Let me just blow away some cobwebs here, brush off some dust there, and ok, we are good to go! Hello blog readers, it has certainly been awhile. Apologies for not producing a great amount of material across this site, but if you follow me hopefully you’ll see I’ve been busy contributing to sites such as ‘The Scruffy Nerf Herder‘ and ‘The Hollywood News‘, but I do feel bad leaving my little ol’ blog alone in the dark. However, there is only ever one place I would come to post my list of the year. And what a funny old year it has been. It has been a year of unexpected twists, both on the screen and off. In a year where uncertainty hung heavy in the air, the movies were still there to provide us with respite (even if it’s one of the more lack-lustre summer seasons we’ve had in awhile). It was still a year that managed to impress, and to demonstrate, I’ve bumped up my list to discuss 20 of this year’s finest! Buckle up! (This list only takes into account the films released in the UK from January to December).
10 Cloverfield Lane
20. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dir: Gareth Edwards)
Rogue One was never a sure thing. It was coming off a wave of fairly negative re-shoot rumours, let alone having to shake off the stigma of being a Star Wars prequel. Yet the first in a number of planned spin-off movies has proven to be an absolute treat for Star Wars fans. Following the group of rebel spies who stole the plans of the original Death Star, Rogue One opens the field for stories which allow for a different take on the galaxy far, far away, all the while maintaining a distinctive Star Wars feel. Edwards’ rough and ready approach gives this addition to the franchise a great edge, leading to a final act which pulses with engaging action and a number of fan-pleasing delights. The contained nature of it also allows for a refreshing blockbuster experience that feels contained and precise. Check out my full review here.
19. The Nice Guys (Dir: Shane Black)
From the first pluck of the groovy bass line over a smoggy backdrop of 70’s LA, I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy Shane Black’s latest contribution to the Hollywood buddy picture. And boy, does it take you for a ride. So pulp fiction you can almost see the dog-eared pages of this paperback detective tale browning in the sun, Black takes you on a tour of 70’s LA with one of the best on-screen pairings of the year in the form of Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe’s hapless, yet somehow productive, P.I’s. With a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, Cadillac’s, sleazy parties and colourful voice-overs complement Black’s trademark irreverence and wit, amounting in what is a fun, occasionally very dark buddy movie that can hold a candle to Black’s iconic back catalogue. Is there a full review to check out? You bet your rear posterior there is. Click here to read more.
18. Moana (Dir: Ron Clements & John Musker)
2016 has proven to be something of a banner year for Disney (more on that later), with Moana representing a refreshing take on the Disney princess archetype, giving us their most satisfying take so far in the studio’s current animation resurgence. Celebrating polynesian culture, Moana‘s brilliance is also demonstrated by the stunning animation on display (it is easily the most beautiful film they have made since The Princess and the Frog) and a collection of truly memorable songs from the pen of Hamilton‘s Lin Manuel-Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. The character of Moana, beautifully voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, should stand to be a great role model for young girls in the years to come; a Disney princess not characterised by a quest to win the heart of a prince, but more by a quest of self-discovery. And I haven’t even begun to mention Dwayne Johnson’s energetic turn as demigod Maui. A glorious Disney film that proves that the studio can change to match new generations.
17. Bone Tomahawk (Dir: S. Craig Zahler)
Let us all take a moment to thank Kurt Russel for making the time to put his stunning Hateful Eight moustache to use in another, superior western. Zahler’s western is more than just Kurt Russel playing a small town sheriff. What we have here is a western by setting but a horror film by nature. As Russell puts a band of men together to go find some kidnapped townspeople, they enter a hellish world populated by a cannibalistic tribe, who remain an ominous presence throughout, until we reach the startlingly violent and shocking final act. There are horrors in here that have to be seen to be believed, and even then you may that you can’t bear to look. At times a beautifully shot western, but all the while a nerve-shredding monster story that has a prevailing sense of dread. Skin-crawlingly good.
16. American Honey (Dir: Andrea Arnold)
Andrea Arnold’s latest film, after her startling debut Red Road, the highly impressive Fish Tank and her rather draining Wuthering Heights adaptation, sees her uproot from an English landscape to present an American road-trip movie that comes with what is now her trademark emotional rawness and textured aesthetic. American Honey very much presents an America that feels authentic, one that is both beautiful and ugly often in the same moment. We follow Sasha Lane (a fantastic discovery) as she leaves her broken home in Oklahoma to join a pack of fellow strays on a trip across America to make money, sometimes by by unconventional means. It is a film populated by attention-grabbing performances, not just from the outstanding Lane, but an incendiary turn from LaBeouf. It may be a little long for its own good, but there is something so intoxicating, so arresting, about the rawness of Arnold’s cinematography and a improvisational spirit that is hard not to be enticed by.
15. Star Trek Beyond (Dir: Justin Lin)
My favourite of this years somewhat lack-lustre summer blockbusters, Star Trek Beyond is a pure unbridled celebration of everything Star Trek has come to embody in its 50 year history. Here is a future that is built on the level of cooperation between humans and species of all walks of life, all working together to allow for strong diplomatic ties, celebrating our differences and thriving as a result. Beyond gracefully portrays this utopia through a story which is all about legacy, both for the franchise as a whole and the characters within it. Star Trek has always been best when focusing on its characters, and this feature refocuses the attention on the Enterprise crew, leading to the first film in this rebooted series that feels truly designed to find the best balance for both the legions of pre-existing fans and new audiences alike. It is a film which has provided a great deal of joy and emotion for me (a casual Trekker, not a full-on Trekkie) and as a fan of sci-fi cinema. It is a celebration of everything, and everyone, that this franchise has to offer. Full review is beaming up, right over right here!
14. Zootropolis (Dir: Bryon Howard & Rich Moore)
Who would have thought going in to the year that a Disney movie populated by furry anthropomorphic animals would come to be one of the most timely tales of the year. Along with the colourful trimmings, Zootropolis explores racial stereotyping, discrimination in the workplace, as well as the reach of governmental power. All that, and there’s still room for a Shakira pop track. It also happens to be richly detailed and imaginatively designed, often populating the background with visual gags, from cheap puns to subtle gags. It is often a little too referential for its own good, but the maturity in which it it deals with its incredibly prescient themes. A rewarding experience for all ages, and a sure-fire classic for Disney. Like I said, it has been one hell of a banner year for the house that Walt built. Full review? Sure, check it here.
13. Green Room (Dir: Jeremy Saulnier)
In a year where many of the world’s brightest stars passed away, none felt quite as tragic as the passing of Anton Yelchin. A hugely promising talent who, at only 27, had left a considerable mark in both indie and mainstream Hollywood cinema (see above for his final turn aboard the Enterprise), one of his final films stands as a testament to the brave and daring choices he often made in his short career. Green Room is a tour-de-force of suspense cinema, with Saulnier demonstrating that his debut (Blue Ruin, equally nerve-shredding) was no fluke, as we witness a young punk band try to fight their way out of a neo-Nazis club after they stumble across something that they shouldn’t have seen. What follows is John Carpenter-esque exercise in tension, often exploding in moments of shocking violence. One of the most intense cinematic experience to have been had this year.
12. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir: Travis Knight)
Laika animation studios have been slowly crafting a formidable name for themselves when it comes to crafting stop-motion, tales which have the capability to be as scary as they are amazingly crafted. Kubo and the Two Strings represents perhaps their best work so far, telling a story ingrained in Japanese culture, following young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) as he takes on the Moon King with his magical guitar and the aid of his friends, a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) and a samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey). It all amounts to a tale that is beautifully crafted and incredibly heart-felt, often pillaging depths of emotion in an uncompromising fashion, often taking you very much by surprise. It also happens to feature one of the year’s best scores, courtesy of Dario Marianelli. A magical, stunning delight.
11. Hell or High Water (Dir: David Mackenzie)
This has been one hell of a year for incredibly taut thrillers, its a wonder I still have nerves to spare. With a script courtesy of Taylor Sheridan (who scripted last year’s Sicario), Hell of High Water features one of the tightest and most efficient screenplays of the year, the dialogue ringing with wit, authenticity and inventiveness. It also helps that it features career-best performances from a subdued Chris Pine and an on-edge Ben Foster, and that’s without taking into consideration the presence of Jeff Bridges, who could quite easily ride out the rest of his years playing aged small-town sheriffs, he’d hear no complaints from me. Mackenzie keeps proceedings moving at a breakneck pace, allowing for this wild west thriller to truly sizzle under the West Texan sun.
10. Your Name (Dir: Makoto Shinkai)
While it may look like Studio Ghibli may be on the way out (their apparent final feature When Marnie Was There, also released here is certainly worth checking out), but if Your Name is anything to go by, Toho will certainly not be at a loss for stunning Anime’s to distribute. Taking a body-swap concept and flipping it on its head in a surprising and highly emotional fashion. To say too much would ruin the ride, but Your Name is a film which will keep you constantly on edge, giving you two engaging characters, set against a backdrop of stunningly realised animation, richly depicting both rural and urban Japanese life. Seek this one out, particularly if you are a fan of anime, as it is truly one of the finest pieces of Japanese animations to emerge in the last decade. Hey look, there’s a full review for this one. Head on over here to check it out!
9. Sing Street (Dir: John Carney)
Quite easily the most feel-good movie of the year, Sing Street is a hard film to hate, and if you do then you’re probably dead inside. A charming and genuine Irish tale following young Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) put a band together in order to impress a girl (the startling Lucy Boynton). As he struggles with troubles at home, the restrictions of his school and the general tribulations of young love, he finds solace in his music, leading to a number of incredibly catchy, profoundly moving songs which have been part of the soundtrack of my year for the best part of the last six months. It is a story covers how every different relationship we have in our lives can affect who we are. A joy to watch, and even more joyous to return to again and again.
8. Everybody Wants Some!! (Dir: Richard Linklater)
Richard Linklater has often proven to be a director very skilled at conveying the feeling of ‘living in the moment’, be it following a young boy for 12 formative years of his life, or witnessing a relationship form and develop in the Before trilogy. With Everybody Wants Some!! (never forget the superfluous exclamation marks), the moment is the first weekend before college statrts in Texas 1980, following the members of the college baseball team. What follows is a weekend of drinking, smoking, partying, and talking. And that’s about it, and it’s utterly charming to boot. With an easy-going wit and a cast of actors whose charm often exceeds that of their questionable behaviour. It is a film which is content in allowing you to simply ride along for its run-time, making you one of the gang with a camaraderie that is so effortless its impressive.
7. Swiss Army Man (Dir: Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan)
Certainly the most original film of the year, Swiss Army Man is the sort of film that reminds you that you can still be truly surprised in a day and age when a lot of films seems content to follow a predetermined formula. Swiss Army Man has proven a hard one to describe, for the simple fact that it does just sound ridiculous. Paul Dano’s ship-wrecked Hank finds possible salvation in the form of a corpse, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who may not be quite as lifeless as he initially appears. It is a strange, down right weird story that ends up being all at once grotesque and beautiful, grappling with themes of depression and alienation by encouraging everyone to embrace their weirdness, as that may well prove to be the place that we find we are truly at our happiest. Not for everyone, but for those who can swallow it, Swiss Army Man proves to be a very enriching and profound experience.
6. Embrace of the Serpent (Dir: Ciro Guerra)
Embrace of the Serpent follows a shaman, Karamakate (Nilbio Torres & Antonio Bolivar) in two stages of his life. There is him as a young man in the 1900’s, helping a German explorer find a rare healing plant, and later as an old man helping an American botanist look for the same plant. Each journey down the Amazonian region of Columbia is riddled with mystery, threat, and occasionally madness, as we bare witness to how such a beautiful landscape can be drastically changed and pillaged. Guerra’s black and white cinematography is capable of capturing extreme depth within the jungle, as well as allowing for some images that quite truly blow your mind, all the while telling a story with displays the negative effects of the Rubber boom of the early 20th century on the landscape of a natural and stunning part of the world. An intoxicating piece of work which is leaves a significant mark come its final moments.
5. Creed (Dir: Ryan Coogler)
In a world where everything is being rebooted, nostalgia begins to play a heavy-hand in various sequels and spin-off’s. Some of these films have been drowned by their own legacies, failing to find the means to produce a story which feels like a natural continuation. There is one film, however, that makes it look easy, and that is Creed. As a long-time fan of the Rocky franchise, it is an utter delight to see the franchise thrive, presenting a new legacy in the form of Apollo Creed’s son, Aldonis (Michael B. Jordan), allowing for a spin-off to craft an identity that is very much all its own, all the while staying true to the spirit of the franchise. Coogler has an incredibly amount of energy and inventiveness behind the camera, he gives Creed the blood in its veins, which is pumped by the stunning cast (Stallone turns in career-best work here), giving the film the spirit to allow it to soar. A massive, crowd-pleasing, punch the air victory. Oh look, a full review can be found right here!
4. Victoria (Dir: Sebastian Schipper)
My poor, poor nerves. If Green Room took a machete to them, then Victoria takes a whole truck to them. In one fell take, in one Berlin night, you are taken for a ride that initially begins as something of a meet-cute romance, before developing into something that is much more of an intense and nail-destroying thriller. It is an impressive feat of film-making, made all the more impressive by a cast working off a thread-bare script, allowing for a genuine sense of human connection to be established before the more hair-raising stuff begins. An impressionable piece of daring film-making that is hard to shake off, even once you’ve been off the ride for the best part of the year. Well, look at that, there’s a full review right here!
3. Room (Dir: Lenny Abrahamson)
This film has been hanging with me for some time now, having first seen it in October 2015. But, rules are rules, and with the UK release arriving in January, it can sit proudly in third place. It is a testament to the power of this film that it has remained in such a high position. Showing us the world through the prospective of five year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has lived his whole life inside one room with his mother (Brie Larson), who soon hatches an escape plan with his help, allowing him to see the world outside the four walls of ‘room’ for the first time. Room tackles some dark themes over the course of its run-time, often making for distressing viewing, but it is ultimately a very beautiful story about perseverance, embracing the world and what the strength of love can truly accomplish even in the bleakest of situations. With sensitive direction from Abrahamson and two phenomenal performances from Larson and the young Tremblay, this is a profoundly rich and emotional experience. Check out my full thoughts over here.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir: Taika Waititi)
Ok, actually, maybe this is the feel-good movie of the year. Hunt for the Wilderpople has humble ambitions, to provide you with an adventure focusing on an unconventional pairing in the New Zealand bush, all the while supplying some laughs along the way. What it does deliver is a film with a unique sense of humour, a rich emotional core, and one of the most re-watchable movies of the year (it’s tied with Creed at six viewings. Waititi’s keen direction and witty script are both full of heart and the desire to present something that’s a little off the beaten track, with Julian Dennison and Sam Neil making for an incredibly engaging double act, equally capable of making you chuckle as warming the cockles of your soul. A rich, hilarious, and uplifting, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is like a good friend well worth paying a frequent visit to.
1. Arrival (Dir: Denis Villeneuve)
If you have been following this blog (or just know me), you’ll know that sci-fi is very much my bag, particularly ones which provide plenty of food for thought. This year, such a dish came in the form of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, the type of science fiction tale which takes place in a world that is very recognisably our own, allowing it to have a very prescient power with its themes and concerns, namely that of effective communication. It is also utterly beautiful to behild and filled with narrative surprises, amounting in a cinematic experience which proved to be profoundly engaging on both an intellectual and visual level. Villeneuve has been quickly establishing himself as a true master of these kinds of stories, ones which appear to have conventional genre trademarks, but provide something entirely surprising, taking you to a place you may not have expected. Arrival is his best film to date, a film which goes a long way to show inspire and move in a profound, often mind-boggling fashion. A film that inspires hope as much as it inspires creative and stunning storytelling. More thoughts on why this is quite simply the best film of the year can be found over here.
There we have it, another year over, another list compiled. If the shock twists and turns reminded us of anythign it is that we still have the cinema as a means of escape, and this year has provided features that have made everything just that little easier to bear. Now, all that is left to say is a warm and happy New Year to you all, I hope you are all spending it with people that you love and who make you feel cherished as we move into 2017. Bring on the movies!
Enjoy this stunning retrospect, courtesy of Nikita Malko.