ScreenAnarchy's Top 10 Movies of 2016

U.S. Editor; Los Angeles, California (@benumstead)
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This year, 23 Screen Anarchists from 11 countries around the globe shared with us 129 films for consideration in our collective top ten movies of 2016.

Our criteria was simple: an individual contributor could include a film on their ballot had it been released in their home country in 2016, or they had seen it at a festival locally or abroad. 

Another fun fact (and a clue to what's on our list): The films included in our honorable mentions and our collective top ten total 2,911 minutes in running time. In other words, we spent a lot of time watching movies this year. And we wouldn't have had it any other way.

To celebrate, we present to you a gallery countdown, showcasing each film in the top ten with fresh takes from our contributors. And be sure to stick around till the end, where we present each individual's top ten ballot. Indeed, that is my favorite part as it spotlights our contributors' wide ranging tastes in the cinematic arts. No doubt you will discover a rich assortment of new titles to check out in the new year. Meanwhile, what about your own favorites? Or perhaps you think we missed something on our list... Chime in with a comment and we'll keep the discussion going!


Peter Martin, James Marsh, Ryland Aldrich, Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Andrew Mack, Michele "Izzy" Galgana, Brian Clark, Christopher Bourne, Dustin Chang, Jim Tudor, Pierce Conran, Patryk Czekaj, Zach Gayne, Jaime Grijalba Gomez, Kurt Halfyard, Stuart Muller, Christopher Webster, Ernesto Zelaya Miñano, Hugo Ozman, Eric Ortiz Garcia, Martin Kudlac and Loïc Valceschini contributed to this story.

The above still is of Sandra Hüller in Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann. To me this shot exemplifies 2016 in a number of resonant ways. It is: exacerbating, embarrassing, heartfelt, and frightening. But where does Toni Erdmann fall on our list? Oh, you'll just have to read through the gallery to find out...

(Note that the number after each title indicates the number of points each film accumulated in our weighted vote)

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adam driveramy adamsarrivalbarry jenkinsbest of 2016elleezra edelmanmaren ademoonlightoj made in americapark chan-wookpaul verhoevnryan goslingthe handmaidenthe neon demonthe nice guysthe wailingtoni erdmanntop tentop ten films of 2016top ten movies of 2016

More about Toni Erdmann

More about Elle

More about The Wailing

More about Moonlight

More about Arrival

More about The Handmaiden

More about American Honey

More about O.J.: Made in America

  • God of Joy

    This was a rough year for me. I lost my job early on in the year, so low income meant movie theatre watching had to take a serious cut. And subjecting myself to the bombs "Warcraft" and "X-Men Apocalypse" drove the desire to go to the theatres down even further. That said, my favorites that I were able to catch were "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" such strong heart and character work that elevates a simple idea into giddy, moving, feel good fun. My absolute favorite of the year (which may not qualify based on the criteria here) was Beyonce's long form video film event of "Lemonade". 65 minutes rich with poetry, outstanding visuals, spoken word, and of course songs, reflecting on history and not only feminism and "is he or isn't he being unfaithful", but cultural identity, skeletons in the closet, race, sex and self doubt, family ties and so much more. Thick with content and context, I know I am going to be watching this again and again to unwrap it's many gifts and explore it's nooks and crannies. Did anyone else love Lemonade?

  • Ben Umstead

    Lemonade did pop up on a few lists but, like most films in the 129 that accumulated, it didn't garner enough points to crack the top 20.

    I'm curious to see it, and just haven't gained access to any of the pay walls it is behind. I was (and remain) unemployed in 2016 and so movie theater going could have proved tricky for me, but I opted to put any money I could into going as often as I could as I knew that would bring me joy like few things can and help alleviate my mood around work and my health which correlated to the lack of work and consistent income. But I also opted not to do too many of the big films I knew would largely be middling to a waste... like X-men. *sigh*

  • God of Joy

    you dodged a bullet with X-men Ben, so it's not all bad. I scored The Lemonade Video Album through my local public library, so effectively free. Based on where you live, you might be able to do something similar. The online option exists, the video is streamable on the service TIDAL - which offers a FREE 30 day trial with the caveat that you can get the free trial if you have not already received the free 30 day trial before. I don't work for TIDAL, nor did I use that service, so I can't speak to whether there might be strings attached - but here is a link to get started if you are interested in investigating further http://beyonce.tidal.com/us click through and scroll down to the VIsual Album (as opposed to the strictly musical album) , but I loved Lemonade so much I want to spread that around any means I can. If it does work for you and you like it I encourage you to spread it around too.

    And I completely get the unemployment/money thing Ben - Best of luck to you resolving or finding peace with that situation. :)

  • Ben Umstead

    Of course the library! I live in Los Angeles, which has a generally good to excellent system, but that also means long holds for very popular titles like Lemonade. Thanks and thanks for the sentiment on the work front. It'll be a while yet to resolve due to the larger circumstances that surround it.

  • God of Joy

    best wishes on your recovery. I just put together that this was THAT Ben Umstead.

  • Ben Umstead

    Hah. Yes. ScreenAnarchy's Ben Umstead. Not the hockey player from Pennsylvania.

  • Ard Vijn

    I knew I had to see HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, but I'll add LEMONADE to the list of things I need to catch up to!

  • God of Joy

    for US Hulu subscribers HUNT FOR WILDERPEOPLE just went into their movie listing.

  • cuckoozey

    My favorite film of 2016 was The Wailing, followed by The Eyes Of My Mother. I felt a lot of what I looked forward to in 2016 ultimately disappointed me (ie The Neon Demon, The Witch, Don't Breathe, Green Room, Arrival).

  • QinShiHuang

    I am surprised that Hunt for the Wilderpeople did not make the cut.

  • Ben Umstead

    It ended up on a couple folk's individual top tens but did not accumulate nearly enough points to get close to honorable mention, let alone the top ten.

    For the record, I enjoyed it immensely, and would count it as one of the funniest, most purely entertaining movies of the year.

    The other thing to keep mind here is that most of us see hundreds of films a year, so even very earnest and enjoyable works like Wilderpeople tend to fall later down the list. On mine, it's listed at 37. Yes, that is how many wonderful films I saw this year.

  • rustdog

    I really enjoyed Kubo and the Two Strings, It was surprisingly emotional and of course beautifully animated.

  • Zetobelt

    No "Your Name"? :-(

  • Ben Umstead

    James Marsh has it on his individual list. I think the main reason you don't see it on here, like most things, is that most people have yet to see it, myself included.

  • Zetobelt

    If we don't see it, it doesn't exist? That's not a valid reason for this flagrant omission.

  • Ard Vijn

    Well, technically it's the ONLY valid reason. We can't put it on our personal favorite lists if we haven't seen it yet!

  • Zetobelt

    Well, you maybe are right.

  • Kizumonotagari I was by the far the best thing I watched in 2016. Horribly overlooked by just about everyone everywhere.

  • marshy00

    Apparently this opened in HK last month but I've never heard of it.

  • Peter Martin

    Thanks for the recommendation, Niels! In the U.S., it appears to have played a very limited theatrical engagement in October but is not yet available otherwise.

  • It's a film prequel of an anime series. That sounds a bit dull, but it's not quite unlike FLCL. It uses different visuals styles, it's manic and highly creative. It's not a thing I'd freely recommend (unless you love FLCL) but it is the kind of thing that should end up on people's favorites lists when they like it.

    But like you said, availability could be a problem. Hopefully someone picks it up for a EN-friendly release.

  • Ard Vijn

    What?! Dammit, it played here (Rotterdam) and I missed it because I thought you'd need to see the series first! CURSES!

  • One-Eye

    I despised THE NEON DEMON.

    Wow, LA is shallow. What a groundbreaking concept, Mr. Refn.

  • Ben Umstead

    For the record, the film did nothing for me other than have some well composed shots. Clearly it struck a chord with our fellows.

    In terms of bigger movies representing Los Angeles this year (La La Land, Neon Demon and maybe kinda Nocturnal Animals) I was rolling my eyes. Los Angeles is a fragmented city , a heteropolis, with many personas. Heck, the movie industry isn't even in the top 5 industries here.

  • Kurt

    We don't aim our artistic representations at mere 'realism.' That is too simple, too dull. Refn takes the banal and oversimplified ideas of LA and the Dreamfactory and polishes it in weird and unexpected ways.

    King Kong is neither an accurate look at tropical pacific islands, nor at New York of the 1920s. Big Trouble in Little China is not an accurate look at SanFran's sprawling Chinatown. Casablanca is not an accurate representation of WWII Morocco. And Full Metal Jacket is not a nuts and bolts re-creation of either basic training boot camp, or no the ground fighting in Vietnam. And yet they are all great films that evoke time and place.

  • Ben Umstead

    That's very well put.

    It's just as a citizen of this city, and person fascinated with its history, I tend to be very discerning about the way it is depicted and interpreted on film, and at this juncture am a little less than keen on the fantasy side of things. Then again, it is a heteropolis with room for it all.

  • Zach

    Ben, how do you feel about Mulholland Drive's dreamy L.A. surreality? I suppose it's on another level of fantasy (delusion).

  • Ben Umstead

    I'm probably split on that.

    Though to be fair it's been many years since I saw that film.

    Also, like I said I am currently not that keen on the fantasy side of things in regards to Los Angeles. That could change.

  • Zach

    I agree with Kurt that sometimes fantasy explores truth better than reality can. To me, Mulholland Drive is one of the great examples of this in the way it taps into the Hollywood fantasy and uses cliché dreams to tackle the city of dreams. It's really about a broken heart, let down by the undelivered promise of love and stardom. Because it so effectively depicts the reality of unfulfilled dreams, it is both my favourite fantasy and horror film.

  • Ben Umstead

    Yeah, neither of you have to challenge the fantasy>reality=truth idea with me in general. I mean you are speaking to someone who says his favorite film is Daisies, so...

    And using cliche dreams to tackle the city of dreams is a fascinating idea and does work, no doubt. Like I said I am just a little done with Los Angeles films that deal with the industry or the kind of hyper-something realm. There's so much more to this city, and we don't see it on film enough. For instance I'd love a film like Paterson, and it's pretty much just the bus route across the city.

  • Zach

    I know. I seized an opportunity to love on Mulholland Drive while it was semi-relevant. Refn's hyper-superficiality did not work for me either, as we've sort of discussed. No doubt, there's a need for more real L.A. films like Tangerine. As for Hollywood, Mulholland Drive, for me, is as good as it gets... next to Sunset Boulevard - best double feature ever.

  • cjohnston

    hey Kurt. ---
    -- I wanted to briefly get back with You about our correspondence over Arrival and it's "sister" book: EmbassyTown.
    - I read it, and (with the help of a couple drinks and a headache depressant or two); Quite Enjoyed it .!
    First though; - If even this is applicable, apologies for the delay. The last few weeks ....have been a little weird, unexpected, - ....and, of course, sad; to say the least......
    Secondly, this only ever so obliquely relates to the current threaded discussion. I wasn't sure where (so to speak) to catch you.
    ~
    Personally, I STILL can't quite bring myself to say that I Liked Embassytown More, per se, than Arrival; but, it WAS a Very Impressive (if not complicated and convoluted) read.
    ...
    I'm a bookaholic. Love to read.
    Aside for when I read J.R.R. Tolkein's The Simarilian some years ago; that (Embassytown) is probably the most "taxing" book I think I have Ever read. ...which is not a bad thing either though.
    ..To save time, (Patience, and Sanity), I won't go into specific examples; but there Were several occurrences/scenes throughout this book that reminded me of OTHER books and (in particular) of other very specific scenes from other (completely different, - and random) films..

  • Kurt

    I won't argue that EMBASSYTOWN (or China Mieville in general) is a 'taxing' read. This book and many of his others I do take very slow, to process what can be some dense prose and ideas. Ultimately, though, his work is quite rewarding. I think Mieville does explicitly draw references (like say, Neil Gaiman), but they are further from the surface (with the exception of perhaps his Lovecraftian book, which is simultaneously my least favourite, KRAKEN)

  • I think Mieville and Neil Stephenson are very alike in this. Neither of them make any particular effort to meet their readers where the readers are as a general rule, instead insisting that the readers come to them. They are ABSOLUTELY demanding and I find it generally takes me the first hundred pages or so of any of their books to really lock into the style, mindset, etc as both really ARE world and paradigm builders in a very unique way. But once you get there, I find them both IMMENSELY rewarding.

  • Ard Vijn

    Maybe lightning will strike between me and Mieville, but for now Neal Stephenson delivers more in the "rewarding" department. Though to be honest, I think Mieville's work will age better (SNOW CRASH and even CRYPTONOMICON, awesome though they are, are getting overtaken by reality faaaaast...).

  • God of Joy

    I am thoroughly enjoying this side thread. If you guys had the occasional round table on speculative fiction, sci-fi books, fave authors, or maybe even throw some graphic novels into the mix like you have here I would read the HELL out of that.

  • Ooooh ... my work with XYZ tends to consume all of my reading time with scripts these days but this could be fun ...

  • the hong Kong cavaliers

    The wailing was my favorite of the year , great list guys , I can't believe I manage to miss Toni Erdmann in 3 different film fest ...

  • cjohnston

    Gotta say. Looks Intriguing...
    ~
    My knee-jerk response when the topic or subject of this particular nationality of film(s) come up, is often a resounding "meh"..
    -
    .. .I Have however seen several films that I thoroughly enjoy.
    Snowpiercer, Oldboy, The Good The Bad The Weird, Returner; and (most recently) The Suspect, and A Company Man have ALL been Quite Impressive.. And I've heard GREAT stuff about I Saw the Devil; though, again - I have my own fear-induced ego to vault over.

  • wabalicious

    I Saw the Devil is astounding, i recommend it very highly.

  • cjohnston

    Appreciate the recommendation here.
    ~
    i'll have to check it out .!

  • cjohnston

    *feels like I'm jumping into a leaf pile..*
    ...WHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEE........!!!.....
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    Some three or so titles dropped during the no-mans-land like span of time between 2015 and 2016...
    (no particular order for any of these..).
    Room
    The Survivalist
    Anomalisa
    (these three *above* being the humpty-dumpties of my favorites, as far as straddling years for when they "dropped". ..)
    ---
    Swiss Army Man
    Captain Fantastic
    Nocturnal Animals
    Arrival
    Ma-Ma
    Embers
    Sea of Trees (beyond me why this received a lot of the hate that it did. ...)
    A Hologram For the King
    Blood Father
    The Brand New Testament
    Elle (on the fence as to whether I should a-lot this an "honorable mention.?" --- Or if I should go ahead and include it in my very top favorites list.. ...I chose; with your help - the latter...)
    The Duelist (Duelyant)
    ....... ..and this one....
    Passengers (I can just feel eye-brows raising thru the ceiling with this one..)
    ~ ~ ~
    ..There Are those several, persistent amalgam of films in the background that a.) I just haven't been able to find yet; and/or b.) haven't made it through my area yet....
    - ..Highest on that list are the likes of:
    .Too Late
    .American Honey
    .Lion
    .The Lure
    .A Monster Calls
    and
    .The Space Between Us
    .The History of Love
    .Evolution
    .Wild (film of German make that a friend recently brought to my attention..
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?...
    .Toni Erdmann
    .20th Century Women
    .The Love Witch
    .Dreamland
    .Birdshot
    and (finally)
    .Mammal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?...
    ~ ~ ~
    ~ ~
    ~
    If someone knows where I can go to procedurally clone myself; let me know.. lol.

  • Ben Umstead

    And I think cjohnston gets some kind of badge for being the most enthusiastic and civil commenter of 2016. Very cool to see Embers make the cut. I'll be talking about in one final time next week when I put up my own reflections on the year. And indeed, there is so much to see. 2016 was a bounty of great films from every corner of the globe. Depending on where you are located, American Honey and Evolution should be out on home formats soon.

  • cjohnston

    as sure as death and taxes I KNEW I'd do this..
    ~
    High-Rise is also one of my favorites for the year..

  • cjohnston

    Thank You, Sir. .!
    ~
    Here is Hoping that Everyone around has a Safe and Happy New Year. ...
    *...and no more deaths either for the day left of 2016; --- or all 2017 for that matter, would be Nice too...

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