Let's get onto the good stuff finally. I am not going to do any honorable mentions, this is it, my top 20 of 2016, and while the title of this list states that these are the "best" films of 2016, that is not really the case, these are my "favourite" films of 2016. Alright, enough talk, lets begin with my:
TOP TWENTY BEST FILMS OF 2016
20. THE DEVIL'S CANDY
This is the sophomore effort from Australian horror director Sean Byrne whose debut, “The Loved Ones”, graced the screen back in 2009. It has taken seven years for his follow up to become a reality, but the wait was definitely worth it as Byrne proves that he was not just a one trick pony and that the talent he displayed was the real thing. “The Devil's Candy” is about a struggling artist trying to support his family and in doing so finds a great deal on a farm house. Soon after moving in though, the artist is possessed by an evil being determined to destroy his family. The greatest thing about this film is the father/daughter relationship at the centre of it. It feels so incredibly real, that the two come across more like best friends, mainly due to their shared interest of heavy metal music. In fact that music style features prominently in the film, which is why I think I resisted the film at the start. However, it became far too easy to like the characters involved due to their genuine love for one another, and when that becomes threatened you cannot help but feel it too. This is another great horror film that builds slowly, and it has the most incredible pulse pounding twenty minute finale. This is a brilliant horror film, perfectly acted by all involved, and it is a mystery why “The Devil's Candy” has not seen a commercial release as of yet (I was lucky enough to see it at MIFF this year).
19. MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
I fell in love with the atmosphere of Tim Burton's latest film right from the get-go and was spellbound by this story of misfits and freaks. There was a naivete and innocence to the whole thing that I found really beautiful and it felt different to the regular Burton film whilst also feeling familiar at the same time. In other words, there was no doubt as to who the author behind the film was, but it felt like he was tackling new ground with “Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children”. I loved all of the designs and looks of each of the individual children, but my personal favourite had to be Emma Bloom, who has the power of air, thanks to the lovely performance from Ella Purnell. She had a beautiful ethereal quality to her and I loved her budding relationship with Jake, the protagonist of the film. I will admit that I think the film falls apart slightly in its messy third act, as Burton starts to lose some control of his film, but until the Harryhausen inspired skeleton fight, the whole thing is heavenly. I must make mention of just how beautiful the film looks, thanks to Bruno Delbonnel's bright and colourful cinematography.
You may notice pretty quickly that low budget horror films seem to dominate my list this year and “Shelley” is yet another one of these. The film is about a middle aged couple whose only wish is to have a child but since the woman is unable to conceive, they come to a financial agreement with their Romanian maid if she will be their surrogate. While everything goes to plan early on, the pregnancy starts to rapidly increase and it soon becomes apparent that what the maid is carrying may not be human. What makes this film stand out is the location where its set with the couple living in a shack by a lake away from all of the comforts of modern technology. Things like electricity or phone lines do not exist where they live, and this gives the film a real old quality atmosphere to it. The other thing that is done very well is the creation of believable relationships especially between the two women. Although from different nationalities, they can relate to each other through the unborn child as being a mother is something inherent in women. As you may suspect by the plot summary, this is a slow paced horror film that continually builds in its creepiness towards its finale. Thanks to the location, it is also beautifully photographed too. People may find “Shelley” a frustrating experience because it is not the kind of film that answers every question that it asks, threads are left dangling, but for me it was exhilarating and I look forward to rewatching it soon.
17. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
This is actually director Osgood Perkin's second film; the first being his magnificent “February”, that inexplicably still has not been released commercially. While both films could be classified as slow burn horror, “I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” is a completely different film to the earlier one. It has a simple premise; its about a young nurse who moves in with an elderly woman who was once famous for writing horror novels, but the nurse soon questions if these novels came out of her reality as it quickly becomes obvious that the house she now resides in is haunted. The whole thing moves at a snails pace, but its also an exercise in style and atmosphere and it rewards the patient viewer grandly. The whole thing has an eerie feeling throughout that continually builds as dread and danger starts to creep in more and more. This is definitely not a film for everyone, in fact I think the majority of people could find the movie boring, but I found it amazing. It was also stunningly shot by cinematographer Julie Kirkwood (who actually has three films that she shot in this list) in quite a distinctive and unusual manner, in particular the ghostly manifestations. Again, as much as I loved this film, I recommend watching the trailer to gauge if this film is for you, but for me, after two films, Osgood Perkins is a very bright light in regards to the future of horror.
When the initial trailer for “Allied” came out I was sold straight away. It told a story about a soldier and a former leader of the French Resistance joining forces in Casablanca to pose as husband and wife in an attempt to get close to and assassinate upper level Nazi soldiers and collaborators. The cream on the cake was that the film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and starred Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Seriously, shut up and take my money!! But then the second trailer came out and exposed a whole new layer to the film (the second half) that wasn't even hinted at in the first trailer. The film still looked amazing but I thought just how much better the surprise of the second half would've been if it wasn't shown in the trailer, and because of this I wont be speaking of this half of the film but I will say that this is a great film that also, thankfully, has an equally great ending. I'm a big fan of films that deal with the resistance during World War II; the dealings in the shadows, the life and death consequences of every action/inaction they take, so because of this “Allied” had my attention from the start, and it did not waver once. The whole thing is perfectly paced and edited. Not once was I not interested or got bored in “Allied”; I was with it 100% of the time, which sadly is a rare thing these days. Actually in the first minute I thought I was going to hate it because the CGI in the opening was terrible, but after that, I never noticed it again. Unlike a lot of the films on my list this year, I think “Allied” is a film that could appeal to anyone. It is a ripping yarn, superbly acted, filled with palpable suspense that continues to build until it is white knuckle stuff and then ends with a perfect finale. One of the very best from Hollywood in 2016.
Already responsible for my “biggest surprise” of 2016, now Mike Flanagan enters my top twenty list with his stunning home invasion thriller. “Hush” was a film that came out of nowhere; shot on a very low budget in secret, between “Before I Wake” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil”. It was immediately scooped up by Netflix after premiering at Sundance, and then appeared on that service within a few weeks. It was an incredibly quick turnaround from shooting the film to release, but Netflix obviously had massive faith in the film and after watching it its easy to see why. Home invasion thrillers are very easy to get emotionally involved with because everyone has the fear of a stranger entering their home, their safe place, and causing havoc within. What makes “Hush” stand out from the pack is that the protagonist is actually deaf, so obviously does not have one of her main senses to keep her safe when danger approaches. In fact the opening confrontation of the film is so chilling as we, the audience, know that the killer is around her but she herself has no idea until he steals her phone and starts sending photos to her of herself. It is very creepy. However, just because she is deaf does not mean she is helpless, and Maddie (the girl) ends up giving just as good as she gets. From a technical standpoint the flowing smooth camera work is exemplary, creating unnerving suspense, but my favourite aspect of the film is the sound design, which helps to give some indication of what it must be like for a hearing impaired person. Again, the film is not perfect, as I was not a fan of the fact that the killer removed his mask so early on in the film, ruining his mystique and there is also a scene towards the end that I'm still not sure about. When I initially saw it, I was just stunned; my mouth was agape because I couldn't believe that the filmmakers had the balls to do what I just saw. However it ends up being Maddie working out the best option for her survival, so what we saw did not actually happen which is a little bit of a cheat. It makes sense within the story, on a greater level than I make it sound, but I'm still torn by this scene a bit. Besides that though, the rest of the film is a breathtaking (literally) thriller with the suspense level turned all the way to 11. I also loved the fact that the film is relatively short and has very limited dialogue. Great horror film.
14. THE HANDMAIDEN
When I reviewed this film all the way back in August, I was a fan of the film but a little colder on it than I am today. I would now even go so far as to say that this is Park Chan-Wook's best film since 2003's “Oldboy”. Park is just having fun with “The Handmaiden” as this is him, at his most playful. He gives the film a very light tone and there are times when the whole thing feels like a comedy, you are laughing so hard. But of course with this being a Park Chan-Wook film you know that the comedy must be of the darkest variety. He also does not disappoint in the visual department either; as usual he has created a sumptuous looking tale with image after image being stand-outs. The twisty-turny narrative is complex but richly rewarding for those who pay attention. While a film that is hard to talk about in fear of ruining its secrets, I can say that the film is split into three sections where each section upturns everything you thought you witnessed in the sections prior. “The Handmaiden” is also Park's most sexually explicit film to date but this is one aspect of the film where I think he isn't as confident in and as such gives us more of a male's fantasy of lesbian love and sex, as opposed to a real flesh and blood depiction. While the film has a long running time, it is well worth it; just sit back and enjoy watching all of its secrets unfold before you. It is such a bizarre and complex story, I'm sure that most will be impressed by it. Click here to read my original review.
13. THE NICE GUYS
The funniest film I saw in 2016 was Shane Black's ridiculous detective thriller “The Nice Guys”. I was literally laughing out loud through the majority of this, finding particular amusement out of Ryan Gosling's high-pitched screaming and bumbling detective, who his own daughter describes as the “world's worst detective”. Seriously, until this film who would've thought that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe could work so well together and be this funny, but they are just perfect together. The whole story is batshit crazy, as what initially starts as a simple missing persons case ends up being a small part of a much bigger tale. Whilst the film is always funny, it also has some excellent action scenes and as usual Shane Black does not shy away from the blood and gore. By the end of the film, the whole thing plays like a Looney Tunes cartoon with the amount of abuse that poor Ryan Gosling's character goes through. Another nice touch is having the film set in Los Angeles in the late seventies. The stand out of the film is young Australian actress Angourie Rice who plays Gosling's daughter. I thought she was magnificent as the young innocent girl in the Australian apocalyptic thriller, “These Final Hours”, from a few years back, and she follows up her good work in that with a more rugged and hard edged (whilst still amazingly innocent) performance in her role of Holly here. This girl is going to be a star, mark my words. My favourite scene in “The Nice Guys” is when they infiltrate an L.A party on a fact finding mission but Gosling gets too inebriated by all the free liquor that he is unable to get his mouth to ask questions with the words in the right order. So funny!! If you have seen Black's previous “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and enjoyed it, I recommend wholeheartedly “The Nice Guys” as it is cut from the same cloth. My wife said after the screening that she had never seen me laugh so hard in a movie before.
12. TRASH FIRE
This is a film I saw during the last week of 2016 and was totally blown away by it. I was a massive fan of director Richard Bates Jr's debut feature “Excision”. It was that rare kind of horror film that made me feel totally uneasy and disturbed throughout. It was so ballsy and unlike anything I had previously seen, that it was my fourth favourite film of 2012. However, when his second film came around, “Suburban Gothic”, I was much more cold to it; in fact I was not much of a fan of it at all. It just seemed so safe and generic, that I was ultimately disappointed after the extremeness of “Excision”. I actually wondered whether or not the first film was just a fluke and as such did not pay much attention when his third film, “Trash Fire”, came out. I also wasn't too impressed by its trailer. However I was suckered into seeing it thanks to some very positive reviews and I was so glad I made the effort. I love films where you never know where it is going to take you, and “Trash Fire” does exactly that. From where the film starts, you would never be able to guess where and how it will end. The film is about Owen who, after his on again / off again girlfriend Isabel confides in him that she is pregnant with their child, must confront his troubled past and re-connect with his own family who he hasn't seen since he was the cause of a house fire that killed his parents and scarred his sister for life with horrific burns. That is all I'm saying about the film's plot because it is so good to go into this film cold because it takes many twists and turns and then the tone changes entirely until it becomes very dark and horrific. The most amazing thing about “Trash Fire” is that the main character of Owen is a total prick, selfish to the nth degree, and yet through Adrian Grenier's honest performance, we find ourselves actually caring for him. He is an epileptic and has many seizures in the film, which is actually the source of the films funniest scene when he has an attack in the middle of having sex with Isabel, with her reaction being priceless. It is so wrong but oh so funny, that you will question yourself for laughing at such a moment. The whole cast is fantastic with a particular mention going out to Fionnula Flanagan as Oliver's foul mouthed but super religious grandmother. I also enjoyed the fact that Bates Jr once again cast AnnaLynne McCord, a stunningly gorgeous woman in reality, as the hideously disfigured burn victim, Pearl. It must be something of an in joke between the two because he did the same thing with her in “Excision”. Finally I want to mention that I was rapt that Bates Jr had the balls to follow through with his finale of this film. It is so incredibly dark but fits the film like a glove. I think it is safe to say that I am once again on the Richard Bates Jr bandwagon once again.
11. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
This is another one of those low budget horror films that impressed the hell out of me this year, but its also one of those films that you cannot talk about in much detail without destroying its secrets. The film is about a fifteen year old boy named John, who attends therapy for homicidal tendencies. He has all the signs of a person that will eventually turn and become a monster to society but he is actively trying to stop this. However, when murders start to begin happening in his little sleepy mid western town, John is drawn to them trying to work out the who the culprit may be whilst at the same time combating his own demons to not follow down this same path. I was totally unprepared for how great this film was going to be. While it has a lot of dark elements to it, it would probably be more apt to call “I Am Not a Serial Killer” a drama which skirts the realm of horror. It deals with a coming of age process but in a much darker fashion than normal. Something I found interesting is the fact that John, while trying to help himself, at the same time helps his mother out in the family run mortuary, so he is constantly surrounded by death, the one thing he is trying to stop himself from committing. While watching the film, I had no idea that the actor playing John was actually Max Records, who was the little boy in Spike Jonze's “Where The Wild Things Are”. It is a brilliant performance, beyond his years, in that it is both such an honest depiction and a very creepy one. The stand out scene in the film is when John confronts a bully at a party, all with a smile. Even though his face looks happy, he never feels more dangerous and the entire thing is chilling. Christopher Lloyd is also a nice surprise in the film, as is the fact that John has a genuine friendship with the old man. It isn't something you see in films, teenagers befriending the elderly, but here he helps the man particularly with modern day technology that he is struggling with. I don't really want to say any more about the film, other than it is fantastic and well worth seeking out.