I haven’t seen all the movies of the last year, but from what I have seen I can rather confidently conclude that it hasn’t been a vintage year for cinema. There has been a lot of output sure, but the ratio of classics to middling movies and duds is seemingly much lower than years gone by. Thankfully though there are a few movies which I will be happy to revisit time and time again in the years to come, and thus I have decided to create a list of these – my favourite movies from 2016.
The films on this list have been released in the UK in the last twelve months.
Let us start with some honourable mentions. Those movies that were great but just didn’t make the cut.
Of course I have to mention Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight which started the year off with a bang and only narrowly missed out on my top ten. Another close call was Shane Black’s magnificent The Nice Guys, featuring the ragtag team of Ryan Gosling’s hapless PI Holland March, and Russell Crowe’s hardman Jackson Healy. It was a great buddy comedy of a bygone era, the like of which only Black seems to be able to do justice to these days. There was also a return to form for Woody Allen, who delivered with the rather special Cafe Society. Independent cinema also threw up some surprises, for example Mistress America, a wonderful film about a shy freshman who befriends her quirky soon to be step-sister, and King Jack, a tiny movie about a young troubled boy growing up which reminded me of Stand By Me. A similar coming of age film, Taika Waititi’s second feature, Hunt for the Wilderpeople lived up to the hype, with incredible performances by both Sam Neill and the young Julian Dennison. Charlie Kaufman excelled as always in the most haunting, most human film of the year, despite the fact it focused entirely on puppets, in the unique Anomalisa. And of course, Gareth Edwards knocked our socks off with the intergalactic war movie, Rogue One.
Finally I have gone back and forth on this one, but 10 Cloverfield Lane just missed out on the top ten by an inch. Dan Trachtenberg built an underrated gem with just three superb actors and a post-apocalyptic bunker. The tension grows and grows until it is unbearable and the twists and turns are excellent. It was ultimately pipped to the post by…
10. Hell or High WaterJust go out and see this one. A fantastic crime thriller with Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the bank robbing brothers and Jeff Bridges as the aging cop on their tale. This is a type of movie we see very rarely these days – a middle budget Hollywood film; a completely original, rather complex, premise; and some big name stars attached. There’s a brilliant article about it here:
9. The Jungle Book Disney’s live action remakes (Maleficent, Cinderella) have received middling reviews thus far, so it was nice to see The Jungle Book absolutely knock it out of the park. The work of young lead Neel Sethi carries the film, and he is backed up by excellent support, most notably from Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken and Ben Kingsley as King Louie and Bagheera respectively.
8. Zootopia A loveable animated film, that managed to distinguish itself from the crowd and crack the one billion mark at the box office despite the tough animated competition in the form of Finding Dory, Trolls and Sing. Finding Dory in particular was a great film, but Disney really stepped the game up this year with Zootopia, and deserve to walk away with the Oscar come awards night.
7. Captain FantasticThis quirky tale of a man and his family who live in the wild could have easily been too wacky and unfunny, but Viggo Mortensen and a strong young cast made it both laugh out loud funny as well as heartwarming.
6. Mustang Naturally this movie about 5 young sisters who rebel from the very conservative society in which they live in remote Turkey has been compared 2000’s The Virgin Suicides. However this is a much more accomplished movie than that Sofia Coppola film, and yet it was just as underseen and underappreciated. The five sisters are quite incredible, and the tale of their struggle and revolution is one of the most beautiful stories told this year on screen.
5. Everybody Wants Some!! Richard Linklater created this spiritual sequel to stoner classic Dazed and Confused, and managed to live up to all expectations. As with the aforementioned Dazed it is equal parts hilarious and nostalgic and all parts incredible. It doesn’t take itself or its characters too seriously, and there is no life-altering meaning, and that is exactly why it is so brilliant. All it tells us to remember is to enjoy life.
4. Room A truly harrowing movie that perhaps should have stolen the Oscar for best film from under the noses of Spotlight and the Revenant. It is a tough watch but the ultimate hope of the story is so uplifting that it is worth the investment. Whilst Brie Larson certainly deserved her Oscar for what is a near perfect performance, Jacob Tremblay as the young boy who has never seen anything beside the one room in which he lives, may actually be even better.
A return to form for Jim Jarmusch, Paterson focuses on Adam Driver’s bus driver who just so happens to be a poet too. It’s a lovely, charming movie, which excels in looking at the beauty of the everyday person. It is thus in its simplicity and its very ordinariness that Paterson shines brighter than almost any other movie this year. Despite the lack of big money effects and explosions we have become accustomed to through summer blockbusters, Paterson is more memorable than any comic book movie this year. It somehow manages to stay in the mind long after the credits roll, the scenes of everyday life pervading your own.
2. American Honey Shot in the intentionally boxy 4:3 ratio this tale of the lost youth of America is enchanting. Travelling across the country right in the car with them, as an audience, we are privy to this often unseen, completely bizarre world. Sasha Lane is extraordinary as the lost soul who is enticed by Shia Labeouf’s mysterious Jake, and thus agrees to a life of driving across country, figuring it out as they go. It’s a very twenty-first century film, and it feels like one that will be studied in years to come – a bizarre capsule of a strange unseen corner of modern society; the tale of a confused generation.
1. Arrival A science-fiction film for the ages.
It is a genre that is often done well but not perfectly. Big name directors have tried and failed to find the correct formula – most recently Christopher Nolan with Interstellar – but here Denis Villeneuve figures it all out by not making a science fiction film at all, but instead making a family drama. It is spectacular. It is heartbreaking like almost nothing else seen this year. And it will play on your mind for weeks on repeat long after the fact. A true classic of the genre that (if Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario haven’t already) cements Villeneuve as one of the best directors working today. That is why it is my film of the year.
And so that was 2016! Here’s hoping for more classics in the New Year!