1) The Nice Guys
Hands down my favourite film this year and guess what? It flopped. Yep, this funny, exciting, subversive joy was little seen and vastly under-appreciated. A shame really because once again director Shane Black cracks his fingers and pens another buddy-action comedy with zest, wit and frequent disregards to taste. It may not have the gritty edge of Lethel Weapon or The Last Boy Scout but The Nice Guys shines by itself as something altogether fluffier, funnier and outrageously entertaining.
2) The Witch
The Witch is an unrelentingly intense experience that swallows you whole and spits you back out. A slow-burn ninety minutes expertly chronicles a family living in Puritan New England who suffer fallout over their fears of committing sins and the possibility of a witch’s presence in their surrounding forrest. Using the dialect spoken at the time grants The Witch rare authentication that involves you more in their plight. On a filmmaking level, The Witch has an atmosphere that overwhelms and some beautiful editing that toys with how much you need to see or even question what you think you may have seen. All this adds up to a tough viewing experience but one that rewards your patience with an ending that has its cake and eats it.
I have cheated here but it would be unfair to pick one out of two instant classics from Disney. I’m not sure there will be a year as good as 2016 for the powerhouse company. Both Zootropolis and Moana brought something new while sticking to predictable story patterns that still hold important messages to teach children and shed a tear in an adult eye. What felt new was a confidence in the filmmaking. Zootropolis and Moana were animated beautifully of course, but the pace of both adventures were more assured than previous Disney ventures, their action more kinetic and songs, in Moana’s case, a little more off the cuff. Characterisation also benefitted from better writing and it was refreshing to see no Disney Princesses or comedy sidekicks taking prevalence. Let’s leave all that for next year’s Frozen 2. Sad face.
4) Nocturnal Animals
Orchestrating a fragmented timeline with elegant cohesion is just one skill Tom Ford managed to pull out of the bag adapting a complex novel. Nocturnal Animals plays out like two films in one. The first, a character study that brings up themes of remorse and regret and a second that behaves like a Coen Brothers film, a Texan noir with seedy characters and splashings of violence. Aside from an odd opening sequence, Nocturnal Animals continues down a dark and dirty path leading to this year’s best thriller, albeit one with a beating black heart.
5) Train to Busan
Who knew there was life left in the Zombie genre? South Korea did and their take on zombie carnage is a furiously paced thrill ride. Starting almost from the off, unfortunate souls on a bullet train have to deal with an army of zombies chomping their way forward carriage by carriage. A great set-up but pointless if we didn’t care who was on board. Aside from some caricatures straight out of a comic book, the film takes moments to develop characters, mainly our hero and his daughter that grants the film a sense of gravitas. Close quarter battles and schlocky explosions amp up the action, but what I enjoyed most were the zombies themselves. Given time to stand and watch from behind glass, the zombies here are less about missing features and more about the murderous glint they possess in their eyes or by the tilt of their heads. It’s pretty effective stuff and has more inventiveness in two hours than some bellend with a spiked bat has in that long running tv show I couldn’t care less about. Seek out Train to Busan for a new zombie fix.