Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Top 20 Films of 2016

20. 24 
"What's quasi-miraculous is that Kumar never runs out of good ideas: he always leaves us with something to be amused or gripped by."

19. Pink
"Trigger warnings may be obligatory, but that’s testimony to how close the film gets to some uncomfortable truths – and how well those have been shaped into this progressive, provocative, legitimately powerful statement."

18. Weiner
"You’ll likely ask for your ticket for Weiner with a broad smirk on your face; you may well emerge from it with a tear or two rolling down your cheeks."

17. Midnight Special
"Might be pitched as E.T. with station wagons replacing BMXs, but its achievement lies in the way Nichols steers his own course... a resonant yarn is unravelled before us by a storyteller approaching greatness."

16. Cafe Society
"Allen has pulled too many misanthropic, throwaway scribbles from his bottom drawers in recent years, but here he takes a lightweight (and actually very Thirties) plot... and fleshes it out into something greatly more affecting: a very human comedy, which is to say one that acknowledges the tragedy of how our lives so rarely turn out the way we might like."

15. Things to Come
"If, after the globetrotting, era-spanning Eden, the new film has the look of a manageable miniature, Hansen-Løve has reached the point where even her miniatures pulse with wisdom and warmth: beyond showcasing a role any actress would kill for, Things to Come proposes its own philosophical position in regard to life, and specifically how the generations interrelate."

14. Under the Shadow
"Anvari’s biggest achievement here is how well he invokes the background horror of life during wartime – a moment where, even if you’re fortunate enough to avoid seeing your loved ones wiped out before your eyes, your ears are still vulnerable to sirens, screaming, and endless speculation about the terrors headed your way."

13. Hell or High Water
"In its big picture – the wide-open skies and endless Main Streets – Hell or High Water might be taken as a throwback to the Americana of Malick or Eastwood, depending on how you cast your vote; yet Mackenzie’s biggest achievement here lies in filling each frame with living, breathing, gabbing people, folk acting not out of greed, rather real, recognisable and – it turns out – basic human need."

12. Joy
"The most profoundly feminist self-actualisation tale the studios have let slip for some while. That Joy should also prove such a leftfield good time, whatever your gender, is all bonus."

11. Bone Tomahawk
"One of the more unusual and striking genre deformations the American cinema has recently sprung upon audiences... the violence – when it arrives – is untelegraphed and genuinely horrifying, elevated by brutally effective Foley work."

10. Knight of Cups
"You’ll emerge admiring Malick’s continued commitment to moods and emotions, or convinced you’ve undergone the prettiest midlife crisis in Christendom. Either way, while you’re in the moment with it, Knight of Cups is a mesmerising thing to behold."

9. Little Men
"Again, the balance, wisdom and generosity displayed hereabouts is enough to propose Sachs as a modern master; given the bland, banal, thoroughly packaged nature of some of the indie movies that have fallen under awards consideration these past few years, it remains astonishing that this observant, thoughtful, compassionate filmmaker hasn’t received greater attention and acclaim."

8. Zootropolis
"Proceeds with wit and invention, subtexts up the wazoo, and the kind of message you instinctively feel the movies should be exposing our children to: though you may be small in form, don't let that stop your dreams from being as big as your heart, or a city entire." 

7. Train to Busan
"Yeon stages thumping close-quarters action, but also manages numerous deft, affecting manoeuvres with characters drawn from a cross-section of Korean society. We’re bound for an extraordinary railyard finale that involves seemingly half the country’s population and a living-versus-undead dust-up atop a runaway loco, yet Yeon keeps us guessing until the nervy closing seconds. It’s a delayed arrival, but here, finally, is the summer blockbuster for which we’ve all been waiting."


6. Julieta
"Anybody lamenting the deterioration of craft in recent American studio pictures should find great solace here: every location and design choice – from the older Julieta’s blank apartment to the cassettes in the teenage Antia’s bedroom – is a clue, and has clearly been dwelled over as such. Yet there’s something else here that’s been lacking from the majority of this year’s releases: credible human beings, displaying recognisable human feelings even as they trail unshakeable, still-vivid history behind them." 

5. Embrace of the Serpent
"Floats the thesis that if we go out into the world with the right inquiring yet respectful spirit, we might just return with an expanded consciousness, refined perceptions of ourselves, others and nature... That Guerra's film, an essential part of that process, somehow registered with the Academy's palefaces is its own testament to the film's achievements, but then again this isn't a radical break from storytelling tradition so much as an informed continuation of what's gone before: an adventure movie - never more than a league or so away from the next pocket of peril, danger or wonder - albeit one working off an altogether sharper drawn and more richly detailed map."

4. Room
"The remarkably moving results suggest many things, not least Abrahamson’s ability to winkle out the powerful emotions and images of real worth lying in wait between the lines of any given text. To most audiences, however, I’d hope Room might stand as the anti-Gone Girl: a high-profile adaptation from which all traces of cynicism have been banished, replaced by feeling. From the first line of Donoghue’s novel to the closing frames of Abrahamson’s film, this was an exceptional story to tell."

3. The Pearl Button
"This director has an unfailing knack of showing you an interesting object, person or place, then reframing each of these in a way that’s several degrees more fascinating yet... This really is a model of big-picture cinema: a film that sees the joys and sufferings of the world entire in a single teardrop of water – and then gives you the fathomless mysteries of the ocean to ponder anyway."

2. Our Little Sister
"Feels less like a film than an open house we’re passing through... What transfixes us are the actresses, who keep doing things that make us smile, laugh and weep with joy, just as real people do, just as – if you’re lucky enough – real women do. Kore-eda observes his characters and performers alike with such enormous affection you suspect he didn’t shout “cut” as often as he initiated a group hug: every frame radiates kindness and compassion."

1. Son of Saul
"In years to come, thousand-word essays will be written on the film’s technique, and its implications: in particular, how the reduced focal length somehow equates to the short-sightedness – the need to block out everything considered extraneous to one’s survival – which might have been necessary to make it through the camps... The film is the masterpiece it’s been announced as, but it also possesses the urgency of a thriller, or one man’s last, desperate breath. Death lurks off-camera in Son of Saul, but it’s the clinging to life – that of Nemes’s camera, and of Röhrig’s grimly determined protagonist – which truly stays with you."

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