Room, 15th January (Olivia Firth) -
Room focuses on Ma, a young woman whose life was turned into a nightmare when she was kidnapped by a man named Old Nick, who proceeded to lock her in a shed outside his house until her son Jack (who she conceived in captivity), gives her the perfect idea on how to escape from the walls that have been her home for the past seven years. Although Room is a story about abduction and kidnapping at face value, once watching you begin to understand the underlying metaphors that peek out among the tension filled scenes. At one point in the film, I had to leave to regulate my breathing as just watching the film had taken so much out of me, and a friend who was watching it with me was crying silent tears throughout.
The acting within the film was sublime, and Jacob Tremblay (Jack) was robbed of a Best Actor nomination as his part in the film is anything but a Supporting Actor, as the Oscars describe him. He is his Mothers equal, and both deserve awards for their performances in a film that was tactfully filmed and acted.
Spotlight, 29th January (Andrew Young) -
Tom McCarthy's dramatization of the Boston Globe's investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic church was one of 2016's first films and also one of its best. Deservedly triumphing at the Oscars, Spotlight tackles an important story in the best possible way, by letting the heartrending events take centre stage. In staying true to this approach, the film slowly tightens its grip and never for a second lets go.
The balance between the time spent on the realistically monotonous research and the wider context around it is perfectly judged. Whilst Spotlight does not neglect the suffering of the victims or the causes of institutional abuse, we only see what the reporters see, because this is their story. These reporters and the consumption of their lives by the magnitude of their discovery is brought vividly to life by an excellent ensemble cast.
Every aspect of Spotlight suits the material perfectly, creating a film that exposes atrocious crimes and the terrible systemic failures that hid them for so long, without losing sight of the reporters who broke the silence. Compelling, fascinating and ultimately horrifying, this is an All the President's Men for our times. Magnificent.
Deadpool, 10th February (Chloe Kent) -
When it was announced that Ryan Reynolds would be reprising the role of Deadpool, following the car crash of his characterisation of the same foul-mouthed antihero in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, many Marvel fans caught themselves clenching their teeth. This is a franchise which has been a mixed bag, and really doesn't need another box-office bomb, after all. However, Deadpool is proudly able to have outgrossed every X-Men movie, Batman vs. Superman, and even the hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy, so it's fair to say audiences found themselves more than just pleasantly surprised with this particular gem.
It may seem like a rehash of the plot of every superhero movie produced within the past fifteen years if you read the plot summary on IMDB - Wade Wilson encounters adversity, gains some superpowers, and gets The Girl - but the trick is that it's very consciously aware of this. It's a film which seems quite happy to point and laugh at itself and the cliches of the genre it originates from, which keeps it from descending into that disappointing cinematic deja vu we've grown so used to, wondering where we've seen this all before.
Deadpool may not subscribe to a particularly sophisticated brand of humour - a simple cocktail of dick jokes, fourth wall breaks, and pop culture references - but who says everything needs to be a witty social commentary to be worth a laugh? The news these days seems endlessly maudlin and depressing, and sometimes you just need a break from any politically charged banter to watch Ryan Reynolds break his hand punching a giant metal not-Arnold-Schwarzenegger in the crotch.
It won't be lauded for its breath-taking cinematography, nor it's hard-hitting moral message, but it's a worthy superhero comedy. It'll appeal to your inner seventeen-year-old boy, sure, but really, where's the harm in that?
High-Rise, 18th March (Martha Wright) -
A 1970's dystopia fuelled on booze, cocaine, cigarettes, and orgies, High-Rise is a glamorous mess.
Common with J. G. Ballard cult novels, the protagonist is an ordinary man; Dr. Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston. First seen butt naked and looking effortlessly chic, Laing is unsettlingly awkward in social gatherings, yet discerningly calm as the onlooker to the madness.
Beginning at the end, Laing abandons keeping his beard trim and gnaws on the spit-roasted leg of The Architects dog, tied together with barbed wire. Before we've seen the brutalism, the oddities of this scene are comical, but it isn't long before director Wheatley begins to hint at the raw animalistic themes that are to emerge.
The emergence of anarchy occurs instantaneously as a response to lacks of power, both electrical and hierarchal. The tenants quickly descend into warfare while the question of why they don't they just leave clouds the film. The tenants uncover their strong craving for destruction, a passion to destroy the utopia that was designed for them in one never ending bloody, sex filled party.
High-Rise becomes almost satirical as it immerses you in the corruption of a Thatcherite class system with everything except drugs and alcohol running out, albeit only for the rich. One never ending competition to be at the height of society, High-Rise shows the break down of the ideological social fantasy that will struggle to bore you.
Sing Street, 20th May (Emily Taylor) -
The premise is almost deceptively simple - a boy starts a band to impress a girl. When Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is sent to a new school he meets the mysterious and beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton). So, he decides to start a band to try and win her affections, as is the logical course of action, guided by his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor). This may sound like a romantic fairytale-esque narrative and in some ways, it is. This film has one foot planted in a pop-video fantasy and the other firmly placed in the reality of life in Dublin in 1985. In another director's hands this film may have collapsed but John Carney, like he did in Once and Begin Again, weaves the different themes of love, family, identity, dreams and adolescence together effortlessly to create something that is beautiful and bittersweet. Never feeling saccharine but also never grim, it's a film with its heart truly in the right place. It perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the 1980s with the teen angst of John Hughes films, dubious fashion choices and a truly fantastic soundtrack. If you're not convinced then give the soundtrack a listen, the songs written for the film could have been airlifted right out of the 80's. It's a film that doesn't put a foot wrong with great performances, great songs and a great story. But perhaps more importantly it's a film that has a great love for music and for the story its telling. It's a film brimming with heart and passion and it can't help but rub off onto the audience.
Captain Fantastic, 9th September (Fraser McHale) -
If there's a film that's likely going to be overlooked this year it's probably Captain Fantastic. A small budget film with modest box office takings, it was generally liked by critics, but many saw it as a vehicle for a great performance by Viggo Mortensen and nothing more.
It doesn't quite have the gravitas of other films this year. It doesn't do anything incredibly daring or engage with pertinent issues on the same scale as other topical pieces, which means it will likely be forgotten come awards season. What it does do is something that has been sorely missing in so many films of late; so many films deal with weighty subject matters and expect the subject matter to carry an audience's interest.
Captain Fantastic gives you a reason to care. You engage with the film because it wins you over with charming and likeable characters, who are all are flawed in their unique ways. It weaves a charming tale effortlessly bringing each character to a proper and satisfying conclusion. Even the social commentary takes a backseat to the characters. It's humorous but never overplayed, and one of the reasons it works so well is because it never takes itself too seriously. It could easily become preachy or one sided, but it pulls it off with charm.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 16th September (Izzy Moore) -
Charming films can perhaps slip unnoticed, they might not be driven by angst and so miss out in awards season. They could have to compete with the latest comic book extravaganza, and so miss out on box office glory. Hunt for the Wilderpeople deserves boundless recognition, and it's status as one of the most 'charming' films of the year, is instead one of its many assets. With it's quietly clever brand of humour, just as much style as character Ricky's "kicks", and a wealth of heart, it should not be underestimated.
The New Zealand independent film, directed and written by Taika Waititi, tells the story of Ricky (Julian Dennison), a 'problem child' who has been in care the majority of his life, and his new father figure "Uncle" Hec (Sam Neil). A change of circumstances strikes and they end up on the run from child services and a growing manhunt through the New Zealand Bush. The two leads handle the quirky, back and forth dialogue excellently, making the film a great comedy, along with a heartfelt story of family. A coming of age story with more meat, this is the film to awake your optimism in a dreary year. The film has a universality to it, it's story is engaging, the characters likeable, their challenges relatable. Still unsure? It's one of the most successful films ever out of New Zealand, and I suspect it's going to get the recognition it deserves at the Oscars.
Little Men, 23rd September (Andrew Young) -
Ira Sachs' fantastic New York-set drama, highlighting the human cost of gentrification and money troubles, may have gone under the radar a bit, but it is one of 2016's most quietly moving films. The titular protagonists are teenagers Jake and Tony, who are in many senses polar opposites; one is quiet and sensitive, the other is loud yet irresistibly charming. The excellent performances of Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri highlight their differences whilst also exposing their strong bond and shared need of companionship.
Their friendship is threatened, however, by a parental rent dispute, which leads to a poignant and involving examination of the way money governs our lives and relationships. Far from being preachy, each character is written with great empathy, ensuring a balanced and deeply saddening look at the dispute. This is aided by the wonderfully sensitive portrayals of Greg Kinnear, Paulina Garcia and Jennifer Ehle.
More than being a film about middle-class money worries however, Little Men is a film about friendship. In its unlikely pairing of Jake and Tony, the film shows us how true friendship transcends superficial barriers, whilst highlighting just how important friendship is and just what it feels like to lose it.
Your Name, 18th November (Suzanne Pearson) -
Your Name is a Japanese anime film about a boy and a girl, who when they dream swap bodies for a day. Upon going back to bed, they swap back once more. They get to know each other through this process, and what happens after will completely spoil the film for you so I will say no more.
Your Name introduces lovable characters that you begin to care about deeply, it adds in comedy to make you laugh and feel entertained and then right when you get to the midpoint BAM there's a twist so big that you feel as though your entire perspective on life has changed. Not many films nowadays leave you wanting to buy the film and soundtrack a week after you've seen it. If you want something to watch that is both funny, engaging, romantic and also a breath of fresh air (I think this is mostly down to the fact that it's not American, it shows Japanese culture which is something we don't see that often unless we actively go out and search for it) then Your Name is your jam, and I urge to watch it. Buy it online when it's out, or it's in special cinema screenings, either way it's a must see for 2016.
Rogue One, 16th December (Patrick Hook-Willers) -
Being a Star Wars super-fan, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was always going to be my favourite film of the year. This hasn't blinded my judgement on it as a film though; it genuinely was one of the best films of the year. It had everything a casual viewer could desire, heavy action, a very interesting plot, and a good old dollop of sarcasm from reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, played by Alan Tudyk. It manages to keep you interested no matter what's happening, even in slower scenes with no Death Star city destruction, the charm of Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and the dynamic between Cassiun (Diego Luna) and Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) never failed to intrigue and entertain. The film builds up brilliantly to a huge battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire on Scarif, capturing a real David vs Goliath sense of impossibility. The Rebels get the plans to the Alliance (not really a spoiler, you should know that by now), only for the magnificent Death Star to arrive and fire, in what is a truly epic and beautiful sequence. The best really is saved until last, with the iconic Darth Vader arriving in what is the film's standout moment for fans. A dark hallway, nothing but his footsteps and signature breathing - then his red lightsabre ignites. I won't spoil the rest of this scene, as it is best beheld with no knowledge, however, cinema's most famous villain returns with one hell of a bang, and many a tear from me.