The Best of 2016

The top ten

Everybody Wants Some!!
The Witch
10 Cloverfield Lane
The Revenant
American Honey
Embrace Of The Serpent
Queen Of Earth
Sully
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Under The Shadow





Film Of The Year
Everybody Wants Some!!

“Rather like how a wildlife documentary will show you the bizarre mating rituals of some flamboyant species or other, Linklater paints a studied picture of college life. The whole film is a mating dance, and Linklater’s also wise enough to sweeten it with a significant dollop of heart.”

Flat-out the most enjoyable film of 2016. In a year of such stress and sadness, this kind of happy escapism really seemed to matter. Linklater’s spiritual sequel to Dazed And Confused is intended, first and foremost, to put a smile on your face. So, yes, it’s light, yes, it’s funny. These things can often make a film feel disposable or in some way trivial, but in the right hands they can still be used to craft something that feels wise and true. Linklater has such a gift, and Everybody Wants Some!! ranks among his greatest achievements.



The Witch

The Witch eschews cheap jump scares and may disappoint gore-hounds, it still manages to be very, very disturbing. Awful events happen out of the blue, or escalate with surreal intensity. Eggers has scratched into his film a number of indelible images that come directly out of nightmares.”

An itchy, scratchy, stifling experience if you allow yourself to be immersed in it. The Witch is one of the finest horror films to have appeared in the last decade – possibly the best. From the period-correct dialogue to the just-so production design, every element feels as it should be. The greatest asset here is the film’s intense sense of control. Each image feels considered. Add some superb performances and you have a horror that transcends the usual genre walls and asks to be considered as simply a great film.



10 Cloverfield Lane

“There really is love for a bygone era on the screen. Not just in the immaculate production design of Ramsey Avery (the details in Howard’s shelter are terrific), but in the script’s fondness for Hitchcockian suspense, all the while evoking the feel of the best of 1950’s short-story sci-fi.”

Trachtenberg’s debut has almost certainly put him in a very enviable position in Hollywood. Until that’s capitalised on there’s plenty to savour here, not least in the trio of fine performances – an element that was conspicuously absent from the first movie in this unlikely franchise. The last fifteen minutes have proven make-or-break for some audiences, but this sequence compliments the film’s gorgeous opening; itself a masterclass in visual storytelling. And really, detractors, answer me this: what were you expecting? With the next in the series announced for 2017 and exec producer J.J. Abrams promising more down the road, 10 Cloverfield Lane has become the benchmark for this fertile sci-fi anthology. My most-watched film of 2016.



The Revenant

“Iñárritu has crafted an old-fashioned Hollywood frontier epic, albeit skewed through a more cynical modern eye and having harnessed the greatest possible tools at his disposal.”

A weighty, self-important film, granted, but a beautiful, exhausting and exhilarating one. The Revenant has had longer to settle in the mind than any other on this list, and little of its initial luster has worn off. DiCaprio’s central performance got much of the press on release in the usual fuss over the Oscars, but it’s the film at large which continues to awe; it’s completeness. CG may have helped Iñárritu more than a little, but even still, this is a throwback to a kind of ambitious filmmaking rarely seen these days.



American Honey

“There’s a strangely apocalyptic feel to American Honey, as though it’s taking place during an end of days that nobody is aware of yet. Of course every generation feels as though it is in some way living in cataclysmic times, and this isn’t something vocalised by the young adults on screen, but there’s a devil-may-care recklessness at work here.”

With its vibrant pop and hip-hop soundtrack, American Honey isn’t the kitchen sink realism of Fish Tank but a sort of sickly, kaleidoscopic fairy tale version of middle America; a place inhabited by grotesques and hypocrites in place of witches and ogres. But in the midst of all this, Sasha Lane shines brightly as Star, while Shia LaBeouf is perfectly cast as the incorrigible Jake.



Embrace Of The Serpent

“It helps, of course, that the entire experience is utterly breathtaking to look at. David Gallego’s monochrome presentation robs the Amazon of its lurid colours, but gives back so much more in texture and shadowplay.”

Here, in the natural mazes of the Amazon, the natives and the exploring (invading?) white men are both afforded the knottier complexities of the human condition. Anger, resentment, redemption and the insatiable need for discovery coalesce here into something frankly (that word again) mesmerising. Embrace Of The Serpent is a heady, intoxicating experience. A trip out of the ordinary into a place of purgatory. Only the jungle can judge you now.



Queen Of Earth

“Credit to Perry for writing these women such generous, juicy, believable roles. The monologues that spill forth from their mouths feel genuine, honest, wholly convincing. In Perry’s world, these are set-pieces, and they’re performed to perfection.”

Queen Of Earth is almost, almost a horror film. Perry’s follow-up to Listen Up Philip changes tack notably. Here he delivers a film indebted to the eerie psychological dramas more common in the late 60’s, evoking Roman Polanski particularly. And while Elisabeth Moss unravels with sustained and intense flare, Katherine Waterson is equally as impressive in her measured, more acerbic turn.



Sully

“Eastwood skirts painting the landing on the Hudson like anything as cavalier as might be seen in an action movie. There’s a due diligence to the drama that unfolds, similar to that seen in Deepwater Horizon earlier this year.”

Accusations of hagiography aside, Sully found Eastwood dealing with the subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with greater acuity than in his previous film American Sniper. Structurally, Sully feels like something of a Moebius strip with Tom Hank’s measured turn as its sturdy centrepiece. Though it’s opening scene feels like something of a stutter, what impresses here is the level-headed consistency that follows. This is grown-up filmmaking tailored for mass consumption and probably Eastwood’s best in a decade.



Author: The JT LeRoy Story

Laura Albert talks us through her accidental journey creating the alter-ego JT LeRoy, becoming a cult author and assembling a circle of fluid identities to perpetuate the scenario. Albert’s story is generous in itself, and while the version of events presented here is wholly one-sided, that is the function that Feurezig’s film serves. Here we get a cinematic exploration of the motives and mechanics behind a great literary curio.



Under The Shadow

Under The Shadow is entwined with a time and place very deliberately. While the supernatural threat is one thing, the film bristles with more overtly political ones. The ongoing warfare, sure, but there are other factors stitched into the unease.”

Itching to see this one again. Under The Shadow is a remarkably accomplished horror film that builds by osmosis, drawing the viewer further and further in until the atmosphere is absolutely suffocating. I can’t recall leaving the cinema in such a transformed state all year; a testimony to the talent at work.



The best of the rest…

Knight Of Cups
Kubo And The Two Strings
Kate Plays Christine
Hail, Caesar!
The Assassin
Paterson
High-Rise
Anomalisa
Arrival
Our Little Sister
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Mustang
Lemonade
The Big Short
Midnight Special

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