One last look back...the best (and worst) of 2016
There haven’t been many years as strange as 2016. We voted to leave the EU. Our American cousins voted to leave the world of rational thought. War raged in the Middle East. Acts of terrorism shook the very core of our society. And in what seemed to be a never-ending parade of heart-breaking grief, some of our greatest and most iconic heroes took leave of this mortal realm.
In a year when all that happened, it seems wrong to trivialise it by talking about film. But that’s exactly what I am going to do. Losing yourself in pop culture has perhaps never been as important as it was in 2016. We have never needed escapism more.
To begin with, it was one of the worst years for studio blockbusters in recent memory. Week after week we were subjected to one bloated catastrophe after another. The tone was set by the shambolic mess of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After that, it seemed that every big release took on the challenge of trying to be louder, dumber, and more boring than BvS. Thankfully, they didn’t all succeed.
Threaded throughout the year were cinematic treats a-plenty. From mega budget superhero flicks, to tiny art-house indies, and fascinating true-life documentaries. We saw the crowning glory of the MCU with Captain America: Civil War. We also got the first Star Wars film outside of the Skywalker saga, with Rogue One. It was rather bloody good too.
At the other end of the budgetary scale we had Taika Waititi’s majestic (or should that be majestical) adventure through the wilds of New Zealand, with The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There was no shortage of terrific films from the continent this year, including Sebastian Schipper’s extraordinary single-shot masterpiece Victoria.
Creed breathed new (and surprisingly emotional) life into the Rocky franchise. The likes of The Witch, Lights Out, Don't Breathe, and The Conjuring 2 ensured it was a bumper year for horror, whilst Arrival and Midnight Special showed us the beauty and true potential of contemporary science fiction.
Before we get to my personal Top Ten, there are some notable exceptions that I didn’t get around to seeing in 2016. These include I, Daniel Blake, Under the Shadow, Nocturnal Animals, Love and Friendship, and Son of Saul, to name but a few. They are all very much on my “to view” list for this year.
Other notable exceptions are the great films that didn’t quite break the top ten, such as The Nice Guys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eddie the Eagle, and Deadpool. A special mention should also be made to two absolute bona fide originals that graced our screens this year – Swiss Army Man, and The Love Witch, directed by auteur extraordinaire Anna Biller. Both are so good, I already regret not including them in my top ten!
Then there's the films that promised so much, but failed to deliver in spectacular fashion. The ones that didn't make us angry, they just disappointed us. Suicide Squad, Independence Day: Resurgence, Jason Bourne, The Magnificent Seven, The BFG, and X-Men: Apocalypse, I am looking at you.
That's enough of the garbage, let's get to the good stuff. Without further ado, here are my picks for the Top Ten Films of 2016.
1. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople - The funniest, most charming, and heart-warming film of 2016. Like a shot of cinematic happiness straight into your bloodstream, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Taika Waititi’s follow up to What We Do in the Shadows is an absolute joy from start to finish. Sam Neill is on exceptional form as the gruff woodsman “uncle” Hec, but it is Julian Dennison as wannabe gangster Ricky – living the skuxx life – who steals the show. Confronting serious issues with the deftest of touches, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a modern masterpiece filled with more heart and humour than a simple comedy about getting lost in the woods has any right to be. Simply wonderful.
2. Arrival - Perhaps the most timely arrival in cinematic history, Denis Villeneuve's beautiful and compassionate science-fiction masterpiece is exactly the film we needed back in November, whether we deserved it or not. As political, social, and racial divides expand into dark thoughtless chasms of hate - where grotesque parasites like Trump, Farage, and their ilk flourish - Arrival is a stunning and humanitarian jolt to the senses. Amy Adams should win awards for her incredible central performance.
3. Captain America: Civil War - From the moment Tony Stark uttered the words “I am Iron Man”, this is what it has all been leading to. All those films and post-credit-stings later, with the threat of intergalactic war looming, The Avengers are torn asunder in spectacular fashion in Captain America: Civil War – the crowning glory in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.
4. Santoalla - A thrilling documentary about a Dutch couple, Martin and Margo, who move to a rural village in Northern Spain to get away from the trappings and regulations of modern society. When Martin suddenly and mysteriously disappears without a trace, a deeply moving and shocking story emerges.
5. Room - Lenny Abrahamson’s incredible adaptation of the bestselling novel, gave us two of 2016’s most lauded performances. Brie Larson’s Oscar winning turn, and Jacob Tremblay as her young son – both held captive in a tiny room by the man who kidnapped her and raped her. With material this dark, Abrahamson and his two stars expertly walk the tonal tightrope, balancing the horror and tension with moments of true beauty and light. A magnificent achievement.
6. The Witch - A puritan family put down roots on the edge of a dark and ominous woodland. Is there something in the woods that is terrorising them? Or is it something closer to home. This atmospheric and deeply unsettling horror provides no definitive answers. But it will chill you to the bone.
7. Victoria - Most single shot films are a bit of a novelty. A gimmick that wasn’t really done in one take, as you can usually see where the cuts happen. Not so with Sebastian Schipper’s incredible Berlin set thriller. Not only is it definitively one single shot – the film is so gripping, and the characters so engrossing, that you forget it’s all in one take within about five minutes. Utterly extraordinary.
8. Hell or High Water - A modern day Western for post-recession America. Two brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster go on a spree of bank robberies, targeting the particular institution that has been robbing and repossessing land from people across the state of Texas. They are being hunted by Jeff Bridge’s grizzly Texas Ranger, an old school lawman who might as well have spurs on his heels. A terrific and gripping piece of cinema, veined with humour, and featuring a final quiet confrontation that is completely spell-binding.
9. Maggie's Plan - Rebecca Miller’s fifth film is one of the best romantic comedies of recent years. Starring the wonderful Greta Gerwig as Maggie, a young woman who wants to be a mother (just without the complication of a bloke in the picture) the film is at once sweet, funny, intelligent, complex and utterly delightful. This is like classic era Woody Allen. It’s THAT good.
10. Supersonic - I was a teenager growing up in the North West of England when Oasis first came to prominence. To say they were a band that meant a lot to me would be a huge understatement. To say I was predisposed to love this film would also be fair. That being said, it is an absolute riot of a film, carried along by fucking awesome tunes and the incredible dual narration of Liam and Noel. Such funny and honest storytelling is a real rarity.
Now onto 2017.....it promises to be a good one.