Having slaved over my top 10 films of 2016 for the last fortnight, it’s easy to feel that I will never be satisfied with my choices. Here are the essential top 10, followed by some that are equally as important but just didn’t fit into a top 10.
10. Arrival – Big budget sci-fi that turns out to be a personal and human story, filled with musings about communication, language, and harmony between different people.
9. Paterson – At first glance a wholly unexceptional film where nothing happens, only to charm its way into your heart as a celebration of the working class, the routine-dominated life, and how love, work, and creative outlets are more than enough.
8. Victoria – A single-take film over a wild night in Germany. I would have been enamoured if it had stuck with its initial act’s premise of a young woman meeting a bunch of guys and getting swept away like a millennial Disney fairytale, but the film has a seedy underbelly that ramps the stakes up as the sun begins to rise. An exceptional achievement.
7. A Bigger Splash – One of the most sensual films I’ve ever seen, and sees Ralph Fiennes having the time of his life as a guy you kinda want to be, but never want to be around. A four-header that loses its way towards the end but the first two acts are exceptionally gorgeous, tense, and see each of our characters react in a unique manner to each other.
6. Kubo and the Two Strings – Laika make the most magical films in the world simply through presentation. The stop-motion alone is enough to make your eyes water, but this story of fighting for what you believe is right against forces bigger than yourself is universal and yet so refreshing when told by master film-makers.
5. Captain Fantastic – Admittedly my kind of film which owes more than a nod to Little Miss Sunshine, Captain Fantastic is a powerhouse display of acting from Viggo Mortsensen as a charismatic father living in the wild with his kids, teaching them alternative ways of life free from material possession and capitalism. Circumstances mean they have to engage with the outside world, and the film works so well because Mortensen is never shown to be right or wrong. Maybe he has a point, or maybe he’s the next Charles Manson – the film lets you decide, but the film’s heart is so strong because everyone means so well.
4. Green Room – The most intense war film ever made set in a dingy club venue. A punk band accidentally stumble upon a situation created by the neo-nazi patrons of the venue, and they are held until it can be sorted. What follows is nail-biting stuff, with gruesome acts of violence and a real feeling of claustrophobia and despair. When this premiered in Scotland at the Glasgow Film Festival late in the evening, people were shouting “fuck yeah!” at certain moments. One of the most punk rock films ever, and a must-see.
3. The Witch – A folktale about what happens when male dominance, religion, and hysteria are allowed to dominate a family. Cast out from their village, tragedy after tragedy strikes as children go missing, crops fail, and it’s fairly certain the Devil himself is causing mayhem. Live deliciously.
2. Spotlight – A story free from Hollywoodisation as the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team are depicted methodically uncovering the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church on a massive scale. A story told as it ought to be told – facts front and centre, free from the glitz and glam of a large-screen production. More than deserving of 2016’s Oscar for Best Picture, and with an ensemble cast who are all on top form, Spotlight is simply incredible film-making.
1. Mustang – The one film I could not stop thinking about all year since I saw it in February at the Glasgow Film Festival. The past and the present collide as the agency of young women is snatched from them by a patriarch determined to marry them off to families of his choosing. Each child reacts differently, from excitement to rebellion with the hope of a better life. Youth and freedom collide with tradition in a changing world, as city-living is a world apart from existing out in the country. The youngest child and main protagonist Lale is a symbol of hope and a middle finger to having your life dictated to you, as she seeks to protect her sisters while she still can. For my money, there was no better film released in 2016 than Mustang.
These honourable mentions are more than just “and the rest…” but films that on any other day could have made it into this top 10. They deserve to be seen and loved:
Everybody Wants Some, Your Name, The Handmaiden, Under the Shadow, Sing Street, Zootopia, American Honey, and Son of Saul.
What a wonderful year it has been for film, and I can’t wait to do it all again in 2017.