They say 2016’s been a wonderful year for art house and a dreadful year for blockbusters. I wouldn’t know. I think I’ve only ventured beyond the safe confines of the QFT/Strand a couple of times and, having gritted my teeth through the horror that was Bridget Jones and the Child of Questionable Parentage, realised the Multiplex was no longer for me. So, I’ve had a fabulous year at the cinema, almost wearing out my QFT membership card, and have had to expand my usual Top Ten Films to a more reasonable twenty. Even then, I’ve been forced to cull a few fabulous little movies which I really enjoyed: the always wonderful Greta Gerwig in Maggie’s Plan, (which we saw in a tremendous little art house movie theatre in Amsterdam), Todd Solendz’s darkly brilliant Weiner Dog, Cillian Murphy in Anthropoid, the visual delight that was A Bigger Splash, Hitchcock Truffaut, (a fabulous wee documentary which further fed my Hitchcock obsession), Little Men, which was simple and bittersweet, The Innocence of Memories, (a documentary/memoir/musing on the writer Orhan Pamuk’s relationship with Istanbul), and the Childhood of a Leader which was, absolutely stunning, despite its maddening migraine of a closing scene.
I’d settled on my film of the year within ten minutes of the opening credits and I’ll stand over it as a devastatingly, beautiful piece of storytelling. There’s a tenderness here, a gentle fascination with humanity in all its beauty and brokenness, which is apparent in almost every movie I loved this year. 2016 has been a hard year in which to feel hopeful about anything and yet the cinema has been full of films which seem to say aren’t people odd and awful and utterly wonderful. It’s the sort of gospel I’m quite happy to sit under right now. Here’s hoping 2017 is another great year for brave and ground-breaking cinema.
Best of 2016:
- Notes on Blindness: Surely this is what film is for.
2. The Big Short: At last 2016, a semi-decent film. Sharp script, fabulously awful haircuts, thumping soundtrack and the nicest sofa I’ve seen in a very long time.
3. Spotlight: A tightly-scripted, sentiment-resisting, sucker punch of a film. Plus Mark Ruffalo shining brightly in terrible jeans and Rachel McAdams not even being that annoying. 2016 cinema going is finally picking up
4. Hail, Caesar: I thought this was going to be an all the best bits are in the trailer type of Coen brothers’ movie but actually it’s more of a Coen brothers do clever with a really light touch/look at all those A listers clearly having a blast/why aren’t there more song and dance numbers in modern films? kind of movie. Hooray for the Coens. They know exactly what they’re doing.
5. The Witch: Haunting in every conceivable sense of the word. I have some issues with the ending but aside from the last three minutes when all the pace and subtlety goes, quite literally, flying, this is truly wonderful, well-researched and expertly executed cinema.
6. Anomalisa: For an animated film this is heartbreakingly, awkwardly human. Charlie Kaufman resists the urge to pile on the layers and makes a simple, devastatingly beautiful movie about the loneliness of being a grown up person which comes in at a refreshingly watchable 90 minutes. Only thing that ruined this even slightly for me was how much the main character looks like Rodney from Only Fools and Horses. I’m guessing this wasn’t intentional.
7. Mustang: This is an exceptional wee film. It sneaked up on me and turned my evening upside down in the best possible way. Make sure you don’t miss it.
8. Green Room: Things I learnt from watching this movie: Patrick Stewart is pretty hardcore, duct tape and open fractures go together like cheese and crackers, never go to an isolated neo-Nazi punk club without a fully charged mobile phone. Tremendous stuff from the same director who did Blue Ruin, proving he truly knows his way round a shotgun thriller. More of this please.
9. Everybody Wants Some: See, it is possible to make an American college movie which isn’t just crass, dumbed down puerile nonsense and you can even put in a reasonably large amount of baseball and not leave your audience bored out of their heads. Hats off to you Richard Linklater.
10. Love and Friendship: I liked this way more than I actually like anything Jane Austen has ever written.
11.The Daughter: This is family melodrama on an epic but incredibly measured scale. Gorgeous cinematography. Beautiful soundtrack. Fabulous performances from the whole cast with Sam Neill standing out as particularly memorable. Go see.
12. Born to be Blue: Hey kids don’t do heroin and remember Ethan Hawke actually makes a decent movie once every ten years or so.
13. Men and Chicken: The only thing this is even a little bit like is Donald Antrim’s fantastic “The 100 Brothers” but even that comparison doesn’t scratch the surface of how strange and unsettling and marvellous this wee film is. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard and people being beaten up by taxidermy before. It’s unlikely I will again.
14. Julieta: Simple story, well-told with fabulous 80s outfits. This is the kind of Almodovar I can actually stomach.
15. Hell or High Water: This is what a Western looks like in 2016 and it’s pretty much the best thing my eyes have seen in months.
16. Hunt for the Wilderpeople: You’d have to have a very hard heart not to find this funny and sweet and a bit of a tonic.
17. American Honey: Truly captivating film making. Explores the American dystopian present in a way which is both endearing and disturbing. Plus, that soundtrack. Didn’t even notice three hours speeding past.
18. I, Daniel Blake: We are so lucky to have Ken Loach. We could really do with more of him.
19. Nocturnal Animals: Dear Tom Ford thank you for reminding me to be thankful that I am not a vacuous rich person in a house built of glass and sad art and will therefore not end up stylishly unhappy drinking whiskey alone in well cut clothes. Saying that, any movie with Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal will always be worth a couple of hours of your time. (Nb Nocturnal Animals pictured sadly do not feature in this movie. Equally sadly, Amy Adams does.)
20. I Am Not A Serial Killer: Like Donnie Darko crossed with the X Files entirely set in a MidWestern backwater i.e. Awesome. Includes best placement of Spirit in the Sky ever.
…And the worst films my eyes saw this year.
- Captain Fantastic: Holy indie movie cliche this was dire AND they murdered Dylan.
2. The Revenant: This movie was like an Ernest Hemingway story in that I can see why some people will think it’s good but it literally bored the back teeth off me plus the dreamy, lens flare, floaty Native American parts were like scenes from the bad Terence Malick movies. Sorry Leo I just wanted you to hurry up and avenge your son’s death so I could go home and have a cup of tea.
3. Youth: The best parts of this, (The one on one conversations between Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine), are sublime. It looks gorgeous. It has a lot of great Mark Kozelek songs and some fabulous cow shots. But the worst parts -and there are quite a few- are pure sappy drivel. A good half hour off the running time would make it a much better movie.
4. Chevalier: Up there with the most boring thing my eyes have ever seen.
5. Knight of Cups: This movie features many people jumping in the water with their clothes on, much twirling around mostly empty apartments, a horrific overdone God metaphor, lens flare in abundance, many, many fridge magnet truisms delivered in a breathy voice, a wardrobe entirely composed of the sort of floaty crap they can’t get rid of in the H&M sale and a seriously unrealistic/borderline misogynistic portrayal of women. Wise up Terence Malick. Just wise up.