My Top Films of 2016
5th January 2016
Dilly-dallying for longer than usual this year, I've finally got the finger out and wrote this.
2016, a year filled with death and hatred. Suddenly extra meanings were found in every film that made it immediately more prescient and meaningful. It was hard not to draw the parallels even if they were unlikely to be intended.
Quick music tangent. Although my ear-holes were dominated by Hamilton songs this year, some movie soundtracks also invaded. I was lukewarm on Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping but its accompanying album is a masterpiece of comically taking oneself too seriously. Disney's Moana employed the writer of Hamilton and proceeded to produce it's own earworms, even featuring a Jermaine Clement-sung ditty. My favourite film with songs (since musical is a contentious term) will make an appearance later on.
As with every year, there are a few films that only just miss out on a top ten spot and so at least deserve a mention. Deadpool was one which was great fun and a massive hit, initially I was wary of its origin story shackles but it's grown on me. Back at the year beginning was Spotlight which made photocopying palm-sweatingly tense before sweeping up the Best Picture Oscar. Creed rebooted and refreshed an old franchise and still hit all the right spots. Eddie the Eagle was one of the feel good movies of the year by being Cool Runnings for ski-jumping. Some Avatar-level CGI made The Jungle Book a visual feast whilst also having the Christopher Walken-voiced giant orangutan croon and smash up an Indian temple.
Anybody think it's about time I warbled on about the actual top 10 that you're here to quickly skim down and disagree with? Sweet.
10. The Big Short
With such complex subject matter full of over-complicated acronyms it's a miracle that I emerged half-understanding the financial crisis. Fourth-wall-breaking cameos came to deliver exposition which broke down unwieldy buzzwords whilst the main cast came to terms with the impending economic doom. A welcome sense of levity was woven throughout and is partly why it worked so well with people. The humour kept attention spans intact enough to be educated. Schools, take note. I mean with the making learning fun stuff, not necessarily the Margot Robbie in a bathtub stuff...or do I?The Embarr Little Review of The Big Short
9. Swiss Army Man
Some films come along and put things on screen you can honestly say you've never seen before but so few do it with the charm of Swiss Army Man. It is completely ludicrous that I'm calling a film with a directional erection lovely but I am. It's also gross, creepy, life-affirming and madly creative. I don't think the whole film works but it's really stuck with me since watching.
8. Hail, Caesar!
A frivolous series of vignettes set in old Hollywood loosely strung together as a day in the life of Josh Brolin's exec. The sight of Channing Tatum tap dancing or Scarlett Johannsson mermaid-ing should be enough to make this deliciously frothy and memorable. It's a fantastic delight of a film as the Coens tackle all of the throwback film types with wit and glee. "Would that it were so simple", a line that will stick with anyone who's watched it.The Embarr Little Review of Hail, Caesar!
Being stuck in the titular room for most of the movie provided the ideal platform for us to focus on the striking performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, although the latter was ignored come the Oscars. A tough watch but essential. It can wreck your nerves, tug on your tear ducts and even raise a smile of relief.The Embarr Little Review of Room
6. Captain America: Civil War
They've fought bad guys plenty already so they may as well fight each other now. A slightly reductive summation but one that was thrown about quite a lot before this came out. Captain America vs Iron Man. We needed to believe their reasons for scrapping with one another, that it was a last resort and not just cynically for marketing. This resulted in a year-high fight sequence at an airport where each side had to pull their punches whilst colliding with friends. It had the spectacle, smarts, humour and a subversive third act that earns it a place here when the odds were against it working.The Embarr Little Review of Captain America: Civil War
5. The Hateful Eight
Monsieur Tarantino returned with ancient film lenses to capture a highly strung chamber drama. That turned out to be a winning formula as it stretches the The Thing's blood-testing scene into a full movie. Has a wicked tongue and is gorgeous to witness, it was one of my favourite cinematic experiences this year. Everything is allowed to breathe and permeate. Save for one or two unsavoury elements, it all worked for me.The Embarr Little Review of The Hateful Eight
4. Sing Street
I was pretty eager to see Sing Street, a film about young lads in Dublin forming a band where the frontman's just trying to get a girl with songs. So eager that I went over the Glasgow Film Festival to see it ASAP. Yes, I loved it. It feels true enough to the Irish kid in the 80's element as well as to the universal idea of doing something with friends. The songs and music videos themselves are catchy, integral and stand out as showstoppers. Our protagonist's relationship with his older brother is the real heart of the movie as the elder takes on a mentor role to prevent our lead from making his mistakes. This film captures in a bottle the naivety and optimism of youth.The Embarr Little Review of Sing Street
It is an actual smart sci-fi, one that activates all of the nerdy parts of my brain in tandem with the emotions. It was able to effectively portray global politics, emergency protocols, linguistics, theoretical sciences AND it features a great emotional sucker punch. Can we have more films this intelligent?The Embarr Little Review of Arrival
2. The Nice Guys
This story was floating about Shane Black's mind for years before the idea of placing it in the 70's helped it click into place, not counting the ideal casting of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Crackling black humour emanates from every pore of this and made it one of the best times I had in a cinema this year. The comic timing of the actors and the scene setups just tessellate so perfectly with the backdrop of a murder mystery in L.A. I was left in pain from laughter and I loved it.The Embarr Little Review of The Nice Guys
1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Instantly quotable and quickly lovable is our main character Ricky Baker, the rebellious city teen flung into countryside foster care. His eventual wilderness foraging with Sam Neill's Uncle Hec is where the core relationship blossoms between two massively contrasting characters who've lost the one source of love they had. The words quirky and wacky provoke gag reflexes usually but here they're part of its personality as it pulls us closer into its embrace. A crowd pleasing indie film with the creative fun and a warm heart that leaves you glowingly happy in the days following.The Embarr Little Review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I'm sure any regular readers weren't too surprised by the list but I'm eternally grateful that you've come along for the ride nonetheless. Your interactions throughout the year are what make this worth it and stuff. Shit, don't say "and stuff". Just say, "you guys make this worth it".
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Ethan M Barr
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