Honourable Mentions: 10 Cloverfield Lane \ 13TH | Captain Fantastic | Chi-Raq \ Creed | Everybody Wants Some \ The Girl with All the Gifts \ The Greasy Strangler \ Hail, Caesar! \ Julieta \ Krisha \ Kubo and the Two Strings \ Love & Friendship \ Rams \ Sing Street \ Spotlight \ Star Trek Beyond \ Tale of Tales \ Victoria \ When Marnie Was There
20. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Even with the weight of anticipation on its shoulders, Rogue One is a stunningly confident stride into new territory for the series title. Offering up everything a Star Wars film needs to be while enriching the universe with an alternative perspective and voice, with one of the most exciting climaxes of the year. Gareth Edwards best feature film, and one of the biggest and boldest instalments to date.
19. Under the Shadow
Much like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Iranian-born Babak Anvari’s nerve-shredding debut is a contemporary fable in the foil of a horror picture. A relentlessly intense and engaging drama that becomes infested with the seeds of supernatural spectres, this commentary on feminism in the society of 1980s war-torn post-revolutionary Tehran is a mind-blowing creation of pure substance.
18. American Honey
Andrea Arnold takes her perspective of capturing impoverished youth culture stateside, and through the eyes of Star – a mesmerising turn by newcomer Sasha Lane – we see the landscape of a society of distressing opposites, set to a feverishly enjoyable party atmosphere with one of the year’s best soundtracks. Also, Shia LaBeouf being possibly the best he’s ever been.
17. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This New Zealand comedy-drama from Taika Waititi didn’t really make a splash in the UK, but trust it to be on many personal favourite lists in a few years time. This eclectic, hilarious and rather touching adventure romp gave us a brilliant staring turn from Julian Dennison, while Sam Neill has never been more compulsively enjoyable onscreen. This promises great things for Waititi’s next, Thor: Ragnarok.
16. Your Name
We might have said goodbye to Studio Ghibli this year, but the state of Japanese animation has never been better with Makoto Shinkai’s genre-defying body-swap picture. Boasting more originality and humanity in its premise’s execution than a multitude of more fashionable western counterparts, this was one of the year’s biggest and most beautiful surprises on many fronts.
15. Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford’s follow up feature to A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals is a neo-noir with echoes David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive as a dark parable of the internal conflicts of Amy Adam’s shallow socialite. Operating on multiple levels of dream, metaphor and reality, this spectacularly well cast and intelligent tale is undeniably cruel, but visceral and thoughtful enough to linger for days afterwards.
14. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier continues to play with genre expectation in this nasty little beast of a picture. Offering one of the last performances by Anton Yelchin and a terrifying turn by Patrick Stewart, this fiercely violent thriller used its exploitation foundations to wind unthinkable tension out of its premise, while remarking on the perpetuation of hate and misuse in many corners of America.
Right in the midst of their second renaissance period, Disney have produced their first masterpiece in decades. A spectacular depiction of contemporary western culture with animals, this is a shockingly provocative and intelligent commentary of the importance of tolerance and the corruption of prejudice to different races and peoples - a new Disney for a new millennium.
12. The Nice Guys
Shane Black’s return to the mystery-crime genre is an outstanding, painfully hilarious and perfectly made action comedy that basically nobody saw. Films like this don’t get made often enough, and it will absolutely find a new life in its inevitable cult resurgence in a couple of year’s time. Crowe and Gosling are an unforgettable duo, but this is Black’s film and he owns every second of it.
11. The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy’s performances are outstanding, but The Revenant is also a thoroughly gripping and intensely savage film of survival at the heart of the frontier. A shocking, blunt depiction of the cultural collapse at the edge of the world, it’s technically flawless and stunning in presentation, and the best work Alejandro G. Iñárritu has delivered since his debut.
10. Captain America: Civil War
The saturation of the genre may be approaching its peak, but Civil War is a prime example of why the Marvel Cinematic Universe works. Although the jaw-dropping work from the second unit sets the series a whole new benchmark, it’s the storyline and fabulous character work which really set this one apart. Outrageously satisfying, this is one the best films the genre has ever produced.
9. The Neon Demon
Nicholas Winding Refn films should come with an immediate warning that they’re not for everyone. For everything that this is though, The Neon Demon is not only the best looking and sounding film of the year, but uses its extreme nature and presentation to weave a stark and gruesome tale of popular culture/fashion worlds obsession with beauty – all to a fabulously horrifying final act.
8. Swiss Army Man
Defeating its detractors as Cannes, this is the best ‘farting corpse’ movie ever made. Dano and Radcliffe are bold and brilliant in this musical, visual marvel. Finding endless ways to present things you’ve likely never seen before, this fantastically designed and painfully hilarious story of an impossible friendship has plenty to say about the sincerity of human emotion - even when one of its characters is dead.
In a year of hostility, disorder and uncertainty, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival couldn’t have appeared at a more poignant moment. Deep and thoughtful science-fiction at its best, its narrative complexities and character work are outshone only by its intense optimism in seeing communication, as opposed to violence, as the key to conflict resolution – with Amy Adams giving yet another stunningly emotional performance.
6. Embrace of the Serpent
Interweaving two points in the life of an Amazonian shaman, Ciro Guerra’s absurdly gorgeous picture is a dark yet enlightening parable of the utilitarianism – more specifically its effect on the natives who find their worldviews irreparably shaken; a slow burn of visual ingenuity and weighty ruminations, culminating in one of the year’s most unforgettable endings.
5. Hell or High Water
David Mackenzie’s neo-western offered more than just a contemporary riff on the genre, instead delivering a transcendent ancestor to the genre that miraculously deconstructed and reinterpreted its entire spectrum with intelligence, command and incredible character and performance work from all – the greatest western of the 21st century.
4. I, Daniel Blake
Almost 50 years on from Kes, and Ken Loach is still finding ways to shake British audiences to their core. This enraging and heartbreaking tale of the benefits system’s Kafka-esque foundations, and their effects on the impoverished masses, is one of his very best contemporary works; a scorching commentary and moving portrait of life on the breadline – led by Dave Johns’ fantastic titular performance.
3. Son of Saul
László Nemes’ Hungarian drama is possibly the best film to ever depict the true horrors of the holocaust on screen. Géza Röhrig’s haunting portrayal as Saul offers the vessel for the audience in a genuinely upsetting and devastating presentation of brutality and inhumanity. Staged, shot and blocked to perfection, this is absolutely essential viewing.
2. The Witch
Even for a year of relatively strong and competent small-scale genre pictures, Robert Egger’s directorial debut was the cream of the crop; a desperately restrained, thoroughly disquieting living nightmare of a movie. A unique, distinctive and terrifying picture – which also happened to feature cinemas greatest goat.
Room is a film of extraordinary standing because of its ability to take something as dark and unsettling as its subject matter, and make something so beautiful and life-affirming which stands triumphantly in the face of its horrifying reality. Balanced by two incredible leading roles from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, as well as Emma Donoghue’s fantastic adaptation of her own novel, Lenny Abrahamson’s beautiful masterpiece is the best that this harrowing, yet rewarding tale deserves – a film small in design, but one that feels as big as the universe itself.