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2016 was a year when we needed good movies. As you probably noticed, the past 12 months have been a roller coaster ride of deaths and depression, with those two duking it out for supremacy on a nearly weekly basis.
Movies provided us with much needed escapism from these worries. And even when films were shrouded in grief, they were created with such beauty and poetry, and examined the inevitabilities of life in such a through-provoking way that you felt emboldened and all the better for having them. But what has been the cream of the crop from the point of view of this battle-weary expat? Who, it should be mentioned, over the course of the year has seen 103 movies, a handful of which he rather enjoyed. Well, to find out, just have a gander through my top 10 films of 2016 list below.
10) Rogue One
Rogue One isn't a perfect film. Far from it, in fact, as its choppy opening act takes a while to be ironed out. Its fight sequence on Jedha managed to rejuvenate spirits, but the sneak attack on Eadu felt a little flat, while the lack of Darth Vader and the eerie presence of Grand Moff Tarkin meant that going into the final forty minutes, there was a real concern that Rogue One would underwhelm.
Thank the heavens for Tony Gilroy then, who was allegedly brought on to help reshoot and restructure the final act. Obviously director Gareth Edwards deserves kudos, too, as Rogue One's deliciously gritty aesthetic and style, which was heavily inspired by a plethora of war films, meant that the film built and built all the way to its enthralling conclusion. And thanks to a little help from a returning friend, and arguably Darth Vader's greatest ever sequence, Rogue One finished at a crescendo that led seamlessly into A New Hope, and left you wanting more.
9) American Honey
Oh Andrea Arnold, how the world of cinema salutes you. Well at least those of us that took in and experienced American Honey do. For a film that won the Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize (Arnold's third time of doing so), was met with sterling reviews and has been picking up nominations and awards at the British Independent Film, Independent Spirit, London Film Critics, Los Cabos International and Stockholm International, to name but a few, you'd expect American Honey to have garnered much more attention.
It feels right that American Honey has bubbled under the radar, though, as it tells the seldom heard story of a mag-crew traveling across the south of the United States. It's like a feisty, resentful, overtly sexual and violent Paper Moon. Arnold's penchant for street casting and American Honey's exaggerated length only add to its verisimilitude, which she then peppers with sudden moments of sex, violence and conflict. Sasha Lane stuns in the lead, while Shia LaBeouf puts in one of the best performances of the last decade in an invigorating supporting role. You can check out my full review for American Honey here.
8) O.J. : Made In America
Is it a five-part television show? Or a preposterously long movie? The debate will forever rage on, but the fact that I endured all 467 minutes of O.J.: Made In America, sat in a cinema and that ESPN Films released it theatrically so that it could be in Oscar contention means I'm considering it as the latter. It also means that I can celebrate its vast achievements, because even though it rages on for over 7 and a half hours O.J.: Made In America ebbs and flows and builds and builds in such a precise and wonderfully paced fashion that you're always captivated.
It's dark, complex, meticulous, heart-breaking and tragic, while it covers ever considerable angle in such a human and relatable fashion that you feel like you've been given comprehensive coverage of the second most famous trial in human history, after Jesus Christ.
7) Hell Or High Water
Simple? Yes, but oh so effective. Hell Or High Water is just pristine in every fashion. That's despite the fact that it's a nitty-gritty subversive blend of the Western heist and thriller genres, which is enthralling as it is grounded and real. You can feel the bullets zipping by and sand on your face. Taylor Sheridan's bare-bones script juggles with themes of fatherhood, family, revenge and the banking crisis, but is never overwhelmed by them.
Instead, it gives us a clear understanding of the motives of its bank robbers, with Ben Foster standing out as the loose cannon older brother. Jeff Bridges matches his majesty as a Texas Ranger, and David MacKenzie's expert direction, aided by Giles Nuttgens' sumptuous cinematography, delivers thrill after thrill when necessary, but he also has the awareness to confidently simmer things down and ruminate when required, too. It's just a joy to watch unfold. You can read my review for Hell Or High Water here.
6) The Witch
Released all the way back in February, it says a lot about the power of The Witch that it's not just popped on my Top 10 list, but on many others' across the cinematic community. A horror film that doesn't need jolts, shocks or gore to impress, The Witch instead meanders and unsettles for its zipping 93 minute-long running time, with writer director David Eggers' use of natural light and plotting that's drenched in mystery only adding to its creepy aura and atmosphere.
But, for me, its true gut punch comes right at its end, with The Witch's pre-credits card adding an extra layer of depth and toil that's immediately unnerving. Utterly bewitching. You can read my full review for The Witch here.
5) Everybody Wants Some!!
I was never overly taken with Boyhood, which seemed to be lauded for Richard Linklater's perseverance more than anything else. When Linklater's been at his best (The Before trilogy, Dazed & Confused), he's like a cinematic laureate, probing into existential quandaries in a poetic and entertaining fashion. Everybody Wants Some!! does just that through the prism of a hyper-masculine, hyper-competitive college baseball team, with Richard Linklater showing his eye for casting by assembling a mesmerizingly buzzing ensemble that inject the film with an energy and zest for life that it can coast on.
At the same time, Everybody Wants Some!! brims with ideas and questions, while the precise details of period mean that it's drenched in a nostalgia that you just want to hug. Kick ass soundtrack, too.
4) La La Land
The next four films each border on genius for their own reasons. Take La La Land, which seems to have deeply moved everyone who has gone to see it. It's understandable, because La La Land just makes you want to instantly grab your long-lost first love, hug them with gusto, plant a kiss on their cheek and then tell them about your life and how they still make you smile. I could watch La La Land every day.
It's the antidote to anyone feeling slightly blue, slightly lost and the perfect remedy to the mundane summer offerings. Ryan Gosling has never been more charming or delightful a screen presence, and you'll be listening and trying to dance along to "Another Day Of Sun," "Someone In The Crowd," and "City Of Stars" until your ears and feet are bleeding. In fact, there's so much to be enraptured by with La La Land that you'll want to be cocooned inside of its all singing, all dancing world forever.
3) High Rise
High Rise is gloriously divisive. There are those who couldn't stand Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1975 book of the same name, finding it borderline incomprehensible. I'll admit that there were times during High Rise that I found myself aghast and lost in its maze. But I was never bored. There was just too much visceral energy, gorgeous visuals and mesmerizing performances to be hypnotized by. Then once I caught up, I was forever compelled, with High Rise sticking with me and leaving me in a daze for the subsequent hours and days that followed.
It's a tour-de-force of imagery and subtext, as well as brutally original, with Ben Wheatley conducting proceedings with in an operatic and dreamlike fashion that borders on genius. You can read my full review for High Rise here.
2) Manchester By The Sea
Manchester By The Sea is a glorious slog. That's what you'd expect it to be considering that it's the tale of Casey Affleck's Lee Chandler, who deserves every single accolade and award that's set to come his way for his towering, yet nuanced portrayal, coming back to his hometown to care for his nephew after his older brother suddenly dies. But what makes Manchester By The Sea just so powerful and impacting is the fact that writer and director Kenneth Lonergan doesn't pull any punches, while still finding plenty of genuine humor that you eagerly lap up because of the tense atmosphere.
Lee Chandler is forever broken, and for good reason, too. But he incrementally recovers in a deeply human, almost anti-cinematic, fashion that's all the better for eschewing pacing and characterization traits we associate with film. Manchester By The Sea is so affecting you'll feel changed, more appreciative and emboldened when its finished. It still has the shittiest trailer I've ever seen, though.
Where were you when we were getting high? If you were right there, living and breathing Oasis, then Supersonic is everything you've ever wanted in a documentary about the band. As an Oasis die-hard, I went into Supersonic firmly believing that it would be an entertaining enough regurgitation of information that I already knew about Noel, Liam, Bonehead, Guigsy and their interchanging roster of drummers. But roused by a tidal wave of new behind the scenes footage, director Mat Whitecross gives us a no-holds barred, extensive account of the band's meteoric rise all the way up to their historic Knebworth gigs.
The Live Forever sequence is transcendent, while it possesses more off-the-cuff laugh-out-loud moments than most stand-up comedians can even fathom, Whitecross knows where the heart and soul of the story of the band's success is, though. But he never forces the beguiling conflict and love of Noel and Liam Gallagher down your throats. Instead he punctuates Supersonic with tender and honest moments from the duo that will make your heart sink and swell in equal measure. It's a true triumph that should instantly be regarded as one of the greatest rock and roll documentaries of all time, and proof of why Oasis really will live forever.