Top Ten Films of 2016

2016... where to begin. Well, aside from the general awful news we've enjoyed from countless political decisions made, losing some absolute cultural icons and personal heroes (I cried for three days post-Bowie), it's been, well... a really weird year.

Perhaps you'll be surprised by my top ten, and not quite know how to put a finger on it. Unlike previous years, it isn't largely made up of bubbly films with themes of enlightenment and love taking centre stage. Smaller, more indie films still win out in my heart, but this year the list mirrors a change for me personally.

These films empower. They inspire. They hold up a mirror to the darkness, confusion and fear that can exist for some, and say 'hey actually it isn't so bad, we can survive this'. And as I go into 2017, I'm stronger than ever, I'm happier than I've been for a long time (years, even). I've grown up. Film is a huge factor in my life and one that I hold close to my heart. Art is life, it makes me tick. It's important. The below films have been an education and a candle in the darkness.

So watch them. Let me know what you think. And happy new year. Here's to another year of great film.

10. Up for Love

Up for Love, the French-language rom-com by writer/ director Laurent Tirard (Moliere), is a real gem for cinefiles who like a bit of French romance in their lives. The film offers a fresh, joyful sense of humour and is a comedy with real heart. Quirky and romantic, it was my feel-good film of the summer for sure.

Diane, a brilliant and beautiful lawyer, gets a phone call from the mysterious Alexandre (Jean Dujardin, THAT guy from The Artist), who has found her lost mobile and wishes to meet up to return it. Courteous, funny, and effortlessly charming, he soon wins Diane over... and before she knows it, she’s agreed to a date. But their first meeting is not quite what either of them expected, as Alexandre, although handsome and the very definition of charismatic, is 4 foot 7 in height. Will Diane be able to push her superficial first impressions aside in the face of true love? Up for Love takes you on a journey which is both funny and poignant, as we ourselves face up to the question; how superficial are we? Would we turn love away?


9. Tallulah

Tallulah, the feature debut from Orange is the New Black writer Sian Heder, is what Netflix-financed movies should be about; an entertaining and slow-burning film with real heart. Ellen Page takes on the title character of Tallulah, who lives in a cluttered van with her boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit). Travelling the country on his mother’s credit cards, they spend their days stealing, drinking and scrounging for leftover food. When Nico walks out after an argument, Tallulah heads to New York City to track him down. There, a mix-up sees her unexpectedly babysitting for a rich, alcoholic mother (Tammy Blanchard). While said mother is out on a date, Tallulah “rescues” the baby, but finds she has no idea how to take care of it. With nowhere else to turn, she doorstops Nico’s mother Margo (Allison Janney), introducing the child as hers – and claiming the absent Nico is the father. The scenes in which Page and Janney get to bounce off of each other are the real joy here. Two amazing actresses in a female-led story which is really about becoming who you need to be in order to move on. A brave and strangely uplifting black comedy.


8. Nocturnal Animals

How does Tom Ford do it? The most hardworking fashion designer/ creative director and influencer dipped his toe into the film world with award-winning A Single Man, and returns to the screen with the even bolder Nocturnal Animals.

Amy Adams is Susan Morrow, a disillusioned art dealer living in a glass-cage modernist LA house with her husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer). Financially, the couple are faltering; emotionally, they are falling apart. Out of the blue, Susan receives a package – a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), which promptly gives her a paper cut, significantly drawing blood. A sensitive soul whom Susan apparently abandoned in “horrible” circumstances, Edward used to call his wife a “nocturnal animal”. Now that sobriquet has become the title of his as-yet-unpublished novel, which he has dedicated to her: a visceral, anguished tale (“it’s violent and it’s sad”) of brutal assault and ugly revenge in which a family are run off the road by rednecks in rural west Texas, with horrifying results. It's seductive, powerful, dark and enraging. It's beautiful.


7. Paterson

Every time Jim Jarmusch releases a film, it makes its way into my top ten. In Paterson, Adam Driver plays a bus driver and unpublished poet called Paterson, who works in Paterson, New Jersey, musingly listening to snatches of his passengers’ conversation on his bus and writing verse on his lunch-break. For Paterson, his poems are just a part of his life, like doing his work, loving his city and loving his life: they do not stand apart from life, transforming it or presenting themselves as brilliant artifacts which will make him rich and famous. It's a gorgeous film that everyone should see.


6. Hello, my name is Doris

Sally Fields plays introverted Doris, a New-Yorker in her 60s, with an eclectic fashion sense (she dutifully puts of her wig and cats eye glasses after working out) who spends her weekdays data-crunching for a glossy e-commerce fashion company after she was inherited in a takeover. She lives alone in her mother's old house on *gasp* Staten Island. "She actually, like, has to take a boat to work," one of her colleagues points out. She's an enigma, a hoarder, a happy-go-lucky but quietly layered character. Cue the entrance of John (Max Greenfield), the 30 year old new art director from LA, all tan and sparkling smile. After a brief and hilarious meet-cute in the lift, Doris is smitten.

There is more than meets to eye to both Doris and this film. There is a general preposition in the world of cinema to brush aside a playful comedy. Hello, My Name is Doris is a cute, smart indie yes, but Fields gives Doris such warmth, such sincerity, that it's impossible to ignore the brevity of the role.


5. Hell or High Water

From David Mackenzie, the director of the gritty but brilliant prison-movie, Starred Up, comes the modern day Western Hell or High Water. Following years of struggling on the poverty line, Texan Toby Howard (Chris Pine) has devised an elaborate plan to steal from the very banks that have driven his family into debt. Keen to pay off his mother’s mortgage on her ranch and provide a better future for his estranged children, he enlists the help of other brother Tanner (Ben Foster). The small-town robberies attract the attention of Sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), who is about to retire but cannot resist solving one more case. As the robberies continue, the cat and mouse chase takes centre stage in this intelligent and stylish thriller. With long, languid shots of the the open Texan roads, framed with a sublime soundtrack curated by Nick Cave, this is the kind of film making that you just can’t shake off for a while; a slow burner that gets under the skin.


4. Arrival

A little (unknown) fact for you is that I work in the VFX industry. Why then, do CGI movies not populate my top ten? It's easier to keep them out completely and segregate my reviewing world with my 9-5 job. I know the teams who work on these amazing, complex and groundbreaking films, and they produce the best of the best work. When I get home, I like to kick off my shoes and take solace in human drama and intimate storytelling, and leave the CGI heavy stuff at the door. Never the twain shall meet. Well, that all got a bit complicated with Arrival.

Celebrated Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy), made the sci-fi movie of the year in my opinion. Linguist expert Dr Banks (a pitch-perfect Amy Adams) heads to work at the local university when a large mysterious object appears in the sky over Montana, one of 12 across the globe, catapulting the world into a frenzy. These floating ships, smooth-sided orbs 1,490 feet in height, were home to some very mysterious sounds. Banks finds herself integral to the US Army’s investigation into who these visitors are and what their purpose is; attempting to translate and decipher their unusual language and discover the meaning behind their sudden arrival. With the help of her new colleague, theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr Banks is working against the clock to secure the future of humanity. It's subtle, it's gutsy and it pulls you in ever so slowly. It's a must-see.


3. Neon Demon

I saw this movie with a great friend and someone whom I had first enjoyed a viewing of Drive  (another film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn) in a multiplex cinema one evening in New Jersey, where he lived. 'What was that?' We asked ourselves as we stumbled out of the screen. 'Where can we find more?'

Neon Deon is a return to the genius behind Winding Refn's look. The nostalgic yearning of us 20 somethings, the 80s aficionados, the lost. We're guided through a glamourous and treacherous landscape by an outsider, Jesse (a brilliant Elle Fanning), who moves to Los Angeles just after her 16th birthday to launch a career as a model. The head of her agency tells the innocent teen that she has the qualities to become a top star. Jesse soon faces the wrath of ruthless vixens who despise her fresh-faced beauty. So far, so good. We love high fashion and we love the cut-throat workings of LA. Mixed with hyper violence and a sensual soundtrack, we're hooked. It's Kill Bill for the instagram generation. What would you give up to make it big?


2. Kubo and the Two Strings

More people need to see this film. From Laika (the amazing studio who brought us Coraline and The Boxtrolls), this stop-motion animation is a masterclass in how to visually tell a story.

The story of Kubo (Art Parkinson), a boy with supernatural gifts who inadvertently summons vengeful spirits from his past, is set in a feudal Japan infused with enchantment. Kubo supports his ailing mother as a storyteller, his tales illustrated with bewitched origami figures that dance and act out the narratives he accompanies on a three-stringed lute. There is a lyrical quality to the writing, which is a refreshing alternative to the slapdash slang assault of many family films. One day Kubo ignores his mother’s warning and stays out at night, allowing his malevolent aunts to find him. Kabuki-masked, with long, witchy hair and voices loaded with snickering ill will, they look like escapees from any number of J-horror movies. Kubo stands out for its complexity, seductively dark themes and the extraordinary beauty of its animation.


1. Sing Street

Hearing that John Carney had a new film coming out, I was firstly excited, then a little apprehensive, but writer/ director Carney was dedicated to bringing his vision of a contemporary musical to life, and he has hit it on the third attempt. Sing Street is so marvellously joyous, you'll find it hard to not get up and dance in your seat. A sublime partnering of original score and nostalgic eighties tunes, this is a magical musical not to be missed.

Moving away from the modern day setting of his previous work, Carney turns sentimental in his nostalgia, setting the action in a bleak 1985 Dublin where times were hard on families needing work and the younger generation had their sights set on London. Our protagonist Conor (a wide-eyed newcomer on the indie film scene, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a sensitive outsider type kid, a victim of an unhappy and tense home life which sees the family needing to cut expenses by pulling Conor out of his posh Jesuit school and putting him in the state-run Christian Brothers school on Synge Street.

Within his first week of ducking the school bullies, getting penalised for wearing the wrong shoes, and learning that to survive here he really needs to keep his head down, Conor spots the girl of his dreams, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), sitting on the steps of her house opposite the school. An aspiring model, he thinks fast on his feet and asks her to be in his new music video. Now he actually has to start a rock band and write some music.

A must-see for fans of musical films, Sing Street is a pure treasure. Without really diving deep into the kitchen-sink drama of Conor's life, we are instead treated to the story of a boy in love with a girl not quite within reach, a tinge of melancholy to the romance of the piece.  The film is just so darn decent; each song rose to the occasion and people in the audience watching it with me gradually started to tap their feet along to the catchy tunes. Indeed, as the credits rolled, we all stood up, grinning at each other. We had just experienced a 'movie moment.' A feel-good story, the film was well executed with a nostalgic quality that still made us feel very present and that is why it hits the top spot. Fair play.