Thursday, May 11, 2017

My top 10 films of 2016 [5-1].

Part 1 of this rundown was here, which also featured five films you ought to avoid like the plague.


05. Elle



Paul Verhoeven, the unlikely possessor of a double degree in Maths and Physics, tries to have his prestige picture cake and eat it with his signature trashy flourishes, in this dark and disturbing tale of a woman who gets raped by a masked stranger, and takes an unorthodox approach to find out whodunit. The end product is all kinds of twisted, but in very watchable way.

Whilst the subject matter was too audacious to get the film made in the States, being set in France means that you accept the sometimes far-fetched plot devices with a blasé attitude (much like Michele’s own attitude to getting attacked), and despite being repulsed, the film’s pitch-black sense of humour means I was drawn into every surreal plot turn it had to offer.

Much of this is thanks to the Greatest Living Actress Isabelle Huppert, who delivers a fearless, majestic performance as the icy protagonist, Michele Leblanc. She delivers the film’s occasionally schlocky script with her signature brand of sangfroid, completely sells Michele’s convoluted story and really ought to have won the Oscar for Best Actress over Emma Stone assailing my ears with her scratchy voice in La La Land. However, having seen Emmanuelle Riva (RIP) lose Best Actress in 2013 to the even-more-annoying-than-Emma-Stone Jennifer Lawrence, I’ve come to expect Hollywood awarding irksome ingénues at the expense of far more talented French actresses with the very title of this film in their names.

(Hopefully one day the Academy will come to their senses and award Izzie. ‘Academy Award winner Isabelle Huppert’; sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble).

04. Zootopia / Zootropolis in the UK

Disney’s wonderfully inventive tale of a world of anthropomorphic animals is vividly rendered and rife with layered allegory, yet benefits from a lightness of touch that prevents it from feeling like an after-school special. The writers obviously had a whale of a time creating a film for adults and children alike, of which I sit somewhere in between, and some of the scenes had me howling with laughter (eg, the sloth scene).

Just for the non-stop film and pop culture references alone, Zootopia is a piece of genius. Chinatown, The Godfather, Breaking Bad and Tangled all receive a hat tip in Zootopia, amongst countless others. The best Disney in-joke however, has to be when Idris Elba’s gruff police chief tells the idealistic bunny Judy, ‘Life isn't a cartoon musical where your dreams come true, so let it go.’ So meta.

What really makes the film beautiful, though, is the blossoming friendship between Judy and sly fox Nick. The chalk-and-cheese pair start off as adversaries, but as they team up to uncover what is making harmless predators turn feral, a genuine connection forms above the bickering.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman bring so much to their excellent voice performances, but special kudos has to go to the Disney animators who certainly know how to draw desirable characters (Elsa from Frozen, Hercules, Jasmine from Aladdin). Nick, with his big green eyes, cocky swagger and devilish smile, might just be their foxiest creation yet.


David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are delightful in this enchanting tale of the Prince of Bechuanaland and an unassuming London clerk, whose love for each other led to a breaking of barriers, in a time when mixed-race relationships were met with opprobrium, from black and white people alike.

The true life story on which this romance is based is rich and at times very sad, but thanks to an astute script, never feels heavy or manipulative. Amma Asante, director of another cross-racial romance Belle (of which the beautiful lead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, would have made a far better Belle in Beauty and the Beast than that cow Emma Watson), gives A United Kingdom a distinctly female gaze and tells this powerful story unfussily, letting the strength of the characters speak for themselves.

Gorgeous Botswana landscapes, a strong British supporting cast (featuring Tom Felton being as Draco-y as ever) and an important slice of history (thinking of Tony Benn’s surprise appearance in the film still makes me smile) render A United Kingdom the feel-good film of 2016.

02. The Handmaiden

A meticulous and intelligent spin on Sarah Waters’ seminal novel Fingersmith, Park Chan-wook relocates the story from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea. The end product, is, whisper it, even better than Oldboy.

A young pickpocket teams up with a conman, for her to act as handmaiden to a wealthy Japanese heiress, so that she can encourage the lady to marry the conman, before he defrauds her and has her committed to an asylum. Things aren’t as easy as planned, however, when she starts to fall for her detached but beguiling boss.

The purposely byzantine plot is told in three parts, with shifting perspectives, a glorious demonstration of things not being what they seem, and an amazing play on the ‘who’s hustling who’ trope. The costumes, lush production design and audacious use of sound are all top-notch, and successfully draw the viewer into the plot. I was so engrossed with the storytelling that the twists, when they occurred, genuinely shocked me, and there is an undercurrent of black humour laced throughout the film that elevates it far above your generic erotic thriller fare.

And the lead actresses’ commitment to the crucial, no-holds-barred sex scenes are something to behold. Some have criticised the depiction of their lovemaking to have grubby male fingerprints all over it, but I think they were just the right side of pervy, and adorably witty, too (the handmaiden’s tongue slowly materialising from her mouth as she prepares to go down on the lady was cute and hot at the same time). 

I, for one, will never be able to listen to bells chime in the same way again.

01. Moonlight

From the moment we see the child Chiron ‘Little’ being chased by bullies into a crackden, where he is befriended by surprisingly kind drug dealer Juan, I knew I was watching something special. And indeed, the film, about a gay black youth growing up in the mean streets of Miami, contains so many awe-inspiring moments, from the dreamy neon fade-ins to the scenes, to the way adult Kevin smiles when he recognises adult Chiron in the diner to make Moonlight easily one of the most merited Best Picture Oscar wins.

If it were up to me, it would have won even more than the Best Pic, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor, as brilliant as the latter two were. For example, Nicholas Britell’s maverick score, featuring little more than a solitary violin for the most part, expertly conveyed Chiron’s sense of isolation (and no bias or anything, but the violin is obviously the best instrument. Ehehe). The cinematography was brilliant, simultaneously depicting the allure and the grittiness of Miami. Both those technical aspects deserved to win the Oscar over La La Land, which triumphed in those categories, inexplicably.

But the biggest worst case of Oscar theft committed by La La Land was in the category of Best Director, where prick Damien Chazelle was awarded for mansplaining and whitewashing jazz over Barry Jenkins taking a beautiful story and telling it, on a tiny budget, with the vividness, devotion and empathy as if it was autobiographical.

(basically, La La Land shouldn’t have won any of its goddamn Oscars.)

Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris were well-worth their Oscar win and nomination, respectively, but Moonlight dazzles thanks to the entire cast. Janelle Monae exudes kindness as the surrogate mother figure ‘Teresa’, Alex R. Hibbert is quietly compelling as the little boy Chiron and Ashton Sanders is convincingly awkward and downtrodden as the teenager Chiron. His scene at the beach, where he voices his sense of emptiness to his best friend, is natural filmmaking at its finest.

Then there’s Trevante Rhodes, who plays the adult embodiment of the protagonist, and knocks it out of the park with two cathartic scenes, one with his junkie mother ‘Paula’ and then with his childhood friend, and cause of much of his romantic pain, ‘Kevin’. His acting in those two scenes were so visceral and affecting, that my eyes still water thinking about them.

More than anything, I needed Moonlight. I needed it to remind me, that for all the shitty Sausage Partys and The Girl on the Trains and Batman v Supermans I wasted my time on last year, that when cinema is good, it's great.

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NB this is the first year that my top 10 has contained three 18-rated films: Handmaiden, Elle and Aquarius. 2014 had two:  A Girl at My Door and Gone Girl, although most would argue Gone Girl is a fairly tame 18 and I don't think A Girl At My Door is an 18 at all. 2013 also had two: The Wolf of Wall Street and Blue is the Warmest Colour, at second and fourth place, respectively, so you could argue they were placed higher.

If I have time which is probable as I have no life,  I'll also do my top 5s for the individual acting categories, although spoiler alert, a general top 5 performances across all the categories would probably be like: 1) Izzie, 2) Trevante, 3) Viola, 4) Jesse and 5) Sonia.

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