Thursday 5 January 2017

The 40 Films I Loved Most in 2016 - #20-11

20. Couple In A Hole
Director: Tom Geens, UK release date: 8 April
Eccentric drama about the terrible impact of grief on a husband and wife living like savages in a French forest. Paul Higgins (The Thick Of It) and Kate Dickie (The Witch) are both superb as the eponymous couple who have survived a tragedy but failed to cope with its emotional fallout. Geens' film falls away a little towards the end but otherwise this is a near-perfect blend of pitch-black humour and melancholy.

19. The Jungle Book
Director: Jon Favreau, UK release date: 15 April
Rich and rewarding adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's original stories that also pays fulsome homage to the beloved 1960s animation (The Bare Necessities, Trust In Me and I Wan'na Be Like You all get an airing). You'd be hard pressed to find more immersive CG anywhere and the voice cast is uniformly terrific, boasting as it does the likes of Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

18. Embrace Of The Serpent
Directors: Ciro Guerra, UK release date: 10 June
The story of an Amazonian shaman and his relationship (sometimes friendly, sometimes not) with two European scientists - 40 years apart - as they descend into the great river's heart of darkness, searching for a mythical plant with great healing properties. Big themes, sumptuous cinematography and moments both disturbing and thrilling make for an intoxicating brew. 

17. Mustang
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, UK release date: 13 May

Oscar-nominated drama chronicling the lives of five orphaned Turkish sisters, imprisoned then forced into marriage by their conservative guardians. Its subject matter is dark but the film never slips into clumsy melodrama. Instead, it is hopeful, defiant and surprisingly filled with humour, as director Ergüven explores the clash between modern and traditional Turkish culture.

16. Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Jeff Feuerzeig, UK release date: 29 July
The jaw-droppingly odd tale of Laura Albert, the 30-something US author who created and enjoyed enormous literary success as JT LeRoy, a fictional male alter-ego played in public by her sister-in-law. Beloved by celebrities and feted by the fashion world, LeRoy appeared to have the world at his/her feet... until the deception was discovered. Perhaps told far too much from Albert's perspective, Feuerzeig's documentary is nevertheless fascinating.

15. The Measure Of A Man
Director: Stéphane Brizé, UK release date: 3 June
A French companion piece to I, Daniel Blake (see #13), Brizé's film uses France's economic downturn to explore the effects of austerity on the male psyche; specifically how it can emasculate, humiliate and ultimately dehumanise even the most resolute. Veteran French actor Vincent Lindon has never been better as a former factory worker struggling to keep his family's head above water after two years of unemployment.

14. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Akiva Schaffe and Jorma Taccone, UK release date: 26 August
The Lonely Island's no-holds-barred mockumentary gives the Bieber generation the same kind of kick up the backside This Is Spinal Tap administered to the rock community 30 years ago. Like Tap, Andy Samberg (starring here as spoiled pop/rap megastar Conner4Real) and his compatriots understand that musical parodies only work if the songs themselves are actually good. And the songs here definitely are - they're also utterly hilarious.

13. I, Daniel Blake
Ken Loach, UK release date: 21 October
The veteran socialist director's Palme d'Or winner dissects the UK government's war on the vulnerable in an impassioned and unapologetic polemic. After suffering a heart attack, Dave Johns (as Blake) feels the full force of state bureaucracy as he attempts to claim enough money to live on while being bullied and frustrated by a parade of jobsworths. The scene set in a food bank, in which a penniless young mum (the excellent Hayley Squires) eats cold baked beans straight from the tin, made me sob like an infant.

12. Spotlight
Director: Tom McCarthy, UK release date: 29 January
The Best Picture Oscar winner focuses on the Boston Globe's 2001 investigation into a local cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Its absence of directorial flashiness or melodrama allows an excellent ensemble cast (including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton), sharp writing and methodical plotting to shine. Authenticity and decency are unfashionable qualities but McCarthy's film exudes both.

11. Arrival
Director: Denis Villeneuve, UK release date: 10 November
Amy Adams is an eminent linguist with a tragic secret, recruited by the US government to communicate with a fleet of alien ships, newly parked up at various locations across the globe. As someone who knows his sci-fi, the film's big twist didn't kick me in the shins quite as hard as it did some, but was still exquisitely delivered. Villeneuve's eerie, elegiac movie absolutely nails the wonder and madness of first contact.

**Next up: the top 10**

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