THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016 BY SMYLEXX

21st January 2017
Well, what a year 2016 has been, eh? Stars have been extinguished in unexpectedly high numbers and Adam Sandler is still finding work! It’s all too much. Cinema, however, seems unaffected by these slights and conjured up a bevy of celluloid treats in British cinemas throughout the year. So without further ado, here are ten of the best films to grace the screens over the past twelve months…



Hell or High Water

In dusty smalltown Texas a series of low-scale bank heists are taking place by a pair of opportunistic thieves. A retiring Texas Ranger and his deputy take on the case in the hope of stopping the pair before the crimes escalate from robberies to something much worse.
The always watchable Jeff Bridges takes the lead as the laconic Texas Ranger along with his long-suffering Comanche deputy (played by Gil Birmingham) who takes his partner’s racial slurs and colourful stories in his stride.
This slow burning tale is a great companion piece to the Cohen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men or the Longmire TV show. It holds your attention despite the lack of pace and the violence that occasionally punctuates the drama is all the more shocking because of it. Chris Pine takes a break from flying spaceships and adds charm and personality to his bandit-with-a-heart villain.



Captain America: Civil War

There’s no getting away from the deluge of superhero movies this year. With so many caped heroes and villains on our screens, screenwriters are really going to have to up their game in order to stand out from the crowd. In this third Cap’ film we see the culmination of a storyline that has threaded through multiple Marvel movies over the past five or so years.
Our titular hero and his group of Avengers are brought to task by politicians who feel that the lives of innocent bystanders are in jeopardy from the actions of their super-powered encounters with villains. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) find themselves on both sides of the argument as to whether they should all be registered or remain vigilantes and, inevitably, this conflict escalates from an exchange of words to all out battles.
While many of the caped hero movies follow a well-trodden path, the Captain America films appear to represent the more mature aspects of Marvel’s stable. 2014’s Winter Soldier was a solid espionage thriller in the vain of Three Days of the Condor and in this follow up, the parallels continue. The chemistry between the cast members is still dynamic and Chris Evans’ portrayal has deepened over the course of the franchise. Solid entertainment.



Captain Fantastic

With that title, you’re probably expecting more “Kapow, Blam and Zzap” but there isn’t a cape to be seen in this gentle road movie/drama.
Viggo Mortensen stars as the father to a large family of children. In an effort to create his own version of paradise, he and his wife decide to move his children out of the school system and raise them in the wilderness instead. Each day, the children read everything from poetry to philosophy and learn vital survival skills so that they can live off the land. The ideal life is perforated when their mother becomes terminally ill. Now, the children and their father must go back into civilisation and confront the people and families that they left behind.
This is a sweet film with a lot of charm and wit. At its core, it is a simple road movie with many fish-out-of-water moments as the children realise that their unique skillset doesn’t allow them to easily fit in with their contemporaries in the civilised world. It also has the ability to make you simultaneously root for and against the father as you realise that his idealism comes with a high price. There are some great performances throughout – Mortensen is dependably good but the children and supporting cast are equally brilliant too.



The Nice Guys

It’s the Seventies in Los Angeles – flares, Nookie Bear and Angel Delight are all still perfectly acceptable. Two private detectives find themselves on the same case of a missing girl which may or may not be linked to the death of a famous porn starlet.
Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling are the titular ‘nice guys’ on the trail for clues that will reunite the girl with her family. The story leads the mismatched pair into Hollywood’s eccentric rich and famous society where they deal with hired thugs, shady government types and bizarre parties.
Cinema has a long history of making ‘detective noir with a side order of wit’ films (think The Big Lebowski or The Long Goodbye) and this is certainly one of the better ones. Shane Black is the writer/director – a man with a long pedigree of buddy/action movies such as Lethal Weapon, Predator and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Fans of his previous work will know exactly what to expect – snappy dialogue, action set pieces and an assortment of nutty characters. Though Black isn’t breaking the formula here, this is a solid comedic action film with a lot to like.



Eye in the Sky

A moral dilemma – should armies kill innocents in order to stop terrorists that potentially have the power to kill many more? Is one life worth as much as the lives of hypothetical casualties? This is the conundrum faced by Col Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) as she takes control of a military operation in Kenya. Her drones (the titular eye in the sky) show the target in her sights but as she draws closer to giving the order to fire missiles, a young girl enters the target zone. With time running out and with no one wanting to take ownership of this decision, she must decide on the right course of action to take.
This is a film which works just as well on the small screen as it does in theatres. The majority of the running time takes place in just a few locations and the tension is built upon the gritty, realistic performances of the cast. Alan Rickman is brilliant support to Mirren (in what would be his final performance) as a Lieutenant brought in to advise the British Government on all things tactical.
The supporting cast also includes Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as the drone pilot in charge of potentially pulling the trigger if the order is ever given. This is a tense drama and one which doesn’t overstay its welcome. The pacing is good and the escalation of the situation will have you gripped right up to the final scenes.



Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo is a young boy who lives in a small Japanese village. He spends his days playing his magical guitar and pleasing the villagers with exciting stories of adventure and terrible demonic spirits. One day, his stories become reality and the village finds itself under attack from monsters and ancient creatures descend upon the village. Kubo sets off on an adventure of his own to find a legendary suit of armour that could defeat the evil spirits.
This gorgeous animation looked fantastic on cinema screens but should dazzle even at home with its cast of colourful characters and inventive plot. The voice acting is superb and includes many big screen names such as Ralph Feinnes, Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey who give it their all and add some real personality to the proceedings.
Though at its heart this is a simple David and Goliath story, there are enough beautiful and creative set pieces sprinkled throughout the film to keep the plot feeling fresh. The dialogue is witty and the journey that our hero takes is one you will want to take more than once.



Arrival

On a typical morning not far from now, twelve alien spaceships descend upon the planet. Their intentions are unclear. No communications eminate from within and the world’s military powers seem at a loss to figure out their next step. As time progresses, some countries begin to get a little twitchy and begin to consider how to attack these newcomers. Enter linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) tasked with finding a way of connecting with the beings inside before the entire planet erupts into war.
This low-key intellectual sci-fi drama is a wonderful diversion from the slew of superhero films and formulaic action movies of the past few years. The film uses language and symbols in creative ways to engage with the aliens and with the audience too. There’s a melancholy that pervades the story – our protagonist has had a deeply emotional loss in her life – which hangs like a shadow over the film but helps humanise the characters.
Director Denis Villeneuve manages to take a rather high-concept premise and make it relatable to mainstream audiences. The photography is beautiful – more like Mike Leigh than Steven Spielberg and the story is captivating. Amy Adams gives a wonderfully nuanced performance and is supported brilliantly by Jeremy Renner. This is arguably one of the most interesting films of the year and is highly recommended.



I, Daniel Blake

Dave Johns plays the titular character - a carpenter who, after suffering a heart attack, finds himself without employment and in need of state benefits. He soon finds himself in one confrontational situation after another as he and a young mother weave their way through the benefits system in hope of securing enough money to survive on.
For anyone wondering if age has weakened the resolve of British director Loach, just take a look at the trailer for this film. There’s real energy and vitriol here and some extremely emotional scenes that will have you reaching for the tissues within minutes (men will probably just find the room to be exceptionally dusty that day or something). This touching drama has all the hallmarks of Loach’s previous best work – the documentary style he uses to capture moments that seem too real to be scripted, the use of stage actors instead of big names that allow an audience to identify with a character rather than the baggage they bring to the role are in attendance and used expertly.
This is Loach at his best and at Eighty years old he shows no sign of letting things slip. This might be a film that you really have to prepare yourself for – it’s not going to make that first date end with a bang for instance – but for anyone who enjoys a film that challenges viewpoints and covers unpopular topics, this one should not be missed.



Deadpool

The Merc with the mouth finally makes his ‘proper’ debut on the big screen. After being subjected to some untested sinister experiments, Wade Wilson goes from being a regular guy to a super-powered mercenary on a trail of vengeance against those people that left him disfigured and took away the life he loved.
Ryan Reynolds IS Deadpool. It’s hard to understate that sentence because this has been a labour of love for Reynolds for around a decade. After subjecting countless producers with ideas for the project, he finally managed to bring the character to theatres and instantly found himself with a huge hit on his hands. Reynolds is exactly the right choice for the part and for anyone picking this up on DVD, the commentary with Reynolds is almost as entertaining as the actual movie soundtrack.
With a short running time and a smaller budget than many of the Marvel movies, this is a film that relies heavily on dialogue and huge dollops of gallows humour. There are spectacle set pieces (this is a comic book film after all) but these feel somehow less important than the protagonist and the crazy bunch of henchmen and sidekicks he interacts with. Though there are moments of violence and peril, there’s a great deal of fun and an actual love story in the midst of it all. It’s quite possibly the weirdest date movie recommendation of the year.



Zootopia

Judy Hopps is a rabbit on a mission to become the best she can be as one of Zootopia’s finest police officers. Though she lacks stature and has adorable fluffy ears, she’s determined not to be sidelined by her more aggressive peers as she sets off on a mission to solve a mysterious case. She is partnered up with Nick Wilde, a sneaky con-artist fox who both helps and hinders her progress in uncovering the conspiracy.
I almost can’t believe that this made the list – a buddy cop movie with fluffy animals? Really? Seems unlikely doesn’t it? But watch five minutes of Zootopia and any preconceptions go out of the window. The script really is top notch. There’s sparkling dialogue throughout and lots of chemistry between the two main leads.
Incredibly, the film manages not just to entertain but also throws in a few moments about racial intolerance too but it does it in such a charming way you’ll never find yourself feeling talked-down to. The buddy-cop movie is as old as the hills but Zootopia has every right to sit alongside some of the best of that genre with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and some great edge of the seat action moments. Perfect casting and a perfectly executed plot – it’s certainly worthy of your time.

Written by Smylexx