The Ford On Film Awards 2016: Best Film
It’s that time of the year again! The grim slog that was 2016 is over, and now we can look forward to the grim slog that will be 2017. While the news of the world looked more and more bleak, we always have cinema to look forward to. Though some of the biggest films disappointed, there were more than enough terrific films to make my picks for the top ten of the year difficult. It’s been such a great year that favourites including Swiss Army Man, I, Daniel Blake, and Zootropolis are among those nowhere to be found. As usual, there’s only two criteria for making my list:
- The film has to have been released in the UK in 2016. Sorry Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, I’ll get to you next year.
- It can’t have been nominated for an Oscar in 2016. As much as I love Spotlight and Son of Saul, they’ve been talked about more than enough.
Without further ado, here are my picks for the ten best films released in the UK in 2016:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Everybody Wants Some!!
The Neon Demon
When John Carney followed up his wonderful cult musical Once with the bland, uninspired Begin Again, many presumed he was a one-hit wonder. Thankfully, Carney proved his critics wrong this year with the wonderful, touching Sing Street. Set in 1985, Sing Street was a deeply personal affair about a teen boy escaping the confines of his Catholic school by forming a pop band. The music was terrific, the script both moving and hilarious, and the young, mostly unknown cast were great, helped by a superb supporting turn from Jack Reynor.
Fire at Sea
No other film in 2016 was as powerful as Gianfranco Rosi’s Golden Bear-winning documentary Fire at Sea. Capturing life in Lampedusa, a tiny island found between Italy and Tunisia, Rosi’s frank footage of refugees trying and often failing to make it to Europe was heart-breaking, especially when contrasted with the peaceful existence of the Islanders.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Where did this come from? Following up his 2014 vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi created the funniest comedy of the year with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. An odd couple comedy starring a grumpy Sam Neill and an overweight teenage rap fan played by breakout star Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople mixed sharp one liners with bombastic action and a lot of heart.
While the tragic death of Anton Yelchin at just 27 looms over Green Room, it’s good to know he went out in such terrific style. Jeremy Saulnier is perhaps the most exciting and innovative thriller director working today, and if Blue Ruin offered a first glimpse of his talent, Green Room proved he’s one of the best. A non-stop blast of tension and extreme gore, this ‘punk band vs. neo-Nazis’ fire fight was the most brutal, insane film I saw all year. Bonus points for casting Sir Patrick Stewart as a softly-spoken Neo Nazi leader.
Fans of cringe comedy were probably disappointed with the utterly pointless David Brent: Life on the Road, but they would have been more than happy with Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s candid documentary about the spectacular failure that was Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign. Weiner is far from likable (this is the man that destroyed his own campaign not once but twice by sending dick pics to strangers), but in the wake of the 2016 US Election, he doesn’t seem all that terrible. Furiously passionate at his lowest ebb, Anthony Weiner is one of cinema’s most interesting antiheroes; endlessly fascinating even as he repeatedly humiliates his wife and makes himself look more and more foolish.
After 5 years in the wilderness, travelling across America, Andrea Arnold returned in spectacular fashion with the sprawling, unpredictable road trip that is American Honey. Working with a group of young non-professionals (including star Sasha Lane, who gives one of the best performances of the year) and a relatively restrained Shia LaBeouf, Arnold’s 163-minute journey across the unseen underbelly of the USA featured a wealth of memorable scenes, all captured by Robbie Ryan’s gorgeous cinematography. Dominating the British Independent Films Awards (where it won, among others, Best Film and Best Director), American Honey proved that Arnold hasn’t lost her touch.
Hell or High Water
While the Western has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, with auteurs like the Coen Brothers, Alejandro G. Inarritu, and Quentin Tarantino crafting hugely acclaimed takes on the genre, very few directors have brought Westerns into the 21st century. David Mackenzie, teaming up with Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, has created one such Western – Hell or High Water – and it is terrific.
A slow-burning, retro tale of bank robbing brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, giving career-best performances) and the grizzled sheriff (Jeff Bridges) on their case, Hell or High Water offered more thrilling set pieces, hard-boiled dialogue, and outstanding performances than almost any other mainstream film released this year.
It’s often said that the best films are the ones you least expect; Divines is one of those films. Youthful, brash, and joyous, Uda Benyamina’s award-winning teen drama blasted onto Netflix like a cross between La Haine and Fish Tank – the energetic ‘banlieue’ lifestyle of the former mixed with the frank coming-of-age story of the latter. In perhaps the best performance of the year, Benyamina’s younger sister Oulaya Amamra starred as the teenage girl struggling to cope with school, love, sex, violence, and money, seemingly playing multiple characters-in-one. It’s a star making turn for both actor and director, and I can’t wait to see what both do next.
After coming 3rd in last year’s Best Film rankings for Sicario, Denis Villeneuve climbs further up the rankings with the stunning sci-fi blockbuster Arrival. The very best mainstream US release this year, Arrival was a bold, intelligent science fiction story that favoured fiendishly tricky puzzles and heart-stopping drama over loud noises and explosions. Not to say that Vilenueve didn’t provide spectacle; the first encounter between Amy Adams’ linguist and the mysterious alien visitors was breathtaking. Adams delivered another terrific performance, whilst Villeneuve shot even further into the A-list (the film took nearly $150 million worldwide). Here’s hoping Villeneuve can make something worthy of the number one spot next year.
The best film Jim Jarmusch has made to date, and the loveliest, sunniest film in years. Gently chronicling a week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver/part time poet called Paterson (played by Adam Driver), the film provided big laughs at the various characters in Paterson’s life, included the weary bartender at his local watering hole, and his French bulldog Marvin, whilst also providing beautiful insight into the loving relationship between Paterson and his supportive, artistic wife Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahni.
Farahni gives a performance that’s impossibly lovable, but Driver gives the performance of his career as the gentle soul who searches for the poetry in the everyday. While Paterson is possibly too slow and aimless for some tastes, I could have stayed watching the film for hours after the credits rolled. Poetic in content and nature, Jarmusch’s Paterson made me smile out of sheer beauty and marvel at the world.
By Harry J. Ford
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