Films of 2016: Mid-year report

It's only halfway through 2016 and it's already shaping up to be a memorable year in movies. These are the films we've loved so far this year

Feature by Film Team | 07 Jun 2016

Love & Friendship

Dir. Whit Stillman

It shouldn’t exactly be a shock that the year’s funniest film to date comes from American writer-director Whit Stillman, he of Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco fame. But due to an unfortunate stigma surrounding Jane Austen, the author behind Love & Friendship’s novella source material, the extent of this new film’s acidic barbs has come as a pleasant surprise for those with a prejudice based on surface level experience with, well, Pride & Prejudice. Anchored by a career-best turn from Kate Beckinsale as a Machiavellian matchmaker, Love & Friendship is one of the breeziest, most cutting comedies in recent memory, with something in its humour palette for almost everyone. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Read our interview with Whit Stillman

The Assassin

Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s stunning martial arts epic has all of the lightness of a wuxi hero’s step, the exquisite grace of her swordplay and the ferocity of her heart. The tug of emotion threatens to overturn the weight of duty as the deadly Yinniang (Shu Qi) is tasked with a personally painful kill. Set against a glorious backdrop in feudal China, it is one of the most beautiful films of the year, lensed by the brilliant Mark Lee Ping Bing. What’s more, it finds spirituality and depth in the harmony of nature, giving the moments of action all the more steel. [Ben Nicholson]

Our Little Sister

Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is known for drawing subtle, delicate performances out of his young casts and his latest proves that he hasn't lost his touch. Our Little Sister is a typically knotty, small scale family drama that follows three sisters – ranging in age from late teens to mid-twenties – who take in their younger half-sister after attending their estranged father's funeral. Adapting Akimi Yoshida's manga series Umimachi Diary, Kore-eda has fashioned an enjoyably mellow take on sisterhood that allows the characters plenty of space, avoiding plot conflict in favour of a gentle study of the minutiae of grief and family life. [Tom Grieve]

Read our interview with Hirokazu Kore-eda


Dir. Lucile Hadžihalilović

♫ Under the sea
Under the sea
There’ll be no explanations
Just freaky crustaceans
Under the sea ♫

A creepy coastal town provides the backdrop for a clammy atmosphere and warped experiments, as one little boy, in a town where the only adults seem to all be women, uncovers a conspiracy of sorts, in a tale that blurs the boundaries between imagination and reality, much like childhood itself. After a decade away from the feature directing chair, Lucile Hadžihalilović makes a triumphant return with Evolution, an unsettling body horror tale that sometimes brings to mind David Cronenberg, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and the recently departed Andrzej Żuławski, all while being its own unforgettable, hard-to-pin-down beast that only flirts with a narrative of clear coherence; a sinister lullaby, rather than an easily decipherable fable. [JS-W]

Read our interview with Lucile Hadžihalilović

Son of Saul

Dir. László Nemes

Despite the clear importance of the subject, it is incredibly rare to see a modern film about the Holocaust that feels as urgent and audacious as Son of Saul. First time director László Nemes does not portray the Nazis as individual monsters, but Auschwitz as a great hulking machine with a maw of fire, steel, and death. Caught in its midst is Saul (Géza Röhrig) who’s found his own way to survive the atrocities. The horror remains almost intangible just off screen, the breathtaking camerawork constantly in extreme close-up to capture the myopic will to endure. The result a bold, bruising and brilliant. [BN]

Read our interview with László Nemes

Louder than Bombs

Dir. Joachim Trier

Louder than Bombs does what all great movies do: it lets you see the world through others’ eyes. Norwegian director Joachim Trier, making his English language debut, immerses us in the mournful past and present of a father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) as they try to come to terms with the death of the family’s matriarch (Isabelle Huppert). It’s a familiar dysfunctional family tale made thrillingly fresh by Trier’s singular approach to visual storytelling. We spin back and forth in time, with scenes bouncing off each other in digressive flurries of montage as point-of-view passes between characters. The approach is achingly intimate; as the credits role, you'll feel like you've been watching your own family. [Jamie Dunn]

Read our interview with Joachim Trier

The Club

Dir. Pablo Larraín

Four priests and their housekeeper live out a quirky cohabitation on a wind-lashed coastal village. But this is no Channel Four sitcom. Pablo Larraín’s bracing new film’s focus is a "center of prayer and penance" for priest who’ve caused scandals in their parishes, with crimes ranging from paedophilia to complicity with Pinochet’s military regime. This exile is a comfortable one: drinking, gambling and greyhound fancying are among the deviant priests’ extra-curricular activities. Things change, however, when a church official comes to town to disrupt the unsupervised leisure. Through a series of interrogations we’re pulled into this quagmire of guilt and shame, with the questions kicked up by these exchanges making for a moral debate as murky as Sergio Armstrong’s fuzzy cinematography. Larraín’s gut-wrenching film offers no answers, only tough questions. [JD]

Read our interview with Pablo Larraín


Dir. Ryan Coogler

There's a scene early on in Ryan Coogler's Creed that sees troubled wannabe boxer Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) firing up his home projector and watching an online video of his deceased father, Apollo Creed's match against Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa (from Rocky II). Adonis shadowboxes along with the video, not emulating the moves of his father, but instead fighting him, as he moves in tandem with a young Rocky. Legacies – especially those built through six films – are hard to shake, but Coogler's deceptively layered (and unashamedly crowd-pleasing) work here is arguably a new high-watermark for the Rocky series. [TG]

Knight of Cups

Dir. Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick's continuing artistic evolution has reached a stage where his work is widely dismissed, mocked or ignored. It's a state of affairs that says more about our incurious and complacent film culture than it does about him. Knight of Cups is Malick's most audaciously abstract work, unfolding in a swirl of images as Christian Bale's disillusioned screenwriter walks away from a life of material success and hedonism in search of something more meaningful. Emmanuel Lubezki turns 21st century Los Angeles into an alien landscape, and the film's undulating rhythms pull us along on this spiritual journey while leaving space for us to pour our own ideas, emotions and experiences into it. For viewers with open minds and hearts, this is a richly rewarding experience. [PC]


Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

A prison break movie with a 12-year-old heroine, Mustang succeeds both as a suspenseful and engrossing drama and as a wider commentary on the way women are perceived through male eyes in rural Turkey. Through the story of five sisters kept under lock and key until they can be married off, first-time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven creates a portrait of childhood innocence disrupted by the sexualisation of young women in a patriarchal society, but she handles it with a lightness of touch and narrative skill that ensures the story is always at the forefront rather than the message. Ergüven's direction is intimate and alive, and she gets wonderful work from her inexperienced cast, notably Günes Sensoy, whose rebellious burst for freedom is moving and exhilarating to watch. [PC]

Read out interview with Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Do you agree with our top ten of 2016 so far? Or have we overlooked one of your favourites? Let us know in the comments.