The Latest Picture Show’s Definitive Top 11 Films of 2016
It may be February, but it’s never too late for an end of year list…is it? Well, I’ve finally got my arse into gear to release The Latest Picture Show’s definitive list of 2016’s best cinematic offerings. The only rule for the list is that if I saw it in the cinema last year, then it counts (hence the inclusion of Brimstone – spoiler!). Sit back, relax and get ready to disagree…
11) Supersonic (Dir. Matt Whitecross)
We kick the list off with the parka wearing, dodgy swaggering, sunshiiiiiiinnnneee belting Gallagher brothers of Oasis in Supersonic. There’s nothing staggeringly unique or revolutionary, both stylistically and informationally, about Supersonic, but it is a lot of fun with Noel and Liam almost exclusively narrating proceedings. The perpetually warring brothers are natural raconteurs, full of deceptively sharp wit and clever quips, and the ideal guides to take us through Oasis unstoppable rise from Burnage bums to kings of Knebworth in three years. Liam’s earnest, raw and infective enthusiasm successfully conveys the whirlwind excitement of being the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. Whether you’re a fan of Oasis or not, it’s impossible not to be swept up in this tale of a couple of Mancunian chancers fighting on ferries, talkin’ bollocks and crafting anthems that defined the euphoric patriotism of 90s Britain.
10) I, Daniel Blake (Dir. Ken Loach)
In 1966 Ken Loach bridged the gap between fiction and reality with his TV film Cathy Come Home. Real social issues revolving around homelessness, unemployment and the rights of mothers, were beamed into living rooms across the country and exposed the hardships occurring in Britain. Wind on fifty years and Ken Loach is back with an equally incendiary, politically polemic masterpiece with I, Daniel Blake. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires star as two individuals battling against a Kafka-esq bureaucratic hell that is Britain’s social welfare system. In a typically economical and direct style, Loach produces an astounding film that draws in you into the deepest, darkest depths capable of deadening the very soul. I’ve never seen a cinema audience more deflated and dour than at the end of I, Daniel Blake, a testament to the emotional weight and political resonance of Loach’s film.
9) The Neon Demon (Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)
Vapid, shallow, ultra-competitive, beautiful, provocative, degrading, stunning, glamourous, amusing, stylized and orchestrated under the vison of one man – the fashion industry or a Nicolas Wining Winding Refn film? It seems with the polarising world of fashion and beauty director Refn has found his ultimate companion. His penchant for meticulously orchestrated tableaus, soaked in a neon wash and void of emotion, have never felt so vivid or appropriate as in The Neon Demon’s world of plastic faces and fluctuating fashions. His latest incomparable, sumptuous effort is a toxic and intoxicating piece of filmmaking that will haunt your dreams and nightmares. We’re plunged evocatively into the barren, but irresistible world of fashion and through Jessie we experience its violent corrupting nature. Little dialogue may be said, and for that reason it’s hard to praise the acting extensively, but we certainly feel the claustrophia, paranoia and madness of the industry closing in on Jessie’s naïve charms. You may not like Refn, but he is unquestionably one of the most inimitable, uncompromising directors working today.
8) Arrival (Dir. Dennis Villeneuve)
With the emergence of M. Night Shyamalan, the cinematic twist has taken a serious pasting. The big reveal has for the most part become trite, lazy and contrived, and too often involves someone being unsurprisingly dead. Well, with Villeneuve’s ingenuous Sci-Fi thriller the twist is back with a big intergalactic bang. On the surface, Arrival appears to be another predictable entry into the alien invasion canon, but Villeneuve, having impressed with his psychological thrillers Prisoners and Enemy, has crafted a subtly absorbing and intellectual challenging film that redefines the genre’s possibilities. Amongst this high concept, high reward film is a quietly compelling performance from Amy Adams that guides us with awe into this alien adventure. It’s quite the rarity that a mainstream director can so delicately and masterfully challenge mainstream audiences without alienating or patronising them. Villeneuve continues to grow with each production, making the prospect of Blade Runner 2049 under his direction a glorious prospect.
7) Brimstone (Dir. Martin Koolhoven)
Brimstone may not have a UK release date yet, but make sure you keep an eye out for Martin Koolhoven’s brutal and epic Western. Having seen it at the London Film Festival last year, I’d be hard pushed to name a better Western since Unforgiven. Brimstone is ostensibly a classic revenge Western, but there’s so much wildly refreshing and challenging about its vision of American cinema’s oldest stomping ground. The film explores the often appalling reality of surviving, not so much living, as a woman in nascent America. The Dutch director utilises his outsider perspective to debunk both the myths of American progress and the skewed romance of the traditional Western. Brimstone has some clear influences, none more overt or explicit than The Night of the Hunter, but its take on the Western is fresh, thrilling and vital. Guy Pearce gives a monstrous performance as the evil incarnate preacher stalking the fiercely combative Dakota Fanning across America’s great frontiers. Brimstone presents its case in an epic, sprawling fashion that bravely refuses to romance the old myths etched by John Wayne’s bow legged shadow. Brimstone is as about as far from Stagecoach as the wagon goes.
6) Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)
Director Tom Ford made his long-awaited return with the intoxicating and exemplary revenge tale Nocturnal Animals. Based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, Ford bravely juggles three concurrent plots with consummate ease and impeccable technique. From the audacious opening, a troupe of obese dancers twirling sparklers and American flags, all the way through to the emphatic cuts between stories, Nocturnal Animals stands a meticulous piece of filmmaking. Despite his relative inexperience, Ford presents himself as a master of the medium. Rather than stifle the tale’s emotional gravity, the film’s aesthetic excellence channels a raft of quietly desperate and powerful performances from Adams, Shannon and the resurgent Gyllenhaal. It may have been seven years since Ford’s last film, A Single Man, but Nocturnal Animals has made the wait worth every second.
5) Childhood of a Leader (Dir. Brady Corbet)
With such a blunt title Brady Corbet sets his stall out early with debut Childhood of a Leader. We’re left in no doubt as to the fate of the titular child but that doesn’t prevent Corbet from making the inevitable outcome a mysterious swirl of ambiguity, horror and unuttered violence. We’re catapulted, certainly not eased, into a world struggling to come to terms with its loss of innocence following World War One. Childhood of a Leader is not so much a cinematic chronicle of the subsequent rise of European fascism, but is a study of the human condition with a bleak and terminal prognosis. Under the sparse glow of candlelight, Corbet enacts a Freudian-esq psychological study of the central family’s tumultuous relations that extends far beyond the mere question of nature versus nurture in mesmerising fashion. One of Childhood of a Leader’s greatest success is in enticing the enigmatic Scott Walker out of his shroud of mystery to score the film; the blasts of woodwind and slashes of strings are like a deranged, certainly psychotic, reimagining of Bernard Hermann’s iconic work on Psycho. Walker’s score is a barrage of sound that typifies the film’s unsettling intensity, gravitas and presciently understated horror.
4) High Rise (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
Writer JG Ballard has a back catalogue of work tailor made for cinema, none more so than his 1975 novel High Rise. Under the backdrop of a glamorous, self-sufficient, luxury apartment block, Ballard unleashes a vivid dystopian satire of consumerism and social hierarchy. Sex and violence are the most basic allures of cinema, and with High Rise, director Ben Wheatley and frequent collaborator Amy Jump have found the perfect structure to house our most elementary desires. An all-star cast, featuring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans and Elizabeth Moss, enter into a world typified by violence, comedy and the surreal with intoxicating results. The set design is an impeccable Brutalist homage, while the action takes place in a kaleidoscope of mesmerising techniques that build on Wheatley’s bizarre predecessors like A Field in England and Kill List. Some of Ballard’s more nuanced political satire may be lost in the mayhem, but High Rise is such a joyous, funny, mad and memorable climb to the dizzying heights of decadence. Ballard’s novel is a filmmaker’s dream and Wheatley has seized the opportunity with all the gusto of Dr Laing clinging on to his precious paint tin for dear life.
3) The Revenant (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
The Revenant may have come out way back in January 2016, but it’s overwhelming level of spectacle has yet to be trumped. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu made a conscious effort to shun the green screen and brave the elements in order to deliver the most authentic, encompassing and convincing vision of lawless America. Enduring, perhaps even surviving, The Revenant’s brutal and beautiful landscape is the closest you’ll come to experiencing life on nature’s frontier without grabbing your furs, donning your Davey Crocket hat, and plunging yourself head first into a freezing lake. The Revenant isn’t an easy watch, it’s long, arduous and unrelentingly bleak at times, but it’s one of the most rewarding, transformative, journeys cinema can take you on. Whether it be watching men traverse the overbearing glacial mountains of the frontier, or enduring DiCaprio’s bloody brawl with a hulking bear, The Revenant constantly astounds in an elemental fashion that feels like cinema in its purest form.
2) Son of Saul (Dir. László Nemes)
If war is hell, then the Holocaust must be its horrifying centrepiece. Son of Saul doesn’t endeavour to understand the Holocaust; rather it aims, and succeeds, in portraying the psyche of man under the strain of unthinkable evil. The bigger picture is irrelevant, instead we’re privy to what hell looks like and how it warps our sense of morality, rationality and humanity. It’s an audacious and outstanding film that accompanies Shoah has a vital artefact in understanding the unimaginable. The film is a technical marvel; here are no establishing shots, no cut aways, no focus changes, no detours, just a relentless focus on Saul’s movements in a concentration camp. It’s a hugely disorientating experience as the full picture is never afforded to our gaze, instead we live vicariously through Saul’s eyes and ears. It’s a visceral journey as we’re plunged into the hellish camp. We can feel the sweltering burn of the furnaces, the filth that chalks up on Saul’s face and the bustle of bodies as crowds are herded like cattle. Son of Saul is a difficult watch, both in terms of material and style, but if you can endure the sensory barrage you’ll be privy to a modern masterpiece.
1) Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)
It’s official, Sing Street is my favourite film of 2016. Why? Because its bloody magical. Through the eternal power of new wave pop from the 1980s, Sing Street captures the possibility of youth in all its glory. Bundling the best of the British Isles through The Commitments, Pride and The Full Monty, director John Carney hits all the right notes with an earnest mix of music, comedy, nostalgia and heart. Under the backdrop of 1980s austerity ravaged Ireland, Sing Street takes us on a journey of youthful discovery as outsider school boy, Connor, aims for fame and fortune by forming a band. 1985 takes us back to a golden age of pop where the likes of Ah-Ha, The Cure, Spandau Ballet, Kate Bush, The Police and Depeche Mode ruled the charts. Unlike say Billy Elliot where the soundtrack merely evokes the period, Sing Street’s music plays a crucial role in the narrative. One of the great pleasures of the film is seeing how Conor’s band evolves in line with the musical shifts of the period; an early synthesised sound makes way for the “happy-sad” backcombing world of Robert Smith, before a charge into New Romantic foppery. Like the best music, Sing Street takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions – one moment it’s making your dreams come true, the next minute you’re hanging down your head for sorrow – but most importantly, it sticks with you like a perfect pop harmony in your head.