Substream’s favorite movies of 2016 so far…

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best movies of 2016
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We are just over halfway through the year and already the world of cinema has provided a wealth of proof that leads us to believe good movies are far from extinct. You may now be able to watch some of the best films from the comfort of your own home as soon as they are released, which is admittedly a relatively new phenomenon, but that doesn’t make great storytelling any less exciting. From animated tales set in fictional worlds devoid of people, to original science fiction thrillers built around themes of family and the fear of isolation, 2016 has given moviegoers a veritable smorgasbord of intriguing new ideas to explore. We knew we wanted to highlight the best titles we have seen, but in order to prevent an all-out war between staffers we decided to showcase the selected films without ranking. The films below, which again appear in no particular order, highlight the best movies of 2016 so far as chosen by resident film critics James Shotwell and Leigh Monson. Enjoy:

Midnight Special

best movies of 2016

Every time Jeff Nichols releases a new film we ask ourselves how he will ever up the ante with his next release, and to be honest we are still scratching our heads trying to figure out how he (or anyone) will top the incredible artistry found in Midnight Special. Some may say it’s too early to call this tale of a gifted boy on the run from the government a modern sci-fi classic, but we disagree. Midnight Special is as good as storytelling gets, and it continues to impress with every viewing. Where some films choose to introduce one or two new ideas to audiences, Nichols offers five or more. He isn’t afraid to challenge audiences because he understands that great art engages the viewer rather than simply entertaining them—and for that we offer our undying thanks. – JS

10 Cloverfield Lane

best movies of 2016

The original Cloverfield was a low brow kaiju movie at best, and a shaky-cam disaster at worst, so we will readily admit that we didn’t have high expectations for 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is one of those instances where we are more than happy to have had our preconceptions subverted. More a spiritual successor than a full-on sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense bottle plot with some of the best character acting of the year. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a killer leading woman, deftly displaying fear without ever seeming weak because of it. John Gallagher is similarly impressive as her naïve foil. The real show-stealer though is John Goodman, a man who astoundingly has yet to receive an Academy Award, yet continually shows the acting chops to pull off singularly memorable characters. Here, Goodman walks the line between off-putting and sympathetic with such proficiency that it isn’t until the film’s climax that we really find out which is his true self. The performances come together under the direction of Dan Trachtenberg, helming his first feature to an astoundingly tense effect, so that even if you do happen to be put off by the twist ending, you must at least admit it was a hell of a ride getting there. – LM

Tickled

best movies of 2016

David Farrier and Dylan Reed did not set out to create the film that Tickled became. In fact, they more or less stumbled onto a cinematic goldmine while trying to tell what they believed to be a rather straightforward tale of bullying in the digital age and just so happened to have cameras rolling when it happened. The twists and turns of Tickled are completely unpredictable, but each one pulls you further and further into a criminal underworld where money rules all. We caught the film back in April and still haven’t managed to go a day or more without someone on our staff referencing the events that unfold in the film or the way those happenings made them feel. This is the Serial of 2016, and it’s utterly fascinating from beginning to end. – JS

Sing Street

best movies of 2016

The best cinema in a given year isn’t always rife with extensive symbolism or literary sensibilities. Sometimes a film is just really well made, and Sing Street is a prime example of a film that succeeds purely on the basis of being so damn fun. A pseudo-autobiographical take on writer-director John Carney’s experiences as a pubescent youth forming a band to impress his female crush, the film invests all of its characterization in its lovestruck leads, a move that other films would bungle by not committing so heavily to it. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo pulls off protagonist Conor’s youthful awkwardness and insecurity with remarkable skill for his first time acting on film, and Lucy Boynton’s Raphina manages to remain mysteriously enigmatic until the extensive layers of her personality start to show themselves. Yet what makes the film truly unique is its soundtrack, comprised almost entirely of original tracks that are not only great songs in their own right, but serve as benchmarks of the titular band’s evolution both in overall quality and in the musical influences they strive to emulate. By the end of the film the resulting music is wholly unique, yet still evocative of the 1980s Dublin setting, resulting in a strong contender for the best musical film of the year. – LM

I Am Not A Serial Killer

best movies of 2016

Dan Wells’ 2009 thriller has finally been adapted for the big screen with a new ending that is sure to make fans of science fiction and murder-mysteries squeal with joy. We caught this little gem during its run at SXSW back in March and it has not gone unmentioned in a single ‘film of the year’ competition since that time. Billy O’Brien brings Wells’ work to life in an endearing way that quietly deceives, leading the audience to a false set of presumptions that help make the third act something that will no doubt be discussed by all who see it for years to come. Oh, and let us not forget the presence of and epic performance from screen icon Christopher Lloyd. I Am Not A Serial Killer is the thriller to beat in 2016. – JS

Swiss Army Man

best movies of 2016

We almost hesitate to put this film on the list because it’s still so fresh in our minds, but we’ll be damned if Swiss Army Man doesn’t feel like a cinematic revelation. Held together by some stellar lead performances, the unlikely pairing of a woods-stranded man and his best friend the talking, farting corpse is easily the strangest thing to grace mainstream cinema in years, and it’s somehow thematically rich enough to function on more levels than its juvenile premise would ever suggest. While telling a tragic tale of one man’s struggle with loneliness, depression, and an abusive upbringing, the film is equally devoted to a comic misadventure about teaching a zombie what it means to be alive. The richness of the narrative constantly provokes analysis and second-guessing, yet always tugs you back to the realization that everything you’re witnessing is absolutely insane. Existing in the bizarre limbo between scholarly analysis and scatological farce is quite the tonal tightrope to walk, but this movie succeeds at it. Whether it makes you laugh, cry, or, as is more than likely, a little of both, Swiss Army Man delivers in a way that we didn’t think possible for a piece of narrative fiction. – LM

Weiner

best movies of 2016

There isn’t a doubt in our mind that Weiner is among the most revealing political documentaries of all time. More importantly, it brings to light certain harsh truths about the way our lives are evaluated by others in the digital age, as well as the way the press can control a conversation whether or not they know a story in full. Removed from the sea of controversy that surrounded him in the wake of tweet containing a clothed “dick pic,” Anthony Weiner is the kind of candidate we all hope to see running for office. His heart is in the right place, he actually listens to his constituents, and he appears to truly be fighting for the underdog at every turn. With the news of his so-called political scandal filling headlines, however, the same person can appear to be some form of societal outcast, damned to be an outlier forever despite his best efforts to prove otherwise. Weiner captures a man who is his own worst enemy at a crucial point in his life, and somehow they convinced the focus of their story to be an active participant in explaining the narrative. It’s heartbreaking and fascinating in equal measure, and we doubt there will be another film quite like Weiner released anytime soon. – JS

Captain America: Civil War

best movies of 2016

While we don’t think that Civil War is the best film that Marvel Studios has made (Guardians of the Galaxy gets to retain that title), we do think that it is the best example of how to use the shared continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its fullest potential. For nearly a decade, audiences have grown to love and appreciate a robust cast of characters that have become so iconic that there is no longer a necessity for introductions from film to film, and what Civil War understands better than any of its predecessors is that if you put all these characters in a tense situation and let them bounce off one another, it makes for a much better film than any large-scale, computer generated destruction can deliver. Lacking such apocalyptic stakes not only brings the character drama to the forefront, it also makes room for some of the most inventive action scenes put to film in the last decade. Featuring a tight script that lends itself equally well to philosophical debate as it does Marvel’s trademark banter, Civil War is a testament that there are still ways for Marvel to one-up itself as the progenitor of the Cinematic Universe experiment. – LM

Darling

best movies of 2016

Technically released on the festival circuit in the fall of 2015, Darling has proven to be one of the most original and unsettling films released to the masses thus far in 2016. Our praise of filmmaker Mickey Keating has long been public knowledge, but this particular film is one that should put him on every cinephile’s radar. Led by a commanding performance from genre mainstay Lauren Ashley Carter, the film weaves a twisted tale of one young woman’s failed attempts at resisting a descent into madness that comes complete with a body count. Filmed entirely in black and white in a New York City apartment, there is a good chance this film is entirely one of a kind. Even if you watch it and walk away feeling less passionately about the final product than we do there is no doubt in our minds that what you witness will linger in your head for weeks, if not months, to come. That is the power of good storytelling in action, and that is why our love for Mickey Keating’s work continues to burn so bright. – JS

Zootopia

best movies of 2016

Yes. One of our favorite movies of 2016 so far is the Disney talking animal movie. It’s hardly surprising that, given Disney’s recent animation renaissance, they would be able to deliver a rich and vibrant fantasy world of staggering depth and complexity. But who would have thought that they would use such a setting to tell a politically-charged tale of racism and prejudice that never feels ham-fisted or pandering? Simultaneously a buddy comedy about a rabbit and a fox learning to get along and an allegory for modern American race relations, Zootopia is the movie to demonstrate to an entire generation of kids that prejudice is a much more subtle and insidious force than what other popular discourse would have you believe. And though that depth is appreciated, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the film is also absolutely gorgeous to behold as it jumps from one climatic environ to another, and it has some of the funniest set pieces of modern animation. (That sloth scene delivers every. Single. Time.) Zootopia is a certifiable classic, both as a piece of family entertainment and as a powerful message movie that will unfortunately be relevant for decades to come, all under the unassuming guise of an anthropomorphic animal flick. – LM