2016. I could leave that as an introduction of the year, but then that could be a bit too short and arbitrary. It is not a round-up of a politically diversity year nor is it going to talk about celebrities who have died, and trying to tie this up in a nice bow to make a narrative about what film meant this year to me. This is a film list, a personal one that covers what I have viewed this year, and not what I sadly missed out on.
Film is a place to think, a place to dream and a place to experiment. It is a place of experience, of innocence, of nightmares and of dreams. It is the possibility of the future and a look into the past. Film is now.
To copy from myself from my statement last year, this list will never be settled, films will change their places and fall, while others will undoubtedly rise from the Honourable Mentions.
Worst Film: Independence Day: Resurgence.
Ten Honourable Mentions, in alphabetical order: Dheepan, The End of the Tour, Embrace of the Serpent, Hail Caesar, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, The Nice Guys, Nocturnal Animals, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The 13th, Zootropolis/Zootopia.
Available on: Netflix UK
A marvellous boxing tour-de-force with great performances by Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan, it takes the traditional boxing film and creates a living, breathing, lived-in universe in this quasi-Rocky sequel. Ryan Coogler’s direction is virtuoso as his editing team not just to make the punches hit, but build emotional crescendos from the quiet moments as Adonis Creed (Jordan) takes the tentative steps towards glory, with his trainer Rocky Balboa (Stallone), to become a boxer in spite of the shadow of his deceased champion father gave him. It’s a first-rate traditional underdog story, but it is also delightful remix for a new generation.
9. The Shallows
Would you have thought a shark movie would be in my top ten this year? Neither did I. It doesn’t mistake itself as pretentious, it is great b-movie schlock that has been made to near perfection. Blake Lively does a career best performance as a wavering medical student on a secluded beach getaway, targeted by a shark possessed by pure evil. Jaume Collet-Serra creates a methodical, tight-gripping thriller as a simple metaphor about how grief can destroy us if we will it to, whether it be by shark, coral bay, or lack of belief. Well-executed popcorn is something we all deserve from time to time, so we can forgive it for not breaking new ground, as it gets more ridiculous as it goes along. Bonus, it has a supporting seagull named Stephen (Stephen Seagull).
8. The Big Short
(Previously written for another piece) Available on: Netflix UK.
A brilliant and successful diatribe, that succeeds in explaining complex economic concepts by throwing every film trick in the books (not limited to breaking the fourth wall, flashback, imagination and celebrity cameos), and making for an exhilarating experience with some richly composed editing, directing and some great performances by Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. The film has a playful blend of anger, laughter and unremitting horror as we come face to face with the system that has destroyed lives (and continuing to do so), and the film is not afraid to make sure you knew that. And then some.
A powerful Franco-Turkish fable of feminine and youthful exuberance that perfectly balances a light touch with heavy issues, as a group of sisters are put into lockdown in their house, after youthful fun is misinterpreted as deviancy. As these girls collide with the destructive effect of fear and of patriarchal systems, each sister encounters their own journey of discovery and destruction under these harsh rules. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut doesn’t hold the hard punches, but makes sure to remember the tenderness of sisterhood and the exhilaration of freedom.
6. The Measure of a Man
While I have not seen I, Daniel Blake, it would have to work hard to beat this great French film, as we follow former factory worker Thierry (Vincent Lindon) struggle through at first unemployment, with its tricky ups and downs with his family as he tries to maintain normalcy. in front of belittlement and bureaucracy, and then moral duplicity when he finally gets a job as a security guard in the local supermarket. We follow him like an invisible eye, as the director surrounds the majestic Lindon with real amateurs and pale indoor lights. The film enhances his silent pain of being evaluated for his position and the way he looks, but not for being a loving caring husband and father. It doesn’t try to be polemic, but an honest, heartfelt take on a compromised society . It doesn’t seek to make an argument, but invites us to be compassionate.
One of the most perplexingly candid and startling true tales of the year, it is a Greek comic-tragedy of hubris and deceit, as we witness political car-crash Anthony Weiner try to run for New York Mayor in 2013, coming from controversy when he posted sexually explicit photos on Twitter erroneously. While in the age of Trump it seems small fry, the chaos that Weiner compulsively attracts for Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s extraordinarily intimate account of a man in crisis, and the weaponization of the media, shows how the actions of one man can affect the man, his family, his colleagues and even an entire city.
(Previously written for another piece) Available on: Amazon Prime UK.
Heartbreakingly brilliant. Lenny Abrahamson creates both a world that is big and small, using the film camera to create a space that has history both physical as well as mental, creating energy even related to the objects around them. With precise editing and camera movements, the filmmakers use the small space to their advantage in the first half of the film, to create a mini-universe, and then in the second half of the film, the isolation within vast space and the alien nature of the world as we know it. This would be for naught if it weren’t for the mighty talents of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, bringing a complex human emotional energy to the screenplay, even when the difficulty of changing the emotional states of the character from one moment to the other.
3. The Assassin
Available on: Amazon Prime UK.
I must warn you that this film is not for everyone and in spite of the title, there is not a whole lot of action. It is very difficult to explain how the film works or why it works, as it uses visuals to create a mood of mystery, hurt and melancholy in 8th Century China, which will only attract a few (including yours truly). It uses the intricate staging and decors to explore the moods of an assassin (Shu Qi), sent to kill her former betrothed (Chang Chen), a powerful ruler, who he has to deal with his lot as well as the other women in his life. While it’s plot is near incomprehensible, it’s uniquely powerful visual feast as it doesn’t dress up the film with distraction, but uses subtlety to make its point. The power of a well-placed breeze or multiple candles being distorted by moving silk curtains can build emotions and destroy universes, as women seem to exist in this beautiful world as power players, and trapped in (and outside) of the traditions of others.
2. Hell or High Water
Within the terse, violent but near-comedic Texas milieu, the story of bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) and the lawmen tasked to stop them (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) is not just a great cat and mouse action thriller, it is effective myth-making, with real grit. A modern epic of America struggling to come to terms with itself in the face of economic struggle, it takes micro concerns and turns it into the macro problem that everyone can relate to. The film sows disquiet in silence, powerful contemplation happens in small eye movements, and humour to reveal home truths, helped by Taylor Sheridan’s script’s expert voice and David McKenzie’s British outsider direction.
Thoughtful science fiction that knows how to be intelligent whilst being emotionally intelligent as well. It is about not just the power of language to communicate to each other, but rather the connections that we all have to each other throughout all time and different walks of life. With a quintessentially innovative score from Johann Johnnsson (and a key piece by Max Richter), the film journeys into a mind of a linguist (Amy Adams) trying to maintain world security when she is tasked to try to understand if the alien visitors who’ve landed have good intentions. A journey how love and connection to bridge divides, but there can be a beauty within tragedy, and the journeys we face. Amy Adams deserves an Oscar.
Film Most Sad To Have Missed: Paterson.
So long 2016, 2017 here we come.