You’d think after over ten years of tying myself into pretzel shaped knots attempting to rank the past 12 months of cinema watching it’d be a breeze by now. I’d like to think that this annual act of handwringing is due to the high quality of cinema still being produced across the globe rather than my inability to assign numbers to film titles. Either way, what follows are the films which have captured my attention in 2016.
The Childhood of a Leader, The Red Turtle, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Witch, Patterson, Hunt for the Wilderpeople & Hell or High Water.
10. ALL OF A SUDDEN (AUF EINMAL) | Aslı Özge
I’ve followed the work of Turkish filmmaker Aslı Özge for several years now – from her documentary turned fictional drama Men on the Bridge, to the dissolution of a bourgeois marriage in Lifelong. In her first Germany-language offering All of a Sudden, a man’s well-ordered life slowly disintegrates as loved ones distance themselves and ask hard questions when a young unknown woman dies in his flat after gatecrashing his party. All of a Sudden never let me get comfortable siding with or against its cagey protagonist.
9. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS | Tom Ford
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals has prompted many an article citing issues of style over substance or calling its gender politics into question. And while it’s true that this story within a story is clearly designed right down to its last stitch (what else would you expect from a designer turned director?) and the violence against women is gut-wrenching, it is not without purpose. I totally engaged with its questions of masculinity as I placed myself in the position of its helpless fictional protagonist and wondered if I would be able to protect those I love should cruel, violent fate ever come calling.
8. THE MAN FROM MO’WAX | Matthew Jones
Much to the chagrin I’m sure of those unfortunate enough to be sat next to me in the LFF screening of Matthew Jones’ documentary about the rise, fall, and multiple falling outs of Mo’Wax founder James Lavelle, this film had me oooing, ahhing and busting a constant series of dance moves to the life story of the man who has soundtracked much of the seminal moments of my life. A great example of what can be achieved with a rich video archive (over 700 hours) and warts and all access to your subject.
7. MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE (MA VIE DE COURGETTE) | Claude Barras
Directing from a screenplay written by Celine Sciamma (who in my opinion hasn’t put a foot wrong since her fabulous aquatic debut Water Lillies) Claude Barras’ animated orphan feature My Life as a Courgette is charming as hell, but never at the expense of the harsh realities of what life feels like for the parentless children living in hope of rescue from a life in care.
6. AFTER LOVE | Joachim Lafosse
Occupying the no holds barred battleground of acrimonious relationship breakdown, After Love takes us inside the petty recriminations and one-upmanships of Marie and Boris as they falter towards the end of their 15 year marriage. As well as presenting an intimate portrait of the slow disintegration of the family unit, Lafosse provides an astute commentary on the socioeconomic disparity between those who have and those who have-not.
5. WILD | Nicolette Krebitz
Love at first sight has never been so primal or so all-consuming as it is in Actor/Director Nicolette Krebitz’s Wild, a film which places female desire and agency uncompromisingly at its centre and saw actress Lilith Stangenberg get up close and personal with a real-life wolf. Thrilling stuff!
4. MUSTANG | Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Despite ever stricter rules and literal house arrest, the five sisters flowering into adolescence at the heart of Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang prove that the rebelliousness of youth just cannot be contained, and to do so is to court tragedy.
3. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER | Nicolas Pesce
The first film to come out of the Borderland Presents stable of new directors, Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother hijacks your imagination with acts of unseen violence as its disturbed protagonist – brilliantly played by Kika Magalhaes – attempts to stave off loneliness and find a replacement for the motherly love which was brutally ripped from her. This is a film which despite a spritely 76 minute duration, confidently takes its time with beautifully framed scenes unfolding in long, deeply layered, black and white cinematography.
2. RAMS | Grimur Hakonarson
I don’t know how it is that I found a film about remote Icelandic sheep farming brothers to be so compelling, humorous and ultimately touching, but the embattled brotherly loathing of Grimur Hakonarson’s Un Certain Regard winning feature kept me riveted to the screen throughout.
1. UNITED STATES OF LOVE | Tomasz Wasilewski
Tomasz Wasilewski makes his second appearance on my year end lists (the first being 2013’s Floating Skyscrapers) with a temporally interlocking narrative of four women in post-communist Poland who hide their feelings of lust, isolation and loneliness beneath a brittle veneer of happiness. Even as someone familiar with Wasilewski’s attraction to tales of broken people, United States of Love still left me feeling as emotionally bereft as its central quartet, perhaps because their unfulfilled hopes for a better future felt all too true to the world most of us inhabit.