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25 Best Thriller Movies Of 2016 – Guide

13th – Allied
Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Released: November 23, 2016
2016 Top Thriller Movies

 -Seen It-  A Canadian covert operative in WWII (Pitt) teams with a ruthless French counterpart (Cotillard, ‘Inception’) to assassinate a German ambassador in Casablanca – under the pretence of being a married couple. By mission’s end they have fallen in love for real, and marry in London. But when British intelligence reveals his bride is suspected of being a German spy using a stolen identity, and that he may have to execute her, he sets out to confirm it for himself… This is a classy Hollywood production with effortlessly solid performances by two seasoned pros. Pitt has a rare old-fashioned star quality, so fits the WWII David Lean-style well. Direction is assured as ever by veteran Robert Zemekis (‘Back to the Future’, ‘Flight’), with the same top notch cinematography he always oversees. The screenplay, by the writer of ‘Eastern Promises’, is decent but relies on overly contrived witnesses (blind man, drunk man) to thwart attempts to identify the wife, and Lizzy Caplin’s implausibly open lesbian character goes nowhere. Due to its mistrustful nature ‘Allied’ can’t become a powerful love story, and the tension is never all that peaked, but it’s always entertaining and made with finesse.

12th – The Accountant
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K.Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Released: October 14, 2016

 -Seen It-  An autistic math savant (Affleck), with more affinity for numbers than people, works as a freelance accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organisations, behind the cover of a small-town CPA office. He’s also highly weapons-trained. But why? As the Treasury’s Crime Enforcement Division (run by Simmons) closes in, the accountant takes on a non-criminal client: a robotics company where a clerk (Kendrick) has discovered a discrepancy involving millions of dollars. But as he uncooks the books and gets closer to the truth, employees of the company start turning up dead… This is somewhere between ‘Rain Man’, ‘John Wick’ and a watchable accounting seminar. Autism as a plot device is often embarrassingly mishandled (eg ‘Mercury Rising’), but here it makes for decent drama. The script is intelligently written, with Affleck doing well holding the screen with the limited emotional tools available. The mystery of the character unfolds in an entertaining way, interspersed with satisfying action (the martial arts being a variation on the Indonesian style seen in ‘The Raid’). As further layers of the accountant’s backstory keep getting added his character does eventually start to feel a touch too preposterous, but by then the film’s already won you over.

11th – And Then There Were None
Starring: Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouere
Director: Stephen Fingleton
Released: March 13, 2016 (Lifetime/BBC)

 -Seen It-  In 1939 ten strangers are invited to an island by a mysterious host, and start to get killed one by one. Could one of them be the killer? Adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, the world’s best-selling mystery and the 5th best-selling novel of all time (!). Technically this is a BBC TV miniseries, but at 174mins it is movie length, it has the same production values and a fine cast that includes big screen regulars like Sam Neill and Charles Dance. It’s also the best adaptation since (arguably) the 1965 film. Small but smart changes are made from the book, including tweaking the ending and having the accused guests more clearly guilty of their past crimes, though it skillfully generates enough sympathy to prevent us willing their demise. It could have pushed the atmosphere a little further, the killer(s)’s misdirection is a little too convincing, the nature of the plot means you never get deep characterisations beyond their past crime, and the story has been much imitated by this point, but it’s still one of the greatest murder-mystery plots of all time.

10th – Snowden
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood, Zachary Quinto
Director: Oliver Stone
Released: September 16, 2016
thriller movies 2016

Biographical political thriller about CIA employee Edward Snowden (Gordon-Levitt), who leaked thousands of classified documents to the press about government spying and ended up stranded in Russia. Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Scott Eastwood plays an NSA agent. Melissa Leo is ‘Citizenfour’ documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Zachary Quinto is Glenn Greenwald, the journalist chosen by Snowden to leak sensitive information, and Tom Wilkinson is Ewen MacAskill, defence and intelligence correspondent for The Guardian, who helped report the Snowden story. Timothy Olyphant plays a CIA agent who befriend Snowden before he fled to Russia. While, somewhat surprisingly these days, Nicolas Cage plays a former US Intelligence official. Oliver Stone’s screenplay is based on the books ‘The Snowden Files’ and ‘Time of the Octopus’, but he’s also had time to absorb new information in the Oscar-winning Snowden documentary ‘Citizenfour’. The strong ensemble and choice of characters suggest it’s going for an ‘All The President’s Men’ feel. Whether you agree with Stone’s politics or not, he remains an important, highly-intelligent voice in cinema.

9th – Midnight Special
Starring: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton
Director: Jeff Nichols
Released: March 18, 2016
Best Thrillers of 2016

Sci-fi thriller about a father (Shannon) desperate to protect his “uniquely gifted” eight-year-old son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Hunted by an extreme religious sect (led by Sam Shepard) and a government task force (headed up by Driver), he teams with two others (Edgerton and Dunst) to race the boy to a secret location. The outcome of this full-on chase could just bring about a world-changing event… This marks the first studio project for writer-director Nichols, after the well-received ‘Mud’ and ‘Take Shelter’, the latter of which also starred Shannon. Nichols says, “However absurd this sounds, ‘Midnight Special’ is more grounded than ‘Mud’. I really wanted to make a 1980s John Carpenter film like ‘Starman’. I love the way those films look.” The saviour-boy plot structure and grounded nature also make it sound quite similar to ‘Children of Men’. Nichols is a major rising talent and it’ll be interesting to see what he does with a studio budget.

8th – Nocturnal Animals
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon
Director: Tom Ford
Released: November 18, 2016
Recent Thriller Movies 2016

 -Seen It-  A wealthy art gallery owner (Adams) with a cheating husband (Hammer) receives a novel manuscript from her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal). It’s the story of a man (also Gyllenhaal) losing his family on a highway to a gang of rapists (led by Taylor-Johnson), and seeking bloody revenge with a cancer-ridden cop (Shannon). The story haunts her and makes her reflect on the pain of their separation. He wants to meet her again, but will she agree?… From Tom Ford, fashion designer and director of ‘A Single Man’, this won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, and has had a solid run over awards season. Part gritty Texas thriller, part stylish relationship drama, it starts in a pretentious manner introducing a lonely Adams in the art world but soon settles into the bulk of the film – a straight up noir thriller telling the story of the manuscript. The weak Gyllenhaal losing his family to a gang, and the aftermath, is raw and well acted, with Taylor-Johnson a revelation as the hyperactive villain (winning him Best Supporting Actor at the Globes). Ultimately though it’s a movie about writing, it’s about getting back at an ex who didn’t believe their partner could pull it off. And indications are it’s Tom Ford seeking payback. These bitter relationship bookends mean it’s not traditional genre stuff but there’s plenty to be absorbed by.

7th – Blood Father
Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy
Director: Jean-François Richet
Released: August 12, 2016
Best Thriller 2016

 -Seen It-  An ex-con (Gibson) living the quiet trailer park life reunites with his estranged 16-year-old daughter (Moriarty, ‘True Detective’) to protect her from a drug cartel that’s out to kill her. Against the background of the California desert he must use connections and skills from his past criminal life to keep them both alive… The script is by Peter Craig (‘The Town’), adapting his own well-reviewed novel, while the director brought us the excellent ‘Mesrine’ and the underrated ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ remake. ‘Blood Father’s’ story is run of the mill, a tale of Gibson out for revenge that we’ve seen before (‘Edge of Darkness’, ‘Payback’), but he remains damn good in this sort of role. With his gravelly voice, monster beard, bulked up muscle and grizzled, lined face he makes for a great ex-con biker. Gibson always looks like he’s bottling crazy rage even in interviews and it’s great to see it explode onscreen (the moment he finally picks up a gun and a knife is pure R-rated Martin Riggs), and when they hit the road there are several laugh out loud moments amongst a bunch of quoteable lines. Throw in a brilliant Michael Parks speech, and this is Gibson showing once again he’s too good to ignore.

6th Place >

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4 Comments »

  • dnwilliams said

    Curious about Money Monster, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Midnight Special, The Girl on the Train, and The Nice Guys.

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  • Nick said

    Awesome list!! Saw many of these and can agree with the comments made. “Don’t Breath” deserved to be higher… that was pretty great for a film shot almost entirely in one house.

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      Thanks. Yes, Don’t Breathe was a highlight this year. It’s been moved over to the chiller list (link at the end of this post) where it felt a slightly better fit genre-wise.

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  • Mike O said

    Despite all the professional reviews, “Criminal” should be high on this list.

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