The Doctor of Movies’ Top 10 of 2016

weiner

10. Weiner (Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)

Weiner is not the documentary that directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg intended to make and is so much better for it. When disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner’s run for Mayor of New York was derailed by another sexting scandal, what was meant to be a behind the scenes look at a political comeback turned into front row seats to a political campaign in full-blown crisis mode. With incredible access to throughout the downfall, this engrossing film is equal parts train wreck and tragedy as we see the impact this scandal has on the candidate, his family and his team. Full review

zootopia

9. Zootopia (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush)

Disney’s Zootopia works on multiple levels. It is a mystery, an odd-couple buddy movie and a powerful fable about discrimination, stereotyping and, in the face of these, empowerment, all packaged up in a bright and fun family animation. The story of a rural police bunny who moves to the big city for her first assignment is also another step in the evolution of Disney’s post-princess positive messaging to young girls. Fresh and smart, with vibrant production design and excellent voice casting, Zootopia is further evidence that Disney Animation Studios is in the midst of another purple patch. Full review

Revenant

8. The Revenant (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s incredible “true” survival story of frontiersman Hugh Glass was an endurance test for its protagonist, for its cast and crew and, in the best possible way, for its audience. The Revenant is a brutal, bleak and gruelling movie. While Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance earned him his long awaited Oscar, the real star of the show here is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, whose amazing images, shot entirely with natural light, make the North American landscape simultaneously breathtakingly beautiful and terrifying. It is an agoraphobic film that makes you feel trapped by sheer space. A really ambitious piece of filmmaking. Full review

room

7. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is a gripping drama about how a woman who has been locked in a room for seven years creates a life there for her young son, and then how the two of them adapt to the outside world upon their escape. A film of two distinct but equally effective halves, Room is built on two brilliant performances: Brie Larson’s Oscar winning turn as Ma, and newcomer Jacob Tremblay as her son in one of the most nuanced child performances you will ever see. Seen through the eyes of the young boy, this is an impactful and life affirming story about the lengths a mother will go to for her child. Full review

Big Short

6. The Big Short (Adam McKay)

Comedy director Adam McKay shifted gears to examine the housing crisis with this tragicomedy brimming with righteous anger. Following a small group of economists who see the writing on the wall and, when no one will heed their warning, decide to bet against the housing market, The Big Short is a David and Goliath story with a difference because they only win if everyone loses. While the complicated economic concepts on which the story hinge could alienate viewers, McKay finds a fun way to get around this, using fourth-wall breaking celebrity cameos to explain just enough for the viewer to get by. Full review

lobster

5. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)

You check into a hotel as a single person. You have forty-five days to find a compatible partner. If you are successful the two of you return to society together. If you are unsuccessful you are transformed into an animal. The Lobster is Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’s first film in English and this surreal fable is undoubtedly the most original film of 2016. Darkly comedic but genuinely funny, The Lobster is both an unconventional love story and an absurdist reflection on romance, courtship and our society’s obsession with coupling. Colin Farrell leads a strong cast, all delivering wonderfully deadpan performances. Full review

Captain America - Civil War

4. Captain America: Civil War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

The year’s highest grossing movie also turned out to be the year’s best blockbuster. While a number of high profile superhero films stumbled, Captain America: Civil War was the fullest realisation of the narrative potential of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Drawing together established characters with some fun new additions, Civil War sees our heroes turning against each other in an ideological conflict about the appropriateness of the Avengers’ unilateral power. Directors the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely manage to balance spectacle with smarts, offering a sophisticated thematic exploration while retaining the fun, lightness of touch which has typified Marvel’s films. Full review

Sing Street

3. Sing Street (John Carney)

For mine, Sing Street is this year’s most criminally underseen film. Irish writer-director John Carney’s latest musical is a continuation of his favourite theme, that music has the power to lift people up and bring people together. A fifteen year old boy living in Dublin, in a moment of improvisation, asks a girl to star in a music video for his band. So now he has to form a band. Set in 1985, Sing Street has the added element of nostalgia with its soundtrack featuring a blend of classics from Duran Duran, Hall and Oates and The Cure, and originals by Carney and Gary Clark which fit seamlessly into the era. Full review

arrival

2. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)

Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve continued his dramatic rise (next stop Blade Runner 2049) with this brilliant piece of science fiction. A first contact story that is more Close Encounters than Independence Day, Arrival focuses on the process of communication. How would we communicate with visiting extra-terrestrials and how would we make sure that we were understanding each other? Arrival achieves the difficult feat of being a really intelligent and thought provoking piece of science fiction that still manages to have some emotional resonance and human warmth. It is also easily my favourite film ever made about linguistics. Full review

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

The little film that could. Hunt for the Wilderpeople earned rave reviews all over the world. Following on from the success of his vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi took a beloved New Zealand book, Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress, and recreated it in his own image. The result is the most heartwarming and best film of 2016. The tale of a young Maori boy and his grizzly foster father on the run from the authorities in the New Zealand wilderness, Waititi’s film is a rollicking adventure with real human intimacy. Outstanding chemistry between the veteran Sam Neill and relative newcomer Julian Dennison as the mismatched protagonists. Full review

The Next Best (alphabetical): 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg), Angry Indian Goddesses (Pan Nalin), Anomalisa (Charlie Kauffman, Duke Johnson), Carol (Todd Haynes), Ghostbusters (Paul Feig), Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson), The Hateful 8 (Quentin Tarantino), Spotlight (Tom McCarthy), Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)

The Worst Movie of the Year:

how-to-be-single 

There was some competition for this one from large scale, misfiring blockbusters like Suicide SquadX-Men: Apocalypse and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but in the end I couldn’t go past this debacle. A mess of cliches and worn out scenarios with nothing new to say, How to Be Single follows four parallel tales of women dealing with love, romance and single life in New York in which the amount of screen time given to each is inversely proportionate to how interesting they are.

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