It is a truth universally acknowledged that 2016 has been a disaster of a year. In the wake of unparalleled political divergence across the world, the passing of some of our greatest cultural icons and the uncoupling of Brangelina, one thing has not failed us yet, and that is cinema.
2016’s movies have spanned the entire genre spectrum and have pleased, moved, shocked and offended viewers (see: Ghostbusters) from all walks of life. Again, there has been a separation between the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies of the year – a disconnect that no doubt has film watchers missing out on some of the best pictures released.
Each of the best films below were stand outs across the year, not only because of their contribution to culture and art, but because of their relevance, curiosity, humanity and ability to teach us things we might not know about ourselves. And whilst we may deride the tragedy that was 2016, we can only hope that next year’s selection continue to do these things.
10. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Fashion designer Tom Ford took a stab – in the dark, some would say – at film writing and directing in 2009 with his debut A Single Man. Whilst the art direction and costuming was superb, the film felt hollow in its depiction of depression and was slow at times, feeling like the work of a fashion designer. Returning seven years later, Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is a stylish, mature and mesmerizing story that blends together a terrifying Texan crime drama and contemporary melodrama helmed by a brooding Amy Adams. Its ability to be provocative, bold and mesmerizing will have it lingering in the mind for days and reminds us to keep an eye out for Ford’s next feature.
9. FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
A deluded dame who saw herself as a talented soprano doesn’t sound like the role expected to be played by Meryl Streep, but director Stephen Frears makes it work with a fantastic cast including Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg in an award winning performance. A film that could have become one extended joke, turns out to be surprisingly poignant thanks to Streep who plays up the story of Jenkins with equal heart and silliness. Sure it’s a crowd pleaser but its ending – that has you wondering if you should be laughing at or laughing with the ridiculous Florence Foster Jenkins – is moving to say the least.
8. SWISS ARMY MAN
Probably better known as the movie where Harry Potter farts a lot, Swiss Army Man revels in the madness of its concept and offers viewers an experience that is so strange and bizarre but also sentimental and stirring. Driven by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man’s ability to sway from the absurd to the emotional whilst still entertaining audiences is a testament to the vision and writing of its directors, The Daniels. It’s a crazy ride but the destination is worth it.
In a year of awful superhero movies – looking at you Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and also you Suicide Squad – but Deadpool was without a doubt the best one of the year. Changing up the normal formula of the superhero story and putting adult humour on the top of its priority list, Deadpool is a breath of fresh air that is brilliantly entertaining and has cemented Ryan Reynolds in his best role to date. With the wait until 2018 for Deadpool 2, looks like lots of DVD repeats to get us through.
6. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
The most surprising release of the year is the semi-sequel to the 2008 disaster film Cloverfield. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a woman waking up in a cellar, being told that the outside world has undergone a horrific doomsday, the story finds the perfect balance of horror and action. Josh Goodman stars as the crazed apocalypse fanatic who traps Winstead in his bomb shelter and gives the best performance of his career. The unexpected twists throughout make for a captivating thriller that will be better remembered than its predecessor.
Amy Adams second feature this year is equally as mesmerizing as Nocturnal Animals. In Arrival, a film that blends science fiction with emotive drama, the audience doesn’t see an impending disaster of Earth, but a world in which humans work with aliens to understand each other. It’s not action heavy as one might expect, but its exquisite cinematography, unique story, complexity and nuance rank it the best science fiction film of the year.
4. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
This New Zealand sleeper hit has rightfully charmed the world and set a new standard of film to come from our neighbours. Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s eccentricity and affecting message lead by the excellent Julian Dennison and brilliant Sam Neil rank it the best film to be released from Oceania this year. It’s a rare gem of a film that is an utter delight to watch and have the opportunity to experience that should not be missed.
A film about the dangers of prejudice in the face of current xenophobic political rhetoric? No, this isn’t the Crash of 2016. This is Zootopia. Probably the most well rounded and powerful film of the year, with its inclusive and progressive message, Zootopia unfolds its narrative with cleverness, flair and creativity that it represents the best of Disney. Most of all it does right by its audience, by becoming amusing for kids and also enjoyable for adults.
2. HACKSAW RIDGE
War movies seem to be dime a dozen nowadays but Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge uses the story of pacifist Desmond Doss to explore the nature of wartime and tell the story sticking to one’s convictions. Led by a superb Andrew Garfield, Gibson’s stark portrayal of the horrors of war and the power of the human spirit is unexpected and satisfying. You’ll walk out with more than you were expecting and finally a truly fascinating and exceptional story in WWII.
1. LA LA LAND
Film used to be about escapism. Before dramas and science fiction and other genres intended to show us about other parts of the world and other people, movies were about entertaining and providing a getaway from our dull lives. It’s this that director Damien Chazelle aims to bring back to life in his musical dramedy La La Land. Starring the ever lovely Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, this film features the best direction, acting and music of the year and finds a way to charm its way into your soul. With ounces of heart and just the right amount of dazzling dance sequences and art direction, La La Land takes the top spot because of the way Chazelle can fully absorb us into a world beyond the one waiting outside the cinema doors.
Published on Pulp Media, January 1, 2017.