It has been a funny old year at the movies, with seemingly dozens of enormous blockbuster films falling right on their mediocre faces at the summer box office. However, there were a few major multiplex gems and plenty of hidden wonders for those willing to venture outside of the big tentpoles and even away from the cinema itself to streaming platforms, where many intriguing releases arrived this year.
Along with my co-hosts on The Popcorn Muncher Podcast – Luke and Patrick – I listed my top ten films of 2016. We’ve awarded points for the rankings, crunched the numbers and here are, according to the three of us, the 20 best films that were released in the UK in 2016.
19=. Keanu (3 pts)
In this odd action comedy, two friends posed as drug dealers in order to retrieve the eponymous stolen kitten. It got a rather limited release in the UK, but wowed audiences in America, including fans of Key and Peele from their sketch show.
Patrick said: “ Keanu just pipped Popstar Never Stop Stopping on this list by simply being cleverer. Language, demeanour and code switching are the source of the jokes as well as the contextual commentary. A supremely confident first outing for Key and Peele.”
19=. Bridget Jones’s Baby (3 pts)
Britain’s most lovable klutz returned after a prolonged absence, only to once again find herself stuck between two men. This time, though, there was the added wrinkle of Bridget being pregnant and unsure who was the father of her child.
Luke said: “In a year where many sequels disappointed, Bridget Jones’s Baby managed to exceed all of my expectations. Quintessentially Bridget, this movie is funny from start to finish. It indulges itself in lots of silly set pieces, but they all land, and it rounds the most British of heroes off nicely.”
19=. Green Room (3 pts)
After Blue Ruin, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier returned to the world of awful violence for siege horror Green Room. The film saw a punk band trapped within the titular corner of a neo-Nazi club and hunted down after witnessing a murder.
Tom said: “Saulnier is a filmmaker focused entirely on the consequences of violence and Green Room feels like the epitome of his ethos, zeroing in on central characters who just want to survive being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s gritty, grim and gripping in equal measure.”
17=. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (4 pts)
It’s Potter, but not as we know it. Eddie Redmayne held the audience’s hand as he journeyed through the wizarding world of 1920s New York, with beasts on the loose and dark magic brewing in the city.
Tom said: “It’s a real thrill to be back in JK Rowling’s wizarding world and Fantastic Beasts is nothing short of magical, balancing nods to the Potter franchise’s past with planning for its future. I wish I could wave my wand and get a sneaky little peek at the sequel right now.”
17=. Sleeping with Other People (4 pts)
In this little-seen romantic comedy that was released way back on New Year’s Day, a womanising man and a girl who just can’t stop cheating on her partners formed a platonic alliance in an attempt to repair their respective issues with relationships.
Patrick said: “A true successor to When Harry Met Sally, Sleeping with Other People is frank and honest about relationships. It may have the love conquers all sentiments we expect from romcoms, yet it still manages to circumvent tropes of the genre without feeling cynical.”
15=. Spotlight (5 pts)
It seems like a long time since Spotlight won its Oscar earlier this year, but the old-fashioned tale of dogged reporters uncovering abuse in the Catholic Church remains one of the year’s most compelling films.
Tom said: “This was a deserving Best Picture winner, with minimalist direction providing a perfect starting point for an ensemble of outstanding performers working at the top of their game and underplaying everything beautifully. It’s an important story, told in impressive fashion.”
15=. Welcome to Me (5 pts)
This strange comedy was first released in America back in 2014, but only made its way to the UK this year. It saw a mentally ill woman pay for a vanity television show when she scooped a massive lottery prize.
Patrick said: “Finally seeing a UK release, Welcome to Me is dry and hilarious. Kristen Wiig has taken an interesting career route with smaller independent fare and I’d take more of this over Ghostbusters any day.”
13=. Deadpool (6 pts)
The superhero genre got a severe shaking when Ryan Reynolds finally made the fan favourite wise-cracker into a star of the silver screen. It was a slightly plotted film, but one powered by knowing quips and comic violence.
Patrick said: “Finally, Deadpool got the big screen debut he deserved. The movie was a love letter to fans and surprised audiences and the studio alike with just how successful it was. Reynolds is perfectly cast and its anarchic sensibility is exactly what the over-saturated superhero genre needed.”
13=. Star Trek Beyond (6 pts)
Simon Pegg hopped into the writing hotseat for this action-packed threequel.
Luke said: “Amidst a year of bad blockbuster sequels, Star Trek followed up its brilliant first two outings with, arguably, the best of the bunch. It’s funny from start to finish, with more dynamic action than we’ve seen in the franchise so far.”
Patrick said: “I’ve not been a fan of any of the new movies. Thankfully, Star Trek Beyond has fixed all of the issues I’ve had with the franchise, creating a movie that feels in keeping with the new direction, yet respectful of the source material.”
10=. 10 Cloverfield Lane (7 pts)
No one knew that a Cloverfield sequel was coming, until a month or so before the release of the tense, atmospheric 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was a single location thriller with real bite.
Luke said: “This surprise follow-up is a real joy. Like no other movie you’ve seen this year, it’s packed with mystery and genuine toe-curling suspense. It really depends on the viewer whether you find its links to Cloverfield a benefit or hindrance, but overall this is a brilliant watch.”
10=. Don’t Breathe (7 pts)
In one of the year’s grimmest horror movies, the director of the Evil Dead reboot crafted a home invasion horror movie in which the invaders found themselves on the back foot very quickly and with dark consequences. It turned out that targeting a highly trained military man was a bad idea.
10=. I, Daniel Blake (7 pts)
Tom said: “You might not agree with Loach politically, but it’s impossible not to be moved by the power of the story he tells. The performances feel real and the story is achingly familiar to anyone who has grappled with the DWP.”
7=. Nocturnal Animals (8 pts)
Fashion designer Tom Ford returned to the director’s chair this year with the intense, multi-stranded thriller Nocturnal Animals. Ford’s story followed an art gallery owner, left alone while her husband is on business with only a manuscript from her ex for company. It turned out that the manuscript was a violent, vicious tale of murder and revenge with more than a few parallels to real life.
Luke said: “Stylish, suspenseful, emotional and horrific in equal measure, Nocturnal Animals is a real must-watch. Somewhat unfairly overshadowed by Amy Adams‘ other film, Arrival , which came out at the same time, everything about the film is a treat, and leaves a genuine lasting impression. There are stand-out performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and your only thought at the film’s ending is how long it is until you can watch it again.”
7=. Your Name (8 pts)
Anime director Makoto Shinkai continued to stake his claim to Miyazaki’s throne with Your Name. The animation told the story of a young man and woman who grew to know each other as a result of apparently random body swaps in which they woke up in each other’s body. Huge revelations took the film in heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring directions as it moved towards a subtle final scene.
Tom said: “Few films this year have been as instantly remarkable as Your Name. Shinkai’s story is remarkably warm and funny, but also knows exactly when to detonate its emotional hammer blows. The intense emotion is boosted by inventive visuals that marry the realistic with the impressionistic. It’s near-perfect.”
7=. Arrival (8 pts)
Denis Villeneuve flexed his sci-fi muscles ahead of his Blade Runner sequel with the complex, emotionally poignant Arrival. The film saw a linguistics professor grappling with an alien message when mysterious spaceships appear, hovering ominously above the Earth’s surface. It started out as a straightforward invasion movie, but became something far more interesting as it grappled with international cooperation and the very fabric of reality itself.
Patrick said: “A smart and thoroughly engaging movie that plays with complex ideas of linguistics, space and time effortlessly. Unique and otherworldly aliens and ship designs, coupled with a terrific performance by Amy Adams and a script polished to a mirror shine make this one of this year’s stand-outs.”
4=. The Fundamentals of Caring (9 pts)
There were a few real stand-out films released on Netflix this year, including Sundance favourite dramedy The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd. Rudd played retired writer Ben, who found new purpose in life after learning how to become a carer. He was hired to care for a character with muscular dystrophy, played by Submarine star Craig Roberts.
Luke said: “This doesn’t step far away from a familiar coming-of-age, road trip formula, but what it possesses is an exceptional performance from Craig Roberts, who plays wheelchair-bound Trevor – this year’s unlikely comedy hero. The script is dripping with humour from start to finish, and Roberts’ standout turn is ably supported by Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez. This movie is heart-warming, laugh-out-loud funny and a genuinely moving portrayal of how to make the best out of life.”
4=. Room (9 pts)
The immensely powerful Room was one of the year’s first releases and, 12 months later, it remains one of the best films to hit cinemas in 2016. Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own book, it followed a young woman and her child as they escaped the clutches of the man who kidnapped her years before and subjected her to repeated abuse. Despite the bleak premise, it proved to be an uplifting and gripping movie about different ways of seeing the world.
Tom said: “Without doubt, Room is the film released this year that boasts the most raw power. There are several genuine white-knuckle sequences and the two central performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay deserve all of the attention that was lavished upon them during awards season. Every time I watch Room, it wows me all over again.”
4=. The Nice Guys (9 pts)
Shane Black returned to what brought him to the dance with buddy comedy The Nice Guys. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling played detectives investigating a mystery surrounding the apparent death of a porn star. It’s a film that cycled through Black tropes – quips, violence, Christmas – with wry abandon and packed in plenty of memorable laughs in amongst the mayhem.
Patrick said: “Shane Black knocks it out of the park again with a hilarious buddy action comedy. The performances are great and the action is both hilarious and thrilling to watch. An under-appreciated gem of this year.”
3. Zootropolis (12 pts)
A glance at the box office chart is all that is required to see how good 2016 was for Disney. For their animated division, the pinnacle of this was Zootropolis – released virtually everywhere else under the much better name of Zootopia. The film saw a bunny police officer trying to assert herself in an industry dominated by predators, with the threat that many predators have returned to their natural, violent instincts. It was an animated comedy and a smart take on tolerance and diversity.
Tom said: “Disney has done it again, with a sophisticated and dense allegory wrapped up in a rip-roaring comedy adventure. Zootropolis handles deft political subtext and broad comedy with equal sure-footedness and conjures up a variety of memorable characters in the process. This ain’t your everyday talking animal film, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Luke said: “This movie is so good that you need to watch it four times to totally understand just what it achieves. It’s action-packed, funny, has a great mystery story and is genuinely thought-provoking. It’s this depth which keeps it above any other animated movie in cinemas this year, and if Inside Out hadn’t happened the year before, it would easily be the most sophisticated kids’ animated movie of all time. “
2. Sing Street (14 pts)
John Carney followed up modern musical delights Once and Begin Again this year, with the utterly brilliant Sing Street. Set at Carney’s former school, the film was the semi-autobiographical tale of a group of Irish youngsters in a band, set up by its lead singer in order to impress a beguiling older girl. It was packed with tremendous songs, real heart and moments of incredible comedy. The film topped Tom’s list to earn its place at number two in our countdown.
Tom said: “This film is a masterpiece. Carney is a remarkable filmmaker and this is the zenith of his work to date, with killer songs and some gleeful absurdist humour. It evokes the 80s with flawless precision and does a stellar job of telling the story of young people battling to find themselves whilst wearing their hearts on their instruments. For me, it’s the best film of 2016 by quite some distance.”
Luke said: “John Carney’s third musical drama is the third in succession to be utterly charming, and the first to be laugh-out-loud hilarious. A brilliant homage to 80s music, this movie is a winner from start to finish, with a series of breakout performances. If I were to tell you to watch any movie from this year, it would be this one.”
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (20 pts)
With expectations weighing heavy on its shoulders as the first Star Wars spin-off and the immediate successor to smash hit reboot The Force Awakens, it would have been easy for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to flounder. However, the film was an action-packed thrill ride around the galaxy far, far away centered on the rebel mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. There were new characters to fall for and delightful cameos to relish, as well as one of the year’s most thrilling final acts. The Force was definitely with it.
Patrick said: “While other reviewers seem to have misconstrued the use of brand recognition as solely fan service, Rogue One demonstrates how to make use of a pre-existing canon to create something familiar, yet different in its own right. On top of that, it takes some brave steps with its ending and adds ambiguity to the rebels in order to suggest more depth to the franchise.”
Luke said: “The talk before this movie hit cinemas was about how it could distinguish itself from the main Star Wars saga, but this movie is so quintessentially Star Wars that its last hour is unlikely to leave you feel anything short of beaming happiness, weary from emotion. Rogue One shows the franchise at its most beautiful, its most action-packed and darkest. It’s hard to think of a more stylish, confident and brilliant movie to have hit cinemas this year.”
And here are our full lists. For our weekly reviews and chat, check out the podcast. If you want to yell at us for what we have chosen or indeed what we haven’t chosen, feel free to pop down to the comments section and scream your heart out.
I, Daniel Blake
Girl with All the Gifts
Kubo and the Two Strings
Fundamentals of Caring
10 Cloverfield Lane
Star Trek Beyond
Bridget Jones’s Baby
The Nice Guys
Welcome to Me
Sleeping with Other People
The Neon Demon
Star Trek Beyond