Best Films of 2016: Part Two
Concluding our cinematic features for the year of 2016 is the second part of our countdown of the best films the past twelve months have had to offer, and whilst the likes of Tarantino, Star Wars and Marvel haven’t made the top ten, it just reasserts the power and strength of cinema in the modern era. Beginning our final foray into the best of 2016 therefore, we start with…
Not only does Ryan Coogler’s Creed gain kudos for putting Goodison Park, the home of my beloved Everton, on the big screen, it also deserves a rafter of plaudits for reinvigorating the Rocky franchise, resurrecting it from the dead-end many had thought it had drove itself into and proving that with enough solid elements holding it together, such a series can continue to thrive. With Stallone arguably giving the best performance of his career, alongside a superb physical performance from Michael B. Jordan, a continuing collaborator with Coogler, Creed is a thrilling masterclass in how to create a successful sports movie, one which boasts impressive cinematography and sets things up nicely for Coogler’s venture into the MCU with Black Panther, a film which of course also stars the magnetic screen presence of Jordan in a leading role.
9. The Revenant
As many predicted, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s visual masterclass The Revenant was indeed the movie which finally brought Oscar success for Leonard DiCaprio, and whilst perhaps in my own opinion the prestigious gong should have gone to Michael Fassbender instead, the reality is those Oscar lot just love a man to suffer before rewarding him, and boy does he. Whether it be being ripped to shreds by a bear, swimming in freezing water or eating a bison liver, a brave decision considering DiCaprio’s vegetarian ways, The Revenant takes delight in punishing poor old Leo, yet the movie really shines when admiring the simply stunning cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki who too walked away with a deserved Oscar win, one which made him the first person in history to win three consecutive Oscars for his respective cinematic craft. Not a bad way to enjoy Christmas I suppose.
8. The Big Short
Whilst there are those who are clever enough to dissect and understand the financial crisis of 2007/8, films like The Big Short act as the sort of gateway many of us cry out for when it comes to understanding an event so critically important yet so fundamentally confusing. With a top-end cast featuring the likes of Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Steve Carell holding it together, Adam McKay’s comedic take on the unfolding drama works perfectly, creating a film which not only requires the audience’s utmost attention throughout but one which is clever enough to not underestimate its’ subject matter by resorting to cheesy basil exposition. How does the film manage to bypass this? By not only breaking the third wall but knocking it down completely, with guest stars such as Margot Robbie turning up and doing the explanations for us, something of which seems strange on first watch but suitably fits the feel of the film on repeat viewings, an easy feat when considering the superb nature of the movie.
7. The Neon Demon
As with High-Rise, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is undoubtedly a movie viewers will either really love or really hate. Whilst Refn has some done some superb work in the past with the likes of Bronson and Drive, films like Only God Forgives prove that every once and a while even the most gifted of film-makers can make a real stinker. Fortunately for Refn, The Neon Demon is most definitely a film which sides on all the good things the great Dane can accomplish, with its’ simply marvellous cinematography rivalling that of the most accomplished movie-makers, whilst the Cliff Martinez soundtrack continues the solid collaboration between director and composer which began on Drive. Part Lynchian fairytale, part exploitation horror, The Neon Demon is an engrossing and overly arty B-Movie which puts to shame all the weaknesses of his past and poorer attempts to create such. Not only does god forgive Mr. Refn, but so does your trusted audience.
6. The Witch
“She’s a witch!”. Trying to avoid thinking up that particular famous Monty Python scene when it comes to anything resembling witchcraft is a particularly hard feat, yet Robert Eggers’ unbelievably tense cinematic debut The Witch is a movie which creeps you out from beginning to end, destroying any hopes of a break from its’ melancholic appeal by being just too darn intense and oppressive from the outset. Set in the remote outset of a secluded 17th century New England settlement, one camped right next to the freakiest looking forest of all time, The Witch is a superb and intelligent piece of horror film-making, one which doesn’t rely on cheap cattle-prodding as its’ main selling point and instead one which focuses on the oppressive state of madness and the ambiguity of an age in which witchcraft was a notion taken very, very seriously. If you want the full effect, turn the ligths off and listen with headphones. It’s a guaranteed creeper.
5. Son of Saul
Cinematic interpretations of one of history’s most appalling acts are always a tough watch and whilst Son of Saul adheres to such a notion, this Hungarian Oscar winner is perhaps one of, if not, the definitive Holocaust movie, one which completely disregards the Hollywood based nature of a film like Schindler’s List and instead goes for a much grittier approach, one which boasts some outstanding cinematic qualities and a standout performance from its’ leading man. With its’ sheer harrowing and shocking fundamental nature not exactly being the most enjoyable cinematic experience, Son of Saul rewards the audience in a range of different ways, not only by giving some sort of cinematic justice to the terrible events of the Holocaust, but also confirming the hype surrounding first-time director and actor double of László Nemes and Géza Röhrig respectively who between them leave the audience feeling numb and in awe of such a monumental and powerful depiction of the horrors of war.
4. Nocturnal Animals
Whilst director Tom Ford is perhaps best known for creating some lovely looking suits in the fashion industry, Nocturnal Animals continues the critical success achieved by Ford with his debut feature A Single Man with this dark, white-knuckle tale of revenge and hatred, one which features top-form performances by both Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal respectively and a movie which revels in its’ Kubrick-esque attention to detail. Some may say indulgent, I say beautiful, and with obvious nods to the likes of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick himself in terms of art direction, cinematography and narrative, one which features all the ambiguity and mystery of a film such as Mulholland Drive, Nocturnal Animals is one of those rare cases of going into a film knowing absolutely nothing about it only to be blown away completely come the end. Aside from an opening title sequence which is a rare obvious mis-step, Tom Ford’s second feature is a superb piece of drama and one which deserves all the awards recognition it can get, particularly for the performances from its’ leading actors.
Arriving during Oscar season at the beginning of the year, Lenny Abrahamson’s cinematic adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s critically acclaimed novel went on to receive rapturous plaudits from pretty much everyone, resulting in a deserved win for Brie Larson for Best Actress at the Academy Awards and more importantly, a place in Black Ribbon’s top three films of the year. Whilst Room begins in a melancholic and overtly dark manner, yet one which is necessary to the overarching narrative, the concluding half of the movie is an expertly managed portrayal of discovery and wonder. Featuring arguably one of the best performances from a a child actor ever, one which undoubtedly will see young Jacob Tremblay being a name to remember in the future, Abrahamson’s latest is an uplifting tale of the unbreakable bond between mother and son, even in the darkest of moments, resulting in Room fully deserving its’ place within the best the year has had to offer.
Along with Christopher Nolan, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has swiftly become one of the most interesting and reliable film-makers working out there today, and with Arrival, Villeneuve ventures into the realm of science fiction and pulls it off spectacularly, a particularly good omen when thinking ahead to the much anticipated Blade Runner 2049 in the coming year. Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life”, Arrival takes its’ ques from the best of sci-fi cinema, choosing to thrive on the understated rather than the spectacle and featuring a powerful leading performance from Amy Adams, an actress who has really taken 2016 by storm. With its’ heartbreaking narrative and time-bending twists, Villeneuve’s latest is a beautifully crafted gem, one which stays with you long after leaving the cinema and really emphasises its’ brilliance by being a film you simply have to keep coming back to.
And here we are at last. Who would have thought that after the widely panned bore/cringe-fest which was The Cobbler last year, director Tom McCarthy would have redeemed himself completely with his next cinematic outing, a film which bucked the trend at the Oscars by actually being the deserved winner of best picture and a film more than deserved of being top of the pile for the best films released this year. With an absolutely outstanding cast including the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton, all of whom could have potentially walked off with Academy Awards themselves, Spotlight tells the tale of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal and its’ subsequent exposure by The Boston Globe during the early years of the 21st century, and whilst the subject matter is fundamentally hard to examine on any platform, Spotlight manages to mix the winning formula of understatement and unrelenting drama in portraying a story so integral to recent history. With 2016 being such a stupendous year for cinema, picking the top spot may have been a unforgiving challenge, yet with Spotlight the choice was clear, resulting in a winner that concurs with those on the Academy Award board. Who’d thunk it?
Next Time: Looking Forward to 2017
“What Do They Want? Where Are They From…?
As a self-expressed movie geek, now and then you often come across a film which makes you optimistic regarding the future of cinema, a film which takes away all the pain of sitting through hours upon hours of absolute tosh during a fair portion of the year and most importantly, a film which makes you grateful for having access to the medium of cinema and the minds of those behind an achievement such as Arrival, the latest from Denis Villeneuve, of whom I am a massive, massive fan of; a director who has not put a foot wrong so far in his career, with films such as Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy and last years’ white-knuckle thriller Sicario, all being part of an already impressive body of work. Based upon Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life”, Arrival is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, if not recent cinematic history, with a mix of intelligent and captivating science fiction alongside a melancholic drama at its’ core, Villeneuve’s latest only further cements his skill as one of today’s most impressive cinematic minds.
After the arrival of twelve mysterious objects, each taking their place in separate areas of the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to effectively communicate with the alien beings in order to understand the logic behind their arrival on Earth. With each of the twelve countries in which these mysterious objects have landed attempting to do the same, Arrival is a captivating take on the age-old story of first contact, one which has no problem in taking its’ time to tell a story and one which relies on effective characterisation and a storming performance from Amy Adams to achieve a feat of pure cinematic wonder. With an effective and powerful screenplay from Eric Heisserer alongside Adams’s performance the real big selling points of the movie, it would be easy to disregard the many other positives associated with the film including Johann Johannsson’s score, one that encompasses both the subtle use of dream-like whispers with epic howls of thunder and one that continues the successful pairing of Johannsson and Villeneuve after their collaboration on Sicario.
Although the cinematography by Bradford Young is more than satisfying, you do feel a sense of regret that Roger Deakins isn’t behind the shoot, particularly after thinking back to Deakins’s work on both Prisoners and Sicario, yet even without the distinct style of the Devonian legend, Arrival is still a stunning picture to admire, with the opening discovery of the cloud-smothered UFO rivalling the shot captured in Sicario in which we watch FBI agents disappear into the descending sunset. Venturing into the realms of sci-fi before his work on the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, Denis Villeneuve has once again created an astonishing piece of work, one which continues the successes of Sicario and takes it one step further. Heartbreaking come the end, Arrival will no doubt require repeat viewings like any true work of effective science fiction, science fiction which is not only intelligent, but is handled in such a way that is knows not to spoil the audience and simply blast the plot at you like many blockbusters tend to do in this day and age. Quite simply, Arrival is the best science fiction film of the year and one which needs to be witnessed in the biggest screen you can find without resorting to spoiler-filled reviews first. Instead, let the film’s magic come to you organically and hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did. Villeneuve, you are in the Nolan-esque realms of legendary status already.