There’s no point in hiding it; 2016 was a rubbish year. But let’s be positive and look at the good stuff, shall we? It certainly wasn’t a bad year for movies, if you forget about the disastrous summer of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and reboots that fell flat on their faces. Batman v Superman and Independence Day Resurgence being two of the worst. “Saaaaaave Maaartha!” What was that all about?
One thing I WAS blown away by was the fact that genres that generally don’t do very well, i.e. horror and science fiction, made very intelligent and stylish comebacks. Denis Villeneuve blew us away with Arrival, Jeff Nichols gave us the Stephen Kingesque Midnight Special, and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos took us to a whole new level of f-cked up dystopia with The Lobster.
Horror hit Don’t Breathe showed that Fede Alvarez can tackle more than just bucket loads of gore and can pack a cinema with unbelievable tension and claustrophobia, and then of course, there was Train to Busan, a South Korean zombie horror that moves at 350km per hour.
Check out the full list below which is based on films I have seen either at the cinema or through online release in the Czech Republic during 2016. Being my first ‘Best of’ list, it was a mission and a half to put together! There are just so many films out there and I may need to update it along the way (if I see La La Land and Moonlight by the end of the year, that is). Enjoy and let me know what you think.
20. Goodnight Mommy
Goodnight Mommy is one of those movies with a trailer that throws your expectations of the film in a completely different direction. What seems to be a horror movie about a just out of cosmetic surgery mother who is rather domineering over her twin boys, turns out to be something quite different, and it’s AWESOME. Set in the isolated and haunting beauty of the Austrian countryside, this is a psychological thriller more than anything else, but I would advise you to take caution with some scenes, it gets a little messy and torturous.
19. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was not as well received as his previous film Django Unchained, but I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more. Tarantino sets up one hell of a non-traditional sequence of events with a focus on what the director excels at – dialogue. Kudos must go to Jennifer Jason Leigh who is just so vile and entertaining as the dangerous Daisy Domergue, not to take any credit away from the others. This is a cast that certainly knows what they’re doing.
18. Train to Busan
The zombie genre has almost been done to death. Train to Busan gives the genre a much needed shake-up and speeds it up so fast that it’s something like World War Z vs Snowpiercer. The film has great zombies and zombie conventions to appeal to fans of the genre, but also some pretty decent characters that evolve nicely as the film approaches it’s explosive climax. Director Sang-ho Yeon also made an animated prequel to called Seoul Station which is also worth checking out. The Wailing is another critically acclaimed entry into the South Korean zombie genre from this year, and of course erotic drama The Handmaiden which is sure to ring some Oscar bells for the country. But, I still think this film is one of their best recent exports. What a great year for South Korean cinema!
17. Closet Monster
Closet Monster is the most recent entry into this list because for a coming-of-age story, it just has such a beautiful and inventive nature. Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) is a creative young guy coming to terms with his sexuality and trying to escape his dull Canadian hometown. Oscar’s journey to self-realisation and acceptance is twisted in some moments almost like a David Cronenberg body horror – there is a lot of hidden symbolism in this film. Oscar’s character evolution is portrayed brilliantly by young actor Connor Jessup, and the wicked fun indie electro soundtrack gives the film a decent pace. PLUS Isabella Rossellini is the voice of Oscar’s hampster ‘Buffy’. There’s something a little bit Donnie Darko about this film.
16. Don’t Breathe
This is by far the most intense and boundary pushing horror / thriller that was on the scene this year. Director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) reinvented the home invasion thriller with Don’t Breathe. Like The Witch, rather than relying on cheap jump scares it focuses on building extreme tension and fear of the bad-ass blind ex army vet played by Avatar’s Stephen Lang – a fantastic casting choice. Our young heroine Rocky (Jane Levy) is also a decent Ripley figure, not to mention an excellent escape artist. Don’t Breathe is extremely unsettling, but oh so addictive.
15. The Witch
Period horror is going to take off in the next few years and it’s all thanks to The Witch and it’s genuinely terrifying agenda. Director Robert Eggers shows that true horror lies in mood and tension and not in jump scares that has more than dampened the horror genre in the last couple of decades (just look at the recent Blair Witch – terrible film). With an unnerving classical soundtrack by Mark Vorven and well executed performances, this is the kind of stuff that will give grown men nightmares. Lead girl Anya Taylor-Joy is going to get a lot of work out of this, and I’m interested to see what she’ll bring to the new M. Night Shyamalan film Split.
14. 10 Cloverfield Lane
I’ve always liked Cloverfield and thought that it deserved more attention than it got, and in a world where trailers are analysed within minutes of their release, sci-fi films like this that remain under the radar are always a pleasant surprise. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays our heroine and escape artist Michelle with extreme poise and curiosity. John Goodman is excellent (as always) and turns the paranoia up 100% by the half way mark of the film. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense ride and extremely unpredictable. I’m looking forward to the next instalment in this universe coming later in 2017.
13. Midnight Special
Everyone was really buzzed about Stranger Things this year. It was a good show, but Midnight Special takes your average Stephen King narrative of a supernatural child running from the government and gives it the Jeff Nichols treatment, making it an original slow burn with the one and only Michael Shannon. There are some mind blowing scenes here, and like this year’s Arrival, this film relies on minimalism and not large scale Independence Day style CGI.
12. Hail, Caesar!
The Coen brothers’ latest was a colourful journey into the golden era of Hollywood with an all star cast taking a tremendous pay cut just so they can be apart of this project by these auteur directors. Hail, Caesar! is a delightfully camp comedy packed to the brim with awkward laughs. Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the real life Eddie Mannix, who swept every celebrity scandal under the rug, is on form. Other cast members include George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton. These greats combined with the jaw-dropping scenes of movies within movies make Hail, Caesar! a worthy entry here.
11. Hell or High Water
The western is a genre that’s been there from the very beginning and it’s becoming difficult to predict where it will go. Hell or High Water is a decent example of a western inspired narrative with a sharp focus on dialogue and cinematography – in many ways it holds similarities to Coen Brothers films such as True Grit or No Country for Old Men because of it’s artistic value, but Chris Pine and Ben Foster are the real drive behind this film as the bank robbing Howard brothers, especially Pine who is so often the hero or prince figure but proves that he’s not typecast after all. Jeff Bridges is fantastic as the retired law and the final showdown with the Howard boys is tense and so well directed by David Mackenzie (Perfect Sense). And a truly magnificent ending, probably one of the best I’ve seen this year.
10. Captain Fantastic
Ben (Viggo Mortenson) is a superhero that the world needs right now. A loving and caring single parent raising his kids to survive in the wild. This film was one of the saviours of summer… What was marketed as a very Wes Anderson looking film (just look at the poster) did have a bit of a resemblance to the great director, but this is just so much more than that. On top of your standard indie quirk, Captain Fantastic is beautifully original and never pretentious – it explores themes of childhood AND parenthood but is never bold enough to point us in a particular direction of what is right and what is wrong. It’s an intelligent film that treats you like a person with a brain, and the ethereal soundtrack by Alex Sommers and Sigur Ros is the icing on the cake.
9. Swiss Army Man
Farts – that’s what first comes to mind when you think about Swiss Army Man, but this film is way more than teenage flatulence. It’s almost ingenious. Daniel Radcliffe has become an indie film icon and this is the highlight of his career so far. Channelling his inner ‘Bernie’ and playing Manny – a half-animated corpse that helps Hank (Paul Dano) deal with being stranded in the wilderness. This film is probably one of the most original ones I’ve seen this year and keeps you guessing. The chemistry between these two guys is just so lovely. By the end of the film, you wish you were friends with them in real life.
Brooklyn is stunning. A film that will captivate anyone but especially those who have spent some time overseas or are thinking of doing so. Whole generations of the Irish emigrated to New York in the 1950s and Saoirse Ronan is absolutely brilliant in the role of the big-eyed shy girl Eilis, and even received a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars this year. Understandable, since Ronan herself was born in New York to Irish immigrants. The film is littered with great performances – director John Crowley has spent careful time on character expressions here, and it’s certainly noticeable. Brooklyn is a journey of self-discovery, a test of boundaries, and a love story to be reckoned with.
Anomalisa is your typical Charlie Kaufman film. It’s got puppets, pretty creepy ones too. It’s packed with character psychology and has a noteworthy performance by David Thewlis, who has the perfect voice and Blackpool accent to match Michael Stone; a dull author who writes about customer service, constantly searching for an escape from the monotony of existence. This is Being John Malkovich all over again, and it’s just as good and sometimes just as funny. The wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh also lends her voice here.
6. The Lobster
Rachel Weisz is a talented actress with an extremely alluring voice. So it’s no surprise that The Lobster is high up on this list because she narrates AND stars in this disturbing dystopian masterpiece from director Yorgos Lanthimos. On top of that, this film is packed with black comedy and originality. It’s painfully honest, but totally hilarious. Colin Farrell is perfect in the role of the troubled David, who is sent to a hotel where he is forced to meet a partner or be turned into an animal (in his case, a lobster). The film boasts one of a kind stunning cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis, proving that there is some remarkable talent in the Greek film industry.
5. Green Room
Patrick Stewart locked up his house and poured himself a glass of whiskey in his country England home after reading the script to Green Room, and it’s easy to see why. Green Room is relentlessly BRUTAL. There haven’t been many films about neo-Nazis recently, aside from this year’s Imperium with Daniel Radcliffe – a bit surprising considering the current rise of the far right. Unlike Imperium, Green Room is more of an exercise in paranoia and horror rather than your standard FBI thriller. Anton Yelchin is superb in the role of Pat, a member of a punk band trapped in the backstage green room of a small town Nazi venue after witnessing a murder. His performance here makes his sudden death this year even more tragic. This was probably the beginning of a great career for poor Yelchin.
I went into Room with virtually no knowledge of the film aside from the fact that Brie Larson had won a Best Actress Oscar, and boy did she deserve it. Room is a well paced psych experiment which is probably one of the most emotionally engaging films I’ve seen this year. Larson’s performance is unbelievable as the protective mother, but the son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) stole the show for me. This film had a lot of opportunities to be brutal and use emotional blackmail, but ends up being a down to earth and honest drama / thriller. It’s always justified and never too much.
3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Actor Sam Neill is a diverse kind of guy – he’s been everyone from our favourite palaeontologist Dr Grant in Jurassic Park to the devil himself.. or whatever the hell he was in Event Horizon. However, it is rare that Mr Neill graces his presence in a film from his home country of New Zealand, but with kiwi local Taika Waititi in the director’s chair, it was hard for him to say no to the character of Hector. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a hilarious adventure through the kiwi middle-earthian wilderness with characters so sweet that you just want to hug them. Julian Dennison is an unstoppable comedic force as misfit Ricky Baker, and I’m curious to see where his career goes since this movie has gone so international. This is an adventure movie like no other. Endless fun.
2. The Dressmaker
An extremely underrated film and the return of director Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof). It wasn’t received well by critics mainly because of the age difference between Winslet and Hemsworth. Something as trivial as that really doesn’t matter to me. The Dressmaker shines through a seamless blending of genres including romance, drama, comedy, revenge thriller and even western. Dressmaker Tilly Dunnage (played brilliantly by Kate Winslet) returns to her Australian hometown of gossiping bullies to seek revenge after an unfortunate childhood. The great Judy Davis is absolutely hilarious as Tilly’s eccentric mother Molly, and we even get a decent character out of Liam Hemsworth as the local love interest. The Dressmaker thrives on taking risks and should be considered a classic of Australian cinema.
Director Denis Villeneuve knows how to reinvent or enhance the typical genre film, cover it in grit and flesh out characters and performances. We’ve seen his brilliant work already through Sicario and Prisoners. Arrival is no different – to me, it’s without a doubt the best science fiction film in the last decade. The use of minimalist and realistic concept art and visual effects make the aliens believable and the overall mise-en-scene very Kubrick. Amy Adams gives an award worthy performance and a well needed linguistics lesson. Talented Icelandic composer Johan Johansson provides a gutteral and moving soundtrack based around the cello that sounds almost like an alien tribal language in itself. This is film making at its best, but how will Villeneuve tackle Blade Runner 2049 next year? I guess we’ll see soon enough.
Feature photo: FX Guide