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The Movie Waffler's 50 Best Movies Of 2016

The highlights of a fantastic year of movies.






2016 has been another stellar year for cinema. So much so that narrowing down the list to 50 proved a challenge, with a lot of excellent movies failing to make the cut. Regardless, here are the 50 that did make the final list.




50. Shin Godzilla
We said: Shin Godzilla is very Japanese in paying tribute to science and ingenuity. Think The Martian, but with the core problem of saving a stranded botanist replaced with the mammoth task of destroying a giant lizard impervious to conventional weapons.



49. Remainder
We said: For most of its running time we're witnessing a protagonist attempt to deconstruct and reassemble a narrative, and while this may test the patience of casual viewers, anyone with a passing interest in the mechanics of storytelling will find Omer Fast's debut a fascinating and immersive watch.



48. Jackie
We said: A South American with leftist leanings, Pablo Larrain was never likely to deliver a love letter to an American First Lady, but nor is Jackie a hatchet job, falling somewhere between the sycophancy of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the mockery of Oliver Stone's W.



47. Captain Fantastic
We said: With a poster evoking Wes Anderson, Captain Fantastic could fool you into thinking it's but the latest twee drama to roll out of Sundance - this year's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (shudder) - but Matt Ross's movie stands on its own.



46. Sweet Bean
We said: Sweet Bean isn't quite up there with the best of recent Asian drama, but it's not far off, and like all good drama, it leaves us longing to spend more time in the company of its characters. It's a confection as sweet as its titular treat.



45. Queen of Earth
We said: This just might be Elisabeth Moss's best performance to date. All snot and runny mascara, she resembles a clown hit by a car and left for dead in the rain. We'd give her a hug if we didn't believe she'd stab us in the back.



44. Hail, Caesar!
We said: As a piece of entertainment, Hail, Caesar! performs the function a night at the movies once did, providing a little bit of song and dance, a little bit of mystery, and a little bit of sex.



43. The Hateful Eight
We said: Equal parts good, bad and downright ugly, this is Tarantino's blood soaked love letter to classic network TV and the down and dirty horror flicks of the '70s and '80s, more Sam Raimi than Sam Peckinpah.



42. Dog Eat Dog
We said: Dog Eat Dog is the first movie to come along in quite some time that's unafraid to, and skillful enough to portray crime and violence as exciting, snuff porn for our lizard brains.



41. The Edge of Seventeen
We said: As Nadine, the narcissistic hero/villain of Kelly Fremon Craig's film, Hailee Steinfeld is a raging fireball of self-destructive energy, both entertaining and uncomfortable to watch. Think a high-school set As Good as It Gets with a 17-year-old proto-hipster in the Jack Nicholson part.



40. A Monster Calls
We said: A Monster Calls refuses to wear kid gloves, and is brutally honest about the cruelties of life, yet it's never cynical. It's a heartfelt, humanistic tribute to how we cope with forces beyond our control, as hopeful as it is heartbreaking.



39. The Nice Guys
We said: Shane Black is back to doing what he does best, a buddy action comedy, with characters of his own imagining, and the result is one of the most deliriously enjoyable movies to come out of mainstream American cinema since... well, since Iron Man 3.



38. Eye in the Sky
We said: Gavin Hood sets up some simple elements that effectively rack up the tension; the loaves of bread on the little girl's stall is a wonderful, Hitchcockian device that visually acts as an ambiguous and nerve-wracking countdown, causing us to shout at the screen for passersby to purchase some bread. Hood's loaves of bread generate as much nervous sweat as Hitchcock's glass of milk in Suspicion.



37. Saint Amour
We said: Saint Amour features some of the funniest and smartest moments comedy cinema has offered in recent years, from Bruno's hilarious lecture on 'the 10 stages of drunkenness' to a sight gag involving Gerard Depardieu's considerable corpulence that's one for the comic ages.



36. The Violators
We said: English author Helen Walsh's filmmaking debut is not only one of the best movies made by a novelist, but one of 2016's best British movies, boasting one of the year's finest central performances to boot.



35. Little Men
We said: A cheap, yet all too common storytelling trope is to equate affluence with villainy, and it's one director Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias commendably bin here. There are no villains in this story; both parties are simply trying to do right by their families.



34. Disorder
We said: Alice Winocour's disdain for plot in favour of tension (much of it sexual) and atmosphere building is refreshing, particularly when so deftly handled. This is a filmmaker of abundant potential. If Disney paid attention to world cinema, Winocour would no doubt find herself offered a Marvel movie.



33. 10 Cloverfield Lane

We said: 10 Cloverfield Lane is far too well made to be ruined by its title, but it's a shame viewers are denied the chance to experience the film as a completely blind watch and enjoy it as the expertly constructed adult genre thriller it is.



32. Anomalisa

We said: A puppet performer is capable of giving an expressionless performance, which makes it perfect for a portrayal of a man suffering the sort of ennui portrayed here. They may be a foot tall and made of rubber, but Anomalisa features two of the most human characters you'll see on screen this year.



31. The Witch

We said: It may feature a very traditional presentation of its titular antagonist, but The Witch is more psychological period drama than Saturday night horror flick, more Bergman, less Blumhouse.



30. Go With Me

We said: Go With Me is a movie that skillfully uses what could be dismissed as clich├ęs and tropes in its narrative to allow for a subtle exploration of its characters' motivations, never bragging about its sly commentary on and deconstruction of its genre.



29. Florence Foster Jenkins

We said: The film conveys the appeal of music in an explicit manner lacking in most biopics of genuinely talented performers. In many ways it could be considered a musical companion to Tim Burton's Ed Wood, as both movies are celebrations of talentless yet undoubtedly passionate figures.



28. James White

We said: White is a highly complicated and nuanced figure. We're torn between contempt for his narcissistic ways and sympathy for his genuine love and affection for his mother. Life has dealt him a cruel hand, and he's looking for an antagonist to strike out against, but the film never conveniently gives him one, just as life rarely does.



27. Louder Than Bombs

We said: Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt have fashioned a very human set of humans. I'd gladly watch more relative non-adventures of the Reed family, but I'll settle for whomever else Trier decides to study under his finely tuned microscope.



26. The Keeping Room

We said: There are no extended shootouts - this isn't an action movie by any means - but every time a bullet is fired the consequence is made explicit; this is a film more concerned with the gruesome aftermath of violence than the cinematic thrills of the act itself.



25. Forsaken

We said: The father/son casting may seem a gimmick, but it adds an extra layer of discomfort to the tension between the two characters, and a late emotional breakdown by Kiefer Sutherland in his father's arms will have the toughest of male viewers reaching for the Kleenex.



24. The Survivalist

We said: The Survivalist is an exemplary piece of low budget filmmaking. Experts will tell you to make the most of a tight budget by confining your action to a single, easily accessible location and a handful of characters. That's just what we get here, and writer-director Stephen Fingleton makes the most out of his limited means.



23. Chronic

We said: In recent interviews Tim Roth has freely admitted to taking roles purely for the money, but with Mexican director Michel Franco's Chronic, the appeal was certainly beyond the financial. Roth gives a career best performance in a film that's enamoured of him.



22. The Assassin

We said: Watching The Assassin is like taking a childhood trip to your grandparents'; you don't understand much of their speech and you're unsure of their rules, but the alien and archaic sensual delights are intoxicating.




21. Creed

We said: For all its insight and thoughtfulness, Creed ultimately has us on our feet rooting for its hero in a thrilling action climax, and when that famous theme finally kicks in at a crucial moment, no movie lover will be left unmoved.




20. Victoria

We said: Over the course of two plus hours, cameraman and actress waltz through a skillfully choreographed ballet of cinematic ecstasy. Victoria may be shot on digital, but otherwise this is nuts and bolts analogue filmmaking at its most glorious.




19. Hell or High Water

We said: Scots director David Mackenzie and his English cinematographer Giles Nuttgens fetishise the film's Texan setting in a way not seen since Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas. This is a stunning movie set in a beautiful, if broken and bent out of shape part of the world.




18. The Jungle Book

We said: Like the great Disney movies of old, The Jungle Book knows how to scare, delight and thrill children, of all ages. Not taking your kids to see this would be an act of parental neglect, but I advise all adults to see it themselves, children in tow or not. Trust in me.




17. Nocturnal Animals

We said: Nocturnal Animals is gloriously trashy, but also one of the most aesthetically pleasing movies of the year. It seems fashioned specifically to feature on future double bills with Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon.




16. Don't Breathe

We said: Don't Breathe may lack the willingness to wade in murky moral waters that might elevate it to the level of grindhouse classics like Last House on the Left or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it's not far off. See it in your sleaziest local fleapit.




15. The Neon Demon

We said: The Neon Demon is pornography without the sex, designed to engorge or moisten the loins of arthouse fans. Refn's past work has merely hinted at his ability to produce something that combines this much substance, style and sleaze.





14. Knight of Cups

We said: Malick offers us so much stunning imagery here that even if you fail to engage with his film's theme, there should be enough eye candy on display to keep anyone remotely interested in cinema dazzled for two hours.




13. American Honey

We said: Star's journey from shy, awkward teen to an earth mother who seems to exert a supernatural power over nature (Sasha Lane's interaction with a bear will likely be the standout image of 2016) unspools like an adaptation of some forgotten ancient myth. Go see American Honey, and hear her roar.





12. Krisha

We said: In most director's hands, Krisha would likely resemble a talky filmed play, but Trey Edward Shults's film is a cinematic spectacle. His characters are constantly talking, but his story unravels in visual terms; what's said in this troubled home is never as important as how it's heard.




11. Beyond the Gates

We said: Mixing old school genre tropes with a very modern indie drama sensibility, Jackson Stewart has delivered one of the best horror movies of recent years, a film that isn't short on brains, guts and most importantly, heart.




10. Chicken

We said: Director Joe Stephenson fits comfortably in the lineage of great British social realist filmmakers like Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Alan Clarke and Shane Meadows with an assured, confident and mature debut behind the camera, while young actor Scott Chambers delivers a contender for performance of the year in his first feature lead role.





9. Paterson

We said: There's a park in Paterson, New Jersey devoted to one former native, comedian Lou Costello. It may seem like a laughable idea, but I bet the residents of Paterson are proud of it. They should be proud of Paterson the movie too.




8. Suburra

We said: Combining the tough, violent crime thrillers of 1970s Italian exploitation cinema with the gloss and sophistication of modern day European TV, Suburra is intelligent but explosive, a feast for the synapses and the adrenaline. Decades after Coppola and Scorsese mined such territory, the Italian crime saga has made a triumphant return to the old country.




7. The Measure of a Man

We said: Vincent Lindon is fantastic in a quiet role that requires him to act as an emotional punching bag as Thierry goes from one degrading scenario to the next. It's impossible not to root for this guy, but while you may be shouting "Give him a job!" during the film's first half, by the end you'll be pleading for him to quit his soul destroying position.




6. Green Room

We said: Like any good punk gig, Green Room is best experienced with an audience, as Jeremy Saulnier manipulates us into pogo-ing out of our seats in terror. Whether punk is dead or not is an ongoing debate, but on the evidence of Green Room, down and dirty genre cinema is alive and gobbing in our faces.





5. Raw

We said: Though it's outwardly a horror movie, Raw is one of the all-time great college comedies, albeit a very Central European take on the sub-genre, a world away from the 'safe space' culture of Anglo-Saxon campuses. A love letter to third level education it's certainly not.




4. Manchester by the Sea

We said: There's a lot more visual storytelling on display here than you might expect from a narrative of this nature, and Kenneth Lonergan's leading man is required to deliver a largely silent performance. It's not Casey Affleck's dialogue we ultimately remember so much as his moments of silence.




3. The Childhood of a Leader

We said: This is clearly the work of a director obsessed with cinema, yet it's so idiosyncratic it could equally be the product of someone who never set foot in a movie theatre. America may have just found its next great filmmaker.




2. Bone Tomahawk

We said: A western is only as engrossing as its characters, while a horror movie relies on the threat of its villains. Writer-director S Craig Zahler nails both elements here to give us a rare hyphenated genre piece that succeeds in satisfying both camps.




1. Our Little Sister
We said: I can't recall a single line of dialogue from Our Little Sister, but I remember every scene vividly, and I know exactly how each one made me feel. This is the mark of a truly great filmmaker, and Hirokazu Koreeda may be the greatest orchestrator of quietly conducted human drama working in cinema today.







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