Well 2016, you tested my patience, you delivered one mediocre movie after another with only brief glimpses into anything better. From one of the most disappointing summers in recent memory we now arrive at the awards season, and after waiting so long for this year to deliver it has finally done so. During November it feels as if we have been spoiled for quality cinema, with not just three but several amazing movies, any one of which could easily have ended up amongst the best of this month and are very likely to be making an appearance on my final top ten of the year.
While the month was not free of disappointments in the form of ‘Snowden’ and ‘Birth of a Nation’ that could not help but fall short of their ambitious goals, we saw such an abundance of amazing films with such a variety of style and genre that I have to give a few honourable mentions. Mel Gibson returned in full force with the powerful ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, a war film of striking ambition that remained surprisingly intimate. But if one speaks of intimacy they cannot go without mentioning Jeff Nichols poignant historical drama ‘Loving’ that will likely pick up a slew of award nominations over the coming months. Last but not least is Ken Loach’s social realist drama ‘I, Daniel Blake’, a work that could be shatteringly depressing with its political undertones and true to life atmosphere, but contains such a sense of warmth and humanity that it is endlessly endearing.
But now for the top three.
3: The Edge of Seventeen
John Hughes may no longer be with us, but his legacy and lasting influence is keenly captured in Kelly Fremon Craig’s truthful and wonderfully empathetic view of adolescence. Boasting a career best performance from Hailee Steinfeld as well as a host of supporting actors who are no less talented, Craig’s smart script contains such a superb blend of comedy and drama that it is difficult to distinguish the two. It presents its characters as fully realised individuals and makes the audience sympathise with their plights as often as they are made to laugh at them. It captures the pain, hope, joy and sheer complexity of high school life better than any film I can think of in modern memory and may be the strongest directorial debut of the year.
Denis Villeneuve might just be the greatest director of this decade, the consistent quality and variety of his work continues to astound me to the point where to say ‘Arrival’ is the best yet is almost irrelevant. Every one of his movies are masterworks and to rank them is an exercise in futility. With ‘Arrival’ Villeneuve has delivered us a science fiction masterpiece for the ages, one of such grand ambition and intimate emotion that it is likely to resonate on every conceivable level. Amy Adams delivers magnificent performance that ensures that for all its stunning set pieces, existential minefields and visual eye candy the film has a beating and deeply emotional heart. It is the kind of film that demands to be seen and discussed, not just for its big questions but also its personal ones.
1: Nocturnal Animals
Part two of the Amy Adams appreciation passage, the only film that could beat the sweeping grandness of ‘Arrival’ is the provoking and uncompromising mastery of Tom Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’. Boasting an all-star cast who are all working at the top of their game , from the cold eeriness of Michael Shannon to the unpredictable temperament of an unrecognizable Aaron Taylor Johnson and Jake Gyllenhaal’s amazing ability to craft numerous roles each with their own distinct personality and depth of feel, as well as the aforementioned Adams who is just as amazing. But the true star is Ford, whose screenplay weaves multiple stories to create a layered and complex tale of betrayal, grief and guilt. It is hard to know which is more impressive, Ford’s talent as a writer or his skill as a director, as his own screenplay is brought to life within a dark and twisted world that seems to be a combination of Hitchcock, Kubrick and Lynch. Gorgeously stylistic and awe-inspiringly realised, Ford’s vision is unsettling and unnerving, as well as utterly masterful.
And the worst…..
I do feel slightly guilty by declaring ‘The Accountant’ to be the worst film of the month because in all honesty there is a lot to like about it, such as the strong performances from Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and JK Simmons as well as half of an intriguing character study and some inspired direction by Gavin O’Connor. In fact had it come out during the summer it may well have ended up amongst the best of the month selection. However it’s jumbled screenplay, poor structure and ludicrous plot twists ruin what started out as a surprisingly strong action/thriller, in which the plot becomes overly complex and under developed to a point where Simmons’ character literally sits the audience down and explains it to them.