by / December 16th, 2016 /

Lists: State’s Films of 2016

Talk to anyone in casual conversation and the consensus was that 2016 was a pretty dud year for film. While music flourished with the return of Frank Ocean and farewells from David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, cinema at times failed to excite, buoyed by the bloated excess of increasingly grim franchises, tie-ins and spin-offs. But outside the studio monolith, genre pictures thrived. Instead of one movie moving the needle in horror, we got multiples while sci-fi continued to be expansive while never feeling so personal. At home, a year that began with Oscar nominations for Irish productions and performers ended with Golden Globe nominations for Irish productions and performers. The saviours, it seems, lie in the arthouse theatres.

The film team here at State have compiled 20 of our favourites. Please tell us all taughtabout yours in the comment section below.

20. Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford is a man of surfaces, and toying with the idea that surface depth might be just deep enough to drown in is what Nocturnal Animals is all about. The glossy melodrama mixed with the gut-churning kidnap thriller doesn’t always sit well, and it’s that off-kilter nature that makes Ford’s sophomore effort so memorable, rattling around your head for hours, days and weeks afterwards. While Adams might gain more attention for her Arrival role, it’s her she shows hidden depths (or doesn’t?) as an icy wife who has been darkened and twisted by a “what might have been?” scenario with Jake Gylenhaal, who also deserves recognition for his dual performance. For all the readings into sexuality, gender segregation, meta-text levels and the rest, Nocturnal Animals is really about the depths love can drag you down to. Maybe surface level is enough for some, but for those who risk going deeper, prepare to be left a fool, a madman, or worse: Alone. (Rory Cashin)

19. Creed

Creed is the perfect modern blockbuster. For an up-and-coming director, if you want access to the Hollywood chequebook, then you have to work with established Hollywood narratives. Ryan Coogler gets this. Along with his Fruitvale Station star, Michael B. Jordan, he actively sought out Sylvester Stallone to add a seventh movie to a stagnant and as of late forgettable franchise, then revitalising it and its creator in the process. Anchored by the punch of Jordan’s star-making turn and pathos of one last good fight from Stallone, Coogler soars with confidence and ambition in his direction — Maryse Alberti’s two-round one shot is breathtaking —  while never shirking from the source. No other movie this year was as pugnacious, delivering thrill after thrill, and peaking with a Meek Mill assisted sprint through Philly that had me shadowboxing in the cinema aisle. (Dave Higgins)

Read Patrick Townsend’s four-star review

18. The Witch

It’s hard to think of a more confident recent debut than Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Mining the horrors and mundanity of classics like The Shining and The Exorcist, it plays out like early Ken Loach  set in 17th century New England. In a brave move, Eggers reveals the titular menace early on, leaving you and its puritanical family to deal with the repercussions of her. He avoids cheap jump-scares, instead pecking away at the subconscious like a raven on exposed flesh as Thomasin (a staggering introduction to Anya Taylor-Joy) and her kin are besieged by malevolence and consumed by their fervent religious faith. His marriage of lush period dialogue — “wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” — with stark and grotesque imagery still haunts. Cool goat too. (Dave Higgins)

17. The Nice Guys

The worlds of pornography, the automotive industry and eco-warriors collide in the latest pulp thriller from Shane Black. Russell Crowe is the muscle to Ryan Gosling’s preen, as a missing persons case escalates into something larger than either could have imagined at the outset. The core here is familiar; it’s a formula that Black has been playing with for years, keep the MacGuffin on screen for enough time to get the viewer interested and then, when they’re paying attention to something else, throw it out the window. It worked for Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler but with The Nice Guys Black seems more intent on being James Ellroy, or at the very least a James Ellroy who allows himself to over indulge his sense of humour. Crowe and Gosling do make for a great, if unlikely, double act; using this mismatch to create their core chemistry, think Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours. It bordered on criminal, just how much this film was ignored upon its release. It is however, assured one of those destinies where people slowly find it through late night screenings on the likes of Film 4. Get there before it achieves that destiny, have a quiet word with yourself about how you did fork over your hard earned income for Suicide Squad and then go and buy this on Blu-Ray, it’s been a difficult year and you deserve a treat. (David Cadwallader)

16. The Revenant

You can understand why somebody would hate The Revenant or at the very least find it hilarious. This is Alejandro González Iñárritu at his most Alejandro González Iñárritu, for portentous better and pretentious worse. Yep, the bear fight is vaguely comical, Leonardo DiCaprio’s commitment to the bit feels purpose-built to bury a long overblown golden demon in the dirt and there’s more than a hint of a particularly grim edition of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em to the whole enterprise. All that said, it’s a fucking experience. Iñárritu is a reliably frustrating filmmaker and he’s notoriously clumsy when it comes to bringing the curtain down (oh for Birdman to conclude in the theatre) but his idiosyncrasies and intricacies marry well here thanks to truly mesmerising details such as staging and capturing an avalanche in only one possible take, the increasingly exceptional work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the greatest coat this scribe has ever seen as sported by Domhnall Gleeson. Throw in Tom Hardy’s feverish Ted Levine impression, sterling supporting work from Will Poulter and DiCaprio’s genuinely, ahem, titanic performance and you emerge from the cinema disorientated, shaken and possibly even freezing, as you damn well should. (Dave Hanratty)

Read Dave Higgins’ five-star review

15. The Hateful Eight

‘Tarantino’ should be its own genre at this point, if it isn’t already officially recognised as such. As with Iñárritu, there are highs and lows. The case against Tarantino is wholly legitimate and hard to argue against, but why bother? You either resent his wholesale ‘homaging’ from other, arguably superior works and his ever-increasing penchant for self-indulgence or you welcome each new chapter of a well-worn canon as a bona fide event. Surrender to the ego and you’re almost always rewarded, however. The Hateful Eight fits like an elegant leather glove in such regard, and might even be worth a good deal more respect than it first appears. In fact, a second viewing makes all the difference and not just because you know where it’s going and who’s who, so to speak. The pacing is admittedly slack, the dialogue not quite QT’s vintage best and there’s not too much of a plot to dissect but that’s just fine, for this is a highly deliberate showcase of location, function and performance. The Hateful Eight is literally what happens when you put great actors in a room together and give them just enough to play with. As with Django Unchained, it is a reminder of how great Samuel L. Jackson can be, a reinforcement of the heroics of Kurt Russell, a phenomenal resurrection of the wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh and a grand excuse to bring the majesty of Walton Goggins to a larger audience. Tarantino plays especially provocative with a modern audience, and though his bloody parlour game provoked many a predictable think-piece, The Hateful Eight posits cutting commentary amid its carnage. (Dave Hanratty)

Read Dave Higgins’ four-star review

14. I, Daniel Blake

At the beginning of I, Daniel Blake, the titular character, a 59-year-old labourer who recently suffered a heart attack, is being asked a series of absurd questions by a self-described “Healthcare Professional” about his ability to work. After being questioned about whether he can walk 50 meters or can raise his arms to put something in his top pocket or put a hat on his head, a frustrated Daniel askes “Why don’t you ask me about my heart?” With this scene, director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty immediately state their purpose, which is to contrast the bureaucracy of the newly designed model of the welfare state for the 21st century, one that emphasises numbers and tests in order to demoralise people from signing onto benefits that they deserve, and the people on the edges of society whose needs the state is purposely ignoring in order to obtain the figures it desires. The brilliance of Loach’s film is that he tackles this weighty subject matter with a sense of quiet and restrained rage at the system that he showcases through the humanity of people like Daniel and Katie, the single mother who Daniel befriends and helps in her time of need, and does this with a great deal of sympathy, understanding, and humour. Long criticised but misunderstood, it makes an impassioned statement about the cold and harsh treatment that the system offers to the people it claims to protect, and it does this by having a deep understanding and compassion of the people most affected by it. (Patrick Townsend)

13. Zootropolis

This was it. This was the moment when Disney finally overtook Pixar. While the once great creators of Toy Story have recently given us Inside Out, there was also the very mixed bag of Monsters University, Finding Dory and The Good Dinosaur. Disney on the other hand have had a straight flush of Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and the recent Moana, but the highlight has been Zootropolis. Undoubtedly featuring the single funniest scene of 2016 thanks to the DMV sloths, and more adorable characters than you can fill a Disney Store’s teddy bear section with, it also comes with a Chinatown-esque labyrinthine plot that is the reason why the accompanying adults will love it as much as the kids in tow.In an impossibly dark year, Zootropolis represented one of the brightest cinematic spots of the year. (Rory Cashin)

12. Anomalisa

A true one of a kind, Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animation examined modern love, relationships and the minutiae of modern travel. It was bursting with unusual ideas – from the characters’ identical voices and faces to the animation itself – all of which served this meaty, profound, witty and dreamlike gem. (Joe Griffin)

Read Shane O’Neill’s four-star review

11. American Honey

There are few directors more attuned to the world of teenagers than Andrea Arnold. Having already put British youth under the magnifying glass in Fish Tank, she now turns her gaze across the Atlantic with her tale of young misfits selling magazine subscriptions across the USA. Shia LaBeouf gives one of his best performances yet, imbuing his character with a volatile mixture of bravado and self-doubt, but it is newcomer Sasha Lane who steals the show in her film debut. (Rob Higgins)

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