The Gryphon picks: Top films of 2016

2016 has been many things and was a rollercoaster overall. The highs were high, and the lows were low, but luckily for us, it’s been a very good year for movies. Here are our picks for the top 5 (with a few honourable mentions):

5. Zootopia – dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

In a year described by many to be the “worst year ever”, what with the rise of right-wing groups throughout Europe, the dialogue surrounding the US Election and the mess that was the UK EU Referendum (Brexit), Zootopia is a shining beacon of hope. Zootopia follows Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) as she tries to prove herself in a world which refuses to believe in her and finds help in the unlikeliest of characters. It’s a heartwarming Disney film which somehow manages to comment on police brutality, racism, racial profiling, sexism, coded political language and urban segregation without the possible clunky heavy-handedness that often comes with discussing those issues.

4. The Lobster –  dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

The Lobster is a film about relationships, and about being single. The film’s main character, David (Colin Farrell) has just been left by his wife. It’s a bad situation made worse by the fact that David lives in a society where single people must find a new love interest within 45 days, after which they will be turned into an animal of their choice and released into the wild. The conceit sounds gimmicky at first, but Lanthimos’ direction and writing elevates it from being just a ‘gimmick’ to instead being a sharp, clever satire about modern society’s unhealthy fixation on romance. It’s an excellent film, and also one of the most interesting films of 2016.

3. Arrival – dir. Denis Villeneuve

A lot of critics praise Arrival as being “ thinking man’s sci-fi”, which is awfully condescending. It’s an intelligent film and definitely falls within the traditional genre boundaries of ‘hard sci-fi’, and is undoubtedly less accessible than the brilliant but deeply flawed Interstellar or action-and-explosion-heavy Star Trek: Beyond, but its choice to focus on communication as a core theme rather than conflict and destruction give this film a message that will resonate with everyone. Couple that with a stellar performance from Amy Adams, which netted her fifteen (15!) best actress nominations, and you have one of the best sci-fi films of the past decade or two.

2. Paterson – dir. Jim Jarmusch

In Paterson, Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver who grew up, works, and lives in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. He’s an average man, with an average job, in an average place, and that’s sort of the beauty of the film. Jarmusch sees the beauty in the everyday, the poignancy in the mundane and presents it almost as it is. It’s a quiet film about a quiet life, and all its ups and downs, that pulls you in and reminds you that the very act of living is beautiful in itself.

1. Moonlight – dir. Barry Jenkins

Maybe the phrase ‘coming-of-age’ is the best way to describe Moonlight, but somehow it feels like a disservice to do so; where the coming-of-age genre has a fairly clearly-defined formula and structure, Moonlight defies them, giving us a phenomenal, touching and, above all, devastatingly human film.

Moonlight is a film in three parts, each chronicling a different time in the main character Chiron’s (Alex Hibbert/Ashton Sanders/Trevante Rhodes) life. It’s a tender, revealing look at both the lived queer and black experiences, as well as the intermingling of the two through the lens of Chiron’s struggles as he navigates the minefield of his coming of age. It’s a perspective that’s rarely portrayed in media, which means that 2016’s best movie is possibly also one of its most important.

Honourable Mentions

Disney’s managed to put out two impressive films this year, and though it stuck more closely to the traditional Disney formula, its characters, charm, and excellent soundtrack (composed by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda) makes Moana one of Disney’s best films. Ever.

The Witch, a masterfully directed horror film which left me feeling uneasy for days afterwards, almost made the list, but the disparity between its reception from critics and the general public (91% and 56% on Rotten Tomatoes respectively) makes it hard to recommend in a best-of list.

Marvel’s offerings this year were solid as well; Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable action flick with heavy elements of a political thriller, and has the best Spider-Man we’ve seen on film in a small role, whilst Doctor Strange turned the strange factor up to 11 with its trippy, Inception-inspired visuals. Extra-honourable mention to Deadpool for being the funniest superhero film this year with its subversive fourth wall-breaking, self-referential humour.

Speaking of coming of age films, the year had strong contenders. Between the teen drama of the Hailee Steinfeld-led Edge of Seventeen, the magical realism of the allegorical The Fits, and the Richard Linklater-directed Everybody Wants Some!!, teen angst has had a good year.

Mikhail Hanafi

(Image courtesy of 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films)

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