniel Blake is an extremely uncomfortable and thought-provoking return from a director who remains at the very top of his game even at the grand old age of 79. Whether or not Loach now intends to return to a quiet retirement remains to be seen, but let's just hope he's still got a few more of these left in him before he does.” 

Read our full review here

13. Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)

What we said: Victoria is, after all, very much deserving of its hype; a masterclass in real-time storytelling that covers a huge amount within a limited time frame and a bare-bones narrative. There are few thrillers that unfold as cleverly and uniquely as this one does, and in spite of a few heavy-handed moments of Schipper cutting corners, Victoria stands as arguably one of the year's most exciting releases.”

Read our full review here

12. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (dir. Gareth Edwards)

What we said: “Ironically, it’s occasionally a little on the dark side, but on the whole Disney’s first big-budget shot at a standalone Star Wars is both hugely clever and thoroughly engrossing, making it a worthwhile gap-filler for an otherwise superior main saga.”

Read our full review here

11. Hunt For the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi)

What we said: “Arguably the most feel-good, surprisingly family-friendly, and generally lovely movie of the year, this super ballsy little NZ hit showcases the best of Waititi’s talents. From spot-on humour, to some genuinely immense storytelling, Hunt For the Wilderpeople is an absolute must for pretty much every audience.” 

10. Nocturnal Animals (dir. Tom Ford)

What we said: “Maintaining shoulder-aching tension throughout the whole two hours, this is possibly one of the most gripping films ever made. A masterful feat of storytelling.” 

Read our full review here

9. Captain Fantastic (dir. Matt Ross)

What we said: "Matt Ross's sensationally sweet sophmore dramedy not only reminds us all that Viggo Mortensen is more than just the sword-swining Aragorn, it's also one of the most down-to-Earth and cleverly told family-centric films in a long time. Fun, emotional and with its head screwed on perfectly."

8. Don’t Breathe (dir. Fede Alvarez)

What we said: “With a few meaningless scares and a rather disjointed ending, there is not a lot wrong here and Alvarez creates the perfect horror atmosphere without using ghosts or possessed children, which seems to be the current trend. Don't Breathe is a passionate, well thought out and scary horror movie, which gives hope to the future of the genre.”

Read our full review here

 7. Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

What we said: “With Room, Lenny Abrahamson has achieved a totally new level of drama; one that is both tense, but frequently joyous in its chronicling of the innately human desire to find happiness in even the darkest of places. A contemporary companion to the likes of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, it is a profoundly moving experience that promises hope and honesty to all those who willingly invest in its morals. You can't get more powerful than that.”

Read our full review here

6. Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)

What we said: Spotlight is a story that needed to be told, and this incredible film deserves endless praise for its boldness and passion. The story of the abuse of the Catholic Church,  uncovered by the Boston Globe, is difficult to watch, but the film just oozes with passion. It riles you up like you wouldn't believe but leaves you moved by the triumph of honest journalism.”

Words by Hollie Geraghty

5. The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black)

What we said: “Slide in an effortlessly glam setting, a twisty plot and a hefty supporting cast and what remains is a riotously good time at the movies. Well-shot, well-crafted and oozing with nostalgia, it’s a fun-fuelled, witty wake-up call to the heavily-saturated shelves of Hollywood today: old-school genres definitely still have their place.”

Read our full review here

4. Everybody Wants Some!! (dir. Richard Linklater)

What we said: Everybody Wants Some!! is an honest, clear-vision of the past, side-stepping the trap of presenting outlandish stereotypes for comic effect and presenting a wonderful reliving of the 80s.”

Read our full review here

3. Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) 

What we said: “It might’ve benefited from a little more hamminess from Stewart, or perhaps one or two less retreads, but on the whole Green Room is one of the tightest and most exceptionally approached thrillers to be released in years. Few seem to have cracked the wit and wonder of genre filmmaking as well as Saulnier, and we can only hope he continues to deliver.”

Read our full review here, and our interview with Jeremy Saulnier here.

2. Captain America: Civil War (dir. Joe & Anthony Russo)

What we said: Civil War proves one of the funnest, funniest and easily one of the most entertaining superhero blockbusters yet. Not only does it label the Russos as welcome successors to the Avengers gaunt, but it also quashes any and all fears that Marvel's character roster is growing a little too wide.”

Read our full review here

1. Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

What we said: “After Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, Arrival establishes Villeneuve as a ridiculously talented director, who knows how to tackle big subjects in a grounded way, all the while making his audience think.”

Read our full review here

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