The 50 Best Films Of 2016
If I could describe 2016 in three words it would be – Poetry, grief and terror. The three recurring themes ran through almost all of the films on this list. They came in different forms, shapes and sizes and had different meaning for everyone out there. I personally went beyond my conventional film watch capability and tried working my way through every possible cinematic marvel I could get into. Out of around 200 films that I witnessed here are my favorite 50 Best Films of 2016.
50. Don’t Think Twice | Director: Mike Birbiglia | Language: English
Don’t Think Twice rips your heart out and presents it up for auctioning on a stage that could turn into a condo any given day. A film about improv artists and their comic sketches couldn’t possibly get any sadder than this. If you have had a dream and felt that your dream will gel up into something grand, Don’t Think Twice will make your eyes bleed. It brings melancholia, love, success and failure all into a comic set piece that throws you into a well of thoughts and never wishes to pick you right up. But then again, it reminds you that being in that well isn’t all that bad after all!
Read The Complete Review of Don’t Think Twice.
49. Mountains May Depart | Director: Jia Zhangke | Language: Chinese
The title card in Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart appears somewhere around the 45-minute mark. Not only does it instantly change the way you look at the film (with a very subtle change in the aspect ratio) but also changes your feelings towards the film. As Zhangke himself said, he wanted to make a film about feelings that are surrounded by the changing consumerism, economy and a human need for a better future. So, as we move to the next segment of Mountains May Depart, the transcending time slows down with sweetness, bitterness and bitter-sweetness intermingling together to showcase a rather convincing and thought provoking retrospect of how decisions and emotions rally over changing times and how, deep within, we are still the same people who wish to dance around shedding over sins and regrets, finding our way home.
Read The Complete Review of Mountains May Depart.
48. From Afar | Director: Lorenzo Vigas | Language: Spanish
Debutant director Lorenzo Vigas’s ‘From Afar’ is an emotionally quenching, heartbreaking and brilliant film about alienation and obsession. It pushes its moral compass so deep into the minds on its characters that the ambiguity in their actions take unexpected turns. Violence, silence, and atmospheric longing have been presented with such conviction that even with its narrative latches, From Afar manages to leave a lasting impression.
Read The Complete Review of From Afar.
Similar to 50 Best Films of 2016: The 50 Best Films of 2017
47. Fourth Direction | Director: Gurvinder Singh | Language: Punjabi
The imagery in Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) feels quite random at times. There are prolonged shots of farmed-green fields, rural roads, the front & back of a house, flies buzzing and rains falling outside as you look at it from inside the house in consideration. To a normal cine-goer this might seem like an exercise in ambiguous experimentalism. But to someone who wishes to consume cinema in its rawest and most delicately carved form, Chauthi Koot will transform you into the house and fill you with fear of an event that had happened almost 3 decades ago.
Read The Complete Review of Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction).
46. Under The Shadow | Director: Babak Anvari | Language: Persian
The fear and anxiety in Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow not only lurk around closed doors, broken windows, shady basements, restricted roads, terrorized neighborhood but travel almost everywhere. The universality of the fear, both supernatural and real, is terrifying to an extent where the human mind starts questioning everything. And what makes Under The Shadow a brilliant horror film is when it proves your guesses to be wrong in every other instance. It’s a smart, skillful and eerie thriller that haunts you out of your mind.
Read The Complete Review of Under The Shadow.
45. Edge Of Seventeen | Director: Kelly Fremon Craig | Language: English
Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge Of Seventeen feels like a John Hughes film. What makes it great is the fact that it spreads its terrific writing over an array of characters that are stripped off from the generic high-school-cliche, as she gives them all a sense of enlightenment. Following Nadine on her self-loathing journey of teenage angst, Kelly Fremon Craig’s film investigates how hard it is to be a teenager. The film is not completely ridden off from the bumpy seen-before dialects but they are cleverly coated under the wrap of a profound knowledge of human nature and the human connection. The director clearly has a great understanding of how people act and thankfully her film doesn’t over-gloss the drawbacks with technological smartness that has gotten into almost all teen films these days.
Read The Complete Review of The Edge Of Seventeen.
44. Embrace Of The Serpent | Director: Ciro Guerra | Language: Spanish
Ciro Guerra’s Embrace Of The Serpent is an intoxicating experience. A dark, trippy crawl into the wilderness that poses questions that can’t be wrapped around ones shoulders. Breaking conventional boundaries set by boundary makers, Embrace Of The Serpent takes a boat to spiritual redemptions. I’m not supossed to say this, but if you watch the film closely, every single question that has haunted the human soul has been answered in here. The answers are never clear but they are in there somewhere between your own moral dilemma, vulnerabilities, greed and obsessions.
Read The Complete Review of Embrace Of The Serpent.
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43. Elle | Director: Paul Verhoeven | Language: French.
Draped in a sick, twisted, and demented sense of paranoia, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is a psycho-sexual character study of a woman in control. While there isn’t much to take away from this film, the sheer authenticity in Isabelle Huppert’s performance plus a screenplay that constantly pushes boundaries makes this film an incredible thriller that laughs at you for judging it too soon.
Read The Complete Review of Elle.
42. Blue Jay | Director: Alexandre Lehmann | Language: English
Alexandre Lehmann’s Blue Jay is a lovely, melancholic stroll down the love that coulda, shoulda, woulda. Shot in beautiful black & white Blue Jay works because of the charming and elusive chemistry between Mark Duplass & Sarah Paulson. They make the long lost couple feel real & genuine while the dialogues evoke nostalgia that makes and instant connection. Blue Jay is about interactions, shared histories and those few moments of guilt that remain with us forever.
Read The Complete Review of Blue Jay.
41. Évolution | Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic | Language: French
Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution is a hypnotic tale of body horror set on a dystopian island. Where ghostly skinny women conceive boys without the help of men. Evolution is a hard film to follow. It sometimes feels like a feverish fable of motherhood in which sick boys begin to doubt their own existence, sometimes a creepy, atmospheric horror film that’s about the vast existence of a human populous without the presences of the other sex, and most essentially a coming of age film about a small boy coming with terms with the strangeness of the world he lives in. Watching Evolution is a truly unsettling and infuriating experience. It’s an act of becoming one with the ocean, like an ink of innocence dissolving into the vast sea of angst. Evolution is the most beautiful nightmare, a perfect watch for curious minds who are willing to dive deeper to catch the red starfish.
Similar to 50 Best Films of 2016: The 50 Best Films of 2018
40. Jackie | Director: Pablo Larraín | Language: English
Like a somber opera about death, grief and repressed emotions, Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is 2 in a row for the modern master who has broken the shackles of the conventional biopics with this and Neruda. Jackie is not just an account of a death and the aftermath it’s a brilliant jab at mythmaking – drawing a thin line of blood and paranoia between reality and performance. Also, Portman is godlike (the accent takes a little time to get used to, though).
39. I, Olga Hepnarová | Director: Petr Kazda, Tomás Weinreb | Language: Czech
I, Olga Hepnarová chronicles the life of Olga. A 22-year-old who mowed down eight strangers on a Prague sidewalk in 1973. Drenched in beautiful frames that evoke isolation and silent trauma, I, Olga Hepnarova is a brilliant re-telling of the life of a troubled teenager who just wished to be left alone. The way the directors subtly investigate the psychological aspect of Olga’s character is applause worthy. It both manages to make the viewers sympathetic and never seems to sensationalize a criminal activity that is supposedly the center of the film.
Similar to 50 Best Films of 2016: The 50 Best Films of 2019
38. Interrogation | Director: Vetrimaaran | Language: Tamil
Probably the mostly brutally honest and realistic Tamil film ever made. Vetrimaaran’s Interrogation convinces you that innocence is not only dead but it’s continuously tortured under the shoes of the greater power. Interrogation is a film that accounts the total lack of empathy that the system of the country has come down to. The realities and reactions in the film erases all the possibilities of justice. The brutality is presented on a scale that has never been shown before. Interrogation is a film that is redundant to our times & needs to be seen at any cost.
Read The Complete Review of Interrogation.
37. Hail, Caesar! | Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen | Language: English
The Coen brothers are not at their best here, and yet they churn out a film that’s so diverse and satirical in its representation of the 50’s Hollywood that it aptly formulates a sense in today’s world. Hail, Caesar features movies inside movies, sets inside sets, dance numbers inside dance number, noir inside comedies, doppelgangers, God almighty, communists & a fucking submarine. It’s a Wes Anderson film about a studio fixer’s dilemma that’s not made by Wes Anderson.
36. Raman Raghav 2.0 | Director: Anurag Kashyap | Language: Hindi
There’s a strange smile that appears on your face as you watch Ramanna dismantling his victims in Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0. Its not because Kashyap somehow magically manages to justify the mystifying murders in his film, nor because he tries to ground you into rooting for his killing machine, but because the film jabs at that side of a human brain which has violence and anarchy all over its surface. He kicks a dark, blunt hole in your head, one that shakes you to the moment of spine chilling, psychotic disorder. Here’s a film that never steps back on its delivery of evil. It piles a dozen of grim shenanigans in front of your eyes and just keeps increasing the weight until you gasp or possibly choke yourself to death.
Read The Complete Review of Raman Raghav 2.0.
35. Take Me To The River | Director: Matt Sobel | Language: English
Take Me to the River cages you into an eerie and uncomfortable atmosphere which doesn’t really reveal what’s going on under the surface. Dirty, disturbing and unpredictable, Take Me to The River is probably the smartest indie film I’ve seen all year. It uses its minimal setting to create a claustrophobic web of secrets. Matt Sobel has created a nightmare that doesn’t open all its cards and the ambiguity or the open-ends just calls for even weirder thoughts. It is essentially a coming of age story that truly terrifies you with an experience you wish to wash off.
Read The Complete Review of Take Me To The River.
34. Aloys | Director: Tobias Nölle | Language: Swiss, German
Soaked in a Kaufman-esque sense of magic realism, Tobias Nölle’s Aloys is a hypnotic take on modern alienation. Following the life of Aloys Adorn, a private investigator who is recently grief-stricken by the death of his father, Aloys chronicles his life when a mysterious phone call disturbs his so-called solitude and forces him to blur the lines between the real and the imaginary. With wonderfully framed images, production design, and understated performances, Tobias Nölle presents a brilliant character sketch of loneliness & escapism in a world that seems like a party only till it lasts.
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33. I, Daniel Blake | Director: Ken Loach | Language: English
Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake breaks you with every passing minute. In this incredibly subtle & beautiful drama, Ken Loach puts the struggle & sadness that the British working class goes through. There’s a scene in Loach’s film where a girl (also a mother) breaks down in a food bank because she hasn’t eaten in days to fill the bellies of her children. It’s a beautifully understated scene where Loach brings out utterly heart-breaking human emotions in people and his viewers alike.
Read The Complete Review of I, Daniel Blake.
32. Julieta | Director: Pedro Almodóvar | Language: Spanish
Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta is about guilt, about love, about loss and everything that happens when things are lost in absolutely terrible moments of silence. Being a director who rightfully focuses on visual appeal, Almodovar’s film uses past and present with shades of blue and red. With both the colors matching the incredibly stunning costume design and grandeur production design which insinuate long-used Almodovar elements of death, the nature of its cause and the aftermath. Much like Volver, in Julieta too Almodóvar’s main focus in again on the entirely debatable and emotionally draining relationship between a mother and a daughter and what makes the relationship take a wrong turn on the road to being guilt-free.
Read The Complete Review of Julieta.
31. Krisha | Director: Trey Edward Shults | Language: English
Trey Edward Shults’s debut feature Krisha is an investigation into the internal turmoil. The kind which makes you incredibly disjointed from anything that concerns your own self-being. The kind that wrecks you into two people. One of which needs to be sympathized with and the other has gone too far into the ditch and cannot be brought back to life. Shults uses the happy occasion of thanksgiving to portray how the titular character has gone past functionality. How all her tries are beyond vain, and how, sometimes people need to unravel the ugly truths about themselves, even if it results in total self-destruction.
Read The Complete Review of Krisha.
30. Kapoor & Sons | Director: Shakun Batra | Language: Hindi
A dysfunctional family drama that has its heart in the right place. Shakun Batra’s Kapoor and Sons is one of the most real, relatable, family films I have ever seen. There are times when you feel you are on the screen acting out, loving, hating and abusing fate, luck and everything that comes along. More than what it tells you, Batra’s film works because of the characters. The people who inact them are cardboard cut outs of the commercial anti-cinema, yet they manage to feel real in their ordinary self. It’s endearing, heart-warming and miles away from the sugar-soaked entertainers that have unreal situations and unreal people at their center.
Read The Complete Review of Kapoor and Sons.
Related to 50 Best Films of 2016: The 10 Best Hindi Films of 2016
29. Hell or High Water | Director: David Mackenzie | Language: English
David Mackenzie tackles multiple, well-rounded characters with a great affection for their desires, desperations and their drive to do wrong things for the right reasons. There are no villains here, just individuals who do wrong to make things right. With a surprising amount of humor, depth, and style, Taylor Sheridan (Known for Sicario) has penned a script that oozes substance even when it is just a heist thriller on the surface.
Read The Complete Review of Hell Or High Water.
28. Staying Vertical | Director: Alain Guiraudie | Language: French
A man sodomizes, then euthanizes an elderly man in front of his baby as progressive rock holler in the background. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in Alain Guiraudie’s absolutely bizarre, offhand surrealistic trip through a series of undefined goals and weirdness. The protagonist in Staying Vertical is a distant cousin of Kramer from Seinfeld. The film starts with him trying to pen-down a screenplay and goes down territories that even God wouldn’t imagine. To account the weirdness in Staying Vertical, Guiraudie has a therapist who lives on the other end of a boat ride. She uses veins to cure what is wrong with Leo’s personality which even he doesn’t understand. There are wolves, sexual encounters that don’t make sense and to top it all – There’s an instant cut to a live childbirth.
27. La La Land | Director: Damien Chazelle | Language: English
La La Land injects enough love into a dying genre that wasn’t willing to make its dream come true. With dazzling visuals and beautiful set design, Damien Chazelle’s passion project came out in the world breaking millions of hearts and winning them, all together. Plucked, played and danced around a blooming love story, La La Land is about dreamers and heartaches, about art and jazz, about failures and sacrifices. It’s about you, me and everyone who wishes to be lifted into the sky when the gravity’s amiss & smile or cry as the love walks away.