In Review - 2016

2016 was a godawful year for a good many reasons but we did manage to see some pretty good movies. Below is our Top 10 for 2016, along with the usual near misses and disappointments. We've taken movies that we saw during 2016, regardless of the actual UK release date, partly because that's just how we roll but mostly so we could crown our Number 1. Click the movie title for our full review. Our Cult editor Mark's version can be found over on his Global Comment page here.

Some movies we haven't seen we think might have made the cut (but hey, there's only so much time we get to spend doing the job we actually enjoy) so Embrace of the Serpent and Under the Shadow will have to wait unfortunately.

Equally there are some movies that in another year, would have made the list below - stand up I, Daniel Blake, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Chasing Asylum and Prevenge.

And of course, there were some utter stinkers, particular mention goes to the loathsome Dirty Grandpa which deserves no more space here but click the title for our full review.

Here's to 2017!

10 - Manchester By The Sea- Kenneth Lonergan

A masterclass in writing and directing from Lonergan, this also has a uniformly pitch perfect cast, both in terms of performance and casting. Affleck can rock the blue collar schlub with his eyes closed but here he also imbues his Lee Chandler with a depth of tragedy that Lonergan actually struggles to articulate in the directing. Bleak and beautiful in equal measures, Michele Williams shares one of the scenes of the year with Chandler - a mortifying moment brilliantly played by both. A movie well worth returning to.

9 - Goldstone - Ivan sen

We’re massive fans of Ivan Sen’s burgeoning Jay Swan series. Now on its second of a promised three instalments, with a TV series to follow, we can’t get enough. Swan is a superb old school, hard boiled, noir figure, brilliantly blended with a very contemporary real Australia. Sen, writing, directing, scoring (and just about everything else) isn’t afraid to tackle thorny real life issues - here we find Swan on the trail of a suspected people smuggling ring - whilst delivering a hugely entertaining and atmospheric neo-noir western.

8 - Nocturnal Animals - Tom Ford

Not everyone’s cup of tea (I’ve heard as many hugely damning views on this movie as I have ecstatic), but this one really clicked with us. Amy Adams is crushingly perfect as the repressed art dealer whose past is brought to bear by her ex husband delivering a manuscript of his first book - based on their marriage. At turns distressing, mortifying, beautiful, horrific and mesmerising, Tom Ford follows up his impressive debut A Simple Man with an achingly astute view of a devastating relationship. Ripe for multiple viewings, it’s as immaculately horrible as you would expect from Ford and Adams has never been more magnetic.

7 - Hell or High Water - David Mackenzie

Starred Up helmer Mackenzie’s latest was something of a revolution for us, having somehow missed all his previous work. Here, using the spreading dereliction of post recession West Texas as the backdrop, Mackenzie builds a wonderfully patient and thoughtful thriller, focusing on two brothers as they attempt to rob their way out of a horrible situation. Chris Pine and Ben Foster possess a perfectly believable brotherly chemistry as they flee the attentions of almost retired marshal Jeff Bridges and his partner Gil Birmingham (another great partnership). Magnificently capturing an ache for something lost, this is a low key, high impact movie that will leave you thinking.

6 - Paterson - Jim Jarmusch

We make no secret of our love for Jarmusch here (no matter how many times we misspell his name) and his latest didn’t disappoint. As simple as they come, this one finds Jarmusch pondering small-town life but not with any grand ideas of what it could be or might become, just how it is. Adam Driver is on taciturn form as the titular bus driver, a man whose name is also his town’s and who ambles through his gentle existence carefully scribing poetry in his note book. Back home, his wonderfully odd wife fitfully follows her dreams of guitar playing fame and between work and bed Paterson walks his dog and has a beer at the local bar. And that’s it. And it’s wonderful and understated and touching.

5 - Kubo and the Two Strings - Travis Knight

Another inexcusable omission from our cinematic viewings, this is the first Laika movie I’d seen (I think Jo may have seen some), something I very much need to fix if this is evidence of the quality. A joyously animated adventure story, following young Kubo as he deals with the loss of his mother and his subsequent adventures with a magic talking monkey. If the stunning cgi-augmented stop motion animation is what draws you in, it’s the superb characters and script that keep you there. Treading a perfect line to keep the kids and the adults entertained, director Travis Knight crafts an utterly believable world, crammed with every detail and stuffed to bursting point with visual ideas. An absolute joy.

4 - The Big Short - Adam McKay

Easy to forget this one, released way back in January 2016 in the UK but absolutely deserving of a place on the list. Ideally paired with the equally impressive but less well screened 99 Homes (release in late 2015 in the UK), this hilariously venomous piece of work should be seen by anyone with any interest in just how the world works (rather than who it should work). Brimming with majestically horrific characters, this is a dark and horrible world, all the more so for being pretty much a true story. Furious from start to gloriously snarky finish, McKay isn’t one to let the culprits off as lightly as the system did. Amongst universally stellar performances, it’s Steve Carell’s grieving trader Mark Baum who stands out. And of course, possibly the funniest on screen caption ever to grace a cinema - “The truth is like poetry. And everybody fucking hates poetry” - attributed to ‘overheard in a bar’).

3 - Hail Caesar! - Joel & Ethan Coen

Another one from back at the start of 2016, this one is here because it’s simply one of the funniest movies we’ve seen since we can remember. The Coen’s have form when it comes to outright comedies (most notably with the faultless The Big Lebowski) and here they just bash out the gags and in-jokes at a speed and consistency that almost defies belief. Finally nailing a leading man role, Josh Brolin is perfect as the constantly under-fire studio head, anchoring the action whilst dealing with all kinds of madness as he attempts to keep his new production on course. With a burgeoning star in the form of Alden Ehrenreich (here as standout fool Hobie Doyle) and the usual Coen brothers line of established stars, the movie hits the ground running and simply doesn’t relent. 

2 - Certain Women - Kelly Reichardt

One of the standout movies from this year’s LFF, this doesn’t hit UK screens until 3rd March 2017 but was so good, we’re not going to wait a year to put it in our top 10 (see also out No. 1 pick). Reichardt’s beautifully eloquent script weaves through three stories set in rural Montana, all based around female central characters. None of the tales are particularly dramatic (even a hostage situation is deliberately low-key) but that is what makes them so powerful. Stand out of the three is the Kristen Stuart / Lilly Gladstone story of a lonely rancher who might find love at an adult education centre. Immaculately acted, authentic and heart wrenching, we hope this will find a decent sized audience outside the festival circuit.  

1 - Toni Erdmann - Maren Ade

Probably our easiest decision for 2016’s list and easily our movie of the year. Due for release in the UK on 3rd February 2017, we urge you to get out there and watch it with as large an audience as you can. We were lucky enough to catch this with 700 odd other people at the BFI’s pop-up cinema at a sold out Sunday morning screening and it was a truly stunning cinematic event. Already spoken about as ‘that Sunday morning screening’, it’s rare that a movie brings an audience together so completely as this but Ade’s magnificent comedy / drama did so and no wonder, it is a wonder. At the Q&A after the screening, two of the movie’s stars admitted that for the entire shoot, nobody realised they were making a comedy and that exactly sums up this movie. It’s one of the funniest we’ve seen for a long time, and has probably one of THE funniest moments we’ve ever seen in a movie (I will openly admit to crying my eyes out with laughter), but it is never once trying to elicit laughs from you, it is very definitely on a different track to that. Sandra Huller (as workaholic daughter Ines) and Peter Simonisheck (as lunatic father Winfried / Toni) are a magnificent pairing as the latter lamely pursues the former around Europe in an attempt to connect with her. Maren Ade, on only her third feature, has written and directed a modern masterpiece. It’s German, it’s nearly three hours long and it’s a comedy that nobody knew was a comedy. It is just so good, this paragraph can never come close to doing it justice. Go see it in February or never darken our doorstep again.