Top 16 films of 2016
James R | On 30, Dec 2016
As 2016 draws to a close, our writers get together and cast their votes on their favourite films to be released on VOD in the last 12 months. From Netflix originals and day-and-date cinema titles to home entertainment releases, we counted up the scores and ended up with the below list. Some you may have seen. Some you may already have on your watchlist. Some are now available on subscription VOD services, so they’re easier to catch up with. From moving drama and funny comedy to infectious musicals and eye-opening documentaries, these are our top 16 films of 2016:
Click on any review to see where you can watch the film online.
Son of Saul
“Son of Saul, a film that depicts the day-to-day survival of a man in Auschwitz-Birkenau, is not an easy movie to watch. It’s an even harder movie to hear. Director László Nemes – astonishingly, making his feature film debut – has crafted a shocking piece of cinema, which brings concentration camps to life in a powerful new way. They have appeared on screen before many times, from the black and white of Schindler’s List to, most recently, vampire horror TV series The Strain, but never with such alarming immediacy.”
Son of Saul is available on Netflix UK.
“Directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma), this superbly made documentary explores the indisputable connection between the US constitution’s 13th Amendment and America’s astronomical incarceration rates. In doing so, it presents a devastating critique of US race relations that makes for uncomfortable yet essential viewing.”
13th is available on Netflix UK.
April and the Extraordinary World
“Based on the graphic novel by Jacques Tardi (who also wrote the source material for Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec), this gorgeously animated steam-punk adventure combines delightful characters, a witty script and breathtaking imagination to produce genuine comic-book thrills. It’s odd that this French film was denied a theatrical release in the UK, because it’s easily one of the best films of the year.”
“Evolution explores fears of growing up, of sexuality, of childbirth, and of inevitable adulthood, but it mixes that together with an all-pervasive aquatic origin that gives it a strange, fairy-tale quality… Haunting and beautiful, this is a stunningly directed and pleasingly dark coming-of-ager that exerts a powerful grip.”
“Wake Up. That’s the message behind Spike Lee’s latest joint. Amazon’s first original film, Chi-Raq sees the veteran director take on modern America’s gang culture, gun crime, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement with a searing, astonishing, alarming passion… Taking a leaf from Aristophanes’ ancient Greek play Lysistrata, the movie is set in Chi-Raq, the part of Chicago that’s seen more gunshot deaths in recent years than US soldiers in Iraq. But when rapper Demetrius (Nick Cannon) and his purple-bandana-wearing Spartans gang step up their violent feud with the orange-bandana-sporting Trojans, his girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), decides enough is enough. Her plan? Get all the women in the neighbourhood to refuse their men sex until they stop the shooting. No peace? No pussy. The result is a satire that feels like it’s been written by stitching together news headlines from the last two years.”
“‘What do you mean you’ve never seen Rocky?’ That’s the response anyone who admits they’re unfamiliar with Sylvester Stallone’s underdog sports tale can expect to hear. 40 years on, one of the most surprising things about Creed is that you don’t need to have seen the original to enjoy it. Even more surprising? It just might be better. When we catch up with Rocky (Stallone), he’s now something of a recluse – a man of the town, but no longer about town. But he’s dragged back towards the ring with the arrival on his doorstep of Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed. It’s no spoiler to say that Rocky eventually agrees to train him, but Creed’s achievement is to find fresh weight in those boxing movie conventions.”
Creed is available on Netflix UK.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows Ricky Baker, a troublesome city kid, who winds up with a foster family in the Kiwi bush. While he bonds with Rima Te Wiata’s adorably sincere Bella, he’s far from friendly with Sam Neill’s Hec. And so it’s inevitable that the odd couple end up lost in the woods together. One is young, naive and has a Tupac obsession. The other is old, grump and has a rifle and a beard. Both of them like pancakes. The gradual thawing of their relationship is entirely predictable, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople never fails to throw up unexpected laughs, thanks to a stellar cast that includes director Taika Waititi’s previous collaborators Rachel House and Rhys Darby… Funny and feel-good, this is a daft and delightful slice of adventure.”
“‘When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything.’ That’s Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy who has spent his whole life locked up in a shed with his mum (Brie Larson). It’s a horrifying subject for a film, but director Lenny Abrahamson manages the impossible: he takes that horror and turns into something uplifting… The result is a heartbreaking tribute to the heartwarming power of parental love – and a hugely moving, profound poem of childlike wonder.”
Room is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Love and Friendship
“Not just the tale of a widow riding out the rumours of her romantic liaisons, while trying to find a suitor for her young daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), Love and Friendship is also a non-stop string of witty insults and catty shots – and Kate Beckinsale is beautifully brilliant at firing them out… This comedy is Jane Austen like you’ve never seen her before.”
“‘Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark,’ Marty Baron (Schreiber) tells the Spotlight team. A group of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe, they’ve always been given free hand to choose their own story, until Marty is appointed the new editor of the paper and tells them to look into a case of child sex abuse by a Roman Catholic priest. What begins as one man being moved around the city, though, soon emerges as a widespread problem – and an equally widespread cover-up. This is important, urgent, gripping film-making.”
Spotlight is available on Amazon Prime Video.
When Owen Suskind was three years old, he suddenly stopped talking. Diagnosed with autism, it was “like he’d been kidnapped”, say his parents. But then they discovered something remarkable: Owen had learned all of the Disney movies they owned on VHS off by heart. Disney has always been a magical force in children’s lives, but for this family, they became a lifeline: the Suskinds began to communicate with Owen through Disney films, puppets and drawings… A powerful insight into the life of someone with autism and an inspiring tribute to the magic of the movies.”
The Hateful Eight
“A Christmas film from the director of Pulp Fiction? An anti-western? A contemporary slice of social commentary? Gripping, surprising and superbly executed, The Hateful Eight is a return to form for Tarantino in all the ways that you least expect.”
The Hateful Eight is available on Amazon Prime Video.
“‘Sometimes, he found it difficult not to believe they were living in a future that had not already taken place.’ That’s Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) in High-Rise, based on a novel written in 1975, filmed in 2015 and stuffed with things to say about Britain’s future… A stunning state of the disunion address, this only feels more relevant the more time passes.”
High-Rise is available on Amazon Prime Video.
“The only thing I ever believed in is Alton,” says Roy (Shannon) in Midnight Special. He’s talking about his son, who wears blue swimming goggles, only goes out at night and is currently being smuggled across the country in the back of a 1972 Chevy. Why? That’s the beauty of Jeff Nichols’ sci-fi; it has faith in its audience to wait and find out. Faith is a huge part of what drives this retro thriller, which dismantles the genre cliches you remember from the 80s and reassembles them into a ruthlessly efficient engine that, like the car transporting the abducted Alton, stalks forward with no fear of keeping the lights off… It’s a nice coincidence that this arrives in living rooms at the same time as Netflix’s similarly old-fashioned Stranger Things; if you liked that, try this.”
Midnight Special is available on Sky Cinema and NOW.
“There’s nothing more impressive than a film with a really long take. From Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Kubrick’s Paths of Glory to Welles’ A Touch of Evil and Antonioni’s The Passenger, Béla Tarr has a lot to answer for. But even he might be gob-smacked by Sebastian Schipper’s film, Victoria, which unfolds in real time – in one continuous shot. For two hours. The movie follows the eponymous girl (Laia Costa), who finds her holiday in Berlin hijacked when she bumps into Sonne (Lau) and friends one evening. The pair get to know each other quietly, bonding with all the loosely-performed realism of Richard Linklater – then things take a twist for the dramatic. Schipper’s decision to shoot everything in one go is less bold and more outrageously bonkers, but it’s breathtaking to witness.”
Victoria is available on Netflix UK.
“Every now and then, a film comes along that is so uplifting, so inspiring, so sincerely, unabashedly positive that it makes you smile with every inch of your being. Sing Street is one of those films. The movie, written and directed by John Carney, is the latest in a time-honoured cinematic tradition of teenagers forming bands – because if there’s one thing guaranteed to charm your socks off, it’s a child with a musical instrument. Not a musical instrument that squeaks out of tune, or disturbs the neighbours. A musical instrument that lets them express themselves, rally friends, and escape their daily drudgery three minutes at a time.”
Sing Street is available on Netflix UK.