Cinema Eclectica’s Top Movies of 2016

This year’s run-down of the best films to hit UK cinemas is a little different than usual. Instead of being the opinion of one person, these 20-ish films are the collective opinion of the 5 people to feature on Cinema Eclectica. That’s Rob, Graham, Ryan, Aidan and Mark. Each person provided their 20 to 25 favourites of the year, their number 1 film scored 30 points, the number 2 got 25 points and each following film scored one less point. If you want to hear each top 10 tune in to episode 96 of the podcast, where they also pick some out some of the worst films and the highlights of the home video calendar.

As with any year, the past 12 months has had its share of running themes. 2016 was far from a banner year for the superhero film, outside the fourth wall breaking filth of Deadpool (just missed out on a top 20 slot), there was an awful lot of middling to average films. X-Men, Captain America, no one was safe. Subsequently, the summer blockbuster season was one of the most lacklustre in years. The documentary enjoyed a banner year, with the likes of the 13th, Wiener, The Pearl Button and Where to Invade Next finding themselves in the long list. British cinema is starting to show some real signs of consistency with both the old firm on fine form with the new blood also pulling their fair weight too. Likewise, after a year of underwhelming output, the collective that is ‘world cinema’ showed why it has been consistently popular with those bored by the sterile ways of Hollywood. Female leads also turned up in droves of great films, showing positive signs after this year’s debacle of an Oscar ceremony and the continued contention over male-female pay gaps.

That’s enough of the pre-amble, let’s get down to the films that mattered most.

=20 – Swiss Army Man (24 points)
It’s easy to think at first that Swiss Army Man is a feature length fart joke. But with the underlining flatulence put aside the film is a hard-hitting bag of emotions about man struggling to find happiness. But it’s really the two leading performances that drive the film and both are wonderfully done. Paul Dano brilliantly subverts the senility that comes with the castaway archetype. While Daniel Radcliffe breathes so much life into his role as a childlike, farting corpse. Swiss Army Man is weird film for weird people that features a beautiful acapella rendition of the Jurassic Park theme song, what more is there to say? RYAN

=20 – Cemetery of Splendor (24 points)
One of the stranger films of the year, Cemetery of Splendour follows a hospital volunteer played by Jenjira Pongpas as she looks after a group of bed-ridden soldiers who have succumbed to a mysterious sleeping sickness. But there is something larger at play, something surreal and spiritual that has been affecting the soldiers, what you expect from an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film. With a slight touch of Friedkin horror, Cemetery of Splendour uses these psychological horror tropes for completely different means in order to not scare you away but to heal you spiritually. From invisible palaces built by the gods to towering lamps that gradually change colour over the soldiers, the slow-burn pacing makes you think that “yep, it’s a Weerasethakul film alright” – and it’s a marvellous one at that. AIDAN

19) Sing Street (25 points)
The easy charge to level at John Carney is that, after Once and Begin Again, he’s made the same film three times. Sing Street, though, is evidence that he learns a little more about that story every time. The story of a Dublin teenager in the 1980s who forms a New Romantic band to impress a girl, Sing Street is less precious about the life-changing power of its music than the other two films (while also delivering some serious retro tuneage courtesy of Danny Wilson songwriter Gary Clarke), and braver in incorporating darker elements. Battling fundamentalist school teachers, family strife and limited musical abilities, it’s all but impossible not to root for its heroes. GRAHAM

18) 10 Cloverfield Lane (26 points)
Moving away from the found footage formula, 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of the biggest surprises of the year simply because of how well it keeps its secrets. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle a woman held captive in an underground bunker by John Goodman’s character, an unhinged “conspiracy theorist” type who is genuinely terrifying. The films fantastic use of world building makes the bunker feel vast and homely but what fuels this film is its alarming suspense and paranoia as not all monsters have to be 180 feet tall. RYAN

17) Train to Busan (29 points)
2016 has been an amazing year for Korean cinema but at the forefront was Train to Busan and it’s amazing achievement in becoming a global phenomenon. With an amazing attention to detail with genre boundaries, Train to Busan is everything that a Hollywood film aspires to be. It’s a zombie film with solid threat and tension, great action set pieces that’s held together with believable characters and melodrama. With the end result being one of the most action-packed, gut-punching emotional rollercoaster rides in recent years. RYAN

16) I, Daniel Blake (31 points)
By far the most British film on the list I, Daniel Blake is not only an amazing return to form Ken Loach but for British social realism as a whole. With the entirety of the film shot in the North East City of Newcastle, a part of the country that is often overlooked. The film uses local acting talent in particular Geordie comedian Dave Johns playing Daniel Blake a middle-aged carpenter who requires state welfare after injuring himself. Johns down to earth performance is full of laughs and sympathetic frustrations as the film’s key focus is on the Job Centre and the current state of the British welfare system to which after the film’s eye-opening release has become a figure of debate in the media. RYAN

15) The Witch (37 points)
Is The Witch a nightmare of Puritan intolerance imprisoning freethinking women, or a nightmare of decent Christians assailed by occult forces? It’s both, somehow, which could be a cop-out but instead looks like a marker of the debut writer-director Robert Eggers’s sophistication and bravado. Shot in peerlessly depressing greys and browns and allowing its characters to keep their historically accurate Yorkshire burrs, The Witch features extremely strong performances from Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, a star-making one from its lead Anya Taylor-Joy, and an immediately iconic one from a goat. Its build is slow and its gore is discreet, but it’s anything but tame. GRAHAM

14) Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (39 points)
Lo and Behold shouldn’t work. It’s a documentary about the internet – a topic too huge to make a satisfying film about – made by a director who once denounced ATM machines as a modern abomination. That’s Werner Herzog, who structures the film as a series of short stories about the internet in the manner of his classic war documentary Lessons of Darkness. The diverse interviewees give different but equally fascinating perspectives on how interconnectivity and artificial intelligence are changing human life. The icing on the cake, as ever, is Herzog’s playfully skewed questioning. At one point he volunteers to fly to Mars on behalf of Elon Musk; Musk would be a fool not to call him back. GRAHAM

13) Anomalisa (41 points)
Acclaimed screenwriter and director Charlie Kaufman teams up with animator, Duke Johnson, to bring you Anomalisa, a gorgeously animated tale about the inherent miserableness of David Thewlis’ Michael Stone. This miserableness is emphasised by Tom Noonan’s extraordinary vocal performance as literally everyone – to highlight how Michael views every person until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and quickly falls in love with the woman. Featuring incredible vocal work from all three cast members in this surreal but striking dollhouse, Anomalisa is one of the most human and touching films of the year to feature a self-centered jerk as its protagonist. Just remember, Charlie Kaufman hates Michael the most. AIDAN

12) Mustang (44 points)
Turkey’s nomination for the best foreign film at the 88th academy awards, debuting director Deniz Gamze Ergüven offered her take on the controversial issue of arranged marriages. A family of teenage (and pre-teen) girls are forced into being wives ahead of their time due to them behaving in ways not judged to be proper and what follows is the best prison film in many a year. There is an inescapable inevitability about the arrangements, but where Mustang become something truly special is in life’s small triumphs whether it’s learning to drive in secret or running away to watch a football match. Mustang is one of 2016’s finest and most beautifully acted debuts. ROB

11) Hail, Caesar! (46 points)
More in line with the existential, downbeat comedy-dramas the Coen brothers have been making recently than you might expect from the knockabout trailer – but then, neither A Serious Man nor Inside Llewyn Davies featured a wildly camp tap-dance number from Channing Tatum, so the confusion is understandable. Hail, Caesar! examines mid-’50s America in the middle of the Red Scare and concludes that the corrupt, old-fashioned Hollywood system isn’t so bad by comparison. If that sounds cynical, it is, but the film never feels sour thanks to its winning humour and slew of complementary star performances – Alden Ehrenreich as the film’s heart, Josh Brolin as its brains, Scarlett Johanssen as its balls and Ralph Fiennes as its impeccable diction, spoken trippingly. GRAHAM

10) The Neon Demon (47 points)
Refn’s latest is hated as much as it’s loved and understandably so. It’s a rather straight-forward film that dressed up its ideas as far more significant than they actually are and the last 15 minutes goes maybe a tad too far in its exploitative ways. Nonetheless, you’d be hard pushed to find a film in 2016 from a director having as much fun as Refn was with the Neon Demon. An upfront and directly confrontational beast that boasts some of the year’s most unforgettable scenes, and yes, some of them are as unpleasant as a saturation release will get and on the other hand Refn and composer Cliff Martinez showed what can be achieved with a medium as visual as that of cinema – “Wider”. ROB

9) Hypernormalisation (48 points)
Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation is the documentary equivalent of a black hole. Clocking in at just under three hours, HyperNormalisation crams in so much political, social and cultural rambling, but never forgets to let some air into your lungs. Curtis acts as the tour guide through the history of how governments have given up on the idea of a complex “real world”, but instead opted for a simple “fake world” that is under operation by corporations and is tightly secured by politicians. Covering the Reagan years, the commanding presence of Muammar Gaddafi, the pass of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump – HyperNormalisation is a blindsiding feet of editing and Curtis-recorded voice-over that is the perfect film to watch if you are still angry over how rubbish 2016 has been in the political world. AIDAN

= 8) Bone Tomahawk (50 points)
S. Craig Zahler’s explosive debut, Bone Tomahawk was trampled upon by the likes of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. But please, do catch up with Bone Tomahawk as it is one of the most frightening films of the year. Kurt Russell stars alongside Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox as a group of westerners tasked to take out a tribe of cannibals who have captured townsfolk in the sundried American wasteland. Featuring petrifying stone-skinned cannibals and an earthy atmosphere – the insane world of Bone Tomahawk is built around relatable characters, rich dialogue and just the correct amount of tasteful gore. That and no other person can grow an amazing moustache quite like Kurt Russell. AIDAN

= 8) High-Rise (50 points)
High-Rise is the long overdue screen adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel about life in a “luxury” tower block. Ben Wheatley brilliantly reconstructs the Capitalist triangle in the form from of a high-rise tower. Leading man Tom Hiddleston is smartly underplayed as an observer as the new resident to the tower as the films plays off the tension from the rest of its fantastic supporting cast. As Luke Evans and Jeremy Irons play the leaders of a growing class war. What follows is a self-contained time bomb on society. Ultimately showcasing that capitalism doesn’t work! RYAN

7) The Nice Guys (63 points)
Following the conflicting opinions over his MCU film, Iron Man 3, Shane Black returns to crime-caper comedy in The Nice Guys. Starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as an ill-assorted duo, one a private investigator and the other an enforcer, both must act together following the mysterious death of a porn star and the disappearance of a young girl. The double act of Gosling and Crowe is easily the highlight of the film. Of course, Crowe is typecast as brute characters, but there is always a beating heart within these performances – this is no exception. As for Gosling, there is a definite hint of 1930’s slapstick made apparent by comedians like Stan Laurel and Lou Costello. From newcomers like Angourie Rice to veterans such as Keith David, everyone gives it their A-game in the Nice Guys, a hysterical film filled with corruption and sleaze. AIDAN

6) Room (71 points)
In retrospect, it’s obvious how Lenny Abrahamson filmed Emma Donoghue’s supposedly unfilmable bestseller; he thought about what its five-year-old character would see, and he shot that. Aided by an astute script from Donoghue herself, Room uses its child’s eye perspective to preserve the sadness of its story while dialling its misery down to bearable levels – when young Jack overhears his mother’s rape, we’re particularly grateful we’re seeing the world through his eyes. But Room isn’t a story about degradation, it’s a story about how love can be formed in the toughest of circumstances. That’s how it made the world fall in love with Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson, its two mercurial, wise-beyond-their-years leads. GRAHAM

5) The Girl with all the Gifts (74 points)
The single biggest surprise of 2016 was that the director of TV’s Peaky Blinders (Colm McCarthy) powered through with an action horror for the ages. The Last of Us may be the common point of reference but McCarthy’s adaptation of Mike Carey’s novel turned the concept of the zombie film on its head. Characters were built up beautifully, weather worn tropes used to tell a story rather than follow the crowd, and that ending – a film hasn’t concluded itself with such a tenacity since the golden age of 1970s science fiction. Both its subtle effects and the insane intensity of its horror are mere support acts to the majesty that was this year’s star turn from the then 11-year old Sennia Nanua. ROB

4) Arrival (76 points)
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life takes place entirely in the moment most science fiction films skip over; the point where humanity has to work out what these aliens want and how to talk to them. It has all of the visual precision of Villeneuve’s previous work, as well as a typically cerebral score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. What’s new – and what’s so unexpected in a film so brainy it takes time to discuss the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of language – is its emotional power. It has a touching love for humanity borne of contemplating the infinite. And it has Amy Adams, who can get all that across in a look and a half-smile. GRAHAM

3) The Wailing (79 points)
In 2016, South Korea showed the world they can still party with both the Train to Busan and our number 3, The Wailing. Ha Nong-Jin announced his arrival to the wider world with a horror film in the classic sense of the world. This is not a film solely concerned with scaring and making its audience jump even though it’s as tense a film as 2016 had. More importantly, Ha Nong-Jin told a story of fatherhood, widespread hysteria and, to dig a little deeper, it tells of the divisions between Korea and Japan. And if that wasn’t enough, the film can be credited as being in ownership of 2 or 3 of the year’s best scenes. ROB

2) Hunt for the Wilderpeople (90 points)
Taika Waititi emerged onto the world scene with the mockumentary horror, What we do in the Shadows, and in 2017 he will break into the mainstream with Thor Ragnarok. Bridging that gap is what will go down as 2016 at its crowd-pleasing, entertaining best. With a star turn from Julian Dennison and Sam Neil on the finest of forms, The Wilderpeople is a riotously funny piece of dead-pan surrealism that boasts some of the year’s finest comedy creations. Not only is it funny, it captures the drama of the best coming of age stories and a sense of adventure of 1980s family movies without the notion of campy entertainment even coming remotely close to this joyous and visually interesting number. Modern nostalgia with none of the baggage. ROB

1) Green Room (108 points)
It’s apt that the best film of 2016 should include the two things that dominated the year’s conversation – far-right politics and celebrities we lost. Reducing it to a topical piece, or giving it the sympathy vote on account of Anton Yelchin’s vivid, sympathetic lead doesn’t scratch the surface of why it’s great, though. Jeremy Saulnier’s third film is remorselessly focused and shockingly violent, a siege thriller that would impress Howard Hawks while also feeling utterly, winningly modern. It manages to explore its ideas and characters without easing up on the action for a second, and has a villain for the ages in Patrick Stewart’s quiet, chilling neo-Nazi boss. Already a classic. GRAHAM


Our 2016 in review continues with both the best home video releases and a look forward to 2017.

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