Years in film always feel somewhat book ended. The year starts with a splash as we receive the most critically acclaimed films filtering through. And then sometimes those film will hit us right at the end of the year. In between we get a combination of small independent films we take to our heart and big mainstream films that are hits at the box office although not films that I will make a connection with. So, in summary the best film I saw in 2016 was The Revenant, a dazzlingly beautiful film that hit hard and took my breath away. It looked like it might win Best Picture, but that went to well deserved winner, the beautifully acted Spotlight. Two films I would like to mention that didn't make my top ten but that I loved were the absolutely delightful Maggie's Plan and the extremely well written and acted Hell Or High Water.
The Revenant is a film of epic scope and breath taking beauty. It is
also bleak, brutal and quite possibly not for every one. It's a stamina
test. But I actually revel in this sort of film. I want my heart and
mind pushed to the limit. This film does that. Inarritu is right at the
peak of his powers. He thinks like few in modern day cinema, he works in
the manner of Malick and I believe he has possibly usurped that great
master. His films are cinematic in the extreme, using natural light,
long takes and demanding brave performances from his actors. They are
emotional litmus tests. His latest is based on true events in 19th
century American frontier land. An expedition of hunters and trappers is
attacked by Indians. There are many deaths, but some men survive. One
of them, Hugh Glass, is later attacked by a bear and barely survives.
What happens next is a brutally epic tale of survival and ultimately
revenge. All aspects of this film approach perfection. The cast, in
extreme conditions is superb. DiCaprio has never been better. The score
is original and apt. And the cinematography by Lubezki is stunning to
say the least. From first frame to last I was continually gobsmacked by
the imagery. I don't think I have ever seen a more beautiful film. If
there is a slight fault it's definitely not a tender film. These are
primal emotions. Hate, duty, pride, fear, revenge. It will leave you
shattered and spent.
The Big Short is a dazzling film that both entertains and informs. It is
wickedly funny and dramatically sound. The director, Adam McKay, has
come from comedy and it shows. But it is nuanced and clever and it
blends extremely well with the dramatic moments. The story of the 2008
GFC is told in such a way that it is never dry but instead it is bold
and full of pathos and humour. Combine a great script and great acting
and the results speak for themselves. Using many great narrative devices
it is edited in such a fashion to continually push the story along. As
said the cast are great but special mention should go to Carell and Bale
whose characters are played with precision and humanity. This
is also an enlightening film. I certainly learned a great deal whilst
being totally entertained at the same time.
La La Land will make you smile for days. It's a small miracle of a film
that is heart warming, dazzling and uniquely beautiful. Damien Chazelle
came to notice with the excellent Whiplash and in this film he has gone
up a notch with a film that totally delights all the senses. And what's
more it's a musical! Set in modern day Los Angeles we cross paths with
Sebastian, a jazz lover, and Mia, a struggling actress. They have dreams
but reality keeps knocking them down. They fall in love but can they
find true happiness in their careers. This special film is about
following your dreams and keeping the passion alive. The two leads
Gosling and Stone are just superb. They have amazing chemistry and loads
of charisma. And they are pretty talented. They aren't amazing singers
but they carry the film and it just ads to the charm. The musical
numbers are just magical with great homage being paid to the classic
musicals of Hollywood. Leave your cynic's mind at the door and just
revel in a beautiful piece of cinema.
Spotlight is essential viewing for two reasons. It's an important
subject that needs airing and it also a film of superb writing and
acting. Set in 2001 at the offices of the Boston Globe, Spotlight is an
investigative team that painstakingly researches stories. After a new
editor comes to the paper they dig into rumours of priestly sexual abuse
over decades. What they find is a landmine of abuse and cover up. This
is a quietly powerful film that slowly ratchets up the drama. It is
understated and lets the story do the work. A fine cast leads the way
with Schreiber and Keaton especially shining. In the end I found it very
sad, the story of abuse is damning and profound. This fine film is also
an ode to journalism.
, directed by Lenny Abrahamson.
Room is an emotionally powerful film about survival and love. It is
devastating and yet also uplifting. Based on a successful novel it tells
the story of a mother who has been kept captive in a room for 7 years.
To add to the tragedy she has mothered a child, Jack, who is now five.
Together their unique bond carries them through this awful episode. Brie
Larson is truly incredible as the mother who must find a way to have
her son survive and also keep her own sanity. The film is divided into
two parts and both work well as a display of humanity and its strengths
and also its weaknesses. This is a sharply observed film full of
emotional stomach punches and wonderful performances.
, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Arrival is a film to launch a thousand conversations and pose a hundred
questions. A seemingly straight forward science fiction film becomes a
challenging think piece that is a provoking look at humanity and how we
communicate. Like the best science fiction this superb film looks inward
at humanity rather than outward at the skies. 12 mysterious spacecraft
land on Earth causing alarm and panic. Two scientists are recruited to
try and find ways of communicating. What unfolds will leave you
spellbound and probably a little bewildered. As each scene unfolds we
think we know a little more but there are twists and surprises that
ultimately reveal much more than we first thought. After the sublime
Sicario Denis Villeneuve shows he is a force to be reckoned with. His
films combine sound and sight like few others. Aided by superb
performances by Adams and Renner this is a wonderful film that will make
you think about the nature of time and the marvel of communication.
Steve Jobs is a masterclass in acting and writing. It is powerful,
dramatic viewing. Aaron Sorkin is the master at writing great dialogue
and here is no different. Under the direction of Danny Boyle this is a
taut, smart film about a big personality. It is a three act affair, with
each being set around the launch of a key Apple product. It is a great
insight into the mind and personality of Jobs, a flawed man with a huge
talent for knowing product. Fassbender is his usual superb
self in the title role. His acting is deft and truthful. Seth Rogen is
also adept in a key role. This isn't a film with a lot of moving parts.
It's quite stationary but it will please fans of great words.
Paterson is a tender appreciation of the inner magic of life. Jim
Jarmusch is expert at providing gentle and poignant observances of the
world around us and he has succeeded here again. Adam Driver is superb
as Paterson, a bus driver, in the New Jersey city of Paterson. We follow
him for a week, methodically seeing his unchanging daily routine. And
even though his life seems small and inert there is a show of tenderness
at each step in his relationship with his wife and the people he
encounters daily. He writes poetry to make his life and this film is
like a poem in its rhythm and cadence. It's a slow paced film and
Jarmusch never succumbs to obvious drama to crank up the action. Instead
he relies on the humanity of the piece to make it all work beautifully.
Midnight Special is a uniquely intelligent, finely crafted film that
really defies to fit into any particular genre. It's part thriller, part
family drama, part chase film and also part Sci-fi. It takes its time,
allowing layers to be carefully pealed back to reveal a considered story
that will fascinate and reward. Alton Meyer is a young boy who is
clutched by his father from the claws of a cult in Texas. Michael
Shannon is supreme as Roy, the father, who is desperate to help his son.
But his son is something special and his wanted by the FBI and also the
cult. I can't really give to much else away that would spoil the movie
but this film will surprise and entertain you as it builds to its
finish. The acting and writing is first class. It has great emotional
depth and fierce integrity. Jeff Nichols is one of the most interesting
directors working today and his latest film is another credit in his
Quentin Tarantino has crafted another expertly made film that satisfies
on many levels. His eighth film (as stated in the opening credits) might
not be his best but it is still important and vital to lovers of
cinema. This film moves at a slow pace but it never feels long. That is
probably because it is so well constructed. Every action has a meaning
and it slowly reveals its secrets in delightful ways. It has many
Tarantino tropes such as extreme violence and witty dialogue but it is
actually not amazingly funny. There is dark humour but this not a laugh
out loud film. The story of characters snowed in during a Wyoming
blizzard in the 19th century is a western who dunnit with elaborate
dialogue and built up tension. Beautifully shot in Panavision by Robert
Richardson this film, after a slow beginning, will grip you and
Films to see in 2017-