Entertainment, Review

Top Five Films of 2016

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By George Haigh

When 2016 starts off with the death of one of the great musicians and popular culture figures of the past 50 years, David Bowie, it now seems scarily fitting that such dismal events would follow. Cue Brexit, Trump and the train wreck of terrible affairs  that would follow. It seems relatively safe to say that plenty of people will be ending the year hoping for a fresh start.

However, the events of 2016 don’t seem to have had too much of an effect on cinema releases, and it would be undermining the many brilliant films released in this year to suggest otherwise. Although, it has been somewhat of a mixed bag. It’s rare a film packing the emotional calibre of Lenny Abrahamson’s indie-gem Room comes along, but, having said that, Hollywood heavyweights such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the Ghostbusters remake are starting to feel all too tediously familiar.

The year kicked off with the usual ‘festival favourites’ such as SpotlightThe Big Short and The Revenant all deservedly being prominent at the Academy Awards in February. It’s soon approaching the awards season again, a proverbial watermark for cinema releases. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, an audacious vision of life on the road in the American mid-West, recently picked up the BIFA award, with close competition from Ken Loach’s powerfully resonant I, Daniel Blake and Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow, a British-Iranian chiller that some are considering to be a modern classic. While hotly-tipped Oscar favourites such as La La LandMoonlight and Silence  are yet to be released here in the UK, there has been plenty of choices to indulge in.

5. Arrival
Director: Denis Villeveuve

Arrival is the kind of film that is immediately shoehorned as a sci-fi, and even though it is conventionally science fiction, there’s a real human element to the film too. Along with Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams cements herself here as one of the finest actresses working today, and it soon becomes easy to see that she is unfortunate in appearing as Lois Lane in Dawn of Justice. Full credit to director Denis Villeneuve too, pushing another genre piece that is completely intimate for something with such sweeping scale. Arrival is an alien-invasion film not to be confused with the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence, and is perhaps the most interesting and intelligent blockbuster of the year.

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director: Taika Waititi

Easily the most surprising release of 2016, this New Zealand buddy comedy packs a big heart for a small film. The performances by Julian Dennison (Ricky) and Sam Neill (Uncle Hec) carry the film a long way, even when it occasionally seems to be getting swamped in its own jungle. The humour is carefully placed in the relationship between Ricky and Hec, as the two actors ricochet off one another effortlessly. Waititi’s direction balances the actors on a careful tightrope throughout the narrative, but the humour never feels overbearing, or jarring to the emotional bond in the character development. Instead, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is by far the funniest film of the year, and oozes for repeat viewing.

3. The Revenant
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu

The story of fur-trapper Hugh Glass is brought to the big screen through the poetic vision of the always exciting Alejandro G. Inarritu. The film is a visual masterpiece, with acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki only filming in natural light, testing both the mental and physical endurance of the cast and crew involved. It did, however, win lead actor Leonardo Dicaprio a first Best Actor Oscar for his role as Glass. Grunting and crawling through unbearable (mind the pun) conditions, Dicaprio is at a career best here, and is supported by an exceptional cast, including an ice-cold Tom Hardy. This is a film that demands patience throughout its lengthy run time, but is as riveting as it is resonant as the film draws to an unforgiving close.

2. Hell or High Water
Director: David Mackenzie

A contemporary Western that has the grit of the Coen Brothers and the intensity of Denis Villeneuve’s SicarioHell or High Water, and Sicario, both share screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who conjures a tightly written script that doesn’t feel too distant to Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Like Malick’s 1970’s classic, it’s a film which depicts two people in an on-the-run situation, but this time it feels more like Robin Hood than Bonnie and Clyde. Ben Foster and Chris Pine are sublime as two brothers stealing a living from an unfair banking system, both chasing and destroying the idea of the American Dream as Jeff Bridges’ Southern Sheriff Marcus keeps a close call of them. The film is characteristically robust, and the conflicts between Tanner (Foster) and Toby (Pine) assert this as a tougher than nails road movie that is blisteringly consistent. It also has one of the best soundtracks of the year, offering brooding desert rock that is perfect for its gutsy feel.

1. I, Daniel Blake
Director: Ken Loach

The stand out film of the year, Ken Loach’s comeback is undoubtedly the most important release in 2016. At now 80 years old, this could very well be Loach’s swan song. However, it has enough relevance and recognition to be considered in the pantheon of his great films such as Kes and The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Featuring almost perfect performances from newcomers Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, the film captures the British working class with a verisimilitude that is staggeringly poignant. A powerhouse of political filmmaking, I, Daniel Blake is a must see socialist drama. It demands to be seen not just by those angry with austerity and a ridged benefits system in a post-Brexit Britain, but the Downing Street MP’s of whom the film asks questions.

George Haigh is a freelance film and entertainment writer, BIFA champion and Film and Media student in his 3rd year at Manchester Met. You can find his blog whatgeorgehaswatched.wordpress.com and he regularly has something to say on Twitter.

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