The hills were alive with the sound of 2016

I watch a lot of films. Technically it counts as work because I also write screenplays. None of my screenplays have ever been produced because I spend too much time watching films instead of working on my screenplays. Ironic, eh?

This is not a list of the best films of 2016, or even the best films that I watched in 2016. It’s a list of the films that I enjoyed the most, or that had the most impact, or that I would recommend if you asked me for something to watch this evening.

Top Ten

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Nobody uses genre to mix humanism and humour as effectively as Taika Waititi. A deep sense that we’re all in this together underscored Boy and What We Do In The Shadows, and he carried that through into the mountains of New Zealand.

2. High Rise

At the other end of the genre spectrum, the UK’s most auteurial auteur Ben Wheatley delivered a visually astonishing adaptation of J. G. Ballard; unafraid of delivering maximum levels of alienation, but still be entertaining.

3. Toni Erdmann

The only film more alienating was Toni Erdmann, in which Maren Ade plumbed new depths of awkwardness in the service of a family drama masquerading as a social satire. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

4. Green Room

Meanwhile learning to hate neo-Nazis is the greatest hate of all. A sad farewell to Anton Yelchin, but a great outing for director Jeremy Saulnier, whose method is to inflict as much damage as possible on his characters and see who’s left standing.

5. Hail Caesar!

No Nazis but plenty of Commies towards the end of the Coen brothers rampage through the golden age of Hollywood. It’s telling that a film that’s average by Coen standards was still a ton more fun than most other directors’ best.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings

We’re in a golden age of animation, partly because the line between animation and special effects disappeared. Studio Laika keep it real with stop-motion like I haven’t seen in a long time, married to a wonderful story that feels older than it looks.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts

I discovered after watching that this was adapted from a book by Mike Carey, which explained why it had such a nice barb in the tail, and also why every character came to life even though it was clear they were all going to die. Terrifying.

8. The Nice Guys

Basically I’ll watch anything Shane Black is involved with. As he gets older, he boils his recipe further and further down to buddies and their badinage, until eventually he’ll make an action movie version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

9. Captain Fantastic

I wasn’t sure that another movie about Viggo Mortensen not bathing would make me happy, but the ensemble performance sold the message-without-a-message. I’m still not sure, but I’m still thinking about it months later.

10. Chi-raq / Sing Street

I’m a big fan of the musicals, and here’s two that prove there’s life in the form above Pitch fucking Perfect. Chi-raq is classic Lee – promises more than it can deliver, but does it brilliantly – while Sing Street is a love letter to everybody who ever loved pop music (or an amateur model).

Honorable Mentions

I am not a serial killer. The only reason this portrait of a monster didn’t make top ten was the third act, which couldn’t hold the tension of the first two.
Arrival. I like Ted Chiang, but I don’t share the adulation he attracts. However Denis Villeneuve did the impossible with this adaptation, and made a classic.
Popstar. I laughed, which is more than most films manage. If Lonely Island can exercise similar quality control in their next movie, I predict great things.
Train to Busan. I know, more zombies. More carnage. More sentimentality. What lifted this above the cliches was the kinetic energy of the set pieces.
Midnight Special. I’m aware that this was just genre fiction for art snobs, but it struck the right balance between 70s chase, 80s scifi and 90s paranoia.
Gods of Egypt. I knew what this was going to be like when I went in, and that made it possible to enjoy it for what it was: Clash of the Titans with Instagram filters.
Hell or High Water. Not many westerns last year, but this qualifies even though it’s social commentary. A film where everybody looks as hangdog as Jeff Bridges?
Neon Demon. Proof that you can have no plot and bad dialogue, but still be astonishing if your visual language pops with handcrafted occult symbolism.

There’s a bunch of films I failed to watch, and probably a few films that I would put in the Honorable Mentions if I could remember them. I hate these top ten type of lists, but it’s too late now.

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