There are some out there who claim that 2016 was a weak year for film, and to those people I’ll say this “you were not watching the right films!!” In constructing this top 25 of the year I had to shred at least 10 other films from the list, and I genuinely was one step away from foregoing a numbered countdown due to the incessant fluctuating of my choices. But we humans love lists, and I could almost do a top 10 list of all the other year end lists you’ll see in the next week, so I cannot let down things on that front. In terms of what didn’t make the cut there were some truly great films including:
Green Room, Jungle Book, Doctor Strange, Eddie the Eagle, Don’t Breathe, A Bigger Splash and numerous others. It was truly a banner year, and no doubt you’ll disagree with some of the choices I’ve made but to that I say “make your own damn list!” 2016 left quite a hangover, and here are the movie beverages responsible:
It was truly a banner year for Disney, especially in its animation arm. Coming after the deep themes and witty detail of Zootropolis (see below) Moana was a joyfully fun visual treat. Chomping at the wall with terrifically catchy tunes courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, some energetic vocal performances (particularly Dwayne Johnson) and utterly gorgeous animation. As per Zootropolis there was also some sly skewering of typical genre conventions, this time with the portrayal of central heroine Moana. Spunky, capable and driven, she was a thoroughly modern movie female. Not to mention one not identified by a romantic relationship with a man, the central double up between her and Johnson’s Maui is more mentor/student and filled with spiky banter. After the massive success of Frozen it was a shame this did not take off as much, but I’m sure this will be cherished by generations to come.
24. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino certainly knows how to deliver event cinema outside of the usual action blockbusters, championing the use of 70mm film he took the film on a roadshow across America and subsequently built the anticipation up to nuclear level. Add this to the revelation that he may only direct two more films, and you have a recipe for a big hit. I managed to catch the Roadshow version, with the opening prelude (a chance to savour Ennio Morricone’s evocative score), mid film interlude and extended version providing a real movie experience. Luckily the film more than meets up with the expectations put upon it. QT’s fabulously wordy script enraptures and is delivered by some of the best character actors in the biz. The tension it builds is almost unbearable, so much so that when the inevitable sickening violence comes it feels a blessed relief. QT spoke of his willingness to reference The Thing in its throbbing masculine tensions, bleak setting and use of a badass Kurt Russell, and is just one aspect of a film that offers many blessings. Plus that vomiting scene is one for the ages!!
23. Pete’s Dragon
Who’d thought a remake of a lesser Disney animation/live action hybrid would become a low-key hugely emotional 2016 pleasure. Most of the praise for this should be levelled at director David Lowery, only known for sparse artfully composed indie films, he makes the jump into visual effects and mainstream entertainment with aplomb. You can also use this film as evidence of Disney’s respect and dedication to a filmmaker’s vision, widely considered to be a studio that favours $ over quality, their recent output has been anything but cynical. Pete’s Dragon is heartfelt, wonderfully paced and in Elliott the Dragon a CGI character that touches the soul. It is an old school family film, one that prides itself on treating its audience with intelligence and patience, and one you need to check out!
22. Everybody Wants Some!
Yes nothing happens in this film. Yes it is just 2hrs of college sportsmen drinking, partying and genuinely doing very little. Yes it won’t be for everyone. And yes it is very much one of the years best films. Richard Linklater continues his masterful handling of the everyday (see Boyhood) with the insightful, offering naturalistic dialogue and moments of real pathos. These are young men on the cusp of actual real success, but are riddled with self-doubt, shameless egotism and masculine pressures. The genius of Linklater’s writing is that these themes never feel obvious or spoonfed, they just wash over you in a sea of terrific music, hot women and pure joy. You could argue the portrayal of women isn’t particularly multi-faceted, existing purely to drool over the guys and sleep with them. But in some ways this is the point, in seeing these women through the eyes of horny college students it encapsulates the male gaze in a subtler way than the usual horndog teenage comedies do.
Proving that in an ocean of cliched sports films and familiar scenarios a sports film (and that most cliched of sports, boxing) with the right material, actors and director can still deliver a knockout (sorry!) Ryan Coogler, fresh off his critically lauded Fruitvale Station, jumps into the tale of Apollo Creed’s son Adonis with surefire confidence and skill. Who else would be brazen enough to film a one-take boxing match, and portray the always testosterone laden Stallone as weak and vulnerable. Stallone more than compensates by delivering his strongest performance to date, one that deserved to get that Oscar. The whole cast own it though, Michael B Jordan is fiery and emotional, whilst Tessa Thompson marks herself out as one to watch, and god damn gorgeous to boot. You are in no doubt of how this film is going to end, but it is a testament to the power of Coogler’s direction that you are left euphoric and elated in the final moments.
In a year of hatred, racial prejudice and general shittiness it took a Disney film to preach tolerance and respect. The fact it was also a witty, fast paced and hilarious anthropomorphic delight was just the cherry on top. If the story and script weren’t so rich and complex there would still be joy to be had in the level of detail found in the universe it builds. Even after numerous viewings I’m still finding lovely little background touches that truly help to make this a vibrant real world. It also has the funniest scene of 2016, one word, sloths!
A story containing a mother locked away in a room for years as her kidnapper routinely rapes her resulting in a child that will never know anything outside of the titular room does not scream entertainment. And of course it is a tough, dark but ultimately rewarding watch. Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are devastatingly authentic as mother and child. The scenes of her desperately trying to provide him with hope in these direst of situations are utterly moving. But it is in the second half wherein they attempt to adapt to society after escaping (in one of 2016s most tense laden scenes) and the film focuses more on Tremblay’s wide eyed confusion at this new world outside of Room. Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is just phenomenal, particularly in giving said room the feeling of scale and wonder as seen through Tremblay’s eyes. It is when you see the room again at the end and truly see how small it is that you appreciate the skill at hand. Possibly 2016s most moving film.
It is hard to see how in this post $760million Deadpool universe that an R-rated, insanely violent and irreverent superhero movie was seen as a big risk. But coming in as a thoroughly refreshing slant on the ever more po-faced (and in BvS case extremely po-faced) comic-book movie. Deadpool is certainly rough around the edges and in its attempt to make you laugh it sometimes throws literally everything at the screen to its detriment, but that is almost its charm. There is something here for everyone to laugh at, and the whole cast; notably a never better Ryan Reynolds, look to be having an utter ball. It is one of 2016s most purely enjoyable films and how can you not love a film that ends on the line “it is a face that I’d happily sit on!”? The proposed sequel has suffered from the loss of director Tim Miller, who is instrumental here in giving it the required energy, but with one of the John Wick directors now attached here’s hoping for a likely brutal takedown of the comic book movie follow up.
It feels like years ago since the quietly powerful Spotlight romped home to the Best Picture Academy award, but it is tough to forget the potency and simplicity of its execution. One of 2016s best ensembles gives a grace to the true story of one of the biggest scandals of our generation. However it is not just a heartbreaking look at the suffering and pain of countless abused children, but a loving tribute to the strength of true journalism. In the year of fake news and Donald Trump Spotlight is an essential rallying cry for what proper factual news and investigation can truly do. In portraying these everyday heroes as just that, regular joes who have a strict moral core and a dedication to the truth the story becomes ever more vital. It’s almost surprising when the tears flow as it elicits them with nothing more than clear-eyed determination and restraint.
16. The Nice Guys
I saw this in a preview screening followed by a Q&A with director Shane Black and producer Joel Silver, so it was hard to know whether I genuinely loved this film as much as I did or was just wrapped up in the fun of the experience. Thankfully after a recent re-watch I can confirm that this is one of 2016s most purely fun watches. Built from Shane Black’s delightfully playful script and delivered by Crowe and Gosling at their very best, it is a movie designed to do one thing, make you smile. Wonderfully evocative of its 70s setting, none more so than in the central party sequence, and driven by a needlessly complicated story (of which I’m sure is the point). You do not have to follow the plot (and believe me you won’t) to get all the essential ingredients out of it. It is in the witty interplay between the two of them, and later on a third party in Angourine Rice’s Holly (Black continues to write believably sardonic children), the well-choreographed action scenes and the willingness to blend physical comedy with clever banter. Just watch Ryan Gosling in this toilet scene and tell me this isn’t joyful filmmaking:
15. Swiss Army Man
I wasn’t sure of what I was going to get with Swiss Army Man. Offering one of the years most barmy trailers I knew it was going to be nothing less than different. Different does not even begin to describe this film though. A surreal, mad, funny, moving and utterly alive piece of cinema, ironic as its main character is a corpse. Daniel Radcliffe is the best he has ever been as the recently deceased Manny, utilising his highly expressive face in a performance of immense physicality. Paul Dano has the less showy part but gives the film an unexpected weight. He is a man lost, torn with feelings of regret, longing and pain. The fact that all these themes come to the fore through erection jokes, farting and some of the best movie montages you’ve ever seen is part of its charm. The film doesn’t, for my money, stick the landing but it has buried itself deep in my sub-conscious and whenever I think back to certain scenes I cannot help but smile. It really will not be for everyone, but can you really hate a film that features Paul Dano riding Radcliffe’s corpse across the ocean powered by the dead man’s farts?!
14. Edge of Seventeen
The coming-of-age film is rife with cliches but I have to admit to being partial to most of them. Perhaps it is in the nostalgia they bring me, after all most of them feature awkward protagonists and even more awkward teenage situations, a feeling I most definitely connect with. The Edge of Seventeen somehow manages to be one of the best seen thus far. This is primarily down to two things; the insightful and perceptive writing of Kelly Fremon Craig (she also directs with an unshowy confidence) and the nuanced authentic portrayal of teenage angst by Hailee Steinfeld. It is genuinely in the top 5 performances of the year, notably for its unflinching nature. She is routinely horrible to those around her, selfish and stubborn, namely, a teenager. If you do not see something of yourself in her then you are just fooling yourselves. It is criminal that this film has not been more successful. A young adult triumph.
13. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I’ve already waxed lyrical about this film so I won’t go on too much more, but I will say it is, barring one other, the best blockbuster of the year. Frenetic, fast paced, character rich, and in its third act a film that finally puts the War in Star Wars! The first time we’ve seen a new aspect of the ever expanding SW universe, offering as it does a boots on the ground and gritty aesthetic marking it out as being akin with the saga films but very much its own thing. The way it connects with A New Hope is truly amazing and surprisingly deft. It does what all good prequels should do, make you look at what comes after with fresh eyes and slyly fleshing out a story that we didn’t know could be fleshed out. And that Darth Vader scene, holy shit balls yes!!
12. Captain Fantastic
There is always that one Little Miss Sunshine film in every year, one about an offbeat family filled with heart, charm and rich performances, and this years was Captain Fantastic. Anchored by an achingly human Viggo Mortensen, its tale of a family that lives in the woods, that is self-sufficient and references philosophers with abandon could have been a little pretentious, but is instead warm and real. The entire cast of child performers excel with complex material and although the plot is little more than a series of road trip adventures it flies by with a sense of purpose. Prevalent themes of parenthood, maturity and value of intelligence over feeling are beautifully intertwined with playful scenes of whimsy. It has the heavy moments of course, one late film decision by Mortensen is a staggeringly irresponsible and selfish act but he still retains your sympathies. After all raising children is hard and no film has portrayed the challenges and pressures of that as well as Captain Fantastic does. You’ll never cry so much at Sweet Child O Mine as much as you will in the final scene here.
11. Midnight Special
Jeff Nichols has fast become one of America’s finest auteurs. Mud and Take Shelter are unwaveringly rich and singularly unique. He continued that this year with Midnight Special. A small sci-fi with massive ideas, favouring mood and a show not tell attitude, it could be frustrating for some audiences who would prefer to be spoon-fed their films. Stick with it though and you will be rewarded with an ending of real power. Centred around a father and son story, Michael Shannon as said father utilises his frank intensity to showcase a man who will literally do anything to protect his son. Normally his fierce eyes are used for more nefarious characters but in this instance he convinces as one driven individual. Jaeden Leiberher also captivates as the mysterious boy at the heart of it all, enigmatic and quiet but unexpectedly vulnerable when his powers become too hard to control (especially in a standout petrol station attack). Their relationship is finely sketched with their final goodbye to each other an almost frivolous moment but one layered with real connection between them. Surrounded by a phenomenal cast including an underplaying Adam Driver and an emotionally wrought Kirsten Dunst. It narrowly misses my top 10 but is one of this years true originals and further cements Jeff Nichols as one of this generations greats.
I’m a little bit drunk on all these great films, so I’ll save my top 10 for this weekend!!
The 2016 Hangover continues….