2016 may have been a shit year for a vast number of reasons, but the sheer number of high quality films released means that by and large, cinema wasn't one of them. Sure, there have been a few quite high-profile disappointments (I'm looking at you, Warner Bros), but on the whole there have been an awful lot of really great films released this year, to the point where this list became surprisingly hard to narrow down to a reasonable number.
But narrow it down I did. Below are a list of the films released this year in the UK that I would consider to be "Must See" movies - not necessarily the most "worthy" or the most important, just ones that I personally think any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to see.
So, in release date order;
The Hateful Eight
Has there ever been a film from Quentin Tarantino that doesn't deserve to end up on that year's respective "Must See" list? I don't think so, and The Hateful Eight - a contemporary Western that sees some truly despicable people trapped in a snowy mountain lodge together - refuses to buck the trend. The claustrophobic setting (very much reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs) offers a refreshingly intimate movie in comparison to the director's last few projects, which when combined with a razor sharp script helps deliver the most quintessentially Tarantino film to date.
You can read my full review of The Hateful Eight here.
Director Ryan Coogler may not be a household name just yet, but in following up the deeply affecting Fruitvale Station with Creed, the story of Apollo Creed's illegitimate son as he follows his own boxing dreams, he more than proves that he deserves to be. Coogler's skills as both a storyteller and a director are second to none, and his seemingly innate ability to guide his audience emotionally means that Creed ends up being not just a fantastic addition to the Rocky franchise (a rare example of a spin-off that manages to recapture the spirit of the original), but also one of the very best captial M movies of the year.
You can read my full review of Creed here.
There is no doubt in my mind that some people wouldn't class it as such, but for my money, The Witch (or, The VVitch: A New-England Folktale) is the most effective horror movie of the year, one that forgoes the jump scares in order to terrify on another level entirely. It's Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" in a world where witches actually do exist, and the sense of paranoia that helps create in the 17th Century God-fearing family we follow throughout The Witch engulfs the movie in a constant, oppressive sense of dread that never lifts. There are probably scarier movies that have been released this year - but there is nothing that will make you feel the same way that The Witch does.
You can read my full review of The Witch here.
It can take a lot to drag me out of the analytical mindset I'm in whenever I watch a film for the first time, and the fact that Sing Street did that with ease is a testament to just how great it is. Director John Carney's mid-80's set story of Irish teenagers escaping a shitty situation by losing themselves in art is practically the dictionary definition of a feel-good film, full of humour and charm and spirit that, when taken alongside the best original soundtrack of the year, help make it an instant winner. I'm yet to meet someone who has seen Sing Street and walked away disliking it - I'd be surprised if I ever do.
Director Jeremy Saulnier seems to have a knack for creating films that make the line between life and death seem thinner than ever, and that's utilised brilliantly by Green Room, a horror/thriller that sees touring punk band The Ain't Rights fight for their lives while trying to escape a compound full of hostile, violent Neo-Nazis. Green Room takes the moral greyness of Saulnier's previous film Blue Ruin and translates that into a stark black and white, trading contemplation for tension in the process and delivering the single most gripping film of the year. With Blue Ruin, Saulnier marked himself out as a promising film-maker - with Green Room, he proved that he's already a great one.
You can read my full review of Green Room here.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Definitive proof that general audiences are terrible at deciding what to spend their time and money on, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping - a music mockumentary following fictional popstar Conner4Real as he releases a new album - is destined for "cult classic" status in the near future thanks not just to the irreverent, surreal sense of humour and ridiculously catchy songs that The Lonely Island are best known for, but also the strong, functional story that holds everything together. To say that it's the funniest film of the year is unnecessary - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is the funniest film of the decade so far, and a more than worthy addition to the list of truly great mockumentaries.
You can read my full review of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping here.
Moana was never going to make the same kind of impact that Frozen did - few films do, after all - but that doesn't make this story of a young Polynesian woman discovering and reclaiming her lost culture any less worthwhile. Moana isn't just a beautiful movie (both visually and textually), it's also one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year, an important step in the evolution of the princess movie, and the best movie to come from Walt Disney Animation Studios since Aladdin.
You can read my full review of Moana here.
And as always, below are a number of honourable mentions - films that aren't quite "must see" but are still worth checking out for one reason or another.
10 Cloverfield Lane - An incredibly tense, superbly directed thriller that holds your attention in a vice-like grip right up until a finale that jumps the shark thanks to its attempt to tie it in with Cloverfield.
The Invitation - Director Karyn Kusama imbues this constantly developing mystery thriller with a sense of deep unease, helping make it not just one of the most intriguing films of the year, but also an excellent addition to what I'm calling the "tense dinner party" subgenre.
Captain America: Civil War - An ambitious yet flawed movie that introduces a number of great new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, provides one of the best superpowered fight scenes ever committed to screen, and pays off several years worth of character development in a big way. Full review here.
The Nice Guys - Criminally under-seen upon release, this darkly comic buddy movie offers writer/director Shane Black at his Shane Black-iest, as well as a couple of excellent performances from leads Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Full review here.
Kubo and the Two Strings - Laika's latest is undeniably their masterpiece, an Eastern-infused adventure dealing with themes of loss and legacy that's also the single best looking movie of the year. Full review here.
Hell or High Water - The Western never died, it merely evolved, and director David Mackenzie's incredibly well-crafted film about two bank robbing brothers proves how relevant the genre can still be in 2016. Full review here.