After all that negativity, you’d be mistaken for thinking that there was nothing good to come out of 2016. Of course, there were thankfully more good films than there were bad ones, at least in terms of choice, which makes this for a particularly fascinating look back on what actually set our imaginations on fire, and reminded us all of the sheer power that the movies can give us.
And I’m counting down the very Best of 2016, the ones that personally inspired me to go on despite the negativity that this year has given all of us, and which were just fun and entertaining movies in their own right.
Before that, though, a brief list of honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the final list:
- Doctor Strange
- The Neon Demon
- The Witch
- The Conjuring 2
- Pete’s Dragon
- American Honey
- Captain Fantastic
- Finding Dory
- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
- Kung Fu Panda 3
- Star Trek Beyond
- Green Room
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- Florence Foster Jenkins
And the actual Best of 2016 list kicks off with…
15 – SAUSAGE PARTY
How strange a year it must have been for a film about an animated talking sausage and his edible pals to end up on the Best of the Year list, but Sausage Party – a heavily adult CG cartoon from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – astonished everyone by being some of the most fun they had in a cinema all year, not to mention one of the most thoughtful.
Talking food products dropping the f-word and working in many sexual innuendoes may sound like an idea that’d be dead in the water, but its strong social commentary on the weight of religion and how people blindly follow where their faith leads them gives it a far sharper satirical bite that not many other mainstream films would try to harness, and it smartly refuses to deliver a strawman argument that belittles any practising religion by essentially carrying the message that what you believe in is fine, as long as it’s not hurting anyone and you’re not a dick about it.
On top of everything, though, it’s an extremely funny movie with almost every joke from the smartest observation to even the silliest food pun working wonders in getting a good laugh. Nowhere else this year would we find ourselves laughing hysterically at a Sauerkraut Hitler wanting to exterminate the “juice”, a piece of chewing gum that acts and speaks like Stephen Hawking, and – best of all – a climactic orgy sequence that gives new meaning to the phrase “food porn”.
Those are just some of the delicious helpings that Sausage Party ended up giving audiences, and transformed it from a mildly amusing idea into one of the funniest, smartest and most enjoyable comedies of the year. You might not want to eat any snacks while watching, though, just in case…
14 – THE NICE GUYS
Shane Black returned to what he knows best with this sly, witty and consistently entertaining buddy crime caper that managed to bring out the best in both his two leading actors, and also himself.
Black’s trademark smart-aleck dialogue and tone is all over this flick, which is great because as usual it’s sharp and extremely engaging as well as effortlessly likable, only this time with a purely 70s feel to it thanks to a soundtrack of old favourites by Earth Wind and Fire and The Temptations, and a delightful throwback quality to it. Though it might not be as self-aware as some of Black’s previous scripts or directorial films, it still feels like a movie that could exist within the world of Lethal Weapon or even Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a pulpy thriller those characters would put on after a hard day’s work. Even then, it works great as a standalone with some great comedy, and intriguing and unpredictable plot, and some great performances.
That leads right into the dynamic duo of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who are great both together and individually, though it is Gosling who gets the film’s biggest laughs through his sheer commitment to a highly physical performance. Both he and Crowe share solid chemistry, and when they’re working off of each other it brings about some great lines and character moments. Impressive, too, is young Angourie Rice as Gosling’s smart and frightfully mature daughter, who more than holds her own against her two vastly more experienced co-stars.
A ton of fun with some great action, great comedy, great characters and great suspense, The Nice Guys is just a great time waiting to be had…
13 – THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Though it may be one of the more recent films on this list, The Edge of Seventeen still deserves a reasonably high spot on this list for not just being a genuinely great movie, but also perhaps the best teen film in years.
Anchored by an astonishing lead performance by Hailee Steinfeld, along with strong support from a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson, the film tackles issues like depression, anxiety and insecurity better than a lot of other modern teen flicks have done, all moulding together to create a lead character that is undeniably precocious and sometimes narcissistic, but is still extraordinarily believable in an era where the iPhone reigns supreme. You may not be rooting for her during the entire movie, but you are still totally sympathetic to her plight, and as her descent into deeper self-loathing reaches unfathomable depths you are eager for her to find a way back to normality, resulting in a powerful crescendo that is as heart-breaking as it is poignant.
It will also be tough for Steinfeld, who since her Oscar-nominated debut in True Grit hasn’t exactly been up to a whole lot aside from supporting roles here and there, to find a role that is as perfectly suited for her as it is here, and it really is her who steers the film into further greatness. She gives a performance that many will be comparing to Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, but that tends to undermine what a strong and emotional piece of acting she is delivering here, and she makes this often unlikeable person genuinely interesting enough to allow you to become invested in her personal odyssey of awkwardness.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a teen film in recent years that not only perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager in this day and age, but also one that hits so many emotional and captivating levels for anyone to watch, even those whose teen years are far behind…
12 – DEADPOOL
After a string of flops, including not one but two ill-fated superhero films like Green Lantern and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds finally scored a mega-hit with his long-awaited donning of the red-and-black suited Merc with a Mouth, and luckily it was also one of the year’s most enjoyable films.
A foul-mouthed, ultra-violent and trippingly-meta alternative to the many Marvel movies out there (though this one operates in the 20th Century Fox-owned X-Men universe instead of Disney’s MCU), Deadpool finally gave the popular comic character the big-screen outing he deserved, after the disastrous and controversial version that he was morphed into in that Wolverine movie. Reynolds has just as much fun on-screen as the audience is having, gleefully delivering every last f-bomb and fourth-wall-breaking joke like an overgrown kid in a comic book store, and inhabiting the character almost perfectly that it met audience expectations and caused many to wonder if Reynolds really was the immortal mutant.
Aside from being an extremely funny satire on superhero movies, it’s also an effective love story with Reynolds and co-star Morena Baccarin having killer chemistry and some of the most extreme sex scenes this year outside of Sausage Party. Their on-screen togetherness helped carry the movie forward in ways not many were even expecting, and amidst all the cursing and violence it was their relationship that made us care about what ends up happening to them in the end.
Tons of fun with great comedy and awesome action, Deadpool proved that even superheroes have a potty mouth every now and then, and all the better for it…
11 – KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Laika Animation is quickly gaining traction as an animation studio that even Pixar should be looking out for, a fact proven by their exceptionally beautiful and stunningly original latest outing, which might even be their best to date.
Kubo and the Two Strings, the first film directed by Laika’s lead animator Travis Knight, entrances the audience right from the word go with its breath-taking and stellar stop-motion animation, which is some of the best of its kind that has surely been witnessed in years. There are parts of it that look and feel so seamless that you’d swear they cheated and used CGI for certain shots, but even if they did the majority of it was crafted exclusively by hand, frame by frame, and it is a visual wet dream for any aspiring stop-motion animator out there.
It’s also a seriously heartfelt movie, with lovable characters and a story that delivers all the right emotions at the right time, all while never pandering to younger audiences with cheap pop culture references or bodily function gags, instead treating them as smart mini-adults as it goes from one dark place after another. It’s a family film that will excite you, leave you on the edge of your seat, break your heart, and restore your faith in humanity all in one fell swoop.
If anything, it reaffirms Laika’s position as one of today’s brightest and most passionate animation studios, leaving Pixar surely trembling in their current throne…