Mid-Year Review – 5 best films of 2016 so far

We’re just over halfway through 2016 and the year has already yielded a selection of very varied films – from the good to the bad, via the incredibly ugly. The Best Picture field at the Oscars this year was as wide open as it has ever been, with several major prestige pictures vying for the title.

Blockbuster cinema has also boasted success, with the early part of the summer boasting major success stories from the likes of Marvel and Disney Animation. Some of the more recent blockbusters have been painfully mediocre, but with movies like Captain America: Civil War in play, 2016 can certainly be filed as a solid year to date.

Here are the five best films of 2016 so far.


5. Creed

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in Creed
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in Creed

Nobody expected much from Ryan Coogler‘s take on the Rocky universe, arriving ten years after Sylvester Stallone said he was done with the franchise. However, Creed proved everybody wrong. Coogler’s vision was a crowd-pleasing, modern take on the material powered by electric chemistry between Stallone and Michael B Jordan as the son of Rocky’s greatest rival, Apollo Creed.

The film moved at an impressive pace and packed a surprising emotional punch as it examined the twin journeys of the young man trying to escape his father’s shadow and the ageing legend struggling to live up to what people expect of him. The fights boast a crunching, realistic violence and the finale is genuinely rousing. Coogler has taken a dead franchise and woken it up with a swift jab to the face.

You can read my full review of Creed here.


4. Green Room

Jeremy Saulnier's thriller Green Room is a gruelling watch
Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller Green Room is a gruelling watch

Jeremy Saulnier is a filmmaker who thrives in making the audience uncomfortable and his latest film, Green Room, is no exception. Following a young punk band who are forced to fight for their lives after witnessing a murder within a neo-Nazi club, it’s a tale of survival punctuated by moments of sickening violence. Saulnier’s direction gives the audience no escape, locking them inside a claustrophobic adrenaline ride that is utterly gripping throughout.

The film is given extra poignancy by the recent death of its star, Anton Yelchin. His performance, along with that of Imogen Poots, gives Green Room a frenetic energy and a pair of characters who are genuinely worth getting behind. It’s a film that’s a gruelling and difficult watch, but one with a dark sense of humour and a surprisingly rousing finale.

You can read my full review of Green Room here.


3. Spotlight

Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton in Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton in Spotlight

This year’s winner of the Oscar for Best Picture was certainly a deserving one. Spotlight is old-fashioned filmmaking at its best, with director Tom McCarthy helming a steadfastly traditional take on the troubling story of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the subsequent investigation on behalf of the Boston Glove to expose it. A true ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams brings an unshowy naturalism to the material that makes it all the more powerful when Ruffalo does explode into one impressive moment of grandstanding.

Spotlight understands the importance of its story and reflects the seriousness with which the dogged reporters took the investigation. It’s not a film that goes overboard attempting to please the awards bodies. It is merely focused on telling its complex story in a lean, digestible fashion.

You can read my full review of Spotlight here.


2. Zootropolis

Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman take on voice roles in Disney's Zootropolis
Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman take on voice roles in Disney’s Zootropolis

Pixar is pretty much the undisputed grandaddy of animation, but their buddies over at Disney Animation have been doing impressive work recently with the likes of Wreck-it Ralph and Frozen. Their latest film, Zootropolis, might even be the best of their recent output. It’s a fun adventure movie set in a very intriguing world, but it’s true success is in its central message of tolerance and integration.

Zootropolis is a middle-finger salute to Donald Trump and the post-Brexit politics of hate. It’s a movie that puts forward a vision of a near perfect world in which animals are able to live together by acknowledging and understanding their differences, as reflected by its American title Zootopia. On top of all that, it’s a well-acted and interesting adventure with plenty of bright colours and quippy dialogue. It caters to the kids, whilst also giving their adults plenty to chew on.

You can read my full review of Zootropolis here.


1. Room

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in Room
Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in Room

There have been a lot of really good films this year, but perhaps only one that is genuinely a great work of cinema. That film is Lenny Abrahamson‘s Room, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own beloved novel. It’s an interesting take on tough material, focusing as it does on a young woman being held captive and the son fathered by her rapist. Abrahamson and Donoghue do not wallow in the misery of the story, but position the story through the eyes of youngster Jacob Tremblay.

Tremblay’s performance is one of wide-eyed innocence and inability to comprehend the horrors of his world. It’s a simple perspective shifts that turns the film into something truly special. Brie Larson‘s work is equally impressive, particularly as the story opens up into the outside world. This is a film about a tough subject that somehow manages to be uplifting and life-affirming without shying away from the darkness. I’d be stunned if it isn’t still on this list at the end of the year.

You can read my full review of Room here.


I also asked Luke Stevenson and Patrick Wilson, my co-hosts on The Popcorn Muncher Podcast, what they thought were the best films of 2016 so far. Here’s what they said…


Luke’s Best Films of 2016 so Far

3. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds as wise-cracking Marvel antihero Deadpool
Ryan Reynolds as wise-cracking Marvel antihero Deadpool

Is this the answer to comic book movie fatigue? Not quite. The movie Ryan Reynolds was born to make is hilarious and original… for half an hour, after which it becomes every other comic book movie. But the recurring bursts of confidence and comedy has laid solid foundations for future installments of this surprise smash.

The experience is worth it for Reynolds alone, who is clearly relishing the opportunity to shun the typical leading man role and prove with every line he’s the best comedic actor around. The window dressing might not be as effective as the central display, but in a sea of Marvel and lacklustre X-Men movies, Deadpool is one of the most memorable movies of the year, if not quite hitting the genre-defining heights it sets out to be.


2. Spotlight

Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in Oscar-winning drama Spotlight
Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in Oscar-winning drama Spotlight

It’s odd how quickly a Best Picture winner can fade from memory, but the story of how Boston Globe journalists uncovered a mass child abuse scandal deserves much more credit than it got when its stars collected a tiny golden statue all those months ago.

Very well told with solid performances across the board, this movie manages to take something that could have been boring and made it essential viewing.


1. Ghostbusters

The new Ghostbusters take on spirits... and sexists
The new Ghostbusters take on spirits… and sexists

Funny, stylish and, while it shouldn’t be in the 21st century, an incredibly important step in the future of blockbuster cinema, Ghostbusters is my film of the year so far. From the first moment to the last, this reboot is supremely confident and original. It pays respect to its source when it has to, but it is sure of foot enough to know its own style of comedy and play off the talents of its leads.

Sure, every joke doesn’t land as it intended and some of the characters are portrayed in a rather crude way you wouldn’t expect in a movie which, whether it wants to be or not, is a big step forward for representation in Hollywood. However, what it lacks in execution, it more than makes up for in style, talent and laughs. In a rather drab summer season lacking in originality, it falls to a reboot of a 30-year-old movie to offer something truly memorable.


Patrick’s Best Films of 2016 so Far

3. The Big Short

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in The Big Short
Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in The Big Short

I was torn between this movie and Room, but I decided I enjoyed The Big Short more. The movie tries a lot of different things in its approach to covering what is essentially one of the most complex and monumental crashes to happen in the financial world. Steve Carell is great as Mark Baum and holds the movie together, even though his accent does sound a little like Prison Mike from The Office.

The celebrity cameos work really well to boil down the complexities and, while some felt the movie was a bit smug about itself, I never felt it was talking down to its audience.


2. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds brought quickfire comedy to Deadpool
Ryan Reynolds brought quickfire comedy to Deadpool

As a fan of the Deadpool comics for a long time, it’s wonderful to see director Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds produce a really faithful and hilarious depiction of the character on the big screen. This feels like a love letter fan film by Reynolds and Miller in the best way, paying respects to the fundamentals of the characters while understanding how to use them in a movie format.

It’s one the funniest comedies of the year, has great action set pieces considering its budget slashing and makes great use of its Fox-approved cameos to take a sharp and hilarious dig at the superhero genre.


1. Sleeping with Other People

Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis in romcom Sleeping with Other People
Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis in romcom Sleeping with Other People

It’s hard to make a subversion of the romcom genre without coming off as cynical. Director and writer Leslye Headland manages to sidestep the cynicism with a story about two characters struggling with commitment in different ways, who feel absolutely sincere and real. The film boasts a beautifully shot depiction of real New York life as well as a frank depiction of modern sexuality.

I’ve been a huge fan of Alison Brie for ages and both she and Jason Sudeikis are doing career-best work here, helping sell the characters as real people who grow together. A sharp script and a real sincerity make this one of the best romcoms of the past decade and a worthy companion piece to When Harry Met Sally.


Which films did we miss out? Are there any that don’t deserve to be there? Let me know in the comments section and check back later this week for my list of the worst films of 2016 to date.

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