There it goes… 2016. Another year spent taking refuge from wounded skies in the warm arms of film. To mark its passing, our wonderful band of filmtroopers offer up their favourite – and a few of their worst – moments from the year.
A beautiful, brutal and vital story sporting a remarkable cast expertly directed by debutante Deniz Gamze Erguven.
Carney captures lightening in a bottle again, a triumphant coming-of-age tale with catchy tunes aplenty!
I, Daniel Blake
A difficult watch at times but its heart is huge, here’s hoping Loach doesn’t flirt with retirement again anytime soon.
Embrace of the Serpent
A soulful odyssey and a fever dream, both revelatory and hallucinatory, stayed with me the whole year.
My welcome surprise of the year. The attention to detail might be a little overwrought at times but the literary thrills make up for it in spades, gotta love the Bernard Herrmannesque score too.
1. The Revenant
A force of nature anchored by Leonardo DiCaprio’s near silent performance. Beautifully shot with a mystical feel The Revenant depicts a brutal world that we will likely never see again. As climate change marches ceaselessly on The Revenant reminds us of what we will lose.
2. The Witch
A stunning period horror with impassioned performances all around. Chilling and terrifying in equal measure Eggers demonstrates a commitment to form and style that is rarely matched outside of the most famous auteurs. Horror cinema at its finest.
One of Disney’s most powerful films. An incredibly realised world and the buddy-cop pairing of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman add to the film’s majesty. A film that has felt increasingly necessary as this year has gone by.
A masterclass in subtle direction and pitch-perfect writing. Anchored by Brie Larson and Jacob Trembley, Room feels incredibly real in ways that are sickening, hopeful and cathartic. A major achievement for Irish cinema.
The record-breaking middle finger to an overloaded superhero genre. Ryan Reynolds thrills in his most enjoyable role ever while the over-the-top action and unapologetic humour give Deadpool the ‘oomph’ it needs to succeed.
A few of my picks are 2015 films that had Irish releases in 2016. I’m keeping them in because I really didn’t see much this year that was up to the same standard, and this would be a paltry list indeed if I took them out! Fingers crossed for 2017!
A powerful evocation of a world that is almost impossible for us to now imagine, Robert Eggers beautifully conveys the isolation and superstitions of the early Puritan settlers of the New World. The forest itself becomes a character thanks to the haunting, lingering cinematography, and the performances are all superb, allowing its archetypical characters to connect with the audience on a personal level. (Oh, and it’s horror, guys. It’s definitely, horror, no question.)
One of the most competently put together films of the last few years. You don’t have to be a Rocky fan to enjoy it, it’s just a brilliant sports movie. Ryan Coogler has managed to take a story that should, by all rights, feel stale and overplayed and makes it feel fresh and relevant. The camerawork in particular is exceptional, transforming each fight into a nail-biting thrill ride. Michael B. Jordan will have you cheering him on. Stallone will make you cry.
The Purge: Election Year
While it’s maybe a bit silly at times, The Purge trilogy is one of the more interesting dystopias around. Rather than centre their society around the annual purge, it’s just another gosh-darn annoyance that they have to buy insurance for. And while some of the subtext might be unintentional, it’s there and it brings with it food for thought. Moreover, the fact that the female, ostensibly Democrat, candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) won the presidential election makes me wonder it Election Year isn’t the darkest timeline after all.
Charlie Kaufman’s sobering stop motion feature uses its animation to fantastic effect, creating the internal world of its protagonist (David Thewlis) in which everyone he encounters has the same face and voice (Tom Noonan, hilarious and creepy in equal measure). With an awkward puppet sex scene to rival Team America and a brilliantly eerie soundtrack, Anomalisa creates a sense of claustrophobia and loneliness that is hard to shake.
A starkly uncinematic procedural that eschews emotion, for the most part, in favour of routine and exposition. While director Tom McCarthy risked alienating his audience with such an approach it pays off here, as it allows for the emotional distance required to explore the sprawling web of underground systems that permitted the abuse to continue for so long. There is no note of triumph throughout Spotlight, and while there are great performances from the ensemble cast, nothing is allowed to upstage the sickening realisations at the heart of the drama.
Turkey!: Everybody Wants Some
Can you have a story without conflict? That’s something that Richard Linklater has addressed with Everybody Wants Some. But, being the kind of dude who’s got to push the boat out in terms of film making, he also decided to combine this with some other brave ideas. Can you have a story without plot development? Or without compelling characters? Linklater’s answer? Everybody Wants Some. It’s a resounding yes, with the caveat that it’s also really, really bad.
A fresh take on the alien invasion film that is not afraid to talk across to the audience, a welcome change from the dumbed-down sci-fis of recent cinema. The film cleverly uses cinematic conventions to surprise the viewer and challenge our narrative expectations. Amy Adams never fails to deliver and her performance in this films is powerful on so many levels.
An extremely tense and creative way to tell a break-up story. Here, second time director, Tom Ford skillfully juggles three stories told simultaneously, providing for a romantic thriller that never loses pace. Great performances from Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon and excellent cinematography by Seamus McGarvey.
The first feature from writer/director Matt Ross is easily one of the most colourful and touching films of the year. A great ensemble cast along with an engaging story about family, freedom and mental health provides a film that is as funny as it is deep.
In a year with, by all accounts, a quite decent set of horror releases, The Witch stands out from the rest. Despite a misleading marketing campaign that assured its financial success while invoking the ire of people who shouldn’t really have been watching it, the film was met with near universal (and quite deserved) critical acclaim. Its merits as an actual horror film can be debated – it’s not all that scary – but as an impeccably well produced/acted/shot/just everything, it’s a treat to behold and one of the finest period dramas of this century (horror-themed or otherwise). Every aspect of it felt wholly authentic , to the historical setting and intent (don’t worry, you’ll get used to the Olde English), it is truly a film whose sad, bleak and unnerving world you get absorbed into.
Eye in the Sky
On paper this should have been a rather dry affair – despite the cast including Dame Helen and the final live-action performance by Alan Rickman (obligatory “fuck you 2016”); a military drama taking place in real time, consisting almost exclusively of various people skyping and calling each other, discussing the “great good” ethics of child murder. Okay, that last part doesn’t sound dry but, nonetheless, this is one of the most exciting films released all year with an almost unwatchable level of slow-build tension and a sustained sense of urgency made all the more engrossing by the fact that there is no right answer to the question they’re asking. Anyone who’s enjoyed playing Mass Effect or Tell Tale’s Walking Dead for the agonising moral quandaries those games face you with; this is that – the movie.
Denis has yet to put a foot wrong since breaking into the Hollywood mainstream with Prisoners, with his subseqent two films (Enemy and Sicario) being obvious top ten choices in the last two years. Arrival is further proof that he’s taking up where Christopher Nolan left off, or rather, fulfilling the promise that Nolan ultimately couldn’t in delivering engaging, thought-provoking genre pieces with mainstream appeal but the convictions to see their concepts and narratives through to their rightful conclusions. It’s indescribably refreshing to find a big-budget, hard sci-fi that has the courage to hang everything on dialogue and concepts and not lose faith in itself and become an action film.
Highly engrossing, visually stunning and with one of the best executed twists in years.
Bad Neighbours 2
I can sense some of you looking at me, you’re evidently the people who didn’t see this film. Now, while the first film was a very enjoyable, surprisingly clever and (seemingly) done-in-one comedy with a bit of a message at its core, the sequel was even more of all of those things but with the biting social satire and commentary dialed way up. It’s as funny as the first but it’s humour cuts deeper; observational jokes about rape culture and institutionalised racism manage to be genuinely humoress while keeping their heart in the right place. It’s truly a bizarre film given the type of film it wants you to think it is based on its marketing but that’s all a clever ruse to get your bum on a seat so that it can hit you with it’s curiously progressive and well-intentioned comedy that never sacrifices being laugh-out-loud funny. (I also desperately want to say it’s a rare film that has the balls to show some scrotum but even I want to punch myself for that one.)
I Am Not A Serial Killer
Not since The Duke of Burgundy has a film felt so legitimely period made, and not in a Stranger Things/look at all these ’80s things, kind of way. No, this feels authentically thrownback, and not just because it was shot on 16mm; every aspect of the directing and cinematography gives the impression that you’re watching a lost film from another decade. On top of that, it contains two superb lead performances from Max Records and Christopher Lloyd who are effortlessly, sardonically charming and genuinely menacing, respectively. A gorgeous-looking, fantastically soundtrack-ed, darkly humourous and frequently creepy (Christmas-set!) late-year delight.
Turkey of the Year: Solace
Everyone is going to say Dawn of Justice and while that’s certainly a biblically dreadful blockbuster the likes of which a studio hasn’t let loose upon us like a poorly thought through bio-weapon in some time; ultimately it’s too fascinating a failure to be truly despised and even has some redeeming aspects. Some. (*cue the screaming guitars of Wonder Woman’s theme*) So instead, I’m going to list the same film I listed last year as my seasonal bird; Solace, which is only getting its North American release this December, over a year after we were saddled with it. Woe betide anyone who sees it based on Hopkins’ brilliant return to form in Westworld because the only way he could have been trying harder to show how much he didn’t care about this film would be if he’d literally slept through every shot he was in, while disinterestedly defecating on Jeffrey Dean Morgan. (But since that choice is an unfair technicality, let’s just say it’s ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home of few Crossbows and Nonsensical Worldbuilding’ so I don’t get shouted at.)
Coen’s Hollywood tale. Not for everyone and served badly by a misleading trailer that suggested a wacky romp. Wacky it is but in the way only the Coens do.
8th movie from QT and second western talky and playing like a stage adaptation at times. Best comedy of 2016. His best in a while.
Hunt for the Wilderness People
Nice comedy drama set in the New Zealand outback following an old coot and a young orphan running from the law. Nice performances and off kilter tone.
Ben Wheatley keeps his indie crown with this very faithful adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel that is a lot funnier than people seem to realise.
Legend of Tarzan
No apologies for this choice. Even a not-so-great Tarzan movie is a Tarzan movie. Just needed some talking apes and dinosaurs and it would have been great.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A buddy road movie with a difference, this is a true underappreciated gem of the year. Equally comic and tragic, and brought to screen with a deft touch by Taika Waititi, its the story of a troubled orphan and his grizzly, unwilling, foster dad Hec, who head deep into the wilderness to avoid re-institutionalisation for one and possible imprisonment for the other. With beautiful performances and ‘majestical’ New Zealand countryside, it is an utterly charming movie in every way, and I was completely under its spell from the opening moments. #SkuxLife
1. Captain Fantastic
I exited the cinema screen fully aware that this would be my favourite film of the year. It’s a tale of nature versus nurture, which results in a life-affirming film. Viggo Mortensen is quite good, but his children are the real stars here. The ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ scene almost made me a blubbering mess.
On paper, this film sounds excruciatingly boring and dull, but it’s far from that. Jim Jarmusch has created a subtle gem, especially with Adam Driver cast as Paterson, the bus driver and fledgling poet from Paterson, New Jersey. The cinematography by Frederick Elmes is idyllic and assists in highlighting the poetic beauty of Paterson’s surrounding environment.
Any documentary charting the career of Oasis would be greeted with huge expectations, yet Supersonic delivered on so many levels. It doesn’t examine the demise of both the band and the Gallagher brotherhood; instead it looks at the band’s success, culminating with the massive Knebworth gigs in 1996, where Noel poignantly admits that maybe that was the time to call it a day.
4. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier created a gritty and gripping horror film about a band terrorised by Neo-Nazis. Patrick Stewart plays against type to such an extent that he becomes a truly menacing character. Also, this film was released a few weeks before the tragic and untimely death of Anton Yelchin, where his acting range typically excelled.
5. Nocturnal Animals
This has become a divisive film and it still divides my opinion. Upon my first viewing, I didn’t know what to think, but I kept thinking about it. Upon my second viewing, I still didn’t have a definitive opinion. However, on the basis of its stunning cinematography, its score, Michael Shannon, and Amy Adams’s ‘How to Perfectly Read a Book On-Screen’ performance, I quite liked Tom Ford’s flashy sophomore directorial offering.
Honourable Mentions: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Neon Demon, I, Daniel Blake, Hail, Caesar! (simply for the “would that it were so simple” scene).
Todd Haynes’s film was released in Ireland at the end of 2015, but I only got to see it earlier this year. Aficionados of mid-century design and fashion who are still feeling the loss of Mad Men will find much to admire in director Haynes’s wonderfully-realised vision of the 1950s: low-slung Packards, bright yellow and red taxis, cans of beer that have to be opened with can-openers, phone booths you can sit in, and stylish ladies gloves: Carol may be the first film where a pair of ladies gloves is used as a plot device. Featuring superb performances by Cate Blanchett at ease and on guard as the title character, a woman who has probably never had to worry about much of anything, but who knows that her world could come crumbling down if she makes one tiny mistake, and Rooney Mara as that tiny mistake, a withdrawn, mousy shopgirl discovering her sexuality. A triumph.
It’s proper grown-up science fiction from Denis Villeneuve, soon to bring us another potential classic in the sequel to Blade Runner. Villeneuve is content to grapple with ideas rather than let the story get overwhelmed by outlandish visual effects. Arrival’s big twist might be a bit of a cop-out, a case of having your intellectual cake and getting to swallow a big sentimental slice as well, and the depiction of a nervous, trigger-happy military is a bit of cliché, but no matter: this is still the most interesting major sci-fi film to come along in quite some time, part Close Encounters, part The Day the Earth Stood Still, with a brilliant, subtle performance by Amy Adams at its heart.
Tale of Tales
Matteo Garrone’s reworking of traditional fairy tales is a sumptuous feast of a film, not quite as satisfying as it looks, a visually splendid treat, a rich and blackly comic cinematic experience that will leave you wanting more. It opens with a shot of circus performers, including a juggler with three pins (he drops one): the performers return at various important points in the film, and the film, much like that juggler, is mostly adept at keeping its narrative parts working together. Not all of it works, but the sight of Salma Hayek devouring a giant heart, the look in her eyes both avid and resigned, is worth the price of admission alone.
Notes on Blindness
A remarkable reconstruction of the life of theologian John Hull by Peter Middleton and James Spinney, a documentary that re-enacts its events by utilising the original audio from the cassettes that Hull and his wife Marilyn made when his sight started failing him. A poetic examination of blindness, faith and memory.
Men & Chicken
Like its subject matter, Anders Thomas Jensen’s pitch-black comic masterpiece about family, paternity, and brotherly love is a monstrous hybrid of a film; part The Island of Dr. Moreau, part The Three Stooges, part Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Mads Mikkelsen has a whale of a time playing against type as a sex-starved, chronically masturbating buffoon, along with an assortment of odd siblings living in a dilapidated sanatorium on a tiny Danish island. Absurd, crass, and slapstick, and hugely enjoyable.
Honourable Mention: Love & Friendship
Filmed in and around Dublin, Whit Stilman’s take on Jane Austen is an acerbic satire on social mores, class and the mating game, with a career-best performance by Kate Beckinsale (honestly, why has she been wasting her talent doing junk like Underworld?) and a scene-stealing Tom Bennett as an archetypal upper-class twit. You’ll never look at a plate of peas again without uttering the immortal words “Tiny green balls! How jolly!”
Turkey: Nocturnal Animals
It looks amazing, and it has one superb performance from Michael Shannon, as well as solid work by Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jake Gyllenhaal, and an exquisite cameo by Laura Linney, but Tom Ford’s mannered, stylised treatise on art, superficiality, memory, revenge and imagination is sadly disappointingly on the nose, and ultimately it’s shallow and banal. Perhaps that’s the point, because, you know, Los Angeles and stuff – all I know is I wanted more of the gritty revenge Southern gothic tale within the story and less of Amy Adams moping around her well-appointed house.
Shot in a single take and largely improvised, Victoria is impressive in its acting, flawless in its cinematography, and completely engrossing in its story. It follows a Spanish girl living in Berlin who meets four young men on a night out and ends up going on a heist with them. Better than any Hollywood thriller this year.
4. Son of Saul
Though the Holocaust has been drawn upon by filmmakers on many occasions, it has never been portrayed quite like this before. Géza Röhrig is astounding as Saul, who, as part of the Sonderkommando, is responsible for disposing bodies from the gas chambers and cleaning the units. During one of his shifts, Saul discovers the body of his son and becomes obsessed with giving the boy a proper burial. Among the chaos and brutality, there remains a sense of humanity that glues you to the screen.
Deadpool 100% deserved all the attention it got this year. Depicting how superhero Deadpool aka Wade Wilson came to be, it was Marvel’s best superhero movie in years and the best performance of Ryan Reynold’s career. Deapool really does have it all – action, romance, and thrills, delivering its package with an infectious black sense of humour and sharp, smart dialogue. The supporting characters are all good fun too but this is Reynolds’ show.
2. Sing Street
John Carney’s latest is a Golden Globe-nominee (feels so good to say that!) and a musical delight. Full of feel-good factor, catchy tunes, and ’80s nostalgia, Sing Street follows a teenage boy named Conor who decides to set up a band in his new school to impress a girl called Raphina. Set in 1980s Dublin, the film also provides an interesting commentary on Ireland then and now. Moreover, its young cast members are really funny and genuinely loveable.
1. Everybody Wants Some!!
Another 1980s, feel-good entry, the fact that the best films this year were comedies is perhaps a testament to the fact that in bad times (and 2016 was a pretty dreary year), sheer escapism is the best cure. Set in the States, not a lot happens in Everybody Wants Some!! It’s basically just about a group of college football players partying the weekend before term starts. But it’s got a great script and has humour, heart and bucketfuls of genuine, fun characters. Its soundtrack is also awesome.
Honourable mention: The Young Offenders
A shout out this year has to go to The Young Offenders, which is the funniest Irish comedy I’ve seen in years. It portrays two teenage boys who decide to go rob a bail of cocaine which has washed up on the coast of Cork, so they can sell it and make a few bob. Alex Murphy and Chris Walley are fantastic and highly charismatic as the leads. The film passed the rare €1million mark at the Irish box office and was the highest grossing Irish-made film of the year domestically. Between that and the accolades it got, The Young Offenders truly deserves every success it’s achieved.
5. Bone Tomahawk
Eighty percent a deliciously nostalgic Western, twenty percent a bone-chilling horror, Bone Tomahawk is a film that continually slings surprises at its audience. Utilising the best elements of both genres, the film is a slow burner that, much like its motley crew headed by an on-point Kurt Russell, lulls the viewer into the safety of expectation before violently subverting all the rules of the game in the final, gruesome, act.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
It is a rare enough thing to see a comedy that remains consistently funny throughout, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople manages to do just that all the while being anchored by a surprisingly heartfelt core. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison both shine as the central mismatched duo, each bringing an extra dimension to their respective characters that elevates the film to another level. Director and writer Taika Waititi continues to impress, deftly balancing the sharp humour for which he is so well known with family drama and cutting social commentary.
3. Nocturnal Animals
A strange and intoxicating work that harks back to the noirs of old with a distinctly contemporary flavour, Tom Ford’s latest film examines the darker aspects of the human experience: revenge, regret, love, hate, and, perhaps most terrifying of all, the constant, nagging weight of an unfulfilling life. The visual and narrative intertwine to create a tense tale so perfectly balanced the audience are often left to feel they are being dangled at the edge of a precipice. Amy Adams’ performance is one of her best to date, containing all the subtleties that propel an actor from good to great.
2. The Witch
Proving that the horror genre still has so much more to give, The Witch is a sumptuous feast compared to the empty calories often offered by its Hollywood counterparts. Remaining true to the language and the aesthetic of rural, New England life in the 1600s, director Robert Eggers shows us that, in fact, the fear of the ‘other’ transcends time and place. Engaging on every level, the film offers audiences a unique viewing experience that terrifies in ways that a cheap ‘jump scare’ never could.
A rare film that provides food for the brain and not just the senses, Arrival scales the sci-fi genre back to its purest form. Once again, Amy Adams proves that she is one of the best in the industry, encapsulating her character with such compassion and intelligence that it is impossible to remain impassive while she is on screen. Contemplative and beautiful, its meditations on humanity ring true for the past, the present day, and the future.
1. The Nice Guys
As a fully paid-up devotee to the church of Shane Black, my expectations were high as a kite for his latest joint. And he delivered yet again. A sloppy, sleazy but still fiercely endearing period piece that’s as deliberately shambolic as the detectives it pays homage to.
And what a couple of dicks. Ryan Gosling proved himself a world-class goofball and offered up the scene of the year with a cigarette, a gun, a book and an uncooperative toilet door. While Russell Crowe had rare fun delivering punches and punchlines with equal zeal. All of this while taking on the porno and auto industries in 1970s LA. And somehow coming out on top. I’d love a sequel and stuff. Or just a sequel.
2. Green Room
Much like the first film, I’d follow this writer/director (Jeremy Saulnier) anywhere. Including to a backwoods bar deep in Neo-Nazi America where a punk band witness too much to ever be allowed to leave in one piece.
And from there starts a battle for survival that somehow slips the constraints of its cliché-saturated premise to deliver something original and pulsating. The film sadly gained some undeniable emotional heft by being one of last screen appearances by the gifted young actor Anton Yelchin. But after this and Blue Ruin, I can’t wait for the next colour-coded foray by Saulnier…
3. Sing Street
Fair play to John Carney. Judging by this, his specialising in exploring music through film is far from played out. The tight rope for musicals is precarious. You gotta have the tunes and from someone who has seen next year’s Oscar fave La La Land, I reckon this film has them beat in that area. Hands down.
All of this while sourcing a new generation of young actors and musicians to hold the centre of the entire endeavour together. He makes it look easy. Isn’t that a sign of mastery?
A film so good they named it twice but whichever name it traded under, here was another gem in another strong year for animation. The adventures of a police bunny in an animal metropolis teeming with crime was steeped in filmic references but also fired by its own ingenuity. My favourite animated film of the year but maybe only until I catch up with Kubo & the Two Strings.
5. I Am Not A Serial Killer
I Am Not An Exaggerator. It’s a wintry, wicked, organ grinder of a horror that actually has something to say about living and dying.
Unfairly Underpraised: Ghostbusters
Berated before it was seen, this was one of the better blockbusters which while uneven had plenty of peaks. And any film that starts with a tour guide describing how a mansion successfully erected ‘an anti Irish fence’ has me onside from the get-go.
Unfairly Overpraised: The Hateful 8
What this film is doing within an ass’ roar of praise is beyond me. Indulgently overlong. Chronically undercooked. And undeniably a stage play. And not a very good stage play.
Turkey of the Year: Batman Vs Superman Vs Suicide Squad Vs Captain America Vs I, Daniel Blake
Okay – maybe not the last one, but was this the year Hollywood declared war on every audience? These universe expanding clusterfucks are shrinking brains and burning eyeballs across the globe in a fashion that is just pathetic and pandemic.
I have no fundamental objections to superheroes hanging out together. Just write a script that is worthy of our time and maybe even our affection.
Brady Corbet’s feature directorial debut is an endlessly rich, supremely confident, rigorously intelligent, brilliantly acted and formally adventurous masterwork.
2. The Neon Demon
A disreputable delight and an astonishing aesthetic triumph. Once again confirms Nicolas Winding Refn’s supreme mastery of the medium.
3. Queen of Earth
There are shades of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Bergman’s Persona in Alex Ross Perry’s unflinchingly cynical examination of human relationships and disquieting take on mental illness. A haunting piece of work.
4. The Club
A busy year for Pablo Larrain with two other films – Jackie and Neruda – set for release here in the coming months. This is a harrowing, brave and original take on a very bleak and disturbing subject matter.
Amongst Todd Solondz’s weaker films but still has enough unforgettable and gleefully pessimistic moments to remind us of what an exceptional and sometimes under-rated artist he is. Features excellent performances from Ellen Bursytn, Kieran Culkin and Greta Gerwig.
Honourable Mentions: Anomolisa, Green Room, The Hateful Eight, Under the Shadow.
Also special mention to Julia Ducournau’s terrific body-horror Raw, which screened at this year’s Horrorthon but does not go on general release here until March.
Green Room, centring upon a punk-band (led by the late and great Anton Yelchin) who are forced to defend themselves from a gang of murderous neo-Nazis (run by Patrick Stewart), is a mean and lean genre picture, which harks back to ’70s dread-inducing survival thrillers such as Assault on Precinct 13, Straw Dogs and Southern Comfort. However, while many modern movies pay homage to these archetypal contributions to the thriller genre, what separates Green Room from the pack is how fiercely energetic it is. The movie, directed by Jeremy Saulnier (between this and Blue Ruin, I now want a Three Colours Trilogy from the filmmaker), is as fast, manic and exhilarating as the punk stylings of The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits and The Damned (all referenced within the film). It’s been reported on how tremendously gory the film is. Yet, in my opinion, Green Room is firmly anti-violent. The carnage is unglamorous, serving to highlight how people can be driven or manipulated to commit truly horrendous actions on account of a belief in a warped ideology. With recent reports of white supremacy activity rising in the U.S, Green Room may be a more important film than its high-concept premise suggests.
By far the most strange and disturbing true story re-created on-screen this year, the Argentinian crime-drama The Clan tells the tale of the Puccio family. In the eighties, their patriarch, Arquimedes (Guillermo Francella) used his former position as a state intelligence gatherer, as well as his famous rugby player son’s connections, to kidnap wealthy people for ransom. He kept his victims chained in the family home as the house’s occupants knowingly went about their daily business. Energetically and stylishly directed by Pablo Trapero (Carancho, White Elephant) – his zipping through time and fabulously ironic use of pop-music (The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’) evokes Scorsese at his best – the film is a fascinating account of true macabre. Although, the kidnapping sequences are long and taut, the true tension is amidst the household scenes, where Arquimedes’ young children’s attempts to do their homework are interrupted by the wails of the “house-guests”. Comedian Guillermo Francella, cast against type, as the sociopathic Puccio patriarch is terrifying. With his big-eyes, he appears alien-like, something reflected in his demeanor as he replicates human emotion, when necessary, without seemingly understanding it. That said, despite all the evil it portrays, there is an off-kilter, pitch-black humour to proceedings, as evident by the darkly comic note on which the film ends.
Hell or High Water
One of the major joys of Hell or High Water is how the dialogue doesn’t just exist to push the plot forward. Instead, almost every line in Taylor Sheridan’s script is a lyrical joy to behold. The film centres upon two Texan brothers, one an ex-con (Ben Foster), one a family man (Chris Pine) who begin robbing banks when their farm is about to be foreclosed on. Meanwhile, an elderly cowboy-like police officer (a phenomenal Jeff Bridges) and his Native American partner (Gil Bermingham) are on the criminals’ tail. One can enjoy Hell or High Water as a fresh and well-executed take on the old trope of “cops and robbers”. For instance, the climactic set-piece is just an amazing extended riff on the finale of the comparable Humphrey Bogart starring classic High Sierra. However, if the viewer looks past the deceptively simple story, there is a vast amount of substance which helps the film transcend its genre origin. Sheridan’s themes regarding the death of old American-Western values and how poverty is a disease which can infect a person’s bloodline are so rich and timely, leaving the movie feeling not just like a heist thriller but a historical document.
A film that succeeds as a gangster drama, an action movie and a scathing critique of the society from which it derives, Suburra cements its director, Stefano Sollima (Sky Atlantic’s Gomorrah), as Italy’s David Simon. His latest stars Pierfrancesco Favino as a corrupt Rome-based M.P who, following the overdose of an under-age prostitute in his company, becomes under the thumb of two warring gangsters. Visually arresting – every scene within its lavish Roman setting is absolutely breath-taking, as well as dense and complex story-wise, Suburra is a crime-thriller with a brain in its head. In a similar way to The Wire, the film deftly and excitingly examines the link between gangsterdom and politics. Juggling various plot threads – some of which are rooted in-reality (Silvio Berlusconi and Pope Benedict XVI’s resignations) – Suburra is a disturbing portrait of a Rome polluted by greed, hubris and corruption. Look out for its TV spin-off coming to Netflix in 2017.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s quasi-sequel to Dazed in Confused is further proof that its creator is the most human filmmaker working in American cinema today. Set in a Texan College in 1980 just as semester is about to begin, the film follows a group of young male baseball players who do nothing but bust on each other, hang-out and try seduce members of the opposite sex. That may not sound like the best way to spend two hours – some critics claim the film objectifies women. I’d argue that only the protagonists do and that the major female characters within the movie are very three-dimensional. Yet, Linklater’s script is consistently hilarious, the period detail is beautiful and most importantly, he takes a group of jocks, who in lesser hands could be indistinguishable stereotypes, and subtly examines their masculinity, giving each one their own distinct and realistic personality. However, the greatest praise I can laud on Everybody Wants Some!! is that it captures on-screen the freedom that comes from living with friends, away from family, and that it makes the viewer long to live in a bygone era.
The dark heart of Ballard’s novel throbs behind every moment of Ben Wheatley’s meticulous adaptation. Visuals, direction, pacing, music – all are crafted to hold us in a queasy state of psychosis where hedonism and despair, society and barbarism, utopia and apocalypse reveal themselves as dangerous blood brothers. Ballard purists look away now: it’s better than the book.
Embrace of the Serpent
If history could dream, it would probably dream something like Embrace of the Serpent. The Amazonian meeting of two cultures – one dying, one spreading – is the frame for this woozy tale of magic and science, friendship and fear. This is no clichéd clash of imperial hubris and the noble savage; Embrace of the Serpent is more concerned about that most tragic of human conundrums – our craving for progress and knowledge that somehow only bring a greater sense of loss.
Yes, it flirts with absurdity, but Neon Demon is cinematic bravado at its most exhilarating. Winding Refn’s uncompromising commitment to his craft makes for a surreal, sensory feast – as coldly compelling as a fashion catwalk, yet laced with explosions of manic horror. More than just a swipe at an infernal industry, Neon Demon plays on what troubles us most – our own helpless fascination with the leer of commodified flesh.
A scalpel swipe at first-world frustration, Wiener-Dog uses four barely connected tales to trace the human journey from childhood to decay – a journey mostly made up of bafflement, banality, disappointment and despair. Yet a strange alchemy occurs: the cranked up pessimism, the icy dialogue and the stylistic provocation produce several spasms of dark comedic brilliance, and when the bitter smirk occasionally gives way to fleeting moments of love, warmth and compassion, they burn even brighter against Todd Solondz’s pitch black canvas.
Robert Eggers’ macabre historical tale is tonal masterclass, a compelling cauldron that brings Puritan hysteria to the boil. With the depth of its gloom, The Witch draws us into a world shifting shadows and uncertainty. Are we witnessing something paranormal? Paranoiac? The vengeful return of religious repression? Surprisingly, all these questions are hideously answered in the film’s epic final act…
It tells you a lot that the director of The Witch was previously a production designer. Every aspect of this movie is so well designed it forms a compelling aesthetic and suspenseful atmosphere in this knockout horror folktale.
Shooting this real-time crime story in one uninterrupted tracking shot proved more than a jaw-dropping technical feat. It profoundly changes the viewing experience, planting you with rich characters on a meandering, dangerous night through Berlin.
Bad Neighbours 2
Now, now, hear me out on this. How many American comedies land laughs on crass humour without sacrificing decency or a positive social message? How many movies have multiple competing characters but each of their aspirations is completely understandable? This is a surprisingly well-written and enjoyable comedy.
Oliver Stone’s best movie in decades and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s best performance to date, Snowden is a timely, nuanced look at the discoveries of whistleblower Edward Snowden. The personal and political struggles are compelling and clear, without portraying Snowden to be anything more than a well-rounded ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Towering over the year of films released since January, Room is a beautiful exploration of structuralism, the perception of the world through limited linguistic understanding, and the psychological shock this inflicts on freed hostages. Without a moment of screen-time wasted, lifted by stunning performances throughout, this kind of Irish film is to be celebrated. One might even say this was the “Best Picture”, or that Lenny Abrahamson was “Best Director” of the year.