Staff Vote: The Best Films Of 2016

Paul Ridd

22 Dec 16

2016. It's been a tumultuous year in politics and icons of popular culture have passed away – but what will be remembered in terms of cinema? As the New Year beckons we conducted our annual staff poll to discover our collective favourite film from the past 12 months, Paul Ridd – London Cinemas and Acquisitions Coordinator at Picturehouse – inspects the results.

It's that time of year again – time to take a look back at a year's worth of UK theatrical releases and find out our favourites at Picturehouse. As usual, our poll only allowed votes for films released within the 2016 frame, thus avoiding the chaos which plagues many end-of-year lists. Our voters may very well have seen a film to be released in 2017 this year, or one released in 2015, or even 1952 for that matter, but thankfully our rules prevented them from making a meal of it.

First up we polled our staff members across Picturehouse, including all cinemas, operations teams and head office. A total of 126 people voted for a combined total of 117 different films. The Top 10 clocked in as follows, with the last column indicating total votes cast for each film.

After much mulling over, we decided that a tie for third and seventh place in the tally opened things up to a wider range of films in our final Best Films Of The Year (BFOTY) list as below. As you'll see, further ties at seventh, eighth and tenth place resulted in a total of seventeen films in the staff BFOTY list. 

Looking at this data, we can see that a total of 311 votes were cast for films featured in the BFOTY list, out of a possible 630 votes. That means that almost 50% of films that featured in the BFOTY list were voted for by everyone.

A strong year for consensus among voters then, but it's interesting to observe further down the list that a total of 44 films – almost half the total pool of movies – were voted for just once. It's bracing to see a fair few people flying lone flags for the likes of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Bridget Jones's Baby and Knight Of Cups.

Taking a look at the seventeen movies above, two were directed by women, which presents two out of a possible twelve films by women included in the 117 films voted for at least once. That means that only 10% of films voted for were directed by women.

Some comfort can be found in a more textual analysis, however. Both Arrival and Victoria at the top of the list feature a strong female lead who carries the story, whilst a solid case can be made that Mustang at fourth, The Witch and Nocturnal Animals at tied sixth, Room at seventh and American Honey at tied tenth are all films led by women and stories fronting the female experience. Male characters in these movies either play second fiddle to the lead or are presented as weak, ineffectual or violent. So whilst there's obviously a long way to go from an industrial point of view – getting more women behind the camera and calling the shots – it's clear that there is a strong appetite for women's stories amongst the representative pool of cinema workers polled.

Sadly, it hasn't been a strong year for foreign-language presence in the poll, although thankfully Victoria, Embrace Of The Serpent and Mustang all made a strong impression in the top 5. Seven of the films featured can be described as limited, 'Art-House type' releases however, and there wasn't a particularly strong presence for straightforwardly plex fare this year – the exception being kids animation Zootropolis, which, like last year's Inside Out, benefitted from expansive critical support on top of its saturation release.

It's no surprise that prestige, award-magnet movies like I, Daniel Blake, Room, The Revenant and Spotlight all feature, movies which all over-indexed at Picturehouse in terms of box office. But it's perhaps more telling to see straightforward genre pictures like Arrival, noirish thrillers Victoria and Hell Or High Water and straight-up Horror The Witch all fared strongly. In a year marked by political and social turmoil, it comes perhaps as no surprise that stories of violent survival, ominous threat and personal turmoil struck a strong chord, with particularly visceral cinematic experiences winning out generally over quieter, more contemplative work. Arrival meanwhile in first place is testament to both the film's popular power as an accessible story of cultural exchange and wonder as well as Denis Villeneuve's skill at conjuring up striking images and ideas that linger long in the collective imagination.

Next up, we'll take a look at our Members' Poll, which, whilst sharing some commonalities with the staff vote, showed up some stark differences from a wider vote of ordinary cinemagoers.