If you didn’t step foot into a cinema this year, you really missed out.
Yes, it may have been cheaper, more convenient and slightly less irritating to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane on the 5-inch screen of your mobile phone, but there are some films you just have to see on the big screen, and that’s one of them.
Before going through what I think are the best films of 2016, I want to preface all of this by pointing out that I’m not a film critic. I had to pay for every movie I saw this year (not that I’m bitter), so there are plenty of movies I didn’t see. Generally, I didn’t see any movies with particularly poor ratings online, and I tended to only watch films that appealed to me.
There’s no scoring system, no finely-crafted methodology; everything that follows is based purely on whether I liked the film or not. I’m not an expert, an aficionado, nor a connoisseur, I’m just an everyman who likes watching films.
With that out of the way, here are my picks for the five best films of 2016.
#5: 10 Cloverfield Lane
When I wrote about this film back in March, I urged the three or four people reading the article to see it in the cinema while it was still showing.
Personally, I love going to the cinema, but a combination of high ticket prices, insanely long advertisements, inflated popcorn and confectionery prices, and the sound of 20 people trying to open packets of lollies at once – seemingly always during a particularly tense or quiet scene – makes going to the cinema less appealing for some.
However frustrating the cinema experience may be for you, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense thriller that should be seen in the cinema.
The film follows Michelle, a woman who, after crashing her car, is held against her will by Howard, a survivalist and consistently angry person who lives in the middle of nowhere. He tells a suitably incredulous Michelle that “the Martians” have attacked the Earth, killing everyone and leaving the planet uninhabitable.
Apart from the ending – which comes across as sequel-bait – the film is very well written. The plot is thrilling and unpredictable, and the characters are well fleshed out.
As with any good thriller, the soundtrack does a great job at keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. While there are a couple of jump scares here and there – movie website Where’s the Jump? counts eight – the film mainly builds tension through the mystery surrounding the characters, as well as the nagging feeling that something just isn’t right.
If you didn’t get to see 10 Cloverfield Lane in the cinema, get some friends over and watch it on the big screen in the middle of the night – don’t watch it on your mobile phone or on in-flight entertainment.
I wrote about Zootopia back in March, and I still reckon it’s the best animated film of the year (out of the ones I saw). Along with Big Hero 6, which came out in 2014, it’s cemented producers Walt Disney Animation Studios as a genuine competitor to Pixar.
Zootopia follows Judy Hopps, a young rabbit trying to make a name for herself in a world that falls short of the tolerant and equal society she’s been led to believe exists. She soon discovers that despite the best of intentions, people, unfortunately, aren’t as virtuous and egalitarian as they’d like to believe.
The film is well written; its characters are likeable and fleshed out. The soundtrack is okay, but the voice-acting is great, and the animation excellent. It has a good story to tell, and an important message to share.
If you came up to me a couple of years ago and asked whether I thought Walt Disney’s animated flicks were on par with Pixar’s, I would have laughed, and said no, citing the Toy Story series, Up, WALL-E, and Finding Nemo as examples of why Pixar is clearly the superior studio out of the two.
Today I’d say the opposite, citing Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. I must say I’ve been a little disappointed in Pixar’s offerings as of late – Cars 2 was frankly stupid, The Good Dinosaur was passable (but that’s about it), and Finding Dory was a decent enough film that just couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.
If you have an aversion to PG-rated or animated films, I recommend you make an exception for Zootopia, because it’s one of the best releases of the year.
I also wrote about Deadpool in March, and I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about it in addition to what I’ve already written.
Deadpool is not a particularly classy film. It is not a profound masterpiece that will go down in the history books as one of this decade’s finest motion pictures. It is pretty funny though.
While the plot is a little predictable, Deadpool more than makes up for this through its cackle-inducing hilarity.
If you’re looking for a movie full to the brim of dark humour that doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, Deadpool is the movie for you.
Tickled is a partly crowdfunded documentary about the exploits of an organisation called Jane O’Brien Media, which produces videos about – and I swear I’m not making this up – “competitive endurance tickling.”
While that alone may sound like an interesting enough premise for a documentary, there’s more to it, because it turns out Jane O’Brien Media has allegedly blackmailed some of the people in the film.
Like any good documentary, Tickled is the subject of a US$40 million defamation suit, and it shines a light into the darker, seedier crevices of society that most of us have been fortunate enough to avoid, or at least prefer to not think about.
New Zealand journalist David Farrier and television producer Dylan Reeve have done a stellar job in producing Tickled; it elicited both laughter and silent cries of, “What the hell is going on?!!”
My only criticism of the film is the way it was released. There were only a handful of screenings across the country, and only one in Western Australia if I’m not mistaken. It took a while for the film to be available to people living outside the major cities, which is a bit disappointing, albeit not unusual for an independent documentary with a theatrical release.
#1: Train to Busan
Train to Busan – a film that benefited from virtually no marketing or hype in Australia, a film that had a very limited theatrical release (at least in Australia) before scurrying onto DVD and digital download – is my pick for the best film of 2016.
The zombie apocalypse genre appears to have become a favourite among film studios and TV producers, and while Train to Busan is far from groundbreaking in this regard, it’s so well put together that it’s simply a must-see.
The film follows a man and his daughter on their journey from Seoul to Busan by train, when, of course, everything goes horribly wrong. A zombie infection spreads like wildfire, and the remaining passengers must ward off a hoard of zombies in a chaotic free-for-all.
Everyone on board quickly discovers that the only pathogen spreading more rapidly than the deadly zombie infection is ruthless self-preservation.
Train to Busan does a pretty good job at developing likeable characters without relying on boring exposition. Some of the characters feel a little cookie-cutter in nature, but the overall quality of the writing more than makes up for that.
Of all the movies I saw this year, Train to Busan had the biggest impact on me while watching it. It’s also one of the few films I’ve seen that’s actually made me cry.
Train to Busan is an example of the kinds of gems you’ll uncover if you can be bothered seeking out foreign films. If you only see one movie from this year, or if you only intend to see one foreign film in your life, see this one.