Saturday, 30 December 2017

Films of the Year 2017

As usual, my Films of the Year list is pretty late to the party. As the clocks ready themselves to tick over into 2018 and most "best-of" lists were done and dusted before Santa came a calling, I've still been cramming in some extra movies to make my list as thorough as possible. 

Looking back at 2017, it seems a year of rare blockbuster quality and independent variety. The films of this year have shown true conviction and individuality in a year where those qualities have been lacking in the real world. 

As usual this is a personal look back at this year's releases, so this is not necessarily a list of the greatest movies of the past twelve months, but a collection of my recommendations. As usual any feedback and discussion is welcome.

Disclaimer! - Many other films of the year lists will contain films yet to be released in the UK. I don't include these in mine, even if I've seen them at preview screenings. We usually get these films in January and February, so there's lots to look forward to early in the year. This year those films include "Phantom Thread" (2nd February), "The Shape of Water" (14th February), "Lady Bird" (16th February), "You Were Never Really There" (9th March), "120 BPM" (6th April)

This year's trends - Bittersweet modern romances, weird feel-good action movies, women in charge, veganism, empathetic film-making that attempts to understand, if not heal, the cracks in our society.

10. I am Not Your Negro

A very late entry, having watched it just the day before finalising my list. I don't feel it's the most polished documentary I've seen, but the subject matter and insight of author James Baldwin (who I'm ashamed to admit I had no awareness of before this viewing) are undeniably powerful.  His unique place in history as a contemporary to civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, combine with his intelligence and experience to create a thoughtful and insightful documentary on race, nationalism and the dangers of the American dream. 

Director Raoul Peck juxtaposes Baldwin's words from decades ago with images of modern America, which evocatively frame the endemic problems that run through society in the USA and beyond. The dangers of nostalgia exposed in this documentary are particularly prescient in Brexit Britain.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

9. Death of Stalin

A bleak farce from Armando Iannucci that hugely entertains as easily as it leads you to despair in humanity. Few filmmakers can achieve such a feat, but it's become Iannucci's calling card. Moving on from the the British and US politics of "The Thick of It", "In the Loop" and  "Veep" to Stalin's communist Russia, significantly ups the stakes for his characters. I'm sure any of the figures in this film would take a punishing quip from Malcolm Tucker over a stint in a gulag, or worse, a bullet. 

Not that this film is missing the put-downs of Iannucci's previous work, they still flow with the same reliable excellence.
A phenomenal cast carry off the various plots and machinations with aplomb, with my personal favourite Steve Buscemi's perfomance as Nikita Khrushchev.

Not available for streaming rental at the time of writing. 

8. Elle 

Incredibly messed up but....somehow fun? This is a very Paul Verhoeven film; provocative, unpredictable and bloody, with a strong line in jet black comedy. Probably not a film everyone will be willing to watch as it prominently features the scenes of sexual violence, but these distressing moments are central to the narrative and inform us about the characters involved and their motivations. Isabelle Huppert is magnificent (as always) as the titular central character whose idiosyncratic reaction to these harrowing events create this swirling thought provoking narrative. 

Despite the tough nature of the film, it's a surprisingly entertaining watch, which rewards you for making it through it's more grueling moments. 

Available to stream on Netflix.

7. The Florida Project

An absorbing film with rich characters that luxuriates in the grey areas, "The Florida Project" is a superb follow up to director Sean Baker's breakout film "Tangerine". This time Baker empathetic lense focuses on those living on the edge of homelessness in the shadow of opulence of Florida's "Walt Disney World". Fantastic children's performances full of joy are juxtaposed with a warm, world-weary Willem Dafoe, as we are guided through the tough lives of the residents of the "Magic Castle" motel.  

Baker's directorial style never casts any judgement on the actions of these characters, leaving us to make our own judgements about characters like Halley (played ferociously by new comer Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (the precocious Brooklynn Prince).
 Not a film for those that like big plot developments, but if you like a character study, then this is well worth a look. You'll be hard pressed to find a better child's-eye-view of the world in modern cinema.

Not available for online rental at the time of writing.

6. Toni Erdmann


Another late entry to my list, as I'd been putting off watching it all year, but you should watch it first chance you can. An almost three hour German comedy is not the most enticing prospect, but Toni Erdmann is a weird and wonderful dramedy, well worth the investment of time. 

The magic of this film is how it blends the mundane and the extraordinary. It takes the time to create a rounded world of rich characters so that we can see them experience absurd moments within their lives without them coming across  as cheap stunts played for laughs. I don't want to detail them here and ruin the surprise, but there's so many genuinely funny moments that caught me completely unawares. 

As a father creates the persona of "Toni Erdmann" to reconnect with his workaholic daughter, this character study deftly covers all elements of modern life, including the pressures of work, growing distance between generations, capitalism, happiness, pain and love. It's an unwieldy film to describe, but with a little patience early on, it's a joy to watch unfold.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Director Rian Johnson launches Star Wars into exciting new territories with this surprising entry into the space saga. As Luke Skywalker grumbles in the trailer, "this is not going to go the way you think", and he's right. 

While the enjoyable "Force Awakens" mined the past to bring Star Wars back to life for a new generation, "The Last Jedi" looks to push the narrative on.  Bridging the stylistic gap between the prequels and the original trilogy, Johnson takes us to fantastical new worlds, introduces us to bizarre creatures and generally makes the whole universe seem alive again. 

His story has many unexpected twists that freshen up a narrative that could have grown stale. You may not agree with all of Johnson's decisions, but it's hard to deny that he's created the most interesting and thought provoking entry to the series since "The Empire Strikes Back".

To my delight, the movie also carries a lot of positive messages for future generations. This story looks to create a more democratic universe, where
anyone could be the hero, not just the chosen few.  Women play a far more central role and it also highlights both wealth inequality and animal welfare. However it still finds plenty of time to create jaw dropping blockbuster visual moments (that I won't spoil for those of you yet to see it) to create a very memorable addition to the Star Wars cannon.
Still in cinemas at the time of writing.

4. Thor: Ragnarok 

This was the year where the super hero film lightened up, with even DC comics "Justice League" re-shot to increase the quips. I loved the way "Spider-man: Homecoming" returned the wise cracking Peter Parker to an updated high school setting and how "The Lego Batman Movie" merged all of the diverse versions of the caped crusader into one zany hilarious caper, but no super hero movie bought me as much joy as "Thor Ragnarok".

Taika Waititi has a rare talent for creating pure-unabashed cinematic joy and he lost none of his film making charm when entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Embracing the cosmic nature of the Asgardians, Waititi sends us into a "Flash Gordon" and Jack Kirby inspired universe of weirdos and warriors. What could have been a dark and broody tale of apocalypse, becomes a planet hopping buddy film with the Hulk and Valkyrie in tow.

Tapping into the comic chops of star Chris Hemsworth and throwing in a scenery chewing Cate Blanchett as the sultry villain and a glorious sprinkle of Jeff Goldblum awkwardness, he creates the most unabashedly fun film of the year.

Not available for streaming rental at the time of writing.

3. The Handmaiden


A dark, twisted, erotic movie from Park Chan-wook, the director of "Oldboy". Or in summary, it's a sexed-up Hitchcockian dream.

In practically any other director's hands, this film would have been titillating fluff, but Park Chan-wook masters the tones needed to create a layered thriller of rare pedigree. He artfully guides us through the narrative, regularly pulling the rug out from beneath our feet so that we can fall deeper into this dark tale of lust, love and manipulation.  

The films beauty matches it's plotting, with every shot exquisitely capturing the beauty and/or brutality of the scene.

It's best to go on into this one not knowing too much, as the twists are a big part of the fun, but it's best to know ahead of watching that the sex scenes are long and plentiful, so this might not be the best film to watch with the family...

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

2. La La Land

Director Damien Chazelle follows up "Whiplash" with another full-blooded punch of jazz that shows once again his unique talent for cinematically capturing musical performance.   

Whilst "Whiplash" was all raw emotion and pounding physicality, "La La land" is lighter on it's feet.  Taking the old-school musical framework and updating it whilst maintaining a feeling of giddy nostalgia, it's a joy to watch. 

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are actors of rare charm, reveling in the opportunity to poke fun at each other as they sing and dance their dance their way through the movie. However the film's musicality ebbs and flow with their character's love, so as tensions rise, the music falls away to reveal a more dramatic turn. This bothered some, with a final third that was far less theatrical and far more dramatic, but I felt it made for compelling cinema, making the dream-like heartbreak of the musical finale all the more potent.    

A film that is both technicolor escapism and a more grounded bitter-sweet romance, it's both a warm nostalgic throwback and a cold jolt of millennial romance. I was a relative late-comer to the musical, proclaiming to hate all it's ilk until about five years ago, when "Singin' in the Rain" won me over and opened my eyes to their joyful potential. Now as a fan, I hope "La La Land" opens the door for more original musicals on the big screen.

Available to stream on Netflix.

1. The Big Sick


To borrow from the film itself,
it "overwhelms" me. Perfectly balancing laughs with drama, it made me shed tears of joy throughout. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, in retelling the true story of how they first met, have created a beautiful film, full of charm, humour and heartbreak. As well as co-writing the film, Nanjiani proves a revelation as the dramatic lead, with his tear soaked speech during an ill-timed stand up routine a real highlight. 

On the surface "The Big Sick" is a simple boy meets girl story, but the way it subverts expectations makes it a perfect film for 2017. Through the trials and tribulations of their fledgling relationship we get a great portrait of modern dating, ideas of nationality and cultural heritage.

It's a perfectly formed little film, with no fat to be trimmed, everything serves a purpose in creating this very funny but emotionally rich dramedy.  Director Michael Showalter also deserves plaudits for this assured handling of tone, never letting it slide too far towards saccharine.

Plus it almost made me forgive Ray Romano for "Everybody Loves Raymond". Almost.

Available for streaming rental.

Worthy Mentions
Not quite on the main list...

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spider-man is back to being a wisecracking kid in this very entertaining relaunch of the franchise. Back in school, but with an updated and more diverse range of characters to play off, Marvel have smartly bought Peter Parker into the modern day.
The Lego Batman Movie - As a huge Batman fan, this was a hilarious treasure trove of references that spoke directly to me. unfortunately, I smacked my head on a car boot just before running to the cinema just in time to make the screening, so my memories of it are a little hazy, but I do remember absolutely loving it. The head injury aspect made it difficult for me to include in my top ten however...
It Comes at Night - Very close to making my top ten, it's a film that really chimes with our fearful times. Full of paranoia and dread, it all builds to a truly tense finale.
Moonlight - A deft, beautifully crafted film, with handsome cinematography and fantastic performances. It has a look and feel all it's own, giving us a glimpse of the lead's life at three pivotal moments as he comes to terms with his sexuality. However, the opening segment seemed the strongest, with, for me, slightly diminishing returns as we follow the characters through to the conclusion. 

Get Out - My views on this film are somewhat muddled by the chatty popcorn girls and the chair kicking lads in my screening. It's a dark, funny and daring film with a lot to commend it and I think if I'd seen it with less distractions, it would have rated a lot higher.
Baby Driver - It starts with a bang and then moves up through the gears to create one of the most entertaining films of the year. However, I didn't love this semi-musical quite as much as I thought I would.
Detroit - The middle third of this movie is disturbing, tense and shocking, but it's sandwiched awkwardly between clunky opening and closing acts.

20th Century Women - An interesting look at the generational differences of three women in 1970s and how those experiences relate to the eldest's son and his upbringing.
Free fire - If not for some extended sub-Tarantino dialogue in the opening of the movie, it may have made my top ten. As usual from director Ben Wheatley, a taut, tense, violent movie, with the blackest of comedy.
The Meyerowitz Stories - Another entertaining family drama from Noah Baumbach, with a particularly great performance form Elizabeth Marvel. His film's usually end up in my top tens, but it was only released on Netflix and my focus at home is rarely as good as in the cinema.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Director Lanthimos follows up "The Lobster" with another dark tale. Unfortunately he also brings the stunted speech patterns of his previous film to this one, which make less sense in this universe and detract from the dramatic tension. With that slight adjustment, I would have loved it.
Bladerunner 2049 - Visually stunning, loyal in tone to it's predecessor and well acted, I should have loved this latest film from Denis Villeneuve.  However it's ambition is it's downfall, over reaching and losing the simplicity of Ridley Scott's original.
A Ghost Story - A slow, somewhat ponderous film that nonetheless creates a feeling of loneliness and longing all it's own.  Not for the impatient or those hoping for a plot driven film.

Dunkirk - It took me a long time to process my feelings on this film.
The first half of the film is superb, building an incredible feeling of suspense through the combination of stark but beautiful cinematography and an incessant Zimmer score.  However the the final act of the film didn't stick the landing for me. (see "Disappointments" for more info)

Films worth a watch -

Personal Shopper, A Monster Calls, Silence, Jackie, Split, Certain women, Hidden Figures, Logan, Wonder Woman, Okja, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, The Red Turtle, Lost in London, Atomic Blonde, My life as a Courgette, Justice League, T2, The Fits, Prevenge, The Beguiled, The Founder, Loving , The Lost City of Z, John Wick Chapter 2, Lady Macbeth, Raw

Merely okay... 


Manchester by the Sea - While I was impressed by the film's craft, brilliant acting and the fantastically naturalistic dialogue, I felt slightly at a distance from it. The musical choice used in it's most dramatic scenes also felt very odd to me, as it will to anyone who's ever listened to it's use in Simon Mayo's "Confessions" section on BBC Radio 2.
Fences- Makes 2 hours and 20 minutes seem like 2 days, 20 hours...

Long, stagey and boring. Denzel over indulges himself, chewing scenery like there's no tomorrow, but Viola Davis is exceptional, the movie's only saving grace.
The Love Witch - Stylish, but too long and far too pleased with itself...
Dunkirk - T
he final act of the film didn't stick the landing for me. Nolan isn't at his best when trying to be warm and fluffy, and the proud, patriotic finale seemed ham-fisted in comparison to the mastery of the opening acts.
It - A tense opening and great chemistry from the young cast are let down by the films over use of very obvious CG effects. If you want real scares this year, watch the harrowing second act of "Detroit".
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 - An entertaining film, only disappointing as it comes frustratingly close to matching it's superior predecessor. It's looser and messier than volume 1, a trim before release could have worked wonders.  It's also incredibly violent for a film shown to millions of children.

Ghost in the Shell - A visually stunning film utterly lacking in any interesting content. Dated themes are exacerbated by huge amounts of unnecessary exposition, which slow the pace and highlight the fairly uninspired fight choreography.
Mindhorn - A thin Alan Partridge-esque plot is stretched even at 89 minutes and the jokes are more chuckle worthy than full belly laughs. There are a few genuinely strange and brilliant moments, but these serve only to highlight the general lack of consistent laughs.
Kingsman the Golden Circle - Super-hyped up nonsense that should be way more fun than it is. Over-long fluff that easily out-juveniles it's predecessor.

It also has given me a new phrase to describe "jumping the shark"... but I can't say what it is without spoiling the ludicrous celebrity cameo.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Stupid fun, but not fun enough to justify this creepy Vin Diesel vanity project. 

Logan Lucky - Not the fun romp I was hoping for, it sits awkwardly between genres. It may improve with further viewings however.
Atomic Blonde
- A film that needed to be twice as clever to succeed, or twice as fast. Brutal fights and stylish shots entertain, but it's paced far too slowly for such a flimsy plot.
Justice League - Despite enjoying the film, it is a mess. The gap in style between Snyder and Whedon's directing is too disparate, creating a film of jumbled style and tone. Mainly disappointing because a very watchable, charismatic cast are under-served.
The Bad Batch -
Ana Lily Amirpour disappoints with this undeiably beautiful, but shallow follow up to her excellent debut "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night".
Fast and Furious 8 - The franchise, like xXx, is becoming little more than a Vin Diesel vanity project, which detracts from the regular Fast and Furious mayhem. Perhaps worth watching to see Jason Statham fighting an enemy horde on a plane whilst carrying a baby (but you can just watch that bit on Youtube).
Song to Song
- Malick continues his trend of overly long, vacuous films on the relationships of the super wealthy. In many ways his films are the same as Michael Bay's, a collection of cool scenes that struggle to carry a narrative.
The Party - A stereotypical farce, parodying academics and the intelligencia. It felt long even at a trim 1hr 11 minutes and was incredibly pleased with itself, perhaps the smuggest film of the year. Despite a great cast, there's very little I can recommend, but the rest of the cinema laughed riotously throughout, so what do I know. I'm never a fan of "stagey" films, so perhaps I should have steered clear.

The ones that got away...

The big misses of this year, I regret I didn't get to see...

Call Me by My Name, Mother!, Good Time, The Disaster Artist, War for the Planet of the Apes

In an ideal world, I would have seen these too -

Lion, Christine, The Space Between Us, A Cure for Wellness, Kong Skull Island, Beauty and the Beast, Baywatch, Berlin Syndrome, Alien Covenant, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Patticake$, Loving Vincent, Gods Own Country, Paddington 2, Mudbound, Casting JonBenet, Battle of the Sexes

Hope you enjoyed reading my breakdown, Happy New Year!

2016 Update
The ones I caught up with that I missed last year...

I liked... American Honey, Everybody wants Some!!, Moana, The Witch, Finding Dory, Neighbours 2, The Shallows

I wasn't so keen on... Sausage Party

The ones I didn't catch up on...

The BFG, A Bigger Splash, Dheepan, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Light Between Oceans, Love and Friendship, Maggie's Plan, Miles Ahead, Son of Saul, Julieta, Sully, Bone Tomahawk, Secret Life of Pets, Girl on the Train

Last Years Top Ten
10. Captain America:Civil War/Deadpool
09. Captain Fantastic
08. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
07. Nocturnal Animals
06. Room
05. Arrival
04. Swiss Army Man
03. Spotlight
02. Green Room
01. Anomalisa

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Films of the Year 2016

The films I most responded to in 2016 mainly featured one of two themes: isolation (whether voluntary or not) or ideological conflict. These run throughout the year's releases and nicely reflect the political struggles and upheavals of the year. 

As usual this is a personal look back at this year's releases, so this is not necessarily a list of the greatest movies of the past twelve months, but a collection of my recommendations. As usual any feedback and discussion is welcome.

Disclaimer! - Many other films of the year lists will contain films yet to be released in the UK. I don't include these in mine, even if I've seen them at preview screenings. We usually get these films in January and February, so there's lots to look forward to early in the year. This year those films include "Silence" (1st January), "La La Land" (13th January), "Manchester by the Sea" (13th January) "Hacksaw Ridge" (27th January), "Moonlight" (17th February), "Certain Women" (3rd March), "Elle"(10th March)"The Handmaiden" (TBA)

This year's trends - isolation, ideological differences, wilderness, escaping society

10. Deadpool/Captain America: Civil War

As my yearly cheat, I've included both Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War at number 10. For me, they represent this year's best examples of the superhero format, which get right what most of the current glut get wrong.  Deadpool is as violent and wise-cracking as its titular anti-hero, which is exactly how it should be. The story isn't groundbreaking, but it's refreshing to watch a film that doesn't spend its time setting up a sequel or building to a global threat. 

Civil War meanwhile succeeds with an incredibly difficult balancing act, packing Marvel's current stable of heroes into a crowd-pleasing but thought provoking blockbuster. The ideological differences that come to the fore mirror DC's Batman v Superman, but Marvel's fleshed out characters and greater nuance better convey the conflict. The end, whilst action packed, is not a giant battle pitting our heroes against numerous generic enemies, but a smaller more personal one. On top of all this, they seamlessly introduce to the main Marvel Universe the best on-screen depiction of Spider-man yet, revitalising a long stagnant franchise. 

Both available to stream on NowTV (at the time of writing) and Deadpool is available to rent.

9. Captain Fantastic


Captain Fantastic features the always compelling Viggo Mortensen as the patriarch of an oddball family living outside society, deep in the woods. When a tragic event forces the family to rejoin the wider world, the characters are forced to reevaluate their place within society. The film asks many questions of its characters and audience, on parenting, education, philosophy and societal structure, but its great strength is how it frames the answers. These conclusions constantly shift, allowing for a layered thoughtful approach missing from most films.

Not available for streaming rental at the time of writing.

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Another gem from Taika Waititi, who follows up his hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows with this Roald Dahl-esque tale of adventure. The story begins when an inner city trouble-maker Ricky (Julian Dennison in a breakout role) is relocated to live with a foster family in the New Zealand wilderness, but many twists and turns lead to a mayhem-filled finale far from the intended quiet life. Great characters (including a delightfully grumpy Sam Neil) and Waititi's spot on comic timing, create a laugh-out-loud, fun romp. Despite this, the thing that truly elevates the film are its quieter elements, the sombre moments that pull at the heart strings and ground the more outlandish plot developments and characters. 

Available to rent from Youtube and Google Play.

7. Nocturnal Animals

After a long seven year wait, Tom Ford returns with his first film since the pretty great A Single Man.  Ford's Nocturnal Animals is just as stylish as its predecessor, bringing a lavish beauty to the screen that few modern directors achieve. A Bernard Herrmann-esque score gives it a Hitchcockian feel, and a bold opening sequence invokes the strange darkness of David Lynch.  Shifts in time and location disorient and build tension, with parallel stories shedding more light on the central narrative. It's another interesting look at the politics of love and how our actions can impact upon other's lives for years to come. 

Not available to online rental at the time of writing.

6. Room

A dark drama with strong emotional punch, Room works so well thanks to the brilliant performances of its two central performers.  Brie Larsson rightly won an Oscar for her kidnapped and entrapped mother, but Jacob Tremblay may overshadow her with his brilliant portrayal of a child bought up in captivity. His acting is naturally child-like, full of wonder and innocence unlike the type of precocious child actor who often seem older than their years. Director Lenny Abrahamson must also be given credit for his deft handling of the subject matter and making the most of the cramped environment, much like his characters.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime (at the time of writing) and available for streaming rental. 

5. Arrival

One of the few works of proper science-fiction to come out this year, Denis Villeneuve has created a thoughtful, inspirational and beautiful movie. Amy Adam's expert linguist is tasked with finding a way to communicate with strange octopus-like aliens whose spacecraft hover majestically above seemingly random locations across the Earth. Tensions rise around the world as the unknown intentions of the aliens cause unrest, with the fear of the "other" neatly reflecting the darker moments of 2016. The exploration of these central themes of inter-cultural communication take precedence over explosions and bombast, using science-fiction to explore humanity, as all the best sci-fi does. This film offers great hope for Villeneuve's next project, the sequel to Ridley Scott's classic Bladerunner.

Still (just about) in cinemas at the time of writing

4. Swiss Army Man

Joyfully absurd, creepy yet heart-warming, Swiss Army Man is a true one off. Famously featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a re-animated corpse, the film takes its dark premise and runs with it at full speed. The storytelling is inventive throughout as Paul Dano's suicidal loner finds his soul mate in Radcliffe's multi-purpose corpse.  While some of the more juvenile humour may act as a deterrent to some, it's worth persevering with as there's much more to it than flatulence. The fact that the tone works is something of a marvel, somehow managing to keep you on board despite walking a very thin tightrope with its dark, sometimes unpleasant themes meshing with high concept, outlandish humour. Against all the odds, this might be one of the must uplifting films of the year.

Not available for streaming rental at the time of writing.
3. Spotlight

The best way I can describe Spotlight is that it's a "proper film". It's meticulous, well acted and gripping in a riveting yet completely un-flashy way. It hearkens back to the conspiracy thriller movies of the seventies and is all the better for it.
Dealing with the Boston Globe's investigation into child abuse within the Catholic church, the journalistic style of film-making is truly befitting of the subject matter. The way the brilliant ensemble cast lead us through the investigation is utterly compelling and emotionally resonant. Amongst the top notch performances a particular highlight is Lieb Shreiber's editor-in-chief, who conveys a wonderful world worn weariness. It's a worthy Oscar winner which has only impressed me more on repeat viewings.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime (at the time of writing) and available for streaming rental.
2. Green Room

Wonderfully tense, this film will grip you like few others. A young touring punk band find themselves trapped in the green room of a neo-Nazi run bar in Jeremy Saulnier's vicious follow up to Blue Ruin.  Saulnier uses his experiences as young man in the Washington DC hardcore punk scene to create a lived-in world, full of detail and well-rounded characters. One of his greatest strengths is creating films where characters act believably, ensuring his films are character rather than plot-driven.  This gives the cast a chance to fully explore their roles, with the members of the band conveying a real bond throughout. This connects us to their struggle and makes the menace they face seem ever present. Their Nazi attackers are lead by Patrick Stewart's Darcy, who is all the more threatening thanks to Stewart's low-key un-theatrical performance.   

The tragic death of the Anton Yelchin also adds a touch of melancholy to this film, it's a huge shame to lose such a talented performer at such a young age.

Available to stream on Netflix (at the time of writing) and available for streaming rental.

 1. Anomalisa

It's amazing that a film utilising animated puppets can achieve a reflection of humanity greater than any other film this year. The film centres on an emotionally withdrawn customer service specialist, perfectly voiced by David Thewlis, as he attends a convention to promote his latest book. His distance from others is such that he views them all with identical faces and voices. This unnerving representation makes his discovery of a person he can view as a true individual, Lisa, softly voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, have all the more impact. The development of their relationship is so touching that it's easy to forget we're watching an animated creation. Their awkward, fumbling sex scene is a wonderfully true, human scene (although it is difficult to avoid comparisons to the sex scene in Team America: World Police, despite this film's greater subtlety). Charlie Kaufman is such a gifted and unique storyteller that it's always a pleasure to enter his world, despite it often leaving you filled with morose melancholy. This is no exception, with the story proving as heartbreaking as you might expect. While it didn't leave me as emotionally shattered as his previous film, Synedoche, New York, it still made a profound impact on me in a way few other directors can. 
Duke Johnson, Kaufman's co-director, must also be praised as this is a visually stunning movie, with its use of lighting and expressive animation a real treat for the eyes. The nightmare sequence makes full use of the animated medium and the film is almost worth watching for that alone. A film not to be missed.

Available to stream on Netflix (at the time of writing) and available for streaming rental.

Worthy Mentions
Not quite on the main list...

Creed - A brilliant re-invention of the Rocky series, it was incredibly close to making my main list. Great performances all round, only slightly let down by occasional video-gamesque fight sequences.
Zootopia - A very funny top-notch family-oriented animation with a deftly conveyed strong central message. Lots of lovely details, with the sloths a particular highlight. Also close to making the main list.
10 Cloverfield Lane - A taut thriller with plenty of surprises anchored by the brilliantly creepy John Goodman.
Victoria - Filmed all in one shot, this is a gripping technical marvel. However, the lack of editing can make some parts of the story drag.
Kubo and the Two Strings - An incredibly beautiful film let down by a slightly weaker narrative.
Rams - A touching tale of two brothers in conflict.
Hell or High Water - A modern western in the style of No Country for Old Men, it has a compelling tale of modern rural America.
Paterson - A slow but delightful slice-of-life drama from Jim Jarmusch with an excellent central performance from the always watchable Adam Driver.
Sing Street - Another heart warmer from the director of Once. As you'd expect from John Carney, it has great music, with original songs bringing the sounds of the 1980s to life.

Worth a Watch
Films worth a look -

The Assassin (incredibly beautiful, but obtuse), Hail Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, High Rise, Neon Demon, The Nice Guys, The Revenant, Tale of Tales, Wiener dog, Doctor Strange, Ghostbusters (for Kate McKinnon), Tickled, Midnight Special, Sisters (the second half, the first forty minutes are awful), The Big Short, The Girl with All the Gifts, Star Trek: Beyond, Joy, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, The Jungle Book (far better than I expected, a lot of fun),
I, Daniel Blake (for content)

Merely Okay
Magnificent Seven

Rogue One - Going somewhat against public opinion, I'm not a fan. It may be a very handsome movie indeed, but I don't feel it adds enough to the Star Wars mythos to warrant a whole movie. One two minute scene is utterly awesome however (you'll know when you see see it). 
I, Daniel Blake - While I'm fully behind its message, it felt quite heavy-handed and clunky, more like a feature length episode of mid-afternoon soap "Doctors" than a Palme d'Or winner, which is a real shame.
Gimme Danger - Lacking the anarchic energy of The Stooges.
Midnight Special - A wonderful premise, with a great opening sequence, but the world-building is muddled and the ending doesn't quite work.
Sisters (1st half) - A train wreck that's hard to watch, with a horribly miscast Tina Fey the main culprit. The second half, however, improves dramatically.
Doctor Strange - Disappointingly formulaic (albeit with some astonishing visuals) after Marvel claimed they were finished with generic origin stories.
X-Men Apocalypse - A messy, forgettable waste of a promising villain. Time for the X-men to reboot.
Batman v Superman- Beautiful and stylised in a way that only Zack Snyder can produce, nasty and ideologically muddled in a way that only Zack Snyder can produce. Wonder Woman was awesome though.
Suicide Squad - A complete mess, best avoided.
Jason Bourne - Surprisingly boring and behind the times. None of the old urgency or movie magic remains.
Zoolander 2 - The promising start fizzles out into a flaccid, unfunny sequel to the much loved original.
My Scientology Movie - A missed opportunity from the usually excellent Louis Theroux. More a movie about not being able to make a movie.
Hail Caesar! - While I enjoyed the film, I had hopes that it would be a Coen brothers classic and it felt like one of their more minor works.The Channing Tatum dance sequence is fantastic though.
The ones that got away...
In an ideal world, I would have seen these too (main regrets in bold) -

American honey, The BFG, A Bigger Splash, Dheepan, Everybody wants Some!!, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Light Between Oceans, Love and Friendship, Maggie's Plan, Miles Ahead, Son of Saul, Moana, The Witch, Toni Erdmann, Julieta, Finding Dory, Sully, Bone Tomahawk, Sausage Party, Neighbours 2, The Shallows, Secret Life of Pets, Girl on the Train
Hope you enjoyed reading my breakdown, Happy New Year!

2015 Update
The ones I caught up with that I missed last year...

I liked... Love & Mercy, Furious 7, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, , The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Wolfpack, Trainwreck, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Dear White People

I wasn't so keen on... The Walk (perhaps because I love the documentary Man on Wire)

The ones I didn't...
Clouds of Sils Maria, Welcome to Me, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Song of the Sea, The Wonders, Hard to be a God, 45 Years, Amy, Sicario, Wild Tales, The End of the Tour, Beasts of No Nation, Wild, The Theory of Everything

Last Years Top Ten 
10. The Duke of Burgundy
09. The Martian
08. Ant-Man
07. Inherent Vice 
06. While we're Young/Mistress America
05. Force Majeure
04. Inside Out
03. Ex-Machina
02. The Lobster
01. Whiplash