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Top 10 Films of 2016

We come to the end of another year full of films both great, captivating and wholly disappointing. It wouldn't be right to see off last year without a round-up of my top ten films of 2016. Therefore here we are with the ten films I saw that make my Top 10.

Before we get underway I'd like to include a few honourable mentions. This doesn't mean the films were any less captivating or interesting to watch but is more an indication that I found the top ten to be of superb quality overall. Those that didn't quite make the list but thoroughly enjoyed include Quentin Tarantino's latest winter-set Western epic The Hateful Eight, Square Enix's CGI tie-in to its newest RPG release FFXV: Kingsglaive, the Texas-set modern crime Western Hell or High Water, the superb animated feature Batman: The Killing Joke, the latest entry in the Rocky franchise/soft reboot film Creed and director James Wan's follow-up to the fantastically horrifying possession movie set in Enfield, London, The Conjuring 2. Additional mentions see the likes of Marvel's latest hero and origin story brought to the big screen Doctor Strange, the humourous and somewhat educational about the housing market leading up to the financial crisis The Big Short, and Russell T Davies' biopic tinged with his typical directorial flair and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joy.

If you get the chance do watch any of those mentioned above as they are all great films from throughout the year. With those out of the way, let's move forwards to the top ten films of 2016.


Although I caught this film later in the year, the story of pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who investigated the effects of repeated concussions on American football players being the cause of potential brain damage made for a heavily dramatic feature. Heavyweight Will Smith again shows his acting capability to take on a mature and serious role in Nigerian-born Dr. Omalu, the first to discover the existence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players. The supporting cast is no slouch either with the likes of Alec Baldwin, David Morse, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Eddie Marsan and Luke Wilson contributing their acting talents to the story of Dr. Omalu's struggles with getting the NFL to admit the link between repeated concussions experienced by NFL football players and brain damage post-playing career.

Aside from a small amount of CG used to demonstrate the impact of collisions on the brain for the NFL players, the messages and statement made by Concussion is not heavy-handed nor too Hollywoodised. The film communicates an effective message about a matter the American NFL chose to bury for years and how they attempted to defame the name of Dr. Omalu in the process. Not unlike the link between smoking and certain cancers, the adamant belief Omalu carries throughout the film of the importance of this link being acknowledge and accepted is what makes Concussion a picture that will provide food for thought long after the end credits roll.

Before I begin writing this entry I can already feel a disturbance in the force; one of absolute disdain for me placing this year's release of prequel and standalone film, Rogue One, so low on the list. I won't deny the film was a highly enjoyable one to watch but its competition was just that good.

The first in Disney's films released to broaden the Star Wars universe beyond its numbered entries, Rogue One sees young thief turned rebel Jyn Erso (played here by Felicity Jones) join The Rebellion in its attempts to recover the plans of The Empire's looming planet destroyer, the Death Star. Jyn is joined on her mission by a group of individuals fighting for the same cause and consisting of rebels, force-aware monks, defectors from the Empire and even extremists such as Forest Whitaker's part-man, part-machine; Saw Gerrera. It makes for a compelling group to get behind through the film as they journey into Empire territory and eventually to the Pacific island-like planet of Scarif to retrieve the Death Star plans from the databanks watched over by the Empire's Director of Advanced Weapons Research, Orson Krennic.

Rogue One does have steady pace in the first act which I find to be deliberate and entirely fine due to the rising stakes throughout the film right until the closing set piece which is both grand and unique in its execution and display. The film is also no slouch in its healthy referencing of the Star Wars universe with tie-fighters, stormtroopers, blasters and the force (or at least faith in it) all being present. A few familiar faces also show up in Rogue One including one you can't miss if you look closely at the poster above (I won't spoil those scenes for you here as they are best enjoyed whilst watching the film).

Mature, entertaining, compelling, well acted and adding additional substance to the film that directly follows it, Rogue One is a great first attempt at bringing another tale in the Star Wars world to the big screen.

8. Captain America: Civil War

The film that kicked off the season of Summer blockbusters, Captain America: Civil War sees the familiar faces of the Steve Rogers/Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man both come together and be at odds in the latest team-up film from Marvel Studios. Once again directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, Civil War furthers the relationship between Rogers and his old friend from back before he even became the Captain, Bucky Barnes (now transformed into the previous film's metal arm-wielding Winter Soldier). Furthermore, as a result of the events that took place in Avengers: Age of Ultron the nations of the world have drawn up the Sokovia accords, an extensive manual that outlines how the Avengers (among other heroes) would be accountable to and under the command of those nations. Said accords create conflict among our heroes as Rogers and Stark take opposing sides over who should dictate when heroes can act or not and by who's authority. Fuel is further thrown onto the fire when a terrorist bombing takes place at a conference in Vienna held to ratify the accords with the Winter Soldier as the main suspect. Rogers aims to track his friend down to find out if he really did carry out the attack and get him to safety before everyone else (including Stark) can get their hands on him.

Although the title suggests this is the third Captain America-specific film, Civil War could easily be regarded as The Avengers: Civil War. What starts out as a cleverly-presented difference in ideologies and beliefs between our heroes soon turns into a face-off where the stakes are raised to near life-threatening levels (or fighting to the death in the film's final act). Everything is solid here from the acting, casting, production values and scale of the action to the introduction of new characters in T'Challa/Black Panther and a young Peter Parker/Spiderman.

Though some have said that villain Helmut Zemo (played here by Daniel Brühl) was again weak and uninspired, I thought his scheme in turning our favourite superheroes against each other was quite well realised. As per their success with The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers effectively showed that it doesn't take a super-powered human to tear everything apart and that's why Zemo was well realised in my eyes. Additionally there are pleasant twists in the film which together with the fine balancing act the directors played with the many characters involved made for one mighty entry (and debatably the best to date) in the Marvel cinematic universe. Avengers: Infinity War will need to be an almost perfect film after this one. Let's hope the Russos can make it three for three.

7. Don't Breathe

I've started to wonder recently if September has become the month when the film you don't expect to be great gets a cinema release (such as The Guest back in 2014). This year's unexpected gem is Fede Álvarez's latest movie, Don't Breathe.

Part home invasion movie and definitely one of the most tense 90 minutes I've spent sat inside a cinema in a long time, Don't Breathe sees three young things (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) with a habit for carrying out home robberies target a blind, old and retired army veteran (played by the ever buff and tough Stephen Lang) who lives in a ramshackle neighbourhood in order to steal a significant stash of dollars. They soon find out, however, that the blind man (as he is referred to throughout the film) is not as infirm and helpless as they first thought. 

Watching this at home would still be quite tense but the added screen size and enhanced sound made this movie a real tense cinema experience. Additionally, anyone who has seen Álvarez's previous outing with the remake of Evil Dead knows the director does not shy away from violence or showing the audience the horror unveiling. That remains true here as our thieves try to escape The Blind Man's home as the tension in each encounter is ramped up to the absolute maximum. A scene also makes effective use of night vision as our protagonists are put in the same situation as our homeowner (i.e they effectively become blind in the pitch-black darkness) which is highly immersive and puts you on edge until they reach (or perhaps don't reach) safety.

The director also manages to throw a couple of interesting developments into the film that we learn as the main characters find out what is lying within the four walls and floors of this blind man's home. Definitely one catch if you like films that layer on the tension and might also make you reconsider how helpless or not a blind person might actually be.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings

The latest 3D stop-motion film from renowned animation studio Laika, Kubo and the Two Strings sees the young titular Kubo (a boy with the ability to command paper with his shamisen) living with his mother in a clifftop cave. She advises him to never go out after dark; a condition he breaks one day during the local obon festival that allows family members to try and reach their beloved ones long past. Struggling to return home before dark, Kubo is attacked by malicious mask-wearing, winged women who he finds out are the sisters of his mum, Sariatu. After she comes to Kubo's rescue he is sent away via her magic and undertakes a journey to find his father Hanzo's sacred armour in order to defeat the Moon King (the one who took Kubo's left eye when he was but a baby).

Along his journey Kubo gains allies in Monkey (his former wooden charm brought to life through magic) and Beetle, a cursed samurai who appears as a human-sized stag beetle with a serious case of amnesia. The journey they undertake to find the pieces of hanzo's former armour is a wondrous and heartfelt one combining some of the finest and most unique animation techniques I have seen in the genre yet. From the opening scenes of Sariatu and baby Kubo on the open seas to the various environments and film's set pieces, Kubo and the Two Strings looks fantastic and wonderful from beginning to end. The film is also quite dark for a movie that carries a PG rating but fits the overall tone of the tale that is told here. Major names lend their voices here too with the likes of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey. Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and George Takei all committing to their roles.

If anything, Kubo and the Two Strings makes the list not only because its story is heartfelt, its characters endearing and the set pieces fantastic but because there was no film that looked as unique and wonderful as this one throughout 2016.

5. Zootropolis

How could a CG film feature animals be in this top 10? And how could it actually cater for both young and adult audiences simultaneously? I'm happy to confirm that Zootropolis qualifies for both this list and is a highly fitting film for a wide variety of audiences.

The film sees young and sprightly rabbit, Judy Hopps, aspiring to become a police office in Zootropolis, a city where predators and prey live side-by-side in relative harmony. She soon crosses paths with suave con artist, the fox Nick Wilde and is swindled by him and his partner in crime. Eager to prove her ability to become a police officer and handle real crimes in the city, Judy soon finds herself not only partnering up with Nick but becoming intertwined with a bigger crime that seems formerly timid animals turning back into instinct-led wild and ferocious beasts. What follows is a crime caper that is as equally entertaining as it is an effective commentary on the difficulties Judy and Nick face not only in achieving their goals but being accepted in society and even racism (how predators are assumed to be untrustworthy and 'can never change').

The film does a fantastic job of communicating these themes whilst keeping the humour, pace and our investment in Judy and Nick at the forefront. Zootropolis is certainly worth seeing to show that not all Disney films have to feature character songs and be saccharine sweet.

4. Nocturnal Animals

This is a film I went to see without having any prior knowledge apart from some of the actors that star in this second film by fashion designer turned director, Tom Ford. What I saw can only be described as a wonderfully intertwining drama that plays around with its chronology, narratives, characters and is delivered with confidence.

Art gallery owner Susan (played by Amy Adams) receives a copy of the manuscript of her ex-husband Edward's newest novel together with an invitation to dinner for when he arrives in Los Angeles. We see Susan not only become immersed in Edward's novel (titled Nocturnal Animals) but also peer into her past of her relationship with, marriage to and reasons for her separation from Edward. Due to her increasing disenchantment with marrying a more handsome, successful man in Hutton (played here by Armie Hammer) we come to understand why Susan becomes so fascinated in not only Edward's story but a potential rekindling of fonder times.

The above is only one of the narrative strands running through Nocturnal Animals which also treats us to Edward's story throughout the film. The actors put in great performances with the likes of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer and Andrea Riseborough all bringing their best. Although it could be seen as an awards chasing picture, Nocturnal Animals says as much about how people view and understand each other, how they grown and change and how they can be happy on the surface but severely lacking in the soul. A pleasantly surprising entry and a good sign of future work from this fledgling director.

3. Arrival

The latest picture from director Denis Villenueve, Arrival is based on a short story from 1998 written by Ted Chiang. You may initially wonder how such a story could be adapted well into the format of film. Here Villenueve proves once more he is a visionary in not only achieving the above but presenting one of the most interesting films I saw in 2016.

Joining the ranks of other movies as a mature sci-fi film that provides much to talk about after the credits have begun to roll, Arrival deals with the subject of a (potential) alien invasion. Although not a unique concept with films such as Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind exploring the 'communicating with aliens' narrative and Independence Day more directly fighting the invaders, Arrival doesn't intend to reinvent the genre. It does, however, via the careful hands of Villenueve and his crew present the ideas of communication and understanding being more powerful assets than military might and force.

The fact that linguistics professor Louise Banks (played here by Amy Adams) is brought in to the operation to communicate with the visitors, eventually succeeds and how this opens up both her worldview and understanding is fascinating to watch. I don't want to go into specific details but the way this intertwines with the revelations unveiled as the film progresses are not only smartly delivered but woven seamlessly into the film's continuity; something that in a lesser director's hands would end up being half-arsed and poorly realised. The film says as much about how important correct understanding is in working towards unity rather than misinterpreting what is said and how that can be a catalyst for conflict.

There are many other themes that arise in Arrival but I will leave those to when you watch the film to contemplate, discuss and hopefully appreciate. Villenueve has proven to be a captivating director and I look forward to what he will achieve with this year's Blade Runner 2049.

2. Deadpool

Recounting my experience of seeing this film in the cinema last February, it would be impossible for me to keep this out of my Top 10. A film that star Ryan Reynolds struggled to convince Hollywood to greenlight, the standalone movie Deadpool did many fantastic things for the comic book movie.

From the opening credits we understand the tone that will permeate this character origins story. All out gross, violent, bizarre and wonderful humour, fourth-wall breaking commentary from the film's titular hero and a revenge story to boot. Deadpool was the highest earning R-rated comic book movie at the box office (recent figures show worldwide earnings stand at $783,112,979 from an initial $58m budget) showing there is an audience for adult comic book films. The fact that the upcoming Wolverine film, Logan, has an R-rating shows that at the very least film studio Fox is willing to see if there is truth to that. Hopefully this does set a new precedent and we continue to have more mature and adult comic book films going forwards.

A sequel has already been greenlit which gives me hope that it causes me to recoil with laughter as inappropriate but effective joke after joke is delivered in Deadpool 2 (and of course, more fourth-wall breaking please).

1. The Revenant

I changed and changed my mind again about what films should make my Top 10 this year. I also wondered which film would emerge as my number one. As I thought back over the films I saw over 2016, The Revenant is the one that upon consideration made the most meaningful and substantial impact on me.

Released at the beginning of the year, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest picture is a truly fantastic piece of cinema. Seeing this during the clear and cold month of January made the setting of this film even more distinct and absorbing, seeing soldier Kyle Glass (played masterfully by Leonardo Dicaprio) navigate the American wilderness after surviving a near-death mauling by a grizzly bear, his son's death and his absolute devotion to killing the person responsible for it.

Director Iñárritu not only shot many of the film's scenes using natural light (a costly exercise in Hollywood but totally compliments the film) but his work with the film's director of photography in capturing the American wilderness in all its snowy, bleak and unforgiving glory is fantastic to see upon the screen. Its also no surprise that Dicaprio finally won an Academy Award for his role here, finally breaking the curse of no award victories for years. This will probably end up being one of his most memorable roles as Dicaprio sheds any signs of his A-list credentials and gives an intense, gruelling and flawless performance as Glass struggles against death through the American wilderness to face his son's murderer who left him for dead.

Similar to Villenue, Iñárritu has proven with his earlier film Birdman and the recent The Revenant that he brings a unique, highly worthwhile and captivating directorial style to the medium. I will be interested in watching whichever project he works on next and proudly place The Revenant as my number one film of 2016.

Those are my Top 10 films of 2016. What do you think of the choices that have been made? Any thoughts, disagreements or suggestions for your top films of 2016? Feel free to post them in the Comments section below. Also please share the post with those around you via Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.

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