DOC’S TOP 30 FILMS OF 2016 PART I – 30-16

Includes some films that are dated 2015 but weren’t released in the UK until 2016.

While I certainly don’t believe that Spotlight should have won Best Picture, there’s no doubt that it’s a pretty fine piece of work, the kind of film some critics, including me I have to admit, moan isn’t being made any more. Intelligent and commendably avoiding the kind of preaching that’s so common to today’s Hollywood, the journalistic procedural is perhaps a little too restrained for its own good, and it lacks the wit of its obvious inspiration All The President’s Men, but it still never fails to absorb as it tells its frightening, important true story with care and a praiseworthy desire to be true to the ideals of journalism, in some ways coming across as a love letter to a kind of investigative reporting which is vanishing due to the march of technology. Director Tom McCarthy handles it all with consument smoothness, and the ensemble cast is just great all round, most notably a career-best Mark Ruffalo. 7.5/10

An old fashioned period romantic melodrama designed to give the tear ducts a good old cleaning out is hardly likely to be a success in today’s increasingly restrictive climate, but then you also had lots of people getting on their high horse about what the right thing to do was in what is a story centered around a moral dilemma, and with characters who don’t always do the right thing but whom you’re partly behind [hell, I wanted her to get away with it]. In any case, Derek Cianfrance’s latest downbeat heartbreaker is very good indeed in its first half, admittedly very leisurely but that’s not automatically a bad thing, and though the storytelling may falter in the second half, the excellent performances of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, both playing multi-layered characters who feel so real, and Adam Arkapaw’s striking photography utillising lots of natural light, carry it along to its weepy conclusion. 7.5/10

Truth be told, this twisted coming of age tale and look at physical and spiritual persecution didn’t totally blow me away like it did many [though being a Ben Wheatley fan my award for Top 2016 Film I Wanted To Love But Didn’t goes to High Rise], largely because of its ending which wrongfully discards the ambiguity which serves the rest of the film so well, and did it really have to make half its dialogue nearly inaudible? However its highly authentic feel, incredibly unnerving atmosphere, hauntingly meditative visuals, very convincing performances, and the carefully chosen iconography from the history of witchcraft cannot be denied, and the thing stayed with me like any horror movie worth its salt ought to. Writer/director Robert Eggars, who is perhaps more influenced by Ingmar Bergman than any typically ‘horror’ filmmaker, proves himself with his debut to have a unique style and voice. 7.5/10

The destructive nature of the fashion industry and our narcissistic preoccupation with beauty are hardly new subjects in cinema, and the latest divisive work from the sometimes exasperating but always interesting Nicolas Winding Refn is unmistakedly influenced by the works of Dario Argento, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and several others, while it does seem to rush its final act, but it’s still a fascinating exercise in pure style in this director’s best manner, genuinely dreamlike with the way its comparatively few scenes are stretched out almost ritualistically to create an almost hypnotic effect, and with hands down the most startling use of colour in any film this year, while Refn also showcases his ability in building suspense until it’s almost unbearable. The attention to detail is simply incredible throughout in a film which may, in the end, be a case of style over substance, but Oh My God, What Style! 7.5/10

To say that – after the laziness and stupidity of The Force Awakens – I went into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with considerable apprehension is probably an understatement, but it turned out to be the first Star Wars movie outside of the original three that actually enhanced them and didn’t take anything away from them, despite it not really needing to exist. Okay, the first act could have done with tightening, the final scene makes a mess of chronology, and the CGI recreation of a certain character is highly distracting whenever he’s on screen, but the gritty war movie set in the science fiction universe becomes genuinely edge of seat stuff because anybody can die, and climaxes in the best space battle of the series. Proof that you can be original, you can be different, you can even break with established conventions….and yet you can still retain the real spirit of Star Wars. And I want a spinoff film all about Chirrut Îmwe. 7.5/10

I’ve definitely become one of those people who have gotten somewhat bored with zombies and actually wish that they’d take a break for a while, but just when I think that they’ve done all they can do with the undead, along come two pictures this year which revive the seemingly ‘done to death’ subgenre. The Girl With All The Gifts was only made on a budget for £4 million, but certainly doesn’t look it, though it possibly helps the film have its gritty, down to earth air, and simply putting the overgrown scenery of Chernobyl across London’s skyline results a very convincing post-apocalptic landscape. Perhaps it never quite manages to match its stunning first half an hour, but then it does have a wonderfully ironic, if dark, conclusion. Sennia Nanua, as is often the case with child performers, is sadly billed as low as sixth on the cast list, yet pretty much carries the film. Her performance is the second best by a child actress this year. 7.5/10

A film which reminds us that many of the fairytales we’ve become familiar with since we were kids have actually been greatly sanitised from their original versions, this fantastic looking effort is a kind of Brothers Grimm for adults, with a distinct whiff of The Princess Bride along the way and a refreshing avoidance of CGI or indeed much in the way of special effects at all, which seems quite appropriate considering that the emphasis of the often harsh stories we witness unfolding is really on human relationships and human emotions, with the themes of power and obsession being really the basis of nearly everything that we see. In terms of narrative it’s a bit of a jumbled mess, though that’s probably intentional, and the final scene fails to properly wind things up, but the cast all get into the right spirit, and not many films manage to pull off being amusing one moment and grim the next. 7.5/10

Jeff Nichols does so many brave and interesting things with his science fiction road movie, from jumping into a story which is well over half way through and making us try to work out for ourselves much of what has happened previously [there could easily be a prequel], to refusing to take sides, that it almost seems churlish to complain that Midnight Special does lose it a bit towards the end where commercial considerations seem to partially take over, the obvious beginning to replace the ambiguous. In any case, the film, which is, reduced to its most basic level, a melding of D.A.R.Y.L. with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, manages to successfully evoke the feel and spirit of John Carpenter without at all coming across as a slavish copy, and also gives us a commendably unsentimental look at a father/son relationship which is all the more touching because of its avoidance of sappiness. 7.5/10

Did it frighten me? That’s the most important question I always ask myself after viewing the latest horror movie. If the answer is “yes”, then the film is worthy of praise, and this one certainly delivered the scares, the tension and the eeriness in spades. Though not in my opinion the best horror film of the year, the debut feature from the Keeling brothers, and largely made by young college graduates, is a near-perfect example of a great little chiller that’s been ignored by the masses and has just slipped out there, the discovering of such neglected gems being one of the reasons that Horror Cult Films was built on. Maybe it’s basically Rosemary’s Baby meets The Haunting, and maybe the scary stuff is stuff we’ve all seen lots of times before, but the Keeling’s, using mininal special effects, deliver it with a skill that suggests that they’ve been doing this kind of thing for ages, and give us a nice ambiguous ending too. 8/10

I’ll be honest and admit that I neither expected to nor wanted to enjoy Finding Dory very much as it seemed to be very much a rehash of Finding Nemo, but within a few minutes I was in bloody tears as young Dory realises that she’s doomed to be trapped in a life long nightmare of constant forgetfulness and that Pixar magic was definitely working. The often broader humour and more action filled climax perhaps ensure that this one takes an easier route to entertain the kiddies, but do help to distinguish it from its predecessor, and like the best of Pixar Finding Dory is eye poppingly gorgeous to look at but is emotionally relatable, and this one even manages to be positive yet honest about learning disorders. Bailey the beluga whale with faulty [but faulty only to him] sonar may be the funniest Pixar character in some time, and if anyone mentions shells to me….oh dear, I feel weepy again. 8/10

It surprises me even as I type how much I enjoyed this simple, formulaic but uplifting and inspiring movie, but then again despite not being a sports movie fan I do have an undying love for the Rocky franchise. Some may consider Eddie The Eagle corny or cheesy, but I personally think that there should be more films like this today for the whole family, films which don’t rely on special effects or action scenes or fantastical concepts, films which instead are human interest stories designed to make you feel positive, with characters you are absolutely itching to see succeed in their goal, yet which don’t neccessarily say that winning at something is that important, though I can’t be the only one to find Bronson’s rebirth even more affecting that seeing Eddie achieving his dreams. The humour evolves naturally out of the characters and situations, and Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman are simply terrific together. 8/10

Don’t Breathe is proof that you don’t always need very much for a film. All it basically has is three foolish young people, a house and its old but certainly not harmless occupant, and yet within its limits it works very well indeed. Director Fede Alvarez confirms the talent he revealed with his surprisingly good Evil Dead remake by showing himself to be an excellent creator not just of sheer intensity but also of stretched out tension, milking everything he can from his principal setting, helped immensely by the often striking work of his cinematographer Pedro Luque, and even if his screenplay turns a little bit silly towards the end, he’s still created one of the best menaces of the year in The Blind Man; scary but believable and just a bit vulnerable, but then none of the characters are assigned easy roles of heroes and villains; on the opposite, our perception changes as new details get revealed. 8/10

I was one of the few who seriously disliked Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, finding it smug, irritating and pretending to be far cleverer than it actually was, but fortunately his Man In The Wilderness remake The Revenant more than made up for it. Maybe its essentially simple tale of survival and revenge didn’t need to be two and a half hour’s long, but boy was it a satisfyingly intense experience, Leonardo DiCaprio probably having never been better as he says very little but makes the viewer feel every stage of his ordeal. Iñárritu refreshingly favours long takes over frantic cutting, most notably in the bravura sequence where the camera follows and switches back and forth from different participants of a horseback chase without cutting, though the constant use of wide-angle lenses is sometimes a bit jarring elsewhere. Overall though this is raw and exhausting, but in the best way. 8/10

In a way, I’m rather annoyed that I’ve placed this so highly: a film that’s a sequel and not just a movie from the endlessly copied [to the point of near tedium] James Wan-school of horror filmmaking but one from Wan himself, and yes it does take rather too many liberties with the actual case that inspired it which would have made an effective enough chiller without any altering. But The Conjuring 2 terrified me like no film in its genre has done so in ages, and, while it’s also maybe a little long, Ed and Lorraine Warren are such a memorable husband and wife team I’d be happy to see five more pictures featuring them. The suspense and scares are brilliantly handled, often aided by the way Wan will give you a fright but then follow it up so you’ll constantly on edge, and even the much criticised stuff about a demon revealing its own name isn’t daft at all given the film derives much from Catholic demonology lore. 8/10

The only purpose of The Shallows is to give you a thrill-ride based on a very common fear among humans, but it succeeds in achieving very well. Maybe it was written by somebody [Anthony Jaswinski] who doesn’t appear to know much about sharks [why on earth doesn’t the hungry creature scavenge on that dead whale and prefer to go after a hard to get, bony human?], and maybe its heroine is unrealistically resourceful, but in the end who really cares as long as the result is so effective, director Jaime Collet-Serra establishing very well the sense of isolation and hopelessness for our main character, and her situation of being so close yet so far from safety, and then delivering a pure adrenalin rush, resulting in a film that’s more darn exciting than any of this year’s big action blockbusters and the best shark movie since Jaws. Blake Lively does extremely well is what is mostly a reationary role. 8/10

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About Dr Lenera 1988 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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