10 Best Films of 2016 (Graeme)

Dec 29, 2016 | Posted by in Lists

Those of you that follow my musings on this site may have already noticed my Top Ten Worst Films of 2016 list (boss-mandated if I was going to be allowed to continue ranting), so it only seems fair that I try and fill the world with a little bit of positivity to make up for my rantings. As a result, behold my Top Ten Best Films of 2016 list, with all the shininess that that entails.

Before I start, there are a few notable movies that almost made it, and were in fact so close, I felt I had to at least acknowledge them. The best documentary I’ve seen this year was without doubt The First Monday in May, and it had me engrossed from the start, even if it was a topic I’d previously held no opinion on. Blockbuster-wise a shout out should goto Star Trek Beyond, which did a good job of being more Trek than its predecessor, and Captain America: Civil War, which although not quite as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was excellent summer fare. Also Deadpool did a fantastic job of being a superhero movie that mocked itself whilst at the same time doing its job, and in a genuinely interesting way. On a more thoughtful side of things, Arrival, Money Monster, and The Girl With All The Gifts, all entertained, whilst simultaneously making you think more deeply about their subject matter if you chose to, which is always a great thing in cinema as far as I’m concerned.

Now onto my list:

10:Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater HorizonOk, I’m going to get a bit serious here. I almost didn’t go to see this, wasn’t sure it was in good taste, and hailing from up Aberdeen way, the spectre of our own offshore disaster, one of a much larger scale, is still burnt deep in my psyche from that horrendous night in my childhood. That being said, my friends and I overcame our trepidation, and did venture forth to see it, and as harrowing an experience as I found it, I am really glad I did. The story is told well, even if BP are given all the blame in a situation that was far more nuanced that the film-maker lets on, and the focus on the families onshore, as well as the coastguard is a masterclass in showing how these things horrify and destroy more than just those directly involved.

The action of the piece is well done, and the jeopardy that the characters are facing feels real. Prior to the blowout, as the tension mounts, and you know how bad it’s going to get, you are carried along by the cast, and when things do go wrong, the adrenaline of the moment, that those men experience really drives home. However, it’s the very nature of that adrenaline rush that makes the powerlessness of those on shore hit even harder. The men on the rig are fighting for their lives, they have some control of their situation, as dire as it may be, but the horror of the families as everything unfolds almost had me leaving the screen as the loss, fear, and helplessness hit you.

This makes my list on both a personal and critical level, it is worth at least some of your time.

9:Mr. Right

On a much lighter note, Mr. Right was a real gem of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. As I said in my review, if you’d told me a film about a dancing assassin would be my favourite of the festival I’d have given you very funny look. Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell have great chemistry, and the story, for all the darkness of the subject matter, is such a fun romp, and has such heart that you’ll not regret the time watching this celluloid treat. Unfortunately, this didn’t get a very wide general release at the beginning of December, but if you love quirky, well directed, funny movies, with a strong, and eccentric supporting cast, you really should hunt this down.

8:Eye in the Sky

Eye in the SkyThe very sad passing of Alan Rickman adds an unfortunate focus on his last live-action role. Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a thoughtful, well directed, and excellently acted look at the anonymous nature of modern warfare and more precisely the media labelled “War on Terror”. To see the way that decision making is handed about, with the emphasis not so much on the right and wrong of it, more on who will get the blame if things go wrong. To contrast that by showing the lives of those at the end of a Drone Strike, seeing how it can radicalise those who were never on the side of extremists, is heartbreaking to watch. This is a movie that doesn’t preach, and it doesn’t offer any answers either, it merely starts the discussion, and it’s one that we should be having far more often than we do.

To say that you are entertained by this is possibly not the best way to put it, but it will draw you in and leave you feeling better informed than many people are likely to be. Also, as a last point on this, both Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman offer a masterclass in acting, and it underlines how much we will miss him on the big screen.

7:Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesrar!You can rarely go wrong with a Coen Brothers film, and as much as there are a couple of their previous works that I prefer, there is something really magical about this offering. Set in the golden age of Hollywood, and looking at the business that is show, there is a fondness and joy in every frame that is magical. The focus on the minutiae of the director trying to get his leading man to say his lines is comedy gold, and had me almost crying. The set pieces, the costumes, the absurdity of it all, leaves you with a smile so big it hurts.

Every plot and sub-plot, and tangent feels worthwhile, and the performances of the entire cast shine. I ended up seeing this one on my own as I had missed my friends catching it, and as much as it’s not my favourite thing to do, I got so caught up in this movie that it really didn’t matter.

6:Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This is Pixar’s UP!, in New Zealand, with a grumpy Sam Neill. I could leave it at that, and you’d understand why this made my top ten, but I should probably elaborate a little more.

If it was What we do in the Shadows that got director Taika Waititi the Thor: Ragnarok gig, it’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople that underlines what an inspired choice that could turn out to be. This is a painfully funny, and at times wonderfully moving movie, with great performances from the cast as a whole. The final set-piece is visually ambitious on an obviously small budget, and the screenplay is confident and assured enough to let the small absurdities play out in an organic way, that leaves you grinning from ear to ear. I defy anyone to come out of the cinema after seeing this little gem of a film without the biggest smile on their face. All this, and with New Zealand’s beautiful wilderness also lighting up the screen, what more could you ask for?

5:Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal AnimalsI went into this movie with entirely the wrong idea of what the plot was going to be, and I was so glad that was the case. The trailers had this looking like some sort of I Know What You Did Last Summer type of movie, with the possibility of a “bad thing” done in youth coming back to destroy a happy life, and although there is a small element of that, with the regrets of decisions made haunting our main character, this is an entirely different beast.

The opening of the film is an assault on the senses, and weirdly doesn’t seem to chime with the rest of the film, and it was only after I listened to an interview with director Tom Ford, that I grasped the point he was trying to make with it, that is that you do not have to have the superficial things in life to be happy. With this in mind his complex telling of three narrative threads intermingled with each other, already a tour-de-force in film-making, takes on further meaning.

Amy Adams is on fantastic form, especially considering she actually has little to do in a story of a woman coming to terms with the decisions she’s made as her second marriage hits the rocks, and her first husband sends her a manuscript of a novel he has written. We see this novel played out, as well as the present day, and the flashbacks to her relationship with her first husband, and although some may be worried about the complex threaded nature of the film, Ford has woven it together so expertly that it takes no effort at all to know where you are in the story, and to empathise, and on occasion judge, all the protagonists in all three tales.

I was left with the satisfying feeling of being challenged by a movie, whilst also being thoroughly entertained. Nocturnal Animals was a real treat, and should be watched if you like grown-up cinema.

4:Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)

Director Makoto Shinkai has delivered us with a movie of sumptuous visuals, emotionally rich characters, and with a genuinely interesting plot. As a relative newcomer to Japanese Cinema, I wasn’t really aware of his previous work, and had nothing much more to go on than the blurb in the Scotland Loves Anime brochure about it being a body swapping story, but that blurb seemed interesting, so off along to sample I went.

What resulted was the most difficult review I’ve had to write for the site, as I really did not want to give away any spoilers. The film is beautiful, both intellectually and visually, and merits its place on this list without a doubt. Yes, it’s a remarkably successful Anime feature, and a fantastic Japanese film, but it almost feels like a disservice to talk about it in these terms, it is simply a wonderful film.

As a side-note, I admit I would like to see the English dub of the film, but only because it would give me more time to drink in the marvellous animation.

3:Hell or High Water

Definitely my personal pick for Best Picture and Best Director at the upcoming Oscars. David MacKenzie has crafted a tale so full of subtle, and some not so subtle, references to economic decay, and the ending of a way of life in West Texas, whilst also showing the tragic beauty of the place, you are left with the feeling that only an outsider could have made this. An American director, never mind a Texan one, would have filled this with bombast, and made it a love story to the Texan way of life. MacKenzie has shown a real affection for that, whilst also showing the melancholy and tragedy of it all. When you then add in the Oscar-worthy performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and especially Jeff Bridges, you are left with a film with many layers, all of which work, both on their own and as a rich tapestry.

If you want to take this solely on a superficial heist movie level, you’ll get as much out of it as someone that wants to delve into the socio-economic narrative that it so expertly portrays.

Personally, I left the cinema loving this movie, after going in with low expectations from the trailer. The thing is, my affection has only grown since then, and writing the review for it was a joy. I really can’t wait until I get the opportunity to see it again.

2:Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue OneAs an avowed Star Wars geek, this movie has been on my radar for quite some time, but I’d tempered my expectations somewhat, and didn’t have my hopes too high for its release. With this in mind I entered the cinema on the 15th December expecting to be entertained, but not a huge amount else. These days we have come to expect the various properties owned by Disney to deliver at least a base minimum of quality, and nothing less, and, on occasion, maybe not much more. We were wrong to have set the bar this low for Rogue One.

I assure you I did not go full fan-boy on this movie, I had issues with some pacing, and with one or two plot holes, but I can say I came out of the cinema elated. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story exceeded expectations on so many levels, delivering the first truly adult oriented movie in the franchise, whilst adhering to technical, and canonical details to a tee. Fans that were worried about the darker tone, and, given where the story had to end, the inevitable bleak conclusion, where left with a film that answered a burning question that Episode IV left hanging, whilst also thrilling us along the way.

I will give the doubters that the CGI characters weren’t perfect, but I would argue that for that technology to mature, this movie was an essential step. I will also add my voice to those that decry the lack of a crawl at the start of the film, but these are nit-picking stances. For Gareth Edwards to provide a film that blends so seamlessly into Episode IV, whilst also enhancing it, is film-making artistry at its best. The smallest details have been looked at, down to the moustache styles of the characters, and to make us care about characters that are always going to be disposable deserves any plaudits that come its way.

Are there technically better films on this list? Probably, but has a better big studio, crowd-pleasing blockbuster been released this year? I really don’t think so. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon, and if Disney and Lucasfilm can keep this quality up, we should be in for an engrossing time at the cinema for years to come.

1:Kubo and the Two Strings

Looking back at 2016, I was surprised at how many quality films there have been, and it has been a joy to say that a lot of them have not been that mainstream. Yes there have been some stinkers along the way, have a look at my worst list if you are interested in those, but the general quality has been pretty high, and whittling this list down to ten was harder than I thought it would be. I can also say that at the start of the year I did not expect to have a stop-motion animated feature at the top of my list. Laika Entertainment is a studio that has worked away at what it does, year on year, with each film it releases being a step up in quality from the last, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that I loved this film. However, the level of quality in animation, storytelling, direction, and voice-cast is really breath-taking.

It’s not often that you come out of a movie and wish you could just go straight back in, but Kubo and the Two Strings has that quality, and not just for me. Everyone I know that has seen this cinematic work of art has fallen for it on some level or another. I won’t go into any details of plot or in-depth impressions here, you can read my review for those, but I will say that Laika is a studio that deserves our support. No-one else is doing this sort of work, certainly not at this sort of level, and we should cherish gems like Kubo and the Two Strings like the treasures that they are.