Top 15 Films of 2016

Post by Tarek J

Hey Guys. So, most of you have probably forgotten who I am, but at some point in time I used to write film reviews for this blog (I think i ended up writing 3 in total?). Where did I go? Well, to that vast wasteland we like to call laziness. But, here’s hoping this article will lead a more frequent visit from myself so here goes.

2016. A terrible year by all accounts, but strangely, an incredible year for cinema. After one of the worst summer movie seasons of all time, without a single film sticking out, it’s quite the surprise reaching the end of the year and finding so many hidden gems.

My taste in film might not appeal to most, but the point of this post is that hopefully you will learn about or discover a hidden gem that otherwise you wouldn’t have considered. I’ve also made it a point not to include any foreign films, as there were many beautiful ones, but this is a year that represents a renaissance in American Cinema with many films that are so unique and fresh that I had to celebrate them. So without further a do, here are the 15 best films of the year, according to my pretentious and unnecessary opinion.

Disclaimer: At the time of writing this article, I hadn’t seen the following highly acclaimed films that might have had a spot otherwise: Cameraperson, Hell or Highwater, Tower, Paterson, Fences, Krisha, The Fits, and The Handmaiden.

Check out my list below:

15. Born to be Blue
A biopic of the legendary Chet Baker told as a film within a film and covering the later more difficult years in his career, this is one of the best musical biopics I’ve ever seen if only due to how original and unformulaic the storytelling is and the very assured direction by Robert Budreau. It also wins the award for Best Actor of the year for me, with Ethan Hawke giving the performance of his life as Chet.

14. Everybody Wants Some!!
A spiritual sequel to the classic Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater again gives us another excellent film that works within the construct of time to deliver a feeling of nostalgia and hope. Here we catch up with a group of students 3 days before the first day of college as they get situated into their new lives. It’s probably the most fun you’ll have watching a film this year, featuring a cast of newcomers and reaching (almost) the heights of its predecessor. Easy on the eyes, ears, and heart.

13. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This little surprise comes all the way from New Zealand, where its director (Taika Waititi, who previously gave us the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows and is giving us Thor Ragnorok next) delivers a drama comedy that takes cues from Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright while also being utterly unique in and of itself. Equally hilarious and emotionally moving, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has a sort of wide eyed innocence to its comedy and a mature subdued approach to its drama. A unique vision by a director whose future I’m very hopeful for.

12. Hail, Caesar
It’s a real shame when people tend to write off the Coen Brothers’ comedic films as “lesser Coens” since they tend to get respect for their more serious affairs (such as No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and Inside Llewyn Davis). But Hail, Caesar is a film that reaches those cinematic heights in my opinion. Part OTT mystery thriller, part loving homage to the golden years of Hollywood, this film may appear to be a straightforward crowdpleaser, but beneath its surface lies a far deeper allegory about faith, religion, the Christ, and communism. It also features the funniest scene of the year (see below), so you don’t have to get it’s subtext to enjoy its genius.

11. The Lobster
The film that would have the strangest premise of the year (if it wasn’t for number 9 on this list), The Lobster is an odd approach to what is at its core a romance film. Starring Colin Farrel in one of his best performances to date, this film is a comedy, a drama, a political thriller, a romance, and a science fiction tale. To explain the premise will only confuse things further, but if you have the patience for it, it will prove to be one of your most unique forays into cinema.

10. The Red Turtle
I caught this randomly while at the Eye film institute in Amsterdam earlier this year, and to my complete surprise it ended up being one of my favorites of the year. A silent animation about a man who finds himself stranded on a deserted island, the animation and sound design are incredible, but what really makes this tale eternal is at its simple but moving portrayal of our shared human experience on earth. By the time the credits roll, you won’t help but realize what a long life this film will have. Beautiful.

9. Swiss Army Man
Here it is. The weirdest film I have ever seen in my life. And I’m probably not alone in that. Where the hell did this film come from, how was it allowed to be made, and how is it even in my top 15? Well, somehow, after you’ve allowed yourself to accept the weird world you’re launched into from the first few minutes of this film, you begin to peel away the layers and find a deeply affectionate tale about loneliness. As the directors said when asked about what the driving force behind the film was: “We wanted to make it so the first fart in the film makes you laugh, and the last fart makes you cry”. Well… somehow, they pulled it off.

8. Sing Street
Feeling a bit down? Not in the best of moods? Just want to escape for a moment? No film this year will give you as much hope and joy as this uplifting, funny, and nostalgic journey into the 80’s. John Carney, who previously gave us the amazing film “Once” is again capturing the magic of creating music together. I cannot recommend this film enough, and its the easiest film to recommend to everyone I know because they always come back with the same reaction: I love this film.

7. The VVitch
I’m personally not a great fan of horror films. But The Witch can’t even be compared to other horror films. It feels like a horror film directed by Michael Hanneke. It feels like a puritan version of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This film is utterly terrifying and doesn’t have a single cheap jump scare. The performances are incredible (especially by the children), the mood is haunting, the dialogue and script are top notch, but in the end, all credit goes to first tim director Robert Eggers who directs this film with the confidence of a man with 40 years of experience. This is one of the best directed films of the year, and one of the strongest horror films of the millennium.

6. Manchester by the Sea
It’s quite a feat to deliver one of the saddest stories of the year in such a funny way, but Manchester By the Sea’s strongest point is at how realistically it portrays grief. And in real life, we find ways to laugh even when the world around us is falling apart. A beautiful, powerful, and deeply affecting film featuring an incredible performance by Casey Affleck, it’s also a reminder that American filmmakers are capable are delivering the subtle reality that we’ve usually associated with European and Persian filmmakers. It’s one of the most human films of the year.

5. Arrival
This was a big one, and many of you have probably already seen it, but it remains to be one of the biggest shockers of the year. An alien invasion film where no shots are fired, no rockets are launched, and no speeches are made. A deeply affecting and intellectual film that is unique in every way. It’s core message is powerful, it’s central performance is perfect, but in the end it’s all about that perfectly written script and the highly controlled direction of Denis Villeneuve, who has solidified himself as one of the best living directors working today. This was the film that Interstellar wishes it could be. If you haven’t caught it yet, you owe it to yourself to watch this immediately.

4. Voyage of Time
Anyone who knows me knows that I worship at the altar of Terrence Malick, my favorite director of all time. As such, there was no way I wasn’t going to include one of his films this year. And though his first film “Knight of Cups” just missed this list (it’s great but it’s also his weakest), Voyage of Time is the kind of film that will be talked about for generations to come. Perhaps the only film to ever feature the beginning of life in our universe as well as the end of all existence, while also giving you an insight into the life of Malick during the twenty years he disappeared from his 1977 film “Days of Heaven” to his 1997 film “The Thin Red Line”. This isn’t a film. It’s a prayer. And a prayer that touched me deeper than anything I’ve experienced this year.

3. Moonlight
So much praise has been given to this film I worried before watching it that it would suffer from being overhyped. It didn’t. Moonlight is a masterpiece in independent cinema. It’s a unique voice in American cinema. It’s a meditation on life and existence, but at the same time, it’s scope is tiny, featuring a handful of characters and scenes that somehow portray something much larger. This is the kind of film that changes who you are as a person as you watch it. It will challenge the way you look at film, but more importantly, the way you look at people.

2. American Honey
I always wondered how a great director can portray a shallow culture without creating a shallow film. At long last, that film has come along. Andrea Arnold has delivered a poetic and lyrical foray into a culture that most of us aren’t a part of, but somehow feel like we belong to by the time the film ends. This is the kind of film that will never become big, but will be a huge influence on a new wave of directors in the future. One of the greatest portrayals of a generation and culture that I’ve ever seen. While its slow burn and plotless wandering might turn some viewers away, I found it ultimately mesmerizing.

1. La La Land
So, I’m not sure why I placed this in the number one spot. To be honest, my top 5 are all my top one, and they’re all equally amazing. Perhaps because La La Land gave me the biggest surprise of the year. A film i thought i’d enjoy at best, but somehow by the time the credits rolled I found myself giving a standing ovation (I was at the Dubai Film Festival so it was acceptable behavior). This film will remind you why you love movies in the first place. Beautifully shot, performed, edited and most of all directed. After Whiplash and this, Damien Chapelle has already solidified himself as one of the most exciting directors working today. And he’s just 31 years old… If you haven’t had the pleasure, do not miss this film (but try to catch it on iTunes as the censorship here butchered it for no real reason). This film will win the year just as it has won my adoration.

Honorable Mentions (films that just missed the top 15)
The Neon Demon, Dheepan, Deadpool, Jackie, Green Room, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Nice Guys, Zootopia, Nocturnal Animals

Greatest film that missed the top 15
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Funniest scene of the year
“Would That It Were So Simple” from Hail, Caesar. Goes on forever, keeps getting funnier, never gets old.

Most exciting scene of the year
Darth Vader in the hallway at the end of Rogue One. Keep your asthma inhalers nearby.

Best opening Credits of the year
Nude obese women dancing in slow-motion in Nocturnal Animals. At first you want to look away, but soon you become hypnotized by what can only be described as grotesque beauty in a deeply unsettling but interesting film.

And that’s it! So, what do you guys think? Agree, disagree? Did I forget any film that you loved? Let me know!

Post by Tarek J

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40 comments, add your own...

  1. Sa says:

    A lot of movies I haven;t heard of and I watch a lot of movies. Thanks for these Mark! Going to few of them a watch!

  2. Sa says:

    going to give a few of them*

  3. Murrka says:

    Hell or High Water was the t*ts.

  4. Hamad says:

    Arrival for me, hands down best movie ever!

    • JM says:

      Ever!!? How old are you??

      • Patrick says:

        Why does his age matter? 🤔

        Arrival is a fantastic movie (my favorite of 2016) and probably my favorite science fiction movie in the past 10-15 years.

        • JM says:

          He said “best movie ever” i just got the idea he haven’t seen a lot of movies or probably comparing it to the other 4 or 5 movies he has ever seen, that’s why I asked for his age

      • Hamad says:

        I’m a sucker for sci-fi movies with high realism. Arrival is the best movie I have seen that projects all the elements of a great sci-fi work as I have never seen before. I’ve seen tons upon tons of movies across all kind of genres but nothing left me the way Arrival did. I thought about it more than I thought I would normally do. Plus, I have a thing for language and how it really unlocks a new horizon of thinking.
        And hey, opinions you know? I’m 23 btw and I didn’t spend it watching all the movies’ greats haha. You can recommend me some great movies, yea?

        • JM says:

          Bro I’m sorry I made you upset, anyways let me make it up you want a good movie to watch here is my mini classic list (action-comedy-thriller-horror)

          Shawshank redemption (all time favourite)
          The Party (comedy peter sellers at his best so jokes)
          The Others (Nicole is sooo buff )
          Forrest Gump
          If you are into gangster movies of course the godfather 123 and Good Fellas

  5. T-rex says:

    I didn’t see one single movie you mentioned, maybe Arrival and I didn’t like it.

    although there are great movies in DC and Marvel that you didn’t mention single one.

  6. Jamil Summaq says:

    Maybe because it was censored but I didn’t enjoy La La Land a single bit, thought it was horrible..but that’s my opinion

  7. Our taste in films is sadly becoming disparate :( I think “Moonlight” should’ve topped the list and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” should’ve made the top top.

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to take you to a good Bollywood film ;)

    • Hamad says:

      Hey, since you are all about Bollywood over Hollywood, can you get me started into watching Bollywood movies? Not sure where to start. Heads up, I hate romance stuff xD Thanks.

      • I’ll be more than happy to, Hamad.

        What kind of films are you into typically? Could you list me some of your favorite films ever? Your answer will help me give you a few recommendations to get you started :)

        • jm says:

          i saw Disco Dancer back in the day and that was jokes

        • Hamad says:

          I’m all about mind twisters and mystery/thrillers as my favorite genre of movies such as oldboy, fight club, identity and intersteller among many other. I sure do like me some comedy and blockbuster movies. One Indian movie I stumbled upon, PK, and I’m planning to watch it for a long long time ..

          • What’s wonderful about PK is that it takes a hard look at organized religion and archaic rituals while also being a sci-fi musical.

            It’s definitely a genre-bending film.

            My absolute favorite Bollywood films are typically the ones that are either indie or have indie sensibilities.

            Tarek J and I for example screened an experimental Bollywood film called “Ship Of Theseus” a couple years ago at Cinemagics. It addresses identity politics, religion and philosophy.

            He also screened another favorite of mine, “The Lunchbox” which is a simple but truly beautiful film that won awards at Cannes and received a BAFTA (British Academy Awards) nomination.

            I’m going recommend the following films to you:
            – “DANGAL” – Screening in theaters now. It’s about Indian female wrestlers and their father who’s their biggest supporter.
            – “TALVAR” – a brilliant murder mystery film
            – “ENGLISH VINGLISH” – a comedy film about an Indian mother who regains her strength
            – “HAIDER” – a violent retelling of Hamlet set in war torn Kashmir.
            – “NEERJA” – a thriller based on the true story of an Indian flight attendant who saves her passengers from a group of Palestinian hijackers.
            – “TAARE ZAMEEN PAR” – a beautiful film about child autism.
            – “LAGAAN” – Oscar nominated film about an Indian village that rebels against British colonialists.

            Note: NONE of these films are musicals. A lot of people think all Bollywood films are musicals when really that’s not the case at all.

            These should get you started on the right track, Hamad. Enjoy!

          • Hey Hamad, tried replying to you earlier but I think the battery on my computer died right before I hit “send”.

            PK is a great film in that its controversial subject matter is very thought-provoking for a mainstream Bollywood film.

            It’s also genre-bending in that it combines elements of sci-fi, musicals and socially conscious films.

            Here is a list I compiled for you to get you started:
            – “DANGAL” – screening in theaters now. It also stars PK actor, Aamir Khan, and is based on a true story about the struggles of two Indian female wrestlers.
            – “TALVAR” – a chilling, murder mystery film
            – “ENGLISH VINGLISH” – a really fun comedy film about an Indian mother regaining her strength.
            – “TAARE ZAMEEN PAR” – a beautiful film about child autism.
            – “NH10” – a thriller about the common practice of honor killings in Northern India
            – “LAGAAN” – an Oscar nominated film about an Indian village that rebels against British colonialists.
            – “NEERJA” – a harrowing drama based on the true story of an Indian flight attendant who risked her life to save passengers from a group of hijackers.
            – “HAIDER” – a violent retelling of Hamlet set in war torn Kashmir.

            I highly recommend all these films. Enjoy!

            • Hamad says:

              Thanks for taking the time TWICE to usher me into the Bollywood films industry. Your recommendations seem pretty interesting judging by the little synopsis you attached. Unfortunately that what always turned me off from ever watching an Indian film, the musical aspect to it. Anywho, I’ll try pirating them right now xD Thanks alot man!

              • None absolutely none of the films I recommended are musicals.

                Actually, not all Bollywood films are musicals.

                Sorry I posted that twice, it’s because I thought my computer’s battery died before I hit the “send” button.

                Happy to help.

  8. zaydoun says:

    Jeff Bridges gave one of the best performances of the year in “Hell or High Water”

    • Tarek J says:

      Can’t wait to watch it!

      • zaydoun says:

        I watched The Lobster last night. I usually rate a movie’s quality by the following metric: If it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up next morning, it means I was affected by it. The Lobster did that in spades!

        I also enjoyed Everybody Wants Some. No discernible plot, but somehow sweet and fun. And that soundtrack!!!!!

  9. Babaganoosh says:

    Great list! Loved the few I’ve seen from your list – thought The Lobster was unbeatable at weirdness… apparently i was wrong! – so will check all the others. Are you Tarek – Cinemagic? If yes, pls pls pls, bring it back! Cinemagic made Kuwait different, those great movies with the full moon behind the screen.. sigh!

    • Tarek J says:

      Hey baba, yeah it’s me. We are trying to get it running up again, and are also doing a deal with Shaheed Park to play some films, so watch this space I’ll make sure mark announces it when it’s official

      • zaydoun says:

        Shaheed Park would be the ideal venue. As much I loved the rooftop experience, I couldn’t stand the noise from the AC units on the roof!

  10. vampire says:

    watched 3 of this list
    nice post

  11. Ahmed says:

    My personal picks for best movies of 2016,

    No. 10 – Doctor Strange
    No. 9 – The Angry Birds Movie
    No. 8 – Finding Dory
    No. 7 – The Jungle Book (2016)
    No. 6 – The Peanuts Movie
    No. 5 – 10 Cloverfield Lane
    No. 4 – Star Wars: Rogue One
    No. 3 – Deadpool
    No. 2 – Captain America: Civil War
    No. 1 – Kubo and the Two Strings

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