The Five Best Films of 2016

Scott Wallace
15th Dec 2016

Another year of cinema has passed, and we are left with a new collection of favourites. Here are the five films that hit Australian cinemas this calendar year that we consider to be the most enduring, the ones that stand out the most as the dust settles and we prepare to ring in another year of amazing film.

American Honey

American Honey is frequently confronting in its stark reality as it presents a motley crew of teenagers trying to find their identities and a place to belong as they travel the American mid-west selling magazines door-to-door. It features a cast consisting largely of unknown actors cast off the street, including the unbelievably good Sasha Lane as the protagonist Star, alongside established names like Shia LaBeouf. Andrea Arnold's nearly three-hour drama may prove divisive. Some may see it as overindulgent, while others may see it as exploitative poverty porn, while still others may see it as one of the finest and most eloquent works of cinema of the decade. Whatever your stance is, it should be agreed that American Honey is a one-of-a-kind film.


Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt arrived in Australian cinemas in January, but the intervening months have done little to dull its spark and it remains a winner almost twelve months on. This love story between the wealthy titular character (Cate Blanchett) and the young Therese is a steadily, patiently composed, brilliantly acted and emotionally engrossing drama that perfectly balances joy with devastation. Carol is so mature and so romantically real that it is transcendent. It transcends the hoopla around it being snubbed during awards season, transcends the inevitable politics around same-sex relationships; ultimately those things don't matter because it is one of the saddest, sweetest, most disarming love stories ever filmed.

I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake is an actor's film, and that's not due to any deficiency on the part of legendary director Ken Loach. It features a pair of performances from Dave Johns (as the titular man) and Hayley Squires (as put-upon single mum Katie) that are so utterly perfect that they bring Loach's social realism to a new level. Set in a tiny area of Newcastle, the story is intentionally small, looking at the lives that are often glossed over. Dan and Katie are more-or-less forgotten, having to fight tooth and nail for basic assistance, for a place to live, and it's that fight and their sheer determination from which the cast wrings such flawless performances. I, Daniel Blake is a confronting and progressive film, beating with an urgent pulse and a vitality that demands attention.


The Turkey-set drama Mustang was a Sydney Film Festival highlight this year, and continued to astonish after receiving a wider theatrical release. Through the lens of the experiences of five sisters living in a remote Turkish village, it examines the way young women are taught to view themselves and their relationship with the world, and the restrictions that are placed on them just as they begin to blossom into adulthood. Mustang is a coming-of-age coloured by bitter rejection of the social mores that seek to control women, and ultimately it is an affirmation of the resilient feminine spirit, even in the face of monstrous adversity. Building on the legacy of great films like The Virgin Suicides and Offside, there are few films this year that feel quite as timely, nor as poetically seething, as Mustang.


Quietly, and with little fanfare, Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture back in February, which was a surprise given how understated this taut investigative drama is. Competing against far more formalist films like The Martian and The Revenant, as well as more traditionally Oscars friendly movies like Brooklyn, though, it becomes clear just what a well-made, beautifully articulate piece of filmmaking Spotlight is. An ensemble cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and more play the titular team of investigative journalists, who in the early 2000s uncovered the ingrained sexual abuse rampant in the Catholic Church. Spotlight is frequently devastating, grappling with the complexities of guilt, complicity and faith, while standing on thought-provoking moral ground.