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: June – September 2016

Well, well. What do we have here… Watched This Month? It’s that ancient monthly post I said I would keep up with. So much for that! I lasted five months from January until May until I got sidetracked and the posts stopped. Apologies! Forgiveness, please! Here’s the long overdue list that covers every film I watched from the beginning of June to the end of September. Also, I just realised I’ve already watched more this year than I did in 2015. Hooray! Still on track to double last years amount. Anyway, if anybody is still here… Hello again! It’s lovely to see you.

Previous: January, February, March, April and May

Film Rating
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Dir. Zack Snyder)

As somebody who isn’t massively into Batman or Superman (and has long since departed the superhero hype train), I was ready to give this film a miss. However, the entice of Ben Affleck eventually got me on board and I made room for it one lazy day. Though bloated and overly long (I watched the three-hour extended cut), Batman v Superman is a largely innocuous action movie, at least perhaps to the common folk. It’s rather by-the-numbers and pretty unremarkable all things considered, but it saw me comfortably into the evening and was fulfilling as a decent piece of light entertainment, despite being relatively dark and unfunny throughout.

★★☆☆☆
Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance)

An incredibly moving film; alluring and sweet, yet heartbreaking and tender. One of the most affecting and remarkable I have seen in recent memory. I can’t recall another quite like it that portrays romance in such a beautiful, yet forlorn and bittersweet manner. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams go from elation to pain and then to utter heartbreak so fluently; the entire film has such an authentic feel to it that a number of scenes are soul-destroying to watch. One of those rare films that stays with you.

★★★★☆
Bottle Rocket (Dir. Wes Anderson)

It’s brilliant to see how Wes Anderson’s quirks, style and talent as a director was so discernible and seemingly honed right from his first feature. The story behind the inception of Bottle Rocket is as charming as the film itself and the picture is such a strong start for not only Anderson, but also Luke and Owen Wilson. The characters are as eccentric and endearing as you would expect and the ending is just lovely. Easily one of my top three favourites from Wes Anderson.

★★★★☆
Death Billiards (Dir. Yuzuru Tachikawa)

In Japan, there exists an annual project funded by the government that supports young animators. Dubbed the Young Animator Training Project, it produces a number of animated short films every year. Death Billiards is one of four produced in 2013 and follows two recently deceased men who are allegedly trapped in a mysterious bar which acts as a sort of purgatory. The bartender has the men compete in a game of billiards with the fate of their souls on the line. It’s a very interesting, high-octane concept that does well to avoid the crippling melodrama found all too often in anime. It’s fluently paced, with an intriguing atmosphere and some interesting dialogue. It was adapted into a full series in 2015, but sadly never quite reached the allure of the original short.

★★★☆☆
Eye in the Sky (Dir. Gavin Hood)

A superb modern thriller with a sublime cast that focuses heavily on topics of morality and the politics of war. Helen Mirren is stunning and Alan Rickaman bows out with a memorable performance and chilling last lines.

★★★★☆
Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

A dark, enticing thriller that is unfortunately a little predictable in areas and ultimately let down by a number of archetypal characters. Nevertheless, Saulnier builds an imposing sense of dread and is able to execute some masterful suspense.

★★★☆☆
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

My favourite of the year thus far. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison are so joyous together. It’s tender and touching, yet fun, energetic and a totally wild romp with some wonderfully witty dialogue. Also, who knew Sam Neill was a Kiwi? Until now, I thought he was Irish through and through!

★★★★☆
I Am Not a Serial Killer (Dir. Billy O’Brien)

I went into this blind and came away mildly satisfied. One of those movies with a promising start that slowly falls apart with every act. I didn’t get behind the ending and wish it had gone a different direction, but solid performances from both Max Records and Christopher Lloyd nonetheless. Couldn’t believe that was the kid from Where the Wild Things Are at first.

★★☆☆☆
Imperium (Dir. Daniel Ragussis)

Daniel Radcliffe is quite amazing. I enjoyed him in the Harry Potter franchise and adore his charisma, but hadn’t really rated him as an actor until now. Imperium itself is a rather by-the-books thriller, but is elevated and carried wonderfully by Radcliffe. He’s one to watch from now on, for sure.

★★★☆☆
In the Heart of the Sea (Dir. Ron Howard)

After the lukewarm critical response, I didn’t expect much from In the Heart of the Sea, but found it a rather grand, compelling and well-produced tale. It takes certain artistic liberties – some unfortunate – but I liked the inclusion of Herman Melville as a character and came away rather fulfilled and happy. An action-adventure with a lot heart and soul.

★★★☆☆
Little Witch Academia (Dir. Yoh Yoshinari)

Another animated short produced in 2013 as part of the Young Animator Training Project, alongside Death Billiards and two others. Little Witch Academia is a lively foray into the world of magic, with a straight-forward but nonetheless exciting plot, complimented wonderfully by a perky roster of characters, humorous dialogue and a number of enjoyable set pieces. At just twenty-six minutes long, it’s well paced and surprisingly comprehensive.

★★★☆☆
Me Before You (Dir. Thea Sharrock)

One of those quirky, impassioned romantic dramas that will have you either rolling your eyes or releasing your tears. I’m a sucker for them, though. Emilia Clarke was a delight, with the film itself very charming and fun, but with an utterly heartrending final act. It very much subscribes to its genre and is thus a tad predictable, but if you’re a fan of these sort of modern romantic tragedies, then it can do no wrong.

★★★☆☆
Now You See Me (Dir. Louis Leterrier)

Honestly, this film was a waste of time. The plot was absolutely absurd; full of amazing coincidences and a stupidly uninspired twist that is so far-fetched it’s actually mind-blowing. I can’t believe they made another.

★☆☆☆☆
Pawn Sacrifice (Dir. Edward Zwick)

I was in the mood for some tense Tobey Maguire à la Brothers and Pawn Sacrifice didn’t disappoint. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Maguire plays the late chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who is pit against Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship. The film itself was compelling, but never quite exceptional. Still, it offered good insight into Bobby Fischer and is carried wonderfully by Maguire, who is brilliantly captivating. I can’t comment extensively on the films accuracy, but often the best biographical pictures are able to well-up a great sense of intrigue surrounding their subject – so much so, you want to know more – and in that regard, Pawn Sacrifice was a success and entirely worth watching. I spent a good hour or two reading up about Bobby Fischer afterwards. A fascinating and enigmatic man, to say the least.

★★★☆☆
Side Effects (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

I find Rooney Mara captivating. She has the ability to be very eloquent and expressive in the most subtle of ways. She seemingly inhabits her characters and – I feel – frequently delivers memorable performances. Side Effects wasn’t as much of as Mara vehicle as I expected – much thanks to the ever dashing Guy Pearce – but remained a captivating thriller with a couple of interesting twists and turns.

★★★☆☆
Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)

An utterly charming and wondrous film, with an endearing atmosphere brought completely to life by a cast of lively, genuine characters. Sing Street is one of my favourites of the year and probably one of the most memorable of recent times. Even now, I find myself humming along to the Riddle of the Model. The ending, too, was near flawless. A good film can completely fall apart without a decent conclusion, but Sing Street’s final moments were wonderfully executed and I loved the tinges of ambiguity.

★★★★☆
Smashed (Dir. James Ponsoldt)

I really loved Smashed, in large part due to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays an oblivious alcoholic who decides to finally tone down her drinking, opposite her on-screen husband Aaron Paul. Despite strong performances all-around, Winstead is the clear driving force, helped along by some sharp dialogue and a largely well-paced plot that does well to balance the drama with some more light-hearted and downright hilarious moments, preventing the subject matter from becoming overbearing or melodramatic.

★★★★☆
Straw Dogs (Dir. Sam Peckinpah)

Straw Dogs is a film I have wanted to see for years; to finally watch it feels like some sort of accomplishment. Filmed in the early 70s and set in rural England, it follows an American mathematician and his young English wife who become victims of ruthless local harassment. The build-up to the explosively violent climax was masterfully executed and it was interesting to see Dustin Hoffman in such a different role to what I’ve seen him in previously. Apparently, he only took it for the money, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. His character felt fully embraced and Susan George was equally compelling as his lively and glamorous wife.

★★★☆☆
Swiss Army Man (Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

This film really is something else, with an opening that – at first – seems utterly bizarre, but quickly develops into something quite magical that continually blurs the line between beautiful and peculiar. Paul Dano plays the most lovable stalker of the year and Daniel Radcliffe is perhaps the most convincing dead body ever. The soundtrack, too, is remarkable; largely a cappella and bursting with zest and emotion, it’s the perfect accompaniment of film and music, elevating the most stirring scenes to wondrous, enchanting degrees.

★★★★☆
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Dir. Terry Gilliam)

Still working my way through Andrew Garfield’s filmography, I have arrived at The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. This is only my second Gilliam film after Monty Python and the Holy Grail and it has me on the fence. On one hand, Doctor Parnassus is incredibly creative and bursting at the seams with imagination, but on the other – beyond the visuals – it wasn’t particularly engaging and felt a touch meandering and haphazard. Though much of that was likely due to Heath Ledger’s unfortunate passing and it is admirable how Gilliam and the writers were able to get back on track and mould the movie into something coherent given the circumstances. I’m slightly hesitant, but also somewhat intrigued to explore more of Gilliam’s work.

★★☆☆☆
The Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

I really wanted to like The Neon Demon. The cinematography is certainly a feat and I loved the soundtrack and the whole neon vibe, but come the end it just felt soulless and vulgar. Refn took the supposed cutthroat nature of the fashion and modelling industries a bit too literally. It lacked substance and frequently came across as pretentious. Disappointingly, it had much more in common with Starry Eyes than I hoped.

★★☆☆☆
The Place Beyond the Pines (Dir. Derek Cianfrance)

I had to follow Blue Valentine with another by the same director. The Place Beyond the Pines – whilst not as arresting and memorable as Cianfrance’s previous film – was nevertheless a powerful and thought-provoking watch, with an enthralling ambience and persuasive characters. Like Blue Valentine, it felt largely authentic and fluently performed, with some stunning cinematography and a couple of particularly rousing sequences, tinged with melancholy.

★★★☆☆
The Shallows (Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)

You know what you’re in for with The Shallows, but – wonderfully – that barely detracts from the suspense and gripping terror of the film. Blake Lively gives a brilliant performance and the digital shark is largely convincing. The cinematography is enthralling, communicating with seeming effortlessness both the allure and dread of the ocean. Scenes of joyous surfing are brilliantly foreboding and the inevitable attack is suitably and very memorably savage; the ocean tainted blood red, followed by a spine-chilling, inaudible shriek from under the waters surface. The films climax is gritty and relentless and all-in-all – despite arguable predictability – The Shallows is a marvellous, anxiety-inducing experience.

★★★★☆
The Station Agent (Dir. Tom McCarthy)

An endearing, well-crafted, exquisitely written film bursting with understated beauty. Peter Dinklage absolutely shines as a lonesome yet innerly benign young man; both defeated and hopeless, yet longing and disposed. A very human film – heartfelt and soulful – and an all-around delightful watch.

★★★★☆
Triple 9 (Dir. John Hillcoat)

Triple 9 seemed to have all the components of a tremendous heist thriller, but never quite got there. It’s a satisfactory watch with two brilliant heist sequences, but ultimately I found the plot rather lackluster and – despite the large and morally diverse roster – I didn’t feel there were any particularly likable characters or people to root for, which made for a very apathetic, humdrum payoff.

★★☆☆☆
Warcraft (Dir. Duncan Jones)

Warcraft isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a wonderful start to a franchise that has magnificent potential. It was engaging from title to credits and ended on a great note. I adore the world and with a little polishing and some further melding, the characters will become deeper and all the more engaging. I really hope a sequel is possible and that it isn’t another ten years from announcement to release.

★★★☆☆
X-Men: Apocalypse (Dir. Bryan Singer)

I enjoyed First Class and Days of Future Past, but Apocalypse felt rather shallow in comparison. The new characters had absolute minimal development and impact and whereas First Class and Future Past featured two very solid, gratifying climaxes, the ending of Apocalypse felt like a major cop-out, with some quick resolutions and – essentially – a deus ex machina. It’s a fun watch if you’re up for a brainless blockbuster, but nonetheless disappointing after two stellar prequels.

★★☆☆☆
Youth in Revolt (Dir. Miguel Arteta)

Say what you will about Michael Cera, but he was terrific in this. His François alter-ego was superbly portrayed, with the dialogue masterfully delivered. The plot never relents and the comedy is continually on-point; all-in-all Youth in Revolt is such a fun watch. Nice seeing Portia Doubleday’s earlier work, too. Adore her in Mr. Robot.

★★★☆☆

Finito! Apologies again for not sticking to my proposed monthly schedule, but I’m slowly catching up. I’ll try and get October and November written up by the end of the month, then Watched This Month will be back on track! There’s still so much I’m dying to see this year. I managed to squeeze in some television, too, but I’ll probably leave those thoughts for an end of year write up. I just don’t watch enough television to comment on it on a monthly basis. Anyway… until next time, meine freunde.