Top 10 Films of 2016

This list takes the American year of release. The Oscar slate of films only sees Irish shores in January. For this reason and others, there are some films I haven’t seen that might well have made this list. These include but are not limited to: MoonlightManchester by the Sea, Hacksaw RidgeToni ErdmannKubo and the Two Strings, and Nocturnal Animals.

1. Arrival

Ted Chiang is one of the darlings of the written science fiction world and this adaptation of his award-winning short story is an outstanding achievement and one that gives us hope for director Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 Blade Runner sequel. This aims for something on the scope of Nolan’s Interstellar and delivers with a high concept first contact blockbuster about the nature of language and time. Amy Adams gives a standout performance in the lead role, but was snubbed for a nomination ahead of this year’s Oscars. Huge credit must go to Eric Heisserer who adapted the screenplay from Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”. Heisserer details his process and the challenges of adapting the story here. Heisserer and Villeneuve managed to capture the feeling of Chiang’s writing perfectly and this could well take the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Arrival is moving, entertaining, and life-affirming.

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2. 13th

The best traditional length documentary of the year. Ava DuVernay’s 13th looks at America’s history of racism towards black people by looking at the prison system in the United States and how the actions taken by a succession of politicians has led to a culture of systemic racism where incarceration is allied with slavery. Unflinching clips, bombastic music, and very effective talking head interviews create an excellent documentary that details the culminating racial tension in the United States. This is not an anti-establishment doc in the vein of Michael Moore, it’s a tight and focused case study where every clip, however short, feels necessary. A brave release for Netflix and one that will definitely receive more attention as the United States returns to the good old days.

3. La La Land

A love letter to the golden age of Hollywood musicals that entertains, delights, and crushes the audience all in one sitting. La La Land is a musical trapped within a Los Angeles love story where songs break out early and at the climax to frame Chazelle’s story. It’s not a bad musical, it’s just not as much of a musical as the classics were. Gosling and Stone have a lyrical chemistry in their dialogue which makes their musical scenes together flow naturally. I don’t know much about musicals or the history of the genre, but I know that this is good.

4. Your Name

Another exploration of loss and longing in Makoto Shinkai’s finest work to date. Lighting up the box office in Japan, Shinkai’s anime presents a small-town girl and a Tokyo boy who intermittently swap bodies. However, this is less Freaky Friday and more Donnie Darko. The comet that destroyed the girl’s small town becomes the link between the two as they explore their initial differences and ultimate similarities as they bleed into each other’s lives. Like the discovery made in Arrival, linear time becomes a malleable concept and beginnings and endings collapse as the director makes the case that the two characters were always linked, through forces cosmic and natural.

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5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

A highly entertaining return to the Harry Potter universe with more excellently crafted characters in JK Rowling’s first complete screenplay. Eddie Redmayne embodies Newt Scamander perfectly to bring a fantastically weird half-tracker half-Buster Keaton to life. His accomplice Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) provides a complimentary kind of weird that fits into Rowling’s new universe. The CGI in this film in on par with The Jungle Book and is amongst the best we’ve ever seen which bodes well for the future of this 5-film franchise. Redmayne already appears to have mastered the art of the green screen too. This film was the first major release after Trump’s election win in 2016 too. A welcome escape for many.

6. Hell or High Water

A plaintive tale of two brothers robbing banks throughout an endless Texas. It’s another grim presentation of the Lone Star State where there doesn’t appear to be any way out. There’s moments of respite and humour, but like the Coens’ No Country for Old Men, the destiny of what’s coming can’t be stopped. It’s another screenplay from Taylor Sheridan who already has Sicario under his belt and is showing promise as one of the best script-writers in the game.

7. The Jungle Book

The best CGI of the year (probably ever) and the probable winner of the Best Visual Effects Oscar, The Jungle Book is an exceptional remake of an already excellent film. Dark in places and brilliantly light in others, the film takes a traditional Disney family musical by naturally weaving in two songs from the original, while restoring Rudyard Kipling’s original story and poem about the law of the jungle. Neel Sethi is immensely watchable as Mowgli and his scenes with the real-life Baloo Bill Murray are some of the best of the year. An unexpected classic.

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8. The Young Offenders

The pairing of Chris Walley and Alex Murphy provide a hilarious taste of Cork as they go on a journey from the city to the countryside to make it rich. There’s a real chemistry between the two that works in any language and suggests we might see more of this pairing. It explores darker themes prevalent in some Irish households and the state of life for some adolescents in the city. It’s been well-received in the UK too it seems. Pure daycent like.

9. 10 Cloverfield Lane

John Goodman plays the creep of the year in Dan Trachtenberg’s claustrophobic thriller. Whether or not the film is connected to the original Cloverfield matters little here as the material works in any universe. Trachtenberg is a young Hitchcock in the making, but one who seems to be concerned with the SF/Fantasy side of things. He went on to direct a standout episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror following this release. A good film from a promising director.

10. Doctor Strange

A quasi-Buddhist entry into the Marvel universe with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role.  It includes the most left field visuals you’re going to get in Marvel’s canon. There’s some good humour throughout too which fits right in there with the likes of Marvel’s Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy which continue to serve as a remedy to the dark realism of DC’s most recent Batman trilogy. A superhero who wears his Eastern influences on his sleeve (or neck), Doctor Strange is fun pop psychedelia that likens Tibetan-style teaching to powerful magic – kinda like The Matrix without the guns.

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE..Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)..Photo Credit: Film Frame ..©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Note: O.J.: Made in America was released in some cinemas in the US for it be considered as a documentary film. Google says it’s a mini-series, IMDB calls it a documentary film. Seeing as it’s a multi-part 8 hour doc I won’t consider it in this list. This point needs to be made as it was probably the best thing put on screens in 2016.

Captain Fantastic (2016) Review

Director: Matt Ross

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler

Disconnected. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, an oddball father raising 6 kids in the wilderness far away from America’s contemporary consumerist society. The children hunt by day, read works of challenging literature by campfire at night, and celebrate the birthday of Noam Chomsky instead of Christmas. A morally admirable bunch of characters we don’t ever connect with or really care what happens to.

The film begins with the death of the children’s mother who we know nothing about, or the impact she had, if any, on any of her children. Her death and upcoming funeral is a narrative driving force in the film as the gang hits the road in their school bus, but the journey is hard to care about. As in The Road, Viggo must guide his offspring through a wasteland of undesirables, but this journey is far less engaging and one where their troubles are self-inflicted. Ben’s authoritarian and liberal mindset throughout is tiring and confusing.

Rating: 4/10.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Review

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester

2001 is a total cinematic experience. Kubrick is a big director and only he could have tackled the source material, in the manner it deserved at least. Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick were thinking of bigger ideas, ideas which both alienated themselves from humanity and elevated themselves to the status of genius.

Thanks to Kubrick, whenever we look at scenes of sprawling stars, we think of (or at least I think of) Johann Strauss’ waltz “Blue Danube”. We have an idea of classical music as perfectly constructed melody. Strauss’ waltz flows as it should and resolves itself in a crescendo of perfect harmony as we watch the docking of Bowman’s space shuttle in 2001. It’s slow, interesting, beautiful, and immensely watchable – tenets sustained throughout the film.

2001 is about everything. Humanity and where it comes from, technology and what it does to us, the future and what’s in store for us. In the robotic HAL 9000 we are given the most human character of the film: he tries to make sense of his existence and give order to it, he harms his friends while trying to do what is right, and suffers a total breakdown while singing and recounting childhood memories. The interplay between technology and humanity is of central importance to Kubrick. We can only dream of how he would have made A.I. Artificial Intelligence work on the big screen. Spielberg gave it a good go, but it’s not on the level of Kubrick’s visuals.

There is no doubt that this film has inspired artistic and scientific disciplines alike by giving a visualization to what many could only dream of. Above all other accomplishments, this film achieves transcendence – a connection on a human level to something so alien. As Carl Sagan said: “We are made of starstuff.”

Rating: 10/10.

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12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Fassbender…

It took a strangely long time for a film like 12 Years a Slave to surface. And when it did, Hollywood finally decided it was time to address the issue of America’s past all at once, with Tarantino’s Django Unchained released in the same Oscar season.

Steve McQueen’s films are powerful. We already saw the impact of his lengthy and lingering scenes in Hunger and Shame, but given the gravitas of the subject at hand, this film was never going to be anything other than a complete triumph. McQueen and director of photography Sean Bobbitt have created the most realisitc representation of the antebellum United States that has ever been seen on screen. The shocking violence of this time in America’s history is not diluted. Scenes are brutally honest and like those two trademark scenes from Hunger, they linger. That there is no escape from what you are watching unfold is the true achievement of this film. You can’t retreat to any comforting scenes, this is America’s legacy of brutality in full display.

The performances are physically furious. Fassbender is excellent throughout. A pathetic and evil plague that never goes away. A constant tryant from start to finish, that like the subject of the film, still needs to be addressed at the film’s close. Ejofor and Nyong’o are both outstanding in their leading roles.

One of the best and most important films of the decade and the deserved Best Picture winner of 2014. Recommend you view it in a triple bill with Django Unchained and Dave Chappelle’s time haters.

Rating: 10/10.

12 Angry Men (1957) Review

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam…

Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is one of the most enjoyable film-watching experiences I have ever had. This is peak Lumet – technical film-making skills and remarkable acting performances. The film is set around the table of a 12-man jury that deliberates on the fate of a young man accused of murder.

At the start of the film the camera is positioned above the men at the table, forcing the viewer to look down on the jury. As the film progresses, the camera moves down to the level of the actors, making the actors address the audience on the same level. By decision time, and the end of the film, camera and audience are below the jury looking up. Henry Fonda’s persuasion of Lee J. Cobb out of a miscarriage of justice is made all the important with Lumet’s direction. Focal length manipulation is also used so effectively to increase the sense of claustrophobia that you’d need a chainsaw to cut through the tension. The sweat on Fonda and company’s heads practically oozes through the screen.

12 Angry Men is the precursor to tense, claustrophobic, close-shot films like Glengarry Glen Ross, another classic driven by strong performance. Technically perfect and immensely entertaining, 12 Angry Men is an all-time classic which hasn’t aged.

Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock doesn’t feel the same: “12 Angry Men is preposterous, Kenneth. 11 decent Americans are getting swayed by Jane Fonda’s father?”

Rating: 10/10.

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The Oscars 2016 Predictions

I wrote one of these a while back but the nominations have been announced, the Golden Globes have happened, and some stuff has changed. I’m going to go through pretty much every single category at this year’s awards; who should win and who will win. I will list the odds in the should win/will win bit at the start of each category – which are accurate at the time of posting. But you want to find the best odds for each category, go to Oddschecker. I’m not going to list all the films/actors nominated either because the Academy just dishes out nominations for the hell of it, except to black people obviously. Bunch of racist old bastards. Right, less do dis.

BEST PICTURE

Should Win: The Revenant (2.88)

Will Win: Spotlight (1.86)

This category became a lot more interesting when The Revenant picked up the top award at the Globes. I did predict success for Spotlight at the Globes, but what I may have done is mixed up my awards shows. The Globes are the fun brother of the Oscars, and they went with the more left-field choice with Inarritu’s epic. Spotlight is this year’s Argo. An ensemble film with serious-faced actors fighting for a noble cause. The Academy loves this shit and I think they will reward it here. Two of the films in this year’s list of best picture nominations are already in my top 10 favourite films of all time. The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road are two absolutely fucking baller films. The Martian is also a quality picture, but a comedy it ain’t.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win: George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road (5.5)

Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – The Revenant (1.72)

Yes, The Revenant is the best film at this year’s awards, but what George Miller has done in restoring a franchise no one thought they’d see again is unbelievable. Inarritu’s team is astounding and he leans heavily on his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to achieve maximum impact with his films (we’ll talk more about him later), but Miller is the undoubted leader of the Mad Max project. Getting all those vehicles in the same place doing what he wants, co-ordinating the best stunts we’ve seen in a film ever, while also getting great performances from his actors was a remarkable achievement. However, the Academy will give it to Inarritu for the 2nd year in a row. Back-to-back in this category has only been done by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and John Ford – back in the 1940s and ’50s. So this would be huge if it happens this year, and it will.

Tom Hardy and George Miller review footage on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom Hardy and George Miller review footage on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ACTOR

Should Win: Matt Damon – The Martian (67.0)

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant (1.08)

I’ve talked about it enough and had been recommending Leo at 3.2 a few months back when Fassbender was favourite for playing Steve Jobs for some bizarre reason in some TV-quality biopic. However, The Revenant is not about good acting and that’s why I love it. Matt Damon’s performance was better than Leo’s. It’s a shit year in general for leading actors. Leo wins. Bet it if you want but it’s not really worth it anymore. I guess it’s better than bank interest though.

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win: Brie Larson – Room (1.29)

Will Win: Brie Larson – Room (1.29)

Great performance by Larson in this. This film is as good as TV movies can get. This film won’t be remembered in 5-10 years. It’ll be a quiz question. I saw some of the films the other nominees are in too, average enough offering. It hasn’t been a great year for acting.

Brie Larson looks at her son 'Jack' in Lenny Abrahamson's Room

Brie Larson looks at her son played by Jacob Tremblay  in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win: Sly – Creed (1.61)

Will Win: Sly – Creed (1.61)

Rylance’s odds worry me a little because the Academy might try to give Spielberg’s film something. However, actors vote on this award and they love Sly. Rocky is one of the greatest films ever and Stallone’s performance here brings it all back home. Creed is extremely emotional if you grew up watching those films. This is a great film and Stallone gives probably his best ever performance. Back this all the way. However, I think Walton Goggins gave the year’s best supporting actor performance in The Hateful Eight, and he wasn’t even nominated!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight (18.0)

Will Win: Rooney Mara – Carol (1.61)

Jennifer Jason Leigh knocks it out of the park in Tarantino’s classic. Without her charisma in that role, that film dies. Rooney Mara wins this award for some reason, don’t know what that reason is though. She just looks around the place in Carol.

Kurt Russell looks at Jennifer Jason Leigh in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russell looks at Jennifer Jason Leigh in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki – The Revenant (1.33)

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki – The Revenant (1.33)

This is why Inarritu is getting such success lately. Film is principally about moving the camera and this guy moves it like a baller. He is the best in the business, probably the best ever. Should win. Will win. 3rd year in a row too! That ain’t never been done!

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Should Win: Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight (1.44)

Will Win: Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight (1.44)

Oh you best believe he’s back. This is Morricone’s first Western score in something like 40 years and it is a belter. When that song comes on at the start of Tarantino’s film, it gives the picture a haunting and morbid progress that stays throughout. John Williams did a Star Wars score too but Tarantino has been screwed by Disney enough for one year. This is a lock.

Right, that’s all the categories I care to write in depth on. To round this out I’ll just list the award, what will win, and the odds. This will make 22 picks for the Oscars in total. You’re bloody welcome.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Big Short (1.66)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Inside Out (1.1)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Sanjay’s Super Team (1.85)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Amy (1.2)

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Body Team 12 (1.6)

BEST FILM EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road (1.6)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Son of Saul (1.12)

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

Ave Maria (1.55)

BEST MAKEUP

Mad Max: Fury Road (1.33)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Spotlight (1.25)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Mad Max: Fury Road (1.25)

BEST SOUND EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road (1.5)

BEST SOUND MIXING

Mad Max: Fury Road (1.65)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Mad Max: Fury Road (1.8)

So, Mad Max: Fury Road is going to win 6 bloody Oscars!! They’re all the “minor” categories that no one cares about, but saying that a Mad Max film is taking home the most Academy Awards has a very nice ring to it. What a film!

MAD MAX

Golden Globes 2016 Predictions

The Golden Globes are on this Sunday, January 10, 2016. For those who don’t know, they are the funnier, fatter, and better brother of their more serious sibling – the Oscars. I previously wrote a betting preview for all the main categories for the Oscars, of which only 1 I am now not confident in (Keaton for Supporting Actor). Here are my predictions for every category I care to write about for the upcoming Golden Globes. Also, Ricky Gervais is hosting – The best host there has ever been for an awards show.

Best Picture (Drama)

  • Spotlight
  • The Revenant
  • Carol
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Room

The best film of 2015 was Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller brought back the best apocalyptic franchise with an absolute roar and it deserves to win this category hands down. The winner here will be Spotlight. Actors, screenplays, and scandals. Yup, they cracked the code.

Back Spotlight at 1.36 with SkyBet.

Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)

  • The Martian
  • The Big Short
  • Joy
  • Trainwreck
  • Spy

When The Martian was declared a comedy this category became the most interesting and valuable of the bunch. Matt Damon gives a quality comedic performance that no one was expecting. This film will do very well at the Globes, and their biggest award comes in the shape of a Best Picture award for Ridley Scott – the all-time greatest science fiction director.

Back The Martian at 2.25 with BoyleSports.

The Martian

Best Director

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
  • Ridley Scott
  • Tom McCarthy
  • George Miller
  • Todd Haynes

Inarritu is the director’s choice. Tom McCarthy is the actor’s choice. George Miller is the fan’s choice. Todd Haynes is no one’s choice. Ridley Scott is the winning choice.

Back Ridley Scott at 3.4 with Bet365.

Best Actor (Drama)

  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Michael Fassbender
  • Eddie Redmayne
  • Bryan Cranson
  • Will Smith

Oh, come on! These actors do not deserve to be in the same category as this guy.

Back Leonardo DiCaprio at 1.2 with Ladbrokes.

Leo D

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy)

  • Matt Damon
  • Al Pacino
  • Steve Carrell
  • Christian Bale
  • Mark Ruffalo

Love all of these actors. Great entertainment across the board. Only one winner though and his performance was the standout. If not for his charisma, the movie would have died out there on Mars.

Back Matt Damon at 1.44 with Betfair Exchange.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Mark Rylance
  • Idris Elba
  • Michael Shannon
  • Paul Dano

Mark Rylance can have his Oscar. Sly is gonna take that Globe and have fun doing it. Rocky is one the greatest characters in the history of cinema and the Globes will respect it as such. Great value here on Sly.

Back Sylvester Stallone at 2.1 with Betfair Exchange.

Sly

I’ll just round up the actress categories quickly here because I have literally seen none of the films they are in.

Best Actress (Drama) – Back Brie Larson at 1.57 with William Hill.

Best Actress (Comedy/Musical) – Back Jennifer Lawrence at 2.1 with Betfair Exchange.

Best Supporting Actress – Back Jennifer Jason Leigh at 2.37 with Betfair Sportsbook.

That’s all folks. Watch the films, make some money, and Merry New Year!