New Year’s Eve is upon us, dear readers and I’m sure that we all want to leave 2016 behind as soon as possible. You know, since it was such a terrible year. But on the bright side, we were treated with some great new films and now, at the end of the year, I get to present my big ol’ end-of-year film list.
This is something that I’ve done for a couple of years on Facebook but since this blog is the new home of my reviews, it has been relocated here for all you lucky people to (hopefully) enjoy. Basically, I’m going to go through all the films that I saw in the cinema this year, in ascending order of greatness.
It’s fair to say that I went to the cinema a lot more this year, 27 times to be exact, obliterating my previous record of 15. Of course, I know that you’re all busy people and asking you to read my opinions of 27 films is a bit of a tall order so I’ll pretty much skim through numbers 27-11 with just a sentence or two on each, going into a bit more detail for the top 10.
I also have to get this out in the open: this list will include a certain film that was released last year (I saw it for the first time in January during its initial run) and two films that will be released next year (seen as part of Screen Unseen). I know a lot of people pay great attention to official release dates but rather than get myself into a tizzy working out whether they are eligible or not, I’m simply looking at all the films that I saw in the cinema this year, as I have always done. So films seen on DVD don’t count either – sorry, Zootopia/Zootropolis!
So, in ascending order of greatness:
27. Suicide Squad
Will Smith and Margot Robbie were good but otherwise an awful film with abysmal CGI, bad direction and one of the worst screen villains of all time.
26. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
One of Tim Burton’s more forgettable tales with a muddled story and dire performances from Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell.
25. War on Everyone
Not the worst film in the world but it’s your typical “outrageous bad cops” film with mildly offensive jokes that are more miss than hit. Great soundtrack though.
24. X-Men: Apocalypse
Evan Peters and Kodi Smit McPhee are great but otherwise a pretty underwhelming entry in the X-Men franchise with a poor villain and a terribly miscast Jean Grey.
23. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Not as terrible as I was expecting but still a muddled story, blindingly obvious setting up of future DCEU films and naff villains.
22. Hail Caesar!
A commendable ensemble performance and a praiseworthy recreation of the movie industry but hardly any laughs. A distinctly average Coen Brother offering.
21. The Hateful Eight
Excellent music and some great performances but overlong and with some unnecessary gore.
20. Midnight Special
Excellent special effects, fine performances and a well-meaning story but it doesn’t really go anywhere and Kirsten Dunst’s character is poorly written.
19. Nocturnal Animals
Time for me to be in the minority! Meticulously designed, great performances and excellent music but with no soul and unsympathetic characters.
18. A United Kingdom
An important story that needed to be told, it has heart and fine performances but suffers from a disappointing first act and falls into familiar biopic tropes.
17. A Monster Calls
Laudable animation/ CGI and powerful, heartfelt themes but with an uneven central performance that kept me at arm’s length from the emotional core.
16. Star Trek Beyond
A little thin on plot and with a distinctly generic antagonist but otherwise a fun, exciting space adventure with some great characters.
The only entry in this list that I felt it necessary to re-review, a brash wildcard in the superhero genre with some great set pieces, an awesome soundtrack and appealing design. Not as clever as it thinks it is though and Collosus is too much of a CG doof.
14. The Revenant
Undeniably gorgeous to look at and with fine performances and confident direction but massively overhyped and with an average narrative.
13. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Let down a bit by its characterization and sparse plot, it ultimately wins out thanks to its excellent final act, impressive visuals and assured direction.
12. The Nice Guys
Not going to go down in history as the best film ever but thoroughly entertaining with an excellent soundtrack, sharp writing, confident direction and a wonderful central trio of Crowe, Gosling and Rice.
11. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Runs out of steam in the third act but otherwise a fun, quirky, exciting adventure with tons of heart, crazy characters and a wonderful cast.
So, some great films there. So let’s look at my Top Ten, shall we?
10. Manchester by the Sea
A bit of a cheat, I know, since it has its official release in January (see opening preamble) but Kenneth Lonergan’s New England-set tale is a finely crafted piece of filmmaking with some picturesque Massachusetts scenery, elegant music and exquisite performances. Casey Affleck will surely pick up some awards, Michelle Williams is impressive as you would expect and Lucas Hedges is incredibly likeable and wonderful to watch as the nephew. It is also really funny in places, having genuine heart and soul.
Watch it alongside A Monster Calls for an interesting double bill about the themes of loss and grief.
Denis Villeneuve continues to impress with his grounded, thoughtful sci-fi film with a message of communication and the need for world unity. The script is interesting, Jóhannsson’s score is excellent and there are great performances from Any Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. The sparingly used special effects also impress with a playful use of Inception style gravity bending and an excellent design of the alien visitors.
So Villeneuve has passed all the tests and may now be trusted to bring us Blade Runner 2049.
8. Doctor Strange
Honestly, I’m struggling to figure out why Marvel’s latest offering has been so divisive. I had the same reaction to Iron Man 3: I thought it was awesome, one of my favourites of that year, but I noticed that a lot of people had issues with it and put it at the bottom of their MCU rankings. Well, people are different. Or, “People are Strange”! Any Doors fans in the house?!
Anyway, this is a fun, exciting (I can’t believe some people called it “boring”!), colourful film with insanely awesome visuals and plenty of magic. The introduction of sorcery and reality bending into the MCU is fascinating and the inclusion of meditative, Eastern European philosophies is great. Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome and there’s strong support from Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong.
7. Hell or High Water
Ah, the film that 2016 deserved. With the problem of thin characterization running rampant elsewhere, director David Mackenzie gives us a thoughtful, meditative slow burner of a film featuring a small group of fully fleshed out characters, brought to life by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan’s taut script and four incredible performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. There is chemistry, heart and soul in abundance, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ soundtrack hits the spot and there is a certain melancholy to be found as “the old west is dying”.
So I’ll ask you all again: what don’t you want?!
6. I, Daniel Blake
Maybe not entirely suited for a cinema screen, but Ken Loach’s latest is a film with a message, holding a mirror up to life and showing us the hardships that people today are going through with the convoluted, ridiculous benefits system.
The two leads, Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, are excellent and in particular, their scene in the food bank is the most emotionally affecting scene this year. As well as feeling the frustration of the characters, we also see a great deal of human kindness and there is also plenty of humour to be found in the film. And through all this, Loach’s direction is never preachy or melodramatic and the almost complete absence of music works in the film’s favour.
5. The Witch
An impressive debut feature from writer/director Robert Eggers, The Witch excels in creating an eerie, tense, claustrophobic environment with an overwhelming sense of paranoia and unease. It is performed very well by its small cast, especially the leading performance of Anya Taylor Joy, the music is effective and the story is mature and fascinating, the overall meaning open to interpretation. The Witch definitely isn’t perfect but it was still a highly rewarding cinematic experience and I greatly admire it, in spite of its shortcomings.
And I would have to say that of all the films in this list, with the possible exception of my #1, this was the one that got under my skin the most (in a positive way, of course) and for a couple of days afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, having the unshakable urge to go and see it again.
Quite the find.
Another hit from Frank director Lenny Abrahamson, Room is a winner due to its immaculate direction, its interesting, imaginative script and two insanely excellent performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Its rewatch value is limited but this is a great piece of filmmaking and an extremely interesting watch.
Plus, seeing William H. Macy and Joan Allen together on screen again was like a Pleasantville reunion!
3. Kubo and the Two Strings
With a remarkably mature, imaginative story, Studio Laika’s latest offering boasts spectacular animation, so smooth that you’ll completely forget that it’s stop-motion, and battle scenes that are just as exhilarating as any live-action film. The vocal performances are great, the music is wonderful and all in all, its a thrilling adventure, which both makes you laugh and tugs at the ol’ heartstrings.
2. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
Yes, yes, a 2015 film I know. But it was also the first film that I saw in the cinema this year, the first Star Wars film I’ve seen in the cinema actually, and it’s impressively hung in there, at the top of my list, since January.
It’s fun and exhilarating with wonderful characters, old and new, brought to life by an impressively talented cast. A great continuation of the Star Wars story, even though it’s eerily similar to A New Hope, it’s an excellent adventure that’s definitely worth the price of a cinema ticket.
1. Captain America: Civil War
And standing tall over all others since May, the Marvel juggernaut truly rages on with this insanely awesome adventure!
Combining the strong, confident, grounded storytelling of The Winter Soldier alongside the awe-inspiring superhero spectacle of The Avengers, Civil War gets to introduce some new additions to the generous character roster, including Black Panther and Spider-Man, while keeping Cap at the centre of it all and allowing everyone else their moment to shine. The humour is as good as ever but is also has its darker moments, leading to an excruciatingly tense, nail biting finale.
And that airport fight scene. Awesomeness incarnate.
So, that’s it for 2016 then, though La La Land, Silence and Moonlight are just around the corner. Coming very soon on this blog will (hopefully) be a special blogiversary post and a feature on Walter Presents.
Hope you enjoyed and I’ll see y’all next year. Or, in a few days!
Plain, Simple Tom