2016 has been a terrible year in the multiplexes, not to mention a particularly black one for art and entertainment in general. Blockbusters have rarely been so lacklustre or downright awful. Mercifully the indie film scene has had a far more successful time of it over the past 12 months, proving that there is still hope yet. Take as evidence my list of favourites of 2016, with nary a blockbuster in sight. Want more? Check out my full reviews for each film and of course let me know what you think of my choices.
10. ARRIVAL Clever stuff with emotional weight behind it to keep it firmly rooted to the earth even as it shoots for the stars on a conceptual level. Another effortless success from Denis Villeneuve and Amy Adams’ best turn since THE FIGHTER. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fully understand it; you’ll be talking about it for a while.
9. UNDER THE SHADOW Between this and A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, it’s been a killer couple of years for Iranian horror. Whereas the aforementioned vamp pic was intentionally disembodied, in its own twisted world, this is firmly rooted in its time and place, and the real-world horrors of war remain for scarier than a malevolent djin.
8. THE NEON DEMON The most beautiful ugly film of the year, possibly of the decade. Nicolas Winding Refn can do little wrong in my eyes. He’s out to provoke you in style, and by golly does he with this bold and disturbing film that wouldn’t look out of place projected onto a gallery wall. Not an easy watch, but a thought-provoking and occasionally bewildering one.
7. MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN The most moving film of the year is an unflinching and beautiful journey alongside a young woman, Lotje Sodderland, as she battles to keep herself herself following a sudden stroke. The fact that the subject is a filmmaker herself lends this story immediacy and a style all its own, and eventually getting Lotje’s hero David Lynch’s backing didn’t hurt either.
6. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE The pleasant surprise of the year. This works precisely because it refuses to be limited by the film it shares a tenuous connection to. The only limitations are those that Dan Trachtenberg and his writers put in place to create a taut three-hander of a chamber piece exploring paranoia and delusion.
10. SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS Ricky Gervais should not direct, and he needs to stop writing himself as some kind of a catch for women just because he’s British. This one had a good concept exploring media and truth, it just wasn’t followed through. The characters are detestable (which is fine) but they’re not interesting (which isn’t fine).
9. THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING The intentions behind it, of exploring the difficulty of of being a carer, and receiving care, were pure, but the execution was misjudged and the end result patronising. The performances almost save it, but a solid cast lead by Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts just aren’t enough on their own. Something so earnest shouldn’t come across as so simplistic and borderline mean.
8. RATCHET & CLANK There’s little for anyone here aside from bright lights and colour. The game’s style of humour doesn’t work long-form, in-jokes are either mishandled or fleeting, the animation is sub-par and out of an impressive cast on paper, only Jim Ward’s vocal performance as once and future green space berk Quark brings any joy.
7. DAD’S ARMY The TV show was rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it had wit and warmth. This film seldom even raises a smile. It’s another case of putting together a good cast and giving them practically nothing to work with. Nobody comes out unscathed, but at least Bill Nighy got to try out a slightly different character to his usual. It’s a waste of actors and not a fitting tribute to the real Home Guard or their previous portrayers.
6. MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES This manages to be insulting to both genders and not all that funny. Putting aside the trashy (potentially entertaining) premise of advertising for “nice” wedding dates, movies like this need to be carried by the charisma of their performers. But even Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick can’t elevate such weak, charmless material. No comedy film’s funniest moments should be the outtakes over the credits.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of this list. Please join me next time for Part 2, where I will discuss my best of the best, worst of the worst and what we have to look forward to in 2017. SSP