Oh God, 2016 was shit wasn’t it? What with all those deaths and then the rise of fascism. What better to forget the terrible reality of real life than with the glory of cinema. Luckily, 2016 had some damn fine movies. Here is my Top Ten.
10. The Nice Guys
I’ve never been a massive fan of Shane Black films. He’s got such a massive reputation as a brilliant screen writer and is one of the few script writers whose movies will actually be publicised using his name. I like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but was left cold by The Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero. Bar some fun action scenes I fully disliked Iron Man 3. However, I really loved The Nice Guys. Everything just seemed to click for me with it. It was consistently funny and entertaining throughout. I really enjoyed the double act between Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe, with both actors completely throwing themselves into the fun, and Gosling’s character’s daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice, almost steals the whole show. I’d actually be interested in seeing a new Shane Black film now so that’s how I have changed since the beginning of 2016.
9. One More Time With Feeling
This is the second documentary about Nick Cave and both of them have been superb. I’m already a fan of Cave through his music and in some part through his writing. 20,000 Days on Earth was a sort of documentary about his life and was interesting and inspirational. One More Time With Feeling comes from a darker place. It partly looks at the making of the latest album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree, but it is also meant as his message from the tragic death of his young son last year. Cave and his family talk about their son and his untimely death. It is a film about grief and the creative process. Combined with the extraordinary and heart felt songs from the album, which are performed in full, it is a raw and moving experience that is of interest to fans of Cave and those who may not be.
You’ve probably heard of Spotlight by now. Released at the very beginning of the year during the Oscars season it went on to win the Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s an award that I think was fairly deserved. Based on the true story of the Boston Globe newspaper breaking the news that thousands of young children had been sexually abused by priests over a number of years, it is a shocking and compelling drama. Played well by a great ensemble cast, and with barely a hint of over the top Oscar baiting performance from any of them, it is a film that makes the boring leg work of investigative journalism into something interesting and cinematic. You get pulled in to the story and hope that the characters can nail story and those responsible. Spotlight doesn’t shy away from the truth, showing the effect it had on those that were abused. It’s a shocking moment when the film ends and it shows you how many cases of abuse were subsequently uncovered around the world. Then the list goes on. And on. And on.
7. Bone Tomahawk
Forget The Hateful Eight or the remake of The Magnificent Seven, Bone Tomahawk in all its gory glory is the best western to come out this year. The directorial debut from novelist S. Craig Zahler, it is a gritty and violent kidnapping film with heaving dollops of horror and contains one of the most vicious and brutal on screen deaths you’ll see in a cinema. However, the film isn’t just violence and gore. What sets it apart is its enjoyable characters and well written dialogue from a script, also by Zahler, that makes it a pleasure to spend time with them. The performances are all good with special mention going to Kurt Russel’s mighty tashe and the fact that it’s nice to see Matthew Fox again. Bone Tomawak is a very accomplished debut and I look forward to seeing what Zahler makes next.
6. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier has very quickly made a name for himself. His directorial debut cult film Murder Party seems like it has been swept it under the rug and Saulnier started his film career over again. His original take on the revenge film, Blue Ruin was a bleak and realistic vision that avoided the clich
e of regular revenge movies and made the violence actually mean something. With Green Room he turned his eye to a different angle on the siege movie. Featuring a striking turn from Patrick Stewart playing against type as the head of a Neo Nazi group and one of the final performances from Anton Yelchin because of his unfortunate death, Green Room is a bold, claustrophobic and vicious film with shades of Assault on Precinct 13. It’s taut and without an inch of unnecessary fat on it. It’s horror but a very real one. There aren’t any ghosts or supernatural beings. Just men with a very real aim to kill. With the worrying rise of fascism that has happened recently, Green Room is distressingly relevant. Saulnier is quickly building a very strong reputation as an inventive and distinctive director. Keep an eye on him.
5. The Girl with all the Gifts
The zombie genre is pretty rotten by now but occasionally a film comes along that reminds you just what it can do. The Girl with all the Gifts, based on the best selling novel by M. R. Carey who also writes the script, is an intelligent and exciting horror thriller that has brains as well as scares. It has some similarities to the hugely popular video game The Last of Us and also has that game’s moral centre point. This sets it apart from its straight to DVD contemporaries. It also has a brilliant and original score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who did the soundtrack for the wonderful and unjustly cancelled TV show Utopia. It’s a soundtrack that marries so well to the visual content and really lifts the film.
There are moments in The Girl with all the Gifts that elicit the same visceral and adrenaline pumping moments from Danny Boyle’s zombie film masterpiece 28 Days Later. Particularly in an early action sequence, a moment in the novel which lends itself so well to the big screen.
The film tails off in the third act as some moments and character actions don’t quite work or add up, a problem which the novel also shares. However, the first two thirds are so good that it doesn’t impact too much on your overall enjoyment of the film.
I’ve never been a massive Charlie Kaufman fan. I find his work interesting but enjoy the scripts and what he does in them more engaging than the resulting films. His work is highly unique and individual but the films just don’t engage me. That was until Anomalisa.
Retaining his unique voice and style, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson, have made an original and brilliant stop motion film. The puppets all have a fuzzy almost felt like feel to them and the directors use the medium to explore depression and identity crises in a way which would be much more difficult and less effective in a live action drama. Anomalisa has a voice cast of only three and this is used to feed in to Kaufman’s idea about individuality and loss of purpose. These might sound like heavy themes, and Anomalisa can be a heavy film, but it is also liberally peppered with great humour. Most impressively for a film with so few individual voices and containing a cast entirely of fabric characters it a very human film. I’m hoping that Kaufman’s future films will engage me as well.
3. Midnight Special
When the first scene played out to its tense conclusion and ended with the guttural sound of a muscle car and the squeal of a tire as our protagonists sped away I was hooked. Midnight Special didn’t let me go until its credits rolled. Auteur Jeff Nichols has been making a name for himself as an indie director garnering positive reviews for films such as Take Shelter and Mud. Midnight Special is his step towards bigger budget movies. Midnight Special is basically an indie blockbuster; a scifi film with big ambitions but several million short of a blockbuster budget. It’s better than any blockbuster released this year. In essence it is a chase movie with government agencies as well as religious cultists chasing a gifted young boy, his dad and their protector. It’s lean, exciting and tense with intelligence to go with its visuals. Nichols’ newest film is the Oscar nominated Loving about the struggles of an interracial couple. Nichols won’t be easily pigeonholed and he’s got big things in his future.
I’ve talked about Victoria before and I think it really is a wonderful piece of film making. It’s a crime thriller with great visuals, interesting and compelling characters that are well performed with partially improvised dialogue, a subtle and affecting soundtrack from Nils Frahm, and is as exciting and adrenaline pumping as a thriller can get. At two hours twenty minutes it never sags. It also happens to consist of only one shot. That they managed to pulled it off is amazing. The fact that the film is still as brilliant as it is is nothing less than extraordinary. Not only is it an immensely pleasurable movie experience, it is also technically astonishing. Moving from clubs, across streets, up stairs, in and out of cars and through foot chases the cinematography is always great and clear. The camera operator gets the first credit at the end of the film and justifiably so. A cinematic achievement.
I’ve heard Arrival described as like having a religious experience. Honestly, at times I am inclined to agree. I really started to take notice of Denis Villenueve after the one/two of Enemy and Sicario last year. Sicario made it in to my top films of last year so it was with a lot of anticipation that I waited for Arrival. It completely met my expectations. Intelligent, moving, visually breathtaking, Arrival gives you that wonderful unique feeling that you can only get from watching a brilliant movie in the cinema. It has moments that made the hair on my arms stand up.
Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival expands and completely surpasses its origins. Amy Adams is on top form as the bereaved linguistic scientist thrown in to an unbelievable situation and she was severely robbed of a Best Actress Oscar nomination. It has an opening scene with a devastating power similar to the opening of Up. Sicario was easily one of the visually best films of last year and Villenueve continues that with Arrival. One shot, surely the best of the year, made my mouth drop open in the cinema. He is also a great storyteller, completely in control of the cinematic form. Arrival has the visuals and performances and it also has the themes and morality issues that make for an interesting, thought provoking and intelligent watch. It’s also got a fantastic score by Johann Johannsson which is part soundtrack to wonder and part horror score. It is a science fiction alien film quite unlike any other.
On this form Denis Villenueve has become one of my favourite working directors and someone whose films I will go and see no matter what. I trust that Blade Runner 2049 is in good hands.
Arrival is the perfect package and the film that people need right now. It’s quite simply the best film of 2016.