By: Muneeb Arshid
Here we go… finally with my own Top 10 + a few honourable mentions from the year that was in 2016. When compared to 2015, 2016 was a very up and down year when it came to films. All the way through the summer, it felt as if the year would be quite terrible but by the time summer ended and the quality films started to release in theatres, 2016 had finally redeemed itself.
There was definitely a lot more hype with the Oscar season films than there was in 2015, where the awards-calibre films were quite understated and just didn’t feel like they got the publicity that they required.
So, let’s get on with the list starting with, of course, #10:
Now, unlike my colleague Samar Khan, I’m not able to catch all of the major Bollywood releases each week, but when I do, I end up watching some of the better quality films from India. Alongside Kapoor & Sons, Pink was my favourite and one of my more important films of the year. Starring legend Amitabh Bachchan, Pink is the courtroom procedural drama about three women who are sexually assaulted and where Bachchan’s retired lawyer is convinced to come out of his retirement to fight this case.
This film is important because of the subject material but also because of its context. Indian society is not very open to topics surrounding sexual assault and rape and for a movie to come out and be such a monumental success shows why this film is even more important in that part of the world than say in the Western World. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement, as the topic of consent and sexual assault should be a topic everywhere but in a very enclosed society, Pink does a wonderful trying to use its power to battle this systematic problem in India.
9) Sing Street
Ahhh, what a delight, what an absolute delight Sing Street was. A film that came out earlier this year and disappointingly did not feature in the Oscars nominations (seriously!), Sing Street is the coming out film of the year. Centred around the main character Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), he struggles to transition from a private school to a public, Catholic school when his family comes under dire circumstances. Conor has a passion for music which he pursues as an antidote from school-life but also to impress a girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and to show that he can make something of himself and maybe get on with this girl that Conor fancies.
A film about self-determination, of finding one’s self in society but also finding how one fits at such a crucial time in a teenager’s life. A wonderful story with great characters and performances and bloody good songs that should have been recognized by the Academy (“Drive it Like you Stole It”).
The animation that will probably win the Oscar at the end of the month is definitely one Disney’s strongest films. A societal study about inclusion and diversity using predators and prey living in this fictional city of Zootopia or Zootropolis. Yes, this is an animation and it’s for kids, which it is, but the film does a great job of using the material to teach and maybe even remind kids and adults about what it means to be included as an equal in society.
One of the funniest films of the year and two great performances by Kate Beckinsale and the comedic performance of the year by Tom Bennett. An adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, Love & Friendship is a beautiful, “dramedy” (I hate that word) about Lady Susan who is trying to find a suitor for her daughter while at the same time possibly entangling herself with a younger man, a man who could very easily be the suitor for her daughter. Instead of being all serious like some of Austen’s other work, Love & Friendship lends itself to integrate the comedy within the story in a way which feels natural and important to the plot. And, OH YEAH, Tom Bennett is a genius, an absolute comedic genius!
A modern Western in every sense. Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers who are fighting modern-day poverty by robbing banks in very low-key Texan towns. The film takes a very simple and much-used type of genre and adds the second layer of modern-day politics and societal issues as the motivation for the actions of the characters. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the two brothers, the former being the low-key thoughtful one, while Foster is the brash, emotional, reactive brother who tends to take things far too extreme. Definitely one of my favourite films of the year and a very deserving Oscar nomination for Jeff Bridges as the Sheriff who has to deal with these brothers in his final case before he retires, a case that may leave him questioning his entire career.
Now, we never reviewed 13th for the website, mostly because I wasn’t able to get to the film until a couple weeks ago. Which is totally a shame because what Ava DuVernay has done in her follow-up feature to Selma is focus on one aspect of the US Constitution (the 13th Amendment) and look at how we, or the American government, has manipulated and used its loophole and essentially institutionalized slavery in the prison system. A harrowing, yet quite bipartisan look at what has become of the prison system in the US, a system that has largest prison population in the world. Oh, and Newt Gingrich is featured as one of the talking heads just to show that DeVernay hasn’t simply focused on the view of the political left, but also the defenders of the prison system as well.
It’s very hard to describe Moonlight and any of the next three films without completely waxing lyrical of the films. For me, Moonlight should probably be the one that wins the Best Picture from a technical and written point of view even though it is not my #1 favourite film of the year, all four of these films sure are damn close. Moonlight‘s strongest point is how efficiently it is able to tell its story about our main character Chiron focusing on three points in his life. Director Barry Jenkins focuses rather on showing what is going than explaining and it is done marvelously. Had it not been for the rising tide of La La Land, Moonlight should definitely be the film leading the charge for that Best Picture Oscar.
One of the smartest, and most gorgeous looking films all year coming from the visual maestro Denis Villeneuve. Arrival looks at how we, as a human species, may deal with an unknown Alien species that arrives on Earth in these scary looking pods things all around the world. Amy Adams is wonderful as the stoic linguistic expert who is in charge of figuring out the Alien language and ultimately communicating and finding out why the Aliens are here. As my colleague Samar Khan said in his review, the ending of the film seemed slightly with a certain “mushy” bit that made the need to wrap up that storyline between Adams and Jeremy Renner’s character unnecessary but I can understand where Villeneuve was coming from in terms of writing that bit in at the end. Definitely looking forward to what Villeneuve can do with Blade Runner 2049 next year after his work on Prisoners and specifically Sicario.
The one perfect film of the year and it still doesn’t make it as my number 1 favourite film of the year. That should tell you how much fun I had with the film below. However, Manchester by the Sea is a damn excellent film with, let’s be honest, the Oscar-winning performance by Casey Affleck, playing the emotional, stoic and understated Lee Chandler who is tasked with adopting his nephew after his brother dies, a situation that neither wants but must deal with for the betterment of both their lives, however much they may not believe so. An emotional film but one that really makes you connect with the characters and how this type of situation may befall on anyone in a variety of different ways and how they would have to deal with it. Oh, and did I say this film was really funny? Well, it is, which is where it will smoke your emotional sense from one extreme to another and do it very effectively.
1) La La Land
Finally, the film that a lot of people will have on their Top 10 lists as the #1. La La Land is the next feature from Damien Chazelle and what a masterpiece it is. A genre that seemingly has lost its way, has definitely found its way again with the director of my favourite film of 2014, Whiplash, at the helm. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have such great chemistry together and are absolutely perfect in their roles as the aspiring actress and pianist respectively and the story works with their characters and revolves around them rather than the characters being stuck in for the plot. What other musicals have done recently is just have the music there for the sake of it being a musical. However, Chazelle’s genius is to incorporate the musical portion of the film as part of the narrative giving it heft and a sense that it is important to the story, which it is! Oh, and the ending of this film, my oh my! If you were having a hard time with the rest of the film, the ending will absolutely cement as to why this film was even made. It is by far the best ending of a film this year, something that is very hard to do… nailing the third act perfectly!
A Monster Calls
The Edge of Seventeen