I held off on doing a ‘top ten films of the year so far’ list at the end of June because, frankly, I felt it had been a pretty lousy year for movies. Last year, I had easily seen enough great movies to make such a list then, with a cheating joint 10th place pick no less! But this time around I struggled to even think of five movies good enough to warrant a place in June. Now part of this is obviously due to release date differences, and by the end of the year I had enough potential contenders that I needed to whittle them down to around 20 movies.
Like the last couple of years, I’ve decided to omit the awards movies from last year that inevitably get released in most overseas territories in January and February. It’s just been too long and I’d feel a bit pointless writing about The Hateful Eight, Carol, Room, Spotlight, Creed or Anomalisa at this point. I liked them all though, but I’m not certain that any would have got onto my top ten of last year had I seen them in time except possibly Creed, which might well have placed at number 8 or 9.
There is actually one movie that I do want to briefly highlight though, that would most definitely have made it onto my list last year if I’d seen it in time, which is Paul Weitz’ Grandma. I know it had some good notices but from a director whose last three films were Little Fockers, Being Flynn and Admission (all bad) I really didn’t expect that much. However when I got around to seeing the film it absolutely threw me for a loop. It’s a wonderfully humanistic little film that’s progressive without ever being preachy, hitting both big comedy and emotional beats. Highly recommended.
Moving on, yet again, just like every year I have to place a caveat before my top ten list mentioning all the films that are populating professional film critics’ polls that I can’t have seen because they haven’t been released here; this year the crop includes two of the most acclaimed movies of the year; Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, along with Jackie, Toni Erdmann, 20th Century Women, The Love Witch, Loving, Fences, The Edge of Seventeen, Certain Women and probably a few more that don’t immediately come to mind. None of those qualify I’m afraid, and also weirdly a one film that’s showing up a lot is The Lobster which I actually got to see last year, though it didn’t ultimately make my list anyhow.
In the last couple of years I had a clear front-runner for number one from relatively early on, but that didn’t happen this year, and even now I’m not certain what I can put in that spot. I think this time around my top five are otherwise relatively easy to order, but 5-10 are all about on a par, along with honestly numbers 11-20, which I’ve listed (un-ordered) in a separate post, but here they are in case you missed that;
10. Supersonic (Mat Whitecross)
You might think that a documentary reliving the nineties heyday of Britpop band Oasis wouldn’t have a great deal of worth beyond their fan-base, but Mat Whitecross’s brilliantly edited montage of archive footage accompanied by hilarious modern interviews proved to be one of the most entertaining movies of any genre I saw this year. My Review
09. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols’ long-in-the-making venture into sci-fi proved to be worth the wait in every respect when it finally arrived earlier this year. A deft blend of crime/road movie and fantastical science-fiction that’s deservedly garnered comparisons to Close Encounters. Aided by one of my favourite scores of the year, Midnight Special is a wonderfully atmospheric, thought-provoking and emotional powerful movie. I’ve heard several analysis of the film related to parenting, and while I’m no parent myself, the film certainly worked it’s magic on me, with it’s incredible final scene lingering in my mind for days after seeing it.
08. Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho)
Korean movies occasionally seem to baffle western audiences by mixing together multiple varying tones within the same movie (see Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing for a prime example of that this year) but Train to Busan succeeds in making a wholly accessible zombie horror action movie cantered around a family drama that could be from a Disney movie and it all works brilliantly. Director Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs) makes the switch from hard-hitting adult animation (this had an animate prequel as well) to large-scale live action effortlessly, mixing genuine scares, zombie violence, pulse-pounding action, and highly emotional drama with a bit of class commentary thrown in to boot, mostly in a confined setting. Train to Busan is easily the best zombie movie in years, and was deservedly an absolute smash hit in its own country, outgrossing Captain America: Civil War. Catch it before the inevitable remake comes around. (Bonus fact: the building I live in appears in a wide shot at one point too, which garnered a big whoop in the theatre when I saw it).
07. Hail, Caesar! (Joel & Ethan Coen)
The Coen Brothers returned to oddball comedy mode for this fifties Hollywood farce, which proved to be another absolute winner for them. This fast-paced, multi-stranded, all-star escapade is yet another entry into the duo’s incredible filmography, boasting a star-making performance from future-Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich, and a number of the year’s funniest scenes, many of which may well become classic Coen moments. If only all filmmakers could be so consistent…would that it were so simple? My Review
06. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)
Jeremy Saulnier’s siege thriller was the genre movie highlight of the year. A staggeringly intense horror-thriller charting the events that lead to a face-off between a young hardcore punk band and a backwoods gang of Neo Nazis (led by Patrick Stewart no less), this heart-pounding movie both lives up to, yet is far greater than a reductive ‘punks versus Nazis’ description could entail. My Review
05. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
Oldboy Park Chan-wook director returns to Korean cinema with this sumptuous period drama-cum-crime caper. Hypnotically directed, this incredible movie will have you transfixed throughout it’s multi-part structure, which involved more than one unpredictable shock twist. A tender love story innovatively folded into a thrilling crime drama, the Korean master is back to the top of his game. My Review
04. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)
Shane Black’s first original movie in years might well prove in time to be his quintessential work. A seventies-set LA Noir/buddy comedy hybrid, featuring a pair of brilliantly hilarious performances from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as an unlikely (and reluctant) double act investigating the disappearance of a girl. It was one of the few high-profile original movies this summer, and though it sadly stumbled at the box office, it easily bested every US blockbuster in terms of quality. My Review
03. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
Even though I named Everybody Wants Some!! my most anticipated movie of the year, I have to admit a hint of hesitation going in; this was a film that, on the surface at least, appeared to be about a bunch of frat boys playing baseball. I needn’t have doubted Linklater for a second though. Yes, this is about a bunch of baseball jocks, but it’s not about baseball, and you don’t have to be like these characters to enjoy spending some time with them either (in particular Glen Powell’s stand-out performance as Finn). The film fits right in with the signature ‘hangout movies’ that made Linklater’s name while it may ultimately prove to have less depth and enduring power to it than his greatest films, it’s still without question one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in the cinema this year.
02. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
Even if everything that proceeded the transcendently brilliant final ten or so minutes of La La Land had merely been satisfactory, it still might have ended up on this list for that scene alone. However, all of La La Land is wonderful, a joyful celebration of life, music and cinema to brighten the coldest of hearts, this incredible musical cements that jazz-obsessed young director Damien Chazelle is the real deal, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. My Review
01) Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
After week on week of big summer movies that were all mediocre-to-terrible, Arrival came along, and just reminded my in every way why I love cinema. Arrival is the kind of film I so wish we saw more often; a hard sci-fi film about exploring ideas that respects it’s audience. All delivered in a technically masterful manner, aided by stunning cinematography and sound, yet still retaining a heartfelt emotional core enhanced by an Oscar-worthy central performance from Amy Adams. With this, Denis Villeneuve continues what must be one of the best directorial runs of the decade. This guy is so consistently good that he’s even got me tremendously excited for the Blade Runner sequel that in principle I think should never be made, but if he’s directing, I’ll be first in line. In Arrival, he’s given us the hopeful, inspiring film we all need in 2016, and it’s the film of the year.
01.5) OJ: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)
Well look, here’s me cheating like the disgrace I am and putting 2 films at number one, but hang on a second please. I went back and forth a little over whether or not to include this documentary in the list at all. On the one hand, it was made as a feature film and premiered at festivals as such, with an intermission. However it is seven and a half hours long, and then aired on TV and online in five parts, which is how I saw it, over the course of a week. So is it a movie or a miniseries? I don’t really know if we can ever say for sure, but many, many critics (and it would appear, The Academy) have classified as such and thus deemed it eligible. In which case, I’ve given it a joint, position at number one here, if you feel otherwise, bump it off, have Arrival alone at one.
I just couldn’t dismiss OJ: Made in America as it’s the most astonishing feat of filmmaking of any kind I’ve seen this year. I’ll admit, I knew very little about this story before this year, yet a combination of this and the drama The People vs OJ Simpson managed to bring this case to the forefront of culture again in 2016, demonstrating that often truth is stranger than fiction. The OJ Simpson story is one that you just couldn’t make up. With the ease of his mammoth running time, Ezra Edelman explores the history of his subject, and the environment of Los Angeles that surrounded the shocking crime at the centre of this story, bringing in interviews from people on all sides of it. It’s a stunning, riveting documentary, that grips you like thriller for almost eight hours. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this a landmark achievement, and one of the year’s most essential viewing experiences, regardless of how you want to classify it.
Honourable Mentions are on a separate post.
Underrated Film: Eddie the Eagle:
This eighties-set biopic of the unlikely British Olympic ski-jumper seems to have passed under the radar somewhat, but it’s a highly enjoyable piece of wholesome, feel-good entertainment.
Runner Up: Ouija: Origin of Evil: Mainly because it’s one of the most easily dismissable movies of the year, but is actually a pretty solid haunted house horror.
Film I Just Didn’t Get: The Fits:
I know I saw the fits a few months ago, but I can barely recall a single detail about it, and seeing it pop up in so many best-of lists from critics I respect makes me think I need to give it another go.
Runner Up: The Invitation: ditto
Most Overrated Film: Captain America: Civil War (Review): Look, I like superhero movies, I like Marvel movies, but for the life of me I do not understand the level to which this film has been elevated. It’s not even the best Captain America movie and I even watched this for a second time to see if my opinion would change and I thought even less of it (it’s fine, but that’s it).
Runner-Up: The Jungle Book (Review): Beautifully realised animation, but little else
Worst Film: Yoga Hosers (Review)
I’m not going to write a seperate blog on it this year but here are the Worst Films I saw in 2016, with the caveat that I wasn’t prepared to subject myself to either ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ or ‘God’s Not Dead 2’; both sequels to two of the worst films of the decade.
09) Term Life
06) Gods of Egypt
05) Martyrs (remake)
04) Dirty Grandpa
03) The Darkness
01) Yoga Hosers