We may be a bit late for a recap of last year, but it’s fair to say 2016 wasn’t the greatest era for films, or even humanity. Some critics are saying it was a bad year for film. On the whole, we don’t disagree – but there were some gems that shone out of the bleak, Princess Leia-murdering year. Here, we’ve decided to delve into our stand out of 2016. Each of the apes has chosen something different and hopefully, you’ll have seen the flicks we mention and agree or you’ll go out and watch them. Without further ado…
Craig – Green Room
One of the youngest celebrities to die this year was Anton Yelchin, which struck me as one of the most tragic losses to the film world in a long time. Based on his performance in Jeremy Saulnier’s blisteringly claustrophoic film, Green Room, and every other film I’ve seen him in, Yelchin was shaping up to be a modern day great. Rest in peace.
To the film itself. A low budget affair released following Saulnier’s successful Netflix film, the melancholic revenge drama Blue Ruin, this story follows a punk band who end up completely out of their depth. It’s a human horror in a situation we could all kind of imagine ourselves in – and for that reason it’s sheer excellence. I’d enjoyed Blue Ruin immensely when I watched it, and seeing trailers for this film had me salivating.
It didn’t disappoint. Establishing it’s tense atmosphere early, Saulnier’s picture grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let you go. It’s not afraid to kill off characters and frankly, it’s one of the most realistic depictions of violence I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s a squirmy, brutal film whose pace matches it’s tone. Feverish, frantic and with an underlying layer of despair.
Green Room caught me by surprise. I expected to like it, but I found myself loving it and discussing it constantly with anyone who cared to listen. It’s a horror for the ages, a tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and fighting to survive it. No overpowered monsters, just a demonically-acted villain in Patrick Stewart’s Neo-Nazi leader.
I don’t want to spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it – which seems to be a large majority of people. That’s a real shame. One of Anton Yelchin’s last performances, and a truly harrowing look at human fragility in the wake of bad men who have bad intentions. Easily my favourite film of 2016 (and that includes Star Wars, which is a surprise even to me.)
Honourable mentions: Nocturnal Animals, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Midnight Special, Arrival, The Revenant and I, Daniel Blake.
RYAN – KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Just pipping Green Room to the post as my favourite film of 2016 is Laika Studios’ latest stop-motion marvel, Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s rare to see a film so lovingly crafted and perfectly executed – make no mistake, Kubo is a masterpiece.
In the west, animated films are still majorly regarded as child-pleasing family fare, not to be taken too seriously or held in any lofty regards. This is certainly not the case with Kubo. Laika manage to tap into that Japanese mentality of animated feature films – to treat the audience with the same level of intelligence and respect as a live action thriller might, whilst still delivering sumptuous visuals and exciting adventure.
The connection to Japan continues with Kubo’s setting, a small ancient village with all of the myth and culture that goes with that. We follow the titular Kubo, a young boy who’s life is divided between caring for his ill mother in their mountain retreat, and performing musical origami street shows with his trusty magical shamisen (A three-stringed Japanese instrument).
The main theme running through the film is one of loss. We learn early on that Kubo’s father, a great Samurai warrior, departed from this world in a tragic incident. The event left the boy alone with his mother, estranged from any other family. After unwillingly unleashing a demonic force onto the village, Kubo sets a course to obtain his father’s mystical armour, the only glimmer of hope to save the seemingly doomed village. He’s joined by an unlikely duo in the form of Monkey and Beetle, who guide and advise him along his journey. Skeleton battles, dangerous oceans, quiet moments of reflection and beauty, Kubo and the Two Strings has it all.
The film is never shy of presenting a grieving character, struggling to deal with the way his life has turned out. It takes care to respect this subject, and perfectly stirs emotions in both tragic and heart-warming scenes. This is a theme that really struck a chord with me (excuse the pun). Having lost my own dad at an age not too far from Kubo’s, I found myself relating to him in a way I’d never expected. Tales of his father’s exploits act as inspiration for him and I’d find myself equally reminiscing about my old man and the wacky activities he got up to in the forces.
It’s a testament to the filmmakers that they can pack such a powerful emotional punch in such an utterly gorgeous and colourful package. And that’s what this film is, pure art. The visuals are beyond stunning, with the paper-craft magic theme running through everything, perfectly representing by the expert stop-motion animation. There is plenty of humour and some brilliantly charming characters to balance the whole film. It really does have a bit of everything. Oh and the music, the music is fantastic and fitting.
Kubo and the Two Strings hit me on so many levels. It puts most live action films to shame in its depiction of loss, grief, adventure and hope. There isn’t a single aspect I disliked about the film and I can’t wait to revisit its world again and again.
Honourable mentions: Arrival, The Nice Guys, When Marnie was There, The Girl with all the Gifts, Nocturnal Animals.
Richard – aRRIVAL
I haven’t been greatly impressed with the releases in 2016, but one film that really stood out for me was asking one of my all time favourite questions, are we alone in the universe; is there something out there, waiting for us, watching us? First-contact films have been representing this question in cinema for decades and are some of the most celebrated early films in the Sci-Fi genre, managing to cut through the asteroid field of neon underwear and little green men that take up most of our shelf with a more mature and intellectual outlook. Arrival follows this vein of sophisticated thinking by allowing us to challenge our own ideas of what reality is and how others might perceive it.
Arrival follows the emotional journey of language professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) after 12 alien spacecraft appear hovering at seemingly random points around the globe, she’s given the Job of deciphering these aliens’ attempts at communication alongside the research of physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), both chosen by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) based on her expertise in deconstructing unknown language and previous experience working with the government. Having the weight of the world on your shoulders whilst deciphering these new enigmatic visitors’ shines through Amy Adams performance, playing the role with a great sense of gravitas and determination, her eyes often taking the focus and being the window into her vulnerabilities and state of mind. Jeremy Renner also does a great job of grounding the characters and humanising them by being able to bring some light humour to cut through some of the drama. I also appreciated Forest not playing the stereotypical trigger happy angry martial and actually making a sensible and constructive analysis of the situation while also supporting the scientist’s decisions.
From the director Denis Villeneuve, whose fantastic portfolio also includes Prisoners and Enemy. His style and pacing seems heavily inspired by the old greats such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and especially (my personal favourite) 2001: a Space Odyssey. Much like Kubrick, Denis allows the mystery and suspense to slowly bleed in, soaking into you and placing you on the edge of your seat. Each return to the ship gives us a glimpse behind the curtain, bringing another piece of the puzzle back with them to deconstruct and letting us get a sense of how other nations are handling their discoveries.
Similar to Denis’ previous films Sicario and Prisoners this was also scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson who created an unsettling and suspenseful composition. The sound compliments the strange War of the Worlds like monochromatic aliens and their ship, adding another layer of eeriness to being inside the alien spacecraft. The presentation and cinematography of Arrival can also be quite stunning at times, its use of expansive landscapes highlighting the ships overwhelming power and sinister nature with the dark, contrasting style suiting the mood of the film perfectly.
I got immense joy from this watch, and was hooked on every twist and turn. Its mind warping conclusion left me simultaneously wanting more yet totally satisfied. All round, Arrival is a staple of sophisticated sci-fi, showing the range of Denis Villeneuve’s directing and his respect for the genre – giving me high hopes for his next film Blade Runner 2049 in 2017.
Honourable mentions: (without Craig’s censor) Swiss Army Man, The Nice Guys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and definitely check out Manchester by the Sea and La La Land.
There you have it. Our picks of a bad bunch from 2016! What was your favourite? Let us know in the comments. If you haven’t already, check out Ryan’s guide to quirky films with which to escape the dour mood of that year.