DOC’S TOP 30 FILMS OF 2016 – PART 2, 15-1


And so we continue….

This is a film where I was literally on tenderhooks throughout much of its duration and yet much of it just involved characters watching things on a screen and sitting around making tense faces. Far superior to Drones or Righteous Kill despite little actual character developement, it simply takes one day in the ongoing War on Terror and shows it from all sides [well, except from the side of the enemy]. It dares to ask probing ethical and moral questions but never cheapens the narrative by giving you broad-stroked answers or trying to make a political statement. It totally “gets” war, understanding it as a messy, ugly, and violent business where there isn’t a whole lot of room for moralising. It’s extremely well acted by Helen Mirren, a surprisingly good Aaron Paul and the late lamented Alan Rickman, but – most of all- it’s just bedwettingly tense and so well handled by director Gavin Hood, at last making a film worthy of his breakout picture Tsotsi. 8/10

Though Zootopia is getting all the plundits and will probably win at the Academy Awards due to its preachy socio/political messaging, I wouldn’t say that it’s even the best cartoon feature of last year to feature talking animals, and it’s certainly not up to the standards of the latest offering from the continually pleasing [if hardly box office impressing] Laika, a film which makes the Disney effort seem bland, tame and unimaginative by comparison. Occasionally the storytelling stumbles [why revive characters to kill them off again almost immediately?] but Laika commendably refuse to soft peddle the themes of grief and loss, only introducing humour after some time when it’s most welcome, while they amaze even more than they’ve done before with their extraordinary stopmotion and awe-inspiring visuals which are often genuinely dreamlike without forgetting to provide the required excitement. 8/10

Made for $10.000 over just eleven days, Observance is probably one of two films on this list which – unless you read every single review on this website –  you may not have heard of, but Joseph Sims-Dennet’s movie is for me hands down the most unsettling film of the year, a film which creates an extremely strong paranoid atmosphere right from the offset and proceeds to get further and further under the skin. The gripping descent into insanity is sometimes wilfully obscure [though I doubt that fans of – say – David Lynch will have any trouble with it, and I’m convinced it’s primarily about terrible guilt] but Sims-Dennet, while obviously influenced by Rear Window and The Tenant, expertly uses jagged editing, unusual shots, and brilliantly unnerving sound design by David Gaylard and David Williams so well that I can forgive some poor attempts at American accents by Australian performers. 8/10

The first of two anime on this list [I guess this top 30 does partly emphasise partly horrors and cartoons, but this is Horror Cult Films, and to my eyes very few of this year’s big action blockbusters – for example –  were very impressive, and let’s not even go into the comedies ], Your Name seems a tad limited by seeming to aim principally at the teen market, and it could have ended five minutes before it actually does, but the highly imaginative story is often genuinely surprising and adeptly manages the shift from light hearted sci-fi romance to disaster movie, tragedy and an almost heartbreaking depiction of forgetting [the second film this year to achieve the latter!], really showing how far ahead of American animated features Japanese ones are in terms of invention and storytelling. Visually it’s a marvel too, wonderfully synthesising the CG and hand-drawn styles of animation. 8/10

Perhaps Arrival has been slightly overpraised – it does seem to overly repeat itself and I’m still not sure if the ‘alien’ and the ‘personal’ aspects of the story link 100 % – but it’s still an impressively restrained look at the possibility of extra terrestrial visitation, a clever puzzler with a twist that I certainly didn’t guess, and a genuinely heartbreaking but also in its own way positive tragedy which asks some important questions, most notably what you would do if you knew your future, and ends up reminding us that every second of life is precious and must be enjoyed. Amy Adams has probably never been better, even though Arrival actually isn’t the best film she made last year [and I’m not talking about any superhero movie], and Denis Villeneuve’s direction is so strong [boy can he build up the tension!] that – and I can’t believe I’m saying this….I actually eagerly await Blade Runner 2049. 8/10

David Mackenzie’s Western-variant is one of those films which even makes you care about characters which only appear for a couple of minutes. Hell Or High Water can almost be considered an acting masterclass as Chris Pine [just how good can this guy be when he’s given a good role?], Ben Foster [I could almost watch a whole movie about Pine’s and Foster’s characters talking to each other] and Jeff Bridges being so superb in their parts. But then you’ve also got the superb cinematography of Giles Nuttgens which evokes so well the desolate locales, while Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay probably has more laughs than all of this year’s lame so-called comedies, laughs that seem to evolve naturally out of the settings, situations and people [a rare thing these days], and yet this is a film which doesn’t soft peddle the violence either. Maybe it’s basically unoriginal, but for the duration all of these people and their situations seemed real. 8/10

Sometimes I really hate myself. I hate the way there seem to be more remakes at the moment than there ever has been, and I especially hate the way that Disney seem intent on remaking all of their older films. But Pete’s Dragon is a movie that hands down bests its predeccessor, and is almost a perfect example of how to do a remake – pick an original film which has qualities but which could certainly be improved on, and keep the core concept but approach the material very differently though that the result justifies having been made. Okay, it borrows obviously from Free Willy, King Kong and others, but it has a lovely timeless feel about it, is sentimental without being cheesy, and Elliott the dragon is just sooo cute. A throwback to a different era when Disney made the best family films (which were so good they are still immensely popular today), utterly devoid of the now so common cynicism, and full of heart, joy and wonder. 8/10

Say whatever you want about Ken Loach, he’s stuck to his guns, to what he believes in, and made exactly the films he’s wanted to make over his career. I wouldn’t say that I’ve really seen enough of his films to really get a proper overview of his work, and truth be told social realism has never been a particularly appealing genre to me, but I’ve become more appreciative of some kinds of films I used to avoid of late, and found I, Daniel Blake to be quietly devastating in its portrayal of how certain government policies are making the lives of many of the poor even worse, and in some cases actually killing people, as well as showing how technology is leaving many older folk at a disadvantage. I don’t think you have a be a full-on ‘leftie’ to be utterly moved by the plight of its two main characters [god Hayley Squires is brilliant], but Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty alleviate what could be just misery by making sure they add bits of humour. 8.5/10

The final scene of Rocky Balbao was such a perfect farewell to a movie character who’s been loved by millions and has inspired a great many folk too, but I was seriously annoyed that he was returning for what was also obviously a semi-remake as well as a pointless sequel, and even considered not going to see Creed at all. But the film soon won me over because it totally has that Rocky spirit, that wonderful corn that uplifts and inspires, something that is rare in today’s cinema. It manages to be a love letter to the earlier films but has its own feel and a rather different perspective as we’re not so much watching a nobody rising up against the odds, we’re seeing a man trying to get out of the larger than life shadows of a father he never knew, and it ends up being a both heartwarming and heartbreaking story of mutual support….with of course some of the best boxing yet. Now come on Ryan Coogler make the sequel….I couldn’t care less about Black Panther. 8.5/10

The reason these articles are a bit late being posted is because I was determined to catch up with a few 2016 movies I missed, Train To Busan, a film mentioned by no less than our own David Smith as the best zombie film that he’s seen, being perhaps the most important. Personally I still think that the original Dawn Of The Dead still can’t be beat, but this hugely impressive Korean take on the undead – the film that the shoddy World War Z probably should have been – isn’t very far behind, managing to combine and balance adeptly staged thrill sequences despite often restricted settings, a surprising amount of invention and intense human drama that actually brought on the tears. The tension never goes, the zombies are suitably unsettling, and yet director Yeon Sang-ho still makes sure that his film is – more than anything else – about how people react to threats, and what you are made of as an individual. 8.5/10

I still find it unbelievable that, prior to the release of Django Unchained, I actually wrote an article entitled Whatever’s Happened To Quentin Tarantino where I bemoaned the fact that his movies were getting worse and worse, and yet both Django Unchained and his latest film The Hateful Eight have made it on to my top ten of their respective years. I’m actually really looking forward to his next one with great excitement. The Hateful Eight didn’t get the greatest of responses, but as far as I’m concerned the essentially small scale mystery drama set mostly in just one room  could be the purest distillation of Tarantino’s cinema. Only he can probably make two hours of dislikeable characters chatting actually gripping, before the violence of the final hour, though of course he’s aided by brilliant performances across the board….and he even tones down his annoying penchant for using pre-existing music. 8.5/10

I came home from watching Nocturnal Animals fully intending to review it, but even when you review as ridiculously large a number of films as I do, it’s still sometimes nice to just let a film be and not run the risk of picking it apart and thereby revealing flaws. In any case, writer/director Tom Ford’s clever, penetrating psychological drama manages to be quite an achievement as it ping pongs between its three [one of which happens to be imaginary] stories yet at its heart remains both a bold and honest interpretation of the pain that can go onto paper, and a film that tells us not to let go of love if and when we find it. The oft-mentioned exaggurated aspects, odd details and unexplained moments actually do make a lot of sense if we realise that it’s all from the point of view of a sad, even slightly unhinged, person….which of course makes the hauntingly sad ending hit home even harder and actually be enlightening. Of course Amy Adams is brilliant again. 8.5/10

When our friends at Eureka Entertainment sent me a Blu-ray screener for an obscure new Swiss/French film called Aloys – a film I’d never even heard of and would probably not have had the joy of seeing otherwise – I didn’t know what on earth to expect, but I can now proudly proclaim it as 2016’s third best movie in my opinion. Tobias Nölle’s debut feature might be the latest in a line of films [which won’t end] commenting on, and lamenting, our increasing enslavement to technology, but it’s also many other things; a unique game of emotional cat and mouse, a beautiful and yet almost painful love story featuring two lonely broken souls, a wry, often surreal look at the world, a poem to the imagination, and a film with my favourite scene of the year [and yet it’s basically two people imagining a party], a scene which sums up the whole film which achieves the difficult task of being both very sad and highly uplifing. 8.5/10

The reason I didn’t review this one at the time was because I was simply very busy during the week that I saw it, but Studio Ghibli’s supposedly final [the thought brings tears to my eyes] film, even though it seemed to disappoint some with its low key nature, seems to me a decent send off. It’s basically a fairly conventional Japanese ghost story [they could so easily have made this as a horror film], but instead of going for frights and chills, it goes for beauty and warmth, sensitively tackling its themes of isolation and bereavement but concentrating on straightforward storytelling unlike most Disney and Pixar films which – for better or worse – seem to feature a message. Though extremely poignant, the film refuses allow itself to get bogged down in the sadness as it celebrates some of the richnesses of our short lives: friendship, family and the power of memories. Exquisite animation is merely the icing on the cake. 9/10

In some ways 2016 was a bit of a disappointment for me. There weren’t any films released that I’d give 10/10, but having now seen it twice I’m now going to ‘up’ Room, which is actually officially listed as a 2015 film but which didn’t come out in the UK until 2016, from 9/10 to 9.5/10. For a start it achieves something that is incredibly difficult. It takes a horrific but all-too-believable story [adapted by Emma Donaghue from her novel] inspired by reported incidents which we’ve all heard about – a woman kept for years in a cell by a rapist who has given her a child – and makes something uplifting and life affirming out of it. The nature of the tale has no doubt put many people off from seeing this film, and some of the scenes in the first half are undeniably upsetting to watch, though the sexual aspects are actually handled with commendable subtlety, and you just cannot deny the brilliance of Danny Cohen’s cinematography which constantly adjusts to show young Jack’s point of view and makes one small room visually interesting for a whole hour, and the simply incredible performances of Brie Larson as Joy and Jacob Temblay as Jack, though if there’s one big negative connected with this film it’s that Larson won an Academy Award and Temblay failed to be even nominated. Larson is superb – totally believable, very natural and- along with Donaghue –  not afraid to let Joy be a little unsympathetic – but it’s Temblay who really holds the thing together.

Jack on the back of that truck, trying to jump to safety, manages to be more hair-raising than all the CGI-drowned superhero mayhem we’ve seen this year. And then the film does something which seems to have disappointed those who expected more of a horror movie or a thrill ride – it changes and becomes a story of healing, of hope, of connection, but totally avoiding sappiness or cliches, such as with the character of Joy’s father. Most films would have him make up with his daughter at the end, but this one just has him disappear, and we’re left in little doubt that he may never come to terms with her ordeal. And then you have the rather unique but extraordinarily touching ‘farewell’ final scene which provides the viewer with several different emotions at once as it reminds us for the last time that ‘Room’ may have been a prison to Joy, but she made the place so liveable and provided Jack with so much love and attention that he thought it was a wonderful place of imagination full of ‘friends’. Such a lovely illustration of the resilience and imagination of children and the care and love of motherhood. The emotional impact of Room is absolutely astounding – it affected me just as much on my second viewing, at home on Blu-ray – but it’s always feels well earned. It’s a very fine piece of filmmaking indeed by Lenny Abrahamson. 9.5/10




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About Dr Lenera 1971 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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