Yesterday, we named the first half of what we believe to be the best genre movies from this year (you can find out which ones they were here). Today, we’re dealing with the absolute cream of the crop as we countdown the final five movies of 2016 and name our ultimate film of the year.
The line between Disney’s in-house animation studio and stablemate’s Pixar has become increasingly blurry since the two companies officially merged a decade ago. Zootopia is a fine example of this as it contains many of Pixar’s staples such as mismatched protagonists learning to work and bond together and a sharp wit that’s seemingly more for the adults in the audience than the kids. If this genuinely funny and charming film with a timely moral had bore Pixar’s name, no one would have thought twice about it and Zootopia would’ve likely been considered one of the studio’s better efforts (a major compliment given the amount of bonafide classics in Pixar’s locker).
In a year where certain politicians have sought to exploit racial and religious divides, Zootopia delivered a perceptive and topical message (even if it wasn’t imbued with much subtlety) as it tells a tale of predator animals suddenly turning on herbivores in a harmonious society but it soon becomes clear that the meat-eaters’ suspicious change of eating habits may not be the real threat. It was also wonderfully entertaining and laugh-a-minute stuff thanks to a keen attention to detail and clever wordplay that had just as much in common with the UK’s Aardman Studios as it did with its own studio heritage. 2016 was a fantastic and prosperous year for animation and Zootopia was just about the pick of the bunch, which is no mean feat indeed.
4. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
This (sort of) sequel to 2008’s creature flick Cloverfield was the year’s most pleasant surprise in theaters. Rather than following on from the events of the first film or merely just repeating it somewhere else, 10 Cloverfield Lane took an entirely different approach with a taught, single location thriller that for the most part had us wondering if this had anything to do at all with the found-footage original.
Featuring John Goodman’s finest performance in years as the ambiguous and unstable bunker owner who rescues/abducts Mary Elizabeth-Winstead to save her from an unspecified disaster, 10 Cloverfield Lane revelled in its own claustrophobia and mystery. Part thriller, part horror and part sci-fi, director Dan Trachtenberg keeps a consistently high level of tension throughout and admirably refuses to show the film’s true hand until the very final scenes. With Netflix’s sublime Black Mirror intent on being the new Twilight Zone, it seems the Cloverfield franchise is attempting to do something similar in theaters (though arguably this offering has more common with the under-appreciated Outer Limits TV show) and another divergent take on its world would be most welcome.
3. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
With the term “prequel” being a dirty word amongst most Star Wars fans and the delays caused by extensive re-shoots, Rogue One certainly had a lot to prove when it finally arrived in theaters. So, it was a huge relief and genuine pleasure to see the spin-off confound expectations to be the best addition to the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. Once Rogue One gets past its slightly heavy exposition and stops planet hopping every five minutes, Gareth Edward’s take on how the Rebel Alliance gave themselves a fighting chance against the Empire give us a mature story and tone that engrossed fans rather than fawning over them (yes, we’re looking at you, The Force Awakens).
Although Rogue One confines most of its spectacle to the climatic battle on Scarif, which truly put the “Wars” in Star Wars, it never felt anything less than a genuine Star Wars movie that will sit far more comfortably next to the revered original trilogy than the awkward prequels ever will. There have been a few complaints about a few unremarkable characters and the film being a fan-only affair that do hold some water, but Rogue One also gave us a glimpse into the galaxy in its darkest days with the images of such echoing far beyond auditoriums’ walls at times. And there can be few arguments the last half hour and THAT final shot were amongst the most satisfying and exciting to be seen on the big screen this year.
2. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
US comedy films had a torrid time with both the box office and critics this year as Hollywood poured out a string of incompetent attempts at making us laugh that failed to even elicit a smile mostly. So, thanks must be given to New Zealand director Taika Waititi for finally bringing the funny to 2016 with his latest hilarious and charming homegrown product, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Set in the bush of New Zealand, a socially-awkward teenage orphan (Juliann Dennison) forms an unlikely friendship with his cantankerous foster-father, played in a bitterly dead-pan manner by Sam Neil, as the pair experience a series of mishaps and adventures throughout the antipodean forests and fields.
In many ways, Hunt for the Wilderpeople resembled a live-action version of Pixar’s Up thanks to the reluctant bonding of the youngster and the old man -they even happen upon a rare bird at one point- and it matches it in both hilarity and sentiment. Waititi has been quietly and confidently building an envious catalog of cult comedies with a following to match for some time now, but this is his most complete film to date and one that could propel him into the big time. He would certainly deserve such a shot as Hunt for the Wilderpeople manages to generate more laughs in 90 minutes than Hollywood could produce in 12 months of so-called “comedies” this year.
2016 may not have been a truly great year for film but that shouldn’t diminish the position of Arrival since Denis Villeneuve’s sublime slice of sci-fi would have been a contender for the top spot in almost any year. This exceptionally intelligent and, perhaps more importantly, accessible alien contact film is so well realized and thought through, it will be a travesty if it receives no award recognition over the next few months or is simply remembered as dry run for its director to practise his sci-fi chops before he directs next year’s Blade Runner sequel.
The conceit of Arrival is not just about how to communicate with beings who are alien to us but also appreciating how communication actually works and the vital role that context plays in the process. The film conveys its ideas magnificently without ever feeling the need to either patronize its audience or stopping for lengthy bouts of exposition that have plagued at least one or two sci-fi films dealing with weighty concepts recently. Likewise, it consistently kept itself grounded enough to allow a deus ex machina twist to tie everything together in a neat bow rather than cheating us with some out-of-the-blue revelation to get the screenplay out of a corner it had painted itself into. But perhaps Arrival‘s most potent achievement was its intense personal and emotional focus that so often either feels forced or absent in high-brow sci-fi, which was aided superbly by Amy Adams’ central performance that will rank high in this most accomplished of actresses’ career.
While it may not be for everyone as it is defiantly absent of action and set-pieces, for those who appreciated Arrival on its own terms probably didn’t have a better and more rewarding experience in theaters this year. As such, Arrival is hands-down the best movie of the year and we can all start feeling a lot more confident about Blade Runner 2048 in Villeneuve’s extraordinarily talented hands.