Film Review Daily

Michael Darvell looks back at the year of 2016


Not being in a position to see as many new films as my fellow reviewers, the list of my favourites of the year is somewhat restricted. However, in considering the titles I have chosen for my personal best, I find that, all in all, 2016 wasn’t a bad year in the cinema. I don’t know if my colleagues would agree that last year was a classic one of which all concerned can be proud, but it must surely be some sign of the times when the three lists in question all choose the same film at number one. Generally speaking, James, Mansel and I have rather differing tastes.


That said, it is heartening that I, Daniel Blake, was given pride of place by all three reviewers. It is arguably Ken Loach’s best film in a long time, engaging us in the all too obvious problems with British society today, the growth of bureaucracy and the lack of fellow feeling for the poor. Loach’s film won the prize for Best British or Irish film in the recent London Film Critics’ Circle Awards, something it is to be hoped will be repeated in the upcoming Baftas. I, Daniel Blake is every bit as relevant now as was Loach’s BBC film of fifty years ago, Cathy Come Home.


There were many films last year which, although not documentaries as such, were based on real-life incidents. Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon, an exciting drama about a raging fire on an oil rig, would have made my list of the best if I had been allowed fifteen titles as we had in 2015. It has fine performances by Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich et al, and some very exciting action sequences in what is a true Saturday night flick.


Although not specific in historical detail, Son of Saul is an amazing, albeit the grimmest, account of the horrors of the concentration camps as seen from the point of view of one prisoner. It is on both James’ and my list of the best, whereas Mansel found it hard to take. The Birth of a Nation is a detailed account of the US slave trade that packs an enormous punch and earns its place among my (if not quite James’) films of the year. Holding the Man is a brave portrayal of a gay relationship between two Australian boys that started at school and continued into adulthood. It is based on a true story which makes it all the more poignant. Less harrowing is the remarkable documentary The Eagle Huntress in which a 13-year-old girl in Mongolia becomes the first female to hunt and trap mountain eagles. It is an unusual topic well filmed with both insight and humour and a lovely ‘performance’ by young Aisholpan. It was also chosen by Mansel. I was also taken by Rams, set on an isolated farm in Iceland where two brothers have been at loggerheads for years. It’s a touching portrayal of families and their problems and the burden of a hard-working life in excruciating conditions.


Both James and I agree on Mustang, the Turkish film about teenage girls rebelling against their families’ outdated notions of sex and marriage. It is not as frightful as it might sound because it is laced with good humour. For out-and-out entertainment value, however, the three of us put our bets on Sing Street and I especially liked the natural performance by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as a budding musician in John Carney’s film – which I thought was far more enjoyable than the same director’s Once.


Again, for sheer enjoyment I included Hell or High Water (admired by James but not on his list). This is David Mackenzie’s rewriting of the Western film with a blast of a performance by Jeff Bridges, while Florence Foster Jenkins is an intriguing portrait of the celebrated vocalist who patently couldn’t sing. Hugh Grant shines in this one and Meryl Streep does her usual thorough job of getting inside the skin of a real person. It would be ironic if the Academy could award her an Oscar, if only to spite President Trump.


Obviously I should have seen Swallows and Amazons, as my two colleagues have both included it. What I also wish I hadn’t missed were American Honey from Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) and Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s paean to a New Jersey cabbie-cum-poet. Still, you can’t see everything..



1.  I, Daniel Blake
2.  Son of Saul
3.  The Birth of a Nation
4.  Holding the Man
5.  Mustang
6.  Rams
7.  The Eagle Huntress
8.  Hell or High Water
9.  Florence Foster Jenkins
10. Sing Street