Fantastic Fest 2016: Top 10 Films & Fest Recap

By Alex White, Film Festival Correspondent for

A week has gone by and it’s once again time for this film critic to put his neck on the line and reveal his top ten films of Fantastic Fest 2016. This year’s festival was one of the best in the popular genre festival’s history with only a few films failing to earn a passing grade from this critic and others.

The 2016 crop of Fantastic Fest films featured major studio films in the genre realm, off-beat horror films and a fantastical super-low-budget Ugandan action film that stole the audience’s heart.  Needless to say, there was something fantastic for every film fan to enjoy at Fantastic Fest.

Well I won’t delay things any further. After watching over 35 films at this year’s festival, here are my top ten films of Fantastic Fest 2016!

  1. A Monster Calls – A dazzling and deeply emotional twist on the common monster tale, A Monster Calls stole my heart and ignited a stronger emotional reaction to a film than I’ve experienced in years. Thanks to stunning visuals from the eyes of director J.A. Bayona and a screenplay helmed by the original author Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls lives as a film that will raise the standard for fairy tales all while turning their common elements inside out.
  2. Arrival – While I usually try and stay away from the “bigger” films in my Fantastic Fest recaps, this film along with the #1 film was too good to ignore. Science fiction that focuses on smarts rather than explosions and thrills is rare yet Arrival does exactly that. Amy Adams gives another strong performance under the direction of Denis Villeneuve and helps deliver a complex story that will be the topic of many post-movie dinners this fall.
  3. Raw – A first feature from writer-director Julia Ducournau, Raw provides a disturbing and yet intensely erotic experience that left me with many unexpected feelings and desires. Audiences at Fantastic Fest and the world over have both helplessly succumbed to the blood and gore all while feeling the lure of the intense bloodlust.  The experience this off-beat yet entrancing thriller provides only proves that the hype surrounding this film is all real.
  4. The Handmaiden – If I wasn’t a huge fan of director Chan-wook Park before, I am now thanks to this twist-filled epic drama. The Handmaiden finds a way to blend dramatic scenes, comedic scenes, intense lesbian sex and high stakes politics into a spell-binding ride. All-around brilliant cinematography and top level performances make this foreign feature one of the best films of the year.
  5. Bad Black – The darling story of the festival and the 2016 Fantastic Fest audience award winner, Uganda “Supa Action” film Bad Black provided the most fun 65 minutes of the festival all for a budget of about a dollar per minute of film. Directed by passionate self-taught filmmaker Nabwana I.G.G. and brought to the fest by Wakaliwood star Alan Ssali Hofmanis, this VJ narrated romp will never be forgotten. Hopefully the success this film achieved at this year’s festival has earned the Ugandan Wakaliwood studio a permanent slot on Fantastic Fests to come.
  6. Fraud - Perhaps the most non-conventional entry in this list, FRAUD tells a false sinister narrative using manipulated YouTube footage from one family’s YouTube channel as well as other various clips. While the title and the film’s logline admits to the manipulation of the footage, several people at both Toronto HotDocs and Fantastic Fest left the theater angry while others like me loved it and found the whole film fascinating.
  7. Colossal – Nothing else can be said besides the entire Fantastic Fest community must feel proud of festival veteran Nacho Vigalondo for creating this wonderful and unique Kaiju film. Anne Hathaway steals the show as a down-and-out woman looking to find herself as she (literally) steps into trouble in her old hometown. Thanks to a creative story and another strong performance from Jason Sudeikis, Colossal proves you can make a make a classic monster movie that also packs in the smarts and class.
  8. Split – James McAvoy…that is all. The performance he gives in this new M. Night Shyamalan should not only earn him an Oscar nomination but a win. Continuing M.Night’s return to form, Split features a supporting cast full of rising stars and a story that crosses multiple genres. Don’t let anyone tell you too much about this one though. Especially the final signature twist. It’s a goodie.
  9. Assassination Classroom: Graduation – As soon as the Assassination Classroom film franchise enters our genre loving hearts…it’s gone. A fitting end to the fun-filled and whimsical story of Koro Sensei and Class 3-E, this sequel pleased me more than I ever expected and even got a tear or two to fall from my eye. I’m going to miss the giant yellow octopus teacher we learned to love as Koro Sensei and his crew of budding assassins. Thank goodness other AC fans and I also have the manga series to keep this story alive in our minds.
  10. Playground – For many this film was an unpleasant experience but that divisiveness only conveyed this film’s power and message. Playground is a brutal, honest and chilling re-imagining of a British true story that has been altered to reflect the current political tides in modern day Poland. I and others needed a stiff drink after this one and if you haven’t seen it you will too.

For more information on Fantastic Fest 2016 go to

A Monster Calls


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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