Saturday, 31 December 2016

The 20 Best Films of 2016



Dismissed by many (myself included) as a dud year for cinema by the midway point, 2016 has certainly had its ups and downs. By the end of it, I kind of realised it had actually been a pretty great year for cinema. What it did suffer from, though, was a major trend of films poorly marketing themselves - Suicide Squad's trailers were infinitely more exciting than the film, and the less said about the way The Secret Life of Pets uses its trailers against you, the better - but once we broke out of summer, 2016 played its cards right. We had big intelligent sci-fi, wacky and wonderful comedies, dazzling animations and heart stopping thrillers. It also became apparent that the first half of the year had a high number of gems laying about, hiding beneath the blockbuster season. Now that the year is over, and 2017 is within reach, let's take a look at the very best that 2016 gave us.

Honourable Mentions:

Captain America: Civil War
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Tale of Tales
Finding Dory
The Jungle Book
Swiss Army Man



THE TOP 20


20. Nocturnal Animals


"Beautifully written and exquisitely performed, Nocturnal Animals uses its tightly paced narrative to tell an intricate and psychologically disturbing story with a deeply thought out analysis of self-perception and identity"

Full review: here.


19. The Hateful Eight


"With breathtaking cinematography, sharp scripting and a plethora of excellent performances, The Hateful Eight is another ultraviolent, blood soaked thrill ride courtesy of Quentin Tarantino's reliably exuberant direction"

Full review: here.


18. Green Room


"Gleefully unpredictable, superbly directed, and packing a heavy dose of tension, Green Room thrillingly adapts a simple premise into something surprisingly effective"

Full review: here.


17. 10 Cloverfield Lane


"Excellently crafted and well performed across the board, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a great example of how to masterfully combine a number of genres and create something both refreshingly original and entirely unpredictable"

Full review: here.


16. Midnight Special


"Surprisingly emotional and strongly performed, the excitingly unpredictable Midnight Special is another strong entry into writer-director Jeff Nichols' impressive resumé"

Full review: here.


15. Sing Street


"Funny, enjoyable, and filled with heart and soul, Sing Street is a perfectly directed love letter to music, friendship, family, and love itself"

Full review: here.


14. Moana


"The film's breathtaking animation, enjoyable music and formula-defying nature set up a solid Disney outing, but Moana finds greatness in the depth and magic of its wonderfully multi-dimensional title character"

Full review: here.


13. Zootropolis


"Fast, well voice-acted and deliriously lovable, Zootropolis is a perfectly balanced Disney animation that excels with its intricate plot, fleshed out characters and a heavy reliance on thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating themes"

Full review: here.


12. Hell or High Water


"Making the most out of its top notch cast and well balanced humour, Hell or High Water is a deeply enjoyable Western that benefits greatly from Taylor Sheridan's delicate, powerful and subtly intelligent script"

Full review: here.


11. Sully


"Under Clint Eastwood's confident direction, Sully is the rare biopic that favours subtlety over drama - forming a powerful and poignant story that hits terrific heights in Tom Hanks' typically stellar performance"

Full review: here.


10. Don't Breathe


"Dark, twisted, and thrilling to almost unprecedented levels, Don't Breathe takes an ingeniously simple concept and works it into a masterclass in unrelenting tension, showcasing Fede Alvarez as one of the most exciting genre directors today"

Full review: here.


9. Don't Think Twice


"Wise, warm, and populated with impressively layered characters, Don't Think Twice offers a bittersweet analysis of an underappreciated art form in an appropriately funny and tender way"


8. Everybody Wants Some!!


"With Richard Linklater's delicate script and confident direction bringing the best out of a terrific ensemble, Everybody Wants Some depicts one simple but universal theme in a beautiful, engaging manner"

Full review: here.


7. Victoria


"Relentlessly tense, excitingly unpredictable and boasting a superb performance from Laia Costa, Victoria transforms a one-take gimmick into a powerful, highly effective drama"

Full review: here.


6. Room


"With a compelling story and a powerfully emotional script to guide it through its weighty subject matter, Room is a rewarding and deeply moving film that brings out the absolute best in both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay"

Full review: here.



THE TOP FIVE


5. Spotlight

It only takes one viewing of Spotlight to understand why it deserved the big Oscar. At the same time, it's almost surprising that it claimed the trophy. The film essentially abandons the path that most films follow to Oscar glory. Sure, it has all the hallmarks of an award-bait film but it sidesteps every moment it could have felt contrived and it focuses every performance that could have gone overboard. It understands just how frightening and emotional its subject matter is, and handles it delicately - yet it never loses the impact. Spotlight is about as perfectly balanced as cinema can be: it tackles a dark, seriously harrowing true story but portrays it with intelligence and sophistication and respect for the viewer. It also has the best ensemble cast of the year, all of whom give superlative performances, and features the most shocking title cards to ever come at the end of a film. This is one that sticks with you for a very long time, and more than earns its right to do so.

Full review: here.


4. The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn made a perfect film with Drive in 2011. He followed it with Only God Forgives, which wasn't a perfect film but was quite an unforgettable one. The Neon Demon follows the same path as the latter, but it finds a way to make it all seem much more worthwhile. While Only God Forgives only really shone when it got violent, The Neon Demon is intoxicating from the very first frame. The cinematography bursts to life before your eyes with vibrant colours and gleaming neon lights, but the quiet and intentionally dreary performances act as a counter force. The visual symbolism is stark and far from subtle, but because everything in Refn's film is so exaggerated it just feels part of the whole experience. By the time it reaches its final act it lands on a series of sequences so jaw dropping that you'll struggle to believe what you're seeing, but no-one plays these scenes better than Refn. You'll gasp and squirm and look away, but you'll have a guiltily twisted blast in doing so.

Full review: here.


3. The Witch

Horror cinema doesn't get much better than The Witch. In just his debut feature Robert Eggers demonstrates a unique ability to craft genuine horror through dialogue and atmosphere. I'm not talking about lashings of blood and violent language, I'm talking deeply unsettling imagery and haunting word-pieces. In one of the film's most harrowing moments, the scrawny hand of the film's title character does little more than caress the body of a naked baby, and it's horrific. The Witch also finds time for a new kind of exorcism, and soon glides into a final act that makes use of more conventional horror tactics but finds a way to perfectly bind them to the unique feel of the film. In what is becoming a renaissance for the genre, The Witch is the real deal: an old-school, numbingly effective horror film that understands the genre perfectly. By the time the film ended, my hands were so stricken with sweat that I slipped while getting up out of my seat. It's tough to name any other horror in the past decade so effective.

Full review: here.

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The poster may make the film look like something you'd find on the kids channel at 6am with the sign language lady performing alongside it, but that's just one of Hunt for the Wilderpeople's many charms - you never know what it might throw at you next. Taika Waititi's feature is so brilliantly lively and so infectiously quirky that it's borderline impossible not to fall in love with it. Sam Neill is predictably terrific, but it's newcomer Julian Dennison who steals the show: his fun and goofy yet subtly moving performance is one of the year's best. Wilderpeople leaps from funerals to police chases, from saddening deaths to hilarious cameos. It never sits still and never gives you even a second to think about what you're watching. It is flat out the funniest film of the year, and it's so different to anything else that 2016 had to offer that it feels genuinely magical. Look, 2016 wasn't the best year, was it? If you want something to ease that pain, look no further. This is a sheer delight in each and every way.

Full review: here.

1. Arrival

Denis Villeneuve slotted into my 2013 honourable mentions with Prisoners, and then soared to the second spot just last year with Sicario. Now, for the first time, he's claimed his throne. Villeneuve has been floating around a masterpiece for quite some time now, and Arrival was the film to get him there. Sci-fi is arguably one of the most uneven genres on the market, but this is how it's done. Arrival is deeply affecting and monumentally moving, but that doesn't subtract from the gleeful excitement and uneasy horror of the alien invasion premise. Arrival is beautifully framed and boasts first rate VFX, but they don't take away from the delicate character work. Arrival is thrilling and explosive and ground-breaking, but also quiet and thoughtful and inspiring. It represents the very best of contemporary sci-fi, and the very best of the emotion and the sheer power that cinema can achieve on the whole. Arrival will stay with you for a very long time, and in fifty years when we collectively look back at the films that helped redefine a genre that was perhaps slipping under the weight of the superhero tidal wave, Arrival will be one of the films we have to thank.

Full review: here.





ALSO

2016 in Film & TV: A Year in Review

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