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25 Best Thriller Movies Of 2016 – Guide

6th – Hell Or High Water
Starring: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham
Director: David Mackenzie
Released: August 12, 2016
Best Thriller Films 2016

 -Seen It-  In rural Texas two brothers – a straight-living, divorced father (Pine) trying to make a better life for his son; and a short-tempered ex-con (Forster) – come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. Soon they’re in the crosshairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Bridges) looking for triumph on the eve of his retirement, and his long-suffering native american partner (Birmingham)… From the writer of ‘Sicario’ and the director of ‘Starred Up’. This is a modern day western with a left-leaning social conscience, whose subtext concerns the theft of land: White Americans took from native Americans, now corporate America from the poor – pushing them into making skirmish raids on the banks, Indian-style. The cast all do their jobs well, from a brooding Chris Pine (looking increasingly like 90s Jeff Fahey), an edgy trigger-happy Ben Foster (his speciality, see ‘3:10 To Yuma’) and Jeff Bridges doing a variation of his cowboy from ‘True Grit’ and ‘RIPD’. Whilst not vastly different to a couple of outlaw thrillers that drop every year, it is a polished product with more allegory than normal, one that meanders in the early stages but increasingly picks up steam and interest.

5th – 10 Cloverfield Lane
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Released: March 11, 2016
Top Suspense Movies 2016

 -Seen It-  A young woman (Winstead) wakes in an underground cellar after a car accident and fears she has been abducted. Her “captor” a doomsday prepper (Goodman), tells her he saved her life and that there has been a terrible biological attack that has left the outside uninhabitable. A young, laid-back man (Gallagher) is in there too, who claims he begged to be let in. She doesn’t know what to believe and as tensions rise, decides she must escape, regardless of the terrors that potentially await outside… Director Dan Trachtenberg is a feature first-timer from the world of commercials, best known as the former co-host of ‘The Totally Rad Show’ and ‘Geekdrome’. Initially this was a small movie called ‘The Cellar’, but at some point J.J. Abrams joined as a producer and it was partially reshot (mainly the ending) to fit (very vaguely) with the Cloverfield brand. Let’s be clear: Cloverfield was a movie about a giant monster with a bat face stumbling around New York – This has nothing to do with that. The reshoot for rebranding was one of the most cynical marketing exercises of recent years and nearly ruins a brilliant thriller. It did however help it find a massive audience. Goodman is fantastic as the humourless, unhinged doomsday prepper. The mystery and suspense are Hitchcockian (inc. shades of ‘Psycho’, beginning with the heroine fleeing her past life in a car), with a presumed-ending crescendo half way that leaves little idea where it’s going after that. Sadly the last 15 minutes, J.J.’s Cloverfield tie-in, is tacked on, cliched, and the script devolves to a few swear words. Winstead’s performance drops, taking unbelievable sights in her stride as if they’re nothing. ‘The Cellar’s original ending (lookup online) was more subtle but a much better fit. Overall, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ (doesn’t even sound like a farm’s address) is a must-see for Goodman and the suspense, forget the “Cloverfield” stamp.

4th – Green Room
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Released: April 1, 2016

 -Seen It-  A young, struggling punk rock band (including Yelchin) are booked to play a secluded white supremacist venue and accidentally witness a murder in the green room backstage. Trapped and under siege, they’re pitted against an ice-cold neo-nazi (Stewart) and his gang of skinheads, intent on murdering them… Chekov has really upset an N-bomb dropping Captain Jean-Luc Picard in this ultra-violent edge of your seat horror-thriller. What puts this into horror territory is the doomed atmosphere, ensemble eliminations, and the gruesomely realistic, stomach-churning nature of the violence. When a box cutter is introduced you know you’re going to see what a box cutter can actually do to someone. This viciousness makes the film extremely tense (particularly the first half). And that naturalism is applied to performances overall and the desperate fight scenes. The choice of villains is a chillingly strong one, with deft little touches skilfully separating the different “types” in the neo-nazi group. To nitpick, it’s not too credible that the skinheads would abandon the green room door for chats in the car park, the staged “accident” crime scene feels implausible given the number of dead, and while Patrick Stewart is extremely watchable, his cold, calculating performance doesn’t quite do enough to throw off his warm persona baggage – seeing him going mental and losing his sh*t in this controversial role would have been something to behold. Anton Yelchin (in his last film to be released before his death) does a fine job as the director’s signature “inept protagonist” who’s in over his head and would need years of therapy.

3rd – Arrival
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Released: November 11, 2016

 -Seen It-  A linguistics professor (Adams) joins a government first-contact team when mysterious spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As the hostility of other nations threatens to ignite an intergalactic war, she must rapidly devise a method of communication with the extraterrestrial visitors, to uncover their intentions… From the prolific director of ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’. ‘Arrival’ has been extremely hyped, with many critics going over the top in their praise (“deserves serious treatment as a work of art”). It’s good, it’s thoughtful, it makes interesting linguistic points, and there’s little to fault. But I was never startled or shocked, and the ending it’s building up to is too similar to a certain Christopher Nolan film, where it had more emotional impact. Nonetheless, ‘Arrival’ is the most plausibly and intelligently thought-through alien first contact film (to date).

2nd – Deepwater Horizon
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson
Director: Peter Berg
Released: September 30, 2016

 -Seen It-  $110 million-budgeted disaster movie based on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The event killed 11 men working on the platform and the subsequent gusher wasn’t capped for three months, the worst spill in U.S. history. Wahlberg plays one oil rig engineer, Kurt Russell the safety chief, and John Malkovich a visiting BP rep putting speed above safety. The source is New York Times article ‘Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours’, which covered the human stories but also examined what mistakes and shortcuts led to the blowout. Wahlberg and director Peter Berg previously collaborated on another true-story-turned-thriller, ‘Lone Survivor’, and went on to make ‘Patriots Day’ about the Boston Bombings. ‘Deepwater’ is compelling, made more interesting if you followed the news story (the explosion was barely covered compared to the spill). It’s an hour before the chaos, and much of that is spent following Walhberg as he tours the platform, including some tricky-to-follow interactions (authentic jargon is good but don’t also mumble under an accent), with a good grip on authenticity. The disaster itself is intense and anxiety-ridden, putting you right in the middle of exploding rooms and hellish meltdown. The film somewhat simplifies the blame (Transocean misread the pressure, Halliburton supplied unstable concrete) but doesn’t overplay its justified message. Like last year’s ‘Everest’, it continues the trend of well-researched, expensively-realised, real life tragedy-thrillers that are particularly haunting and thought-provoking.

1st – The Nice Guys
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer
Director: Shane Black
Released: May 20, 2016
2016 Thrillers Movies

 -Seen It-  In 1970s L.A., a down-on-his-luck private eye (Gosling) and a hired leg-breaker (Crowe) must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a fading porn star. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power. Keith David (‘They Live’) and Beau Knapp (‘Super 8’) play hitman partners, while Kim Basinger is a chief justice with dubious interests… Shane Black is one of the greatest living screenwriters, responsible for the likes of ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Monster Squad’. And ‘The Nice Guys’ feels like vintage Black, as good as ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ or ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, because it is – he wrote the first draft in 2001. Gosling and Crowe have terrific chemistry with Gosling in particular showing great comic timing. You’re never more than a couple of minutes from a sharp one liner (“You just took the Lord’s name in vain.” “No I didn’t Janet, I found it very useful.”). It may not be the most authentic depiction of the 70s, but it’s a lot of colourful fun. On the downside the villain’s motivation barely holds together, Basinger’s poor acting lets the side down and the expert hitmen are terrible shots. But ‘The Nice Guys’ is vibrant and unpredictable filmmaking that shows Black is still the king of buddy movies.

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Let me know your picks, or any I missed, in the comments.

Also See: 2016 Action Movies, 2016 Horror Movies

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  • 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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