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2016 was a year shrouded in darkness. We faced Donald Trump’s presidential run and eventual win, Brexit’s rise to prominence, natural disasters and a slew of major celebrity deaths. In addition, cinema from across the globe had a year we would like to forget. The majority of the comedies, blockbusters and most-anticipated entries were met with a collective shrug. It seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Thank God it is over!

However, this year’s gems lay below the surface. Independent cinema and high-profile dramas became part of a mini-renaissance. Oscar contenders including Room, Spotlight, Carol, Steve Jobs and The Hateful Eight launched 2016 in a positive direction. Musicals including La La Land, Moana and Sing Street put a spring in our steps and flutters in our hearts. Animated features Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings and Finding Dory received glowing reviews. Meanwhile, action flicks like Captain America: Civil War, Star Trek: Beyond, and Deepwater Horizon gave us hope.

This list pulls together the best of the best (from my point of view, of course). My picks are based on cinema experience, genuine enjoyment factor and overall quality. In a divisive year overall, these films stood above and beyond the competition to make decent critical and commercial responses.

lead_96010. Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water provides a glimmer of hope that the western genre can stay relevant for years to come. The movie sees two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing banks throughout middle-of-nowhere America to stake their claim over their deceased mother’s patch of land. This western-drama was significantly more exciting and meaningful than most (if not all) of 2016’s blockbuster fare. Its gritty aesthetic and bleak outlook on the future combine with aplomb. Director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan come together to develop a tough, morally-ambiguous and compelling look at middle America in the midst of tough economic and social times.

maxresdefault9. The Nice Guys

Writer/director Shane Black, fresh off of Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise viagra Iron Man 3, comes back home with fun and enlightening and tough neo-noir/buddy-cop entry The Nice Guys. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling portray bumbling and cynical private investigators assigned to the same investigation. Their journey then turns into a bright, wondrous miasma of twists and turns. Despite a silly plot, the movie thrives thanks to Black’s imaginative style and snarky attitude. Every line of dialogue progresses the plot and adds depth to each character. In addition, his use of colour and lighting fits the time period. Crowe and Gosling are worth the admission cost alone.

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

1200Hunt for the Wilderpeople, undoubtedly, proves New Zealand has one of the most unique and intelligent cinema industries working today. This action-comedy follows a juvenile delinquent’s move from the inner city to lush, green farmland. Forced into a faux-family situation, he becomes accustomed to his new foster parents before heading off on a grand adventure. Writer/director Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do In the Shadows) brings his fun, vibrant brand of humour to the table. Julian Dennison shines as the aforementioned minor forced between a rock and a hard place. His story aptly highlights the transition from reluctant anti-hero to optimistic youngster. Sam Neill also entertains as the old, crotchety foster dad along for the ride.

7. Captain America: Civil War 

captain-america-civil-warCaptain America: Civil War illustrated the ambitiousness and brute strength of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 13th MCU installment sees Captain America and Iron Man divide our favourite superheroes into two distinctive factions. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo develop two evenly matched sides with important things to say about the core themes. In addition, their action sequences are top notch. The airport and hallway smackdowns will go down in history as instant classics. In addition, the ending throws our likeable band of characters up in the air. More importantly, this installment easily eclipsed similar fare including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and X-Men: Apocalypse.

6. Chasing Asylum

7470054-4x3-700x525Chasing Asylum delves into the darkest depths of Australian foreign policy and refugee statuses. The movie provides unrequited access to some of the country’s most controversial and secretive offshore processing centres. Producer and director Eva Orner delivers never-before-seen footage, covering everything from refugee mistreatment to security negligence. More impressively, she finds and uncovers a slew of whistle-blowers and experts to speak out about the issue. The movie, of course, despises the Liberal and Labor Governments’ decisions over the past 15 years. However, Orner and co. refuse to condemn anyone in particular. Chasing Asylum covers the biggest and smallest details to create a harrowing portrait of said monstrous issue.

5. La La Land

19212016121340pm1Writer/director Damien Chazelle, at the tender age of 31, has already directed two high-profile features securing Oscar consideration. Following up sublime 2014 drama Whiplash, Chazelle delivers a fun, bright ode to the history of Hollywood cinema. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling re-team for the tale of a struggling actress/writer and jazz musician coming together and falling apart spectacularly. The movie plays out in two halves. First off, our leads begin a prosperous relationship to the tune of sunshine and optimism. However, the eventual decline is equally thrilling and resonant. Several musical numbers – including ‘Another Day of Sun’ and ‘City of Stars’ – become earworms worthy of multiple listens.

4. Hacksaw Ridge

andrew-garfield-hacksaw-ridgeTo quote South Park: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, the son of a bitch knows story structure”. The controversial actor/director returns with Hacksaw Ridge, chronicling history, religion, and courage with verve. Andrew Garfield shines as Private Desmond Doss, a soldier in World War II who never picked up a gun. The movie covers every important detail of Doss’s extraordinary journey. His romance, conflicts with military personnel during training and eventual battlefield heroics are captured effortlessly by Gibson and co. With something to say and even more to do, Hacksaw Ridge proves war movies are still as prevalent and entertaining as ever. Sublime supporting performances by Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington round out this harrowing epic.

3. Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-animalsWriter/director/high-end fashion designer Tom Ford returns to filmmaking, after critically-acclaimed first feature A Single Man, with raw psychological-thriller Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams, fresh off Arrival and Batman v. Superman this year, plays an art gallery curator tired of her boring, flat existence. Struggling to maintain her business and marriage, she dives head-long into her ex’s latest manuscript. This is only one part of the movie. The movie soon turns into a nasty, gritty revenge tale. Jake Gyllenhaal pulling out all the stops as a victim turned vigilante. Ford’s sublime direction extends to the performances, visual style and overtones. Thanks to his unique eye, each frame is coated in glorious colours and patterns throughout.

2. Arrival

arrival1The majority of alien-invasion movies either resemble loud disaster epics (Independence Day) or bright, fun fantasy flicks (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). Arrival is a new, thought-provoking and inspiring brand of Hollywood feature. Amy Adams (having a cracking 2016) plays a noteworthy linguist assigned to a top-secret military outpost to communicate with the inhabitants of an alien spaceship hovering above the ground. The story, characters, effects and themes combine effortlessly throughout Arrival. The movie lives and dies on Adams’ character, forcing herself into trouble to assist herself, her colleagues and humanity. Director Denis Villeneuve’s bleak, atmospheric style separates him from the majority of blockbuster filmmakers. The movie’s questions leave room for intense discussion from audiences the world over.

1. Spotlight

spotlight-movieDocudrama Spotlight overcame The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and a slew of other acclaim-worthy competitors to win the Academy Award for Best Picture earlier this year. Writer/director Tom McCarthy delivers a grueling and truly satisfying look at one of the world’s most prominent professions. The story chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigation into a slew of sexual misconduct cases involving the Catholic Church throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The movie dives into an uncomfortable topic with class and textbook precision. McCarthy’s subdued style looks at the meat-and-potatoes of newspaper journalism in an era of immense transition. Most importantly, performers including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber perfectly portray these true-life superheroes. Spotlight is essential viewing.

Honourable mentions:

The Edge of Seventeen, Deepwater Horizon, The Witch, Don’t Breathe, Sing Street, Star Trek: Beyond, Goldstone, Everybody Wants Some!!, Steve Jobs, The Founder, Midnight Special, Zootopia, Miles Ahead, The End of the Tour, Room, Brooklyn, Carol, The Hateful Eight, SullyEye in the Sky, Weiner, Moana.

Pleasant surprises:

Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryFinding DoryThe Magnificent Seven, Bad Moms, Central Intelligence, Where To Invade NextThe Conjuring 2, Bastille Day, The Jungle Book, 10 Cloverfield LaneThe Legend of Barney Thomson, The Big Short, Green Room, Eddie the Eagle, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Hail Caesar!, Triple 9, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Barbershop: The Next Cut, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Shallows, The Purge: Election Year, The Light Between Oceans, Ghostbusters, Blood Father, The Daughter, Anomalisa, Looking for Grace, The Revenant, Sisters.

This entry was posted in Film.
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