Thursday 15 December 2016

Cinema 2016: 10 Favourite Films (+ Extras)

Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

2016 was a year that frayed and frazzled our collective nerves in many ways, leading some of us to seek out films that restored a sense of goodness, balance and belief. One such was Jarmuschs lovely latest, a movie that makes an unremarkable week in the life of a bus driver/poet (Adam Driver) absorbing and transcendent. Structured through patterns of repetition and variation, as unassuming yet as indelible as its protagonist, Paterson is a wry, observant ode to the poetry of everyday experience, that ranks as one of the directors best, and certainly warmest and most loving, works. John Bleasdales great review of the film, at CineVue, is one of my favourite pieces of film writing this year. Read it here.

The Last Family (Ostatnia Rodzina) (dir. Jan P. Matuszyński)

Jan P. Matuszyński made his drama about the Beksińskis - an artistic Polish clan beset by a number of tragedies - into a funny, intimate and finally devastating family portrait. In its mordant humour and its beautiful attention to the texture of the quotidian, the haunting The Last Family recalls the very best of Mike Leighs work, while feeling totally fresh and distinctive in its own right. The movie announces Matuszyński  as a major talent to watch. Full review here

Things to Come  (dir. Mia Hansen-Love)

Hansen-Love followed up the draggy, slightly irritating Eden with a finely honed, surprisingly funny drama about a philosophy teacher (Isabelle Huppert) undergoing a series of personal and professional shake-ups. Warm, wry, wise, and boasting one of Hupperts most spontaneous, likeable performances, Things to Come is a strangely soothing experience. Full review here.

Lemonade (dir. Beyoncé and others)

So you pretty much give up on the American mainstream and then this happens. Made by one the biggest stars in the world it might have been, but the thing about Lemonade is that it doesnt feel mainstream. On the contrary, its powerful, haunting images - encompassing urban car park and rural idyll, grainy documentary and luscious stylisation - are as enigmatic as they are iconic, a perfect complement to the dynamic stylistic diversity of a song sequence that boasted Beyoncé's best singing and song-writing to date. Some critics got hung up on the tabloidy Bey and Jay bust-up element of the endeavour, but dig deeper and something far richer and more subversive is revealed. With its Katrina and Black Lives Matter references, Lemonade certainly hit the zeitgeist yet its nods to the history of Black expression created something both cutting-edge yet timeless in feeling. With Beyoncé using her talents and persona to channel vulnerability, rage, resistance and transcendence, Lemonade added up to a genuinely empowering and totally engrossing experience, accomplishing more in under an hour than several slack, shapeless features managed in nearly three. (Lookin at you, American Honey and Toni Erdmann.)

Theo and Hugo (dir. Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau)

Summertime (dir. Catherine Corsini)

These beautiful films are very different: the former a taut yet dreamy night-in-the-city involving two guys whose sex-club hook-up takes a dramatic turn, the latter a years-spanning love story between two women of different backgrounds and temperaments, presented in the context of second-wave feminism. Yet I persist in thinking of the films as companion pieces, not least because they prove, once again, that when it comes to crafting intense, serious-minded movies that really do justice to the soul-shaking experience of falling in love, no one does it like filmmakers working in France do it, these days. Summertime review here

Hissein Habre: A Chadian Tragedy (dir. Mahamet-Saleh Haroun)

Haroun made his first foray into documentary with this quietly searing work, in which interviews with victims of the  Habre regime and those who fought a long struggle to bring the dictator to justice, are the focus. Few shots in 2016 cinema were more potent than the closing images here, which show the dictator, struggling and unrepentant, being dragged from the courtroom. Full review here

Aquarius (dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho)

Like Things To Come, Kleber Mendonça Filhos follow-up to the much-admired Neighbouring Sounds is also about an older female protagonist confronting new challenges. More openly transgressive than Hansen-Loves film, Aquarius sometimes dotes on its heroine a little bit too much for comfort. Still, the movie remains wonderfully fresh and subversive, crowned by a great performance from Sonia Braga as the radical, resistant widow. The moment in which Bragas Clara blasts Queens Fat-Bottomed Girls back at her noisy neighbours might be my favourite scene of the year.

The BFG (dir. Steven Spielberg)

A lot of people seemed decidedly lukewarm about Spielbergs latest, but I found The BFG to be everything youd hope for: funny, touching, supremely loveable, and, in its exuberant delight in Gobblefunk, as rich to listen to as it is to look at. Full review here

Staying Vertical (dir. Alain Guiraudie)

Guiraudie followed up his phenomenally successful art-porn thriller Stranger By The Lake with an even odder and more transgressive work: a consistently confounding, somewhat Ozonian meditation on creativity and parenthood that moved from hilarity to deep unease in the blink of an eye. Very weird and totally unforgettable. Note: the Cannes audience squirmed more at one (already notorious) sequence than the Wroclaw audience did. Full review here


Honourable Mentions: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, Loving, The Handmaiden, The Hard Stop10 Cloverfield LaneEye in the Sky, Ederly, NerudaOffice for Monument Construction

Detested: Captain Fantastic

Biggest WTF did so many people see in that?: Toni Erdmann

DVD Releases of the Year: Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC; Napoleon. 

Book: Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema by Sophie Mayer 

Still Unseen: Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea


  1. You’ve sold me on Things to Come and the new Jarmusch!

    Lemonade is an inspired choice. I was impressed too, although the cd as stand-alone wasn’t as captivating. The music needed the visuals to work its wonders on me.

    Toni Erdmann was a bit predictable, and you could sum up the story in a few words, but I enjoyed the performances and being in the company of the likeable main characters, so the film was a winner for me.

    1. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on those two, Chris. Yes, LEMONADE gains so much from the visuals, though the music works fine for me as stand-alone material (when watching it, I miss the longer versions of "Freedom" and "Love Drought" that are on the CD, for example).

      As for TONI ERDMANN, I'm quite baffled by all the praise for it, to be honest. I found it interminable, unfunny and without the insights or texture to justify the epic length.