These ‘best of the year’ lists are always extremely difficult to write. Before I even think of jumping into a list, I must make some parameters clear. The ‘best’ of cinema can always be approached in different ways—films can be critically acclaimed but difficult to approach, others can be tremendous fun but only hold minimal artistic value. By discussing my personal best films of this year, I am in no way saying that these should be cited as the best films in general. I do not have the ability to see how the force of time impacts these films, or what in 2016 will be remembered for years to come. In fact, I may not have even seen the film that would be touted as the classic film of the year. But, in the essence of the simple listicle, I am going to attempt to define what I have seen as the cream of the crop this year.
Director: Tim Miller
Kicking off this list is a film that has been cited as the most ‘unlikely hit’ of the year. Part of the reason for its inclusion is the irresistible underdog narrative surrounding its production. An R-Rated superhero film? A superhero that has been portrayed in film before…by the same actor…but handled badly? This film was almost made as a middle finger to the blockbuster studio system, and in doing so, became extremely likeable. The stories of budget cuts, development hell, and perseverance had, in a very rare case, skyrocketed the film as a cultural icon that surpasses the text itself. With more R-Rated superhero films in the works, it’s a wonder whether the success of this anarchistic film can ever be replicated.
The film itself moves between superhero tropes, violent action, and goofball comedy. An intelligent breaking of the fourth wall will be quickly followed by the equivalent of a fart joke. Deadpool never attempts to be high art, but it doesn’t need to. It serves as an adult playground, giving the 18+ population a gleeful flick to kill a couple of hours.I saw this in a cinema, almost as a whim, late at night. The packed cinema made this an even more exuberant experience, seeing adults of all ages laugh and jeer at this goofball of a superhero. We will see if Deadpool’s success leads to a cycle of great adult superhero films, or leads to cheap knock-offs. But, by the look of Logan’s trailer, it seems like the genre might have some life left in it yet.
4: The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Now let’s talk about Tarantino. Quentin Tarantino’s films are almost a genre unto themselves. While you could argue the value of his auteur style or his reliance on borrowing visual and narrative conventions from other genres, his films are always placed as part of the director’s body of work. Following this, I feel I need to explain that my favourite Tarantino films are Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs. By citing these films, you can probably get a gauge of what aspects of Tarantino’s style that I find most appealing. For me, the stylised violence is less of a drawcard for me than his dialogue-heavy ventures. In this regard, The Hateful Eight more than delivered. From discussions on a post-Civil War society to the suspenseful ‘who poisoned the kettle?’ sequence, this film kept me entranced throughout.
I am still in mourning for the age of the Western, even though I wasn’t even alive when the genre was prevalent. This film is a perfect example of a well-executed, modern Western. With beautiful landscapes and gun slinging bounty hunters, matched with a unique treatment of the Western heroic persona, this film is nothing short of excellent.
3: Captain America: Civil War
Directors: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo
It has been an interesting year for the superhero film. While I have already gone into detail about Deadpool’s impact on the wider genre, we have also had a flurry of the more standard PG-13 superhero ventures hit screens this year. Batman V. Superman divided audiences, and despite making a decent amount of money, is still heralded as one of the worst of the year. So, if two of the most iconic superhero characters couldn’t guarantee success, how would Marvel’s outing fair?
While I would, by no means, suggest this film is one of the greatest artistic ventures of all time, I must admit that this film delivered exactly what fans of the genre have been waiting to see. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been cemented as a blockbuster staple of the current age, but I would argue that Civil War was the highest quality cash-grab of 2016. Since we have seen the same iterations of these characters through multiple cinematic ventures, we were given an exceptional context to the relationships that this film would eventually fracture. Therefore, the audience could fully comprehend the emotional brevity beneath the witty one-liners and explosive action sequences.
2: Hail! Caesar
Directors: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
In the Coen Brothers’ glorious tribute to Old Hollywood, we are given a 2016 film with the razzle dazzle of a bygone era. The star power of this film is incredibly strong, with George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, and Scarlett Johansson among its stellar cast. While stars of this caliber can sometimes detract from a film, in this instance, the talent assists in transporting audiences to the idyllic cinema of old. The plot of this film is decidedly ramshackle, moving from one scene to another without any real semblance of coherence. However, it is difficult to not be charmed by the film’s ridiculous indulgence.
At the end of viewing this picture, you may not have any idea of what you just watched, or why anything happened, but you would have had fun. And, after the Coen’s have spent a lot of time on more serious ventures (Inside Llewyn Davis, Unbroken), you feel like they have had fun making this film. The only thing I can really say about this film that it is just swell, and it definitely deserves a watch.
1: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director: Taika Waititi
If Rotten Tomatoes is seen as any gauge of quality, it would seem Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s stellar 97% rating can be taken as a positive sign. While this list has, so far, mostly consisted of blockbuster hits or projects from seasoned directors, it is hard to imagine that a small Kiwi film could compare. However, everything about this film is just downright likeable – from the cast, to the story, to the beautiful New Zealand landscapes.
Filmmaker Taika Waititi has told this story with a gentle humour and wit that makes every scene feel sincere – no matter how ridiculous the situation. There’s a fantastic chemistry between lead actors Julian Dennison and Sam Neill, bringing unique warmth to the well-worn generational narrative. This film is absolutely delightful and gave me the biggest smile in 2016.