Best of 2016: Our favourite films of the year

15 Dec 2016 BY Michael Prescott in Film Features

10 mins
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Twelve months ago we hailed the likes of AmyBrooklynInside Out and Shaun the Sheep Movie as some of our favourite films of 2015. It's now time to look back on this year's best offerings, and share which films impressed us the most in 2016.

It's been an incredible year for cinema, with Leonardo DiCaprio finally securing that elusive Best Actor Oscar, Studio Ghibli releasing what was rumoured to be their final feature film, Ken Loach winning his second Palme d'Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and the BFI celebrating diversity on screen with its Black Star season.

You can click here to jump to the top film choices of each of our Film Programmers, but before you do that, let's have a little refresher on what else happened in the world of film this year.

Family-Friendly Fun

New CGI technology allowed for bigger and bolder creatures in revamped versions of Pete's Dragon and The BFG, with the latter containing a superb performance from Steven Spielberg's new muse, Mark Rylance. Swallows and Amazons also had a warmly received reboot, while feel-good family dramas Queen of Katwe and Oddball and the Penguins were popular among older and younger children respectively.

British Auteurs

Ken Loach's well-deserved award came for his hard-hitting attack on austerity, I, Daniel Blake, while elsewhere Andrea Arnold made American Honey, her first American-set feature; a sprawling near-three-hour road movie. A United Kingdom, Amma Asante's follow-up to Belle saw another emotional, historical tale opened the London Film Festival (after Suffragette in 2015), and Lenny Abrahamson's adaptation of Room was a five-star stunner.

The Golden Age of Animation?

What a sensational time it is for animated film, with astonishing quality across the board. Disney have released two original animations in the form of Moana (still in cinemas) and Zootropolis, a superb social satire. Pixar's Finding Dory finally arrived, thirteen years after its predecessor, and was well worth the wait. LAIKA's Kubo and the Two Strings, meanwhile, was a spellbinding storytelling fantasy, full of astonishing stop-motion, and their best film to date. Anime Your Name was aimed at a slightly older age group, but was no less impressive, smashing box-office records in its native Japan with its charm, humour and unabashed pop soundtrack. And more good news - although When Marnie Was There was rumoured to be a fitting send-off for Studio Ghibli, master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has since actually come out of retirement!

Around the World in 365 Days

As always, world cinema has provided some of the most provoking films of the year. Denmark's Tobias Lindholm was the writer-director of A War, a compelling drama focused on the ethics of the battlefield. Mustang was female-led both on and off-screen; a spirited Turkish tale which takes a dark turn. Julieta saw a return to form for beloved Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, whilst Victoria stunned audiences with its single take construction and hypnotic, visceral tone.

Musical Mayhem

We had a real mash-up of musical titles this year, each of which used music in an interesting way. Disney's live-action version of The Jungle Book was notable for its apparent lack of jingles, but references to the classic songs of the original were still cleverly inserted. The Coens' Hail, Caesar! was a love-letter to classic Hollywood, featuring a Channing Tatum-led homage to the song-and-dance routines of the glittering past, while Trolls provided a pop-tastic sugar rush with numbers from Justin Timberlake and co. Irish film Sing Street, meanwhile, provided pure joy in the form of feel-good teenage rock 'n' roll.

Thrills, Chills and Spills

'Monsters come in many forms' boasted the astute tagline for 10 Cloverfield Lane, a vibrant sequel-of-sorts to 2008's monster movie Cloverfield, and so they did. There were ghosts and ghouls in two treasured childhood titles which were transposed to the big screen; firstly, in Paul Feig's very funny, female-fronted Ghostbusters reboot, and secondly in the more child-friendly Goosebumps. For older students, Midnight Special and The Witch share winding, uncertain narratives - and both end with a big cinematic bang.

Stranger than Fiction

Much like animation, documentaries have had a year to remember in 2016. Authorial voices such as Louis Theroux (My Scientology Movie), Werner Herzog (Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World) and Michael Moore (Where to Invade Next) tackled subjects as diverse as religion, the digital world and European social policy in typically irreverent and playful fashion. In more sombre viewing, The Hard Stop remembered the legacy of Mark Duggan and examined the impact of 2011's London riots. There was more hope to be found in films about international heroines SonitaSpeed Sisters and The Eagle Huntress., while film itself was put under the microscope in very different ways in Hitchcock/Truffaut and Life, Animated, with both titles reminding us of cinema's incredible impact and scale.

Past, Present, Future

There were a host of films this year that gazed dramatically at things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet to come to pass. Son of Saul was a harrowing but extraordinary and essential portrayal of Auschwitz concentration camp, while in more recent history, Spotlight - which won the Academy Award for Best Picture - is equally hard-hitting in its approach to uncovering a child abuse scandal. The Big Short, meanwhile, brings a more sardonic tone in its reconstruction of the recent financial crash and those who profited from it. Two films about recent history looked to the sky, with Sully reminding us of the unbelievable truth of a plane landing in the Hudson river in New York, while Eye in the Sky pondered over the philosophy of a very contemporary issue: drone warfare. Looking forward, Arrival asked big questions about the state of our future world - as well as our current one - in an ambitious, complex slice of sci-fi.

Family Misfortunes

Low-budget indie films continued to be as engaging and inventive as ever, using their unconventional characters to draw audiences in and keep them entertained. Captain Fantastic looked at parental responsibility in an interesting way, while Hunt for the Wilderpeople was a laugh-out-loud Kiwi comedy with plenty of touching moments. Departure was a coming-of-age tale revolving around sexuality and divorce, while Little Men saw a bourgeoning friendship put to the test. All four have familial relationships at their core and come thoroughly recommended by us.

The History of Cinema

And one final area of note is a raft of sequels and reboots that mined cinema history to tell bold new stories. Marvel continued their expansive cinematic universe with Captain America: Civil War; J.K. Rowling revived the Harry Potter universe with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and Star Wars prequel Rogue One is set to be a huge hit over the festive period. Elsewhere, Creed breathed new life into the Rocky franchise, Love & Friendship gave us a fresh interpretation of the period drama, and Hell or High Water was a neo-Western that, quite fittingly, combined the old and the new to superb effect.

Moira - Head of Content Programming

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  2. Zootropolis
  3. Arrival
  4. Sonita
  5. Queen of Katwe

Kirsten - Film Programming Manager

  1. I, Daniel Blake
  2. Mustang
  3. Arrival
  4. Victoria
  5. Speed Sisters

Joe - Film Programmer

  1. Little Men
  2. When Marnie Was There
  3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  4. Love & Friendship
  5. A United Kingdom

Elinor - Film Programmer

  1. Victoria
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
  3. Arrival
  4. Sing Street
  5. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Michael - Film Programming Assistant

  1. Room
  2. Victoria
  3. Kubo and the Two Strings
  4. Zootropolis
  5. Your Name
Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott, Film Curation Officer

Michael has an MA in Film Studies with Screenwriting from Sheffield Hallam University. He has previously worked at the British Council and on the BFI Film Academy, and has volunteered at organisations including Sheffield Doc/Fest and Cinema for All.

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