It’s that time of the year again when film fans reflect on the year’s highs and lows at the cinema and share their own personal choices of what were the cream of the crop in 2016. So without further ado, here are my favourites of the year (*NB – My list includes films released both in the UK and US in 2016).
1: La La Land
When it came to the London Film Festival this autumn, the wave of anticipation for La La Land was immense: soaring after stunning reviews from Venice and other film festivals, the queue to get into the screening was one of the longest I’ve ever seen and the murmurs through those waiting was one of anticipation and excitement. Still, sometimes with such positivity comes the impossible task for the film to live up to expectations. We needn’t have worried as La La Land is as magical and magnificent as you have heard. The kind of blissful, wondrous cinema experience that is so perfect in its execution on every level that it’s impossible to resist. From its momentous opening through countless others as a “magical” soundtrack and score incensed a blossoming love story in the picture-perfect surroundings of Los Angeles.
Chazelle’s decision to shoot many of the dance numbers in one take a la classic musical Hollywood (Gene Kelly etc) infuses the film with such energy that it sweeps you up into the stratosphere along with it. Then there’s the glorious music from Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that fuels the entire conceit – from its opening number Another Day of Sun through City of Stars (try not to whistle the tune for weeks afterwards) to the heartbreaking Audition (Here’s to the Fools who Dream), it’s another pitch-perfect element that to an already monumental achievement.
2016 has been tough, but La La Land is the perfect remedy and truly is cinema at its absolute best.
Jim Jarmusch has made a plethora of varied and diverse films over his long career but in amongst all of those gems he has produced, I don’t think I have connected with one so profoundly as I did with Paterson. Led by a magnificent performance by Adam Driver, one which may end up going criminally unnoticed come Oscar season, Paterson is a wonderful film full of reflections about life, love, and yearning but also finding the beauty in what we perceive to be mundane but is beautiful and perfect just the way it is. Stunning poetry too.
3: The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn’s catalogue has always split opinions and The Neon Demon was no different when it was unleashed on Cannes earlier this year. I’m firmly on the positive side as I was sucked into its lusciousness from its wonderful opening titles, fuelled by another masterclass in composing from Clint Mansell. It’s a devilishly beautiful film that will make you laugh, shriek and gasp, as Refn paints a devilish portrait of the fashion industry and the obsessions that come with it. It combines Kubrick, Bava and more to startling effect. Anchored by the superb Elle Fanning and one that is as spellbinding, hypnotic and lavish as its auteur.
4. Manchester by the Sea
He doesn’t make many but when he does writer-director Kenneth Lonergan is one of the very best storytellers out there and Manchester by the Sea is arguably his crowning achievement. By turns utterly heartbreaking, profound and uplifting, Lonergan’s film about the pain of devastating loss and quiet redemption is as moving as it is funny (yes, it is funny in the right places). Casey Affleck leads the film as Lee Chandler with a magnificent, career-best performance that may well win him the Best Actor Oscar come February, supported by the spectacular Michelle Williams, who once again proves herself as one of Hollywood’s shining lights.
Another wonderful experience to be had at the cinema is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, a staggering film that like Manchester by the Sea breaks your heart and mends it at the same time. A hazy dream-like film that deals with place, fear and acceptance it’s both a visual and spiritual triumph lead by spectacular performances from Trevante Rhodes, Alex R. Hibbert and Ashton Sanders as “Little” whose story we follow as he grows up in a rough Miami neighbourhood. With wonderful supporting terms from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, this is a poignant, hopeful and thrilling drama that demands to be seen.