Best Movies of 2016

Good day, everybody. I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to a special New Year, but for now – it’s list time! This post will be all about my favourite movies of 2016, compiling my most loved this year using the convenient and well-tested top ten formula (though I couldn’t resist including a special mention, too).

Swing by my letterboxd or previous blog post to see a rundown of every film I watched this year, but let’s save the rest of my waffling for the end and get down to business.


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Special Mention goes to Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hun)

Tunnel is a multifaceted disaster movie in which a man becomes trapped after a road tunnel collapses around him. I wanted to give it a mention, because – while it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre – it’s but one of many worthwhile movies from South Korea this year and features some very powerful and evocative moments. It’s a well-paced and skillfully shot film that successfully maintains suspense despite some predictability, which also excels in its exploration of sensationalist, personal and political viewpoints — depicting what feel like very human and true-to-life scenarios.


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#10. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir. Travis Knight)

Kicking the list off at number ten is Kubo and the Two Strings, which follows the titular character on a journey across ancient Japan to locate a suit of magical armor in order to defeat the vengeful Moon King. It suffers from some contrived exposition, but ultimately comes together as a moving and exquisitely animated piece. It’s gorgeously visualised – with a number of attentively choreographed and well designed action scenes – and while the characters are rather conventional, they manage to be memorable and enjoyable iterations, humanly developed and brought to life with some engaging voice work.


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#9. Swiss Army Man (Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

Swiss Army Man really is as strange as it sounds, but it’s also wonderfully enjoyable, terrifically imaginative and at times even beautiful. It opens with a man about to hang himself beside a desolate beach, but when he’s interrupted by a farting corpse that washes up on the coast, he mounts the dead body and it begins propelling them across the shoreline. Thereafter, the two develop a peculiar bond. Alongside its alluring eccentricity, the film features an ending and reveal nothing less than magnificent, with a remarkable a cappella score and solid performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.


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#8. Captain Fantastic (Dir. Matt Ross)

Matt Ross’ touching drama follows an unorthodox family who live in a Washington state forest. The children learn about survival, philosophy and coexistence with nature from their father, who has become disillusioned with capitalism and society, but due to their mother being hospitalised, the children gradually begin to lose focus. Captain Fantastic is a lovingly crafted piece that brings into question topics of society, education and upbringing, that feels well balanced in its conversation, avoiding biased commentary despite basking in nonconformity and allowing audiences to ponder the finer details.


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#7. Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

Tom Ford’s second feature follows a disillusioned art gallery owner named Susan, whose life has become rather joyless and undesirable, but a glimmer of hope beckons when her ex-husband sends her a manuscript out of the blue, with which Susan becomes entranced. Nocturnal Animals is one of the years most compelling features, with a steady and meticulous divulgence of details that builds a layered, ever-suspenseful and stunningly haunting tale of redemption and revenge. The sinuous narrative is expertly employed, with Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson giving fiercely evocative performances.


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#6. The Little Prince (Dir. Mark Osborne)

The Little Prince was released in most parts of the world last year, but didn’t make its way to Britain and the United States until 2016. It follows a young girl in a grown-up world whose outlook on life is changed when her eccentric neighbour tells her extraordinary tales of a small boy who lives on an asteroid. It’s beautifully illustrated, with wonderful contrast between the two narratives. I’m sad the film didn’t reach a wider audience, because it is incredibly profound and evocative in its exploration of innocence, inner peace and companionship, with some intensely poignant and memorable dialogue.


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#5. Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)

John Carney’s musical drama Sing Street makes its way into my top five. The film follows a ragtag bunch of youths in 1980s Ireland who form a band with the goal of impressing a girl. It’s an utterly charming but brilliantly grounded feature, portraying not only gleeful musical numbers but also some rousing, hard-hitting family drama, with Jack Reynor giving an unexpectedly impassioned and memorable performance. It’s a completely absorbing film – from the music to the characters – with a tremendous ending that leaves a lasting impression, evoking brilliant uncertainty despite an overt sense of exuberance.


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#4. Your Name (Dir. Makoto Shinkai)

Just missing out on my top three is one of Japan’s most successful films of all time. Your Name is a visually arresting and incredibly moving body-swap drama with a couple of very inventive and unconventional features. The director masterfully weaves between humour and sorrow as the plot proceeds in directions unforeseen, all the while employing his wonderful knack for imbuing typically ordinary settings with a delicate touch of fantasy and science fiction. Shinkai has been highly regarded within the anime community for some time; it’s nice to see someone other than Miyazaki garnering broader recognition.


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#3. The Handmaiden (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

Park Chan-wook’s beguiling adaptation of the Fingersmith commences the top three. It’s a slinky, seductive and beautifully provocative period piece that tells of a plot to defraud a mysterious heiress by a conman who hires a thief to act as her maid, but complications abound when the two women begin to fall for one another. It’s a tantalising exploration of sexuality, with a mesmeric quality and stunning proficiency — attentively crafted and brilliantly layered in so many respects. Certainly, one of the years most alluring films, with gorgeous set design, bewitching performances and some masterful cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, who maneuvers the camera with extreme finesse.


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#2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

Taika Waititi’s extraordinary New Zealand based adventure was my firm favourite for many months, before being pipped to the post in December. Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a delinquent teenager and his new eccentric foster family who end up on the wrong side of a national manhunt. It’s enormous amounts of fun, with a near faultless script loaded with impeccable witticism. Julian Dennison and Sam Neill meld into their roles with seeming effortlessness; their bond developing organically on a journey through the bush as we venture between hilarity and despair. The gorgeous geography of New Zealand is of course on display, too. It’s a thoroughly enticing and joyous affair.


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#1. A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

My favourite film of the year is Shunji Iwai’s three-hour masterpiece about an unassertive girl named Nanami, who struggles to find fulfillment and true companionship in an all too connected world that can – ironically – sometimes leave people feeling isolated.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle has the ethereal and poignant quality of All About Lily Chou-Chou, with the director molding forlorn into fascinating through his stark imagery and exquisite characterisation. The handheld camera work creates an alluring sense of intimacy and delicate observation, quietly dissolving viewers into Nanami’s world, making the three-hour runtime seem like no time at all.

In many ways, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a character study, following the formation of Nanami’s very essence through a number of encounters and experiences; some distressing, some jubilant and some intensely passionate. Iwai develops the character very attentively, with actress Haru Kuroki giving a first-rate performance, communicating soft, unspoken emotions with absolute precision.

It’s a gorgeously bittersweet and entirely bewitching film, with Nanami a terrific representation of the younger generation, whose voices are aflutter online, all too often contradicted by their passive realities. It has an other-worldly, dreamy aesthetic, but is in many was, incredibly grounded, intimate and relatable.

Shunji Iwai isn’t as active as he once was in the 90s and early 21st century, but he hasn’t lost an ounce of the understated, extraordinary quality that makes his work so distinctive, evocative and beautifully haunting.


There we have it, folks. I think 2016 has been a terrific year for film (much better than last year), but I’m a little disappointed there’s such a disparity between the release dates of some of the latter films this year. I see Hacksaw Ridge popping up on many year-end lists, with its release come and gone in most territories, but the UK is one of the last places in the world to receive it (late January), so it’s a little annoying not being able to form a complete rundown of the years best. Manchester by the Sea and La La Land are another two features for which I am playing the waiting game. Such is life, though.

I have a couple of films on my radar for next year, with Bong Joon-ho’s Okja my most anticipated, which is released on Netflix in the Summer. Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe also has my attention, along with Logan – Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine – and of course Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which I will be going to see in just a few days. I’m also intrigued to see the outcome of the Ghost in the Shell and Death Note adaptations, but I’m not counting on anything particularly impressive.

Good or bad, I’m sure I’ll be writing about all them and more next year, so please swing by on occasion. I hope everybody has an enjoyable New Year celebration, or just a relaxed, peaceful time if preferred. And if you have the time, let me know your top ten! I’m always eager to share opinions and discover new movies. See you in 2017, my friends.

Watched This Month: October – November 2016

Hello! Welcome to Watched This Month. It feels good to be on time and caught up again. I managed to average a couple of movies a week over October and November, which isn’t too bad considering I’ve had my face glued to Pokemon Sun since it came out. The majority of my viewings this time are South Korean, which I have neglected for far too long. About half a decade ago, most of what I watched was Japanese or Korean, but last year I barely saw anything foreign. Get that shame bell out. Anyway, I’m very happy to return to the fold, as South Korea is home to a wonderfully assorted and absorbing filmography.

Previous: June – September

Film Rating
3-Iron (Dir. Kim Ki-duk)

Kim Ki-duk swaps the alluring Cheongsong County for a miscellany of apartments in 3-Iron, but with seeming effortlessness, he molds the commonplace into imagery that is both mesmerizing and wholly memorable. 3-Iron is an enchanting think piece in which the main character (who doesn’t have a single piece of dialogue) breaks into the homes of strangers to quietly live their lives whilst they’re away. It’s stacked with beautiful aesthetics and the spiritual third act gratifyingly concludes one of the most spellbinding and unique pieces of cinema I have ever seen.

★★★★☆
A Bittersweet Life (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

South Korea has an exceptional catalogue of revenge thrillers, with A Bittersweet Life a fine example of the genre. The action is incredibly tense and well choreographed – with an inventive use of POV shots – and I enjoyed the tinges of tragedy and melancholy in the main character. However, I thought it lacked a genuine emotional pull, which prevented it from becoming truly remarkable.

★★★☆☆
Captain Fantastic (Dir. Matt Ross)

A touching comedy-drama about a zany family man who lives an unorthodox life with his children in a North American forest, withdrawn from society. It’s a lovingly crafted piece that brings into question topics of society, education and upbringing, with Viggo Mortensen giving a stunningly evocative performance as the tough loving patriarch. It suffers from some expected tropes, but comes together beautifully and felt very balanced in its conversation, avoiding biased commentary despite basking in nonconformity, allowing audiences to ponder the finer details.

★★★★☆
Doctor Strange (Dir. Scott Derrickson)

More of the same from Marvel. A fine popcorn flick that doesn’t deviate from the formula – you know what you’re in for. The effects were great, though the action was more martial arts than magical sorcery. The climax and confrontation with Dormammu was interesting, but slightly anti-climatic and I thought the comedy was pretty woeful. The characters were very hit-or-miss for me, but the cast did a good job with the material they were given.

★★☆☆☆
Memories of Murder (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

An engrossing police procedural in the same vein as Zodiac. Memories of Murder is based on the real-life story of South Korea’s first modern serial killings, which took place between 1986 and 1991. The case was never solved, but the film does well to command the viewers attention, displaying many facets of the investigation and presenting what feels like an authentic insight into the culture and handling of the case by local detectives. It’s a meticulously constructed picture, with the dialogue smart and convincing, but also surprisingly witty. Amongst the tension and drama, there are ingenious moments of respite, delivered with ease by the cast. It’s slow at times, but entirely worth it come the end, which is extremely poignant and haunting.

★★★★☆
Silenced (Dir. Hwang Dong Hyuk)

A distressing and intensely dramatic film based on a true story, in which children at a hearing impaired school in South Korea were found to have been repeatedly sexually assaulted by members of the staff. I have such admiration for the child cast, who are absolutely vivid and powerful in their roles. It’s an unsettling subject tackled bluntly by the director, but for all the evil in the world there is also compassion and beauty, with Gong Yoo delivering a very tender and determined performance. The real-life case was swiftly reopened following the films release, which led to the permanent closure of the school, a number of convictions and the abolition of the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and the disabled.

★★★★☆
Snowpiercer (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

An outstanding post-apocalyptic fable that doubles up as a political allegory. Snowpiercer is not to be taken too seriously, it’s more a think piece, heavy on metaphors and symbolism, striving to open a dialogue on society and capitalism. Wonderfully, though, it never gets bogged down by political ramblings or intellectual jargon. On the surface, it’s a fierce and flashy action piece that hardly relents, but underneath it’s rich in analysis and interpretation, with many having wrote in depth about its deeper meanings. A great film for an attentive viewer, with some exquisite cinematography, intense action and gripping scenarios.

★★★★☆
Suicide Squad (Dir. David Ayer)

I found Suicide Squad fine as a brainless piece of light entertainment, but ultimately very bland and by the numbers. There are a couple of vaguely interesting characters, but nothing remotely thrilling or inventive ever happens. There’s an obnoxious music cue for what seems like everything and the action was so free of tension that it became tedious, but there’s a drinking game in there somewhere.

★★☆☆☆
The Chaser (Dir. Na Hong-Jin)

The Chaser is a brutal thriller in which a shady ex-detective turned pimp tries to track down several missing prostitutes who had all visited the same client. It’s one of the most riveting films I have watched in recent memory and an incredible accomplishment for a directorial debut. Shot almost entirely under the cover of night, the Seoul streets are beautiful but bleak, with the bitter conflict between the two vicious leads absolutely relentless. Toying with your tender emotions, rarely allowing you a moment of respite or even a fleeting sense of ease, The Chaser is a tiring, but wholly memorable and truly remarkable film. An absolute must see if you’re at all interested in Korean cinema or crime thrillers.

★★★★★
The Terror Live (Dir. Kim Byung-woo)

The Terror Live has a great premise, with a radio host attempting to make some personal gains after landing an exclusive with a terrorist. The first half an hour was very absorbing, but somewhere along the way it seemed to get lost in its own tempo, skipping essential details and leaving plot holes. Overall, it’s a slightly ostentatious movie that needs a little refining, but if you can overlook certain elements there’s an interesting story in there and Ha Jung-woo gives a fine performance.

★★☆☆☆
The Wailing (Dir. Na Hong-Jin)

Having loved The Chaser, I was eager to explore more of Na Hong-Jin’s work. The Wailing was a pleasant, but completely unexpected surprise. It had all the twists, turns and thrill of the directors debut, but was seeped in symbolism and had some very dramatic tonal shifts, starting as a sort of mystery thriller, but ending as a supernatural horror. It’s absolutely gripping – with a number of bewitching scenes that stick with me to this day – but also slightly mystifying and thus a film that feels like it would grow on the observer more with time and repeat viewings.

★★★☆☆
The Wolverine (Dir. James Mangold)

The Wolverine is a mixed bag, but is saved from becoming wearisome by its lead actor an interesting setting. While the story becomes more generic as it progresses, the premise and first act were very intriguing and the action scenes throughout were a lot of fun. However, the romance felt rather stilted and underdeveloped and the villains weren’t very memorable. It also skimps on details as superhero movies tend to do, but Hugh Jackman is always very watchable and gives it his all.

★★☆☆☆
Train to Busan (Dir. Yeon Sang-Ho)

I’m not the biggest fan of horror cinema, let alone zombie apocalypse stories, but found myself completely enamored with Train to Busan. It’s extremely well paced and manages to maintain a solid emotional connection throughout. The characters are quite typical, but at the same time so endearing, that even the most over-done and seen before zombie tropes appear effortlessly riveting.

★★★☆☆
Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hoon)

A superb, multifaceted disaster movie from South Korea in which a man becomes trapped inside a road tunnel after it collapses around him. Certain parts were a little predictable, but the film has some very powerful moments and really shines in its portrayal of events following the catastrophe, balancing sensationalist, personal and political viewpoints and ultimately depicting what feels like a very human and true-to-life story.

★★★★☆
Z for Zachariah (Dir. Craig Zobel)

A beautifully shot drama, with a low-key love triangle and post-apocalyptic setting. Craig Zobel succeeds in creating a very intimate picture, exploring human relationships with a delicate touch, but the film lacked a real impact and was surprisingly void of tension. It’s an intriguing piece that feels like it could have been so much more, but Chiwetel Ejiofor was terrific.

★★★☆☆

That’s it for October and November. Just one month left before two-thousand-and-seventeen. Anybody else still pronouncing the years like that? Twenty-seventeen just doesn’t sound as nice. I remember reading how Stanley Kubrick wanted people to pronounce 2001: A Space Odyssey as two-thousand-and-one (A Space Odyssey) in hopes that – should it become popular – it would influence the pronunciation of the year. That man had plans. Anyway, thank for dearly for stopping by and I do hope you’ll visit again.