Once again, I haven’t been able to see some powerful films that were released in 2016 due to living in Australia but of those I did catch, here are my best.
10. A Bigger Splash
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Superbly written and acted, this film was dialogue heavy with some serious work being put into tension and implications. The characters in A Bigger Splash were all too real. Frustratingly human, they invoked many feelings in the viewer, mostly negative. Personally, I was angry and disgusted by the end of the film. It affected me in a big way and I didn’t forget it. While I may not have ‘liked’ the characters, the way this film was crafted has to be appreciated.
9. The Lobster
Wholly unique, The Lobster is weird and offbeat for sure. At times it’s funny, at others disturbing. Effectively a satire, it points a laser beam at the pressures of contemporary society and adulthood and lets us see some of them for what they are: ridiculous and dangerous. Grounded by a great performance from Colin Farrell, it may be too strange and uncomfortable for some but for those who go along, it’ll serve up some serious quality.
8. Swiss Army Man
Another extremely quirky film that rests on a fresh idea. If you can get past the abundance of flatulence, this is a beautiful and heart-warming (also slightly creepy) film of emotional connection and discovery. We can all learn a little about ourselves watching this. Some magical imagery and an outstanding score make this one of the year’s most immersive movies.
Yet another superhero film hit the cinemas but this time we got something different, something that recognised all the usual tropes and turned them into a joke. Not only did Deadpool dare to be outrageously violent, crass, and hilarious but it was a passion project for Ryan Reynolds and it shows. His performance as the titular character is one of the most charismatic of the year. It’s his commitment that made this film work as well as it did, and propel it above other Marvel or DC entries.
Director Denis Villenueve is quickly proving himself to be a master. This is another example of his refusal to sacrifice storytelling for the sake of cheap thrills. His movies always deal with complexities in a way that is perfectly balanced. His movies are made to settle into, become entrenched in. They always offer something you don’t quite expect and Arrival is no exception. Stunning cinematography is combined with a tense, multi-faceted, and emotionally wrenching story. The moral conundrum is a punch to the gut.
The writing in this film does fluctuate somewhat from very good to not so good but the good is brilliantly affecting. There are many interesting things it has to say about life; about relationships and about ourselves. It doesn’t always hit the mark and the approach it takes to convey its messages is sometimes flawed but at the end of the day the tone and mood (slightly depressive and resigned to the sadness while also finding ways of experiencing joy) of Demolition is something I gravitate very strongly towards. To top it off, Jake Gyllenhaal can do no wrong and he’s amazing again here.
Rare for me to include an animated film and as fun as Zootopia was, it wouldn’t have been enough to get it over the line. What makes it stand out is the positive messages it makes accessible to the children who watch it. It also speaks of some broader issues like gender equality in way that more serious films haven’t been able to. Adults will almost certainly pick up on some thought provoking stuff. To be able to present this within such a fun-riot of a film and have it all still work must be celebrated.
3. The Nice Guys
Writer and director Shane Black sure knows how to do noir. He’s got buddy films down to a tee at this point. The Nice Guys might be his best yet. It’s a film that is just so stylish, funny, and exciting you can’t help but like it. There’s also an undercurrent of emotion driving the main characters that never explodes but bubbles every now and then just to remind us that there is more at stake than making us laugh. But laugh we do. The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe is seamless. Gosling again proves his comedic talent, confirming he’s as diverse an actor as exists right now. Australian actress Angourie Rice also shines as a newcomer, playing Gosling’s plucky daughter.
2. Nocturnal Animals
A second entry for Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. They both deserve it. There is something about this film that gets right under your skin and stays there. Director Tom Ford adapts the novel into a screenplay that is so tight and well balanced it’s almost a masterpiece. The intricacy of the story and the way it’s told was doomed to fail and yet it doesn’t. It triumphs. Nothing can be criticised. The drama is intense, scary even. The emotion is gut-wrenching, the violence shocking. Amidst all this is a vein of black humour that strikes at exactly the right moments. This film has one of the best endings I think I’ve ever seen. In the context of the rest of the movie, it’s perfect. Tom Ford shows his background in design with a beautiful aesthetic throughout and the two leads are faultless in their performance as is Michael Shannon. Superb.
1. La La Land
When you hate musicals but happen to adore a film that is a musical, it says something about how good it is. La La Land brings back the magic of cinema. You just don’t see films like this anymore. A simple plot does nothing to diminish the complicated nature of the characters lives in a story where dreams are chased and lost and chased again. Along the way, love is juggled back and forth with various consequences. There’s so much passion and beauty in this film. It shines down from Director Damian Chezelle through every aspect of the project. Every scene is gorgeous and interesting to look at. Every musical and dance number is engaging. The composition and choreography is off the charts. There’s context to every set-piece and real weight to every conversation. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone work so well together, injecting the humour of the film with even more laughs, the drama with even more heartache, the love with even more ‘feels’. La La Land has captured a lot of Oscar buzz and for once, I agree with the buzz.