If you haven’t already noticed, well-made Hollywood movies have been hard to come by in the last few years, and those that do catch the attention of critics are often those of a more fermented nature that pander to, dare we say it, an Oscar-bait applause. Not that there’s anything wrong with that reality. It’s just the way Hollywood is heading, with big-budget superhero flicks and a monotony of franchises taking precedent over recent non-franchise movies like The Revenant and 12 Years A Slave.
But that’s not to say they aren’t out there. In fact, 2016 was a great year for such movies so with that said, here are 10 we at Loopfy thought made the biggest impression on both audience members and critics.
1. American Honey
If ever there was a modern-day movie that explores contemporary America in a more realistic and sombre light, then American Honey is that film. Directed by Andrea Arnold, the plot revolves around the relationship between a small-town girl from Oklahoma and a charismatic magazine seller who offers her a job with his posse as they travel in a white van selling magazine subscriptions.
Drifting from state-to-state with nothing but drunken revelry and hopes of a better tomorrow keeping them going, American Honey echoes the lives of a lost generation Kerouac and Fitzgerald and Hemingway wrote so passionately about in their fiction.
2. Cafe Society
Woody Allen’s films have a tendency to be over-romanticized and predictable, and barring Midnight In Paris and Blue Jasmine. his recent offerings since the turn of the millennium left a lot to be desired. But Cafe Society was one of Allen’s better films, and while not perfect, the performance from the burgeoningly talented Kirstin Stewart coupled with the film’s wistful and comedic premise of a young intern falling in love with his superagent uncle’s mistress offered more charms than faults.
Admittedly, setting a movie during Hollywood’s golden age is nothing new, but with only an hour and a half running time, you’ll be leaving the cinema wishing it was longer.
3. La La Land
Musicals in cinema aren’t easy, least of all live-actions ones, but when you’re a 31-year-old director whose debut, Whiplash, was nominated for nearly every award going, you can be optimistic that La La Land isn’t any ordinary musical.
The brainchild of Damien Chazelle, who both writes and directs, La La Land revives an out-of-favour genre with astounding results as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sing and dance to a romance we all aspire to.
What starts out as a young woman partying with a group of men in an underground Berlin nightclub soon turns into an high-octane police chase, which is precisely what makes this German indie a must see.
Visceral and theatre-like in its ambition, for a film that sets out to tell a story between the hours of 4 and 6.30 am, Victoria ends up doing a job most films couldn’t.
Exploring the sensitive subject of sex abuse in the Catholic church could have easily derailed Spotlight’s success but thanks to the performances of its leads, that was never going to happen.
Rightly winning Best Picture at 2016’s Academy Awards, Spotlight, despite its plaudits, was accused of being more like a television drama than a movie; and they weren’t wrong.
Nonetheless, Spotlight was a cinematic experience like few others, with no CGI explosions, heartfelt crying or world-class cinematography needed when shining a light on how a team of courageous journalists uncovered one of the biggest scandals in years.
This unusual yet stunning biopic of the little-known inventor of the Miracle Mop became an awards season favourite and rightly so. Portrayed by the ever-impressive Jennifer Lawrence, the American Dream in Joy is depicted for what it truly is: A greasy poll that only the most determined can climb.
With that said, ‘Joy’ is more than a sentimental celebration of American capitalism. Its real strength lies in director David O’Russel’s analysis of the everyday tribulations of the working-class American family; a subject Hollywood rarely explores well.
7. The Witch
Horror in modern-day cinema isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski’s masterpieces The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby. It seems the best horror we have now is Paranormal Activity.
A sad state of affairs, no doubt, but one which was somewhat altered in 2016 thanks to the release of the spine-chillingly brilliant New England-set film, The Witch.
Seemingly paying homage to period horror dramas like The Crucible, this disturbing psychological thriller is as nail-biting as they come. And though cryptic in its plot and indeed its end, the movie’s premise, while undoubtedly ambiguous, is no doubt engrossing.
8. The Big Short
Another film in a long line about the financial crisis of 2008 should have been met with derision, but thanks to Adam McKay’s marvellous adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, The Big Short was a critical and commercial success.
Analysing the success, one could attribute a large chunk of it to the cameo appearances of Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie who explained much of the economic jargon that in skimpily clad clothes or in Robbie’s case, in the bath.
Yes, they really did make the mortgage crisis attractive, and with world-class performances from the whole cast, which included the likes of Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, McKay’s first foray into serious filmmaking was a surprising success.
Charlie Kaufman doesn’t seem to understand the concept of happiness, which sits well with us if he continues to make harrowingly mesmerising movies like Anomalisa. The plot that of a lonely public speaker drifting through various hotel rooms to speak at various functions across America is told through the rare medium of stop-motion puppets.
Like Kaufman’s best-known movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there’s something oddly uplifting about a film riddled with depressive dialogue and emotionally-doomed characters.
Before critics sat down and watched Creed, many approached it with caution, with the consensus being that it was nothing more than a rip-off Rockie movie starring Sylvester Stalone. Critics were quickly proved wrong, however, with Stalone’s character seemingly serving as guidance in real life as well as in the movie to one of Hollywood’s most promising actors, Michael B. Jordan.
Better still, Creed is a rollercoaster movie, filled with joy, anguish, adversity and hope, themes that, if done well, can often offer a shining light to those going through hardship- something a good boxing movie does better than any other.