At the halfway point of the year, I come to reflect on the best films of the year thus far, as to give some lesser known films my love before Oscar season seeks to tear down the films from the first half of the year. Forgoing wordiness, here are my top 10 films of 2016 so far.

Photo courtesy of Disney.
Photo courtesy of Disney.

10. “Finding Dory”

It’s not as show-stopping as “Inside Out” was last year, but “Finding Dory” is a sweet, well-crafted sequel that offers up so much more than the main character’s mental illness. The film is a fun, hilarious, touching adventure that show kids and adults of all ages that nothing should hold you back from following your dreams. This gorgeous film compliments the first film in a way that many sequels don’t do very often, and for that, I’m grateful.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

9. “The Conjuring 2”

Frankly put, “The Conjuring 2” is scary as hell. Yet, it took me actually seeing the film to get that, as I was honestly terrified that the film wouldn’t live up to the original film, much like director James Wan’s other franchise sequel, “Insidious: Chapter 2,” or even worse, “Annabelle.” What ended up being was a film that exceeded the original in ways that I couldn’t have dreamed of. From its eerie atmosphere in the beginning to its slam-bang ending that will rattle audiences to their core, “The Conjuring 2” is new-age mastery.

Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street
Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street

8. “Eye in the Sky”

In a world of “American Sniper” and “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” “Eye in the Sky” seeks to be a different type of war film. Encompassing more than just the United States military, “Eye in the Sky” focuses on a joint drone strike between the U.S. and U.K. militaries. The moral compass of these strikes is brought into question when a little girl is spotted in the blast zone, leaving the audience with a tense, incredibly crafted and impeccably acted film that offers audiences one last fantastic performance from the late, great Alan Rickman.

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios.
Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

7. “Love & Friendship”

The most scandalous PG-rated film you’ll ever see; “Love & Friendship” is how you adapt and tweak a classic piece of literature correctly. Benefitting from Kate Beckinsale’s wondrously devilish performance and director Whit Stillman’s lush, yet restrained eye, “Love & Friendship” is a complete winner. Working to pay homage to, yet not directly adapt the work of Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan,” Stillman crafts a fresh, yet undeniably classic film with the utmost respect and wittiness that Austen does so wonderfully, hit perfectly by the entire cast.

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

6. “Captain America: Civil War”

Turns out it does get better than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Despite superhero films pervading cinemas like crazy, “Captain America: Civil War” proves that there still is craft in it. In fact, “Captain America: Civil War” might just be one of the best superhero films ever made. With its exciting premise, focus on lesser-known MCU characters and some incredibly staged action, this film shows that in the right hands, the superhero genre has a long way to go before getting stale.

Photo courtesy of Disney
Photo courtesy of Disney

5. “Zootopia”

Arguably the most original film on this list, “Zootopia” shows that Disney Animation isn’t going anywhere and is still just as big of a threat to Pixar as ever. This ingenious film transcends all “family film” standards and reaches out to audiences of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds and lifestyles. The film has something to offer to everyone and might just change the world for the better for those listening to its wonderful message. Pair that with stunning animation and some perfectly places voice work and you have one of the best animated films in years. Eat your heart out, “Frozen.”

Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures and Amazon Studios.
Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures

4. “The Neon Demon”

Easily the most divisive film of the year, “The Neon Demon” has critics and audiences singing both praise and disdain for the strange, stylish film. Focusing on burgeoning horror in the fashion industry, director Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted an unabashedly feminine horror film that, like it or not, will keep audiences talking about it for days afterwards. Throw in its surrealist score, gorgeous cinematography and unique approach to the horror genre and you have one of the most memorable films of the year, the choice whether to like it is up to you.

Photo courtesy of A24
Photo courtesy of A24

3. “Green Room”

With the news of Anton Yelchin’s tragic passing, it makes “Green Room” a much more bittersweet film to watch. This adrenaline fueled blood-fest is bolstered by Jeremy Saulnier’s stark, gritty direction and Patrick Stewart’s haunting performance as Neo-Nazi Darcy Banker, who hunts a punk band inhis club after their witnessing of a murder. The film is tense, gritty and gory as hell, making it all the more fun to watch. Having both craft and fun together in one indie film makes for a special experience, even if it is now more bittersweet than we might’ve ever wanted it to be.

Photo courtesy of A24
Photo courtesy of A24

2. “The Witch”

“The Witch” is a film with very specific intentions and a very specific set of skills. The film doesn’t seek to jar audiences in the same way “The Conjuring 2” does, nor does it shake them the same way “Green Room” does. “The Witch” is a quiet, subtle haunt that will leave audiences chilled in silence upon the film’s end. Its unique style and way of going about scaring the audience make it unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s slow and steady and almost wins the race.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

1. “10 Cloverfield Lane”

When 2016 came around, I had no idea that “10 Cloverfield Lane” even existed. It wasn’t until mid-January that Paramount and J.J. Abrams decided to announce that the film was happening, let alone dropping less than two months later. Jarring the audience with one of the more memorable opening credits from the start, “10 Cloverfield Lane” wastes no time in crafting one of the more effective thrillers in the past few years. Focusing on a woman trapped in a bunker with a man who says the outside world is destroyed, she soon comes to realize that the world outside might be safer than inside, culminating in one of the wildest, and most divisive final acts in recent memory. This twist in storytelling is what I think makes “10 Cloverfield Lane” as truly great as it is, and certainly the best film of 2016 so far.

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Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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