HMZ’s Top films of 2016
Here’s a round up of the films that really resonated with me in 2016. The work below moved, thrilled, terrified and often sparked personal reflection.This list is, of course, entirely subjective and are my personal highlights. I’d love to hear yours in the comments section below, on Twitter @hmzfilm and Instagram.
There are a number of films that may well have made this list which i’ve missed out on seeing. These include Nocturnal Animals, Victoria, A Monster Calls, Sully, The Wailing and Train to Busan.
The unlucky few which deserve a special mention: Jean-Marc Vallée’s reflective Demolition, Can Evrenol’s art-house Turkish shocker Baskin, the disturbing Goodnight Mommy and the triumphant Eddie the Eagle.
Everybody Wants Some!!
On the surface, Everybody Wants Some is a jock comedy about the exploits of US college baseball team partying their lives away on a boozy weekend before term begins. As with the maestro Linklater’s previous body of work, he has crafted something wonderful showcasing the power of human connectivity. He has the knack of finding the magic in the mundane. Cliques and social titles are dismissed as the boys come of age in often hilarious circumstances.
“You’ve got to embrace your inner strange, man. Just be weird.”
A mysterious object falls from the sky and strikes a man knocking him unconscious leaving with him a form of amnesia. A gripping thriller that twists and turns and has a pristine visual aesthetic. The ending will leave you reeling and tracing every step back to its origin. A mind-boggling British conundrum.
“After the accident I forgot everything. It was as though my memories were pigeons and the accident a big noise that had scared them off.”
Into The Inferno
Werner Herzog’s fascinating documentary explores his fearful wonder at the sheer molten force of the volcano. Along with volcanologist, Clive Oppenheimer, the pair travel around the world to the likes of Ethiopia, North Korea and Iceland to speak to those living on the cusp of some of the world’s deadliest volcanoes. The striking imagery of magma flowing under rock can often feel like staring into pits of hell. The mysticism and fearful superstitions have permeated deeply into cultural identity which Herzog is able to tap into. Salt and Fire, Herzog’s super-volcano thriller starring Michael Shannon premiered at TIFF earlier this year and is one to keep an eye out for.
“It is a fire that wants to burst forth and it could not care less about what we are doing up here”
This remarkably lifelike puppet animation is beautifully tender, tragic and often hilarious account of a man who has lost the passion for life. Kaufman grapples with the mundane nature of existence in what feels like a journey through a maze in a hazy mind. Michael Stone appears clinically depressed desperately searching for remnants of himself in a past life. When he catches a glimmer of hope, he is unwittingly drawn to its embrace. Original and thought provoking.
“What is it to be human? What is it to ache? What is it to be alive? “
Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier’s riveting follow up from breakout hit, Blue Ruin (read full review here and my interview with star Macon Blair) is an all-guns-blazing escape thriller that is taut with suspense around every corner. A punk rock band witnesses a murder at a neo-nazi bar and get trapped inside the green room. A hell for leather mission to get out alive ensues with Patrick Stewart on top form as the evil bar owner. Tragically, Anton Yelchin’s final film before his untimely death in 2016.
While the former was about breaking out, Fede Alvarez’s heart-in-mouth thriller where a group of friends attempt to steal a huge sum of money from a blind army veteran’s home is precisely the opposite. This labyrinthine home invasion horror is a heist movie on steroids. A sensory thrill ride that never lets up. A sequel is on its way.
“There is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no god.”
This made me want to put my fist through a brick wall. Like any proper Rocky movie should. A heart-pumping and chest-banging match up with enough directorial wisdom from Cooglar to avoid falling foul to the whims of nostalgia but side-stepping and creating a bold, new vision. In Michael B. Jordan, there’s a genuine movie star at the helm. With Stallone on form as the reluctant old timer; this is bursting with heart and is the sporting highlight of 2016.
“Apollo? Yeah, he was great. Perfect fighter. Ain’t nobody ever better. So how did you beat him? Time beat him. Time, you know, takes everybody out. It’s undefeated.”
10 Cloverfield Lane
One of the real surprises of the year. A claustrophobic thriller doused in the flames of paranoia. After being involved in a car accident, Michelle awakens in a mysterious underground cabin and is being held captive by Howard (the brilliantly creepy John Goodman) who claims to have saved her from a widespread attack outside. The doomsday feel ramps up when Michelle discovers she’s not alone. But why exactly is Howard preventing her from leaving, to satisfy his own insanity or save her from something unthinkable outside? Shades of Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’ can be heard loud and clear.
“People are strange creatures. You can’t always convince them that safety is in their best interest.”
The Big Short
Mckay directs a stellar cast and shines a light on the decrepit miscreants who profited at the layman’s expense during the financial collapse in the late 2000s. A toss up between the deciding who is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a never-ending tussle. Are we actually on the side of those who profiteered from the melee? Razor sharp black comedy with Brad Pitt’s understated role as the moral conscience being the real highlight.
“If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number – every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?”
Sorrentino’s love letter to the vitality of youth is tender and bittersweet. A pair of old friends retreat to the luxury of the Swiss Alps as they reflect on life’s ups and downs, the vitality of youth and the rigours and pleasures of parenthood and companionship. The power of music to transcend time and space is eloquently captured. Keitel and Caine are in a class of their own.
“I’m wondering what happens to your memory over time. I can’t remember my family. I don’t remember their faces or how they talked. Last night I was watching Lena while she was asleep. And I was thinking about all the thousands of little things that I done for her as her father. And I done them deliberately so that she would remember them. When she grows up. But in time. She won’t remember a single thing.”
Inspiring, uplifting and often harrowing story of Jack who’s born and raised by his mother in a shed after she was abducted and help captive for years. We follow Jack’s miraculous journey and wonderment at seeing and experiencing the world for the first time.
“When I was four, I didn’t even know about the world, and now me and ma are going to live in it forever and ever until we’re dead. This is a street in a city in a country called America, and earth. That’s a blue and green planet, always spinning, so I don’t know why we don’t fall off. Then, there’s outer space. And nobody knows where’s heaven. Ma and I have decided that because we don’t know what we like, we get to try everything.”
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi’s laugh out loud kiwi comedy stole my heart. Ricky Baker is the troublesome foster kid bouncing between homes until he finally arrives at his aunty’s rural cottage. A heart-warming road journey of an unlikely friendship between a man who has lost his passion for life and a child who’s trying to find his.
“I’m more like the Terminator than you! I said it first, you’re more like Sarah Connor, and in the first movie too, before she could do chinups.”
Wheatley’s version of HG Ballard’s seminal 1975 novel is a head-trip of monumental proportions. This woozy vision is a towering metaphor of the social class system that is frighteningly current and depressingly on point.
“ There’s no food left. Only the dogs. And Mrs. Hillman is refusing to clean unless I pay her what I apparently owe her. Like all poor people, she’s obsessed with money.”
A Tamil Tiger freedom fighter decides to flee warn torn Sri Lanka in the final days of the civil war. In need of asylum and a plausible cover story, he takes on a false identity of a recently deceased man and is paired with strangers. They happen to become his ‘wife’ and ‘daughter’ in a new life destined to begin in Paris. As Dheepan takes on a menial caretaker job in the projects, he is forced to fend for himself and new found family. A blazing and heartfelt portrait of new beginnings and how instinct can be buried deep within but never killed entirely.
Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary delivers a gut punching message to the state of America’s corrupt justice system. The incarceration of African American males is only a piece of the overt racial inequality that resides in a country haunted by its brutal past. There’s a seething passion here which channels the Black Lives matter movement but crucially provides enough perspective and data to support its growing sense of urgency. DuVernay’s conclusion is that the 13th amendment allows for people to be perpetually punished for crime is an evolving form of modern day slavery which has taken on a different guise. The role of the ALEC group (https://www.alec.org/) feels eerily tied to conspiracy theories of the illuminati and look out for the Trump sequence which will turn your blood ice cold.
“In the good old days this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, they wouldn’t do it again. I’d like to punch him in the face I’ll tell you.”
Jeff Nichols’ brilliantly nostalgic sci-fi feels instantly iconic. A young boy capable of extraordinary mind-altering phenomena is on the run with the government hot on his trail. The boy’s father (the irrepressible Michael Shannon) shoulders responsibility to protect and preserve his child’s gifts from those seeking to exploit them. Love can sometimes mean letting go. Cults, the FBI and plenty of references to Spielberg. Stephen King and Carpenter make this a gem.
“He believes in something. You don’t. It doesn’t matter. Good people die every day believing in things.”
The Neon Demon
I’m still falling perilously into the abyss staring helplessly up at The Neon Demon. It’s a vicious beast that sent me hurtling over the edge of sanity. Refn has sent shudders down the spine with the monstrous depravity flowing through the glossy veins of his latest creation. The Dane has given birth to the darkest of fairy-tales capturing the alluring essence of beauty and modern society’s compulsive, disturbing obsession with it. How far will some go to attain the elusive elixir? This is a vicious attack at the vanity ingrained in the moral fabric of contemporary culture. A world in which beauty is worshiped as currency of worth. The transgression into horror is absurd, shocking and one of the most memorable genre exercises in some time.
““Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
The Hateful Eight
Tarantino’s slow burning ensemble Western teeters on the edge of violence and stares perilously into a coffee pot of anarchy. It’s an immersive, out of body experience that places us in a lounging chair alongside the hateful eight in Minnie’s Haberdashery. There’s a brooding, almost tantalising hysteria of calmness that carries a promise of violence. It’s a freezing cauldron of deception, self- interest and ulterior motive that threatens to glaze over at any given moment. You can almost hear the knives being sharpened as night draws closer and the plot thickens. Once the proverbial switch is finally flipped; it’s a real Tarantino-fest.
“The man who pulls the lever that breaks your neck will be a dispassionate man. And that dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.”
Robert Eggers’s New England folktale crawls from the depths of darkness to emerge as a blood-curdling dose of religious horror. It’s the closest thing to waking up in a Puritan’s nightmare; the deeply disturbing portrait of terror revives the wickedness of the witch in a clutch of slow-burning hysteria. There’s an omnipotent evil lurking, that tension-fuelled angst that crushes any faint glimmer of hope. Every glance, each turn of phrase is drenched in fear. It’s an excruciating irony as a God-fearing family is overcome with the feral presence of an arcane malevolence. The mysterious evil takes many forms as it erodes the innocence of youth and captures the biblical essence of original sin. This vision may be unbearably grim for some but for those who can withstand its harsh edge will find much to admire in this promising debut feature.
“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
Our Little Sister
Hirokazu Koreeda’s enchanting and tender portrait of the trials and tribulations of a Japanese family is bubbling with delight. Three sisters in their twenties invite their thirteen-year-old step-sister to move in with them following the passing of their father. The subtlety of Koreeda’s direction has a remarkably calming effect of making significant events blend into ebbs and flow of normality. Therein lies the magic. Authentic, optimistic and incredibly poignant.
“I always thought someone got hurt just because I exist”
A pulsating, deftly handled Academy Award winning thriller that cuts through the niceties and pulls out the blackened heart of Boston’s sickening past. A systemic and purposeful cover up of sexual abuse inflicted by priests upon scores of unsuspecting children in the city. A team of Boston Globe investigative journalists led by the stellar performance of Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo uncover the conspiracy in riveting fashion.
“They say it’s just physical abuse but it’s more than that, this was spiritual abuse. You know why I went along with everything? Because priests, are supposed to be the good guys.”
Under The Shadow
Babak Anvari’s fiendishly clever and frightening debut is set in war torn Tehran during the 1980s. A mother and daughter grapple with the horrors of war. The misery becomes a breeding ground for an evil supernatural presence to wreak havoc. The ‘Djinn’ plays tricks with the mind and takes what one holds dearest. Doubling up as a powerful metaphor for the corrosive political horrors of the time and the projection of a mother’s fearful insecurity; another Iranian gem to follow A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and strong vibes of Jennifer Kent’s Babadook-dook-dook.
“They travel on the wind. They’ll always know how to find you.”
Knight of Cups
Knight of Cups flows like a fleeting stream of thought. It transcends time and space reflecting on the shapeless wonderment of life and the raft of emotion it awakens. Malick has dreamt up a mirage of wonder; that, if embraced, can provoke an overpowering existential reflection of one’s own life and relationships. Rooted in religious spirituality and underpinned by John Bunyan’s Pilgrims progress (1678); this has the semblance of a dream and nightmarish overtones of excess. Floating through Rick’s life reliving those strained moments with brother and father, agonising and cherishing the permanent and fleeting romances; there’s an observational lens cast on extreme emotions that can’t be expressed in words. Deep and transient feelings of pure love, unadulterated childlike joy, the crushing isolation of loneliness and the lurking spectre of regret.
Read the full extended review here
“He shows His love not by helping you avoid suffering, by sending you suffering…We are not only to endure patiently the troubles He sends, we are to regard them as gifts. As gifts more precious than the happiness we wish for ourselves.”
The Revenant is an exasperating and entirely immersive cinematic experience that champions the aeonian strength of the human spirit. A savage tale of redemption fuelled by the misty embers of grief and driven by the thirst of revenge. The power of a father’s love transcends the desire of carnal blood-lust, the emotional arc charges the narrative with a recondite magnetism. It’s an epic journey that rides on waves of melancholia and retribution that ultimately arrives at a spiritual destination. It’s a work of stark contrast as cowardice wrestles with courage and the wondrous yet unforgiving beauty of nature clashes with animal instinct.
“My heart bleeds. But revenge is in the creator’s hands.”
Son of Saul
László Nemes astonishing debut feature descends into the depths of mankind’s darkest hour. Saul Auslander is a Hungarian Jew prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando (a work unit of prisoners forced to help with the disposal of gas chamber victims) in one of Auschwitz’s concentration camps. When he believes his son to be one of the dead, he embarks on the dangerous mission to bury him according to religious tradition. This is the most visceral, nerve burning and terrifying experience of the year by some distance. The tight focus with a shallow close-up of Hungarian actor Géza Röhrig’s numb reactions give this an immersive quality. Nemes has bought humanity and care to the dehumanised by honing on a single story. With atrocities beyond description occurring on the periphery of our vision, you can almost see the spectre of death crawling from the screen.
“You failed the living for the dead”
Based on the short story ‘The story of life’ by Ted Chiang; this remarkably poignant and timely film merges the poetic wonder of life with the unanswerable quandary of mankind. A low key arrival of extra-terrestrial vessels around the globe creates mass panic. As the world watches on, a team of experts around the world seek to unravel the puzzle and uncover the aliens’ purpose on earth. Linguistic professor, Louise Banks (the terrific Amy Adams), is helicoptered in to partner the US military and other leading experts to translate and communicate. While efforts are made to understand a foreign threat, there’s a rich and elegantly fleeting portrayal of Banks’s life with her daughter. The moving montage of life moments is increasingly insightful as political tension builds and the climax nears. The deeply human quality to these fragments are overwhelmingly poignant. Perhaps even more so if you’ve recently become a parent for the first time. The entirety of life is captured in a series of vignettes which blend together to form a stream of consciousness that flows beneath the garden of other-worldliness. It’s a miraculous achievement
“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?
Disclaimer: I do not own any copyright to any of the cinematic posters/images in this blog post.