2016 review

I think this is the time of the year when I apologise for not updating this blog anymore! But hopeully with the end of yet another year and the Oscars not too far from now, I can try and write more. Here are the 15 best films for 2016, and you can refresh your memory with last year’s post here.

1. Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve
2. Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle
3. Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy
4. Midnight Special, directed by Jeff Nichols
5. Finding Dory, directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
6. Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley
7. I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach
8. The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg
9. Moana, directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker & Chris Williams
10. Frantz, directed by Francois Ozon
11. Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie
12. Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler
13. The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
14. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, directed by David Yates
15. Bridget Jones’ Baby, directed by Sharon Maguire

Other great films: Room, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (yep, didn’t make it to the top 15 -so many things about it genuinely upset me, but I had to mention it just for the last 30 minutes), Demolition

2016 won’t be remembered for being a particularly strong film year, but if there’s one outstanding film that sort of outstripped all others, to me, it was really Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. It’s science-fiction exactly as I want to see it: challenging, heartbreaking, character-driven, extremely well-edited and remarkably acted. Arrival almost works as a companion piece to Interstellar, and that’s the highest praise I could ever say about a non-Nolan film. Both films share the same DNA if you’d like: they’re so ambitious in scope and yet so intimate in what they’re trying to say, their non-linear narratives are superbly written and they ring absolutely true in terms of characters and setting. Arrival was my favourite film this year by far, none of the other films matched how intense and emotional it was. And it definitely confirms Villeneuve as an outstanding, visionary director – this bodes really well for Blade Runner 2049 at any rate.

Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs lands in second place of my top 15. Of course Boyle’s one of my all-time favourite directors, so not sure whether I am being objective in all of this. But Steve Jobs was an exceptional piece of filmmaking, with a screenplay that’s almost as good as the Social Network (which remember, landed #1 in my 2010 review, AHEAD of a Nolan film). I said almost! Most people were a bit put off by Steve Jobs‘ structure but on the contrary, I loved the three-act narrative and thought it was quite a smart choice. The acting performances were of course astounding (didn’t recognise Kate Winslet for a while) and that’s not even mentioning the cinematography which matches the time and technology of each set piece (so damn clever). And last but not least, making the father-daughter relationship the main focus of the film as opposed to Apple or the company was just a stroke of genius.

Rounding out the top three is the rather conventional yet brilliant Spotlight. Yes, it’s an Oscar-winning movie, yes it has real-life drama written all over it, but none of it diminishes how powerful that story is, and how simple and restrained the film was. I think that’s what I liked most about it, that it’s almost minimalist, never glorifying its characters and not a single triumphant, sort of in-your-face shot is in sight. It definitely deserved the Oscar for Best Film, and it’s a story that’s more important than ever now in the current political context of the US…

Midnight Special – gosh, there are so many brilliant things about it, I’m not sure where to start. It seems that this year was the year of smaller and intelligent sci-fi, with Arrival and Midnight Special fitting right into that genre. Midnight Special feels like a tremendous tribute to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it really is reminiscent of that film both in terms of plot and tone. That’s how miraculous it is, it’s a sort of Spielbergian film and yet it has such a distinctive Jeff Nichols touch, i.e. realistic dialogues and very perceptive character building… there’s just an intelligence to the way he shoots his films, both an emotional and a technical one, it’s hard to describe. I would have ranked it much higher if I could -watching this film was an experience like no other and I really love that Nichols did not feel constrained or intimidated by the boundaries of science-fiction as a genre, but very much re-interpreted it in his own way, just infused it with his personal style. And that’s the mark of a truly great director in my opinion.

In fifth place, we have the sequel to Finding Nemo, Finding Dory. Dory isn’t a particularly unique story, it’s very much a sort of repeat of its predecessor, yet there is a warmth and a wonder to it that I simply find irresistable. I think I’m incapable of finding any flaw with Pixar films in general but at any rate, this one was particularly emotional and entertaining. That’s all I need from my Pixar films, and miraculously enough, they always deliver.

Brooklyn was the sort of film I immediately fell for while watching it. It’s such a simple story, with simple characters and yet it was absolutely filled with joy and sadness and wit and lots of other emotions I wasn’t ready for. Perhaps that’s why it took me by surprise, but I was absolutely transported to that era with these characters, and emotionally invested in them. It’s very much sort of old-fashioned filmmaking but that’s what I loved most about it, that we don’t do films like these anymore, so it’s almost like a little miracle that a film like Brooklyn exists. And Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen were both luminous in that film, I thought.

Oh boy, this one is hard to justify. Ken Loach’s absolutely brilliant masterpiece, Palme D’Or winner I, Daniel Blake being so lowly ranked in my yearly review. That’s only because it is SUCH a hard film to watch, truly gut-wrenching stuff, that makes you feel so desperate about the society we live in. And that’s why it’s not ranked higher. Otherwise in terms of filmmaking and story, it is absolutely a must-watch masterpiece.

A Steven Spielberg film, ranked in #8 position! That requires some explaining as well! Despite its complete failure at the US box-office, The BFG remains an excellent film, a piece of entertainment that’s very much in line with Spielberg’s values and previous kid-oriented films. It’s just that it’s a tad too long and a bit too wacky (due to the book it’s based on, of course) for it to be truly memorable, on a long-term perspective. However it is absolutely delightful in some aspects, much cleverer than you’d expect and very touching in others. So perhaps not one of the greatest Spielbergs ever, but a fabulous entertaining one it definitely is.

Speaking of fabulously entertaining, who thought Disney’s latest offering would rank so high? I certainly didn’t. But part of me was literally transported back to childhood watching Moana. It’s such a beautiful piece of animation and yeah, it’s full of catchy songs, but there’s something about it that makes it truly touching and engaging. It’s not the most original story ever – we’ve seen parts of it in other Disney animated films, but it definitely is of a higher standard than usual Disney offerings. It’s Pixar standard, almost…

Closing off the top ten is Francois Ozon’s Frantz. Frantz is one of those films that I did not mean to see. I wasn’t even remotely interested in it in the first place, but then the storytelling was so clever, the performances so engaging that I found myself absolutely absorbed by it. Francois Ozon is not a very classical filmmaker, but to see him hit all the right notes in directing this rather conventional story was very pleasing indeed. A highly recommended watch for anyone who likes old-fashioned movies.

Next up, we have David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water. Like Frantz, I didn’t think much of this film – it looked like a watered-down version of a Coens brothers film, really – but then to my utter surprise, it turned out to be an excellent thriller with great pacing and characterisation. Jeff Bridges’ part was quite expected but the rest of it, the subdued social commentary, the absolutely brilliant Ben Foster was totally unexpected. A great and promising piece of filmmaking from David Mackenzie.

Creed is one of those rare examples of a successful spin-off: with effective directing, stand-out performances from both Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone and a screenplay that’s more creative and different than you would think. It retains all the qualities that made Rocky such a strong franchise but built more complexity into it. All in all, quite an achivement because it found the perfect balance between being a new film and paying tribute to the franchise it belongs to.

The Revenant should rank higher, really – it is such a gorgeously shot, well-directed film. But it’s also despair-filled and slightly pretentious, in a way I can’t really explain. Obviously Leonardo DiCaprio carries the entire film (and Tom Hardy does his bit, too) but there’s something too muscular or masculine about it that I found off-putting in the end – you couldn’t make me watch it a second time, it’s just not enjoyable. BUT, that being said, the cinematography is just outstanding, some of the travelling shots are just out of this world and therefore the film should absolutely be recognised for its artistic values.

Okay now is the part where I lose all my credibility for ranking two very mainstream franchise films in my best films of 2016 post. First up is Fantastic Beasts. What can I say? As a lifelong Potter fan I was expecting to hate and resent it – but I didn’t, I enjoyed the writing tremendously and all its little quirks. Sure the directing is near disastrous and the visual effects are overwhelming, but still, it doesn’t take away from the gorgeous writing by Jo Rowling. Rounding up the year is Bridget Jones’ Baby. Yes the film is silly, and sentimental, and much too over-the-top but in the end, all I wanted was to see Bridget reunited with Mark Darcy once again, and that’s exactly what happened.

That’s it! We’re closing off yet another film year… It feels like this year was less prolific than others – I certainly saw less films in cinemas than I used to, and the franchise fatigue is still completely taking its toll. But for every commercial franchise we have little gems like Arrival and Brooklyn, and for that I’m truly grateful to all the filmmakers, screenwriters, directors of photography, costume designers, production assistants, sound editors, grips etc. working in this vibrant industry of ours.

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