More prominently during the past ten years, along with watching mainstream films, I’ve begun to watch more ‘independent’ films which I feel overall are of a better quality than the mainstream films (which consist of many sequels and profit being the number one objective rather than furthering the art of film). My journey into film progressed more deeply as I undertook A-Level Film Studies at college and I was exposed to more genres, including more independent, arthouse and foreign films. Having watched films like La Haine, City of God, Seven Samurai and Chungking Express they certainly opened new horizons regarding how good films can be.
2016 was a strong year for film and it has been tough to compile a list of the top twenty. All of the films in the list are exceptional and in my opinion can all be given an eight out of ten at least. Here are my top twenty films of the 2016 which have been released in the UK:
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
A worthy follow-up to the first person sci-fi film “Cloverfield”. The film begins with a young woman who wakes up in an underground bunker following a heavy car-crash. She is told by the owner of the bunker (John Goodman) that she has been saved her from a mysterious apocoalyptic attack which has made the outside world uninhabitable. Unsure of what to believe, she is kept captive in the bunker along with another man for apparently their own protection. Life meanders on in the bunker, until the inhabitants want to find out the truth and escape. The script and direction are particular strengths and the questions regarding the truth and what lies beyond the bunker will keep you guessing until the end. It was a shame that the promotional posters for the film in China gave the ending away. Thankfully, the posters in the west didn’t.
Watch if you like: Cloverfield, Room, The Hole.
(Rotten tomatoes score – 90%)
- The Green Room
One of the most overlooked films of this year is thoroughly enjoyable horror/thriller. A cash-strapped heavy rock band play at neo-nazi rock venue in Oregon. The day spirals towards more sinister events when a band member witnesses a disturbing death at the hands of neo-nazi. For the vast majority of its 90 minute duration, it definitely packs a punch as the band members try to escape from being held captive, the trials and tribulations encountered are enthralling. The strong performances of Patrick Stewart and the late Anton Yelchin bolster the credentials of this engaging thriller.
Watch if you like: From Dusk till Dawn, Wolf Creek, The Faculty.
(Rotten tomatoes score – 91%)
18. I, Daniel Blake (UK).
Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is powerful protest drama highlighting the bureaucracy and difficulties faced for those relying on the contemporary British welfare state. It follows the story of Daniel Blake, who is unable to work due to a prior heart attack, but cannot claim ESA benefits and is told to go on to JSA benefits and is continually made to jump through hoops and go back and forth to have income to live. The message of harsh reality of those facing benefit cuts and endless red tape is poignant one that needs to be told. However, I felt the message of the film was decidedly forced and other aspects of the film were less stern such as the acting and altogether was not a strong as the other films in the list. It surprised some by winning the Palme d’or this year, however Ken Loach remains one of the best directors in the UK and his one of his previous films, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is an incredible testimony to that.
Watch if you like: The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Kes, This is England
Palme d’or Cannes 2016 winner
(Rotten tomatoes – 91%)
Based on J.G Ballard’s dystopian novel of the same name written in 1975, the film centres on the residents of an ultra-modern high-rise block in London. Newcomer to the residence, Robert Lang (Tom Hiddlestone) quickly beings to understand the social stratification and class-divisions within the tower block. Things take an unexpected turn as the frustrations of the residents blows over, ultra-hedonism and social anarchy breaks out. The film has been described as “bat-shit crazy” – and rightly so at times. The characters Siena Miller, Jeremy Irons and Luke Evans are enigmatic and altogether the film is well casted. The score by Clint Mansell is one of quality and superbly accompanies the script and the atmosphere of the film. This film is definitely worth a look if you like urban-dystopian films.
Watch if you like: Requiem for a Dream, Black Mirror.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 67%)
Now we’re getting into the real quality films of the year. The film follows seven seeminly ordinary days of the life of poetical bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver). Each day falls into a similar pattern and the audience is exposed to the inner-workings and life of Paterson. He notices different things in his daily life, such as the range of conversations of people on his bus, the people around the city and the beauty of nature. Furthermore, it focuses on his poetry (which in my opinion, was quite un-inspiring) and his musings on the world. Paterson is a film widely acclaimed by film critics and has been described by some critics as in the top three of the year. Adam Driver gives a deep and authentic performance as Paterson and its co-stars really bring the film to life, particularly his uber-positve partner played by Golshifteh Farahani and friends at his local bar. The film shines when it subtly celebrates the smaller things in urban life that makes life worth living.
Watch if you like: Amelie, Only Lovers Left Alive.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 95%)
Mustang is a feminist coming-of-age drama is about the repression of five sisters growing up in Turkey. On the last day of school in late summer, the girls head to the beach with some boys from the same school. As they return to their house, the elders in the family find out and throw out any object that could ‘corrupt’ the girls is taken out of the house and bars are placed over the windows to stop any escape. Training on how to be a good wife is given alongside multiple visits of prospective husbands for the young girls. The story details their rebellion and collective desire for freedom. The film is beautifully shot and acted authentically by the stellar cast. An emotive journey from the start to the end, harsh truths become realised as each sister travels their own path to achieve their own freedom and peace. Overall, an impressive debut by the female director Deniz Gamze Erguven and scintillating film score to go with it. One to watch.
Watch if you like: Wadjda, Persepolis
Nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar 2016.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 98%)
Arrival has been lauded as being a more ‘smarter’ alien film, rather than the huge explosions and battles of former alien contact movies such as Independence Day, it ponders how we would actually communicate with extra-terrestrials upon first contact. The film is well made and intricately edited and shot. The memory flashbacks and and unconventional screenplay will be welcomed by sci-fi lovers who enjoy a more complex sci-fi film. Amy Adams gives a strong passionate performance as the linguist who attempts to unlock the language codes. Altogether, with a great script based on “Story of your life”, excellent direction by Villeneuve and worthy performance by Amy Adams, Arrival is must-see for sci-fi fans out there.
Watch if you like: Contact, Tree of Life, Interstellar.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 94%)
- A Bigger Splash
Who doesn’t like a sun-kissed summer movie set entirely on a Mediterranean island? You’ll most likely google what island the film was set as it is gorgeously shot with great cinematography and unconventional style at times. A Bigger Splash is a modern reworking of the 1969 erotic thriller “La Piscine”. A rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her partner are away on a break on an island off the coast of South Italy, only for an extroverted and loud ex-partner (played by Ralph Fiennes) to stay over with his daughter. They have a substantial impact and new and old flames become ignited in their overdue stay. The film is very well casted. Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson all put in strong performances – add that to the sultry cinematography and tumultuous events and you have a film which many have put into their top ten of the year.
Watch if you like : Dangerous Liaisons, Y Tu Mama Tambien
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 90%)
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
This is one of the best adventure film in years and can be enjoyed by all ages. Set in New Zealand, Ricky (Julian Dennison) has been raised on gangsta rap and in various foster homes. He is suddenly moved out to a new foster home in the New Zealand outback, things take a turn for the worst and they are forced to go on the run from government officials into the outback with his new step-dad (Sam Neill). The screenplay is hilarious at times and the characters gel cohesively. Julian Dennison steals the show as the unruly kid with many references to hip-hop culture. A thoroughly entertaining, road-trip/coming-of-age comedy/drama that have a lasting impact on those who watch it.
Watch if you like: The Goonies, Where the Wild Things Are.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 97%)
Jacques Audiard’s (director of the Prophet and Rust and Bone) Dheepan won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 for Dheepan – and deservedly so. It is a profound story of three Sri Lankan refugees fleeing a war zone and it explores the challenges and successes of assimilating into a new country, albeit in a crime-fuelled urban area where even police do not enter similar to the concrete jungle type areas shown in La Haine. Dheepan and his new family have to battle and befriend the local people and criminals to achieve some normality in their broken lives. As expected from Audiard, the directing is slick. The range of shots and dynamic style employed in this film shows a director with confidence. Furthermore, the screenplay is engaging as the characters dramatically attempt to find some ambience and meaning to their new lives. The end can be seen as its low point, for various reasons such as its abruptness – thus, the movie slides down the rankings of 2016. However, it is a powerful movie and one to watch for those who are enticed by the trailer and description.
Watch if you like: La Haine, Sin Nombre, A Prophet.
Palme d’or winner – Cannes Film Festival 2016.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 90%)
“One City.One Night. One Take”.This film is masterly in the way it has been shot. It begins with main character (Victoria) as she enjoys the night clubbing away at 4am and it’s all shot in one 140-minute take portraying one frantic night in Berlin. Upon leaving the club Victoria is befriended by a group of guys and enjoying a night out, however she becomes entangled in a criminal plan the group must undertake. It is an astonishing film mostly due to its technical genius and certainly captivates the audience as events spiral out of control. The actors add a gritty realness to the film and the action scenes are reminiscent of movies such as Leon. In addition, the dialogue was mostly improvised by the actors given the one-take nature of the film and they pull it off flawlessly. Some aspects of the plot may seem puzzling to viewers but this movie is a must-see for those wanting an innovative, enthralling thriller.
Watch if you like: Run Lola Run, The Town.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 84%)
- Hell or High Water
This slick neo-western heist drama/thriller reaches the heights of other crime movies with such as The Town and No Country for Old Men. Two brothers go on a crime spree robbing banks in deprived and sparsely populated towns in Texas. The opening heist scene is outstanding and sets the precedent for an extremely well directed film with a quality script. They are pursued by Texas Sheriff, Jeff Bridges who is on the edge of retirement. For a film that focuses on outlaws robbing banks, the open roads and plains of Texas are a perfect backdrop.
Watch if you like: No Country for Old Men, The Town, Thelma and Louise
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 98%)
One of the more mainstream films in this list, and one of the most decorated in terms of film accolades, particularly for Brie Larson’s role. In the film, Joy (Brie Larson) has been held captive by an abductor in a room for seven years, along with her five-year old son in a compact room. The film draws the viewer in and you also become held within the confines of the squalid dwelling known as ‘Room’. Without revealing too much, some of the scenes are breath-taking and adrenaline-fuelled as we follow the captives bid for true freedom. The viewer becomes part of their emotional journey and explores how life is like for people who have been held in similar real-life situations for years. The performance by Jacob Tremblay I believe has been overlooked by the film world, and he thoroughly deserves more awards for his portrayal of the troubled son. See this film for the performances of both Larson and Tremblay, but also to be part of the journey of freedom.
Watch if you like: Misery, Gone Girl.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 94%)
- Embrace of the Serpent
Embrace of the Serpent is an entrancing film set entirely in South American rainforest roughly a hundred and sixty year ago. Shot entirely in black and white, it is the first Colombian film to be nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Based on the two memoirs of Western scientists who travelled to the Amazon rainforest in search of an elusive plant with healing and hallucinogenic properties in 1909 and 1940. They’re accompanied by the main character, a shaman named Karamakate. The scientists face battles with illness and western materialistic attitudes are continually juxtaposed with the ethics of the Amazon indigenous people and Mother Earth. Furthermore, the horrors of colonialism are continually shown and the impact it has on the indigenous. The black and white cinematography vividly brings out the intricacies of the Amazonian jungle. It superbly transports you to the Amazon rainforest and teaches the viewer subtly about the shamanic life and their view of the world and consciousness.
Watch if you like: The Mission, The Fountain.
Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 2016
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 98%)
Based on the 2001-2002 Boston Globe newspaper story that uncovered the huge abuses of children by catholic priests in Boston. Although the viewer can perhaps guess what will happen in the end, the way the film unravels and clues are found is truly compelling. The film keeps you captivated, moment to moment as new pieces of evidence and trails become apparent. It’s a more of an emotional journey than is maybe first realised, specifically because the film draws you in as you meet the abuse survivors and you wonder how the perpetrators were allowed to get away with such violations. Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams shine profusely throughout the film. Overall, the film never ceases to be anyless than compelling.
Watch if you like: Zodiac, Gone Baby Gone.
Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscar 2016.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 96%)
Charlie Kaufman is something of an enigma in Hollywood. I generally find the vast majority of his films to be great works in the art of film e.g. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. He isn’t afraid to be unconventional and ‘out-there’ and he pulls it off magnificently. Anomalisa is no exception to the pattern. Shot entirely using puppets, this is a film like no other. It is a story that explores basic human connection and contemporary western life. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a customer service advice guru who is in Cincinatti for a business trip. He is haunted by the relationships of his past and even though he has a family, still desires more authentic connections with other people. Accordingly, he meets Lisa, a woman who he perceives to be very different and who is an anomaly amongst the usual people he meets. There are some delightful oddities which are interwoven into the screenplay such as everyone who Michael knows has the same voice apart fro Lisa. The way the puppets are used and the scenes made are extremely human-like and there is a case to be made that the intimate scenes are more authentic than movies with human actors! Definitely one to check out to see something different.
Watch if you like: Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Being John Malkovich
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 92%)
- American Honey
Knowing that the film was directed by Andrea Arnold (director of Fish Tank) and that it was her first venture out of the UK, I had high expectations for American Honey. Thankfully, the expectations were surpassed and American Honey remains of the best films of the year. American Honey is an archetypal summer, road trip and coming-of-age drama set in mid-USA. Star (Sasha Lane) lives in a broken home in Oklahoma, after a chance meeting with a group of young adults selling magazines door-to-door across the country, she decides to join the group and becomes absorbed in a life of sex, drugs and travelling. The blistering hip-hop soundtrack successfully captures the “live for the moment” theme of the movie. Whilst some have criticized the length of the film, I happily applaud the meandering screenplay which thrives on transient events and randomness. The cinematography is brilliant and the characters are developed well. If you love summer road trip movies, you’ll love American Honey.
Watch if you like: My Own Private Idaho, Thelma and Louise, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festial 2016. Best Independent UK film at the British Independent Film Awards.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 78%)
- Notes on Blindness (UK).
During the early 1980s, Professor John Hull began to lose his sight, in 1983 he began to record his thoughts and reflections on audio cassette, for over three years he documented his descent into total blindness. A deeply moving film, Notes on Blindness is an impressive debut by directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton. John continued to work as a Professor and describes the difficulties faced in his family life and re-establishing his relationship with the world. This philosophical and somewhat spiritual film about a man who experiences a rebirth and renewal in his life and remains grateful for things he has. Noticing new things and a sharpening of his other senses and cognition, we travel with him into the darkness and interior light. The cinematography is magical, certain shots such as the rain falling in the house and the dreamy scenes akin to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. At times the actors lip-sync the actual recordings of John Hull and the creativity of the directors is a joy to watch. It is a shame this film has been overlooked by many and not well known to even ardent arthouse film lovers – thus, it deserves much more recognition. If you want to support British independent cinema, watch this online or get the dvd. A masterpiece in its own right.
Watch if you like: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, My Left Foot, Tree of Life.
(Rotten Tomatoes score -93%)
- The Revenant
Firstly, it must be said Alejandro González Iñárritu in my opinion is one of the top three directors of the past 15 years. The trilogy of Amorres Perres, 21 Grams and Babel are films of the highest quality to say the least, Birdman and Biutiful and can be easily added to this list also. The Revenant is the most mainstream of the films included on the list and the one that most people are likely to have heard of. From his independent cinema roots, Iñárritu has kept some of his original essence for the Revenant, especially regarding the striking cinematography such as wide angle landscape shots. The Revenant is a semi-autobiographical movie which follows Hugh Glass’ story of survival after being mauled by a bear and left by compatriots to die in the harsh American winter. It may surprise some that I have placed the film so high in my list. However, the direction and extraordinary acting and scenes in the move are a worth testament to the high ranking. Leonardo Dicaprio is a worthy winner of the Best Actor Oscar, also in the beginning of the film the battle scene between the indigenous people and fur-traders is wholly epic and the famous bear scene is another example of expert film making. Exquisitely shot, directed, acted and produced – the Revenant is impressive in all its forms.
Watch if you like: Babel, Into The Wild.
Winner of the Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Actor at the Oscars 2016.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 82%)
- Son of Saul
My number one movie for 2016 is Son of Saul. An astounding debut film by Lazlo Nemes. Set in a concentration camp during the World War Two. Saul finds the body of his son in the concentration camp, he hides the body and is adamant in finding a rabbi amongst the prisoners in the camp to perform the proper Jewish burial rites for his son. He must choose whether to give his time to support an uprising against the Nazis or find a rabbi to bury his son. Don’t let the setting of the concentration camp put you off seeing the film. Some have commented that it would be too grim to watch. However, the film for its duration has Saul as its main focus. The story of the son takes precedent over the gas chambers and the viewer is engrossed in the suspense of whether Saul will be found out by the Nazis and what will happen to uprising and other characters. The horrors of the Holocaust are still there, the emotions and depiction of the prisoners takes films of this genre to a new level. This searing, unforgettable drama is one not to be missed. The skill of it’s first-person narrative and tracking shots are something to behold. Altogether, an immersive experience that jolts you into the life of a prisoner concentration camp who attempts to find hope and some humanity in the gravest of situations.
Watch if you like: Life is Beautiful, The Pianist.
Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes 2015 and Best Foreign Film Oscar 2016.
(Rotten Tomatoes score – 96%)