7 Favourite Films of 2016:
- Embrace of the Serpent – Black and white and red all over, this film is art-house darkness to its heart. Even the massacres, perversion and demonic shamanism are beautiful. The mysteries of lost civilizations are sublime.
- Eye in the Sky – Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman (in his last film appearance) attempt to justify strike action against the few for the greater good. Tellingly, just because modern warfare has become remote from the ground due to high-tech surveillance; it doesn’t make the decision-making and the personal involvement any easier. The film is utterly thrilling, and buying bread has never been made to look so tense.
- Hail, Caesar! – There is so much fun and talent in this film as the Coen Brothers mock every genre movie genre with reverential affection. All aspiring American comedies should take note: “Would that it were so simple.”
- I, Daniel Blake – A film full of heart and passion that exposes the dehumanising effects of a capitalistic institution while espousing the power of humanity that attempts to stand up to it. But don’t expect a happy ending – this is Ken Loach, after all.
- The Lady in the Van – Maggie Smith plays Alan Bennett’s nemesis, the irascible Miss Shepherd, in this touching, funny, glorious film. Alex Jennings plays Alan Bennett the writer and also Alan Bennett the human, proving the dichotomy between the two. Written by Alan Bennett, directed by Nicholas Hytner, and featuring a fine cast of British theatrical talent (including a cameo appearance from Bennett himself), the film translates beautifully from stage to screen and is a masterclass in just about everything.
- Room – Despite the obvious horrors inherent in the story (a woman kidnapped and forced to live in a small room where she bears a son in captivity), this is really a tale about a mother’s love for her child. Written by Emma Donoghue, on whose original novel it is based, it’s touching and emotional with honest performances (Brie Larson as mother; Jacob Tremblay as son; the small supporting cast) and without mawkish sentiment or excessive manipulation.
- The Wait/ L’attesa) – Sparse but hypnotic Italian film directed by Piero Messina in which a mother (Juliette Binoche) entertains her son’s girlfriend (Lou de Laage) while they both wait for him to come home, which he doesn’t for an increasingly uncomfortable period of time. The lead performances are spectacular and it’s a delight to see two strong women at the height of their game work together.