2016…2016 can go f**k itself. Between the horrors in the political field, a series of subpar movies and the unending deaths of beloved celebrities and roll models (I found out Carrie Fisher died as I sat down to write this), 2016 is probably going to be long remembered as a just plain terrible year. But as I always do, when the year is bad, I look for the good. So let’s sit down and try to identify which parts of this horrible, horrible year are worth remembering.
As always, there are some movies I wanted to see that I just didn’t have time to (Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals aren’t playing anywhere near me, and I’ve yet to have time to track down and watch Swiss Army Man) but these are the movies I’ve seen come the end of the year, so here we go.
Part of me wanted to give this slot to Denial but I feel pretty secure in this choice. In a year where even the good superhero movies were weighed down with an overbearing sense of self importance, its nice to have a superhero film that not only remembers that it’s just about people wearing silly costumes and punching each other for silly reasons, and then sees fit to make fun of it all. So thank you Ryan Reynolds, for making the funniest and most engaging superhero films of the year.
Indie and low budget horror has been going from strength to strength lately, with titles like You’re Next, It Follows and The Babadook becoming big names in the cinephile community. And The Witch is probably one of the more unique, a paired down and simplistic, yet intensely engaging horror experience, that emphasizes a sense of impending dread and helplessness that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. In my case 9 months later.
#8: La La Land
It’s hard to find a movie that finds a happy medium between portraying LA as both the city of magic where dreams come true, and as a smog covered hellscape, infested with parasites and social climbers. It’s even rarer that you can find a romance that feels sweeping and cinematic, but still down to earth and mature. In a year where we lost the star of Singing in the Rain, in comes La La Land, to both bring back the classic Hollywood musical and update it for a modern audience for whom it might ring hollow.
This may be the lowest the Coen brothers have come in on my top 10 since 2008’s underrated Burn After Reading, but don’t take that as me telling you it’s not good, it is. Even if you hate the ending (and I didn’t), it’s still an incredibly funny and unique story, with a huge and engaging cast and the Coen’s trademark untouchably brilliant direction to top it all off. And if you can get on the right wavelength for the film’s shaggy dog ending, you’ll love it as much as I do. Just see it either way.
That Laika can’t quite top the twin punches of Coraline and ParaNorman is not surprising; Very few animated films are even on the same level, much less anywhere near as good, as those two are. But Kubo is as close as they’re likely to come any time soon. Simultaneously a great kids movie, an engaging action flick and a moving story. Any two of those are hard to pull off (hell, some movies have trouble pulling off one), so the fact that this one pulls off all three so effortlessly would be worth a good spot on this list.
Just to clarify, since I couldn’t talk about in my review, there is in fact a twist in Arrival, and if anyone even threatens to spoil it for you, knock them out immediately. But even when you know the twist, Arrival is still the best sci-fi film of the year, effortlessly building the entire movie around an extended lecture on communications and linguistics, as well as some incredibly performances from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. I know she won’t win, but it’d be fantastic to see Amy up for this one.
Ryan Gosling is rapidly becoming a fixture of my top 10s, and while he peaked last year (and 2011) at #1, this year he has two appearances, so it kind of evens out. And while La La Land is a great little film, I have to say, I adore The Nice Guys, for its great direction, its hilarious script, but most of all, its bitter cynicism towards business, the law, politics and everything else under the sun. So thank you The Nice Guys, for summing up not only my approach to 2016, but every year afterwards.
Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are hard fought titles and I bounced back and forth between each of these films being number 1 multiple times over the course of the last month, eventually settling on this order because it felt right. But make no mistake any of these three could be number 1, and perhaps Moonlight is the one that most deserves to be, but I am not a fair man. I can’t really speak more about it, except to say that it is an absolutely peerless film in its genre, and a nearly peerless one this year.
I’ll admit, I was partly motivated by the symmetry of Park Chan-Wook’s last film also reaching the number 2 slot in its year, but also because The Handmaiden is an absolutely incredible film. Beautifully directed, incredibly acted and deeply moving in a way that romances usually aren’t to me, The Handmaiden would be almost any other director’s best film ever. And it would almost certainly be the best film of the year if not for one movie that managed to speak directly to me and worm its way into 1st place…
I’ve been called upon to describe The Lobster on several occasions since seeing it, and every time I hesitate. Is it a comedy? A horror film? A sci-fi allegory? A vicious satire? It’s all of these things, and somehow still more. Watching it is akin to being on a roller coaster in the dark, never knowing where the plot (or, indeed, the tone) is going next. And even now describing it, I feel like I’m describing a movie that should fall apart at the seams, but it holds itself together beautifully, and scratches a very specific itch for me, one I didn’t even know I had. And that’s what put it into 1st place.
And that final shot will haunt me.