Top 10 Films of 2016 - Part 2: 5 to 1

Part 1 of our countdown can be found HERE.

5. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS 
(d. Tom Ford)

Tom Ford’s sophomore film is a multi-layered, time-hopping thriller that can be read (quite literally) on multiple levels. It’s an easily spoilt film, so I’ll be brief in the synopsis.

Amy Adams takes charge as a successful art curator who receives a manuscript for a book from her ex-husband which turns out to be more than a pulp novella. Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson do great work as support in the various strands as the mystery of the book unfolds in unexpected manners.

Nocturnal Animals is expectedly as beautiful as A Single Man, Ford's debut, and finely tuned film of several genres, wrapped up in a deceptively simple adult story of the highest command.

4. VICTORIA 
(d. Sebastian Schipper)

German production Victoria has the gimmick that it was filmed in one continuous take.

Where Alejandro González Iñárritu promised that his Academy Award Winner Birdman did the same (it didn’t, it was digitally spliced), at least director/actor, Sebastian Schipper made good on his word.  Clocking in at 140 minutes is no mean feat for a seamless film, where friendships are slowly made and stakes are continuously raised to fever pitch by the end.

The titular character (played brilliantly by Spanish actress, Laia Costa) follows a compelling tale of loneliness through the streets of late-night Berlin, accompanied by some lovable rogues (of which Frederick Lau as Sonne should get far more recognition) from clubs to subs.

Victoria has had some derision aimed at it for the lack of plausibility in its plotting, but in a year full of superheroes flying around and aliens creating wanton destruction, it’s the least of its issues. Victoria is a hero; representing innocence, the pleasures of solitude and the fragility of the constructs of daily life. I was pleased to see how friendships were organically forged and not forced. The naturalistic slow acquainting of Victoria and her companions may have been too much for some, but as a case study in bonding and social interaction, I found it utterly realistic and refreshing.

The one-take headline isn’t so much gimmicky but a testament to Schipper’s gauntlet, thrown down by others and taken up with resounding success here. There are no fancy camera angles in Victoria, but it’s easy to lose sight of the technical achievements of a film which never feels stilted nor amateur – this 140 minutes of live action film is astounding, gripping and convincing.

Did I mention Nils Frahm, Berlin’s techno wunderkind, did all the music?  

Victoria is a thumping win all round.

3. SING STREET 
(d. John Carney)

A love letter to everything 80s and unashamedly rote in its plotting, John Carney’s latest music-based feature is a back to basics excursion from his previous ‘difficult’ Hollywood endeavour, Begin Again.

A simple story of a working class lad from Dublin aspiring to congregate a pop band from fellow teens on his estate, whilst hoping for superstardom and falling in love with the tearaway girl of his dreams. The soundtrack is a mix of pop hits of the era and original compositions by Gary Clark of the band Relish, along with an Adam Levine (of Maroon 5) and Glen Hansard showstopper as the film sprints towards its finish.

It’s romantically lightweight in places and, sure, slightly whimsical in its dreamy outlook, but Sing Street is knowing in every move it makes. Carney’s return to form by drilling back to his roots in Ireland is a wise step and the casting is authentically Irish (Game of Thrones alumni, Aiden Gillen and rising star, Jack Reynor) to let its follies be. There’s even a fairly competent kitchen-sink drama thrown in for good measure, whilst never devouring the central plot, bubbles under the surface enough to thicken up what could have been throwaway fare.

As per the title, I came out of this merrily singing down the street with some 80s childhood dreams lived out vicariously on screen.

2. THE WITCH
(d. Robert Eggers)

Robert Eggers’ debut directorial film is either a Richard Kelly-like fluke, or a taste of great things to come.

Set in 17th century New England, the story of an isolated family who toil their way through the grimness of the New World in a pared down, cold and shadowy existence. When matters start running awry, the finger is pointed at the eldest girl to whom her parents (a troubled Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson – (Finchy from The Office UK)) believe is dabbling in the occult. Their daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy) is none the wiser and soon falls victim to their increasing paranoia.

There’s plenty to savour in The Witch, including the insistence of using the dialect of the era which settles into a natural rhythm after the first few minutes, none of which is difficult to decipher, and keeps you on your toes throughout, ultimately being as rewarding as if you’ve decoded Shakespearean verse sans the aid of Wikipedia.

Anya Taylor-Joy’s American descent is untraceable, donning a convincing English accent along with a meek-minded confusion as to what is going on, leaving me continually guessing as to whether she was a victim or perpetrator. When The Witch was mass marketed, commercial audiences were led into the expectation of a jump-scare all-out horror a la Ouija, Sinister, et al - The Witch could not be further than these cheap pretenders, taking time to scale its characters and get the fear-factor from impending doom, stealthily creeping up the edges of the narrative.

I won’t spoil the kicker, but The Witch has all the makings of a future cult-classic, if only for its final scene (of which left me wanting so much more, though I’m glad it didn’t deliver) and the best animal performance of the year in Black Phillip – a moody old goat.

FilmSeekers Film of the Year 2016

MUSTANG 

(d. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

Turkey’s answer to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides makes a play for defining femininity in the modern age, maintaining an old world charm of rural idylls and traditions. Following the lives of five orphaned sisters, the transition of girl to woman is an emotionally wrought one, as each sister is picked off by expectation and protocol of their guardians.

Having recently viewed Coppola’s equally tragic film, Mustang diverts itself by substituting Christianity for Islam in compelling manner, leaving an endgame tinged with less tragedy, but in its place, sledgehammer pathos. It is a self-perpetuating narrative that drives and won’t stop for anyone willing it halt, ultimately leaving its audience as devastated as its characters.

Mustang isn’t a cheerful journey, but it’s an all-too timely reminder that the decisions we make in the youth of our lives can be taken for granted. I was left a wreck by its conclusion; such is the power of a masterfully crafted film and why it comes out as film of the year.

Honorable mentions to films which missed the grade by a hair's breadth: I, Daniel Blake, A Bigger Splash, Ghostbusters 2016, The Neon Demon, The Survivalist, Swiss Army Man, Julieta, Deadpool, Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, The Invitation, Kubo and the Two Strings, Evolution, Tale Of Tales, Love & Friendship, Dheepan, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hell Or High Water.

Our special preview of 2017's films will be up in the first week of January, and in the meantime, why not like FilmSeekers on Facebook by clicking here

 



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Neil Ramjee

Head honcho of FilmSeekers.
Film Reviewer.
Condiment Enthusiast.

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