In reverse order, here are the films I most enjoyed in 2016. The term enjoyed is key here, in that some of these are Oscar contenders yes but some are simply good movies even if they may not raise the highest of highbrows. Please note that of course, I'm no Mark Kermode and I have not seen every film that came out this year. Feel free to ask if I have seen this and that and I'll say if I did and why I didn't include it on the list but there will be great films not here just because I didn't get to see them.
Shall we begin?
STOP THE PRESSES!
Due to a late entry, the following film has been bumped from No.10 to the honourable mentions.
Bonus Honourable Mention.
I'll make it clear from the get go, I LOVE this director. His last two films have comfortably made my list (Prisoners and Sicario) and this narrowly missed the list by mere minutes. Mysterious UFO's appear on random points of the globe and the army ask a decorated language expert (Amy Adams) to further their communications with the unknown life forms to ascertain their intentions. It's mature, doesn't talk down to its audience and for a science fiction film, doesn't rely too much on special effects to tell the story. In fact they could have painted a Pringle black and zoomed in real close and we'd still say it was good. The ending to the film is poignant, raw and leaves you with a question you may find asking yourself and whether you'd do the same as the characters would.
In a nutshell...
Close Encounters meets Interstellar in a Pringle.
Eddie the Eagle
"What!?" "I did not click your link for this drivel"
Hold your horses. If you don't see Eddie the Eagle, you're likely to miss out on one of the cornerstones of cinema, the ability to sit back and enjoy. This won't win an Oscar, maybe perhaps not even a BAFTA. But it has more heart than most. For those not in the know, it's a true story about Britain's most famous ski jumper Eddie Edwards who tried to compete at the Winter Olympics and who became a bit of a laughing stock but won people over with his determination.
The easiest but also truest comparison would be 'Cool Runnings' and this also uses the spine of a true story and injects comedic and drama into the scenes inbetween and there is no doubt there is some creative license given to the side plot but I'm sure Kate and Leo weren't really being shot at by Billy Zane as they bombed it around the Titanic but we lapped that up. It's true life tale even takes place at the exact same Olympic games as the Jamaican bobsleigh teams efforts.
The role of Eddie and the main reason this has survived the top 10 is down to Taron Egerton who last made this list in last years 'Kingsman: The Secret Service.' His charm is undeniable, his ability to win us over no matter who he's playing is unquestionable. He makes you believe that he is who he's playing and it's not the role you'd expect someone coming off the back of kingsman to take as it's not glamourising enough to make studio bosses knock at the door.
There are always curveballs on my list but it's not because I try to be surprising (although it's a bonus), it's because you can boil a movie down to one simple question...Did I enjoy it? And the answer to this was a resounding yes.
In a nutshell...
Cool Runnings with less Candy.
Eye in the Sky
Drones. We all love a drone. Maybe 99% have never owned one but they can be used for a great manner of fun things that we sometimes see on Facebook. They also have the ability to change lives. Every week there's a news story about a near miss with an airline and one day it will happen, but this real time drone drama is based in it's more primary environment, warfare.
This is as solid a thriller as you'll see this year. It's not full to the brim of side plots, pointless monologues and chuffa. It gives us the target objective and then spins around the moral justifications of who we're spying on and what to do next. A known terrorist is hiding in a newly identified location and the film focuses on what action to take and how much collateral damage the government is willing to accept. To say that a bombing strike may kill some civilians may be easy to accept to some, but to see them actually go about their day before your decision changes or possibly ends their life and you second guess your choices. The other more common question of "kill one to save a thousand" also comes into play.
There's some weighty cast included also. Helen Mirren as the trigger happy Sergeant, Aaron Paul as the pilot with a conscience, Barkhad Abdi (last professing himself "the captain now" in front of Tom Hanks) as the undercover operative and in his last on screen role, Alan Rickman as the behind a desk General taking heat from mostly inept government officials who only see media angles and spin.
Eye in the Sky is essentially a thriller but unlike most, a good one, methodically made and with clear tension and realism. Order from Amazon and it may even deliver it by drone, oh the irony.
In a nutshell... A season of Homeland in 100 minutes.
Swiss Army Man
Known in some circles as "the fart movie" or "that one where Daniel Radcliffe is dead in it" those two summaries aren't too far off the mark but Swiss Army Man is so much more.
Paul Dano plays a man about to end his life, seemingly alone on an island when a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the shore, the soaking corpse still releasing gas from its rotting corpse. To explain further would be a spoiler in my opinion except to say that the two castaways set out on an epic adventure to find their way home. The film is most definitely a two handed, almost in theatre form, by Dano and Radcliffe with Dano giving his usual excellent performance but Radcliffe handling the tougher of the two roles, restricted by movement and emotion, he still manages to 'act' and still manages to zig zag his choice of acting jobs so that no one could guess what role he'll go for next. To enjoy this film, it helps to enjoy indie film and the quirks that come with it as well as an element of disbelief. The filmmakers said about Swiss Army Man that "the first fart will make you laugh and the last will make you cry." I'd say that's fairly accurate.
In a nutshell... Where the Wild Things Are meets Castaway but on a budget.
Quite often we hear of the comic book movie that turns the genre on its head (Guardians of the Galaxy, Watchmen, Scott Pilgrim) and this is the latest example to do so but to do so in such style and to dominate pop culture for a whole year is a feat in itself.
The biggest R rated film...ever!
It did so by sticking to the source material, perfectly casting its lead role and marketing strokes of genius. But to do so, they had to reinvent the past and that past was messy. Ryan Reynolds had already played a mongy version of Deadpool already and this new iteration would technically exist in the same universe. How do they explain that away? By making fun of it, breaking the fourth wall and laughing at itself and it's predicament, the studio were so scared of Deadpool that they didn't support it with known X-Men characters so Deadpool made fun of that too. Above all else, Deadpool is hilariously funny even though the plot and in my view, the action is sub par. The best adaptations don't shy away from risky decisions and this was the risk of 2016 that paid off.
Captain America: Civil War
Rated above Deadpool!? Some will agree, some will disagree. Boil it down though and it's fairly easy, the action in Deadpool was low in quantity and in quality whereas with Civil War, the kitchen sink warehouse was bought and thrown at this film. Not only that, we have seen these characters on their various journeys for years now and it finally gives us some real meaty conflict amongst heroes. The villain merely sets up a few moral roadblocks and lets internal bickering ensue. The Captain America brand is becoming the most intelligent strand of Marvel and so much so, that the directors have been handed the reins from our Lord and Saviour, Joss Whedon, to helm the next two Avengers films (Infinity).
If dividing a team of superheroes wasn't a challenge enough, the movie also uses it as a backdoor introduction to yet another interpretation of Spider-Man in the form of young British actor Tom Holland. The love we had for Andrew Garfield's turn as Peter Parker seemed to wane quite quickly although I don't think it was necessarily his fault but more of a case that we didn't even have time to mourn for Tobey Maguire (he never got to be Amazing!) but now we know the score and that studios can't keep their hands off making more money. This new Spidey is GREAT! Innocent, amateurish and helped along by Tony Stark to realise his potential, Spider-Man enters the landscape at just the right time when things are starting to seem quite dark and fruitless for the Avengers.
In the end, the film throws you the same question that has divided its heroes. Do heroes need to be let loose to save the world or does there need to be accountability and consequence if things don't turn out the way we hope? Pretty deep stuff for a movie about people dressing up and punching each other.
In a nutshell... The film Batman V Superman wished it was.
Rogue One : A Star Wars Story
Also known as the film that made me stay up late to rewrite my list and push Arrival off the top 10.
The reviews led me to believe that this may happen but seeing as I'm no Star Wars fan, I wasn't convinced it would matter. But it did. I'm sure a Star Wars geek would rock out to this but as a fairly unbiased individual, this was a great entertaining film. I'd even go as far to say that I'm NOT a Star Wars fan but this is my favourite of the lot. You could go in having never seen one but you should catch up on the original trilogy to immerse fully.
I won't bother to recap the plot as much as to say that rather than follow on from the god awful prequels it's more of a prologue to A New Hope. It has plenty for a geek to comb details and cameos from but why have I put it on the list?
It's a great action film. It's mostly bleak but had some real laugh out loud moments. It's not cheesy, it's not for kids, the last act isn't too far away from a war film.
Cast wise, everyone does a solid job but no one stood out from the crowd aside from a cheeky truthful robot and some distracting motion capture from one particular character. (You'll know when you see it).
I'm as surprised as anyone that this is no.5 and i may still be screen-drunk having just seen it 30 minutes ago but it was a real surprise, a solid film that (fingers crossed) will stand out in the Galaxy for years to come.
In a nutshell -
Star Wars without the politics.
So many films this year have been about surviving within the outdoors and nature itself (see Captain Fantastic, Swiss Army Man amongst others) but some survival stories come from the smallest of places and shine brightest of all. The penultimate adaptation on the list concerns the kind of story we witness more often on the nightly news than a mainstream film. Human beings being held captive in ordinary neighbourhoods for extraordinary amounts of time. This sounds like the most depressing plot for a film ever but it's on the list for being uplifting in its despair. A mother and child make the best of it whilst being locked in a small dark room and in that room they make a life whilst the mother shields the child from the worst of the truth. The second half of the film is almost a film in itself and I would not want to spoil it for anyone but of course it boils down to "do they get out the room or not?" The performance of the mother (Brie Larson) is testament as to why she received so much award acclaim back in the spring but the talent of the child is out of this world. How a young boy (Jacob Tremblay) can come up with a catalogue of emotions at such an early age is astounding and heartbreaking. It's not in the top three simply because I would have preferred the act structure to be different (sorry for being so cryptic) rather than what it became but it's a minor quibble. I recently spent 40minutes on a packed train home with a colleague and we found it quite claustrophobic. After seeing Room, I'd gladly spend an eternity on that train rather than go through what those characters had to go though.
In a nutshell - Finally, Oscars glory not for a real life figure's stammer or disability but for powerful performances and a love of life no matter where that life is spent.
Next week - The Final Three.