Obviously I have to do a top films of 2016 list right? No real ground rules, this isn’t the best films of the year, its my favorites from among the new films I have seen this year. My press screening attendance was limited this year, and my festival attendance non-existent, so it is a somewhat mainstream list and all these films received some kind of UK theatrical release in 2016.
What a year 2016 has been in the real world, political and social turmoil, a horribly full in memoriam section, and a general feeling that the year’s was a Micheal Bay adaptation of W.B. Yates’ poem The Second Coming. It’s been a bruising 12 months in which a broad range of accepted the consensus have been shattered but… even I want to shoot myself reading this.
Let’s put aside the political soapbox rant, and get to the point. This is a top films of 2016 listicle, and it has been a very good year fso long as you go outside the increasingly homogenous happy-meal menu being served up by the big multinational conglomerates (and some of those have been alright to).
In fact, so good has the year been that despite the fact that I personally haven’t been covering the press screening and festival grind at all this year, and have been relying on my local plex and art house cinemas as a punter… I have had no trouble coming up not with a top ten films list, but an indulgent top 20.
Here are numbers 20-11…
Deadpool was hailed by some as a fresh twist in the comic book genre. It wasn’t really, rather than a leap forward the film scaled back on the mass CGI destruction and super sized on gags, in jokes, and bloody violence. Relentlessly juvenile, the film actually seemed to be a throwback to the pre-Marvel Studios era of smaller scale comic book movies.
19. The Childhood of a Leader
One of the more intriguing and mysterious films released in the UK over the summer, Brady Corbet’s parable showing the childhood of a future fascist leader seems more prescient by the day and may rise in my estimation on rewatch. The film also featured one of the year’s most striking scores from Scott Walker, at least on a par with the more celebrated music featured in the likes of The Neon Demon and Arrival.
18. The Revenant
The first of three and half westerns on my list, The Revenant was a shock and awe work of technically dazzling film making with a force of nature performance from Leonardo DeCaprio doing the most ostentatious on-screen suffering endured by any western hero since Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse. It was however a movie that appeared to diminish rapidly in the dust leaving less of an impact that later entries in this list.
17. The Hateful Eight
Tarantino’s most satisfying film since Kill Bill: vol 1, a brutal neo-spaghetti western that despite its length and 70mm cinematography was mounted on an intimate scale closer to Reservoir Dogs than his later works. A tale of very bad things happening to very bad people.
16. Midnight Special
Jeff Nichol’s retro science fiction film preceded TV’s Stranger Things but was much more sombre and less obvious in its use of references. The influence of Carpenter’s Starman and DePalma’s The Fury could be felt, but with its messianic child and blue collar heroes it was closest to classic Stephen King. Destined to be overlooked in the wake of Arrival, Midnight Special deserves to find a wider audience than turned out for its underwhelming theatrical release.
Another admirably serious science fiction picture, although one whose twists were less surprising the more classic science fiction literature one had read. Arrival was best viewed as a character piece despite the Lovecraftian aliens and giant spaceships. The first of two outstanding performances from Amy Adams in this list.
14. The Neon Demon
The most divisive movie in my top 20, Nicholas Winding Refn’s stylish mix of horror movie and art film took Euro-sleaze on holiday to California and was as hard and shiny as a shellac manicure. I’m not entirely convinced the entire film isn’t one big joke on everybody but revelled in its outrageousness, style, and super-cool soundtrack.
It’s ironic that under the guidance of Pixar head honcho John Lasseter Disney’s animation brand has hit a winning streak just as the previously unassailable Pixar has started to lose its shine.
For all that it claimed to be a move away from the ‘princess’ stereotype, Moana was classic Disney. A great story, warm comedy, tremendous animation, and great songs made this an irresistible joy.
If Moana went straight for the heart. Disney’s other animated film Zootropolis (Zootopia in the US) went for the head. On the surface a shiny adventure featuring anthropomorphic talking animals in the vein of Disney’s 1973 Robin Hood, Zootropolis hid a complicated political and social allegory about racial and social stereotypes. A film that was as much fun for adults as kids.
11. Train to Busan
It hurt to leave this out of the top 10 list, and the fact that this Korean zombie thriller got pushed out at the last minute testifies to the overall strength of this year’s movies. Train to Busan didn’t exactly do anything new with the fast zombies idea, taking ideas from Zac Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and blockbuster World War Z. Where it scored was in using a tried and tested Irwin Allen disaster movie template to bring enough character and emotional heft to make gore-hounds cry.
Next up, the top 10 and my worst film of 2016.