A film, food, travel & lifestyle blog by Sophie Elizabeth

27 December 2016

Film Review: Top 20 Films 2016 (10 - 1)

Top 20 Films of 2016 10-11 Popcorn and Glitter
When I started putting my Top 20 Films of 2016 together, I was convinced that this year had been a tough one for cinema. However, as I enter in to my final 10, I realised that maybe it had some real gems afterall - even if it took some digging. After some thought, here's the final countdown of my Top Films of 2016 from 10 to 1*.  

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10. Free State of Jones (Gary Ross, 2016) - Based on true events in Mississippi 1862, a farmer and medic for the Confederate Army, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), flees his position - branding him an enemy of the State. Opposed to racism, slavery and having witnessed the horrors of war, Newt returns home to Jones County - leading an almighty rebellion of slaves and the working class which will go down in history.

Equipped with all the tools for Oscar recognition, Free State of Jones is an incredibly moving, all-guns-blazing portrayal of a man who brought down the State. McConaughey delivers another stellar performance in this hugely political statement on America’s violent past, with whom the values stand just as strong today.

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9. A United Kingdom (Amma Asante, 2016) - A true-life romance in which Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), an English office clerk, falls in love with an African gentleman (David Oyelowo) at a time of civil rights hostility in 1940's Britain. Unaware that he is Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana, the couple shocks the world when they marry and start a family but upon return to Seretse's country, their relationship faces even greater prejudice.

Amma Asante shows again her talents to seamlessly blend a personal narrative with a hugely political one. Much like with Belle (Asante, 2013), she is able to take a cinematic platform, shoot it beautifully and still showcase it as a film with real purpose. To be expected, Oyelowo (perhaps best known for his role as Martin Luther King. Jr in Selma, 2014) and Pike deliver stunning performances which adds only to this already powerful story. A United Kingdom will leave you with goosebumps.

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8. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015) - In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter, John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) find shelter from a blizzard. The cabin is inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters including a fellow bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be a sheriff. Greeted by four other strangers, and with a high bounty on Daisy's head, the eight travellers soon learn that they may not make it to their destination alive.

Having had the chance to see this projected in 70mm, it's safe to say that The Hateful Eight is one of the most visually stunning of 2016 and Tarantino films to date. Whilst a western is far different from any genre he's explored previously, The Hateful Eight is pure Tarantino - through and through. Jam-packed with an all star cast (some familiar and some new), it makes for an all guns-blazing, thrilling addition to Tarantino's budding CV. 

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7. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015) - Five year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), knows life only inside the four walls of Room - a squalid shed he shares with his mother, Joy (Brie Larson). Unaware they are captive, when the pair are suddenly freed, he is forced to discover a strange new world outside of the one he has become accustom while Joy struggles to adjust to her old life.

Frank (2013) director, Lenny Abrahamson, returns with yet another skilful masterpiece but with a far darker narrative. Whilst it is ultimately a fantastic film, it's not one you might wish to watch again and again. Told through the eyes of a child who is the result of his mother's rape, at times Room can be both heartbreaking and up-lifting through Jack's ability to find joy in the smallest of things. Of all the nominees for Best Actress at the Oscars this year, Brie Larson was by far the most deserving to win. Along side an incredibly talented young Tremblay, she shines and displays such diversity in her abilities. With a fantastic cast and wonderfully adapted screenplay, Room is as harrowing as it is beautiful and well deserving of a spot on the Top 10 films of 2016.  

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6. Moana (John Musker, Ron Clements, 2016) - A Disney adventure following the story of Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho) - the teenage daughter of a chief on the small Polynesian island of Motunui. With the island's resources running out, Moana embarks on a seemingly impossible mission across the sea to find demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and return the heart to the goddess Te Fiti. In doing so, she proves herself a master wayfinder and fulfils the unfinished quest of her ancestors. 

Moana is a rare and much needed celebration of Polynesian culture and there are so many factors which make it groundbreaking. Firstly, Moana is not a Disney princess - she is a daughter of a chief and, as such, is expected to lead her people. She does not have a love interest, nor does she need a male role to save her - she is entirely her own person. If you want to dig a little further, you may also find some very interesting feminist theories surrounding the role of the goddess Te Fiti. Throw in some incredibly catchy songs written by Broadway legend Lin Manuel Miranda; stunning visuals, a talented cast of Polynesian/Hawaiian actors, excellent writers (including Taika Waititi) - you've got yourself one incredible Disney classic and a stand out film of 2016. Watch out for those Disney easter eggs while you're at it. 

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5. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016) - Toby (Chris Pine), a struggling single father, and his ex-convict brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), plan a series of heists against the bank that's about to foreclose on their ranch in a bid to protect the future of their family. However, it is not long before they raise the suspicions of Marcus (Jeff Bridges), an ageing Texas Ranger looking to go out in a blaze of glory. As the pair prepare for their final robbery, they brace themselves for a showdown.

This is not your average bank robbers and cowboy movie. Directed by David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water is a crime thriller steeped in nostalgia and melancholia. Besides some excellent performances from Bridges and Pine, it's made all the more enjoyable with beautiful cinematography; stunning shots of big, empty skies and horizontal landscapes. Bound to be picked up at the 2017 Oscars, Hell or High Water is a must-see film of the year. 

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4. Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016) Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful art-gallery owner living in Los Angeles who is disturbed by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). Telling the brutal story of one family's nightmarish road trip and a father's quest for revenge, the manuscript forces Susan to confront some dark truths.

With fashion designer Tom Ford as director, at the very least we expect stunning visuals and at no point does Nocturnal Animals disappoint. It's been another glorious year for Adams who shines alongside a mesmerising Jake Gyllenhaal and the ever-talented, Michael Shannon. Though this features some truly disturbing scenes, they are each executed with precision by Ford. Artfully composed, Nocturnal Animals oozes style - steeped in noir whilst maintaining a well-balanced narrative pace. I'll be surprised if this isn't picked up by the Academy in 2017, even if it's just for cinematography but Nocturnal Animals is not one to be missed. 

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3. The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015) - In 1823, legendary fur trapper, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), aids an expedition in the uncharted American wilderness. Having  survived a vicious bear attack, Glass is abandoned by his hunting team and believed dead. Broken but fuelled by vengeance, he treks through the wintry, harsh terrain trailing John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the former confidant who betrayed him.

It's hardly surprising that this film was rewarded twelve Oscar nominations. Considered primarily as an art-house film for the masses, shot by shot The Revenant is beautiful whilst the cast are what makes it truly believable and hard-hitting. Criticised for being style over substance, I do not believe that a narrative has to be overly complicated in order to be a good one. True, it is a story of a man looking for redemption whilst battling the terrain, but it's the journey which makes it truly spectacular. Though not entirely without its flaws (being nearly 3 hours long it did feel it could lose perhaps lose fifteen minutes or so from the running time), it had to be on the Top end of my list. Read my full film review here. 

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016)Led by ex-convict, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a group of rebels band together to plot and execute a dangerous mission which involves stealing the plans for the Empire's weapon known as a Death Star in a bid to save countless lives.

It had to be on there, didn't it? If you prepared yourself for an imitation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you will be sadly disappointed. Rogue One is a prequel to A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977) and in true styling of the 70's classic, it is a far darker narrative but with that added Star Wars charm. Arguably, Rogue One's actual story and character development is brushed over in comparison to Force Awakens. Instead, a great deal of he backstory runs on assumed knowledge from the spectator although that is not to say you have to be a Star Wars face to enjoy it. But it does make the Easter eggs all the sweeter if you do. Felicity Jones delivers an acceptable performance but it is the fantastic story and stunning visuals which make this truly fantastic - including the striking resurrection of actor legend, Peter Cushing. Focussing far more heavily on action scenes, is arguably the ultimate Star Wars fan film and a triumphant standalone.

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1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016) - Having moved out of the city, a young reprobate by the name of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his reluctant foster father, Hec (Sam Neill), finds themselves at the centre of a ruthless manhunt after they get stranded in the New Zealand wilderness. 

Did you guess it? Hunt for the Wilderpeople stood out to me as a truly remarkable film of 2016. Whilst it was primarily sold as a comedy, there is also a great deal of heart and depth to this refreshing narrative. Based on the book by Barry Crump, the film's tone of voice differs greatly from any of Waititi's previous works but there are constant reminders of his auteurism. We see the return of many familiar faces including Rhys Darby and, of course, the man himself as a church minister (in possibly one of the most amusing scenes in the entire film). With a stunning cast, excellent script and cinematography, it's no surprise to me that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the most successful film to come out of New Zealand to date. It is officially my number 1 film of 2016 - another genuinely enjoyable, stunning triumph for indie director, Taika Waititi. Read my full review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople here. 

That's it for my Top 20 Films of 2016 - where did the year go? So with another year of film having passed us by, tell me - what were your favourite films of the year? Do you agree with my list? As always, I love reading your comments so please do leave me lots of lovely ones down below. Didn't see the first part of my Top 20? Click to view 20-11 here

Until next time movie-goers, a very Happy New Year to you all, 

*This list is based on films released in the UK from January 1st to December 31st. 


  1. I was watching The Final Conflict (1981) last night where Sam Neill played the Antichrist and I was thinking about your number 1 pick. Sam Neill has a lot of range in his performances. I found it funny that his character in TFC (Damien Thorn) has the same initials as the incoming US president (as well as other similarities). Hell or High Water was superb. The bleak landscape of economic devastation plus the depiction a culture steeped in guns and anti-PC dialogue made me think that this segment of American society played a large role in the recent election. Too bad that the incoming Treasury Secretary is a person who foreclosed homes on tens of thousands of people (foreclosure being the main motivation of the lead characters). I liked Rogue One but I had a strange "uncanny valley" feeling about the cgi. And I couldn't help but feel the Diego Luna character was very flat and somber throughout most of the movie (but there was pathos in the end). Maybe I'm unfair to him because he has to play straight man to the killer droid and second fiddle to the Felicity Jones character. I agree with you that 2016 hasn't exactly been a stellar year for the movies but I think you've put together a great list :)

    1. Hi Gil, hope you had a lovely Christmas. Yes, I love Sam Neill - he's excellent in Peaky Blinders and Event Horizon also (but he'll always be remember for Jurassic Park for me).

      Yes I know what you mean about the CGI in Rogue One. I think they did a good job but can't help feeling it was a bit strange. I think the character development and narrative had to be brushed over a little since they only had one film to do it in - it's definitely more action focussed than The Force Awakens. Do you think the killer droid was a gay character then? Thanks very much :)

    2. Maybe they don't use this term in the UK? A "straight man" is a character in comedy who acts normally and the other character (K-2SO in this case) acts somewhat abnormally as to get a laugh from the audience. In this case, Alan Tudyk was also ad-libbing some of his lines: http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/news/a51501/alan-tudyk-rogue-one-star-wars-interview-k-2so/

      You can see it here in this sketch from Monty Python where Graham Chapman plays "The Colonel" as a "straight man": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRke9pMnqEE The two mafioso are "the funny men" or "the banana men". It doesn't have to do with sexuality, which incidentally was an important issue in Graham Chapman's life.

      Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful New Year, Sophie!

    3. Aw I see! I had never heard that saying before - makes total sense though. I agree, I thought Diego Luna's character was a bit meh but I loved all the rest of what was going on that I'll let it go haha happy new year! :)

  2. Surprisingly there are a lot of films on your list that I haven't even seen yet! Bookmarking this list and adding these films to the queue!

    Rae | Love from Berlin

    1. Aw amazing! Thanks so much for reading it - I really hope you enjoy them! Can't wait to hear what you thought x

  3. I absolutely love your Top 10 list, Sophie! I can see a pattern in the list in that they are all films with a lot of heart and strong narratives. I loved Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Hell or High Water was fantastic also. I must go see Rogue One and Moana this week :) Happy New Year!

    Ashley C xx

    1. Thanks Ashley :) Ah I didn't see that but I suppose you're right actually! Aw please do let me know what you think of them. Moana is fantastic and I've seen Rogue One twice now, was even better the second time round x


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