All right, here we go, this one’s for all the marbles. This list kept changing until the moment I hit that publish button, but here it is, my Top 10 Movies of 2016:
10. Doctor Strange
Scraggly bearded, with a ripped Cloak of Levitation and about 20 movies biting at its heels, Doctor Strange just manages to secure a space on my list. To me, Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios, after learning from all their successes and (comparative) failures, went back to ask “What if we did Iron Man again?” The result is a more refined version, amazing in the economy of its storytelling and the sure-footed navigation of complicated questions of racial representation and stereotyping. This is not meant to imply any fault in Iron Man, but to me, there is an interesting parallel universe where Doctor Strange opened the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
9. Kubo and the Two Strings
Everything about this movie was fascinating to me. The soundtrack has been on constant repeat since I first heard it, the visual style is so refreshingly different and the craft behind it is just baffling. I saw the featurette with the giant skeleton before I saw the movie, and I still couldn’t believe it wasn’t CGI when I saw it in the movie, it’s that amazing. Kubo is such a charming character and I just got completely lost in the world it created.
8. Sing Street
Certainly the best feel-good movie of the year, John Carney once again delivers a touching story dealing with music and why people make it. This time, our hero gets to begin again at a new school and totally nails it if you ask me. The music is amazing, and if you were looking for a new song to wake up to, check out Drive it like you stole it. If Carney keeps up his movies streak of getting nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, I can’t wait to see this song performed live.
7. Green Room
It’s so simple. A punk band trapped in a Neo Nazi Bar’s green room with a corpse. Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles, Patrick Stewart as a villain. Disturbing violence. Jeremy Saulnier certainly found all the right ingredients for this horror-thriller. What makes it special though is the way that the people in this film make decisions. There’s a tendency to criticise characters in film for making poor decisions, because on some level we know that the writers had enough time to make a better decision. But in Green Room, the characters make bad decisions in a way that just makes them feel real. Does it sound like a bad idea to play “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” in a Nazi bar? Yeah, pretty bad. But it’s also kind of appealing and I get why they did it.
6. Captain America: Civil War
I would never have thought that this movie would end up in the second half of my Top 10, but here we are. Civil War was a fascinating evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers showed us that we could unite several franchises and heroes successfully. Now we know they can also be pitted against each other, because we know them well enough as characters to understand both of them. On top of that, we still see the MCU's characters evolving, and it's fascinating to see this in a blockbuster context. Oh, and also that airport fight was amazing.
5. Deepwater Horizon
Yeah, this feels so weird. I normally hate disaster movies. They’re cliché-ridden, unoriginal and usually just bad. And Deepwater Horizon doesn’t even do that much to dodge these problems. It has the same clichés, barring the pregnant woman, but they are well-executed. Deepwater Horizon shows us how clichés develop out of effective storytelling and character shortcuts. I found myself caring a lot about the characters, even if I hadn’t spent a lot of time with them. So when the hammer dropped and the oil rig exploded, I was stunned. Then it got worse, because I remembered that there were real people in that situation. Based on a true story should always be approached with caution, but this wasn’t some nuance, these were the basic facts of the story. I’ve never felt that effect this strongly, the only comparable experience would be Lone Survivor, another Peter Berg film. I swear, Peter Berg is the voice of American-Dream-Hard-Working-Patriotism that Michael Bay wishes he was, at least since he stopped trying to copy him (Battleship). I can’t wait to see his next film, Patriots Day.
Does this movie even have flaws? It’s definitely the best sci-fi film of this decade so far, which takes an obscure linguistic concept and spins an amazing story out of it. The film isn’t content with just being incredibly smart, it also has heart. Villeneuve has an enormous emotional range as a director and balances tension and emotion brilliantly. Arrival is also visually breath-taking, with Villeneuve working with DP Bradford Young for the first time, instead of his regular collaborator Roger Deakins. Once again, Villeneuve is a filmmaker whose name should always be seen as a sign of quality.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Honestly, the ranks three to six on this list have changed repeatedly throughout the process and might as well be sharing this spot. However, only one of them has the advantage of being a new Star Wars movie. Just like Civil War, this film cleverly pushes the boundaries of what a blockbuster can do narratively, this time by scooting right up to one of the most beloved movies of all time and making a few significant changes. And mentioning Ghostbusters should be enough to get across how dangerous changing an iconic movie can be. But Rogue One does it so well that, at first, no one even seemed to notice how daring this manoeuvre actually was, and by then everyone had already accepted the changes. Add to that the fact that the film is extremely entertaining. If they continue with this level of quality, I foresee great things for the Star Wars spin-offs.
2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
This movie was the best cinematic experience of 2016 for two reasons. First, it’s an amazing movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great lead, John Gallagher Jr. an amazing support and John Goodman is maybe one of the best on-screen presences of the year. Director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted an amazing thriller that twists and turns several times and never loses its audience. The second reason is the complete surprise to everyone that this movie was. The first trailer appeared only weeks before the movie premiered and it’s a testament to how good the marketing campaign was that the film was a big hit despite the short time to build up excitement. As always, when J.J. Abrams is at his best, the projects he is involved in are shrouded in mystery, and the connection to Cloverfield added another level of intrigue to the movie.
From the moment I saw Room, I was pretty sure that I’d found my film of the year. And although there have been a lot of great movies in 2016, more than I’ve had place for on this list, none could take the top spot. The performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are absolutely perfect, in every second of the film. Taking on the perspective of five-year-old Jack forces you to put extra effort into empathising with the other characters, which in turn makes the drama all the more effective. Also, knowing the basic premise, a mother trapped in a single room for the last seven years with her five-year-old son, does not prepare you at all for everything this movie has to offer. It’s an almost magical experience and if you watch only one movie each year, I hope it was this one.