TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016
Again its been another slow year for movies with a terrible summer season. We had blockbusters that were enjoyable such as Civil War and Rogue One then we had complete disappointments such as Batman v Superman. Other big contenders for the years best films didn’t impress me as it did for other critics such as Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water and Fences. Towards the end of the year most of the oscar bait films came out and per usual this was full of the years quality releases. Now my Top 10 is about a month late this year, purely because of the the late U.K release dates. However, I did manage to catch some films at London Film Festival this year so i’ve patiently been waiting the last few films to get released over here. Once again we have certain films like last year’s Son of Saul which didn’t get released in time for me to add to this list such as:
Neruda (dir. Pablo Larrain), Personal Shopper (dir. Oliver Assayas), Its Not the End of the World (dir. Xavier Dolan),
20th Century Woman (dir. Mike Mills), The Birth of a Nation (dir. Nate Parker)
Its a bigger list of missing films than last year but I still managed to watch over 200 movies this year even though only a select few got reviewed on this blog. So here are my favourite films / performances of the year.
(Dir. Tim Miller)
Deadpool was one of those films I wasn’t too excited for, comic book movies never come around and impress to a point where I love the film. After my first viewing I really enjoyed the film and after repeat viewings I began to join the cult following the film had. My usual yearly Top 10’s don’t include this genre of film, especially comedy but this would become one of 2016’s most memorable films. Just like Mad Max: Fury Road , Deadpool becomes a dark horse in a year of impressive films so I had to add it to my final Top 10 because of its influence on cinema. Firstly, my mind was switched off during this film. I wasn’t expecting much and I wasn’t expecting a serious film. From all the trailers I saw the comedic tone of the film, but nothing really dragged me in. It didn’t really have the same effect on me as Kick Ass and Guardians of the Galaxy did from the trailers. However, I was surprised because of Deadpool’s core attitude and the mise-en-scene of the whole film follows. It took me a while to get used to the films tones but soon as some action started my mind shut off and I began to enjoy this film. No one expects this to be serious so for what the film is going for, it is entertaining. The story isn’t really there, its very rushed and straight to the point, but this snappy approach keeps the viewers interest. You have the initial love story at the films core, just as Deadpool’s character colourfully narrates in one of his many fourth wall breaking scenes. I liked this tactic Deadpool employed , it wasn’t overly used and I think it fit in subtly with the jokes. On the working basis of a comedy the jokes were there, poking funs at everything in pop culture from Sinead O Connor to the other Marvel universe films. For me this is humour done right, not the humour that I see when I watch a Marvel Universe film, which sometimes comes across cheesy. The simplicity of the film works for what it is trying to achieve and I can see why this became a cult classic from its meta story telling to its revolutionary marketing scheme.
9. I, DANIEL BLAKE
(Dir. Ken Loach)
Ken Loach returns with a career triumph and this year he took home the Palme D’or at Cannes. This is a film on British society and how our social class works. As a Brit myself, I could relate to the frustration and anger towards the Tory government in England. This film follows Daniel Blake, a carpenter who has been removed from work for health problems following a heart attack. In his minimalistic manner Loach handles this film almost like Haneke did with Amour. He focuses the film from an elderly mind and gives the viewer a peephole through his distorted and confused mind in a digital age. Daniel Blake struggles to adjust to the digital by default rules of the benefits system, he gets refused payment and forced to look for work when he can’t work. Theres a warmth in Loach’s storytelling that he portrays through Daniel’s character. Although he is out of money himself he still aids those in need around him. This makes the story feel quite personal and gives the audience an emotional connection to the characters of the screen. The supporting character of Katie and her two children showcase another side of the same argument. A single mother is moved from London to Newcastle for state housing and again falls into payment troubles from the state. Daniel and Kate meet each other and form an unlikely friendship, he becomes her father figure in an alien environment and Katie and her children fill Daniels void of loneliness. Its hard not to side with the characters as again it becomes all too familiar with life here in England and the problems people living with disabilities and poverty go through.
8. THE WITCH
(Dir. Robert Eggers)
This was a film set in 16th century New England based around the story of one family. A family who right from the opening scene share a strong old testament belief in Christianity. Their faith is never really played out as part of a holy cause, the darkness in this film comes not only from the supernatural but also from the religious extremism of this family. This sense of unbalance and threat in their beliefs makes the whole film feel like it could have been a crazy family dealing with loss. Sadness and loss can drive the strongest people insane so this was a view I took from the film especially with the increased paranoia of all the characters. The Witch becomes almost Hitchcockian with its paranoia and tension, that the film builds on until the final scene. This slow build of tension throws so many symbols at the audience and the story can be understood in various contexts. The more in your face approach in The Witch was its supernatural elements. It built up a creepy atmosphere which was more effective than the jump scares in modern horror. The atmosphere was everything and the satanic symbolisms made the film that extra step more realistic; without the use of cheap tactics. Another part that played into this atmosphere was the audio and visuals. The Witch has a lot of beautiful cinematography that consisted solely of a house and woods, these small set pieces and the attention to detail created a realistic layer in the film. Another aspect of realism to the film was its washed out filter with it almost looking black and white with the exception of a few earthly tones. It felt like the 16th century and this realism was the best thing going for the important atmosphere the film embodied. The Witch is a very unusual film that I can see many people not enjoying, its slow and offers no jump scares. This isn’t the type a horror you would enjoy if you prefer films like Insidious, Paranormal Activity etc. This is a slow burn with creepy scenes that will haunt you and make you think even when the film is finished and you get into your bed. It also played in my mind in more ways than its satanic symbolism. Was the horrors in this film real or did the characters themselves become the films terror. A lot of isolation and mental problems are seen and this can also be a warning to people following religion to extreme lengths, especially in the small minds of 16th Century England.
7. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
(Dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
What surprised me most about this film was its snappy dialogue and interactions between its characters. Much like a Quentin Tarantino script, Lonergan creates these long scenes with back and forth dialogue. What I wasn’t expecting at all was the humour each character bought, creating a sort of black comedy out of Manchester by the Sea. Now this wouldn’t be a film I would call a black comedy it isn’t Bernie but it becomes quite similar to a Coen’s script with the intelligence and realism it brings. Films like this are never meant to be funny because of its themes of grief but what Lonergan shows us is that people deal with grief in different ways. Bringing comedic tones into the film levels out what would be an intensely depressing movie. This adds to the films entertainment and adds to the films most prolific aspect, which is realism. We won’t always have an over acted emotional scene crying out for the Oscars, sometimes less is more. This was a trait that Casey Affleck adopted with his minimalistic performance as Lee Chandler, we didn’t get any big tear jerker scenes, but what we got was a very physical performance. The fragility of Lee’s persona was printed into Affleck’s performance and we would watch him go from a timid uncomfortable man into full-blown rage within a split second. Manchester by the Sea was a simple film but it was a view of one man and through the use of flashbacks the film filled in the pieces of Lee’s life and why he left Manchester. This is a hard feat to pull off but the film transitions smoothly into each flashback never fracturing the films narrative. Another thing that surprised me about the film was its score and use of classical pieces by George Frideric Handel, Jules Massenet and many more artists. Without the use on solely orchestrated pieces of music the film added another layer of depth through its use of its original pieces. Lesley Barber composed the score for Manchester by the Sea and she created such a linear but psychedelic soundtrack adding to the surrealistic dream like qualities of the film. For a composer whose work I’m not familiar with, she came out and created one of the most emotional pieces of music in film this year. Manchester by the Sea caught me off good with the surrealistic manner it all played out. It was like looking into a bubble of grief and the humour they used to mask this emotion. The whole film felt like it poetically floated through the mind and memories of Lee Chandler and the cinematography helped emphasise this. Jody Lee Lipes came through and bridged that gap between the ethereal score and the zone of grief on-screen. The main aim of film is to transport you to a different world, into a different mindset and that’s exactly what Manchester by the Sea achieves. There isn’t another film quite like it out there and it oozes originality in the manner it deals with its themes.
(Dir. Garth Davis)
Lion is quite different to the usual Western take on India in cinema, there aren’t any Bollywood stereotypes here. Instead Garth Davis and cinematographer Greig Fraser utilise the beautiful locations and create a vast and open view of its climates. Greig Fraser who last worked on Rouge One showcases his versatility with cinematography in Lion. This isn’t the action blockbuster he last did, instead its a very contained story but his images still capture the space of India. His view is wide and we follow his shots as he explores the depth of rural India, even the aerial shots are beautiful done to mimic the Google Maps experience. Another thing Fraser and Davis capture is the countries spirituality which becomes an important part of the story because Saroo’s journey becomes that of spiritual self discovery.Authenticity is key when it comes to capturing the essence of India’s realism and Lion manages to capture the beauty in a poverty stricken country. During this first half you could almost believe that Lion is a foreign film because no English is spoken, the film relies on Bengali and Hindi narrative. The lack of English speaking characters adds another layer of realism to this world Davis tries to recreate from Saroo’s own memories. A nother reoccurring theme throughout Lion is poverty and the problems the children face in India. Saroo is not the only child lost in the film, instead we are shown the droves of underground orphans and their vulnerability. Garth Davis has surprised me completely and created one of the most emotional films of the year and one of its best. This is an important story that I’m glad was brought to the big screen and I’m glad the issues of child poverty the film raises are finally being made aware to the Western world.
5. THE HANDMAIDEN
(Dir. Park Chan-Wook)
The Handmaiden follows such a dark path with its story, it still manages to retain some dark comedy in itself. Its a radical feminist film viewed through a male gaze, a male gaze that represents the patriarchal society of 1930’s Korea and the current homophobia in asian counties. We as an audience become a character when watching this film and that direct link between the film and the audience is what makes this such an interactive experience. My opinion on the films themes are purely my own interpretation because it will represent different things to different people. However, I think this is a radical feminist film that even embodies the femme fatale but never throws her into her own demise. I had a few problems with the film such as the score and the gratuitous sex scenes but it still managed to be an amazing and engaging piece of cinema. Outside of the screenplay and the editing the film was a technical wonder in terms of its cinematography, set and costume design. This was not a film that sat down with one colour palette, instead it used all the vibrant colours available. Oldboy was quite a drab film with grey’s and dark blues making quite a cold image on screen. Chan-wook Park experimented in colours during his previous gothic film Stoker. However, The Handmaiden is the perfection of his visual style, mixing in bright vibrant colours with his usual cold palette. Everything technical about this film fell together beautifully, with the set and costume design transporting you back to 1930’s Korea with ease. In every wide shot of different rooms of the mansion you get to see the detail gone into recreating every object in the room. You can tell that each shot and scene was carefully planned with attention to detail. This all aided the cinematography which comes in capturing a film shot mainly in the location of this mansion, but with the right lighting and filming techniques a unique world is created on screen for the audience. This is a very odd film with many themes you can’t pick out on your first watch because each layer to the story can be interpreted differently with each viewing.
(Dir. Martin Scorcese)
Now at the age of 74 Scorsese has released his passion project, Silence, a film he has been trying to make for 25 years. This is for Scorsese what Tree of Life was for Malick, a deeply personal film that will divide critics and audiences who become polarised by the self-indulgent Scorsese. Running in at 169 minutes this is not an easy watch but its a rewarding film that plays on the directors life long struggle with faith. This isn’t the gangster Scorcese film you might be expecting, instead we get a film more like Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ. He has joined the ranks of legendary film makers such as Carl Theodor Dreyer, who became an auteur through his faith-based films such as Day of Wrath and Ordet. Silence on the other hand is more straight forward than the list of films on faith I could list, it displays a struggle that many people (religious or not) have experienced. Some people have called this Scorsese’s Homage to Akira Kurosawa but I found this to be an original passion project. This wasn’t a samurai western, this was a historical lecture into Christian persecution. However, the film sparks the question of faith in its audiences, a search for validation of God’s existence. Silence becomes the most meaningful name for the film because its core is based on God’s silence as our prayer’s go unanswered and as innocent people die for their faith. Using his perfected directional abilities and working with Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography Scorsese creates something quite profound and unique. He assesses and analyses the Human psyche, how our mind handles our own weakness, pain and fear. Sure this film becomes self-indulgent as Scorsese lingers on shots and ideas but its this indulgent behaviour which makes the film more human and natural. We as an audience sit back and try interpret the psychological trials the films portrays and even as a man not involved with religion I found myself personally invested with Silence. Some problems held the film back such as the overbearing editing and the rushed final act but it was still one of Scorsese’s best pieces of work since Raging Bull. Silence is a culmination of Scorsese’s life long battle with faith and at 74 years old he has finally created his most thought-provoking personal film.
(Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Arrival becomes a taste of Villeneuve’s skills as a blockbuster film maker as he combines traditional art house elements of film making with the blockbuster itself. This isn’t the grand action spectacle you expect from a blockbuster Sci-Fi film but what it achieves is bigger than that. Fans of the genre have been treated over the past few years from films such as Gravity, The Martian, Interstellar and Ex Machina. However, in my opinion a simple film like Arrival has come along and surpassed them all. This is like a cleaner cut version of Interstellar that focuses itself on character development and then throws in its Sci-Fi elements, making this more of a human film than alien. Arrival follows a puzzling pattern throughout its entire length and even at certain points leading up to the end I felt like the film underwhelmed me. However, by the end Villeneuve connects all the pieces of puzzle and the story becomes full circle; changing my opinion completely. It’s a simple tale of life and its journey told with the backdrop of this huge Sci-Fi event, however, the backdrop and the primary story find each other in unison at the end of the film. It’s the films simplicity that makes it work ahead of other film such as Interstellar which overcomplicated itself. Arrival has restored my faith in the genre and it becomes one of my favourite films of the year and favourite Sci-Fi’s of the century. Its biggest achievement was how realistic the whole ensemble made a non-fiction story. Arrival had grand ideas and the main concept behind Sci-Fi is to have you thinking and questioning the film after you have seen it. Villeneuve chose to close these questions and make the film go full circle with its ending. Some will be happy with this tactic but I know some people will be searching for more from this film, the mystery and intrigue is gone by the end. This is because Arrival is story of a life, the story of Dr Banks life, told from her perspective in time. All we see is her life and the memories she shares with the screen. In itself this becomes the films mystery it holds after the credits have rolled.
2. LA LA LAND
(Dir. Damien Chazelle)
After impressing the world with his debut film Whiplash, Damien Chazelle returns with his take on the musical genre. The film is a modern day musical with a golden era vibe, as it tastefully homages classic musicals such as ‘Singin’ In the Rain’. Constantly though its screenplay and the direction of its musical numbers you see more of Chazelle’s influences. Like Tarantino, this film homages classics in a tasteful manner whilst catering to the original script. However, La La Land still manages to contain its originality because when was the last time you saw a movie musical that wasn’t an adaption? La La Land was a film for all the people who are in the Music/Film industry of Hollywood and also those trying to work their way into the industry. Not only this but La La Land itself became an ode to dreamers no matter what your dream is. However, it had a pessimistic view on how Hollywood sucks you into its fame and how it causes tension between yourself and those whom you have to abandon to pursue fame. La La Land’s signature and most important feat was its atmosphere that Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren created. From start to finish the film had a dreamlike quality that Chazelle pulled together with his surrealistic direction. The dream esque visuals of the film are subtly added throughout the film, within music numbers. La La Land is a huge achievement in film making but without its flaws this could have been a tighter 100 minute masterpiece. However, by the end of the film I could accept its flaws and accept the film for what it is. Many films fall short by their endings because they have no concrete conclusion to a grand subject matter. However, here we have a simple subject manner that comes to a beautiful finale thats brings together all the emotion from not only the characters on screen, but the dreamers watching it.
(Dir. Barry Jenkins)
Barry Jenkins brings beauty to the screen with his simplistic storytelling, but the range of emotions provokes your line of thought and many different people will be able to relate to this films message. Not just gay males, not just African Americans, but every man from any corner of the world who has has the internal struggle of becoming a man. Director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton play with the camera in a graceful yet voyeuristic manner. Some of the shots following Chiron feels evasive as we as an audience look in on the personal life of him as a person. The shots in Moonlight are never stale, Jenkins follows Chiron and the camera swoops around creating dizzying shots that not only create a mise-en-scene but also recreates the erratic confusion fighting its way out of Chiron’s mind. Throughout the story even in his older years the camera is used as a tool to recreate the claustrophobic isolation in Chiron’s mind. This is Barry Jenkins biggest achievement with this film, he captures the mood of scenery and of its characters through the use of camera movement. The image always goes hand in hand with its sound and this is where Nicholas Britell comes in with his amazing score, which for me was one of the stand out points of the film.The music not only sets the mood of the film but it always becomes an overture to the young Chiron’s mind in a world of confusion where homosexuality was seen as a flaw. Moonlight becomes a timeless classic because it captures an aspect of human nature that can’t be described through words. This is more than a Black Lives matter film in a year following the white washed Oscars. This is more than a slavery or white guilt film to come out representing Black communities, this showcases the real struggle of the man and his mind. Moonlight is one of the years most memorable films and Barry Jenkins is a talented addition to the roster of great modern black directors. Moonlight is a poetic representation of the ghettos and dealing with homosexuality in the hood. This is one of the years most important films and its a film that will still have you thinking once you get home after the movie. Barry Jenkins took Tarell McCraney’s play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ and created a personal masterpiece. This is a small film with a big message and the visual storytelling paints an amazing picture alongside Moonlight’s script. It’s a voyeuristic journey as we look in on this boys life as he becomes a man and this realism heightens the films message.
Honorable Mentions (in order)
Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa)
The Light Between Oceans
Best Director of 2016 : Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Martin Scorcese – Silence
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Best Original Score : Justin Hurwtiz – La La Land
Mica Levi – Jackie
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Arrival
Dustin O’Halloran – Lion
Best Cinematography : Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Bradford Young – Arrival
Chung-Hoon Chung – The Handmaiden
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence
Best Actor In A Leading Role : Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington – Fences
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Andrew Garfield – Silence & Hacksaw Ridge
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nocturnal Animals
Best Actress In A Leading Role : Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Emily Blunt – The Girl on a Train
Amy Adams – Arrival
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Best Actor In a Supporting Role : Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Best Actress In a Supporting Role : Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Viola Davis – Fences
Alicia Vikander – The Light Between Oceans
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Hannah Squires – I, Daniel Blake