The Films of 2016: Love, Death and Aliens

Feature by Film Team | 28 Nov 2016

Given recent votes, we half expected something racist and idiotic like Gerard Butler hokum Gods of Egypt to top this best films of the year poll. This drum tight list our Film writers have assembled, however, will put your faith back in democracy...

10. The Club

Dir. Pablo Larraín

This year, not only did Pablo Larraín premiere Jackie, a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following JFK’s assassination, and Neruda, a biopic about communist poet Pablo Neruda, he also released one of the year’s best films. Focusing on a group of disgraced priest banished to an isolated house on the Chilean coast, The Club once again sees Larraín wrestle with the ghost of Pinochet with all the fervor of a fox in a hen house.

A claustrophobic chamber piece peppered with absurd humor and shocking violence, this indictment of the Catholic Church develops into a deeply disturbing trawling of the collective national psyche that’s impossible to shake. [Patrick Gamble]

Read our interview with Pablo Larraín

9. Our Little Sister

Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is known for drawing subtle, restrained 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-20s – who take in their younger half-sister after attending their estranged father's funeral.

Adapted from Akimi Yoshida's manga series Umimachi Diary, the film avoids plot conflict, preferring to gently provide a window into the minutiae of grief and family life. In a year that has been defined by ugliness, bigotry and hatred, Koreeda delivers a blissfully mellow tonic. [Tom Grieve]

Read our interview with Hirokazu Koreeda

8. 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. [Philip Concannon]

7. Arrival

Dir. Denis Villeneuve

Denis Villenueve returns with a (thankfully) less tense affair than last year’s stunning effort Sicario. Arrival uses real science to tackle a seemingly impossible problem: working out how to communicate with an alien life form that is truly Alien, with a capital 'a'.

The way the film depicts these ETs – who have a wildly different way of interacting with the world – leads to some audacious, but wholly satisfying plotting. Throw into the mix a rarely better Amy Adams, some Nolan-esque cinematography and a sumptuous score, and you have the best sci-fi film since the criminally overlooked Cloud Atlas. [Tom Charles]

Read our interview with Amy Adams

6. 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, The Assassin is one of the most beautiful films of the year, lensed by the brilliant Mark Lee Ping Bin. What’s more, it finds spirituality and depth in the harmony of nature, giving the moments of action all the more steel. [Ben Nicholson]

5. Evolution

Dir. Lucile Hadžihalilović

French auteur Lucile Hadžihalilović's Evolution is a queer science fiction-body horror in the vein of Lovecraft and Cronenberg. Nic, a young boy on the cusp of adolescence, lives a simple littoral life in a mysterious, austere village populated by other uniform boy-mother pairings.

Nic becomes haunted by the visceral sight of a dead boy’s decomposing body he discovers while diving, and his mother tries to reassure him that “the sea makes you think horrible things.” This consolation is prophetic: as Nic’s mère and la mer blur, a most disturbing vision of conception, birth and child-rearing unfurls. [Rachel Bowles]

Read our interview with Lucile Hadžihalilović

4. Hell or High Water

Dir. David Mackenzie

“I’m racing a fire to a river with a herd of cattle, no wonder my kids don’t wanna do this shit.” After an election swung by disenfranchised members of America’s Rust Belt, Mackenzie’s film gives a powerful insight into the desperate world of those communities global capitalism left back in the dust.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster are magnetic as brothers on opposite poles: one near wordlessly stoic; the other wild-eyed and motor-mouthed, like a cowboy Joe Pesci. Their last ditch quest to rob the banks that robbed the world sounds like pure Springsteen but the film’s moments of shuddering violence quickly bring any romantic sentiments crashing back into the dirt. [Ross McIndoe]

Read our interview with David Mackenzie

3. Son of Saul

Dir. László Nemes

László Nemes’ debut feature Son of Saul is an emotionally devastating and haunting portrayal of the evils of the Holocaust set in the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. The central figure, Saul (Géza Röhrig), brings a raw palpability to his performance, with the horror of events he witnesses etched across his face at all times. All of which is unflinchingly realised by Nemes, who brings a moral and intellectual weight to the drama, drawing us into the very pit of hell, forcing the audience to confront the barbarism of one of the darkest hours in human history. [Joseph Walsh]

Read our interview with László Nemes

2. Things to Come

Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve

Mia Hansen-Løve's films capture those transitional moments in our lives when the path ahead suddenly feels uncertain, or even disappears completely, and Things to Come is her most accomplished work yet. This portrait of an academic forced to reorient herself after life deals her a series of unexpected blows is keenly observed and elegantly made, and it is rich with perceptive, sad and beautiful details that linger in the memory.

It also boasts one of Isabelle Huppert's finest acting turns, and while it has almost become a cliché for critics to react to a Huppert performance by insisting that no other actress could pull it off, it's usually true. [Philip Concannon]

1. Love & Friendship

Dir. Whit Stillman

The year’s funniest film – and best, as voted by our Film team – comes from American writer-director Whit Stillman, he of MetropolitanDamsels in Distress and The Last Days of Disco fame, who moves his particular brand of comedy of manners to the realm of 1790s Britain. Love & Friendship is based on an early novella by Jane Austen, and the film is a perfect marriage of artists.

It’s a breezy, ironic-romantic comedy that balances cutting wit both droll (everything Kate Beckinsale, on career-best form, says) and broad (every time Tom Bennett’s glorious dolt opens his mouth); an immaculate treat with something in its humour palette for near enough everyone. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Read our interview with Whit Stillman

The Next Twelve

=11. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
=11. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
13. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
14. Embrace the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)
15. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
16. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
17. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
18. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader)
19. Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
=20. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
=20. No Home Home (Chantal Akerman)
=20. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson)

Writers' individual top tens

Rachel Bowles
1. The Witch (Robert Eggers) 
2. Evolution (Lucile Hadzihalilovic) 
3. 13th (Ava DuVernay) 
4. The Assassin (Hsiao-Hsien Hou) 
5. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) 
6. The Daughter (Simon Stone) 
7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi
8. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) 
9. I Am Belfast (Mark Cousins
10. Journey to the Shore (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)

Re-releases of the year: Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto)

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Audition (Takashi Miike)

Stinker of the year: Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford), The Forest (Jason Zada)

Tom Charles
1. Victoria (Sebastian Schipper)
2. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
3. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
4. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
5. Sing Street (John Carney)
6. The Revenant (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
7. Trumbo (Jay Roach)
8. Hail, Caesar! (The Coen Brothers)
9. The Big Short (Adam McKay)
10. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Honourable mentions: Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross), Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier), High Rise (Ben Wheatley), The Light Between Oceans (Derek Cianfrance), Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)

Stinker of the year: Fifty Shades of Black (Michael Tiddes)

Philip Concannon
1. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Koreeda)
2. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
3. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
4. Divines (Houda Benyamina)
5. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
6. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
7. Louder than Bombs (Joachim Trier
8. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader)
9. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
10. Evolution (Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Honorable Mentions: Further Beyond (Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor), Julieta (Pedro Almodovars), Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight), Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven), Victoria (Sebastian Schipper)

Re-release of the year: Napoleon (Abel Gance) – BFI

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi) – Arrow

Stinker of the year: War on Everyone (John Michael McDonagh)

Jamie Dunn
1. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
2. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
3. The Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet)
4. The Club (Pablo Larraín)
5. Further Beyond (Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor)
6. Little Men (Ira Sachs)
7. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
8. Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez)
9. Louder than Bombs (Joachim Trier)
10. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)

Honorable mentions: Joy (David O Russell), Remainder (Omar Fast), Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight), Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier), The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Re-release of the year: Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins)

DVD/Blu-ray of the year: The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda) – Arrow

Stinker of the year: The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Patrick Gamble
1. The Son of Joseph (Eugene Green)
2. The Club (Pablo Larraín)
3. Embrace the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)
4. Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes)
5. United States of Love (Tomasz Wasilewski)
6. Nasty Baby (Sebastián Silva)
7. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
8. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
9. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)
10. Ghostbusters (Paul Feig)

Honourable mentions: The Assassin (Hsiao-Hsien Hou), Evolution (Lucile Hadzihalilovic), Anomalisa (Duke Johnson/Charlie Kaufman), Paterson (Jim Jarmusch), Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)

Re-releases of the year: El Sur (Victor Erice) – BFI

Stinker of the year: Sausage Party (Conrad Vernon Greg Tiernan)

Tom Grieve
1. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
2. Creed (Ryan Coogler)
3. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
4. Everybody Wants Some!!! (Richard Linklater)
5. I Am Belfast (Mark Cousins)
6. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
7. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
8. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
9. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
10. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Honourable Mentions: Cafe Society (Woody Allen), Hail, Caesar! (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen), I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach), Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven),

Re-releases of the year: Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins) – ICO, Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray) – Park Circus

DVD/Blu-ray release of the Year: The Jacques Rivette Collection – Arrow

Stinker of the year: The Revenant (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Ben Nicholson
1. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
2. Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes)
3. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
4. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
5. Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes)
6. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino)
7. The Club (Pablo Larraín)
8. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
9. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson)
10. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)

Honourable mentions: Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari), Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra), Evolution (Lucile Hadžihalilović), Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry), The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are Not Brothers (Ben Rivers)

Re-releases of the year: Napoleon (Abel Gance) – BFI, Ran (Akira Kurosawa) – StudioCanal/ICO

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Man with a Movie Camera and other works by Dziga Vertov (Eureka's Masters of Cinema)

Stinker of the year: Suicide Squad (David Ayer)

Ian Mantgani
1. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
2. A Poem is a Naked Person (Les Blank)
3. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader)
4. Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes)
5. Embrace of the Serpent (Cico Guerra)
6. Evolution (Lucile Hadžhalilović)
7. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
8. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
9. The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn)
10. Remainder (Omer Fast)

Honourable mentions: Creed (Ryan Coogler), Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg), Sully (Clint Eastwood), Snowden (Oliver Stone), The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra)

Re-release of the year: Napoleon (Abel Gance) – BFI

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: 52 Pick-Up (John Frankenheimer) – Arrow Films

Stinker of the year: Truth (James Vanderbilt)

Ross McIndoe
1. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols)
2. Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
3. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
4. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
5. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)
6. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
8. Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
9. Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
10. Rattle the Cage (Majid Al Ansari)

Honourable mentions: The Big Short (Adam McKay), When Marnie Was Here (Hiromasa Yonebayashi), 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg), Bone Tomahawk (S Craig Zahler), Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson)

DVD/Blu-ray Re-Release: Ran (Akira Kurosawa) – StudioCanal/ICO

Re-release: Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo) – National Amusements

Stinker of the year: Suicide Squad (David Ayer)

Josh Slater-Williams
1. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
2. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
4. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
5. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
6. Evolution (Lucile Hadzihalilovic)
7. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)
9. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
10. Pete’s Dragon (David Lowery)

Honourable mentions: Your Name (Makoto Shinkai), Indignation (James Schamus), Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie), Louder than Bombs (Joachim Trier), Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)

Re-releases of the year: Napoleon (Abel Gance) – BFI, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg) – BFI

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks) – The Criterion Collection 

Stinker of the year: Suicide Squad (David Ayer)

Joseph Walsh
1. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
2. Son of Saul (László Nemes)
3. Paterson (Jim Jarmsuch)
4. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman)
5. The Assassin (Hiao-Hsien Hou)
6. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
7. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
8. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
9. Little Men (Ira Sachs)
10. Zootropolis (Byron Howard, Rich More)

Honourable mentions: Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone), Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols), Kubo & The Two Stings (Travis Knight), Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)

Re-release of the year: Boyz N The Hood (John Singleton) – BFI

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov) – Eureka

Stinker of the year: Suicide Squad (David Ayer)