Film Review Daily

James Cameron-Wilson looks back at the year of 2016

Looking back at my top ten of 2015, I was reminded that my first three choices were all foreign language titles, namely the Brazilian The Second Mother, the Franco-Mauritanian Timbuktu and the Franco-Belgian All About Them. On top of which, I also managed to squeeze in the Estonian Tangerines and South Korean A Girl at My Door. I think the reason that so many foreign language films are superior to what turns up at our local multiplex is that they aren’t made with one eye on the box-office. While the likes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them made a small fortune, their virtues were of a largely superficial nature. Indeed, in hindsight I’d be hard put to unravel the narrative complexities of the former, although still in awe of the computer generated pyrotechnics. And that’s the problem. Rogue One and its ilk are like massive firework displays that one can ‘ooh and aah’ at but forget a week or month later. Hence, the appeal to return a second and third time in order to take it all in. In my opinion, a far more engaging sci-fi diversion was Morten Tyldum's Passengers, which boasted equivalent visual prowess but a far more coherent storyline. And with actors as charismatic as Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, one was in reliable dramatic company. Admirable as Rogue One was to introduce such a wide range of international actors, most of them got lost in the rage and fury.


Like Passengers, Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning I, Daniel Blake largely featured two characters and allowed us time to crawl into their respective head spaces. Consequently, we were able to empathize with them and to share their frustrations with the shortcomings of the British welfare state.Benedict Cumberbatch The result was both an eye-opening and deeply affecting work of drama. In my top ten this year, only two foreign-language films have made the list, Deniz Gamze Ergüven's sensual, daring and exquisitely played Mustang, set in the director’s native Turkey, and László Nemes' Oscar-winning Son of Saul, a harrowing treatise on the matter-of-factness of evil. It was an even better year for the British film, four examples of which my colleague Mansel Stimpson and I share in our top tens: I, Daniel Blake, Sing Street, Eye in the Sky and Swallows and Amazons. And in a year noted for its onslaught of superhero fantasies, it’s a relief to see that at least one passed muster. Doctor Strange dared to live up to its title and very strange it was, too. It also used its state-of-the-art special effects to splendid effect, folding cityscapes into geometric, Escher-like designs and propelling its protagonists into alternative planes of existence. Heady stuff, with lashings of humour, too, much of its provided by the film’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, who was happy to fine-tune his own dialogue.


As for those films that I wished were in my top-ten but just didn’t make the grade, I would like to draw special attention to Nate Parker’s harrowing, consummately crafted The Birth of a Nation, the first film about the American slave experience actually directed by a black American. The fact that it was Parker’s very first feature as director – which he also wrote, produced and starred in – makes it even more of an extraordinary achievement. Another film not without its racial commentary was David Mackenzie’s poignant, intensely gripping and occasionally very funny Hell or High Water, which highlighted a wonderful turn from Jeff Bridges as a sheriff past his sell-by date and with an unforgettable cameo from Margaret Bowman as a disenchanted waitress. Exceptional, too, was Tobias Lindholm's A War, an intelligent look at the collateral damage of combat, both on the front line and back at home; and Catherine Corsini’s sultry, nuanced Summertime, a delicate lesbian love story steeped in nostalgia. And just to show the full range that the cinema has to offer, I would also like to mention Walt Disney’s funny and inventive computer-animated cartoon Zootropolis, as well as Jeremy Saulnier's equally imaginative and breathless horror film Green Room, which starred the Russian-born Anton Yelchin. Tragically, aged just 27, Yelchin lost his life when he was crushed by his own Cherokee Jeep. We lost too many in 2016, particularly from the sphere of world cinema and so I bid adieu to the international filmmakers Hector Babenco, Michael Cimino, Paul Cox, Guy Hamilton, Curtis Hanson, Robin Hardy, Arthur Hiller, Abbas Kiarostami, Garry Marshall, Jacques Rivette, Ettore Scola, Anthony Simmons and Andrzej Wajda.



1.  I, Daniel Blake
2.  Nocturnal Animals
3.  Arrival
4.  Mustang
5.  Sing Street
6.  Demolition
7.  Eye in the Sky
8.  Son of Saul
9.  Swallows and Amazons
10. Doctor Strange