This year, I’ve seen so many astonishing, revelatory films: Toni Erdmann, Moonlight, Scarred Hearts, Personal Shopper, Manchester by the Sea… but they won’t reach UK cinemas until 2017. So, here are the scraps that came out in the cesspit that was 2016.
In 2011’s roundup I swam through cold weather to Bill Callahan’s favourite island. In 2012’s roundup Joaquin set the Instagram filter to “Kenicky”. In 2013’s roundup Carruth paddled with red herrings. In 2014’s roundup I missed more films than a Penrose triangle has corners. In 2015’s roundup I copied and pasted the same intro from 2014..
This year? Well, like I always say, life’s not worth living, but let’s relive it anyway. For more, follow @halfacanyon.
1. Youth (Paolo Sorrentino) – 9/10
For reasons I don’t understand, Youth was the only film I felt compelled to see three times this year, and on each viewing the sheer musicality sucked me right in.
2. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) – 8.5/10
For a believer, like Joe, the mystical world is parallel to ours, but with the power of film, both can co-exist, even if inevitably they’re haunted by poisonous politics of the past and present.
3. Anomalisa (Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman) – 8.5/10
It’s better to walk in the sun alone.
4. Pete’s Dragon (David Lowery) – 8.5/10
The longing between Pete and Elliot echoes the arc of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – except, ironically, it’s Lowery’s dragon movie that’s more human.
5. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-Eda) – 8/10
Full of small pleasures, such as the secret nostalgia of certain snacks, the film behaves like a novel you wish wouldn’t end. But when it does, you’ll still be smiling.
6. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino) – 8/10
Beneath the vacation vibes are unanswered questions, romantic jealousies and ever shadier territories, all played out in an emotional lava lamp environment, exploding on the big screen in red hot fashion.
7. Son of Saul (László Nemes) – 8/10
More to the film than meets the eye.
8. Indignation (James Schamus) – 8/10
Schamus may be a first-time director, but he’s an acclaimed screenwriter and producer who’s clearly taken notes from the best.
9. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve) – 8/10
Oddly similar to Elle.
10. Divines (Houda Benyamina) – 8/10
A welcome blast of subtitled energy about life in the banlieue
11. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch) – 8/10
Adam Driver is a poet within a poem.
12. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater) – 8/10
I liked it!!
13. The Wait (Piero Messina) – 7.5/10
Messina was Sorrentino’s assistant director on The Great Beauty, and it shows in the visual excess of The Wait – a stunning, orchestral drama that chucks in poetic dream sequences and surreal flourishes around its straightforward story.
14.De Palma (Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow) – 7.5/10
A better Baumbach film than While We’re Young.
15. American Honey (Andrea Arnold) – 7.5/10
We found love in a three-hour place.
16. The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne) – 7.5/10
Took two days, one night to fully sink in.
17. Room (Lenny Abrahamson) – 7.5/10
In the background, her anguish is evident to us, and we feel the combined psychological intricacies of both, as if we’ve been with them all the way.
18. Louder than Bombs (Joachim Trier) – 7.5/10
With a title name-checking The Smiths, Louder than Bombs has a touch of Morrissey to its balance of self-pity and cathartic humour.
19. The Here After (Magnus von Horn) – 7.5/10
Morally ambiguous and withholding finger-wagging judgements, the patient drama depicts a young boy eager to reintegrate with society, only to be told repeatedly – sometimes with a brick through the window – that he isn’t welcome back.
20. The Wailing (Na Hong Jin) – 7.5/10
Spent an hour on Reddit trying to understand the ending.
21. Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross) – 7.5/10
If a teenager is unfamiliar with Star Trek, is it a sign of progressive parenting or child abuse?
22. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi) – 7.5/10
“The mountains couldn’t hide us.”
23. The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn) – 7/10
Turn up the volume.
24. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg) – 7/10
Everything in 10 Cloverfield Lane returns to have some significance, from the title to odd bits of conversation, apart from – as far as I can tell, anyway – the missing jigsaw pieces. Nope, can’t see any significance there.
25. Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz) – 7/10
A dog movie where the pet obsession is death.
26. Hail, Caesar! (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen) – 7/10
With all-singing, all-dancing gusto, Hail, Caesar! is an explosive medley of the Coen brothers’ greatest hits: a madcap kidnapping, a cash-filled suitcase, genre pastiches, luckless losers, screwball one-liners, George Clooney with a dumb expression, and so on. It’s the filmmaking duo’s outright funniest since The Big Lebowski, but also deceptively light, sneaking in the notion of cinema as a worthy substitute for religion.
27. Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez) – 7/10
Decent premise, excellently executed. Skip the first 15 minutes if possible.
28. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) – 7/10
Hooray for Whit.
29. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols) – 7/10
Low on handholding exposition and high on beguiling weirdness.
30. Ethel & Ernest (Roger Mainwood) – 7/10
Add Timothy Spall and it’s a Mike Leigh film. Sort of.
31. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick) – 7/10
A game in which Malick holds all the cards.
32. Closet Monster (Stephen Dunn) – 7/10
On this occasion, the talking hamster is permissible.
33. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari) – 7/10
A welcome reminder that genre movies can be smart, political and still downright frightening.
34. Sunset Song (Terrence Davies) – 7/10
A ghost story that makes more sense when seen, heard, and lived, for its magnetic pull swoops over two hours, echoing in melodic pathos.
35. Café Society (Woody Allen) – 7/10
Eisenberg’s best characters are fixated with heartbreak. He’s dumped in the opening scene of both The Social Network and Adventureland, and perhaps what Batman V Superman lacked was Lex receiving the “it’s not you, it’s me” patter in a cold open.
36. The Pass (Ben A. Williams) – 7/10
“You think you’re Roberto fucking Carlos. Hit the target as much, too.”
37. The Daughter (Simon Stone) – 7/10
It’s not what the secret is, but why reveal it.
38. The Survivalist (Stephen Fingleton) – 7/10
39. Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle) – 7/10
Don’t call it jazz music – it’s social music.
40. The Son of Joseph (Eugène Green) – 7/10
“I need hope in order to live.”
41. Tickled (David Farrier, Dylan Reeve) – 7/10
Time to reconsider that career in competitive tickling.
42. Sing Street (John Carney) – 6.5/10
Makes up, just about, for the travesty that was Once.
43. Truman (Cesc Gay) – 6.5/10
Interesting coda: the director noted in the Q&A that the real dog died since they filmed it.
44. Weiner (Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) – 7/10
It felt topical when I watched it, and then…
45. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier) – 6.5/10
Dials it up to 6.5 – let’s not go overboard.
46. My Scientology Movie (John Dover) – 6.5/10
The hunter becomes the hunted.
47. Victoria (Sebastian Schipper) – 6.5/10
Take this cocaine – it’ll make you feel better.
48. Our Brand is Crisis (David Gordon Green) – 6.5/10
A Sandra Bullock comedy without the Sandra Bullock comedy tropes.
49. Truth (James Vanderbilt) – 6.5/10
#tbt to the time I interviewed Cate Blanchett.
50. The Martian (Ridley Scott) – 6.5/10
Please rescue me from this planet.
51. Summertime (Catherine Corsini) – 6.5/10
“A woman’s body is not a car.”
52. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven) – 6.5/10
“Let’s go get lemonade.”
53. I Am Not a Serial Killer (Billy O’Brien) – 6/10
Two bodies in a week? That’s money in the bag.
54. Hannibal Takes Edinburgh (Ryan Ferguson) – 6.5/10
“I really just wanna go home, listen to my sets, and watch Cougar Town.”
55. How to Be Single (Christian Ditter) – 6/10
Johnson’s character should really go it alone in terms of storytelling too.
56. The Witch (Robert Eggers) – 6/10
Time to reconsider the pet goat and those “convert to Satanism” self-help pamphlets.
57. After Love (Joachim Lafosse) – 6/10
A survival story.
58. Departure (Andrew Steggall) – 6/10
59. The Revenant (Alejandro Iñárritu) – 6/10
An ugly story told beautifully and repetitively, The Revenant is an endurance test that overwhelms the viewer in the uncompromising vastness of nature, the brutality of mankind, and frequent close-ups of Leonardo DiCaprio not wiping saliva from his beard.
60. The Club (Pablo Larraín) – 6/10
There’s cruel poetry in the strongest and laziest images, both involving dogs.
61. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) – 6/10
Starred Up from the bottom, and now we’re here. (Not sure what that means.)
62. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (Werner Herzog) – 6/10
Watched it while sat behind Werner. (No need to mention that.)
63. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) – 6/10
A close encounter of a different kind.
64. Dirty Grandpa (Dan Mazer) – 6/10
If it was Tim Heidecker or Andy Kaufman, not Robert De Niro, it would have been applauded.
65. The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau) – 6/10
“I could get used to this” – Bob Odenkirk.
66. Ghostbusters (Paul Feig) – 5.5/10
When attention turns to a third-act invasion of CGI ghosts, there’s something strained in the neighbourhood.
67. Men and Chicken (Anders Thomas Jensen) – 5.5/10
Come for arthouse actors participating in bestiality and slapstick; stay for the exploration of science’s manipulative role in evolution.
68. Bleed for This (Ben Younger) – 5.5/10
The key to boxing movies: don’t be a boxing movie.
69. Your Name (Makoto Shinkai) – 5/10
More oversentimental than truly cosmic.
70. Nerve (Henry Joosy, Ariel Schulman) – 5/10
In a Periscope-ish game called Nerve, there are Players and Watchers, with the former vying for the attention of the latter. Vee (Roberts) is a natural Watcher plunging into the arena as a Player, taking dares along with convenient stranger, Ian (Franco). For a while, it’s kinda fun; tasks range from minor embarrassments to motorbiking blindfolded at breakneck speed (although you know no necks will actually break). Then when it runs out of steam around the midpoint, an absurd twist kicks in, along with some heavy-handed moralising to drag proceedings along. Well, there is a laugh-out-loud sight gag involving To the Lighthouse.
71. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino) – 5/10
Saw this on 70mm. I think I know Quentin’s email password.
72. The Hunt for the WIlderpeople (Taika Waititi) – 5/10
“Trees, birds, rivers, sky / Running with my uncle / Living forever”
73. Zootropolis (Bryon Howard, Rich Moore) – 5/10
It’s Zootopia in the US, Zootropolis in the UK. For me, it’s a bit Zoo-whatever.
74. Valley of Love (Guillaume Nicloux) – 5/10
It didn’t grab me by the wrist, but I can still hear the cries.
75. Nasty Baby (Sebastián Silva) – 5/10
At best, it’s the freewheeling comedy of Crystal Fairy, and at worse it’s Magic Magic.
76. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien) – 5/10
A bit like staring at the Mona Lisa for too long and expecting it to talk.
77. Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari) – 5/10
It’s funny at first, but the satire of masculinity sags when the surging claustrophobia is overshadowed by repetition.
78. Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller) – 5/10
A slam dunk that misses the basket.
79. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Jake Szymanski) – 5/10
“I thought you were Michelle Pfeiffer from Dangerous Minds, but you’re Michelle Pfeiffer from Scarface – and you didn’t even say hello to my little friend.”
80. February (Oz Perkins) – 5/10
There’s the Seinfeld curse, but what about the Mad Men curse? To be fair, February – aka The Blackcoat’s Daguhter – has some merit in its sense of impending doom and cyclical story structure. But there’s little substance in the otherwise gorgeously lit shadows.
81. Trumbo (Jay Roach) – 5/10
The defining moment: when Trumbo is told, “Do you have to say everything as if it’s chiselled into a rock?”
82. Couple in a Hole (Tom Geens) – 5/10
Doesn’t go anywhere. I know that’s the point, but…
83. Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton) – 5/10
A bit like Lion (which is even worse).
84.Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone) – 4.5/10
Their songs are under three minutes for a reason.
85. Evolution (Lucile Hadžihalilović) – 5/10
Not for me – found it to be an experiment gone awry.
86. A United Kingdom (Amma Asante) – 4.5/10
Final credits allude to extra dimensions not included in the film.
87. Keanu (Peter Atencio) – 4.5/10
88. Captain America: Civil War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo) – 4.5/10
The focus point is whether these superheroes need government control. They’re multiplying in numbers and causing more damage as the time passes. Sounds a bit like the genre – should someone step in to stop them?
89. Joy (David O. Russell) – 4/10
Joy from Room > Joy from Inside Out > Joy from Joy. A gigantic mess begging for puns involving how much it needs a miracle, a mop, some joy, and more than its four credited editors.
90. The Greasy Strangler (Jim Hosking) – 4.5/10
More boring than shocking.
91. The Big Short (Adam McKay) – 4/10
As funny as Anchorman (ie not at all) and a bit smarter (not hard), McKay’s Buzzfeed movie dumbs down concepts like “bespoke opportunity tranches”, “collateralised debt obligations” and “Steve Carell in dramatic role”.
92. Money Monster (Jodie Foster) – 4/10
The medium short.
93. The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper) – 4/10
A human story told without any humanity.
94. Concussion (Peter Landesman) – 4/10
You know how foreign films get remade by Hollywood for audiences who don’t want to read subtitles? Concussion is for those who can’t be bothered to read the original magazine article.
95. Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (Eva Husson) – 4/10
Naked teens carry their iPhones by hand because they’ve got no pockets.
96. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (David Yates) – 4/10
In a Cronenbergian slice of body horror, Colin Farrell’s face melts off to reveal a horrendous haircut – and Johnny Depp underneath. That means Farrell, all this time, was really Depp in disguise. Furthermore, his true identity, it turns out, is Gellert Grindelward, a fascist wizard mentioned in JK Rowling’s books. Think about it. For the whole film, the Harry Potter version of Hitler has been chasing Eddie Redmayne around in a police outfit. With Depp channelling Mortdecai for the role, let’s hope the Russian doll twist delivers a new actor for the sequels.
97. Grimsby (Louis Leterrier) – 4/10
The end credits sting has more laughs (one) than the entirety of The Dictator. So that’s something. Compared to Ali G and Borat, Nobby really isn’t much of a character, and Cohen’s own press tour was open about the lack of spark when not interacting with the public. The jokes are just about cruel to provoke interest – not quite a smirk, though.
98. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder) – 4/10
99. Sully (Clint Eastwood) – 4/10
Everyone’s calling it economical because it’s 90 minutes. Strange, considering it’s a 20-minute incident stretched out.
100. War Dogs (Todd Phillips) – 3.5/10
A comedy without any jokes, apart from confusing the Lacoste symbol for an alligator.
101. The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra) – 3.5/10
A boring build-up of backstory that’s lopsided towards the human component (is the shark’s family life revealed on the DVD extras?) takes up the shallow film’s first half, meaning the real meat doesn’t come until 40 minutes from the end. And from there, it’s a major let down: even though it’s all horrible CGI, the drunk dude’s death is kept off-screen as if it’d be bad taste. What the hell is this film?
102. Now You See Me 2 (Jon M. Chu) – 3.5/10
Daniel Radcliffe has never been worse.
103. Goosebumps (Rob Letterman) – 3/10
If you missed Pixels…
104. David Brent: Life on the Road (Ricky Gervais) – 3/10
“The problem is he explains every single lyric,” someone complains in a film in which Ricky Gervais explain every single joke.
105. Warcraft: The Beginning (Duncan Jones) – 3/10
The subtitle doubles as a threat.
106. Suicide Squad (David Ayer) – 3/10
Minutes after negative reviews flooded the internet, Ayer responded on Twitter with a Zapata quote – he had to explain it because no one understood what he meant.
107. Zoolander 2 (Ben Stiller) – 2.5/10
An Adam Sandler comedy at least have some sense the cast are having fun or are defiant in their humour. This creaky sequel is disjointed in its flow, with hints of embarrassment in the actors’ faces, as if they’ve signed up purely to stay relevant or repay a verbal promise to Stiller. Like Derek, the film’s humour is past its sell-by date and destined for the DVD bin at a charity shop.
108. Deadpool (Tim Miller) – 2.5/10
Michael Scott made a movie?
109. Special Correspondents (Ricky Gervais) – 2.5/10
In The Office and Extras, there was an autobiographical link between where Gervais was with his career; any surprise his latest project is about a guy (literally at one point) phoning it in?
110. Lights Out (David Sandberg) – 2/10
Sandberg’s morally irresponsible horror repeatedly tells us the monster is a metaphor for the grandmother’s clinical depression – it killed her husband, and the daughter is next. So, in the final minutes, the mentally unwell woman saves the day by shooting herself in the head. Teresa Palmer tearfully hugs her boyfriend (a knock-off Matthew McConaughey), and the suicide is unironically treated as a happy ending. Tasteless and clichéd, it’s the anti-Babadook.
There are a several 2017 releases that would have made this year’s top 10 like Toni Erdmann, Moonlight, Nocturama, Scarred Hearts, Personal Shopper and Manchester by the Sea. But they must wait. Life can only get better. Take care.