More than any other year recently, I considered holding off on writing a top ten of the year list until a few weeks into 2016. The same thing always happens; a great deal of the films being considered among the year’s best by film critics are ones that have not been made available to the public yet. It didn’t seem quite so bad last year but now? Well here’s a snippet of what hasn’t been released where I am yet; The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Creed, Carol, Spotlight, The Big Short, Son of Saul, Anomalisa, Room, 45 Years, Steve Jobs, The Danish Girl, Joy, Trumbo. Chi-Raq just came out on VOD hours ago, and I’m not going to have time to see it before I get this post done.
Yes, it seems possible that some critics could have made entire top ten lists featuring films I couldn’t have seen at this point. Now, most of these will be coming out in the next two months, I should be seeing The Hateful Eight next week for example, but a couple, like Anomalisa, I still have no firm idea when I’ll get to see. If some of these films are as good as I hope, who knows, maybe I’ll make a revised top ten list at the end of February or something? But for now, no, I’m going to make a list and can only do so out of the films that I’ve been able to see. On a related note, as I stated in my mid-year list, I’m no longer considering great movies from last year that I couldn’t see until early this year, so there’ll be no Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Paddington, or Still Alice which could otherwise have been serious contenders.
I guess one of the reasons I’m a little more miffed than usual about all these late releases is that I found it considerably tougher to compile a list this year, I had a fairly solid top five, but the rest took more whittling down from a larger group of movies that were more on a par with each other in my estimations, in the end I think I found myself choosing a few films more to represent their genres. Oh and this year breaks Mads Mikkelsen’s streak of always having one movie in my top ten sadly. He did appear in a Danish movie called Men & Chicken but I don’t think it’s seen a release outside of festivals and its home country yet. Mads will just have to be content with starring in the best TV show of the year I suppose.
10. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney)
Alex Gibney’s gripping documentary took a look inside the world of the infamous religion of Scientology. Going Clear skilfully combined biographical elements of its founder and the story of how it came to be, with an investigation into the current state and practices of the organisation, highlighted by fascinating testimonials from several high-profile former members.
09. Bone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler)
I haven’t seen The Hateful Eight or The Revenant yet, but the best western I’ve seen (narrowly pipping Slow West) is also the year’s number one horror movie. It might be a tad overlong, but S. Craig Zahler’s genre hybrid is otherwise among the most promising débuts of the year. Embracing more than just the surface elements of horror and westerns, it’s at times a character-driven men-out-west story and a hard-core cannibal horror featuring the year’s most shocking death scene. On top of this, Zahler demonstrates an exceptional talent for crafting dialogue. My Review
08. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
The funniest film of the year is this offbeat effort from New Zealand. An inventive mockumentary that manages to affectionately poke fun at almost every aspect of vampire lore you could think of, while still creating memorable characters and quotable lines of its own. Jemaine Clement’s “sandwich” quip is truly one for the ages.
07. The Martian (Ridley Scott)
After a prolific few years of generally underwhelming movies, Ridley Scott makes a brilliant comeback with his most effortlessly crowd-pleasing movie since Gladiator. A wonderfully pro-science sci-fi film, The Martian distinguishes itself from other survival movies by maintaining a consistent sense of humour through all the tough situations Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut must navigate. Inspirational stuff. My Review
06. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villeneuve cemented his reputation as one of the finest directors to have emerged in the last few years with this incredibly tense, brilliantly executed and consistently unpredictable thriller examining the US’s ‘war on drugs’. It’s so good that I’m even now on board with the proposed Blade Runner sequel knowing that Villeneuve has signed on to direct it. My Review
05. Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)
At the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have thought a musical biopic would get anywhere near my top ten list, but Love & Mercy manages to avoid almost all of the clichés inherent to the sub-genre. It primarily achieves this by focusing on two key stages of Brian Wilson’s life rather than attempting to tell his whole story chronologically. This proved to be an excellent choice, with Paul Dano and John Cusack both doing brilliant work portraying Wilson at different ages. It also succeeds in conveying Wilson’s musical abilities via some wonderful recording sequences that never resort to retrospective exposition. I left the cinema immediately wanting to go and listen to Wilson’s music again. My Review
04. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Arriving right at the beginning of the year was one of it absolute best films, a thoughtful, low budget sci-fi chamber piece which saw screenwriter Alex Garland make an assured debut as a director. Bonus points for securing a cast of sure-to-be future A-listers (who between the three of them had 13 films out this year) Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson, all of whom did their best work here. I’m very excited to see where Garland’s directorial career heads next. My Review
03. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing manages to be an even more essential work by focusing on a more simple human story; that of an optometrist interviewing the men responsible for his brother’s death in the Indonesian genocide decades prior. An astonishing, singular, and devastatingly powerful film. My Review
02. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
Of all the movies I failed to find the time to review this year, this is the one I regret the most. This outstanding film from Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako subtly examines the brief occupation of Timbuktu by Islamists. Taking more of an ensemble approach, the film demonstrates the ultimately absurd restrictions the Islamists enforce upon the population, where the most trivial of acts that meet their disapproval, such as singing can be met with the cruellest of punishments. It takes a non-judgemental tone, calmly demonstrating the harsh and unmaintainable society that violently enforcing these religious rules results in, plus the hypocrisy of those in charge. A thoughtful film of quiet, but incredible power that stayed with me long after it had finished.
01. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
Well, I wish I had something more to add to the wealth of praise George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max deservedly earned. I was floored by this movie, even after the overwhelmingly positive initial reviews I couldn’t quite believe just how indescribably awesome it was. Though I initially doubted the chances, it does appear to be gaining a little traction in awards circles now and who knows, maybe, just maybe it could sweep the Oscars? Let’s not get our hopes up too high but right now, this insane masterpiece of action cinema is my definite pick for movie of the year. My Review
Honourable mentions go to:
Amira & Sam, Kingsman, It Follows, Montage of Heck, Song of the Sea, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Program, Slow Wes, Appropriate Behaviour, Tokyo Tribe
Underrated Film: Chappie
You know what? I came this close to putting Chappie on my top ten after seeing how many professional outlets have been naming it as one of the year’s worst movies. I haven’t re-watched it, and am a tiny bit cautious to, but Neill Blomkamp’s admirably individual and unpredictable movie is honestly one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in the cinema all year. My Review
Predestination, A clever little time travel story that features my pick for best performance by an actress this year from Sarah Snook.
Everest; a very solid re-telling of a mountaineering disaster that unfairly seemed to sink without a trace upon release.
Film I Just Didn’t Get: The Duke of Burgundy
Maybe Peter Strickland is just operating on a different wavelength to me? Both his previous film Berberian Sound Studio and this tale of lesbian lepidopterists sound like really good stories when described, but I haven’t been particularly taken in by either movie. I’d like to revisit this soon I think, but it didn’t make much impression upon first viewing.
Runners Up: The Assassin, Clouds of Sils Maria, two films I could appreciate elements of but wouldn’t be anywhere near by best of the year.
Biggest Disappointment: Jupiter Ascending
While I didn’t hate this bonkers movie by any means, I’d have to label it the biggest disappointment considering the Wachowski’s previous film is my favourite of the decade so far. It’s a shame it didn’t to better business though, as it’s exactly the type of fantasy blockbuster I’d hope to see more of. My Review
Far From the Maddening Crowd; Thomas Vinterberg followed up the sublime The Hunt with this dull, unremarkable Thomas Hardy adaptation.
Avengers: Age of Ultron; I had hoped that this might solve the problems their movies have been showing and become the best Marvel film yet, unfortunately it did none of these and ranks amongst their weakest.
Most Overrated Film: Inside Out
I liked it fine, but it was mid-level Pixar for me and far from their best. I didn’t even come close to crying and found the character of Bing Bong extremely annoying. My Review
Brooklyn; Again, it was alright, just nowhere near as good as I’d been hearing.