Sunday, January 8, 2017 wasn't the best of years generally but there were some good films

Happy New Year's Eve / thank goodness 2016 is over day! 2016 has been a dark year on many fronts. Inequality and bigotry has shone through in election results as has the need to find a way to adequately support the disenfranchised low- lower middle classes in western countries, the refugee crisis and the situations that have led to it particularly in the Middle East have worsened, in Australia our lack of support and care for asylum seekers has resulted in another death just this week, and people are at the lose as to how to process this before you add the deaths of many beloved celebrities (you may think that is trivial compared to the others but as I blogged about a while back the emotional connection people feel to celebrities of this type isn't). This is before you account for the tough year people might have had personally.

This is background to say that it feels a little odd in this to be writing about what films were any good. Nonetheless prepare for my annual list of the 15 best films of the year.

This year is a little different as for the first time in nine years I didn't make it to the Sydney Film Festival so there is nothing here that didn't get a broader cinematic release in 2016. As always the guiding principle is that the film was released between 1 January and 31 December of the year in question i.e. 2016. I will admit not to having seen two of the films people have tagged as "films of the year", Hell or High Water (it simply isn't my kind of film, not that this normally stops me, honestly I just missed it somehow, but I hear it is amazing and I am actually seeing next week) and Hacksaw Ridge (it looked good but I boycott all Mel Gibson related films on principle and have done for years).  Therefore those declarations aside this is the best 15 and worst one of the over 60 films I saw this year (normally with the SFF that is close to/over 80...seriously would love someone to support my movie watching habit).

15. The Founder

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a traveling salesman, the kind that is always after the next big idea/scheme. When he gets an order for an overly large number of milkshake mixers from a take away joint in California called McDonalds', he is fascinated and drives to see what the business is about. He meets Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald who have created the first truly fast food restaurant- no plates, no tables, no music, and food to the customer in a few minutes. Kroc becomes obsessed in franchising the business but the McDonald brothers are reluctant as past franchise attempts have ended poorly with quality standards dropping. Ultimately the brothers relent and Kroc starts trying to franchise like mad and with glitches along the way the modern McDonalds' emerges.

Now I don't know how much of this is accurate but it is based on the actual early days of McDonalds' and it is heartbreaking. Keaton (a repeat actor from last year's top 15 and who will occur again later in the countdown) has had an amazing 2015/6 and he can pull off the perfect brand of charisma and slime needed for Ray Kroc. There is solid support from Laura Dern as Kroc's first wife and Nick Offerman (another person from a film I loved in 2015) as Dick McDonald. This all said I wanted to single out John Carroll Lynch's performance as Mac McDonald as the one to watch this film for- he nails the pathos needed for a man who is broken by the scheming of Kroc.

 14. High-Rise

Two films in and it may look like 2016's films were as dark as the year was generally but don't worry happier films are coming...

Based on the J. G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise presents the descent of a capitalist society into dystopia. The film opens on Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) declaring himself finally happy in the high-rise apartment block in which he lives as he sits on his balcony surrounded by rubble eating someone's dog (yes this film is that dark, no, thankfully, you don't see him kill the dog on screen). Flashback three months, Laing has just moved into the high rise (it is now established that the film is set in the 1970s) and he is to all appearances a successful medical doctor and lecturer at a medical school. When he moves in, he strikes up a relationship with Charlotte (Sienna Miller) a single mother who lives on the floor above, and a friendship with Helen (Elizabeth Moss) and Richard (Luke Evans) Wilder who live, like all the families (except Charlotte and her son), on a much lower floor. The high-rise has everything these people might want- a supermarket, a school, a pool, and a hedonistic 1970s lifestyle- so the people of the high-rise increasingly become insular and rarely leave the building even at times avoiding work. Laing attracts the attention of Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) the architect who designed the high-rise and they develop a friendship of sorts much to the annoyance of Royal's wife Ann (Keeley Hawes). One night as Ann Royal hosts a lavish 18th century France themed party, the power and water are cut to the lower floors of the high-rise where the poorer tenants live, and the beginning of the buildings descent into the dystopia of the opening scene begins.

There has been some push back on the translation of novel to screen by fans of the novel but as someone who hasn't read the novel I found the film highly compelling. The acting is amazing but truly what else would one expect from this cast- I rarely have a bad word for Hiddleston, Irons, Hawes, and Moss, and Evans is starting to make a mark for playing creepy domineering men as also seen also this year in The Girl on the Train (not a great film but Evans wasn't bad in it) and I'm looking forward to him as Gaston in next year's live action Beauty and the Beast. The cinematography was surreal when it needed to be and chaotic when that was called for. A warning it is a film with a high classification (MA in Australia) for a reason so if the above description hasn't hit that home, this film is quite confronting at points.

The film ends with Charlotte's son listening to a broadcast of Margaret Thatcher which slams the film back into reality for British viewers but one would expect all viewers as they see the fact that we elect leaders who support the kind of class warfare and capitalist aspiration that has destroyed the high-rise. A harsh warning this year particularly.

13. Eye in the Sky

A joint US/UK operation is running to target high profile terrorists who have been sighted in Kenya. On the UK side of the equation is tough as nails Colonel Catherine Powell (Helen Mirren) who has been seeking one of the terrorists in question for years, and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) who is consulting the government on the operation. On the US side of the equation is Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) a young drone pilot and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) his co-pilot whose first active operation it is. The terrorists are sighted thanks to the work of an on the ground operative in Kenya (Barkhad Abdi) and it is determined that they are preparing for a suicide bombing at which point the question is raised as to whether the operation has moved from capture to kill. Just as the approval for kill is approved, a little girl from one of the neighbouring houses appears and sets up a road side shop to sell bread inside the strike zone. Watts calls for a reassessment of the possible collateral damage and a mass legal and ethical debate is sparked on the UK side of things (the senior US officials stating they have no issue with the strike going ahead).

This film is an interesting exploration of the ethics of drone warfare, and the issue of weighing the life of many possible future victims against one current actual victim. Interesting is that we see drone warfare as removing the human element from war to a degree and yet the characters most impacted by the strike and the possible ramifications of it are Watts and Gershon as in piloting the drone they can see the images from it directly. Like the last two films, this is built of the performances, and though I loved seeing Helen Mirren's portrayal of a strong senior officer in the Army and an amazing turn by Rickman in one of his last roles (his delivery of his second to last line- "Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war"- chilling), I was blown away by Aaron Paul stepping beyond the role of Jesse Pinkman and not letting Breaking Bad define him. Paul's performance was a real standout especially in the scenes where he has to go toe-to-toe with Helen Mirren and holds his own- I hope this is the sign of more to come from him as I wouldn't want him to be pigeon holed by Breaking Bad (even though I do love him in it too). I don't have any documentaries on my list this year (sorry I did see some but they just missed out) but I feel this is the underdog candidate for most important film of the year because of the issues it touches on. Drone warfare isn't going anywhere but there remain so many ethical questions about its use.

12. The Jungle Book

Now for something lighter...finally.

I'm sure most people know the plot of this one but just in case.  Young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is adopted by wolves after he is found in the jungle one day- he fled his village to escape a tiger. He is raised by the wolves especially by Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o) and can speak to the animals. The tiger who threatened him, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), arrives at the wolf colony looking for the man-cub that they harbour and the black panther, Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), offers to help Mowgli get back to the nearby village. As they travel they meet various animals both friendly like Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray) and threatening like Kaa the cobra (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie the ape (voiced by Christopher Walken).

This film has all the charm of the original cartoon and then something more. The CGI of the animals is the best I've seen- it is breathtakingly beautiful at points and the only animal who really doesn't look like the original animal is Baloo which is to make him more Bill Murray like which I'm OK with. The voice acting and the performance by Neel Sethi are outstanding- I particularly loved Murray (perfect casting), Walken and Elba. The film like the original and I'd guess the book (I don't know, I've not read it) have a strong theme of the impact of humans on the environment, and have to say one of the only downsides of the film is that it changed the ending (which I wouldn't give away in case people haven't seen this or the original) and much prefer the original, one could argue darker, position Mowgli finds himself in. This marks film one of three Disney entries to the top 15 for me this year.

And a warning back to the darkness we go....

11. The Revenant

In 1823 somewhere in the North West of the US, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is leading a group of hunters through uncharted territory that is heavily populated by Native American tribes. After fleeing an attack by one of the local Native American tribes, the hunters are forced to leave the pelts they have gathered behind and flee back towards the safety of the barracks at which they are based. During this flight, Glass is attacked by a bear and is near death. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the leader of their party, leaves three men to tend to Glass and bury him when he dies as the rest continue to the barracks. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) stays as he will be paid to do so, but then tries to kill Glass, does kill Glass's half Native American son Hawk, and steals Glass's gun. Fitzgerald bullies the much younger other man who stayed behind to say Glass died and they buried him, and they ultimately bury Glass alive. Glass digs his way out of the grave they dug and, though still severely injured, embarks on a quest to get his revenge.

This is a film that I didn't want to see as a grim revenge tale isn't really my thing but I know many people say it is their film of 2016 and it won many awards and I do love Leo, so I finally watched it. The thing that initially struck me was that it didn't feel like a film for the US, I found the tone and the structure and even the way it was shoot, very South/Central American. Maybe it was because the director is Mexican but I didn't feel that way about Birdman which was his last film so I'm not sure that is the case. The cinematography is beautiful and I can see why they took so long to shoot as finding a day with the required amount of snow would have been difficult in the modern world (something both DiCaprio and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (the director) spoke about in terms of the impact of climate change).  DiCaprio and Hardy both deliver as you would expect them to in their respective roles- particularly noteworthy is Hardy's menace and DiCaprio's silence and also that he sounds convincing when he needs to speak a Native American language (supposedly the wrong one but still). I hadn't realised that this was partly based on a true story which makes it all the more astounding. It is a brutal film but it is definitely worthy of the accolades it has received.

10. Love & Friendship 

Back to light again...

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is a widow who is on the look out for a new husband for herself and one for her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Lady Susan has no money to fall back on and a reputation for being an infamous flirt. After she pursues the married Lord Manwaring and is cast out of his house, she finds that the husband (Stephen Fry) of her only friend in London, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), has forbidden their association and she heads to the country to live for a while with her late husband's brother and his wife. Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwall) despises her sister in law and is horrified when Lady Susan targets her brother, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) as a possible second husband despite being several years his senior. This situation is cast into further disarray when Frederica is kicked out of school and has to join her mother, only to be follow by Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) her suitor who is both deeply silly and clearly enamoured with her mother.

Let's start with the title just to clear the air, for some reason they gave the film the title of a late Austen work instead of the early Austen work, Lady Susan, on which it is based, I have no clue why and I think many people have been confused by that (obviously it is an awful adaption of the former but quite a good one of the latter on which it is actually based). The script of this film is delightful, so witty that I'm sure Austen would not have had any issue with it, and in scenes with Lady Susan and Alicia Johnson, it is spoke at a pace one rarely sees in British cinema. Beckinsale was a surprise for me as I'm used to seeing her in most worse fare (the Underworld series, anyone?) but she is amazing here and I do like an actress in her forties who is willing to play some who is both very devious and has an adult child thereby highlighting her age. This was one of funniest and funnest film of 2016.

9. Moana

Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of a tribal chief on a unnamed Pacific Island. Her tribe is very tied to their island and they do not travel beyond the edge of the reef that surrounds the island. When she was a child, Moana was fascinated by the stories of her grandmother (voiced by Rachel House) that told of a trickster demigod called Maui stealing the heart of Te Fiti the goddess who created the islands and that due to this great suffering is coming to the islands. Moana is also fascinated by the sea though she is not allowed to go out into it. One day during her training to be the island's next chief, she notices that the crops are failing and the fish are no longer available within the reef, and she wonders what to do to solve this when her grandmother takes her to a cave on the island that contains the legends of their ancestors. In this cave, she discovers that her ancestors were sea faring explorers and she decides to follow their footsteps find Maui and retrieve the heart of Te Fiti in order to save her island and her tribe. 

It has been said that the plot of Moana is a fairly predictable "heroes journey" but I would disagree with that to a degree as a hero is rarely female, rarely not white, and next to never a teenager. A while ago, I wrote that Frozen turned a corner for Disney in its representation of women and I feel Moana goes even further and is a much better film. There is no question or issue of Moana becoming the leader of her tribe in fact the tribe seems pretty happy about it (unlike Elsa with her frost powers), Moana shows a focus on community but not as benefits herself as the ultimate ends, there is absolutely no romantic plot for any characters (yay! A Disney princess movie first), and finally she hates being called a princess. The film has a strong message of community empowerment and of the impacts of human actions of the environment (Maui is half human and he steals the heart of Te Fiti in an ill conceived attempt to help humanity). Also the animation is brilliant, and the voice acting very strong especially by Cravalho who carries the bulk of it for sections of the film before Dwayne Johnson shows up to assist as Maui. Finally the songs, thing one, singing in not English! So happy to see that in a film set in the Pacific Islands- I believe the songs in question are in part in Samoan but feel free to correct me. The songs, thing two and last thing, can Lin Manuel Miranda just write everything now? I'm spent a lot of this year listening to Hamilton and there were songs where I could just hear his work on Moana as I think his lyrical style is glued into my head, I'm thinking especially of the rap section of "You're Welcome" (my favourite song in the film- who knew the Rock could sing?), and I hope this points to more cinematic score work ahead (he did score part of my number 1 film of 2015, The Force Awakens, as well) for him and makes me very desperate for the live action version of the Little Mermaid that he is supposed to be working on for Disney to be become a reality.

 8. Nocturnal Animals

Apologies for the trailer quality here I couldn't find the proper one.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an art gallery curator, receives from her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) the draft of his new novel which he has dedicated to her. Susan starts reading the novel and the viewer is taken into the novel itself in which a family (played by Gyllenhaal again he doubles roles, Isla Fisher, and Ellie Bamber) are stopped on a deserted Texas highway by group of shady young men and the women are kidnapped whilst the father, Tony, escapes their captors. Susan continues reading the novel and as she reads she also remembers her first husband and their marriage, especially in light of the fact her second marriage is now falling apart too, and she doesn't know what to read into the fact her first husband has dedicated such a violent story to her. In the world of the novel, Tony seeks the help of the local detective (Michael Shannon) to find his wife and daughter. 

Back into the darkness we go and this one is mighty dark. This is the second film from fashion designer Tom Ford and after the amazing, A Single Man, I was very keen to see it. Visually it is just a beautiful as A Single Man and much of that beauty is just a stylised but in a very different tone for obvious reasons. The weight of trying to figure out why the novel was sent to Susan in the first is highly suspenseful and Adams plays that suspense well (it has been a good year for Amy Adams and I'm not done with her yet). I will say that I did feel that the novel was a fairly loosely coded revenge on Susan for how she treated him which was only enhanced for me by casting Isla Fisher as the wife in the novel- I'm not sure anyone else sees it but I feel that she and Amy Adams look very alike. The novel sections of the film are very intense and the tension is barely broken in the early scenes before the flashbacks start as when you exit the world of the novel, it is just Amy Adams alone at night in a stark modern house. Gyllenhaal performance is particularly strong as he has to play two characters the affiable Edward in the flashbacks to Susan's first marriage and the increasingly broken Tony in the novel world. Underpinning what the film is saying on the surface about this marriage and its aftermath, there is a interesting question of art and reflection of life in art by an artist.

7. Sing Street

In Dublin in the 1980s, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to move schools due his parents' (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) money difficulties. On one of his first days at his new school, he notices Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a slightly older and much cooler girl, sitting on some steps of a nearby building. Despite the warning of his classmates, he approaches Raphina and tries to talk to her and as a way to catch her attention, he asks her to be in the film clip for his band. The only problem with this is that he doesn't have a band. Working with his new classmates, he speedily put one together and starts working on writing some songs. Focusing on his new band and on Raphina enables Conor to escape his home life which is falling apart as her parents veer towards a divorce. 

As mentioned a few years back when I was talking about Begin Again, I've been a fan of John Carney's work since Once and this again is a delightful modern musical. The soundtrack which is a combination of songs by the band in the film (which are not bad) and amazing 80s tunes is great. The performances are understated in a way that suits the film perfectly especially the lead performance by Walsh-Peelo whose first film this is. If you want some 80s nostalgia and beautifully understated Irish-ness, this is the film for you.

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As a child Jyn Erso witnesses his father go with Empire troops after they have shot her mother, following her parents' instructions she flees and hides in a near by cave. Fast forward over a decade, the Rebel Alliance frees the now adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) from an Empire run prison. A dissenting pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), has fled from the Empire with a message from Jyn's father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), about a super weapon he has been working on for the Empire. On Galen's instructions, Bodhi goes not the main rebel force but instead to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) a rebel extremist and the man who raised Jyn after her father's capture and mother's death. The Rebel Alliance needs Jyn to help them get to Saw Gerrera as he will not deal with them directly. Begrudgingly Jyn agrees to assist and leaves with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2S0 (a robot- voiced by Alan Tudyk). When they arrive in Jedha, they are met with Empire forces and extremists and they also join forces (pun intended) with Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).

This might come as a surprise to some as you have been expecting it higher in the countdown after The Force Awakens took out last year's countdown. In all honesty I loved this but I loved the five films above it more and I actually think it comes in fifth in terms of Star Wars films putting it behind The Force Awakens (just to clear this up, from my point of view the list goes Empire, New Hope, Force Awakens, Jedi, Rogue One...a bit of quality gap...Revenge of the Sith...a bit of quality gap...all ewok related one off films...wide gaping quality abyss....Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones... you might shuffle the middle a bit but basically it should always be Empire best, and Attack of the Clones worst or you are just wrong). The reason this wasn't as good as the original trilogy and TFA, one thing, script. There were several weak points and there can pretty much be summed up in the pun scene, I'm trying not to spoil but if you've seen the film you know what I mean. That said if you aren't the first two prequels and you are in the Star Wars universe I'm sure to love you at least a bit and forgive bad puns and other weak script moments. The highlights for me, one, diversity- this film continues to have a racial diverse human cast like could have had more women though.  Two, great characters- Chirrut and K-2S0 have some great lines (amidst the wonky script), and the bulk of the cast of hugely likeable. Three, murkier morals- I really loved the character of Cassian and not because Diego Luna is crazy attractive (though that helped) but because it was the first time we've seen a rebel who will do anything for the cause including kill an ally (it happens in the early minutes of the film so not a spoiler), I would like to see more of him. Four, convincing villain- I'm not talking CGI Tarkin (though I take less issue with that than most...I also don't take huge issue with the end of film CGI character) or Darth Vader (though that scene at the end, SO good) but more Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic so menacing and such a good performance. Five, performances- most are very solid. Six, damn that chemistry (!)- I know that John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are busy trying to have the most sizzling chemistry in the Star Wars universe since Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher but Felicity Jones and Diego Luna out chemistry-ed them by a mile. Seven, finally the prequel that the trilogy deserved!

By the way, ignore most of the trailer above. It indicates a completely different tone to the film and also most of the shoots in it aren't in the film.

5. Arrival

In the opening sequence of Arrival, you see Louise Banks (Amy Adams) tending to her ill daughter leading up to her daughter's death. Then you see Dr (or Professor that wasn't clear) Banks at her day job working as a highly respected linguistics expert at an unnamed university. Her class one day is down in attendance and ultimately interrupted by the news that mysterious pods have arrived from outer space piloted one assumes by aliens. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) sees up at the University to recruit Dr Banks to assist the government as they attempt to communicate with the aliens. Dr Banks ultimately agrees and is transported along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to the site of the pod that is in the States (13 pods have appeared hovering over various locations around the world). Banks and Donnelly start to establish and develop communication with aliens who they nickname Abbot and Costello, but the international cooperation between the people at the different sites starts to break down, and fear and paranoia creep into the general population and the soldiers at the US site.

Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker have had a good year this year- both two films on my countdown- not to write Jeremy Renner off he is also good here too. Amy Adams is particularly outstanding in this film especially in the later stages of the film, and whereas I struggle to buy actors playing academics at times, particular Adams and also Renner are believable. This is very smart, slow burning sci fi of the kind I haven't seen for years (The Martian wasn't quite a slow burning so it just missed on this camp), and I wish there was more of it out there. With The Martian, I think this is one of the best written sci-fi films of the past few years. I cannot speak about one of the plot lines I loved as that would be a massive spoiler but I do think the film has several important and interest themes. The themes I can speak about are themes around understanding especially when dealing with those you do not understand. It is intriguing that it has taken this long to have a harder sci-fi first contact film that works first from the basis of linguistics, and not physics. The film shows that communication is key when seeking to understand "the other" which is a beautiful message in a world that reaches so frequently for the fear and paranoia that are seen later in the film as a reaction to those different to ourselves instead of proper understanding. Understanding and communication also hits home with the international collaboration seen in the film would that we lived in a world where this was even a vague possibility. This is the sci-fi film for those who love language and linguistics, the science behind that language.

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky (Julian Dennison), a rough city kid who is in foster care, is fostered to Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill) to their remote farm in rural New Zealand. Whilst Bella is very welcoming and seeks to make Ricky feel at home, Ricky just wants to get back to the city (though he quickly warms to Bella) and Hector finds Ricky an annoyance. As the film unfolds, Ricky and Hector find themselves and their dogs, Tupac and Zag respectively, in the bush together, and a national search, led by child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House), is launched to find them.

I have to say I don't think I've laughed harder at a film line this year than Julian Dennison saying, "Aw no, I got poop on my kicks" (just imagine that in a New Zealand accent and try not to laugh). New Zealand is making some great films lately, especially comedies, and I really hope that they are being released beyond our mutual corner of the world (in its Australian release this film earned about four times its original budget which I think if you graded box office earning as a percentage of budget would make it the most profitable film of the year here). This film is just low key brilliance. The script is hilarious and the performance hit the low key comedy on the head. I think Dennison for a young actor is a great nature comic talent, and it was nice to see Sam Neill in a comedy role as I've only seen him in quite bleak dramas of late otherwise. I also hadn't realised until just now, the great year Rachel House is having between this in which she is a ridiculously foolish antagonist and her voicing of Moana's grandmother in Moana. New Zealand's bush is a beautiful (one could say majestical- sneaking reference to the film) backdrop to the comedy as are the crazy collection of minor characters Ricky and Hector (who entertainingly goes by Hec) find there. I have not laughed harder at any film in 2016 and in couple of scenes, also cried harder as like all good comedies there is some darkness and sadness here.

3 (tied). La La Land

On the freeway into LA, Mia (Emma Stone) pauses her car for a moment in the traffic to take a phone call and is honked at by Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). It is soon revealed that Mia is a struggling actress working at a coffee shop on a movie lot and going to myriad miserable auditions, and Sebastian is a struggling jazz pianist who moved to LA to start a jazz club but has been unable to do this so is eking out an existence playing in bars and at parties. Mia runs into Sebastian again when he is fired from a club after failing to just play Christmas carols as he has been asked to, and after he blows her off there, the next time they see each other at a party she requests a ridiculous song from the band in which he is playing. After this meeting, the two actually talk and a romance blooms.

This was my most anticipated film of 2016 as it had three elements I adore; Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and it's a musical. In another year, it wouldn't be tied third but would be clear film of the year for me. From the swirling opening musical sequence on the freeway (before you meet Mia and Sebastian), it is brightly coloured, all dancing, glory, and it feels like you have stepped right back into the musicals of the 1940s or 50s. There are even parts of clear illusion to classical musicals and films- in particular Gosling dancing and singing on a pier in a mode akin to Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain, and Stone and Gosling visiting the LA Planetarium in illusion to Rebel Without a Cause (made obvious by the fact the characters watch this film). I haven't seen Whiplash, Damian Chazelle's last film as director, (I did see the other film he wrote in 2016, 10 Cloverfield Lane- a very different film) but I have heard it shows his gift for working with musical subject matter in that which I feel he excels at here. The music, much of it jazz, is outstanding and it is perfectly in-synch with the cinematography which is gorgeous. Neither Stone nor Gosling is a naturally gifted singer or dancer, but both sing well and dance amazingly (the choreography throughout is another one of my highlights of the film- my favourite scene is a dance sequence inside the LA Planetarium). In terms of performance beyond singing and dancing, Gosling and Stone display the amazing chemistry they previously had in Crazy Stupid Love, and their performances, especially Stone's, are brilliant. It is interestingly mixed message as it highlights the difficulty of artists being in a romantic relationship with other artists, whilst also celebrating artists and arts and the aspiration to be in the arts. It is also a love song particularly to the arts in LA. Ultimately it is a film for dreamers as Stone sings at one point- "Here's to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem". Would that we can all be better dreamers?

3 (tied). Spotlight

Based on a true story, in 2001, the new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), meets with Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and Ben Bradlee Jnr (John Slattery) to ask that Robinson put together a small investigative team, a "spotlight" team, to look into child abuse by the Catholic Church in Boston back in the 1970s. Robinson puts together a team comprising, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo),  Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James). Due to Boston's strong Catholic roots, most members of the team have connections to the church, and all of them suffer crises of faith during the investigation. As the team digs they undercover more and more abuses and conspiracies to hide these, they also comes head-to-head with the church, legal, and political powerhouses that fuel Boston.

You may be thinking this was a 2015 film as it won the Best Picture Oscar this year, and was released in 2015 in most countries, but it was actually released in late January 2016 in Australia. This film hit me like a tonne of bricks and until early December it was going to be my film of the year (that is when I saw my number 1 film, and I saw the other tied number 3 in mid December) even though I had seen it the week it came out all the way back in January. The reason this film was so significant for me was at as you will see listed at the end of the film, my hometown, Wollongong, was one of the cities that had a similar investigation occur and it actually occurred several years earlier than the investigation in Boston (from the early 1990s onwards) and formed the backdrop to my being in primary and high school at Catholic schools whilst I was also growing up attending the Catholic Church with my family. I was not personally impacted by what happened but it was only a few steps to people who were and therefore I find material on this issue really sticks with me. The personal impact aside, there is a reason this won the Best Picture Oscar. Whether you count it for 2015 or 2016, it was definitely one of the best films of the last two years combined. The performances are outstanding especially McAdams and Ruffalo (where would my countdown be without one of his films each year?) but it really is an ensemble effort. In the age of click bait journalism and post-truth (whatever that really means), this portrays what we might be losing and it is clearly to society's detriment, if we let quality, investigative journalism disappear. It is also good to be reminded as inquests and commissions into actions like those investigated by the spotlight team continue worldwide that this is a portrayal of which is still a very real situation and hurt for many people, and it goes to show that you should never blindly trust anyone as all humans are flawed.

1. Kimi no na wa (Your Name)

One morning, Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) wakes up in her country town to discover that she has no memory of the day before, and her family and friends tell her she was acting very oddly that day. Mitsuha dreams of escaping her rural home with her sister and grandmother at a religious shrine, and moving to Tokyo. Then she wakes up in Tokyo in the body of Taki (voiced by
Ryûnosuke Kamiki) and she assumes that she is having a real vivid dream. The next day, Taki wakes up to discover that he has no memory of the day before, and his coworkers and friends tell him he was acting very oddly that day. The two teens slowly realise that there are in fact swapping bodies, and start leaving messages to each on their smart phones so that they can now what has happened the day before. Whilst in Mitsuha's body, Taki gets to experience a relationship with her grandmother that seems unlike anything he has in his life otherwise. Whilst in Taki's body, Mitsuha helps him speak to girls, all while she gets to experience the city which she loves. As the body swap continues the two teens grow closer and closer to each other.

The story in this film isn't what is new, body swap films are too many to name- I was particular reminded whilst watching this of In Your Eyes, the amazing 2014 Joss Whedon scripted film where two people can see and experience life through each others' eyes (it was only released online and a few festivals so unfortunately not many people have seen it). The exciting thing here isn't the originality of the story, it is how it is told. The teenager set up does add something to the body swap story as does it being in Japan, and the difference in the characters' lifestyles. One of the issues with body swap films is that they get so caught up in the swap that they don't develop the characters but Mitsuha and Taki are complex and beautifully crafted, especially Mitsuha in my opinion. The plot is more than the basic body swap and it has a depth and turns are worth experiencing.

I've missed Miyazaki since he resigned and the anime I've seen since then has a times good but not great. This is the film that there is deeply beautiful animation that isn't from Ghibli in the post Miyazaki era. The animation is glorious and I still think that there is a lot to be said for this style of animation over the style coming out of Hollywood right now.

I recommend watching the sub not the dub- I always do. Again sadly only one of my films is not in English but at least this year it is number one.

And whoops....honourable mentions...


I honestly forgot this came out in 2016 in Australia. I seemed to remember it was a 2015 film that I hadn't seen by my countdown but it came out on 14 January a week before Spotlight. I only remembered it half way through writing this list. It would have come in somewhere around 10th had I remembered it. Beautiful film and beautifully acted.

The Daughter

I didn't include an Australian film on the countdown so this is my Australian film of the year- not included as I saw it at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival, though had its theatrical release in 2016. Beautiful cinematography and masterful acting.

So those are my best films for 2016 and now it is time to hand out the opposite honour, worst film of 2016....

This came down to categories of films. Firstly animation. I've saw a few animated films in 2016. Moana and Your Name obviously made my bets of countdown, and Zootopia was enjoyable. The issue was the work of Illumination studios. I know a lot of people love Despicable Me but it left me cold, and the fact that took the most annoying part of that film and managed to make it a phenomenon deeply confuses me- yes I mean Minions, I don't think there is a pop culture fad of recent years that I've hated more and found more grating. For some reason, I watched two of their films this year Secret Life of Pets and Sing. Sing wasn't completely awful just bland but Secret Life of Pets was boring and a waste of some decent voice talent. I was not a fan of it at all but it wasn't my worst film of 2016, just a strong third on that list. Secondly and here lies the victor, comic book films. I normally a big comic film fan and at least one normally creeps into my best films of the year list but not this year. I enjoyed Dr Strange, Deadpool, Captain American: Civil War, Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusade, and X-Men: Apocalypse (I was fairly alone on that last one), and Marvel continues to put out mostly great TV content and DC vaguely enjoyable TV content. However DC live action on the big screen, my goodness!! I already blogged about Batman Vs Superman and the awful Martha clinker and the awful script and the unnecessary over the top violence and my continued dislike of the bulk of the work of Zack Snyder.  Now you'd think now the time to save words and refer you back to that rant but sadly no Batman Vs Superman takes a close second of worst film.

The worst film of 2016 was....

Suicide Squad!

The above is all the trailers in one clip but I couldn't find just one.

I really feel bad for Will Smith and Margot Robbie as this is the second year in a row that they have been in my worst film of the year, and this isn't their fault and they are, particularly Robbie, far and away the best things about this film. The trailer looked amazing (the one set to Bohemian Rhapsody- second in the above reel- is pretty much a lesson in how to make an exciting film trailer) and I was excited that this was the first time my favourite DC character, Harley Quinn, was due to appear on the best screen and Margot Robbie was good casting for her. Then I watched the film and it was a crazy mess of a disaster. The script was awful, there were parts that were borderline racist, it took every opportunity to have the women dress in next to nothing, it did NOTHING with Katana (part of the latent racism), and it did the impossible and made the Joker boring. It was also a lengthy visual cliche- the giant sky beam with a ring of destruction, and the faceless blobs of CGI army as featured in every second comic book or sci fi film you have seen for the last five years. The acting for a large part was awful or the actors seemed to have clearly realised a dud and given up (Viola Davis, why are you even in this? You are much better than this rubbish) and this is one spot where it was worse Batman VS Superman as most of the actors in it, especially the women, managed to deliver semi decent performances against a similarly atrocious script. It'd single out the treatment of Enchantress as the worst thing by far- Cara Delevingne is forced to belly dance in next to no clothes in the midst of supernatural smoke for most of the film. It does have two redeeming factors- Will Smith and Margot Robbie who both deliver decent performances, and though I don't love the version of Harley Quinn, Robbie played her well and if she continues in the role, as she is supposed to, it paves the way to see the complexity of a character who has been the comic book embodiment of abuse by a romantic partner. 

There you have it, the best and worst films of 2016 in my opinion.

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