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
“You Have Forsaken The Living For The Dead…”
If anything, Son of Saul is one of those sad indicators of modern cinema. Sure, anyone can go and watch the latest blockbuster, the latest superhero movie, the latest sequel, prequel or remake, yet when it comes to independent, foreign hidden gems, regardless of critical praise across the globe, such films are particularly hard to find, unless, like me, you are one of those crazy cinephiles who would traverse the plains of England to try and find them. In the case of Son of Saul therefore, never before have I seen a film so visceral and utterly heartbreaking, a film that encourages you to witness the appalling acts of the Holocaust without exploiting them to a winding degree and ultimately, a film which indeed has a sense of independence and singularity, a film which rewards you fully in your attempts to seek it out, even if at times, events on-screen may indeed be too much for some to handle yet not through a sense of exploitative means, but rather through a sense of Son of Saul being perhaps the most accurate and horrific tale of recent histories’ most awful tragedy to have graced our screens since well, forever.
Following a day in the life of Hungarian-Jewish prisoner Saul, played in sheer majestic fashion by Géza Röhrig in his first on-screen role, Son of Saul attempts to show us the true horror of the events at Auschwitz with Saul’s role as a member of the Sonderkommando being fully embraced and materialised in a cinematic fashion that combines the stark horror of reality without attempting to dislodge and alienate the viewer by means of certain overkill and bad taste. This success is primarily captured by means of the film’s cinematography with the film’s choice of having an incredibly shallow depth of field and the camera being a constant companion of our titular hero both giving the impression of ambiguity regarding certain events that occur on-screen, suggesting Saul’s own blurred mentality, one that accepts events that are going on around him yet decides to not fully embrace them, whilst also showing enough to capture the essence of sheer madness that encapsulated the events that took place. The film is not one that attempts to dramatise, it simply portrays the horror of reality and the wrongfulness of the past, something of which reminded me of films like Apocalypse Now, with madness being at the root of the evil presented throughout.
As a piece of cinema which acts as a debut for both director László Nemes and actor Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul is a remarkable achievement, one which rightly deserved the Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture and one that should not be forgotten any-time soon. Writing this review after watching the film more than a week ago, the thought of the movie leaves me with a rather weird feeling of this indeed being a film incredibly important and innovative whilst also being a incredibly hard film to sell to the majority. Son of Saul is a particularly hard watch, one that will ultimately leave the viewer with a down-hearted sense of either hatred or sadness, or perhaps both, yet the fact that such a film can lead to such emotions only enhances the many strengths throughout the course of the film. Yes indeed, it is a hard watch and that alone may distract the lay cinema goer, yet for cinematic purposes and from my personal point of view, Son of Saul is perhaps the greatest tale of the tragedy of World War II, one that will not be forgotten by all that attempt to seek it out and one that inevitably will be one of the best of the year so far.
Overall Score: 9/10