Hi, I’m Dr Zaius smoking a cigarette from The Planet Of The Apes. You know the proper Planet Of The Apes from the sixties where people acted as apes, rather than Andy Serkis wearing ping pong balls and making a fool of himself. OK it meant that Charlton Heston got a bit too personal about our personal hygiene but the allegory more or less worked. I also turned up in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, which was surprisingly good despite Chuck ducking out and an even heavier handed Nuclear War Allegory. Since then I’ve been pretty quiet here in the potentially nuclear destroyed future, I didn’t travel in time to Escape From… and they didn’t get me back for the Tim Burton travesty and I think it is a bit early in the new cycle of Apes films for a doddery old Doctor type to turn up (though I must go see my agent just in case). Nevertheless all of this spare time has allowed me to look at the best films released in the UK in 2016, and help curate the Freaky Trigger Top 41 (because there are two number 40’s).
Thanks Dr Zaius, and no I shall not mention the Simpsons song. As he says here are the first eleven films as voted by FT readers. If there is a * I didn’t see it, otherwise this is my pithy opinion of these films. Feel free to argue in the comments.
Snuck under the wire at the end of the year, Disney’s new musical would probably have gone higher if seen by more. Cleverly playing with Disney tropes whilst telling a solid, exciting and clever story, it is also packed with terrific songs and a fantastic heroine. Dwayne Johnson sings Lin Manuel Miranda, and there is also a fantastically stupid chicken. Catch while it is still in the cinema.
40= Don’t Breathe
One of the year’s best thrillers (and it is a thriller despite being marketed and ending like a horror film) is a home invasion movie with a twist. The twist is that we are rooting for the invaders. Three twenty somethings decide to do one last robbery, of a blind veteran, they don’t sound very sympathetic but we soon meet the vet and his locked down creepy house and we end up with Die Hard in suburbia. Perhaps it goes too far in its final third – the basement reveal is more than a bit problematic – but it is an undeniably taut ride (last minute notwithstanding).
39.Florence Foster Jenkins
Crowd pleasing in the best sense of the word take on the FFJ story, a singer so rich and closeted that she was not aware that she lacked talent. Streep plays it broad for the comic notes, and only just lets the tragedy in around the edges giving what could be a very one dimensional film more depth than expected. What was surprising was how subtle Hugh Grant’s turn is. Whether you laugh or have issues with its central story, it is laudably thougth provoking around its tragi-comic humour.
38. Son Of Saul
Gruelling but technically impressive first person holocaust drama told from the viewpoint of a Sonderkommando, one of the Jewish prisoners tasked to “process” other prisoners to death, and the aftermath. As you might imagine, and as it should be, it is unrelenting grim, and the first person effect is appropriately disconcerting. I was not completely convinced by the narrative track taken by the film around an escape, but there is no denying the power of the piece.
Puppet sex! Charlie Kaufmann returns with an intentionally drab, self-obsessed, stop motion animation about a man who comes to see the entire world as an extension of himself. So David Thewlis gets to play a cantankerous git, and everyone else, or at least everyone else until Jennifer Jason Leigh turns up and suddenly, briefly pricks his bubble (via some puppet sex). I found it a rather dry and insipid experience until the last two minutes when it suddenly all made sense and retroactively made the whole thing wonderful.
36=The Big Short
Adam McKay’s stab at explaining aspects of the financial crash, via broad comedy, objectification and a bait and switch structure that presents us with heroes who are actually villains. Impressive due to the breadth of the material it tries to cover, it ended up being too bitty and too masculine for my liking. I think I prefer how McKay dealt with the same info as infographics over the credits of The Other Guys.
35 Finding Dory*
I avoid Pixar sequels on the whole, though this apparently continues the charm of Finding Nemo (which I was never that keen on in the first place). But apparently it has some interesting things to say about family, and living with short term memory loss, and Ellen DeGeneres is always a game voice actor. I understand dodgy stuff happens with salt water / fresh water fish swapping environments which would irritate the hell out of me.
Featuring Brie Larson’s Oscar winning performance, Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own novel attempts to dial down the lurid aspects of an abduction, imprisonment and rape scenario and instead tries to focus on the normalisation of a one room upbringing and the subsequent affect on seeing the world. Larson is does a good job at showing how once escaped a new prison from freedom can be constructed, and Jacob Tremblay is pre-naturally good as the central child actor. I found its attempt to generalise from a handful of cases not without issue and Lenny Abrahamson perhaps could have done more around the soundtrack with disorientation, but it worked for a lot of people.
33. Fire At Sea*
I failed to see it but hope to catch up soon, in a year full of pretty good documentaries, this urgent piece about the lengths taken for migrants to get into Europe impressed a lot (5 in the Guardian poll).
32. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to Blue Ruin is an intense survival thriller about a hardcore band playing at the wrong gig to the wrong audience at the wrong time. The band are a perfectly jaded community who fight, and the gel as the situation around them gets worse, and Patrick Stewart seems begrudgingly terrifying as the leader of the White Supramicists they get mixed up in. Brutal, but very direct, with inventively new cinematic threats (you have never seen dogs this nasty), it is really, really good film.
31. Midnight Special
Jeff Nichols take on a Spielbergian theme, special kid is abducted, then reabducted by his parents to take him to a secret rendezvous where his powers will be unleashed. It feels choppy in places, and some pieces laid on the board don’t pay off, but Nichols yet again draws out an intense Michael Shannon performance, and an even better Joel Edgerton performance, to make this almost hokey road movie try to mean something. Perhaps the pay-off doesn’t work (it had too much in common with Tomorrowland for my liking), but there are a lot of risks being taken and a lot going on here.
The next ten, and it will be ten, will turn up later in the week, sadly not including Pete’s Dragon which just missed the cut (but I recommend you seeing – its like a Malick film for ten year olds but in a good way).