Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A Top 10 List of the Best Films of 2016

My first cinema experience of the year, The Hateful Eight (Dir. Quentin Tarantino) set the tone for the rest of 2016. I endured Tarantino’s western for the full bum-numbing run-time but it was the most uncomfortable experience I’ve ever had. Although I paid for luxury seats, the discomfort was caused by the majority of white males that filled the cinema that morning, who laughed heartily every time a racial slur was uttered (a lot) and there was an outbreak of mild hysteria, from some during the downright racist monkey “joke” and the scenes which resulted in the beatings and eventual death of every woman on the cast list. I left the cinema feeling disappointed in both the film and humankind. I felt a sense of bewilderment at the misogyny and racism that had just unfolded on and off the screen. Little did I know then of the shit-storm year that lay ahead, beyond the confines of the picture-house.

Oh what a year! It marked the end of Brangelina, revealed the dark side of Johnny Depp and saw the death of many. But one of the year’s most shocking catastrophes (film-wise) was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Dir. David Yeats), the worst film I have ever seen. Half way through it I contemplated throwing my daughter’s drink in her face so we would have an excuse to go home early but once I found out she hated it as much as me, I felt a sense of pride and restrained myself. I couldn’t believe the look of wonder and amazement on people’s faces around me; the gasps, the “oohs” and “ahhs” I began to think everyone else in the cinema had been lobotomised on their way in. The film was an insipid, inconsistent mess of swirly patterns and CGI with an incongruous, stomach churning pop-up appearance from Hollywood’s aforementioned wife-basher. The film is a lazy, heavily merchandised and blatant attempt to wring Harry Potter fans bone dry but its result was about as fantastic as one of those dog poo bags that someone decided to hang from a tree instead of put in a bin, although it smelt much worse.

Anyway, that’s enough before I burst a blood vessel. Here’s my top ten films of the 2016, to prove it wasn't all bad, in no particular order…

Things to Come (Dir. Mia Hansen-Love) 
An academic’s life begins to crumble when her husband leaves after 25 years. Suddenly she finds her life adrift, but rather than sinking Nathalie, performed by a perfectly understated Isabelle Huppert, emerges without restraint, viewing her every loss as a new opportunity for personal development. It’s a refreshing take on an everyday tale of sink or swim with Huppert gliding beguilingly toward the shore. Roman Kolinka provides great support as her former student Fabien and the obvious yet subtle attraction between the pair always sizzles on the back burner making this one of the most simple, yet captivating films of the year.

Love & Friendship (Dir. Whit Stilman) Stilman reunites Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny (Last Days of Disco) in this hilarious adaptation of the Jane Austin novella, Lady Susan. Beckinsale’s dangerously sharp tongue and a perfect supporting cast deliver 90 matchmaking minutes of pure joy. Stilman masterfully demonstrates the amazing things you can do without sex, violence or CGI nowadays in one elegant fell swoop.

I Daniel Blake (Dir. Ken Loach) The demonisation of the working-class, the fear of the dreaded “chav” and pseudo-reality TV exploits of benefit claimants have filled our papers and television screens with money-grabbing monsters, designed to divert attention from tax-dodgers, bankers and the British government who are truly responsible for the horrific state of current affairs. With this in mind, Ken Loach delivered the most devastatingly human film. In the age of bullshit, right-wing media and even worse this new wave of social media propaganda, it’s no surprise that film-makers have taken matters into their own hands to bring us something real. Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea shone an honest light on the refugee crisis and Adam Curtis revealed how we’re all being played in his post-truth epic, HyperNormalisation. Do yourself a favour, watch them all.

James White (Dir. Josh Mond)
This film quietly shuffled its way onto DVD at the beginning of 2016 and is unlikely to be considered on most of these film lists due to the lack of fanfare accompanying its release. However, James White is so affecting that I must give it its due. The titular character is played by Christopher Abbot, best known for his role as Marnie’s ex, Charlie in the series Girls. He is a repugnant protagonist; a self involved, narcissistic, piece of shit and his mum, played brilliantly by Cynthia Nixon, is dying a slow painful death. Mond, the director of Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) tackles depressing subject matter within this unusual, but not unfamiliar, study of an intense relationship between a mother and son. The film feels so profoundly personal that, as a viewer, you find your paternal instincts kick in as you emotionally self-invest in James’ character, regardless of his unlikable ways. Perhaps a wider audience may be kept at bay due to the dark subject matter but if anyone is looking for a display of raw talent and a masterclass in acting James White is most definitely it.

American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold) 
Arnold’s American road-trip movie is an ambitious amalgam of Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark, made all the better with the British director’s exemplary aesthetic and flair for vivid realism. Authentic performances from newcomer Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf drive this smoothly elegant vehicle dazedly, with euphoric highs and hung-over, somnolent lows. American Honey is a pitch perfect reconstruction of the American dream and it couldn't have been sweeter or arrived at a more appropriate time.

Embrace of The Serpent (Dir. Ciro Guera) 
This mind-blowing and mystical tale follows two western explorers in different decades, with the same shaman guiding them through the Amazon, seeking the healing Yakruna plant, both for different reasons. Columbian director, Guera, as he delivers one of the most stylish films of the year, wears his Heart of Darkness proudly on his rolled up sleeve before pulling a series of surprising punches that are hard to watch but even harder to forget.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)
 The director of What we do in the Shadows brings us New Zealand’s answer to Moonrise Kingdom in the best buddy movie in, not just recent years but probably ever. Julian Dennison rips your heart out from the first scene in his role as Ricky, the troublesome orphan. Along with his reluctant foster carer (Sam Neil) the pair find themselves in the heart of the wilderness and on the run from authorities. It’s a ‘majestical’ full-on, feel-good film that will bring you to tears as much as it will give you face ache from smiling.

Certain Women (Dir. Kelly Reichardt) 
Her films are archetypal slow-burners but with Certain Woman, Kelly Reichardt is on fire. Based on three short stories by Maile Meloy, the film brings great drama from seemingly average circumstances. Terrific performances from regular Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart weave the separate stories together but its newcomer Lily Gladstone whose achingly good turn as an isolated and lovestruck ranch-hand, is worthy of every award going. Certain Women for all its subtlety is a surprisingly powerful piece of cinema that takes the hum-drum of habitualness and turns it into something bold and beautiful.

Tickled (Dir. David Farrier, Dylan Reeve) 
Such a title might sound like a laugh but this documentary is far from funny, in fact it’s downright scary. This investigation into the peculiar world of competitive tickling quickly evolves from the study of a bizarre fetish into an unnerving expose of something altogether more sinister. Journalist, David Farrier and fellow director, Dylan Reeve take hold of a niche subject matter and wriggle in plenty of twists and turns to pin you down and tickle your fancy beyond belief.

Julieta (Dir. Pedro Almodovar)
With his every new film, Almodovar shows that even when at the top of your game you can continue to progress and Julieta proves that. Part thriller and unrelenting melodramatic, the film follows an abandoned wife and mother through different periods of time. As her life is unexpectedly torn apart by grief, she discovers that her missing daughter is not the person she once knew. Scenes of domesticity are shrouded by a sense of looming threat throughout. There is no doubt that the film has Hitchcockian elements, most evidently, the blonde, but even though typical of Almodovar’s style, from the film’s colourful eighties aesthetic appears De Palma toned glows. Julieta is a unique experience, that rattles the nerves, purely to insert the protagonist’s fragile mindset directly into the viewer.

Also recommended…

Room (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Wiener dog (Dir. Todd Solondz)
A Bigger Splash (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)
Everybody Wants Some (Dir. Richard Linklater) 
Wiener (Dir. Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) 
Little Men (Dir. Ira Sachs) 
The Clan (Dir. Pablo Trapero) 
Ellen (Dir. Malaria Belo) 
Anomalisa (Dir. Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman)

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