2016 was an eye-opening and actively soul-crushing year. Icons of both the film and music industry left us, and there was all the political bullshit that still has us wanting to jump off a bridge because reality always manages to be crueler than what we expect. But hope remains, we human beings are if nothing else exceedingly resilient and if you can only take away one thing from The Golden Globes is that empathy matters. Meryl Streep was fantastic, wasn’t she? She demonstrated the proper way to use your position of power to deliver a message of both righteous indignation and of hope. I would also point out that Viola Davis said something important as well after she won her award. Here’s the link for that.
I digress, let’s look back at 2016 and the 5 films, I believe, deserve your attention:
5. THE LOBSTER.
I think it says a lot about the power of The Lobster that even though I saw it on January first 2016, to this day I’m still thinking about this film. In fact, throughout the entirety of 2016 when people asked me to recommend a film the one my mind immediately went for was The Lobster. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) is a unique voice in cinema and while some foreign directors sometimes fail to retain their original style when doing their first English-language film, Lanthimos manages to magnify his style and deliver a film so extraordinary, so bizarre and so uncomfortably funny that the experience of watching The Lobster is a never-ending parade of what the fuck. Not to give too much away, but the film centres on a facility for single people that must find love within 45 days or else they’ll be turned into beasts. It is super weird and disturbing, but deliver with such organic and genuine emotions that you can’t help but be hooked. The performances are magnificent throughout, especially Colin Farrell who once again proves what an incredible actor he is when he works with talented directors and brilliant stories. The Lobster is remarkable in its unrelenting bizarreness and uncompromising look at the power of love.
4. STAR TREK BEYOND.
I’ll start off by admitting that I have never seen a single episode of Star Trek. The TV show ran before I was even born, so my first real introduction to Star Trek was the J.J. Abrams’ directed film. Suffice to say though, that I was enchanted with the film and amazing cast. Their performances and chemistry made that first film outstanding. The second film was a bit of a letdown, since it seemed to focus too heavily on the action and “mystery” behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain. It was all bullshit, to be honest, especially with the deus ex machina it pulled in the end. As such, my expectations where rather low for Star Trek Beyond. Much to my surprise, Star Trek Beyond managed to be the most thrilling and memorable big-budget action film of 2016. I came out of that theatre high and wanting to watch the film countless times again. You see, Star Trek Beyond did something few blockbuster films ever do, it learned from the mistakes of its predecessor and opted to inject new blood into the series. Ditching the self-serving seriousness of the second film, this one brought in new writers Doug Jung and Simon Pegg for some much needed levity and director Justin Lin, who we can all agree is responsible for the revitalization of the Fast & Furious series (let’s not blame him for the garbage that was Furious Seven, since he passed on that film to make this one). These three individuals brought a much needed freshness and boldness to Star Trek. First, the film separates the entire crew and pairs up characters in unexpected ways, the most notable one being Spock and Bones. What this achieves besides more interesting interactions, is greater insight into every character. We got to see different sides to them and coupled with a story that has them at a constant disadvantage, creates a much more memorable adventure. We know our heroes will succeed, but seeing them genuinely struggle to overcome the odds is what makes things so thrilling. Furthermore, Justin Lin proves what an amazing director he is by injecting Star Trek Beyond with such palpable energy and sense of wonder, that the action scenes get progressively better. This is a rare case of the third film being actually better than all that came before, and I do hope everybody returns for the fourth one because you can tell that these individuals still have a well of creativity yet untapped.
For me, director Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors ever. He consistently makes genuinely memorable films from the historically significant and poetically profound Polytechnique, to the visually eerie Sicario to the one we’ve all seen Prisoners. With Arrival, Villeneuve tackles science fiction in a wholly distinctive manner delivering a film about aliens arriving on Earth that isn’t about explosions or even aliens. Instead Arrival aims for a more contemplative tone that manages to examine the very foundations of humanity. This is a film that spotlights the complexity of being human, our inability to sometimes see beyond ourselves causing us to commit the same mistake over and over again, to our very real capability to learn and grow for the betterment of society. Arrival features aliens but it isn’t about them, it is about us. The slow-pace of the film might turn some people off, especially if they go in expecting non-stop action, but the pace is deliberate and serves to ease you into the proceedings so that then twist in the end hits you with unparalleled force. When the credits roll and you’re still there seated in the theatre deep in thought about what you just watched, you know you’ve seen something special. Arrival is hauntingly extraordinary and delivers a brilliant message of hope that is the greatest weapon of all.
2. THE WITCH.
If you has asked me, prior to watching The Witch, to recommend a really scary film I honestly couldn’t tell you any. Scary films are tricky to crack in a landscape that is so saturated with them. They all blend together in utter mediocrity. I went into The Witch not expecting much beyond something that looked sort of different, but what I got in return was a devastatingly creepy and outstanding horror film. The film takes place in 1630 and focuses on a family of six God-fearing people exiled from their village, and forced to live near the edge of the woods. Not wasting any time, the title character appears in the first 10 minutes and from then on it is a whirlwind of family distrust, disappearances and unequivocal dread. The Witch excels where others do not, because it knows jump scares don’t matter. Why provide cheap scares and momentary relief when you can establish an atmosphere of pure dread? Actively building and heightening anticipation over time makes the viewer scared of even the most insignificant sounds. Plus, it helps that the soundtrack by Mark Korven is an atmospheric storm of absolute creepiness. This film is glorious in its execution with its only roadblock being the dialogue, which stays faithful to the era the story takes place. I recommend watching with subtitles as it’ll makes understanding the characters easier, but be ready for an onslaught of foreboding tension and easily one of the most incredible endings of any film in years.
1. THE WAILING.
Let’s end the list off with my favourite film of 2016. Ever since I saw Oldboy many years ago, I’ve been enthralled with Korean cinema. Their way of making films is distinctive from everybody else, there is a boldness to their approach to film that digs deep into your psyche and actively blows you away. The Wailing is the third film from writer/director Na Hong-jin whose previous two films, The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, are amongst the very best in Korean cinema. It takes place on a remote village where a mysterious sickness infects people and leads them to commit gruesome acts of violence. The protagonist is charged with investigating the crimes, which slowly leads him towards a fractured reality dealing with the occult and his daughter being infected by the strange illness. What I find astounding about The Wailing is how it takes a conventional premise and turns it into something unlike anything you’ve seen before. This is where Korean culture comes in and as the film dives deeper into folklore the more frightening things become. By approaching every element, even the fantastical, in a realistic manner you the audience as well as the characters in the film are in a constant struggle to discern what is real. There is a deliberate complexity at play in this film, a complexity both of meaning and visuals that raises the stakes as it moves forward. The pace might be a bit slow at first but it serves a purpose, especially when the last 20 minutes of the film flip everything over and you encounter the true architect of despair. The Wailing is magnificent, it does ghost-stories distinctively and with memorable intent. Watch it.
Most of the films on this list are available in iTunes and Netflix. The links on the film titles' lead to my reviews of them.