It’s that time – when we start looking forward to the New Year but get just a wee bit reflective about the outgoing one. For me, 2016 has been a patchy year. Yes, we’ve had too many re-makes and sequels – Hollywood is nothing if not risk averse – but they’ve been balanced by some seriously good stuff as well, both of the blockbuster and indie variety.
So here’s my top ten of 2016. OK, it’s eleven really – I have two joint number sevens – but perhaps that gives you an idea of how difficult choosing only ten can be.
Telling two parallel stories about explorers in the Amazon rainforest – one at the turn of the 20th century and the other just after the end of World War II – this South American film is enormously seductive. A combination of poetry and beauty with the black cloud of colonialism hanging over it, it’s stunningly shot in black and white and has so many messages that you need to take your time to mull over them afterwards.
This little treat all the way from New Zealand pitched a wannabe gangsta against his grumpy foster father as they go on the run in the outback. Director Taika Waititi infused his characters with dry as a bone humour, while giving modern life a dig in the ribs as well. A joyous, mis-matched buddy movie with an offbeat sense of humour, it was sparky, funny and touching all at the same time. If you’ve not seen it yet, place your order now for the DVD. It arrives in a few weeks.
So Cap and Iron Man threw their toys out of the pram. And all the other superheroes – including new faces like Black Panther and, most excitingly of all, the new Spidey – had to take sides. Marvel’s summer offering was packed with action and all the throwaway humour you’d expect, with the added bonus of a star turn from Tom Holland as SpiderMan, who had some of the best comedy lines in the film. SpiderMan:Homecoming can’t get here soon enough.
7 equal Star Trek Beyond
Episode three of the Star Trek re-boot had a new director at the helm. But Justin Lin cut his teeth on action movies and this was full of genuinely breathtaking excitement, all at full throttle. This time there as more of the tetchy relationship between Spock and McCoy, which worked beautifully. It was two hours of pure cinematic entertainment – definitely Star Trek as we know it.
7 equal Rogue One:A Star Wars Story
With all the talk of lots of re-shoots, there was a certain twitchiness in the build up to this one, a stand-alone story set in the time before the very first Star Wars movie. We needn’t have worried. With its ballsy female hero, great special effects and a plot that stood up regardless of whether you’ve seen the rest of the franchise or not, it felt like a Star Wars movie as well – which meant that fans and newcomers alike were more than happy.
The story of a mother and her little boy held captive in a ten by ten room crept up on everybody when it was released at the start of the year. But the outstanding performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay, an all-pervading feeling of claustrophobia and moments that were genuinely distressing made it a very special film. It was tender, unsettling, hugely moving and an absolute must-see.
Director David Mackenzie gave us a modern western that was a chase movie. And a heist movie. Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges was in hot pursuit of bank robbing brothers Chris Pine and Ben Foster in a film packed with good things, from the performances of the main actors to some razor sharp cameos, from the never-ending barren landscapes to the occasional shock. It was satisfying, multi-layered and never let go.
Jon Favreau’s re-working of the classic animation was billed as live action, but was almost 100% CGI. That said, it was one of the outstanding films of the year, a rare instance where a re-make genuinely brought something new to the game. Respectful to the Kipling original and closer in tone to it than the 1967 animation, nothing could prepare you for the jaw dropping effects. It was a triumph.
On paper, the story of the day-to-day life of a poet-come-bus driver who shares his name with his home town doesn’t sound like much. But in the hands of Jim Jarmusch, it became an exquisite comedy, beautifully observed and delicately funny. Its star, Adam Driver, has never been better as somebody who embraces a life where nothing seems to happen. Except it’s not like that at all. It’s a life that more than satisfies a man who we learn has deeply hidden depths.
The debut feature from director Laszlo Nemes was a film that any director would be proud to make at their peak. It’s a work of outstanding maturity which takes us on a journey through the human hell of a German concentration camp. Intelligent camerawork and an almost deafening cacophony of sound made for an exhausting, emotionally draining portrait of a never-ending nightmare.
Based on the true story of the journalists at the Boston Globe who uncovered the child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, this was another film about an important subject and one it took seriously. Low-key and with a determination matching its characters to tell its story and tell it straight, it wasn’t a film with thrills a minute, but it was enormously absorbing as it built relentlessly towards its climax. There wasn’t a stand out performance here because the cast worked as an ensemble and the result was impressive and satisfying.
Spotlight had dignity and determination. The quiet film of 2016 was an absolute winner – and it’s my Film Of The Year.
Here’s to 2017!