Oscar nominations – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Well, folks. Things went mostly to plan. When you pick 99 of the 123 nominees (I struck out in the Short film categories, so shoot me), you realise it was one of those predictable years. That’s not to say there weren’t a few shocks, surprises and snubs. Thankfully, there’s far more to be happy about this year than previous years. So, let’s get to it.

The good

There will be those that groaned when La La Land tied with Titanic and All About Eve in earning a record 14 nominations, but you know I adore this movie, so I’m overjoyed. I’ll give you the Sound Editing nomination is fairly farcical, even if I had predicted it, unlike many others. But even if you’re not a fan of the film, you have to admire its cinematic accomplishments, which is merely all the Academy is doing. Being so overexposed could do two ways from here; it’s either now entirely unstoppable to sweep at least 8 or 9 of those categories or voter fatigue will set in and become the film’s downfall. All eyes now turn to the PGA in a few days…

Even with its stellar reviews and impressive box-office results, it was always worrying how the Academy would respond to Arrival. Sci-fi can be showered with major nominations (Gravity, The Martian) or completely ignored (Interstellar, WALL-E). Thankfully we had nothing to worry about, bar one disgraceful snub (more on that later). Eight nominations for a sci-fi film is a glorious result, especially the richly-deserved Director nom for Denis Villeneuve.

#OscarsSoWhite is officially dead. Or at least for this year it is. After two years of shocking snubs and cries of racism, people of colour and films about people of colour were well-represented, right across the board. Every acting category features a black actor (three, in the case of Supporting Actress). Four of the nine films in the Best Picture race (MoonlightFencesHidden Figures and Lion) revolve around the stories of people of colour. Viola Davis’ third nomination makes her the most nominated black actress in history. Octavia Spencer became the first black actress to be nominated after previously winning (quite startling, right?). Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) is only the second black writer/director to be nominated in both categories. Kimberly Steward became the second black female to be nominated for Best Picture for producing Manchester by the Sea. Four of the five Documentary Feature nominees are made by black directors, with Ava DuVernay (13th) becoming the first black female director nominated in this category. Bradford Young (Arrival) is only the second black cinematographer to be nominated. Joi McMillon (Moonlight) is the first ever black female nominated for Editing. And that’s not even everything. While it could easily be argued the films and achievements by people of colour were simply of a higher quantity and quality this year, it’s still inspiring to see the Academy showcasing such diversity with its nominees. Keep it up.

While Ruth Negga’s some-what surprise Lead Actress nomination for Loving came at the expense of Amy Adams (again, more on that later), it was entirely deserved. Quiet and reserved performances often get ignored by the Academy, so it’s pleasing to see her included. If only that love could have been extended to Joel Edgerton too. Like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this is a double-act performance. Rewarding one without the other is rather silly.

The best thing about Nocturnal Animals is Michael Shannon’s brilliant performance, and clearly the Academy thought so too. He had initial buzz (he was in my Gold Derby prediction for the longest time), but somewhere along the way, it shifted (and yes, I ended up taking him out). I never understood that shift turning towards Aaron Taylor-Johnson, so to see it turn back made me endlessly happy.

Meryl Streep. Twenty nominations. Enough said.

Bad

Only one nomination for Nocturnal Animals is a travesty. While its chances of a Director nomination for Tom Ford were always slim, to see it snubbed for Adapted Screenplay, Editing and Production Design was truly surprising. For a film to receive nine BAFTA nominations and only come away with one at the Oscars is utter nonsense.

Tom Hanks’ snub for Sully. I don’t know when the Academy started hating him. I don’t know what he did to them. But it’s been 17 year since he was last nominated, despite still consistently giving us award-worthy performances, so clearly something is wrong.

We all suspected Silence would be ignored, so its sole nomination for Cinematography wasn’t surprising but still painful. Maybe it simply came too late in the race to make an impact. Or maybe it was just too dark and heavy, given everything the world has been through recently. In any case, it’s the first time in seven years a Scorsese film has flopped at the Oscars.

Given the year in animation we had, the Animated Feature category was more crowded than ever before. Even so, it’s still truly staggering to see Finding Dory miss out. Sure, it didn’t quite have the magic of the original, but it was still a beautifully made film and deserved recognition. For Pixar, the studio responsible for eight of the 15 winners for Animated Feature, this would be a kick in the guts and seen as a major failure. With two films, Cars 3 and Coco, out in 2017, it’s not wise to write them off just yet.

While Hail, Caesar! didn’t quite have the awards buzz of Coen brothers films of the apst, Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography still should have scored a nod. At least we won’t have to watch him lose for a 14th time…

Ugly

Martin Scorsese. Works on a passion project for over 25 years. Delivers a masterpiece. Doesn’t get nominated. Shameful. Absolutely shameful.

Interestingly, there was a time not long ago where many thought Amy Adams’ likely Lead Actress nomination was the only hope for Arrival to be represented at the Academy Awards. What a heartbreaking turn of events to see her snubbed, but the film pick up eight other nominations. I will never understand this. Adams’ performance is the heart and soul of that movie. In the hands of a lesser actress, it would have fallen to farce. Yes, it has beautiful cinematography, wonderful direction and a brilliant screenplay, but none of that matters without a stellar leading performance to truly bring it to life. That’s exactly what Adams did, like she has time after time before. Failing to acknowledge that, while acknowledging the film in such a large way, is absolutely ridiculous. At least we won’t have to watch her lose for a 6th time. And now it seems destined she will win the next time she’s in contention. Long overdue and now snubbed of a worthy nomination. That usually equals future glory. Just look at Julianne Moore.

Well, we have our nominees. Now the real games begin. But is the game already over, now that La La Land seems truly unstoppable? Or is it poised to join BoyhoodLincoln and The Social Network and become another early-frontrunner that peaked too soon? Game on.

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Final Oscar nominations predictions for 2017

Well it’s that time of year again. On the eve of the Academy’s big Oscar nominations announcement, I’m laying down my final predictions. There’s a lot up in the air here, so take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I’m way off. Films have been flying up and down on the buzz-meter the last few weeks. Hidden Figures and Lion are coming on very strong at the end, so it’s possible they could both do better than I’m speculating. Silence is the big unknown. It’s barely made a blip all awards season, but you can’t rule out the older male Academy voters who’ve loved practically everything Scorsese has delivered for the past three decades. Eight nominations for Best Director cannot be ignored. I’ve got Silence down for five nominations, but in all honesty, it could also get bupkis. Let’s not forget a few years ago I was declaring Gone Girl would be up for seven awards, and it ended up receiving one solo nomination. See. Sometimes you’re best to just ignore us “experts”. Nobody knows anything.

I must point out something a little different this year – the nominees are ranked by my opinion of likelihood, rather than alphabetically. Fancy, I know.

So, here we go with this year’s predictions.

Best Picture
La La Land
Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Lion
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Silence

Alternates: Jackie, Nocturnal Animals, Deadpool, Florence Foster Jenkins

As with the last few years, it’s very unlikely we’re going to see ten nominees, but never say never. And I’m allowed ten spots, so why not? You can lock in the top five. Those are your certainties and what this category would have looked like in the past. The rest are all fairly shaky. Silence has been M.I.A. from every major awards show, but it’s Martin Scorsese, for crying out loud, so I can’t discount it and think it could steal one of the spots. Jackie and Nocturnal Animals don’t seem like top 5 picks for the majority of voters, so they won’t have enough support to break in. Florence Foster Jenkins is probably too light to this category. And I’m not going to call Deadpool anything other than an alternate, no matter how hard Ryan Reynolds campaigns. It’s not going to happen…oh, that declaration could come back to haunt me. Let’s not forget last year, where Carol was shamefully left off the Picture nominees, despite 6 other nominations, so that could happen to one of the “sure-things”. If I had to pick, I’d say Fences the most-likely to suffer this fate.

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Martin Scorsese – Silence
Alternates: Denzel Washington – Fences, Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge, Garth Davis – Lion, David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water, Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals

The top four are all DGA nominees, so you can lock them in, but the fifth spot is always tricky, given the Academy and DGA haven’t matched five for five since 1999. The DGA surprised everyone by going with Davis, and while the press around that nomination would have helped, it came far too late in Oscar nomination voting to really make an impact. Instead, I think they’ll go with a big name for the final spot, and that should be Scorsese, or perhaps Washington or Gibson. If Lion really is a Picture contender, Davis needs to get in here, so I’m still hopeful. Let’s not forget two years ago the fifth spot went to a director (Bennett Miller) whose film (Foxcatcher) wasn’t even nominated for Picture, so maybe we should be prepared for a Ford shocker?

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington – Fences
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Alternates: Tom HanksSully, Joel Edgerton – Loving

One of the few categories I can’t see much movement with. If the Academy hadn’t snubbed Hanks a few years back for Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks, he could have made it in, but given his lack of precursor nominations, it’s unlikely. Likewise with Edgerton, who looked good early on, but Loving has disappeared from buzz completely.

Best Actress
Emma Stone – La La Land
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Amy Adams – Arrival
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
Alternates: Annette Bening – 20th Century Women, Ruth Negga – Loving, Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures

Like Director, it seems we have four certainties and a fifth squeaker. Streep seems to have pushed herself back into the final spot by stealing the limelight at the Globes with that speech. And this would be her 20th (!) nomination, so it’s always safe to bet on Meryl. Bening and Negga could spoil her party, but neither are in buzzed about films, so they’ll likely fall short. If Henson pulls a surprise nomination, and she genuinely could, Hidden Figures is a bigger Picture threat than we’re all giving it credit for.

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Dev Patel – Lion
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Alternates: Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals, Issei Ogata – Silence

Another category that seems fairly locked, but this one always throws in a surprise or two. If Grant’s role is deemed a bit too light, Taylor-Johnson looks primed to steal the spot. Even though he won the Globe and scored a BAFTA nom, his nomination still seems far from certain, especially given how off-putting his character is. I’m only sticking Ogata as an alternate if the Academy goes really Silence crazy…

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Alternates: Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women, Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures

The alternates here are just for show. This category has been locked for a while now. Just on a personal brag, I stuck Spencer in my Gold Derby predictions so long ago, her odds were 100/1, so if she gets nominated, expect to hear me roar with “told ya so”. Frankly, Monae gives the meatier performance, but I still think they’ll go with a former winner over a singer-turned-actress. I’m still not thrilled Davis is considered Supporting. Wouldn’t it be fun to see the Academy move her up to Lead and give Stone and Portman a run for their money?

I won’t elaborate/provide alternates for the remaining categories. Let’s just run through them and get this over with.

Best Original Screenplay
Manchester by the Sea
La La Land
Hell or High Water
The Lobster
Zootopia (yeah, I know…I’m an idiot for doing this…but allow me one insane prediction)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Moonlight
Lion
Fences
Arrival
Nocturnal Animals

Best Cinematography
La La Land
Moonlight
Arrival
Silence
Lion

Best Costume Design
Jackie
La La Land
Silence
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Film Editing
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
Moonlight
Arrival
Manchester by the Sea

Best Makeup and Hair
Florence Foster Jenkins
Deadpool
Star Trek Beyond

Best Production Design
La La Land
Jackie
Silence
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Arrival

Best Score
La La Land
Jackie
Moonlight
Lion
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Original Song
City of Stars – La La Land
How Far I’ll Go – Moana
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
Try Everything – Zootopia

Best Sound Editing
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
La La Land
Arrival
The Jungle Book

Best Sound Mixing
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Arrival
The Jungle Book

Best Visual Effects
The Jungle Book
Doctor Strange
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Arrival

Best Animated Feature
Zootopia
Moana
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Red Turtle
Finding Dory

Best Documentary Feature
O.J.:Made in America
The 13th
I Am Not Your Negro
The Eagle Huntress
Cameraperson

Best Foreign Film
Toni Erdmann
Land of Mine
The Salesman
A Man Called Ove
My Life as a Zucchini

Best Animated Short
Piper
Sous Tes Doigts
Pearl
The Head Vanishes
Inner Workings

Best Documentary Short
Joe’s Violin
The Mute’s House
The White Helmets
Extremis
Watani: My Homeland

Best Live Action Short
Nocturne in Black
Timecode
The Way of Tea
Sing (Mindenki)
The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf and the Boy

Well, there you go. There’s bound to be a whole stack of snubs, shocks and surprises, so get ready for my The Good, The Bad and the Ugly reaction post tomorrow. In the end, I believe we’ll see La La Land equal All About Eve and Titanic’s record of 14 nominations, followed by Arrival with 10, Moonlight with 8, and Manchester by the Sea with 7.

Let the games begin…

The ten best films of 2016

2016. The year the world seemingly lost its damn mind. Natural disasters; terrorist disasters; and even election disasters. Losing brilliant entertainer after brilliant entertainer – most far too soon. Every single week, there seemed to be a fresh punch to the stomach, especially as the year drew to a close. My escapism from the madness of this world has always been (and will always be) the world of film. When life gives me lemons, I flee to the cinema. Thankfully, the cinema was always there this year, and cinema gave us one of the best years we’ve had in a long while.

Smart, entertaining popcorn blockbusters. Moving, poignant independent cinema. Dazzling and powerful animated masterpieces. Thought-provoking and eye-opening documentaries. Drama. Comedy. Horror. Action. Sci-fi. Even an old-school musical. It has been a monumental and overwhelmingly delightful year, across all genres of film.

Was it all great? Well, of course not. It is Hollywood, after all. 2016 was again loaded with far too many unnecessary sequels, remakes and reboots that nobody asked for. The desperate obsession to create a tentpole franchise out of practically nothing is painfully obvious, and it seems audiences are catching on. Judging by the tepid box-office results for most of them, perhaps the message will finally get through to studio execs.

Original content actually managed to break through this year; something we haven’t seen for years now. While the highest-grossing films may not reflect this (there’s only two wholly-original films in the top 10 worldwide), if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see startling success for original cinema. In a year devoid of hope in so many other aspects of life, that is one ray of sunshine for me to cling to.

On a side note, I think it’s valid to give an insight into just how these ten films were determined worthy of inclusion in this year’s list. In all honesty, I don’t like using the term “best” when comparing and describing an artform like cinema, so the title of this article is a little misleading. By its very definition, the word “best” implies one thing is “better” than another. While all ten films could be considered “better” than 95% of the drivel released this year, that’s not necessarily how they found themselves on this list.

These tens films are simply those which affected me more than any other this year, each in vastly different ways. Some dazzled me with their originality. Some showcased genres in an entirely new way. Some made me smile. Some made me laugh. Some made me cry. Some simply gave me pure entertainment. And one disturbed me like nothing else this year. Most importantly, every single one of them made an impact.

But above all else, these are the ten films I consider to be the best examples and reminders of why I love and cherish film in the first place.

It’s a cliche I use every year, but chopping down this stellar year into just ten films has been exhaustively difficult. Just looking at the films left to fall into my honourable mentions showcases this. Leaving them out pains me, but alas, rules are rules.

One final note for any non-Australian readers; here in the land of Oz, we can be a little behind sometimes, so you won’t find films like MoonlightJackie, Loving or Manchester By The Sea on my list, as we’re still awaiting those apparent gems to be released here. Similarly, a few honourable mentions may have been 2015 releases elsewhere, but find themselves dropped into 2016 over here.

So without further ado, I present The Jam Report’s ten best films of 2016.

10. O.J.: Made in America

oj

Now before anyone starts hollering about this being a television series, let me clarifiy. O.J.: Made in America was screened theatrically in the U.S. and the Academy have shortlisted it for Documentary Feature at the Oscars. Therefore, I feel it can be included here too.

After the brilliance that was American Crime Story – The People vs O.J. Simpson, you’d think we’d had our fill of O.J. for one year. But there is so much more to his story than just the murder trial. That story is brilliantly showcased in this epic documentary. At 7.5 hours, it sounds terribly exhausting, but somehow this series is utterly riveting from start to finish. Filled with moments that are surprising, unsettling, disturbing, tragic, angering, and ultimately captivating, this is captivating viewing, particularly for those not well-versed with Simpson’s history outside a courtroom.

Given its runtime, the depth this documentary is able to cover is remarkable, touching on everything from the absurdity of celebrity, racial issues still prevalent in America today, and, of course, the terrible failures of the American criminal justice system. When the film stretches outside of just Simpson’s story, it really shines. Providing an insight into how the racial tension of early-90s Los Angeles and the rise of the 24-hour news cycle combined to provide the perfect storm for Simpson’s legal team to twist to his advantage is both compelling and troubling to watch.

By utilising frank and honest interviews with those closest to Simpson including childhood friends of both Simpson and wife Nicole, failed prosecutor Marcia Clark, crucified policeman Mark Fuhrman, and tragic-figure Fred Goldman, father of somewhat-forgotten murder victim Ron, the documentary provides an insightful and eye-opening look at the fall of an American god, and maybe even the fall of America itself.

9. Hell or High Water

hellhighwater

Each year, a film finds itself on this list by simply being a damn fine, solidly made, and gripping piece of cinema. This film may not necessarily do anything new, but it certain does everything right. And sometimes, that’s all that matters. Last year, that was Sicario. This year, it’s Hell or High Water. And funnily enough, they both share the same screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan.

From its jarring opening sequence to its dramatic conclusion, Hell or High Water demands your attention with every single frame. Much like Sicario, this is tense cinema of the highest order, mixed with perfectly executed moments across the genres of drama, comedy, and an old-fashioned shoot-em-up Western. Cemented by the wonderful performances of its two leads, Chris Pine (who knew?) and a career-best Ben Foster, the film really shines with another stellar performance from Jeff Bridges, taking things to another level and showing them both how it’s really done.

Blurring the lines between good and evil with its socially aware and highly timely plot, you will find yourself conflicted as to who to cheer for – the bank-robbing brothers desperately trying to save the family farm or the old-timer Texas Ranger chasing them down? The violence will shock you. The tension will have you on the edge of your seat. The comedic banter will make you laugh. But overall, this film will truly grab you from start to finish.

8. Deadpool

deadpool

2016’s biggest surprise package, and one if its biggest triumphs. Sure, the signs were there. The trailer was a triumph. The source material of comicbooks were a goldmine for any screenwriter. And after being in pre-production hell for almost a decade, anticipation was high, maybe even too high. Yet no one expected the wonderful breath of fresh air Deadpool provided.

After the comic-book movie exhaustion we’ve all suffered through the last few years, it seems this film struck its chord at just the right time. This genre really had it coming. We’ve been beleaguered with far too many oh-so-serious superhero films lately. It was time something brought them down a peg or two. Enter Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson/Deadpool, with his delicious tongue-in-cheek, fourth wall-breaking and self-deprecating humour. Enter a new wise-cracking hero for the ages. And enter a new style of superhero film for the ages.

From its brilliantly-crass opening credits, to the refrains of “Angel of the Morning”, you knew you were in for something entirely unique and staggeringly bold. When have you ever seen a film directed by “some douchebag”? Or its leading stars referred to as “god’s perfect idiot” and “some hot chick”? Breaking with the traditional stifling and constricting PG-13 rating (M15 here in Australia), and giving us a Marvel film with realistic blood, violence, naughty language, and sex, turns out to be a stroke of genius. This ain’t no kids movie, and nor should it be. The stunning box-office result speaks to the appeal and ultimate success of an adult film like this.

Loaded with the most delicious jabs at practically every aspect of the superhero film industry, particularly Reynolds’ monumental failure as Green Lantern, nothing is sacred in this film. Therein lies its brilliance.

7. Moana

Moana.jpg

What a year for animation. In all honesty, I was tempted to create an entirely separate top 10 list just for animated films. Walt Disney Animation Studios continued its incredible run of recent years with yet another remarkable triumph. If Frozen broke the mould on what a female-centric Disney film should be, Moana shatters it even further.

Witness a Disney Princess without a love interest, or any desire to find a love interest, for that matter. Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is not searching for a Prince, but rather searching for herself and her place in her world. And while she may battle coconut pirates, a giant crab (fabulously voiced by Jemaine Clement), and a fire-breathing lava god, the toughest opponent Moana must overcome is her own self-doubt. What a bold statement that is for any young girl (or boy, for that matter) to take in.

While the film is visually stunning, with some of the most gorgeous landscape and character design work Disney has ever delivered, it truly soars thanks to its beautiful score and musical pieces, particularly “How Far I’ll Go” – a worthy successor to the earworm that was Frozen‘s “Let It Go”. No surprise really, considering the pedigree of the composers, Lin Manuel-Miranda (aka the man behind Broadway phenomenon Hamilton) and Mark Mancina (aka the man behind Disney’s criminally-underrated Tarzan).

But it’s when Moana meets demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, in delightful form) the film really comes to life. Watching brave, selfless Moana take on brash, selfish Maui is true cinematic entertainment. Their banter is a sight to behold, and their evolving relationship is the film’s true heart.

Sure, the film features many typical Disney trademarks (the physical and emotional journey of its heroine, the cute animal sidekicks, the “all hope seems lost” moment), but Moana sets itself apart by delivering a strong, intelligent, independent character children can and should truly hold as an aspirational figure.

6. Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

RogueOne.jpg

If last year’s Star Wars – The Force Awakens helped fade memory of those god-awful Episode I-III prequels, Rogue One – A Star Wars Story completely obliterates all traces, with the arrive of the prequel Star Wars fans have always yearned for. While the first Star Wars “side story” utilises liberal lashings of nostalgic references and franchise cameos (particularly in its applause-inducing finale), it manages to deftly stand on its own feet as a brilliantly entertaining stand-alone piece of cinema.

Even those outside the fandom will be delighted by the never-ending thrills and spectacle this film serves up. You need no previous franchise knowledge to enjoy this thrill ride, largely thanks to a smart and astute screenplay, coupled with the wonderful performances from a whole host of characters, particularly our new heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and the latest scene-stealing and genuinely hilarious droid, K-2SO (the voiceover genius that is Alan Tudyk). But it’s the film’s decidedly darker plot-tones that really set it apart from everything else in the franchise. We finally have a Star Wars film made exclusively for grown-ups.The sacrificial nature of the rebellion’s mission to capture the plans of the Death Star is not only deeply moving, it’s also incredibly inspiring.

While the every-man can adore this film, for those within the fandom, Rogue One – A Star Wars Story is the stuff of dreams, and ultimately ends up working on an entirely different level. Franchise questions are finally answered (especially one involving the Death Star which has plagued fans for decades). Connections between the films are made, without ever feeling forced or cheesy. Glorious references are dotted throughout. Old friends (and foes) return. New friends are made (and lost). But most of all, the magic you felt when you first saw the masterpiece that is Star Wars for the very first time will overwhelmingly return.

5. The Witch

thewitch

The horror genre may truly be the most difficult type of film in which to create something genuinely special. Terror is a very personal emotion, so eliciting fear from an audience is no easy task. But in recent years, brilliant films like The Conjuring, It Follows and The Babadook have re-ignited faith in the horror genre, though they were all outdone this year by a film that seemingly came out of nowhere, The Witch.

While the film may follow the lead of many familiar horror tales, it ultimately takes the genre into new and down-right disturbing territory. A simple tale of a close-knit family, forced to start over after banishment from a New England settlement in 1630, slowly diverges into an absolute nightmare, as the family spirals into a hellish ordeal when baby Samuel goes missing. The family dynamic, as each struggles with grief, blame and confusion over Samuel’s disappearance, is agonising to watch.

But it’s when the ominous supernatural undertones, which the audience has felt since the family’s arrival at their new woods-surrounded home, start to takeover this film really grabs you. And it does so by refusing to fall to well-worn horror clichés. There are no cheap jump scares here. Every scare is earned entirely. No twist-ending to make you groan with frustration. No cheap explanation to neatly summarise the film’s events. We don’t even get a happy ending. This is pure, unsettling dread from the outset which leads to a conclusion that is equally upsetting as it is horrifying.

It’s bleak, tense tone makes for genuinely uncomfortable viewing from start to finish, but therein lies its power. This is precisely how a horror film is supposed to make you feel. And with glorious, slow-burn filmmaking like this, you’ll feel it to your very core for days to come. Fair warning – you may never look at a goat the same way again…”wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

4. Zootopia

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While 2016 was a stellar year for animation, one filmed shined above them all – the sublime Zootopia. Breaking further away from its acquired (and once industry-leading) cousin, Pixar Animation Studios, the Walt Disney animation second renaissance continues with their finest 3D-animation achievement yet (yes, even better than Frozen).

Zootopia rightly takes a leaf out of Pixar’s handbook on crafting an animated film that is humourous and entertaining, while masking a deeply important social message; something other animation studios attempt but fall well short of. It’s not every day you get a “children’s film” that dares to tackle issues like racial prejudice, gender inequality and social xenophobia. With its inspiring “never give up” plot, which encourages us all to break stereotypes, accept those around us, believe in ourselves, and, as the film’s theme song suggests, to “Try Everything”, Zootopia may just be the most socially relevant film of the year. Even more so, now we’re in a post-election/President Trump world.

But parents, fear not. Your littlest ones likely won’t even see this side, or at least not consciously. They’ll be too delighted by the stunning animation design, thrilling sequences, and the glorious and instantly-iconic characters, namely due to the enchanting voice-over work throughout. Lead by the genius pairing of adorable Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps and slick Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde, their evolving friendship is beautiful to behold, and delivers one of the film’s most powerful messages – never judge a book by its cover. Ultimately, this dichotomous reaction to the film is the mark of a truly great animated film; one that works successfully for both young and old alike, for a multitude of different reasons.

On the surface, Zootopia is animation storytelling at its finest, and stands tall as the best children’s film of the year. But look a little deeper, and you’ll discover one of the most surprisingly powerful films of the year. In a year of so much despair, Zootopia hits the mark at just the right time. And the genuinely-hilarious sloth sequence (easily the year’s funniest moment) is worth the price of admission alone.

3. Lion

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Cinema based on true stories can often hit the hardest – especially when that source material is so astounding, it would be difficult to believe if it weren’t true. Case in point, Lion; the incredible tale of an Indian boy, Saroo, who finds himself lost from his mother and family, and eventually adopted and raised by an Australian couple in Tasmania. 25 years later, grown-up Saroo utilises the wonder of Google Earth, coupled with his hazy memories of his homeland and his unrelenting determination, to attempt to find his way back home to his birth mother. What follows is a superbly told, uplifting tale of love, courage, and the power of the human spirit.

Cemented by the incredibly moving and star-making performance of Dev Patel, the true story of Saroo Brierley, and his remarkable journey of self-discovery, is the year’s most emotional experience. The film truly succeeds by never feeling sappy, unrealistic or manipulative, thanks in large part to Garth Davis’ restrained direction and Luke Davies’ understated screenplay. Nicole Kidman’s role as adoptive mother, Sue, is the best thing she’s given us in a decade, with a powerfully maternal performance, clearly made all the more personal to Kidman, an adoptive mother herself. Every word she utters is delivered with such care and honesty, particularly in one of the film’s defining moments, as she recalls why she adopted Saroo in the first place.

But the real shining star here is young Sunny Pawar, in his debut performance as Saroo at age five, during the film’s deeply tragic opening chapter. Pawar, and his beautifully emotive little face, often reflects the power and emotion of his gripping scenes without ever uttering a word. This kid is astonishingly good and will genuinely break your heart, as you watch him struggle to contemplate the situations and dangers he unwittingly finds himself in.

Lion also delivers some of the year’s best cinematography, with cinematographer Greig Frasier capturing the stunning landscapes and stark contrasts of India and Australia, with some truly spectacular aerial photography. It’s rare I implore people to see a film, as reaction to a film is very personal. But this is a piece of cinema that transcends that, and will genuinely touch and affect all who see it, especially mothers and sons. A beautiful observation of family, heritage, self-discovery and the ties that bind, Lion is a profoundly moving film that will touch your heart like nothing else this year.

2. Arrival

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Sci-fi cinema of recent years, like GravityThe Martian and Ex Machina, have all expertly showcased the human condition, even amongst their other-worldly themes and settings. That tradition continues with Denis Villeneuve’s third successive film to find its way into my top ten list, Arrival. Judging this movie on face-value (and terribly deceptive marketing) alone, this film seems like your average alien invasion action flick. Why are they here? What do they want? Are we all doomed? You’ve seen it all before, right? Nope. This is no Independence Day.

While it’s true the film’s initial plot deals with the sudden appearance of twelve alien spacecrafts, dotted randomly throughout the globe, and determining the meaning of their arrival on Earth, its real heart deals with the notion of what it is that makes us human and how connectivity, be it human-to-human or human-to-alien, is always attainable, despite the toughest of language barriers. The film’s greatest lesson may simply be to suggest its only through our connections to others do we truly learn about ourselves.

After Sicario and Prisoners, it was clear Villeneuve is the modern master of drawing an audience in slowly and irrevocably, with his distinctive slow-burn cinema style always leading to an incredibly satisfying finale. Arrival is no different, with a measured but captivating style which creates an uneasy tension with the audience, ultimately taking us to a shocking and twist-filled finale. Arrival further cements Villeneuve’s status as the most exciting filmmaker working today. Are you listening, Academy?

But a film like this lives and dies by its leading lady. Thankfully, Amy Adams is at the helm. In the hands of a lesser actor, Arrival would have easily fallen victim to its own ridiculousness. After all, this is predominantly the story of a woman interacting with a bunch of space squids, hiding behind a huge glass wall. Yet Adams brings such realism and emotion to her desperate attempts to understand these visitors, it’s impossible not to be taken along for the ride. Adding to that, her interspersed backstory with the loss of her young daughter is both beautifully touching and desperately tragic, in what is one of the best performances of  Adams’ sublime career. Her transformation from soft and passive to heroic and brave showcases why she’s one of the best in the business right now. Are you listening, Academy? Sixth time’s the charm, yeah?

With some of the year’s most impressive cinematography, particularly the stunning long-take aerial sequence to establish the spaceship’s landing space, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s achingly haunting score, Arrival is this generation’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The ending, with its startling twist that I dare not speak of, will demand repeat viewings, and isn’t that ultimately the mark of a truly wonderful film?

1. La La Land

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As difficult as it was to narrowing 2016 down to ten films, the choice for my top spot was easy. Perhaps the easiest choice I’ve made since I started doing these top ten lists a few years ago. There was only one film that could take it out this year. There was only one film that grabbed me like no other this year. A film I have now seen three times, and would see again in an instant. A film I will truly cherish for the rest of my days. That film is the exquisite La La Land. I said this with Brooklyn last year, and it applies here too; when I love a film, and I mean really, really love a film, I genuinely find it difficult to summon the words to encapsulate that love. Speech leaves me when I attempt to describe my reaction to La La Land, but let me give it my best shot.

Right from the opening musical number, set to the sounds of the glorious tune “Another Day of Sun” and taking place right smack in the middle of a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam where our star-crossed lovers first meet, you know you’re in for something special. The sight of dozens of people, singing and dancing atop their traffic-bound cars, is utterly dazzling, and the kind of musical spectacle we haven’t seen for decades. Not is it glorious to watch, it brilliantly sets the tone for what’s to come. If you don’t like musicals, get out now. La La Land is a return to the glory of the old-fashion American musical, while still being entire fresh and contemporary.

Every single visual aspect of La La Land is an absolute triumph. From its stunning cinematography, capturing the rarely-seen beauty of Los Angeles (that sky!), to the gorgeous production and costume design, particularly every piece of clothing Emma Stone showcases. What’s so striking is how instantly iconic and memorable so many frames of La La Land are. The aforementioned freeway dance bonanza. Mia (Stone) and her glamourous actress friends, strutting their way down the street, in perfect unison. Mia and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) dancing routines worthy of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; first high-up in the hills of Los Angeles, then amongst the stars inside the Griffith Observatory. And the “alternate reality” finale sequence is the stuff of cinematic fantasies which genuinely left me swooning in my seat.

Let’s not forget the performances of our two leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Stone is an absolute revelation, as hopeless romantic Mia, desperate to see her name up in lights. She has always been an actress you cannot take your eyes off, but she takes that to an entirely new level in this film, especially during her two audition sequences. One will break your heart. The other will make it burst with delight. Gosling is typically charming and smouldering, but with far more heart and warmth than any character portrayed before. Witnessing Sebastian’s internal battle between following his passion for jazz music or nurturing his love for Mia is heartbreaking, and spirals towards a conclusion we know is coming, but hope to somehow avoid.

I could go on and on and on. There’s so much I haven’t even expanded on; the expert use of lighting to showcase certain elements of each scene, the brilliant and instantly lovable score, the sharp and witty screenplay, the triumph that is Damien Chazelle’s direction, the genius that is Tom Cross’ editing, the soundtrack bursting with gorgeous numbers, like the hauntingly beautiful “City of Stars” or Stone’s utterly captivating “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”. There is simply too much to love about this film. They don’t make movies like this anymore, folks. La La Land is a miracle of cinema, and the best film of 2016, by far.


It would be remiss of me not to give out some honourable mentions to the films that made the short list but didn’t crack the top 10:

Bad Moms – perhaps the most underrated comedy of the year

Captain America: Civil War – the best pure popcorn entertainment of 2016

Doctor Strange – Marvel’s most original and visually stunning film to date

Everybody Wants Some!!! – pure joy, from start to finish

Finding Dory – delightfully nostalgic and incredibly entertaining

Ghostbusters – shamefully treated but surprisingly wonderful

Hacksaw Ridge – my #11 film and a sublime return-to-form for director Mel Gibson

Hail, Caesar! – a farcical riot only the Coen Brothers could achieve

Kubo and the Two Strings – a worthy challenger to Disney and Pixar’s stranglehold on animation

Nocturnal Animals – deeply disturbing and wonderfully acted, especially Amy Adams (again…)

Room – a star-making turn from Brie Larson

SING – wonderfully enjoyable with superb musical numbers

Sully – impeccable acting from Tom Hanks and wonderful direction from Clint Eastwood

The Big Short – the film that should have won Best Picture

The Jungle Book – sublime visual effects create the most wondrous journey

Trolls – utterly delightful and beautifully animated

Weiner – captivating documentary showcasing the rise and fall of an American idiot