Jan 17

The FT Top 41 Films 2016 – #20 – #11

Do You See + FT12 comments • 721 views

PD12“Hi I am Elliot from Pete’s Dragon. I suppose you could call me Pete’s Dragon, except Pete clearly doesn’t own me, we are just buddies who hang in the woods. And yes, I am the proper Pete’s Dragon, not that godawful 2D drawn travesty from the 70’s. I’m the Pete’s Dragon from the much better 2016 film Pete’s Dragon, which I expect will pop up on this list of best films of 2016.

Oh, just looked below. Must be in the top ten. Well these are all pretty good too I guess. Not elegiac and majestic like some sort of kids film made by Malick in the 1970’s, not good like Pete’s Dragon, but good. ”

Thanks Elliot, but I have some bad news for you. Pete’s Dragon just missed our list at number 42. I know, it was a travesty. Don’t blow fire on me. I’d have voted you higher, except you weren’t as good as Mustang. Which is…

20: Mustang

My favourite film of 2016 is a heartbreaking but ultimate life affirming Turkish coming of age drama. Five sisters in a rural Turkish video go from the freedom of being children, to the strait-jacket of being young women, seen as sexual beasts and chattels. A film which can broadly be read as an allegory for the Turkish political situation, however this is always secondary to its developing character drama, where the villains are never as broad as the society around them, and the sense of perseverance and need for escape is palpable. It looks terrific, feels natural but draws out drama, suspense and in the end a small amount of hope.

18: = Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Number eighteen is for the recently added to Netflix feelgood films of the year! Taiki Waititi broadens his range from oddball adult comedies to a more oddball family comedy, using his eye eye for comic visual film-making second only to Edgar Wright’s. Its nice to see a modern film use New Zealand’s landscape, and its nice to see a more modern and diverse take on the “unloved kid melts heart of grumpy adult”, but Waititi in particular makes the film very personal, quirky and therefore oddly more universal. It might be a touch overlong, and a few of his regular cast members don’t quite make the grade of Sam Neill and Julian Dennison (himself included), but a very funny, very sweet film.

18: = Sing Street

The story at the heart of Sing Street is as old and corny as the movies. Boy meets girl, boy starts a band to impress girl etc. Like Hunt For The Wilderpeople its the specifics which make this such a sweet movie. The Irish cross pollination of strict Catholic upbringing coupled with eighties pop music via Top Of The Pops (the TOTP sequences are very evocative). The linking of music to escape, physical and imagined, and a nice side order of John Carney’s crowd pleasing music (his original tunes pull double duty with a lot of eighties hits and come off well). Carney is a corny film-maker by most counts, but he does tend to win you over even at his worst with half decent songs and a big hearted belief that music makes everything better. He does give his films terrible titles though.

17: Our Little Sister

There is a small coterie of FT filmgoers who like Kore-eda a lot, and they and a few others turned up for one of his gentlest films yet. And bearing in mind that this is a guy whose most suspenseful film involves some kids making a wish over a train, that is saying something. But Kore-Eda has successfully carved out a niche for his slight but hugely empathic films, an Ozu who concentrates more on the young. Our Little Sister is about three grown up sisters who inherit a half sister when their estranged father dies. And whilst the set up could have led to melodrama, instead its a more simple affair of people trying to build relationships, testing assumptions and living their life. Sometimes its good to take a breath of clean air.

16: I, Daniel Blake*

You know those films you really should see, but you don’t because you know what you’re going to get and you aren’t quite in that mood today. Well I was never in the mood for I, Daniel Blake – sorry Ken. Because I like Ken Loach, I like what he does, often how he does it and why. But I never got around to seeing this bureaucratic nightmare. I know plenty of people who loved it and no-one who hated it, and yes I will see it.

14: = Paterson

Jim Jarmusch’s strongest film since Ghost Dog, is almost a fun frippery, a celebration of utopian everyday toil. Adam Driver play Paterson a bus driver in Paterson who is also a poet for personal pleasure, with a creative wife and a day to day routine which is the very definition of quotidien. And yet this film teases at the edges with wonder (the re-occurrence of twins, the hinted but unimportant back story). There is an interesting subtext inherent in Driver’s casting, his art, quirks and affectations (no mobile phone) makes him a brother to his character in While We’re Young, but Paterson is celebrated, the model of Blue Collar man, while the hipster is derided. But does his lack of ambition make him inherently anti-American. A very pleasant experience with surprising defts to be prodded.

14: = American Honey

I thought it was horrendously overlong, and was the classic outsiders take on the US, an infatuation with youth and poverty which felt almost exploitative. But Andrea Arnold’s road movie does have a tremendous central character constantly skirting the edges of what would be tragic danger in other films, and indeed the core danger of its own film (Shia La Boeuf!) The camera loves Sasha Lane at the heart of the movie, and there are moments of energy when these kids are in the van together or listening to their music. But a bit of Andrea’s music choices incongruously slip in and make the feeling I was watching artful but artificial realism never got away from me. And did I mention how bloody long it was.

13: The Witch

To the superstitious witch hunt New England of the seventeenth century where a family find it hard to make ends meet out on the edge of civilization. What they probably don’t need is an evil witch in the woods and their goat to be the devil. The lack of ambiguity in The Witch is oddly refreshing, you can read the goings on as the symptoms of malnutrition, isolation and madness, but the film is clear what it wants you to believe. This years breakout horror movie, though it works much more as suspense than horror, there isn’t much horrific on show but you do leave the cinema with more respect for goats. Look out for Anya Taylor-Joy in the central role, compelling in her twists from scared to scary.

12: When Marnie Was There*

I was a little surprised with how well When Marnie Was There did, thinking that perhaps the bells, whistles and teenage angst of Your Name would be more strongly voted for. But the Ghibli love is strong around here, despite Marnie whizzing through the cinemas (that’s my excuse). This is right in the Ghibli comfort zone, a contemplative, gentle piece of mysterious kid fiction with an ambiguous ghostly character in one special summer. Looking forward to catching up with it.

11: The Assassin

I saw this at the LFF in 2015 and loved its look but found it a little slow and inpenetrable. Saw it again in 2016 and re-evaluated its narrative drive, slow, but surprisingly intense. Notorious as a martial arts film with barely any fighting in it, nevertheless when the action explodes it does so on a terrific scales. But instead of flashing blades we have long meditative takes of loyalty, honour and the rueful traps we find ourselves in as adults. The student becomes the master, and rejects the life. Perhaps, but as the clouds dwell upon the mountain in the films final scene it all comes together that we are all trapped in roles, unless we know how to break out.

Top Ten coming soon, honest.


  1. 1
    Andrew Farrell on 26 Jan 2017 #

    So far I’ve been 2 (Moana / Finding Dory) – 3 (Doctor Strange / Kubo and the Two Strings / Civil War) – 2 (Hunt for the Wilderpeople / When Marnie Was There) – I did see films that where the audience was mostly grownups, honest.

    In fairness, the last two almost certainly met that criteria – not sure whether this means a note of the serious is creeping in as we go higher.

    Of my remaining 10 films, there’s five locks, one that is entirely without a chance, one notable divisive, one that may have turned up too late, and two that I would actually be disappointed if they placed in the top ten (which is I suppose an argument for not putting them on the list in the first place).

  2. 2
    Phil on 27 Jan 2017 #

    “Marnie whizzing through the cinemas”? Your Name was on release for one day! Anyway, WMWT is really, really good, and I’m a 56-year-old male curmudgeon. And Sing Street (which we got on DVD… from CeX) is a lot of fun, and a lot darker than it looks. Haven’t seen any of the others – you sum up my feelings about Twelve Years A^W^W^WI Daniel Blake perfectly – but I’m definitely going to ‘chill’ as the young folk say with Wilderpeople one of these nights.

  3. 3
    Andrew Farrell on 27 Jan 2017 #

    That depends on where you live though, in London I could go see Your Name this evening (I’m aware that “It’s grand in London” is far from an impenetrable defense).

  4. 4
    Mark M on 28 Jan 2017 #

    In no particular order:

    a) The Assassin is the film I most regret having seen on a TV screen rather than in the cinema. I found it very beautiful but somewhat slight and hella confusing. So maybe if I’d seen on the big screen the beauty and atmosphere would have overwhelmed my quibbles…

    b) I’m glad this year I finally got with the whole Kore-eda thing.

    c) I also didn’t see I, Daniel Blake – but unlike Pete, might never. I felt the trailer told me all I needed to know. My Loach line is that creates astonishing scenes that (in the best possible way) feel like life – but that apart from Kes, he’s never been able to sustain that and his films are full of bad plot contrivances and cheaply melodramatic occurrences. And never, ever surprise me.

  5. 5
    Mark M on 28 Jan 2017 #

    On Driver, Paterson and when is a hipster not a hipster?

    i) As you say, Paterson in some ways is not dissimilar to the hipster Driver played on While We’re Young (see also Driver in Girls and Frances Ha). If we think of hipsters in the modern definition as youngish people who have built a fully aesthetised lifestyle around the fetishisation of objects from assorted (often mismatched) pop cultural pasts plus food and drink, and who are likely to live in formerly working-class or industrial neighbourhoods, then Paterson and Laura are a hipster couple. But so the differences between Paterson the character and the guy in WWY and stereotypical hipsters is a) he’s not self-serving, b) he doesn’t treat pop culture ironically, c) he has a real job that he respects (i.e. he’s a proper working man) but maybe also, more controversially d) because he’s an ex-Marine?

    ii) However, also, if one possible definition of hipsters as I’m suggesting is: ‘people who have built a fully aesthetised lifestyle around the fetishisation of objects from assorted (and sometimes mismatched) pop cultural pasts etc’, then this also takes in Jim Jarmusch himself and the central characters in many Jarmusch films (Permanent Vacation, Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train and Only Lovers Left Alive), as well as many of the minor characters in Paterson. I’m even wondering whether Jarmusch himself contributed to the passage of the word hipster from its old-time slang routes to its revival some time around the glory days of Grand Royal before its current evolution in a term of abuse.

    By which I mean, Paterson wouldn’t be set up as a dickish hipster in a JJ movie because in his universe, retrophiles are the good guys. (You could argue and indeed I would argue, that the characters played by Chris Parker in Permanent Vacation and John Lurie in STP and DBL are dicks, but that Jarmusch doesn’t necessarily perceive them as such).

  6. 6
    Pete Baran on 28 Jan 2017 #

    I agree with your reading of Paterson, though there is a question around the ironic treatment of pop culture being replaced here by a bland acceptance (of his Laura’s projects, of the “wall of Paterson”). How Laura spends her days is borderline hipster, which is interesting. I also agree that the most important shot in the film is of him in a marines uniform (and also one of the most interesting things about Driver as an actor too). In one second it suggests all sorts of backstory, for him, for her, for their past and what he does now. But I see your point about Jarmusch not having negative hipster characters, though I seem to think that there is at least some commentary on this in Only Lovers Left Alive.

  7. 7
    Mark M on 28 Jan 2017 #

    Re6: Yes, I think you’re right about Only Lovers… although I don’t remember clearly. (A word I was struggling for above is ‘curating’ – that legacy of assembling cool old shit is what Jarmusch’s generation of downtowners bequeathed to those to come).

  8. 8
    Mark M on 28 Jan 2017 #

    Mention of Only Lovers Left Alive leads me to use this as an opportunity to mark the passing of John Hurt, who played Kit Marlowe in that film, his third appearance in a Jarmusch picture. One of the phrases I spend my time deleting from articles at work is ‘has something for everyone’, because it’s almost never true, but if you look at Hurt’s filmography, there really is almost every kind of film or TV show.

  9. 9
    sonnetofapreacherman on 28 Jan 2017 #

    When Marnie Was There was the movie I saw the week of Brexit, and it did me a world of good. Mind you, Your Name was probably the better movie, but did it have an adorable Auntie and Uncle who I immediately wanted to be adopted by?

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 31 Jan 2017 #

    I saw Trolls the night of the US Election, and its rampant perky positivity was probably the only thing that got me through the night. Possibly why I rate it significantly higher than I should.

  11. 11
    Mark M on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Have finally (finally) seen Hunt For The Wilderpeople – it’s tops, isn’t it?

  12. 12
    Pete Baran on 4 Feb 2017 #

    I think it might be the Magic Mike XXL of this year, ie the film that everyone saw later and realised was great. The lower orders of this list have a few of them, though Hunt For The Wilderpeople is certainly the most crowd pleasing.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page