More than any other year, it’s only on looking back over 12 months worth of films that I’ve realised just how much great cinema we’ve had. Whilst I initially thought my top ten best films of 2016 would be easy enough to put together, it proved anything but.
However, after much deliberation, I have finally come up with the ten films that have moved me, entertained me and stayed with me the most in 2016. So without further ado, here they are…
This Netflix documentary proved to be one of the most shocking, most moving and most angering films I’ve seen this year. Making a strong and frankly inarguable case that slavery has never really vanished but simply evolved through the American justice system, Ava DuVernay’s remarkable follow-up to Selma is a real eye-opener.
Filled with intelligent and articulate talking heads, the film should leave no doubt in your mind as to the point it is trying to make. It is DuVernay’s directorial flourishes, however, that make 13th so powerful. Footage of racial abuse from fifty-years ago that is spliced with that from a modern-day Trump rally are amongst the most haunting I’ve seen all year.
It’s vital viewing, and the best thing about this is that you can watch it anytime from the comfort of your living room with Netflix. Trust me, it’s well worth the subscription price.
A well deserved best picture winner at this year’s Oscars, Spotlight may have lacked the visual splendour of its biggest competition, The Revenant, but what it lacked in style, it more than made up for in substance.
Telling the true story of a group of journalists that were responsible for uncovering an epidemic of systemized child abuse within the Catholic church, the film deals with the tough subject matter by simply allowing the story to tell itself away from any kind of visual or emotional manipulation.
The performances across the board are powerful – the cast of minor performers are just as impressive as the main players – and the meticulous, procedural way in which the story unfolds manages to make a group of people sitting around in office rooms feel exciting. Not since All The President’s Men has a film about journalism been made to feel cool.
8: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first spin-off in a series of planned ‘Star Wars Stories’, Rogue One was far better than I think any of us could have hoped for. Showing George Lucas how a prequel should be made, Godzilla director, Gareth Edwards, manages to craft one of the best Star Wars films to date.
Against all the odds, the film succeeds in doing something that feels completely different, yet comfortably familiar; and the result is a visually spectacular and thoroughly entertaining blockbuster that appeals to fans and non-fans alike.
The cast are fantastic to watch, the music is tingle-inducing and the imagery is a wonder to behold. Combine all of the above and Rogue One is undoubtedly the best blockbuster of 2016.
7: Kubo and the Two Strings
With films like Moana, Zootropolis and The Secret Life of Pets, 2016 has been another excellent year for animation. It is the latest film from Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls) Kubo and the Two Strings, that has been this year’s standout.
Firstly, the visuals are so impressive, so detailed, that it beggars belief that this was made using stop motion. The physicality of the animation and what the filmmakers manage to achieve without the use of computers is truly remarkable, but behind the stunning imagery that the film has to offer there is a story rich with folklore, poetry and heart. In this sense, ‘Kubo’ is the complete package: it made me laugh, gasp and shed a tear. Utterly charming.
6: The Jungle Book
I never thought it would be possible to improve on Disney’s 1967 telling of The Jungle Book – quite possibly my favourite Disney animation ever – but this year’s remake from Iron Man director Jon Favreau came close to, if not succeeded, in proving that it could be done.
Digging deeper into Rudyard Kipling’s source material, the story feels far richer this time around with the jungle politics being brought to the forefront. Subsequently, this is far more intense than the 1967 version, featuring a climax that had me on the edge of my seat. This is blockbusting stuff, aided by a perfectly cast of actors, which still manages to maintain the charm of the book and the original film.
Whereas the original animation will always have a special place in my memory, I can see myself revisiting this latest adaptation time and time again over the coming years.
5: Sing Street
John Carney’s Sing Street has to be one of 2016’s biggest surprises. It’s also one of 2016’s most uplifting cinematic experiences. The writer/director’s follow-up to 2013’s Begin Again (also excellent) tells a story of young love and the seemingly impossible dreams that go hand in hand with adolescence.
Consistantly laugh-out-loud funny, the film also features one of the year’s best soundtracks. It may be a comedy first and foremost, but you’ll be surprised by the quality of the many brilliant songs – songs which could easily make the leap from film to stage. Witty, moving and joyous to watch, this is the type of film that you’ll want to put on when you’ve had a terrible day.
Whilst I never had the opportunity to fully review Mustang – limited to no screenings in my area made it impossible for me to see at the cinema – it quickly jumped straight into my list of favourite films of the year when I finally got around to seeing it at home.
One of 2016’s more beautiful offerings, this Turkish film from Deniz Gamze Ergüven is equal parts sad, funny, deeply disturbing and wonderfully hopeful. Focusing on a grouo of young sisters struggling with the constrictions of their families religious beliefs, the film is unique in that it represents a female voice(s) that are so frequently ignored when it comes to mainstream cinema.
Heart-achingly moving, incredibly warm and lovely to look at, it’s a hidden gem that’s well worth seeking out.
Arrival is a ‘perfect storm’ of a movie. In front of the camera you have one of Hollywood’s best actresses working today, Amy Adams, and behind the camera you have one of the best directors working today, Denis Villeneuve. Together, with the help from Bradford Young’s cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, the pair have managed to craft one of the best sci-fi films made in recent years, which for most people will probably sit in the top sport for their favourite film of the year.
In other years, this would probably be my film of the year too, but it’s a testament to how good a year it has been for cinema when such a fine piece of art as this shoud only sit in my third position. Nevertheless, I have a lot of love for this and the way in which its story is told. Over the years, with multiple watches, I’m sure that love will only grow.
2: I, Daniel Blake
The best thing that has happened to cinema this year, is the return of Ken Loach. The marmite director, responsible for such works as Kes and Riff-Raff, came out of a shortlived retirement for I, Daniel Blake like the working class superhero he well and truly is. And after fifty-years of film-making, his latest picture could just be his greatest masterpiece to date.
The most important film of the year by quite some distance, Loach manages to project a true image of modern day Britain that is rarely seen on to the big screen. Shamefully, it’s all very Dickensian in the way in which poverty effects the lead characters in the film – a sequence set within a food bank is a particualary harrowing and will stay with you for years to come.
But whilst ‘Daniel Blake’ may be tough to watch at times, there’s still plenty of humour that is derived from the everyday circumstances that most people will probably be familiar with. There’s an unexpected warmth to the film that is found in Loach’s message of kindess and understanding when it comes to your neighbours, a message that, in current circumstances, is a vital one.
1: Captain Fantastic
Let’s face it, 2016 has been a shit year outside of the cinema. Icons have passed away, countries have made history-changing decisions to become more isolated, and humankind in general seems to have become more angry and intolerant in the process.
This has been reflected in cinema over the past twelve months: if one of the many superhero movies released wasn’t dealing with dark material, it was pitting the good guys against each other, and then you had the Ghostbusters reboot that caused massive amounts of controversy simply because it was led by an all female cast.
It’s no wonder then that Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is my favourite film of the year; one that, whilst dealing with darker material, does so in a way that is warm, charming and hopeful. It is very much a film of its time, which takes a sharp look at consumerism, the modern family and, more specifically, parenting.
Few films this year have left me on as much as a high as this one, and it was the rare occasion in which I would have gladly gone straight back in immediately after coming out of viewing it. In many respects it may be considered one of the most understated films of 2016, but its wonderful performances and terrific writing have stayed with me long since I’ve seen it. It’s uplifting cinema that’s good for the soul, and that’s why it’s my film of the year.
So those are my favourite films of the year, but what are yours? What have I missed out? Let me know what you think by leaving your comments below.
I’d just like to say thank you once again to all those who have read and supported the blog over the past few years. I wish you all a very happy new year and hope 2017 brings you fortune, happiness and love.