From Ghostbusters to Moonlight, AbFab to American Honey, it’s been a good year for movies of all types — comedy, dramedy, drama, horror, and everything in between. We’ve put together a list of 18 of the best-reviewed movies featured in BUST magazine and BUST.com this year. If you haven’t seen them yet, make a plan to do so ASAP!
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, written and directed by Burt Steers, released February 5
Almost seven years after Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, enjoyed its brief moment in the spotlight, the film adaptation has finally arrived. And the good news is—it’s a lot of fun. The title gives away the simple, silly concept: What if Pride and Prejudice had zombies in it? Jane Austen’s classic story is now set in an alternate version of Regency-era England, where social events are held in secure fortresses to keep out rabid zombie hordes. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are part of the zombie-fighting British army, and the Bennet sisters are all zombie-fighting ninjas. (Unfortunately, though there are many references to martial-arts training in Japan and China, there’s not a single Asian cast member—definitely a missed opportunity.) The love story proceeds as expected, but with plenty of gory zombie carnage to go around. And there are several references that devoted Janeites will catch, including a Colin Firth-esque lake scene and a few lines borrowed from Persuasion.
P&P&Z succeeds largely because of its cast. Sam Riley (Male?cent, On The Road) might not make my Top Five Mr. Darcys list, but Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella) makes an excellent Elizabeth Bennet. The real scene-stealers are Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) as Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as Mr. Collins. The result is an entertaining, over-the-top horror comedy that will appeal to Austen fans who don’t mind a little blood and guts, and zombie genre fans who—just like Elizabeth Bennet—“dearly love a laugh.” – Erika W. Smith
The Witch, written and directed by Robert Eggers, released February 26
The Witch is only 92-minutes long, but it feels like an eternity. That’s usually a bad thing, but this thriller is such a hypnotic, terrifying experience, it speaks to the power of the filmmaking. Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Thomasin, the eldest daughter of a Puritan family forced out of their New England village in 1630. Her parents William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Game of Thrones’ Kate Dickie) establish a new farm on the edge of the woods, but it’s not too long before things start going oh-so wrong. Delightfully, deliciously, satanically wrong—with Thomasin shouldering the blame.
The Witch is shot in gloomy shades of blue, gray, and brown, with plenty of close-ups on the characters’ increasingly terrified faces. Taylor-Joy is terrific—rebellious and regretful in turn, with a hugely expressive face that’s often looking just off-camera at some new horror. The sound design is also hair-raising, and the interior shots are claustrophobically licked with candle-light. History buffs will be mesmerized by the detail that writer/director Robert Eggers has achieved, although the accents and dialects employed can be challenging. That’s OK, though, because you’ll want to watch The Witch again and again, finding new layers and possibilities each time. – Jenni Miller
Hello, My Name Is Doris, directed by Michael Showalter, released March 11
From the trailer, Hello, My Name Is Doris may seem like one of those annoying movies with a quirky main character making a lot of tired jokes about age. In actuality, it’s a sweet, moving comedy that speaks volumes about loneliness and wanting someone you can’t have. Also note: Sally Field is the perfect person to get the ball rolling on normalizing women of a certain age as the main character in movies.
The film starts out at the funeral of Doris’s mother, who she has lived with and taken care of her whole life. After her passing, she begins attaching emotional significance to inanimate objects and hoarding more and more. When she returns to work, she encounters a new co-worker John, played by Max Greenfield, in the elevator. He is nice to her and although he is 30 years her junior, she starts to fall for him immediately. The infatuation gives her something new with which to preoccupy herself. Doris begins crushing, HARD. She does all the things that every person in the 21st century does when they have a crush—like stalk their social media, start liking everything they like, and create a fake online persona to talk to them. We are all Doris! Read full review here. — Courtney Bissonette
Love & Friendship, written and directed by Whit Stillman, released May 13
Don’t expect to swoon over Love & Friendship. Writer/director Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novella Lady Susan is short on romance, long on social satire. The plot follows a beautiful young widow and scheming social climber, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), who escapes London and its gossip to wreak subtle havoc someplace where nobody knows her: her in-laws’ country estate. While there, she manipulates friends, family, and various suitors to get what she wants, both for herself and for her marriageable young daughter, the sweet, innocent Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Susan draws plenty of suspicion and makes a few enemies, but she outwits her adversaries at every turn. And while there’s no Mr. Darcy here, Janeites who love Austen’s social comedy will enjoy watching Susan’s expert manipulations.
Beckinsale plays Susan as a period-piece version of Blair Waldorf, a character so brilliant and driven you can’t help but root for her devious schemes. And Chloë Sevigny stands out in a supporting role as Susan’s American fair-weather friend. Love & Friendship might not rank among Jane Austen fans’ favorite adaptations, but it’s refreshing to see a director turn to one of her lesser-known works for inspiration rather than remake Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility yet again. – Erika W. Smith
The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, released May 15
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (of the Academy Award nominated film Dogtooth) gives 2016 audiences The Lobster, a dystopian romance that combines comedy and gore. Packed with an A+ cast such as Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, and John C. Reilly, The Lobster wonderfully kick-starts a new year in movies with its breathtaking cinematography, performances, score, and storyline. Although it has a male lead, the film’s story is driven by women.
The story begins with David (Farrell) being picked up and driven to The Hotel, a “retreat” run by the Hotel Manager (Olivia Coleman) and her husband. At The Hotel, David, as well as others who have been rounded up, is forced to find a partner to live with over the course of 45 days. Failing to do so results in the guest being turned into an animal of their choosing. As deduced from the title of the film, David’s animal of choice is a lobster. As David navigates the rules of The Hotel, including a “no masturbation” rule punishable by burning the rule breaker’s hand in a toaster, he finds his fate in the hands of women. The Hotel Manager, the Biscuit Woman, the Maid, the Heartless Woman, the Loner Leader, and the Short Sighted Woman are all females who influence and direct David’s future. Read full review here. — Samantha Ladwig
Maggie’s Plan, written and directed by Rebecca Miller, released May 20, 2016
Maggie’s Plan keeps audiences guessing from the opening scene. The film begins when Maggie (Greta Gerwig) runs into her ex (Bill Hader) and tells him that she wants to have a baby and is considering artificial insemination. But this isn’t going where you think it is—they don’t fall in love. Maggie decides to procreate with a “pickle entrepreneur” (Travis Fimmel) and Hader’s character stays firmly in the friend role. Maggie’s procreation plan is put in jeopardy when she falls for a romantic, misunderstood writer (Ethan Hawke) who decides to cheat on his brilliant, career-focused wife (Julianne Moore) just in time to stop Maggie’s turkey baster. Then that story is turned on its head in yet another twist.
This film is being marketed as a rom-com, but there’s no real romance in it. Part of what makes it so fun, actually, is that we’re so used to seeing Ethan Hawke playing the angsty heartthrob, it’s a revelation to see this pretense fall away to reveal pure douchebaggery. And Gerwig will make you feel for her even as you cringe at her terrible decisions. But best of all is Julianne Moore as an over-the-top Danish anthropologist—a character more like her comedic turn in 30 Rock than any of her recent dramatic roles. – Erika W. Smith
The Fits, co-written and directed by Anna Rose Holmer, released June 3
The Fits begins and ends with Toni, a lanky teen tomboy who finds herself drawn to a drill team practicing at her local community center. Played by newcomer Royalty Hightower, Toni is used to spending time with her brother at the boxing gym, wrapping her hands and practicing hooks and jabs. But her attraction to the glamorous drill team overtakes her shyness and prompts her to cross over into their world. This push and pull of gendered spaces—the boxing gym versus the gymnasium; the quiet of the laundry room versus the chaos of the girls’ locker room; solitude versus sisterhood—creates a dramatic tension that reaches a crescendo when the older girls begin experiencing inexplicable seizures. Adults think it could be due to a contaminated water supply. But to the younger girls, it seems like an inevitable rite of passage, one that’s as scary as it is fascinating.
Although The Fits is a short 72 minutes, it bristles with energy that explodes in intricate choreography. It is also gorgeously shot, with Hightower impressively carrying all the emotional weight of the film in her face and body. The way she dresses and carries herself literally transforms as she negotiates different spaces, trying to figure out which one fits best. And it’s amazing to watch. — Jenni Miller
Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig, released July 15th
When I arrived at the theater for a press screening of the new Ghostbusters last week, I had low expectations. Not because I hate films starring women (hello, I work for BUST), or because I’m anti-remake (I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but because, truthfully, the trailers weren’t great, and while I think each of the stars is amazingly talented, each of them also has a few clunkers on their IMDB page. Early buzz wasn’t good, and I tried to keep my hopes down.
But within the first few minutes, I knew the new Ghostbusters would be great. The film opens with a spooky castle tour, with a guide played by Zach Woods (The Office, Silicon Valley) telling tourists all about the castle’s features, including — my first laugh — state-of-the-art anti-Irish fencing and — my second — the room where P.T. Barnum first had the idea to enslave elephants. And then come the ghosts. Read full review here. — Erika W. Smith
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, directed by Mandie Fletcher, released July 22
When I first started watching Absolutely Fabulous during the ‘90s — a British sitcom about the hilarious misadventures of two self-absorbed, mid-aged (or in Patsy’s case, Yoda-aged), boozy, unapologetic career women who happened to be best friends — I was instantly addicted.
At the time, I had just started college and I wasn’t sure what adulthood had in store for me. I was a budding journalist and music VJ with a Denver TV show called “Teletunes.” I also worked at my college radio station as a DJ during a time when dancing till dawn at raves was the norm. Read full review here. — Bonnie Burton
The Intervention, directed by Clea Duvall, released August 26
Clea DuVall’s directorial debut, The Intervention, brings together so many of our favorite actors for a break-up-and-make-up dramedy.
The film centers on four dysfunctional couples on a weekend trip: DuVall (who also wrote the film) and Natasha Lyonne (a former BUST cover gal) play a couple who might be moving a little too fast — or a little too slow, depending on which one of them you ask. Melanie Lynskey and Jason Ritter play an engaged couple who seems picture-perfect, until you realize that they keep rescheduling the wedding and no one wants to talk about why. Alia Shawkat (also a former BUST cover gal) and Ben Schwartz play a just-met, May-December couple who are definitely rushing into things. And Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza play a married couple that fights constantly. Read full review here. — Erika W. Smith
Southside With You, directed by Richard Tanne, released August 26th
In Richard Tanne’s latest film, Southside With You, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers are tremendously cast as a young Michelle and Barack Obama. Set in Chicago in 1989, this walkabout romance flick spans only the length of one day — the day that this future President and First Lady had their first date. As a date movie, this film unavoidably held the potential to be chalked full of clichés and cornball moments, but successfully evaded such tropes and managed to be unique while retaining a sweet and convincing romance that allows both Michelle and Barack’s real-life personalities to shine through. Sumpter excellently portrays the quick-witted, fiery, and inspirationally passionate Michelle that we’ve all come to know over the past eight years, and Sawyers nails the smooth-talking, radiantly intelligent and compassionate Barack. Not to mention, the physical resemblance of each actor to their character is startling.
No matter what your political views may be, they are worth setting aside for the 80 minutes of this understated and deeply humanizing romance that, in the end, is inarguably a true and endearing love story above anything else. — Gabrielle Diekhoff
Author: The JT LeRoy Story, directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, released September 9
Reclusive author JT LeRoy became a literary sensation in 1999 when his debut novel, Sarah, and his follow-up, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, captured the imagination of the counterculture. A teen prodigy who turned his sordid past of drugs and rural prostitution into creative treasure, JT was befriended by celebrities and courted by Hollywood for years. But the cult phenomenon came crashing down in 2005 when New York magazine revealed that the novels were actually written by a 40-year-old San Francisco phone-sex operator named Laura Albert. In the fascinating documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Albert finally tells her side of the saga, proving that in her case, the truth really is stranger than fiction.
Albert provides so much incredible primary-source material to support her wild tale of success and scorn, one might suppose she’s been preparing all her life for such a documentary to be made. Revealing photos of her fucked-up childhood and heart-wrenching home-movie footage flow seamlessly into audio recordings of phone conversations her alter-ego “JT” had with his therapist, his literary idols, his publishers, and his high-profile friends, including Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, and Gus Van Sant. Beneath all the subterfuge, however, the heart of this tale belongs to a woman who convinced herself that the world would be kinder to her if she were a beautiful, enigmatic boy. And when all is said and done, sadly, it seems she may have been right. –Emily Rems
American Honey, written and directed by Andrea Arnold, released September 30
American Honey is a road trip movie in the best possible way. Viewers follow a teenage girl, Star (Sasha Lane, in her first movie), as she leaves a troubled relationship behind and joins a band of misfit young people who travel the country selling magazine subscriptions. They’re led by Krystal (Riley Keough), a self-described “American honey,” who rules with an iron fist, imposing drastic and often violent punishments for those who don’t meet her sales goals. The charismatic Jake (a rat-tailed Shia LaBeouf) is Krystal’s second-in-command, her top seller, and her lover—but he’s got his eye on Star, who doesn’t hide her crush on him.
The film is beautifully shot and pleasantly rambling. Writer/director Andrea Arnold really develops her characters, allowing viewers to feel all the bliss, excitement, doubts, and danger of Star and Jake’s tumultuous relationship. The pace drags at times, like during the several Almost Famous-style sing-alongs and many scenes of drunken partying. But the lead actors are remarkable: Sasha Lane has a promising career ahead of her, and consider this the beginning of a possible Shia LaBeouf comeback. Arnold, who won an Oscar for her short film Wasp, proves her talent yet again—and the judges at Cannes agreed, awarding American Honey the prestigious Jury Prize. –Erika W. Smith
Certain Women, directed by Kelly Reichardt, released October 14
Certain Women has cinematically achieved something that is typically a difficult task. The film tells the stories of four women in three tales, stories that appear to be barely woven together yet they are, and each character brings the rawness of what it’s like to be a woman in a difficult situation. Like the subtle feminist theme, these struggles aren’t blatantly obvious ones: No one has a grave illness, and there are no soap-opera level events that are barely believable. This film does not distract with massive cliffhangers, your jaw won’t drop in disbelief, and you won’t jump out of your seat in shock.
No, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women does something more profound. Reichardt illustrates three struggles every woman has either experienced or feared to experience on their own, yet it does so in such a poetic way, you’re left feeling like you’ve just witnessed something special. With the leads perfectly cast as Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams, I can certainly call this fall’s best feminist film. Read full review here. — Katherine Barner
The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-wook, released October 21
With the new erotic psychological thriller The Handmaiden, director Park Chan-Wook proves that filmmakers can take book adaptations in any direction they choose. He takes Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith and moves the setting from Victorian England to 1930s Korea under Japanese colonial rule — and it completely works.
To reveal too much of the ever-twisting plot would spoil the film, but it centers around three characters: Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a poor Korean pickpocket; Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a young Japanese heiress; and “Count Fujiwara” (Ha Jung-Woo), a Korean con man who has disguised himself as an eligible Japanese bachelor. The film opens with Sook-hee taking a job as Lady Hideko’s handmaiden at the Count’s bidding; she intends to help the Count trick Hideko into marrying him so he can steal her fortune. But as soon as Sook-hee meets Hideko, everything changes. Read full review here. — Erika W. Smith
Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, released October 21
Moonlight is easily one of the best films I’ve seen all year — and maybe ever. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins and based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight follows Chiron — nicknamed “Little” and later “Black” — through three stages of his life.
In the first part, “Little” (Alex Hibbert) is a shy young boy bullied for his perceived sexuality (which he’s still questioning himself). He finds the warmth he doesn’t get from his addict mother (Naomie Harris) with a dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae). In the second part, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is a teenager who has his first sexual experience with a childhood friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Still bullied, Chiron strikes back with dire consequences. In the third part, Chrion is now an adult nicknamed “Black” (Trevante Rhodes). Now a dealer himself, Chrion reconnects with Kevin (André Holland) after not seeing him since they were teenagers. The acting, directing, writing, and cinematography all combine to make an unforgettable, wholly unique, and completely necessary film. Now we can only hope that the Academy gives it the attention it deserves. — Erika W. Smith
The Love Witch, directed by Anna Biller, released October 28
Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is nothing like your classic chick flick. When Elaine, played by Samantha Robinson, decides to use witchcraft to find true love, she ends up creating love spells so powerful that she’s left a string of dead lovers. With its lush color palette and vibrant costume and set design, The Love Witch has all of the makings of a 60’s melodramatic sexploitation film but Biller decides to bring sharp, contemporary feminist criticism into the mix, turning a simple tale of love, witchcraft and revenge into something so much more. Although the ’60’s inspired are a visual feast for your eyes, this movie is smartly written, with characters that are far more complex.
While you’re first drawn in by the visual feast that is the film’s 60’s inspired look, you’ll find that this movie is smartly written, with characters far more complex than traditional cinema stereotypes. Biller looks at how a woman can become torn apart by so many contradictions — from female sexuality and societal standards of beauty to patriarchal dominance and the manipulation of male desires — and she does it brilliantly. Read full review here. — Eleonor Botoman
Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, released November 11
Over the course of the year 2016, I’ve seen a good fair few movies and ended up liking most of them (Luke Scott’s Morgan excluded). I’ve delighted in the blithe comedy of manners of Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, embarrassed everyone around me in the movie theater by laughing/crying too loudly at Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (directed by Jake Szymanski), cheered on the butt-kicking friendship of the ladies of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (directed by Paul Feig), and enjoyed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (directed by Zack Snyder) far more than I anticipated (but only the ultimate edition). But in this review, I’m going to be talking about a film that completely blew me away, and established itself as my favorite movie of 2016 thus far: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which I recently caught at the Vienna Film Festival.
Arrival stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as linguist Louise Banks and astrophysicist Ian Holloway, respectively, who are tasked with working with the United States Army in the wake of the arrival of a mysterious alien spacecraft, one of twelve that have landed in countries across the globe. Using Louise’s knowledge of language and Ian’s training in science, they must figure out how to communicate with the mysterious aliens in order to learn their purpose and whether they constitute a threat to humanity. Yet while a lesser film would have established this storyline in order to foment some kind of action-packed climax of humans versus aliens, Arrival breathtakingly chooses to focus on the inherent meaning of communication and connection, not only between species, but within the same species, as the other countries dealing with their respective spacecrafts grow increasingly agitated, frightened, and hostile towards the aliens; in essence, Arrival champions the importance of being able to work with and understand one another without resorting to violence, even in the face of the oft-terrifying unknown — particularly important in today’s increasingly fractured global political climate. Read full review here. — Deborah Krieger
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