ILT’s Top Ten Films of 2016!

2016 was an intriguing, if understated year for quality cinema.

As close to a traditional list as I could get, here’s ILT’s ten favourite flicks of the year…
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10. Everybody Wants Some!!

Dir: Richard Linklaterevwantsome

A summertime grin-fest that I couldn’t justify n0t sneaking in at number ten , Everybody Wants Some!! epitomises the understated nature of standout cinema during 2016. Writer/director Richard Linklater weaves the perfect blend of relaxed vibes and pure joy in hhis tale of pre-season college baseball, set in 1980s Texas. Having only delved into works such as The Before Trilogy and Dazed and Confused earlier this year, I was riding high on the crest of the Linklater wave when EWS!! came along. Getting familiar with his overly laidback, but altogether rich style beforehand may be beneficial as it makes it easier to prepare for the fact that nothing actually happens for the vast majority of the nearly two-hour runtime. At the same time, however, the whole thing is so damn enjoyable, and the ensemble cast so damn likable, that it really doesn’t matter all that much. Is it technically a “better” movie than some of my Best of the Rest flicks featured below? No. Is it a masterful example of how to feel good simply by sitting around? You bet. Find a copy, put your feet up, and pine for summer.

9. The Nice Guys

Dir: Shane Blackthe-nice-guys

Whereas Linklater gave us the best of the 80s, Shane Black took the throwback quest one step further this year with The Nice Guys, a welcome dose of cheesy, neo-noir funk-infused 70s mayhem. Already one of my favourite screenwriters, Black demonstrated what he could do behind the camera with 2005’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. A decade on, his long-awaited directorial follow up is even better. and likely the start of a more consistent output. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star as an unlikely private detective double act tasked with tracking down a missing girl, which eventually puts them in a position to unravel a traditional strange-as-fuck high-level conspiracy. Both leads demonstrate wonderful comic chemistry and physical timing, but special praise should be reserved for Angourie Rice, who steals the show as Crowe’s wily daughter-come-assistant. With beautiful shots, well-executed action set pieces and boogie-inducing tunes aplenty, The Nice Guys has an authentic look, feel and sound that does enough to get you through the fun, if imperfect plot.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

8. Swiss Army Man

Dir: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan swiss-army-man-2016-comedy-movie

When the trailer for Swiss Army Man dropped earlier this year, it’s fair to say no-one really knew what to expect. The stiff-but-farting corpse of Daniel Radcliffe being ridden across the sea by a wild-eyed Paul Dano was as intriguing as it was fucking weird. So, of course, I went to see it at the earliest possible opportunity. Having previously forged a reputation for ambitious music video projects, unconventional co-writers/directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (known collectively as The Daniels) didn’t back down from their usual approach on this, their debut feature. Determined to utilise their big name talent to the extreme, they ended up messing with Radcliffe and Dano in virtually every deprived manner imaginable – a process the two actors were apparently only too willing to go along with. The end product is a bizarre, hilarious, yet ultimately heartwarming tale of soul-searching friendship. It’ll be divisive for sure, but if you can get past the opening fifteen minutes or so without switching off (which, unsurprisingly, some people have done), then you’re in for a treat of head-scratching proportions and, overall, one of the independent triumphs of 2016.
Podcast review: The Punch Up

7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Dir: Gareth Edwardsscreenshot2016-04-07at13-03-30-ed

Due to an already underwhelming main series comeback (The Force Awakens) and the now very real prospect of a new Star Wars film every year from now until the end of time, I wisely kept my expectations low for Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One. News of re-writes, re-shoots, and a completely new ending would usually only compound such caution, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised at how well the whole thing turned out. Whereas TFA went overboard with unnecessary fan service, Rogue One – being set in the correct era for such throwbacks – used the leeway it had as a non-saga spin-off to work a healthy nostalgia angle, while also being a decent, action-laden war flick. With a solid cast (Donnie Yen steals the show), some great cinematography, and a superb (though flawed plot-wise) final battle, Rogue One is just what was needed after TFA; good old fashioned fun and, more importantly, a nice warm up and general confidence booster for fans going into Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

6. Arrival

Dir: Denis Villeneuve

With all eyes on Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel, it’s safe to say the French-Canadian director has passed the preliminary sci-fi test with flying colours. Focusing on the human reaction to an apparently inactive group of identical UFOs landing on earth, Arrival follows Amy Adams’ linguist and Jeremy Renner’s physicist as they seek to establish lines of alien communication before the rest of the world gets a little too trigger happy. A slick, good-looking drama with a multiple layers of tension and the potential for a Nolan-esque twist here and there (think Interstellar, Inception) means there’s a lot to like about Arrival from a traditional point of view. The score is superb and Adams in particular deserves plenty of credit, but what’s really appealing is the ballsy nature of the production. Villeneuve – one of the hottest up-and-coming directors in Hollywood – certainly didn’t have to make a heavily thematic, tightly focused sci-fi drama with minimal action, but, fortunately for us, that’s exactly what he chose to do. Such an approach is refreshing in a time of bloated blockbusters, and further demonstrates just how subtle 2016 has been in terms of in-depth cinematic quality.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

5. Nocturnal Animals

Dir: Tom Ford

If there was an Oscar for Best Smart Mind Fuck, Nocturnal Animals would all but have it in the bag this year. Director Tom Ford’s adaptation of Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, Tony and Susan, is a twisted, psychological revenge fantasy that exists between the real world of Amy Adam’s Susan, and the fictional world of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Tony, who we see through Susan’s eyes as she reads a darkly themed novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (also played by Gyllenhaal). As bizarre as that sounds, it comes together with satisfying ease and rewarding intensity on screen, as Ford expertly plays the two worlds off each other in a hale of creepy imagery and sophisticated subtext. Everything we learn, we learn from Susan’s interpretation and memory, leading to the perfect payoff in the real world, while the frantic horror show cooked up in Edward’s novel bridges the gaps. A highlight is the prolific Michael Shannon, who takes everything up a notch in the fiction arc with his usual powerhouse supporting performance.

4. Paterson

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

My personal favourite VIFF flick for 2016, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life. Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker, and Paterson is no exception to his weird and wonderful repertoire. Pulling us in close to the character’s eccentric normal-ness, with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch sets up sequences of tension and relief that, while clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing its part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain Paterson’s various relationships. Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with stellar canine involvement and a brief, but memorable cameo from Wu-Tang’s Method Man.

3. Hell or High Water

Dir: David Mackenzie

The most accurate term I’ve seen used to describe Hell or High Water? Sleeper hit. One of those rare small theatre pictures that reaches you by word of mouth only after it’s come out, David Mackenzie’s neo-western crime flick appeared out of nowhere during the summer and proceeded to blow away practically everyone who saw it. Penned by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan (who’s fast becoming one of my favourite writers), HOHW is a simple story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing a string of banks in order to pay off a family debt, while two grizzled Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) track them across the desolate deserts of West Texas. As much a social commentary on the bleak death of small town rural America as it is a rip-roaring chase movie, Sheridan’s script is a thought-provoking masterpiece, punctuated with no end of witty dialogue. All four main performances are memorable in their own way, matched by strong direction, perfect pacing, and the gently haunting Western themes of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Dir: Adam McKayscreen-shot-2017-01-02-at-19-28-55

Hell or High Water may be the Hollywood sleeper hit of the year, but New Zealand’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople has been by far the biggest surprise. Taika Waititi’s comedy-drama didn’t see a wide release, but those lucky enough to have caught it witnessed, without doubt, the feel good film of the year. Led by Julian Dennison’s chunky misfit, Ricky Baker, and Sam Neill’s overwhelmingly reluctant foster father, “Uncle” Hec, Wilderpeople is a buddy flick in its purest form. The traditional themes of bonding, rebellion and personal development are thrown together with sharp local banter and old school physical comedy, as Ricky and Hec hide out in the dense, remote New Zealand wilderness. The execution stands out on all fronts, with the performances (Rachel Houses’ crusading child welfare worker is the perfect comedic antagonist for Ricky), direction, and writing remaining consistent from beginning to end, as Waititi wisely rounds things up just as the sublime begins to blend a little too much with the ridiculous. Out now on Netflix (in certain regions) and elsewhere, Wilderpeople is the probably the finest relaxed-night-in flick you’re yet to see from 2016.
Podcast review: The Punch Up

1. La La Land

Dir: Damien Chazellelalaland-660x330

My top five films are close to being virtually interchangeable, but, in the end, writer/director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land deservedly takes the crown. Following up his literally banging 2014 hit, Whiplash, Chazelle returns to the world of broken jazz-themed dreams to tackle a genre that has long frightened major studios: the contemporary musical. I, too, was not without scepticism when I first heard about the project. I’m a big fan of stage and screen musicals (growing up with an older sister will do that), but a successful, memorable modern day version being created from scratch was, due to my memories of musical structures and traditions over the years, hard to picture. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to have faith in Chazelle, who wastes no time winning us over with a string of beautiful, original compositions, infused with consistent gentle reminders of old school musical imagery.

Though the tunes, choreography and leading players (Emma Stone will be getting a lot of nominations, while Gosling is the right level of charming and moody) make for a marvellous exhibition of song and dance, it’s the musical structure that stands out to me as Chazelle’s masterstroke. While big, traditional numbers kick things off with what could be perceived by some as an awkward bang, Chazelle refuses to continue with the customary linear, solely burst-into-song approach of yore (think Rogers and Hammerstein). Instead, as the picture evolves, he tones the numbers down and proceeds to weave them with the heavily influential musical overtones that form the basis of the story. The result is a fresh, organic musical experience that whizzes by in a whirl of primary colours, surpassing all expectations along the way. Even if you’re not a fan of “musicals”; based on the fact that you’re guaranteed to like both music and, as you’re reading this, film, I recommend you give the genre another go, starting right here.

Best of the RestThis image released by A24 Films shows Alex Hibbert, left, and Mahershala Ali in a scene from the film,

Great films that didn’t quite make it into my top ten include Hacksaw Ridge, Green Room, Moonlight (pictured), 10 Cloverfield Lane, Zootopia, The Neon Demon, Godspeed and Weirdos.

There was also always going to be a few that I didn’t get around to seeing prior to publishing. These include Silence, Manchester by the Sea, The Handmaiden, American Honey, Fences, Lion, and probably a few more – but we’ll make sure to cover them soon over on The Punch Up podcast!

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