Now that we are in full swing of the 2017 films, it’s time to reflect on 2016 and here I share my Top 20 Films of the year. I know that I am very late in the game but there were quite a few films I didn’t get to watch in time and felt that it would be a disservice to generate a list that wasn’t truly reflective of the year. 2016 was, overall, a very interesting year in film – a lot of the films that I expected to be great were disappointing and a number of films that were unheard of or those that I initially had little faith in were excellent. I am pretty confident that I can now share my best films of last year which has been very hard to compile.
Although my Mid-Year Report only included ten films, this list will include 20 films with some honourable mentions as I couldn’t find the heart to neglect so many of these films. The rank order has changed a little from the Mid-Year Report on account of rewatching a lot of these films multiple times and some I have found are more rewatchable than others. So just because a film ranked higher earlier on last year doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the case now – that’s just the beauty of the art of film I guess.
Here I rank numbers 20 to 11. The Top Ten will be detailed in a separate post.
I am following the UK release date calendar from January 1st to December 31st hence why a lot of the Awards films do not feature here and why there are some from last year.
Here are my honourable mentions, films that didn’t quite make it into the Top Twenty but I feel that they should still deserve a mention. Please note I have listed them in alphabetical order – this is not a ranking of them.
‘Arrival’ is masterfully constructed by Villeneuve and for its first two thirds is particularly gripping. The performances are strong here too and yet again, Villeneuve’s team behind-the-camera do some good work. However, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew in its last third and although the film is still very interesting and original, it does begin to derail and struggle through towards its ending. I’m not going to go into spoilers as this is a film that needs to be watched blindly but I felt the film did leave a lot of questions unanswered and the ending does have a few plot holes to it. Initially, I said that this is a film that warrants multiple rewatches so perhaps things will become clearer on subsequent viewings – they do and the film does give you quite a lot of hints as to what the ending is going to be but on a rewatch, I had a few more problems with the film and initially in the cinema when I had mentioned that the first two acts are stronger, my perception of those acts was only the first half of the film. It’s a film that for a sci-fi is very low on action and big set-pieces – this is very much a thinking person’s sci-fi and is not too dissimilar thematically from films such as ‘Contact’ or ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ for example. On the strength of its first half, I wanted to put it into the Top Twenty but there are too many problems for this film to warrant a spot but for sheer craftsmanship, it’s worth a spot here. Here’s hoping Denis Villeneuve does a good job of the upcoming ‘Blade Runner 2049’ – if he can’t do a good job, then no one can. (My original review here)
A United Kingdom
‘A United Kingdom’ is a very easy film to like – it’s a great blend of being informative on this little-known subject matter which is quite shocking at times, funny at times and always profoundly humane. It’s got a collection of strong performances and it is very well-paced and never outstays its welcome. That said, it does race through its beginning before Oyelowo and Pike reach Bechuanaland and perhaps another ten minutes or so to explore their relationship would have been more realistic because they very quickly get married in the space of 15 minutes. It also doesn’t particularly push the envelope in terms of innovation which is why it doesn’t receive full marks but the film is a very easy watch and is endlessly engaging. (My original review here)
Bleed For This
Out of all the films that appear in this list, ‘Bleed For This’ was the one that I watched closest to publication and I was very impressed with it. The sports drama genre is not normally one that I associate as liking that much but with this film, ‘Southpaw’ and the cream of the crop, ‘Foxcatcher’ last year, it’s a genre that I’m really starting to admire. The performances in this film are excellent – Miles Teller gives it his all as Vincenzo Pazienza and the performances by Aaron Eckhart and Ciaran Hinds are equally as effective. Although this film generally received good reviews, many labelled it as conventional which I don’t think is quite true. In its middle act, I found it very different and the way the film was generally directed and shot was very competent and unashamed. It’s a really strong piece of work and I hope those who may be put off because of the genre are not.
‘Green Room’ is a very interesting film. It is directed by Jeremy Saulnier who made ‘Blue Ruin’, a revenge thriller in 2013 which I had a lot of problems with but admired its intentions. ‘Green Room’ looked like it had turned it all around for Saulnier and I was particularly interested to watch this film as it had Patrick Stewart in it as a villain and is one of Anton Yelchin’s final roles who so tragically died last year. The first time I watched ‘Green Room’, I didn’t like it. However, assured that I had missed something from it, I watched it again and found a lot more to like in it. I have since watched it twice more and whilst it still has a myriad of problems, it’s an accomplished piece of work. It is suitably nasty, gory and tension-filled and Patrick Stewart delivers one of his best performances ever. The film tackles some quite interesting themes and there are a lot of shots which I found really touching, one near the ending in particular involving a dog and its bond with its owner. It’s a film that is still flawed but it is a film that manages to evolve into something new on each rewatch. Watch it if you can and don’t be put off if the film doesn’t quite cut it (pun intended) on first viewing.
The Legend of Tarzan
‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is extremely entertaining and frequently atmospheric, almost poetic in its assured direction by David Yates at times and the film’s strong cast allow this film to thrive. The film is very well-paced and the action sequences are exhilarating at times. Unfortunately, the film was not received well by the critics with many citing it as an empty, hollow film which I can understand as the film does lack heart in places and Alexander Skarsgård does lack charisma as the titular character but excels in the action sequences. The visual effects are a little ‘ropey’ at times. But these issues do not harm, what is generally a pretty good film, too much as its direction and entertaining storyline more than make up for it and I feel it deserves a mention as it will otherwise be forgotten. It has really held up on rewatching this film multiple times and controversially, I find it a better film than the critical darling that is Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book‘. (My original review here)
Now onto the Top Twenty:
20) The Nice Guys
‘The Nice Guys’ was the closest film to get into the Top Twenty and I really struggled with my decision whether to let it in or not. It was between this film and ‘A United Kingdom’ but I felt this film took a lot more risks and gets even better on every rewatch. When this film was released, it really didn’t do all that well at the box office barely earning back its budget. I really like Shane Black as both a writer and director and this film has the best of both his talents. The performances all round in this film are great and the story is full of twists and turns. The cinematography by Philippe Rousselot is particularly great and there are a lot of shots in this film that may not have been thought of by other cinematographers which Rousselot implements. It’s quite interesting to see that this film has managed to sneak into quite a lot of other critical rankings, much higher than the 20th position that I have awarded it so by-and-large, this is a film that really warrants your attention. I think the main reason why this film failed financially was because it was released in a pretty packed month and was up against some stiff competition in the form of other blockbusters.
‘Sully’ is quite workmanlike in its execution but it’s a fascinating subject matter that Eastwood is able to spin a riveting narrative out of and it features some fantastic performances, particularly from Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart. It features an efficient blend of awe-inspiring plane crash sequences that play out in Sully’s mind throughout the film and some gripping investigatory work from the NTSB of which some is rather fictionalised but it makes for a great viewing. However Eastwood’s workmanlike execution is his downfall as he doesn’t particularly do too much out of his comfort zone and this is very alike to some of his other films in its direction – you pretty much get what you expect. (My original review here)
Although filmed and released in some territories in 2015, the UK got ‘Mustang’ in 2016 and it really is a very important film. ‘Mustang’ tells the tales of five sisters who are forced to get married by their parents after being spotted playing with boys. It is a timely film and one that reinforces how important the role of women is not just in the film industry but in real life. The film was directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a Turkish-French female director who has said a lot of interesting things on the topic but the film never feels like a lecture, it feels very innocently put together without a strong agenda. The film is outright shocking at times and the performances by the entire cast are really genuine. The score by Warren Ellis is utterly sublime and really helps to elevate the content being portrayed on-screen. ‘Mustang’ is a really important film and a real eye-opener.
17) Doctor Strange
‘Doctor Strange’ is a delight from start to finish – it is thoroughly entertaining, extremely well-paced and has perhaps the best visual effects that I have seen in a film for a while. The film is bolstered by its excellent cast who are all wonderful and Scott Derrickson is a clear fit for the material – you can really tell the passion that has gone into this film behind the camera. It’s a lot more stripped down than this Summer’s ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ which was effectively an ‘Avengers 2.5’ team-up and by having less characters to juggle around, it really means the film can get a chance to breathe and develop these characters. (My original review here)
16) The Colony
This is probably the point where if you’ve heard about this film, you stop reading. You’ve probably heard all of the horror stories of this film if you follow the film industry, the negative reviews and the fact that The Guardian ran a story on how it earnt just £47 at the UK box office. Hold on a minute and I will try to justify myself including ‘The Colony’ (more commonly known as ‘Colonia’). First of all, on the subject of money, this film was simulataneously released on VOD which is not uncommon for a lot of films meaning that although the film will most likely suffer financially in the cinema, it will earn money back over VOD and DVD. Now I found the actual film, regardless of money, to tell a very important story about ‘Colonia Dignidad’ and the Chilean Military Coup. It is gripping and the stakes that face the characters of Lena and Daniel, played by Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl, are very intense. Michael Nyqvist’s performance as Paul Schäfer, the antagonistic leader of ‘Colonia Dignidad’ is terrifying at times and really manages to convey just what a horrible individual this man was. It’s a really entertaining film that constantly ups its stakes whilst at the same time, taking place in a wider context that the film does an admirable job in educating the viewer about. It’s a really interesting watch and one that I would really encourage giving a watch – ignore the reviews and its box office figures.
‘Spotlight’ is an excellent film and really showcases the best in Tom McCarthy from his close direction to the excellent, tightly-packed script. The cast are wonderful and it manages to deal with such a sensitive subject matter in a very entertaining and satisfying fashion and once it gets going after establishing a context, it rip-roars right through to the end. However, my only criticism is that it doesn’t do a lot to set itself apart from other films of this genre. It follows the tried-and-tested formula all the way, as entertaining and satisfying as it is but that is why it doesn’t rank any higher. (My original review here)
14) Finding Dory
‘Finding Dory’ is an endlessly entertaining sequel that is peppered with clever humour and it’s also a rather poignant film that explores some very thought-provoking themes. It’s not quite as good as ‘Finding Nemo’, but it doesn’t simply retread the same narrative again instead choosing to tackle some different themes. The animation, in true Pixar fashion, is stunning and the film manages to successfully introduce and develop new characters that I am sure audiences will come to love. (My original review here)
Originally earning 8th place in my Mid-Year report, ‘Zootopia’ is a masterfully crafted film from Disney and is their best film since ‘Tangled’. What sets it apart from their other films is the fact this film’s story is completely different to anything they have ever done before and is a mystery that kept me guessing right to the end. The world that they have created here is very convincing and is a world that I would love to visit – the animation is that good! The voice cast here are also exemplary with the standouts being Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons, all three actors perfectly suitable to their respective roles. I really enjoyed this film and like all the best Disney films found it totally engaging, extremely funny in parts and explores some interesting themes.
12) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’ is an extremely well-directed film again by David Yates which features some great performances and superb character development. The story is exceptionally well-crafted (did we ever not have faith in Rowling in this department?) and I’m especially impressed that the film that we got is a very different one compared to what the trailers suggested – the film has a lot of surprises and twists and storylines that were not shown in the trailers and this is a very strong move. Yates continues to impress me with his direction (also directing ‘The Legend of Tarzan‘ which landed an honourable mention) and again, is a great match for this material and there are numerous sequences that are perfectly crafted which he is able to conjure a very atmospheric tone. Yates may well have his naysayers but I strongly disagree. The tone Yates goes for is very well judged and the film is very dark for a 12A, perhaps more so than the Harry Potter series and he manages to blend darkness, spectacle and humour perfectly. The film however is a little heavy-handed when it comes to romance. Another flaw the film battles is due to the amount of content it has to set up, the first hour is a little uneven compared to the second half when the film fully lets rip but the film is always very engaging and entertaining. This film is the first of what is envisaged to be a 5-film franchise which I would be really interested in but I do think there are some problems that this film sets up for the second film. (My original review here)
11) The Witch
I juggled between places 8-11 in terms of how to rank them and just missing out on the Top Ten is ‘The Witch’. It is a very interesting piece of work that has been incredibly well-researched from debut director Robert Eggers and the script is very authentic. It’s not too scary (I think it has been wrongly marketed as an out-and-out horror film which it’s not) but Eggers is able to conjure a very intense and atmospheric tone and the film has some very interesting religious messages – it almost plays out like a parable at times. Although the cast aren’t particularly well-known, I think this film is going to allow them a breakthrough, in particular Anya Taylor-Joy (evidently she has gone to get a lot of work) and Harvey Scrimshaw, both very convincing young actors. The film does stumble a little in its mid-section where there are a couple of drawn-out conversations which don’t really go anywhere and as mentioned, the marketing for the film is very misleading – although the film is not a horror film, ‘The Witch’ is instead an extremely insightful, atmospheric and philosophical watch that deserves all the praise it is getting and a film that gets better on every rewatch.
So there we go, numbers 20 down to 11. Stay tuned for the Top Ten in a separate post…
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister