There has been much online chatter in recent months, that 2016 hasnâ€™t been so good for the movies.
Blockbuster season was categorically an abject parade of expensive crap, with â€śSuicide Squadâ€ť being a far worse picture than the berated â€śBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,â€ť but one over-hyped season is not representative of the whole calendar year.
World cinema titles, festival flicks, indie productions and so forth provided an embarrassment of riches. While I’ve left out some excellent movies, the likes of â€śEmbrace of the Serpent,â€ť â€śChi-Raq,â€ť â€śThe Hateful Eightâ€ť â€śLove and Friendshipâ€ť and â€śKate Plays Christineâ€ť each deserve honorable mentions.
Above: Christian Bale headlines Terrence Malick’s formidable tale of existential crisis.
Mel Gibson is on the comeback trail in this excellent old-school genre flick.
Jean-FranĂ§ois Richetâ€™s â€śBlood Fatherâ€ť is a superbly crafted genre piece benefitting from a top performance by Mel Gibson. Harking back to a time when action thrillers were made by B-movie auteurs or solid journeymen directors (not music video kids with ADHD), â€śBlood Fatherâ€ť is almost classical in form: economic storytelling, well-devised action scenes, cool chase sequences, character actors filling out the cast.
Babak Anvari’s Tehran-set ghost story is rife with political subtext.
Under the Shadow
“Under the Shadow” wowed audiences at Sundance (easily the worst festival in the world for overhyped movies), but this Iran-set, British-made tale of ghostly and political terror is a keeper. A young mum (played by Narges Rashidi) experiences things that go bump in the night during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. Is an evil spirit determined on capturing her soul or is she going mad?
James Wan’s horror sequel is everything great about mainstream horror cinema.
The Conjuring 2
James Wan announced to the press he was done with horror movies, but changed then his mind and turned in what should rightfully be considered his masterpiece. â€śThe Conjuring 2â€ť is the best studio-backed American horror movie of the year, taking its inspiration from the real-life â€śEnfield Poltergeistâ€ť case and delivering masterful chills and thrills.
Karyn Kasuma’s insidious dinner party nightmare is a slow build shocker.
Karyn Kasumaâ€™s â€śThe Invitationâ€ť is a great reminder that dinner parties should be avoided at all costs. Will (Logan Marshall-Green aka Tom Hardly) attends a get-together in the Hollywood hills, but something isnâ€™t quite right. His ex-wife and her partner have joined a cult and think their pals would benefit from joining, too. No other film in 2016 captured the raise of populist politicsâ€”right or leftâ€”so terrifyingly.
“Anomalisa” was co-directed with stop-motion animator, Duke Johnson.
Charlie Kaufmanâ€™s Kafka-esque love story takes place in the utterly banal world of a hotel in a Midwest city. Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) is a customer service guru in a bit of a funk until he falls for Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) at a convention. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Venice in 2015, â€śAnomalisaâ€ť is further proof Kaufman is a master of existential nightmares and surreal comedy.
“Son of Saul” is among the most remarkable film debuts of all time.
Son of Saul
In the history of film debuts, LĂˇszlĂł Nemesâ€™s â€śSon of Saulâ€ť ranks among the finest. It won not only the 2015 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, but this year Nemes picked up an Oscar for â€śBest Foreign Language Film.â€ť The story of a traumatised man working as a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz, the use of the Academy Ratio and 40mm lenses, to produce an intimate field of depth, made â€śSon of Saulâ€ť a singular piece of work thatâ€™ll leave you shaken.
Beauty is destructive in NWF’s horror movie set in the LA fashion world.
The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn’s L.A. horror film is a gaudy and often beautifully OTT melodrama about our obsession with beauty and pressures females endure to conform to industry standards. Elle Fanning is great in the lead role, but the movie belongs to Jena Malone as Ruby, a makeup artist hiding sinister intentions behind her friendly smile. Vampirism, cannibalism and necrophiliaâ€”â€śThe Neon Demonâ€ť is a riot of colour and button-pushing provocation.
Featuring an all-star cast, the Coen brothers delivered one of the best comedies of the year.
â€śHail, Caesar!â€ť features one of the yearâ€™s most memorable scenes. Cowboy star, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenrich), has been cast in a sophisticated studio drama directed by posh Brit, Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Fumbling his lines, Laurentz attempts to coach young Hobie. Asking him to repeat â€śWould that it were so simpleâ€ť and growing increasingly frustrated by Hobieâ€™s southern twang ruining the delivering, Ehrenrich and Fiennes are fried gold. When the Coens are on fire, theyâ€™re peerless.
“The Revenant” is an aesthetic marvel with a tremendous performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Based on the true story of 19th-century trapper Hugh Glass, â€śThe Revenantâ€ť earned cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki his third Academy Award in a row. Shot on Arri Alexa digital cameras using natural light, this grizzled and grisly revenge western also bagged Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar for â€śBest Actorâ€ť after years of coming close, but no cigar.
One of the breakout movies of the year, Houda Benyamina’s debut is a must-see.
Houda Benyaminaâ€™s â€śDivinesâ€ť won the Camera dâ€™Or prize at Cannes back in May, and the film was picked up by Netflix. A coming-of-age drama about an impoverished teenager with big dreams, her social aspirations and bad behaviour lead down the road to tragedy. Fronted by a star-making performance by Oulaya Amamra, â€śDivinesâ€ť is a dazzling achievement.
Another gem in the crown that is today’s Turkish cinema.
â€śMustangâ€ť is a film about a group of young girls fighting back against patriarchy in an ultra-conservative household. Gorgeously photographed, acted with heart, spirit and humour, Deniz Gamze ErgĂĽvenâ€™s film is a gem from the exciting new wave of Turkish cinema. The screenplay, co-written by Alice Winocour, earned a CĂ©sar award (the French Oscars).
Possibly the best film about junkie lovers since 1971’s “The Panic in Needle Park.”
Heaven Knows What
Homeless junkie, Arielle Holmes, was discovered panhandling on the street and was asked to write her story down by two directors, Ben and Josh Safdie. The result, an unpublished memoir titled â€śMad Love in New York City,â€ť was then turned into â€śHeaven Knows What.â€ť Holmes plays a slightly fictionalized version of herself, the film detailing her love for fellow drug-addled hobo, Ilya (Caleb Landry-Jones), and her grubby life on the streets.
Rosi’s award-winning documentary is the year’s best non-fiction film.
Fire At Sea
No other sight in 2016 has been as heart-wrenching as asylum seekers attempting to get to Europe on boats unfit for sailing, many of them drowning. Gianfranco Rosiâ€™s Golden Bear winner is the yearâ€™s best documentary. Itâ€™s both a study of human desperation and a neorealist-style study of a young lad living on the tiny island of Lampedusa, the horror on his doorstep but seemingly a world away.
Jeff Nichols’s star continues to rise and 2016 has been an excellent year for the director.
Itâ€™s been a terrific year for director Jeff Nichols. The American director scored a brace with â€śMidnight Specialâ€ť and â€śLovingâ€ť (presented at Cannes). His sci-fi road movie, starring Michael Shannon, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst, weaved magic and cinematic awe largely through subtle means. Some might argue too subtle, but Nichols work is focused on the power and resonance of little moments and interactions between characters, not grand syrupy gestures.
Malick’s films explore life, love and existence like no other director.
Knight of Cups
The more abstract, the more poetic, the more experimental Terrence Malick pushes the medium, the more heâ€™s wide open to ridicule, scorn and mockery. If â€śTo the Wonderâ€ť (2012) had critics sharpening the knives, â€śKnight of Cupsâ€ť was hunting season. Christian Bale wanders hither and thither, a lost soul journeying through a world of materialism and exquisite beauty. Roll with it and be rewarded with a profound viewing experience.
Soldiers stricken by sleeping sickness in Weerasethakul’s acclaimed “Cemetery of Splendour.”
Cemetery of Splendour
Apichatpong Weerasethakulâ€™s â€śCemetery of Splendourâ€ť is a seriously chill film. It washes over you like a dream. Sleeping and dreaming are very much part of the narrative, too. A group of soldiers suffering from a sleeping sickness reside in a hospital built on an ancient burial site. Visually striking, political and supernatural, nothing else this year comes close to its intoxicating, woozy vibe.
“Nasty Baby” is about the battleground that is today’s identity politics.
SebastiĂˇn Silvaâ€™s nightmare movie is a vital examination of gentrification, tribalism and hypocrisy. Silva stars as a gay conceptual artist working on a new piece titled â€śNasty Babyâ€ť while attempting to father a child with his best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig). His encounters with a mentally ill neighbour spiral out of control and lead to a shocking act. While rightfully confronting homophobia and social stigmas, Freddy (Silva) isnâ€™t so charitable when it comes to understanding anybody outside his social-economic group or bohemian peers.
The utterly charming “Paterson” premiered at Cannes.
Jim Jarmuschâ€™s relationship drama about a working-class artist (a bus driver and poet) named Paterson, who by quirky twist of fate lives in Paterson, New Jersey, is a real charmer. A gentle, sweet, rewarding study of a former soldierâ€™s daily routine and his private inner lifeâ€” expressed through poetryâ€”Adam Driver is superb in the lead role. Scene-stealer, Marvin the bulldog (played by the late Nellie), won this yearâ€™s Palm Dog award.
Exorcism South Korean style in Na Hong-jin’s stunning horror film, “The Wailing.”
Na Hong-jin has scored a hat-trick. â€śThe Chaserâ€ť (2008), â€śThe Yellow Seaâ€ť (2010) and â€śThe Wailingâ€ť (2016) mark the South Korean director has one of the most exciting filmmakers on the planet. His latest, an epic horror tale, is centred on a scaredy-cat cop (Kwak Do-won) confronted with supreme evil in a rural village.
A Star is born: Sasha Lane’s Star, a young woman on a trip of self-discovery in “American Honey.”
Andrea Arnoldâ€™s road movie is cinema at its most beguiling, exhilarating and exciting. The story of a poverty-stricken teenager (Sasha Lane) taken on a trip across Americaâ€™s Midwest with a band of youths out for a good time. â€śAmerican Honeyâ€ť is a clever reworking of narrative tropes and themes usually reserved for bohemian artists and dreamers hitting the trail in search of Kerouacâ€™s mythic America. Arnold instead details a girlâ€™s first experiences of love and total freedom. The group drink, screw, hustle, fall in and out of love and get into all manner of scrapes.
Photos Â© respective film studios.