While this year may have seen more than its share of bitter disappointments - looking at you, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - there's been some excellent films on offer.
For the purposes of clarity, we've excluded films from the very beginning of the year that were released in late 2015. In other words, Spotlight, Room and The Revenant have been excluded - but would have definitely featured in our list, otherwise. We're also excluding releases after this week - which means we're sadly excluding Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Passengers and, uh, Monster Trucks.
Right. On with the list.
If you had said two years ago that Ryan Reynolds was going to relaunch his career on the back of an R-rated superhero film that features a strap-on, Gina Carano, and the music of George Michael, we'd have laughed at you right in the face and asked for whatever drugs you were on. Yet, here we are, completely sober and telling you that Deadpool was one of the best comic-book films of 2016 and the past ten years. Bawdy, ridiculously funny in places and a self-aware performance from Reynolds, Deadpool was the unexpected hit of 2016. Whether lightning strikes twice remains to be seen, but here's hoping because this was just a blast.
Yes, a tie is something of a cop-out. Nevertheless, both Zootropolis and Finding Dory reminded us this year that Disney is more than capable of taking tried-and-tested formulas and turning them into solid gold. Zootropolis took good old fashioned noir and worked into a Disney film that actually worked. Finding Dory, meanwhile, was a beautiful allegory for living with a child of disability and what it's like for a parent facing into the future. In both instances, there was a rich and textured emotional story with engaging performances and incredible animation.
Aside from maybe Guardians Of The Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War has been the best Marvel film to date. More than anything Civil War is the culmination of how long-form storytelling in films can truly work. It isn't just about the world-building aspects or exposition, it's also about the emotional beats of the story and understanding the relationships in a more deeper level. Despite all the flashing baubles, special effects and so on, Civil War was - at its very core - a story about two friends who split over another. Robert Downey, Jr. gave one of his most nuanced performances as Tony Stark, showing just how high the stakes are in his world and why personal friendships cannot stand in the way. When he goes to fight Evan's Cap, the weight of their relationship - built up over the course of the previous films - comes into play. What's more harrowing is that they're both essentially right, but they're fighting nonetheless.
At ten minutes and two hours, Bone Tomahawk feels every minute of it and is often much more crushing than you initially expect. It's a grisly, long, and winding trek into the heart of man that ultimately leads... nowhere. And that's not even the most frightening part of it. Kurt Russell delivers one of his five best performances of his career as Sheriff Hunt, but it's all about the final act that will have people talking. You'll initially go into Bone Tomahawk expecting a simple, straightforward Western and by the finale, it's a blood-soaked frenzy that comes screaming out of nowhere.
Richard Linklater's made a career out of dialogue-rich dramedys, like Before Sunset, Dazed & Confused and, now, Everybody Wants Some!! Seen as a spiritual successor to Dazed, Everybody Wants Some!! had all the qualities you'd expect from one of Linklater's finest creations - a cracking soundtrack, naturally formed comedy, a laid-back approach to plot and narrative, and a real eye for casting. Wyatt Russell, Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin and Glen Powell all brought their innate charm and affability to bear and Linklater knows how to work the funny out of a scene. It's a joy to watch.
Who'd have thought a comedy about an old man and a churlish pre-teen in New Zealand would be bothering many end-of-year lists? Hunt For The Wilderpeople was like a breath of fresh air on its release and holds up even more so on repeated viewings. Sam Neill, eschewing his usual straight-backed and genteel characters for a bearded, gruff survivalist who is reluctantly paired with "a real bad egg" in the form of Julian Dennison. Hunting them is comedy double-act Rachel House and Oscar Kightly, with one-liners to beat the band. Underneath the comedy, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a story about responsibility and freedom and the war between the two. A brilliant, brilliant little film.
In the space of three English language films - Sicario, Prisoners and Enemy - Denis Villeneuve has become one of the most talked-about directors of the year. Arrival only serves to further solidify himself in this regard. Arrival is a film that asks questions of the viewer - not in the sense you question what you're seeing or how it's being shown to you, but actually asks you about what you would do in the situation portrayed. Amy Adams gives a career-best performance and we're reminded that Jeremy Renner works best as a supporting actor than in a leading role, whilst Forrest Whittaker adds a gravitas and sense of presence that recalls James Earl Jones. What's perhaps most interesting about Arrival is how it's taken on a deeper meaning in the wake of Trump's election and Brexit, about how we communicate with one another and how fractured our world is becoming. Arrival is a film about hope, something we all desperately need.
It's true, Nocturnal Animals wasn't for everyone. For every three people who hailed it as a sumptuous, decadent masterpiece, two people rejected it as a vapid and heartless film. In a way, they're both correct. As we stated in our review, Nocturnal Animals is a trashy story about garbage people that's told with extreme attention to aesthetics. Tom Ford brings his years of experience in fashion to the table and what you're left with is a Lynchian story of deceit and destructive relationships. It may be pretty to look at, but there's nothing beautiful here.
2. GREEN ROOM
Not since last year's Sicario has there been a film that will have you sweating bullets by the time the credits roll around. Green Room is a nasty piece of work; all grime and violence, but Jeremy Saulnier's command of the story makes it one of the most effective horrors of the past decade. Patrick Stewart, easily in his best screen performance outside of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is terrifying as the neo-Nazi leader whilst Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat and Imogen Poots all give stellar performances as the punks locked in the green room. It's been compared to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but really Green Room is more closer to the last ten minutes of The Shining than anything else. Trapped, terrified, with no conceivable way out and a crushing presence of violence, Green Room is leading you into a pit of blackness.
With Sicario, the film gave the broad strokes of a film about drug cartels operating in the US and the heavy-handed response to it. Underneath it was a story about expanding civilisations and how, eventually, warring societies push back to defend themselves. With Hell Or High Water, there's a similar mechanic. On the surface, it's about two brothers robbing banks across Texas to raise funds so as to purchase back their land from a bank and provide for their future. The subtext, however, is one about disenfranchised people and how America will always force out those it can. There's a brilliant little scene with Gil Bermingham and Jeff Bridges - a strong contender for Best Supporting Actor - that drills the film down to its core. Bermingham describes how America drives people off the land; they did it to his people and they'll do it to Bridges' before long. It's such a small little scene, completely inconsequential overall, but it's the film's message in one scene. That's the beauty of Hell Or High Water, that it can make so much out of so little.
- A Date For Mad Mary
- War On Everyone
- Captain Fantastic