This Danish political drama was nominated for an Oscar, and was unlucky not to win. A study of the pressures faced by those on the front line, the film follows a military company in Afghanistan forced to make tough choices and then facing up to the consequences in the stark courtrooms back home.
Based on her own novel, Emma Donohue’s script for Room manages to squeeze as much hope and optimism as possible out of a grim set-up. Trapped in a confined space with a son who has been born in captivity, Joy (Brie Larson) tries her best to make their existence tolerable despite the horror of a routine dictated to them by their cruel captor. When the chance to escape arrives, the outside world proves to have as many pitfalls as their previous life. Larson won the Best Actress award at the Oscars, and was matched in every scene by youngster Jacob Tremblay.
Paolo Sorrentino is currently wowing audiences of the small screen with The Young Pope, a show we have raved on about for quite some time now, and 2016 also saw the release of this heartbreakingly astute look at the ageing process through the eyes of two unrepentant pensioners. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel star as best friends holidaying in an exclusive retreat in the Swiss Alps. The picturesque setting belies some of the ugliness just beneath the surface of everyday life, something of a running theme in all of the director’s work.
For my money, Youth is even better than the lauded The Great Beauty, boasting top-notch performances from the two leads as well as outstanding support from Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz and Paloma Faith!
Following Ryan Reynolds’ calamitous outings in superhero movies Wolverine: Origins and The Green Lantern, you would have thought the Canadian star would have had enough of spandex. Instead, not only did he return to the role of Wade Wilson in Deadpool, he managed to turn the comicbook genre on its head and made it exciting to watch again.
Last time out, opposite Hugh Jackman, Reynolds was hampered in the first Wolverine spin-off by literally having his mouth stitched up. Remember that Deadpool is a character best known for his wisecracks and devilishly insane sense of humour, and thankfully we got to see (and hear) him in all his filthy glory this time around. From the opening sequence, which perfectly captured the tone of the film, to the in-joke filled climax, Deadpool proved that there was life in the superhero genre yet… despite the best efforts of several other franchise films later in the year.
A remake (of sorts), this psychological drama follows a famous rock star (Tilda Swinton) who is vacationing in Italy with her younger boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) when their peace and quiet is interrupted by an old friend (Ralph Fiennes) and his flirtatious daughter (Dakota Johnson).
A Bigger Splash is a comedy that depends on a larger-than-life turn from Fiennes, and he gives it his all as the loutish Harry… a man who can’t help but put his foot in it and yet somehow remains the life and soul of every party. Possibly the film that will make you cringe more than any other this year.
When it was announced, shortly prior to its release, that this small three-hander would be a companion piece to JJ Abrams’ alien invasion thriller Cloverfield, fans were understandably excited to see more of the mass carnage and destruction they had previously seen.
Instead, this film is a brazen study in the horror that lies within, and John Goodman becomes the bogeyman of the piece, trapping Mary Elizabeth Winstead in his own prison. The flourishes towards the end, interweaving to link the film to the original movie, are the cherry on a frighteningly claustrophobic cake.
Another intimate film that deals with big themes, Eye In The Sky also lays claim to British acting legend Alan Rickman’s last on-screen performance. Just like the rest of the cast, the Die Hard star is on fine form here, playing a military general trapped in a room with dithering politicians discussing plans to launch a strike on international terrorists. I bet he would have preferred another night in Nakatomi Plaza with John McClane.
Having already built something of a strong track record with Once and Begin Again, director John Carney’s whimsical 80’s musical still managed to catch us off-guard thanks to its natural charm. Aided in no small part by the two young stars, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna, the Ireland-set film has been wowing audiences and critics in equal measure. For us though, its just a sweet-natured film with an outstanding soundtrack.
If there was a more duplicitous character put on screen this year than Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan, then we have yet to see it, for the devilish intent with which the Underworld star delivered the most withering put-downs imaginable was a sight to behold.
Based on a short Jane Austen story, Whit Stallman’s take on the period drama genre does away with stuffy corridors and flowery language, instead giving us the most modern of women to admire.
A buddy-cop genre movie with old-school intent, Shane Black’s script is as much of a star of the film as leads Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. That’s not to say that the actors are weak, in fact this might be Crowe’s best performance in years, clearly relishing the chance to get his teeth into some juicy dialogue. Gosling annoyingly retains the aura of unsurpassable cool –despite sporting a ludicrous moustache.
We’ve long been a fan of Logan Lerman, an actor often dismissed as a teen heartthrob and nothing else, but who has consistently turned in stellar performances the belie his age. Here he is tasked with juggling the traumas of a coming-of-age drama with fast-paced dialogue so dizzying that it will leave you breathless. It’s a shame that the film, and lead performance, are being overlooked in the awards race, because for our many, Lerman deserves to be right in the mix.
It’s not been the best run of form in recent years for Spain’s wunderkind Pedro Almodovar. The director previously turned in the laughably weak I’m So Excited, and it was with notable preparation that cinema-goers awaited this heartfelt drama about a mother coming to terms with the loss of her youth and of her daughter. The resulting film is the director’s best in years. The pulpy excess of his last few films is kept in check, and instead a wonderfully involving story is allowed to evolve. It’s great to have you back, Pedro.
Boasting the most Jeff Bridges character ever put on screen and a plot that unassumingly takes a hefty swipe at modern America and the ongoing financial crisis as well as its after-effects, British director David MacKenzie’s film is a summer release that might have the legs to trouble traditional Oscar-bait. The cast are all wonderfully committed to the material and the lingering silences in the finale manage to speak volumes about what we have just seen.
An unconventional road-trip movie, Taika Waiti follows up his fantastical comedy What We Do In The Shadows with a film that captures the beauty as well as the harsh realities of life in rural New Zealand. Newcomer Julian Dennison more than holds his own against veteran Sam Neill, but there isn’t a hint of competition between the pair. This is a duo working in perfect harmony to great effect. Waiti maintains the humour and wit of his previous films, which makes it all the more intriguing to learn that his next film will be the the third instalment in Marvel’s Thor franchise.
Probably the most ‘blockbuster-y’ film in our list, Peter Berg’s exhilarating take on a real-life oil rig disaster shouldn’t really work. It’s stacked with scene upon seen of flag-waving jingoism, the actors all look like they are stepping off a Republican Party commercial and the story appears to be weighed down by the trappings of its non-fiction background. Mark Wahlberg is a dependable pair of hands when it comes to this sort of material, having paired up on the equally sweat-inducing Lone Survivor with the director, and they come up trumps once again. There isn’t a minute of wasted action on screen, and for this genre, that in itself is a massive positive.
When we spoke to Daniel Radcliffe earlier in the year about taking on the challenging role of a farting corpse in this dark comedy, he spoke about how it was his most difficult role to date. Oh yeah, in case you missed it, that’s exactly who the Harry Potter star portrays in Swiss Army Man; a flatulent dead man washed up on a deserted beach.
Paul Dano plays the mentally unhinged Hank, a man desperate to get back to civilisation with only the remains of a decomposing corpse for company. The joy of Swiss Army Man comes from the physicality of Radcliffe’s performance and the restraint of Dano’s.
The best horror film of 2016 might not be the most difficult accolade to win given how poor the rest of the output from the criminally underserved genre was, but this British produced chiller set in war torn Iran would be a standout in any year. The performances have been winning awards since the film was released, and director Babak Anvari told us just what it took to make the film under extreme circumstances.
A great companion piece to The Nice Guys, this modern cop movie saw two foul-mouthed partners go on a violent rampage, all in the name of justice. When we spoke to John Michael McDonagh, we found out that the intention was to make a comedy that was as hard as the leading men. There is little left to the imagination, but when the humour comes through it is a riot. Both Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård are clearly having the time of their lives too.
Amy Adams ended 2016 on a high (see below) and this Tom Ford follow-up to his Oscar-nominated debut A Single Man is arguably better than his previous hit.
Telling the tale of a disenchanted gallery owner (Adams) whose life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a manuscript from her ex-husband, the film unfolds over three distinct timelines. The haunting beauty of the visuals is matched by the nightmarish realities the central character confronts when dealing with ghosts from her past.
We thought the big sci-fi hit of the year would be Rogue One, but it was the heart and brains of Denis Villeneuve’s alien invasion drama that won us over in the end.
Amy Adams once again got to show off her most intense looks, with Jeremy Renner trading in all his previous experience with the award-winning actress to provide able support.
Villeneuve can expect to have an equally powerful impact on the cinematic landscape in 2017, when his sequel to Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner is released, but for now, you should check out Arrival for a perfectly crafted slice of science fiction.
For a look at the best films released Stateside, check out Graham Fuller’s take on the best films released in 2016.