John’s Top Ten Films of 2016

Although there were a lot of films that didn’t live up to expectation, there was still a wealth of excellent films out there to enjoy. Sometimes you just had to look a little harder. While the summer blockbusters were a bit of a washout I still found it a challenge to whittle my list down to only ten films. Of the two hundred and forty films viewed this year, over One hundred and forty were new releases giving me a rather large list to choose from. After some hard decisions, the best films of 2016, in my opinion, are listed below. Special mention should be made for some of the films that just failed to make the cut. Doctor Strange, Creed, Paterson, Suburra, Love & Friendship and The Hateful Eight were all in serious consideration at one time or another.

10. The Library Suicides

The Library Suicides was a real surprise to me this year. It premiered at the Edinburgh film festival and then had a limited release. It deserved much better. It is a tight and intense thriller. Twin sisters set out on a mission to avenge the man they think is responsible for the death of their beloved mother. It is a dark and twisted movie that benefits from a terrific central performance from Catrin Stewart and the eerie location of the National Library of Wales at night.
9. Hell Or High Water

Hell Or High Water was a superb modern take on the western genre. Two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are robbing a local banks in West Texas in order to raise money to save the family farm. Hot on their trail is veteran lawman Jeff Bridges. It soon turns into a game of  cat and mouse. This is kind of a throwback to films of the 1970’s. It was slow-paced and all about the characters rather than the spectacle. It takes time to develop the main players giving the audience an insight into their motivations.

8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This years entry in the ongoing Star Wars movie series was something a little different. Rogue One was the first of the stand alone films and told the story behind the capturing of the plans for the Empires deadliest weapon, The Death Star. The film was darker than any previous Star Wars film. It had a real lived in feeling and featured a cast of brand new characters. The stakes were high for the rebels and the film itself given the negative publicity surrounding the re-shoots in the summer. As with The Force Awakens, it was good to see a strong and capable female leading a group of racially diverse characters.

7. Captain America: Civil War

The third Captain America film did something very clever and quite unexpected. In response to some criticism regarding Superhero films where the stakes are always high and the threat is world affecting, this film went small. There conflict was between the superheros themselves as they took opposite sides in response to the Superhero registration act. The film managed to give the numerous characters something to do and even introduced a new character in the form of The Black Panther. And then there was the introduction of Spider-Man.

6. Hail, Caesar!

Perhaps not the best Coen brother film but still one of the best films released this year. This time they take us back to the golden age of Hollywood. The main story thread sees film icon Braid Whitlock (George Clooney) kidnapped by intellectual communists and the efforts of the studio head to get him back in one piece in order to finish the biblical epic Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ. The film is a wonderful look at he film industry of the time and features superb performances from numerous movie stars obviously relishing the chance to appear in a Coen brothers comedy.
5. Deadpool

Just when you thought that comic book movies were all starting to look the same we had our expectations confounded by Deadpool. The essence of the film is a standard origin story of the character but the way it goes about introducing Deadpool is immensely enjoyable. The film dials it up to eleven from the very first scene. It is full of adult humour and some of the bloodiest action you will see this year. The sight of a masked man masturbating with a unicorn is not one that will fade any time soon.

4. Victoria

On purely technical level Victoria is a stunning piece of work. It is a two hour film that is shot in one continuous take. Rather than taking the easy option of simple sets it has multiple characters moving from one location to another and even features a car chase sequence. On top of the technical achievement is a totally engrossing film about two hours in the life of a Spanish girl living a partying in Berlin. The acting is quite superb and the story is so strong you soon forget about the one take aspect of the movie.

3. Arrival

A welcome return of cerebral Sci-Fi. Arrival uses the medium of Science fiction and a first contact situation to explore the human condition. The film sets itself up in the opening sequences and then proceeds to subvert your expectations of where you think it is going to go. It demands your full attention.  It boasts a career best performance from Amy Adams as the linguist tasks with interpreting the language of the new arrivals and excellent support from Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner. The film is beautiful to look at and the design of the aliens and their spacecraft is something quite unique.

2. High-Rise

Ben Wheatley is arguably the best British director working today. High-Rise is a massive step forward for him in terms of international recognition. Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard it is a retro futuristic look at a time when all of society can live in the one massive tower block. What looks like Utopia soon turns out to be something very different. There is a general rule that if you see a dog on screen it normally makes it to the end credits. Not here where the poor pooch lasts only five minutes before becoming the main course in an impromptu barbecue.

1. Julieta

Pedro Almodovar put the strained comedy of I’m So Excited! behind him and returns to what he does best. Julieta tells the story of a woman trying to reconnect with her long estranged daughter. The story is told over two time periods and gives the audience an insight into how Julieta came to be the person she now is. It is a beautifully paced film that captures the audience from the first frames and never lets go. The character of Julieta is played by different actresses during the two time periods rather than one with the use of prosthesis and make up to age her. The performances raise the drama to a higher level as both are superb.

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