Best Films of 2016

Ron Swanson and Indy Datta look back over 2016

Train to Busan

2016 has been a great year. That’s not a sentence that I ever imagined I would write, but in the world of cinema, unaffected, thus far, by Brexit, Donald Trump or the mass culling of celebrities which seemed to result in everybody lamenting the loss of their hero, it’s true. 2016 was a great year.

That greatness began in January, where Creed was better than any of the other more lauded awards contenders; delivering genre thrills with a flourish, anchored by superb performances and directed with real pace and verve by blossoming star Ryan Coogler.

Nine months later, the second great genre piece of the year arrived. Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan is a zombie thriller, in which 90% of the action takes place on the titular train. It’s a funny, scary and desperately moving film, one which rarely allows time for the viewer to take a second and compose their thoughts.

It does a great job of embracing, and then overturning stereotypes, and handles all of its major set-pieces with great skill and aplomb. Indeed, Yeon’s film calls to mind the blockbusters of his compatriot, Bong-Joon Ho. The train setting is clearly reminiscent of Snowpiercer, still unavailable in the UK, while the dynamics between the characters can’t help but call to mind The Host. Such comparisons would dwarf most films, but Train to Busan can bear the load. It’s an outstanding, compact, ambitious and brilliantly realized film.

Then in November, Hong Jin-Na’s The Wailing got a very small theatrical release, and is available now on VOD. It’s a deliciously perverse and thoroughly insane horror movie about a small-town policeman trying to investigate several mysterious deaths and illnesses. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, which contains some sequences of sheer, unabated dread, and absolutely worth finding the time for.

2016 was also a year in which there were several outstanding documentaries released. Notes on Blindness was a Best Film nominee at the BIFAs, and told a fascinating story in a really interesting way. It’s a sensory experience like no other, and a story told with real love and affection.

Meanwhile Ava DuVernay made an incendiary look at the systemic racism inside the US criminal justice system into horrifying viewing. 13th is a polemic in the purest, truest sense of the word, it makes its arguments in a passionate, lucid and righteously angry manner. It’s the work of an outstanding filmmaker.

Other excellent docs included Weiner, The Hard Stop, and Life, Animated. Another, more personal favourite was Stretch and Bobbito: Radio that Changed Lives, which works as a look at the relationship between two long-time friends and DJs, and also as a showroom for some previously unreleased freestyles from hip-hop’s greatest MCs.

Top 10 Films:

  • Creed
  • Paterson
  • Things to Come
  • Train to Busan
  • Arrival
  • Chevalier
  • Little Men
  • Hell or High Water
  • The Wailing
  • Our Little Sister

Outstanding performances:
Sasha Lane and Shia LeBoeuf – American Honey
Blythe Danner – I’ll See You in My Dreams
Hayley Squires – I, Daniel Blake

 Ron Swanson


With the usual disclaimers about the films I haven’t seen (including most of last – and this – winter’s awards contenders), a sort of top five.

  1. Creed – uncommonly graceful mainstream film-making, which I wrote about here.
  1. The Club – the first of Pablo Larrain’s 2016 hat-trick. The most fucked up Father Ted Christmas special ever. I wrote about it here.
  1. The Witch – the arthouse production values and the dialogue copied and pasted from contemporary accounts of suspected witchcraft in 17th century New England, might lead you initially to mistake Robert Eggers’ debut for a sobersides period drama. But Eggers knows what he’s doing, and lets you know soon enough and unequivocally enough that this is a full-on genre horror freakshow. Anya Taylor-Joy, in the lead, deserves every bit of the attention her performance has garnered, but Eggers also gets world-class work from the film’s small children and animals. Well, one animal in particular.
  1. Son of Saul – A film whose moral gravity and experiential intensity are inexplicably intertwined. I wrote about it here.
  1. Your Name/American Honey – I couldn’t decide which of these two reckless, rapturous, silly, beautiful movies should be in this list, so I included both.

Indy Datta

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