It’s been a few years since I did a top ten of the year list, but I thought 2016 seemed like a good year to do it again. I’ve done my list based on what I’ve seen this year, rather than UK release dates. I’ve also done all films in one list, rather than a separate Bollywood list, as that would have proved quite difficult. There are so many films that came out that I didn’t see this year, or I would have seen at LFF 2015 that I’m not including, but all the films on the list are fantastic films that I’m happy to include. Considering more films would just make it harder to decide.
So, here they are…
=1) Ae Dil Hai Mushkil & La La Land
My two favourite films of the year were very difficult to choose between, and given one is Bollywood and one is very Hollywood, I thought I’d do a joint number one.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, by far my favourite Bollywood film of this year, and possibly recent years, is Karan Johar’s most recent directorial venture. An amazing cast, brilliant music, and a beautiful, mature story of love and friendship. I wrote quite a long review of it, which is worth a read.
I also wrote a review of La La Land, a film which I found quite hard to describe on exiting the LFF screening in October, because of how wonderful I found it. Damien Chazelle’s follow up to the fantastic jazz-drummer film, Whiplash, was a musical set in LA. It has yet to release in the UK (12th January), and so including this on the list I’m hoping will encourage a couple more people to watch it, who might not have otherwise.
3) A Monster Calls
A film I missed at LFF this year (well, sacrificed for another), was the big screen adaptation of Partick Ness’ book, A Monster Calls. It wasn’t until I read all the positive reviews and tweets for the film that I seeked the book out, and fell in loved with it. Then became nervous that the film wouldn’t live up to the emotional journey that the book takes you on. Thankfully, J. A. Bayona has directed a beautiful, pretty much entirely faithful, version of the film, that won me over completely.
It features Lewis MacDougall, whose only previous film work was Joe Wright’s Pan, as 12 year old Conor, trying to deal with life, living with his single mother dying of cancer, and a strict grandmother who he doesn’t get on with, and a monster that looks like a tree that comes to help him. The film, like the book, deals with grief so sensitively, and in a completely relatable way. I can’t imagine anyone could get to the end of either book or film with dry eyes.
4) When Marnie Was There / 思い出のマーニー
The last film to come from Studio Ghibli as we know it (there are other films from names attached to Ghibli), was based on a British novel of the same name, When Marnie Was There (the Japanese title of the film is slightly different). It tells the story of a young adopted Japanese girl, Anna, who goes to the country to stay with her aunt and uncle because of her health, and finds herself strangely attracted to a beautiful abandoned mansion, and the young girl who lives there, called Marnie.
It is as beautifully animated as any Ghibli film, and you get so emotionally involved in both Anna and Marnie’s stories. I saw both the original Japanese version with subtitles, and the dubbed version, and I much preferred the Japanese version. The Japanese voices suit the entire film more, but if you absolutely hate reading subtitles, the dubbed version is still worth watching.
5) Kapoor & Sons
The only other Bollywood film to feature on my list this year is another Dharma Production, Shakun Batra directed Kapoor & Sons. It is only Batra second film as a director, and I wasn’t too keen on his first (Ek Main Aur Ek Tu), but this was such a massive step up in terms of the story he chose to tell, and the telling of that story.
The film tackles the Desi (Indian) dysfunctional family in a more honest way than I’ve ever seen in Bollywood, but also touches on a gay storyline more sensitively than I thought any Indian film ever could or would. That is technically a spoiler for the film, but what is worth seeing is how it is handled, rather than the reveal itself. And months later, I still have a lot of respect for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan for taking on the role. The entire cast in this were brilliant, and the music was good fun.
Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival, is not your conventional alien invasion movie, which is partly why I loved it so much. I love how the focus is on more on trying to understand the aliens, and also having more realistic political reactions to there ‘arrival’ on Earth. But it is also surprisingly sad and emotional. I fear talking too much about it might risk spoiling it, but do not go in expecting a big alien Hollywood blockbuster, because this isn’t that at all. This just adds to Villeneuve’s list of brilliant films, and I’m always excited to see a film directed by him. His other works are also definitely worth seeking out.
7) Hacksaw Ridge
Apart from part of The Passion of the Christ, I had never actually seen a film directed by Mel Gibson, and I’ll admit I didn’t expect much at all, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that he’s actually a pretty good director. It may have been low expectations which led to me being so impressed that Hacksaw Ridge managed to make my top 10 list this year, but it’s a fantastic film, possibly one of my favourite war films ever. The story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss is one that deserved to be told on screen, and is done so brilliantly by Mel Gibson, and with Andrew Garfield in the lead role. Andrew Garfield is doing so well these days, with this and Martin Scorcese’s Silence, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get multiple awards this year.
The film doesn’t hold back on the gore, which would be the only thing holding me back from a repeat viewing, but I probably will see it again when it releases in the UK on 27th January.
8) Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I loved Taika Waititi’s 2014 What We Do in the Shadows, which was a vampire mockumentary, and so was very excited to see the follow up, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a comedy-drama set in the outback of New Zealand. and went in without reading much about it before hand, and I was not disappointed. If anything, I love this more than What We Do in the Shadows.
I’ve had a hard time explaining to people why I loved it so much, because trying to explain the plot usually makes me laugh too hard to talk coherently. So, all I can say is that it is hilarious and heartwarming, and definitely worth watching.
9) Manchester by the Sea
Another LFF film, and another film dealing with grief, in some ways has similar themes to A Monster Calls, but tackles them very differently. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, is a wonderful film about how different people deal with grief in different ways, and features excellent performances by the whole cast, but especially Casey Affleck and Michele Williams. It is, of course, quite emotional and touching, but also has some quite funny/awkward moments, that are just as real, and necessary with such heavy material.
It will be out in the UK on 13th January.
10) Life, Animated
The final film on my top films of the year list is a heart-warming documentary about an autistic boy and his love of Disney films. I do quite like watching films that deal with conditions like Autism or Asperger’s, but feature films can never quite get portrayals of characters with Autism quite accurate, and so documentaries like this are wonderful to see.
Owen had very little communicative skills as a young child, but learnt to communicate through Disney characters, and movies, as he related real life situations to scenes from those movies. Life, Animated tells his story through his parents, and their experience of raising him and doing whatever they could do to help him.
As much as I loved the film, and like how it touches on a lot of issues there are in growing up with Autism, I would be hesitant recommending it to someone who didn’t know anything about the condition, as it could be misleading in terms of how well things work out for Owen. Things aren’t always that easy, and not all parens have such happy endings in terms of how their children grow up to be.