The Ten Best Films of 2016

What makes a film great? Quite simply, it resonates with you. What makes a film one of the best of the year? It resonates with you in ways you have never seen before. The film is original in storytelling and film making and it grabs your more than any other film.

Also, I haven’t been able to see fantastic films this year such as La La Land or Moonlight. This is either because they have not been released until very late 2016 to early 2017. But if I end up thinking that these films are absolutely fantastic. I will certainly put them up next year.

Now without further ado, let’s begin with number 10.

10. Zootopia.

Zootopia had everything you want in a kids film. It had fun, heart and characters you believed in and felt for. In a year of political divide, this movie showed, in its own way, the pitfalls of discrimination and separation. I just loved how despite being vibrant and fun, it desired to make a statement and be meaningful.

9. Nocturnal Animals/ The Revenant
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These two films have so much in common I decided to put them together. Both were well acted, had lush cinematography and focused on the theme of revenge. The Revenant explored the brooding nature of revenge and survival. Nocturnal Animals did it in a one-punch knockout moment.

I like to note that Michal Shannon gave my favorite supporting role this year as the police detective in Nocturnal Animals. That is because I think he may go unnoticed by various award ceremonies.

8. Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky that gives you a bit of everything in a war film. It is a blend of political prowess and on-the-ground tension. This was a cast of great actors that blur the lines on whether of not to stage a missile strike on a terrorist safe house with an innocent life residing in the blast. This was also a great live action swan song for the great Alan Rickman

7. The Big Short

I love this movie even more than when I watched it the first time. It is alongside with Zootopia as the most relevant films of the year. That is because both are making sociopolitical statements of our world today. The Big Short is a story that communicates to the average moviegoer the corruption of the banks that were exploiting their system hidden under a cacophony of jargon.

From a filmmaking perspective, The Big Short is also so fun. There are four different stories in this film. All four were interesting. The movie was such a smooth, well-written ride and tried to educate us at the same time. That is rare for any movie, rarer still, to succeed on that level.

6. Son of Saul

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The most harrowing of all the entries on my list, more so than The Revenant. Son of Saul is a holocaust movie that I can assure you is unique. It is not going for sentimentality nor graphic exploitation. You create the picture for yourself.

How so? Well, Son of Saul is shot in extreme close-ups of Saul the protagonist. Only his face is clearly visible. Graphic events are represented almost exclusively in sound and Saul’s reactions to the events that occur. The thing that kept me watching was the glimmer of hope that resided in Saul and that was enough.

5. The Lobster

Now we are into the top 5 with the most unusual entry. A film that would frustrate a lot of people without a sense of humor. The Lobster is the driest and most odd film about of a man who enters an apartment for 45 days and has to find a significant other in that time. Otherwise, he gets turned into a lobster.

The Lobster is not as fun as it initially sounds. It is a deadpan comedy that is so subtle that you can easily miss all the jokes. Also if you are not into weird, unconventional comedy it may come off as too absurd. If you are like deadpan, left-of-centre comedies, The Lobster is a fantastic treat. It is my favorite comedy of the year.

4. Mustang

Mustang was the first film this year that I loved in the deepest sense of the word. It was a life-affirming film about these five girls who are isolated in their home by their ultra-conservative father to be married off. It was a deepening moving film that made be feel calm but elated by the end.

Mustang was the first foreign film that I reviewed and it made such a positive impression on me. Mustang does not hold back on the harsh reality it sets, not is it restricted on the bright and wonderful moments that were interwoven so seamlessly. This makes Mustang one of the most beautiful films of 2016

 

3. Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the exceptionally rare films where nothing was wasted. It was the only movie I saw where the audience was applauding. If there is a film in the Australian film industry should be holding as a benchmark, this is it. Hacksaw Ridge had the greatest use of dialogue that I have heard this year. It is funny, touching and dramatic. It has also given new life to the actor’s careers.

2. Room

Room is just heartbreaking. It’s about a mother and her 5 year old son adjusting to the real world. There is a mountain of despair alongside a mountain of hope accentuated by the perfect chemistry between Bree Larson and Jacob Tremblay. They were the best screen duo of the year bar none.

1. Embrace of the Serpent

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f things all over the wall and it all stuck. The story about an Amazonian native in the middle of European settlers exploiting resources in the land.

This film had more thematic ideas than any other film I saw this year.

Ciro Guerra brings a daring piece of work in Embrace of the Serpent. He threw a ton of ideas in this film in which the visual imagery of the Amazonian rivers and rainforest help draw you into the journey that is undertaken. It is one of those stories like Apocalypse Now or Django Unchained where the protagonists experience deeper levels of hell the further they travel and each layer of hell has a statement to make.

Embrace of the Serpent also showed ideas like the thorns of survivor’s guilt and handing over you final spark to faith to someone you need to trust to keep it alive. It isn’t a poignant film but it draws you in with its themes, it’s black and white visuals and it’s addiction for ambition and execution.

So that’s my list of the ten best films of 2016. Honorable mentions (alphabetically) include:

Captain America: Civil War for creating a blockbuster film that exceeded it’s high expectations. One of the rare movies where I cannot wait for the sequel.

Deadpool: Crngrats on making the funnest superhero movie Marvel and one of the funnest movies of the year. The meta humor with a authentic romantic angle give the movie a great edge. It more than makes up for it’s lack of multi million dollar set pieces.

Dr. Strange: The best visual effects from any film this year. Cumberbatch delivers a great performance as Steven Strange.

Green Room: For producing the best thriller film of the year that went for a less-is-more approach. Patrick Stewart makes the situation of 4 young adults trapped in a room of killer neo-nazis even more morbid and engaging.

Ouija: Origin of Evil: A movie that scared the crap out of me and gave me an adrenaline rush hours after seeing the movie.

Pete’s Dragon: It created a kids film which walking though the fine line between entertaining little kids without feeling condescending to adults. Illumination Entertainment has not been able to do that for years. 2016 was a (mostly) great year for Disney

Sing Street: For being the only feel-good movie that I saw. Great original songs and a better soundtrack than Suicide Squad. The prom sequence was absolutely spectacular

Sunset Song: An incredible story about a troubling family in Scotland during the First World War. It is about a woman who gains and loses many things on her roller coaster ride. The cameraman makes it feel like you are watching the story unfold your very eyes.

The Jungle Book: The best remake this year. Neel Sethi was the second best child actor this year (After Jacob Trembly in Room). That kid had to do so much. I was surprised that the director is the same man who fought in the Mixed Martial  Arts in Friends before it was cool.

So that is the list the best films of 2016. Coming up is the rotting end that comprises of the worst of 2016.

 

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Nocturnal Animals: A Great Revenge Tale

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Written by Nelson Cumming

If you can get by the first minute of Nocturnal Animals which contains four naked clinically obese women strip-dancing, you will be rewarded (and not in THAT way). This is the second of Tom Ford’s directorial efforts (The first being A Single Man). This time, Ford actually deals with a bit of blood and dirt in addition to his usual clean and tidy environment and costume design. It pays dividends.

In time, I hope people know director Tom Ford by name because he makes great movies that are high art but accessible to casual moviegoers and cinephiles. He gets an actress who fits that category as well. Amy Adams plays the “lead” in this role (she gets not a whole lot of screentime) and she plays a successful costume designer who is married to a successful ivey-league businessman (Armie Hammer).

She gets a copy of a novel called “Nocturnal Animals” a detective western novel written by her ex-husband. She quickly gets immersed in the graphic nature of it. However, the book gets both larger than life and too close to home, making Adams question why she left her ex in the first place.

The Unromantic Couple

 

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In 2016, Adams portrayed either a damsel (Batman vs Superman) or a heartbreaker. She has been good in her portrayals. But if I were associated with her characters in real life, I’d run away.

 

Nocturnal Animals is a great film. I got immersed into the novel as much as Adam’s character was. The main character in the novel is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays his character with both ferocious anger and fragile vulnerability. He plays a father who gets carjacked with his family by psychopaths and is shaken by the experience. He then has to learn how to deal with it. Compared to Adam’s, my first thoughts were “There’s no way he can top her”. He did. I want him to get award nominations for his role.

The person who was alongside Gyllenhaal was, of course, Amy Adams. In this movie, I am still yet to determine if her character was a victim of circumstance or she was just cold hearted. I am leaning toward the latter because she explicitly admitted it in the film. However, it is implied throughout the film that she is a victim of circumstance.

Like in Arrival, she knows how to crush the heart of her significant other. It makes me miss the naïve and innocent princess of purity she played in Enchanted. She was better in Arrival because she gets more screen time there. There wasn’t enough of her in the movie to win anything for this role but she plays the most important role in the story.

Nocturnal Animals does deliver the goods. I think it is better that Arrival. I may re-evaluate if I see Arrival again. Like The Revenant, there were long stretches where I was immersed in the film despite the abrupt scene and location changes. With it’s non-linearity and multiple story arcs, Tom Ford was performing a high wire act and he succeeded in doing so. ****1/2

Arrival- A Thematic Pool

Written by Nelson Cumming

Arrival had a lot of promise. So much so that I paid a lot extra to see it on a wider screen, thinking I would get overwhelmed by the grandiose mis en scene. That didn’t happen. Despite this, Arrival is a very interesting and highly original film.

Oddly, the movie it reminded me of was The Tree of Life by Terrance Malick although it is not anything like it. To use a book title from Douglas Adams, The Tree of Life concerns itself with “Life, The Universe and Everything” whereas Arrival explores the inner-workings of communication, language and pre-determinism. The latter of which I didn’t get until much later after I saw it.

Unpacking the Plot- A headache that was worth it

Adam’s using her linguistic powers to understand the alien language. Initially this was my favorite part of the film.

I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t get the subplot of the movie at all until I did a bit of research. After looking it up I thought “Damn, Arrival was going for the gold” The main plot and subplot are completely non-linear (like The Tree of Life) and I was wondering why the subplot even existed for a while. I’ll outline both the plot and subplot before explaining further.

So the main plot involves Amy Adams who plays a professional linguist sent by the US military to communicate with these aliens that have bordered earth. A lot of the film involves Adams and Jeremy Renner (who plays a theoretical physicist) decoding the language and understanding why the aliens have come to earth.

As Adam’s learns of the aliens language, Adams has visions of her daughter which serves as the subplot of the film. When the twist comes, I was wondering why she was having visions of her child in the first place. The movie raised more questions than it answered for me. It didn’t seem to add up.

That is a broadly specific as I can be without ruining it. You need to know the subplot to fully understand the meaning of the film.

The Tree of Life analogy

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The subplot felt a little spinny to me. It messes with time and space. Only after I saw it did I understand it.

I saw Arrival as more of an atmospheric film about how the intricacies of communication changes meaning and how you need to get both linguistics and the meaning behind language to reach understanding. The best moments for me were when Adams were decoding the alien language, trying to understand their purpose of existence.

Only until after I saw it I realize I was only scratching the surface. It’s like the Tree of Life in that both the plot and subplot are non-linear and one of the plots have to do with the world around us and the other side of the story revolves around a family and with Arrival, the two didn’t stories did not connect well enough for me to understand.

That was until I realised why Adam’s character has all these visions. Once I knew that all of Arrival’s ideas just seemed to connect and fall into place. It really is a thinking movie and I might like it more if I saw it again. It explores the philosophical concept of pre-determinism vs. fate. Unlike most films, Adams choose with her final word in the film when she is asked a very abrupt (almost comical) question.

However, I can only judge based on what I saw initially and I liked it for the cinematography, Amy Adams performance and how the lead characters slowly develop an understanding with the aliens. If I see it again, now knowing the movie fully, I would like it even more. That I am certain of. However, I must rate it based on what I was feeling at the time and while I liked it overall there were a lot of moments I was scratching my head on how she has the conceived of her visions in the first place ***1/2