Given the shit-show of a year that we've just endured, the cinema has felt more than ever like a welcome escape from reality in 2016. Thankfully, we've been blessed with a wealth of excellent films to help us through these strange and confusing times: from foul-mouthed hot dogs to a wise-cracking superhero, Hollywood has done its upmost to keep our spirits up over the past 12 months. Here's a look at the 20 best films of 2016.
US politician Anthony Weiner became internationally famous when he accidentally treated Twitter to a photo of his erection, intended for someone other than his wife. This documentary followed his attempt to rebuild his career with a run for mayor of New York, which he kept self-sabotaging with more sex scandals and an ego so out of control that he’d run toward any possibility of attention, no matter how negatively it might impact him.
In a nutshell: It’s a fascinating, saddening, bleakly funny parable of a man allowing his obviously sharp political brain to be shouted down by his idiot penis.
The best Avengers movie wasn’t an Avengers movie. Cap 3 had everything you could want in a big budget superhero movie: a story that challenged everything we knew about the characters, pitting Captain America and Iron Man against each other in a government assault on superheroes; lots of funny bits; that action sequence at the airport that dumped all over every other action movie this year. The only thing it lacked was a decent villain, but there was so much else going on that even that was only a modest concern.
In a nutshell: It was a weak summer for blockbusters, but this would have been one of the best in any year.
Heaven help any parent who innocently took their children to see this animated comedy assuming cartoons are for kids. It was one of the filthiest movies of the year. Ostensibly a story of some supermarket foodstuffs that believe beyond the automatic doors lies a world of freedom and promise, rather than a place where humans unfeelingly eat them, it was really a very sweary sex comedy that also dealt with American racism and intolerance of anyone different from the norm.
In a nutshell: In light of Donald Trump’s victory, possibly 2016’s most political movie.
It’s easy to be cynical about Disney’s current rush to remake its animated classics – Cinderella’s been done (it was fine); Beauty and the Beast, Mulan and Aladdin are upcoming – but The Jungle Book showed that we shouldn’t immediately write them all off. Made almost entirely in motion-capture, save for Neel Sethi as Mowgli, it was astonishingly beautiful to look at.
In a nutshell: Turned Rudyard Kipling’s tale into less of a cheery musical adventure and more of a blood-thirsty, fast-paced action adventure.
Ken Loach directed the depressing story of Daniel, a man in the North-East of England who has been signed off work due to injury. The government believes he’s fit for work, putting him in the position of being neither able to earn his own money nor able to claim benefits. Loach doesn’t pretend to be balanced in arguing for those who have been beaten down by circumstance but are treated like cheats by headlines and government systems.
In a nutshell: It’s a protest movie, and a very powerful one.
A nasty but highly effective action-horror, Green Room is a film that unsettles you from the earliest scenes and then just shakes you more and more until you can barely take it. When a travelling band agree to a gig in a club that, they discover, is run by white supremacists they find themselves in the middle of something awful.
In a nutshell: An excellent cast is led by the late Anton Yelchin through a gory nightmare.
Robert Eggers is one of the most exciting directors to show up this year. This, his first movie, is a horror movie but not one that tries to scare you out of your seat. Instead, it wants to burrow into your mind, leaving you with an unsettling fear you might struggle to shake for weeks. Set in 17th century New England, it centres on a family living an isolated existence next to the woods.
In a nutshell: In those woods lurks something evil.
f you’ve ever seen any movies by Todd Solondz (Happiness, Welcome To The Dollhouse) then you’ll know that just because this follows the life of a cute little dog it doesn’t mean anyone’s likely to wind up very happy. Solondz does not make happy movies, but he does make grimly funny ones. The dog of the title is a hound that is adopted by various misfits all trying to repair broken lives. They don’t so much mend themselves as gradually break the dog. Fun!
In a nutshell: Todd Solondz’s best film for a long time.
A drama about a small band of Boston Globe journalists exposing the cover-up of paedophilic abuse in the Catholic Church, Spotlight swept in from nowhere to win the Best Picture Oscar this year. Director Tom McCarthy took a calm, procedural approach to his story, keeping the focus on his journalists and letting the horrors of what they uncovered speak for themselves. He never took the opportunity to sensationalise because it wasn’t needed.
In a nutshell: Its subject is a very dark one, but in showing that there are always people who will fight to shine light on darkness, it was a film with a strong sense of hope.
Brie Larson quite rightly won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in this, but it’s young Jacob Tremblay who sticks in the mind. Based on a hit novel, Room is the harrowing account of a young woman who was kidnapped several years ago and has been living in a single room with her son (Tremblay), the result of repeated rape by her kidnapper.
In a nutshell: Works extremely effectively both as a drama-thriller about these two people trying to escape, and as almost a fantasy of what it’s like for a small child discovering a world beyond everything he thought was true.
“Most of us don’t want to change really,” says Nick Cave through the sombre monochrome of One More Time With Feeling. “I mean why should we? But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change? You change from a known person, to an unknown person?” The Cave we’ve grown to know over the last three decades – the vampire, the wolfman, the bad seed – is gone. All we see here is the human, the husband, the mourning father, in this painfully frank and real portrait of a family navigating its way through the loss of a son, and a man doing so the only way he can: with the compass of his art.
In a nutshell: Devastating but essential.
2016 was a big year for Louis Theroux. There were BBC docs on alcoholism, brain injuries and his second Jimmy Savile investigation, but it was also the beloved filmmaker’s first foray onto the big screen. My Scientology Movie was wilfully weird, in that Theroux was constantly refused access to the very thing he was trying to make a movie about. Ever resourceful, he managed to find a way around it and encountered some very peculiar characters along the way.
In a nutshell: Eccentric Brit tries to infiltrate a shady LA cult and fails – but in a fun way.
To describe Jeff Nichols’ movie as sci-fi might lead to the wrong expectations. While there are a couple of (superbly directed) action sequences of things crashing to earth from space, the story of an otherworldly boy and the people trying to either protect or exploit him is much more quiet and thoughtful than most sci-fi.
In a nutshell: A slow, almost meditative mood and lots of very strange ideas, that it gently pushes your way rather than throwing them at you in a hail of lazer beams and spaceships.
There was no more cheering experience in cinemas this year than watching Taika Waititi’s weirdo comedy. It’s a bizarre story, of a chubby, self-possessed foster kid who goes on the run with his reluctant foster father through the New Zealand woods. In all its bizarre, hilarious adventures there’s a touching message about family and finding it where you can, if the world doesn’t give it to you in the usual way.
In a nutshell: If 2016 is getting you down, put this on and you’re likely to feel, albeit briefly, a bit better.
The very British director Andrea Arnold told a story of modern America that has only become more relevant since its release. It follows a young woman (Sasha Lane) as she tries to make her own modest version of the American dream, travelling across the country with a group of placeless kids looking for their piece of the world.
In a nutshell: A portrait of a girl and a country that are confused by where they’ve found themselves and are looking for a direction.
The very odd combination of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling works a treat in this daffy film noir. Crowe is a private investigator who bends the rules to get justice done. Gosling is a private investigator who cons old ladies. When they team up to solve a crime, the crime itself becomes the least important part of the whole enterprise.
In a nutshell: The reason to see this is for wonderfully snappy dialogue by Shane Black and a full-bodied performance by Gosling that proves once again why he’s the internet’s favourite boyfriend.
Richard Linklater’s ‘spiritual sequel’ to Dazed and Confused takes place over the few days before a young man (Blake Jenner) starts college, getting to know new friends, partying, meeting girls. It’s not really about those few days, though; it’s about a moment. It’s about the moment you change from being a kid to being a grown up, and all the thrill and horror that goes with that. It’s a comedy that might suddenly have you bursting into nostalgic tears.
In a nutshell: The soundtrack is killer.
The year’s most surprising commercial success, Deadpool was the occasional reminder that nobody in Hollywood really knows anything. Based on a lesser-known comic book character who shows few signs of heroism, it was given a modest $58 million budget in the expectation it might make a decent return. With an all-in performance by Ryan Reynold’s as the amoral, sexually fluid hero, and none of the universe-building self-importance of many other superhero movies, it was a blast.
In a nutshell: A cleverly silly assault of well-staged action and A+ dick jokes. It made over $750 million.
It says everything about how entertaining Oasis were in their early years, that the first cut of director Mat Whitecross’s film about the band’s rise from the council estates of Manchester to the biggest gigs the UK had ever seen was 20 hours long. Given how great the old footage of the band rehearsing in Manchester, playing in LA, recording in Monmouthshire, fighting and getting wankered all over the place is, and how revealing the new interviews with Noel, Liam and Peggy Gallagher and others are (primary example: “Noel has a lot of buttons, Liam has a lot of fingers”), we’re willing to bet those 20 hours are a blast. But what Supersonic does brilliantly in the two hours it’s been whittled down ti is capture the essence of what Oasis were, beyond all the ladrock and Britpop clichés: five working class kids with nothing to lose, who got incredibly famous incredibly fast and had an amazing time doing it. “We were the biggest band in the country but we didn’t give a fuck,” says Noel at one point. That kind of wild abandon is a delight to behold.
In a nutshell: From Manchester to Knebworth via massive tunes, loads of gear, a million pints and a smattering of brotherly love.