The 10 Best Films of 2016
2016 has been an awful year, and no amount of Star Wars or Harry Potter prequels can make up for that. Whilst greats such as the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen and Richard Linklater flexed their filmmaking muscles, we sustained some huge losses. Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and Anton Yelchin to name but a few. 2016 has however been a fantastic year for filmmaking. Here's our favourite 10 films - in no particular order.
Notes on Blindness – Dir. Peter Middleton & James Spinney
Watching Notes on Blindness is a terrifically singular and beautiful experience, and one I had not previously enjoyed. The documentary follows the later life of John Hull, a writer who goes blind shortly before the birth of his son. Hull kept an audio diary describing his descent into blindness, and it is these tapes that we listen to throughout the film. Dan Skinner portrays Hull humbly, sporting a strong beard and lip-syncing to the audio perfectly. Gorgeously soft images pepper the film throughout, accompanied by pitch perfect sound design (as expected). Notes on Blindness is a delight to watch and a truly original insight into the world of the blind.
High-Rise – Dir. Ben Wheatley
The film opens with Tom Hiddlestone’s Dr. Laing eating the leg of an Alsatian on the balcony of his apartment, but strangely, this isn’t the weirdest thing that you will see during the film’s two-hour runtime. As each minute of High-Rise passes, the film descends further and further into kaleidoscopic, Ballardian madness: swimming pools become watering holes, supermarkets become battlegrounds and cheese knives are no longer used for their intended purpose… Supremely shot and expertly edited, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is an orgiastic assault upon all of your senses – at least the ones that you have left once you leave the cinema.
Green Room – Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Jeremy Saulnier has effectively carved a path into the American indie scene with his original style of filmmaking, of which his latest movie Green Room is a fantastic example. When a young punk band play a neo-Nazi club in the backwoods of Oregon, they find themselves struggling for their lives as Patrick Stewart’s ‘Darcy’ and his white supremacist gang close in. Macon Blair delivers a stoically cold performance as Gabe, accompanied by the late Anton Yelchin whose turn in this movie is among his very best – he will be sorely missed. Green Room is the definition of hardcore: a chomp at your jugular rather than a cinema-going experience.
Zootropolis – Dir. Jared Bush, Byron Howard & Rich Moore
In Zootropolis, the world is run by animals: predators and prey live alongside one another. Judy Hopps is a rabbit who dreams of becoming a police officer in the big city, but once there, she discovers that her size and species limit her. Disney have, once again, created a world with every feature and character in mind, it is a world in which everyone would love to live. The film will keep even the coldest of audiences at bay, entertaining both adults and children alike; its crystal clear design and universal humour is impossible not to love – especially those dancing tigers.
Room – Dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Room follows the life of a young boy who is raised within the confines of a hut, and his mother who is held captive alongside him. Illustrating his first experiences of the outside world, Room is a skin prickling depiction of life after captivity and the overwhelming vastness of our world. Brie Larson’s heartbreaking turn as Ma reveals an adolescence unwillingly stolen from her, and Jacob Tremblay’s performance as the young Jack is arguably the finest child acting ever seen on screen. Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is pitch perfect, and left tears trickling down cheeks in cinemas worldwide; this is easily one of the best films of the decade, and will be remembered for many, many more.
Paterson – Dir. Jim Jarmusch
Paterson is about a bus driver named Paterson (an earnest Adam Driver) who lives, writes poems, walks his dog and visits his favourite bar in the city of, you guessed it, Paterson. That’s all there is to it. We follow a week in Paterson’s life, each day a new stanza in Jim Jarmusch’s own poem about routine, repetition and ultimately, existence. Not much happens in the film, but equally you feel that your own life has been tweaked just a little by watching Paterson go about his quiet, little life. Whilst not for everyone, I feel that unassuming films like this are why people love cinema, and recommend that you give this tiny jewel a chance.
American Honey – Dir. Andrea Arnold
This 165-minute road trip depicts the journey of Star (Sasha Lane), a teenager who leaves her home to travel America alongside Shia LaBeouf’s Jake and his vagabond troop. Sasha Lane is a dazzling screen presence, it’s tough to believe that this is her first film appearance – Andrea Arnold has unearthed something precious in her. Robbie Ryan’s sun-soaked cinematography is fully deserving of his BIFA win, as were the film’s 3 other wins at the awards. The whole movie is like one big group hug; it is clear that a family was made during its creation. American Honey, like it's characters, is a difficult film to pin down, but if you stick with it, you will have an immensely enjoyable time.
I, Daniel Blake – Dir. Ken Loach
As the house lights came up, there was only pure, stunned silence left in I, Daniel Blake’s wake. Ken Loach's latest is a warning shot; a blood-boiling call to arms; and a punch in the throat all at the same time. Once again, Robbie Ryan's cinematography shines. Unpolished and straightforward, its grit is key to the film’s impact, it’s a great example of storytelling at its most basic. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are fantastic as the two leads, and their relationship onscreen unfurls into something truly beautiful. I, Daniel Blake is a film that will make you both despair in and feel lucky to be part of the human race.
The Witch – Dir. Robert Eggers
The Witch is a tightly wound, pin-sharp horror film that doesn’t rely on ‘jump scares’ to be scary; instead it ratchets up tension to an unbearable level by utilising flawless sound design and beautifully stark cinematography, evoking the feelings of isolation and hysteria as effectively as the script itself. The film feels perfectly paced, almost as if it’s taking its time – which is incredible considering its tiny runtime of 93 minutes. Robert Eggers’ debut feature film is so accomplished that you feel that the man has been making movies all of his life, and with his remake of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu in the works, we certainly hope that this will be the case.
Embrace of the Serpent – Dir. Ciro Guerra
Director Ciro Guerra’s sprawling journey into the heart of the Amazon is an experience to be savoured. Split over two separate time periods, Embrace of the Serpent tells the tale of the last member of a remote Amazonian tribe and his fight to protect his people’s greatest treasure. The film’s handsome monochrome cinematography flows as smoothly as the titular serpent and its ethereal soundtrack immerses the audience into the sublime world of the rainforest. Underneath its hard-wearing exterior you will find a movie with a loving, beating heart. Seek this film out: you will not be disappointed.