Feb 17

The FT Top 41 Films 2016 – #10 – #1

Do You See + FT20 comments • 1,093 views

tumblr_inline_o30imhR5R21rk58rr_540“Hi I’m The Brave Little Toaster, star of the 1986 film The Brave Little Toaster and its direct to video sequels The Brave Little Toaster To The Rescue, and The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars. You know, the late 80’s was a brilliant time to be a Toaster, we were flying all over the place on screensavers, being fancipantsed up by Duralit, and then there was me, an honest to god appliance hero for a consumer age. These days though, you’re all in tha cloud, and there is no room for toast in the cloud, so I have been told. So I sit with my friends, Lampy, Air Conditioner and Two Faced Sewing Machine and watch Entertainment Centre and all the great films that came out last year like these ones. I mean, I assume I got back from Mars, I have to admit I didn’t watch it, it seemed far fetched. ”

Cheers Toasty, and you should just be proud that as a Toaster you got your own film franchise. The mind boggles. Anyway here is the top ten:

10: Zootopia

Aka Zootropolis due to an Irish theme park, but the original US name is a better joke in a film full of better than average jokes. The lines between Pixar and Disney have blurred enough for me to expect any original Disney computer animated film to be as good as Pixar, and Zootopia certainly is up there. Plenty of thought is put into this shared world of animals, its somewhat honest conversation about prejudice and typecasting, and that whilst you can “try to be anything you want to be”, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. In the centre is a great pair of characters, Judy the rabbit cop and Nick the conman fox both constrained by the perception of their nature. Along with that though it is really funny, properly suspenseful and the visual design is detailed and exceptionally layered. It could do without the Shakira gazelle dance party ending but it’s pretty perfect outside of that.

9: Things To Come

Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is an odd beast, its a year in the life of a woman getting a divorce. Isabelle Huppert is controlled in the lead, this is not a film about histrionics. Instead it is a film about how life goes on, how there is no such thing as stability and how to cope with that change. The result is a very lived in film, it feels totally real, whilst still feeling totally like a French film (no other country has philosophers as lead characters). There are hints of regret, and political capitulation, though Huppert is too young to be active in ‘69, that seemingly French national spirit has dissipated in her life. Which leaves cynicism, and perhaps a slow lonely crawl to death. So the fact that the film ends up mildly optimistic is rather remarkable.

8: Deadpool

I’ve never liked the character of Deadpool, it’s difficult to write an ultra-violent, mentally damaged pop culture spewing character well. And whilst I don’t think the film is brilliant, it does find a way of walking that line in making the character likeable enough to tolerate his smart arsed nonsense whilst revelling in the scatalogical violence. Nearly all of the credit should go to Ryan Reynolds, an actor with a seemingly bottomless well of smarm, who manages to turn that liability into a positive. I thought some of the jokes were tin eared and obvious, but there were a lot of them, and the central sex scene is a highpoint and its game cast (bland villain notwithstanding) were good enough to keep things ticking over – though I think there is a much tauter, more subversive film waiting to get out.

7: Ghostbusters

Did it destroy your childhood?
I liked Ghostbusters. I didn’t really like Ghostbusters II. I liked Ghostbusters. A weird cover-version remake, perhaps with too many nods to the original, but a really good central gang cast of very funny women being pretty funny. And saving the world. Clearly cut to pieces in editing, with a very long Chris Hemsworth sequence relegated to the credits, and yes the villain is in the end a big whirly light in the sky, this exhibit A of the culture war was just a fun summer competence porn blockbuster. With female leads. Get over it.

6: Victoria

Victoria is primarily a gimmick film, a single uninterrupted take following our heroine first through a night out in a club, with young love, romance, and then into nastier crime shenanigans. However the gimmick here works, the actors stay on point and in character for the two hour running time and there isn’t too much tedious wheel spinning improv to keep things going. And considering where the story goes, and how serious everything gets, there is a degree to which enjoying the film is due to its technical difficulty. But there is also the joy of following Victoria herself as she undergoes massive changes (a great performance from Laia Costa), a film about spur of the moment choices, and also, presciently a film about Europe.

5: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I was promised a heist, I was promised some spies, instead I got some dour dirty rebels arguing with each other and climbing things because there is one thing about the Star Wars Universe, there are lots of times when you have to climb. I thought it was a kind of mediocre film about a footnote to the original film, and whilst I think it did some good work fleshing out the universe (and certainly adding some diversity), it did that at the expense of telling that much of a compelling story. There were attempts to give the characters back story, but you know they are still fighting the space Nazi’s so good on them. But it was rarely boring and has opened the door for other types of Star Wars stories, hope they have a bit more oomph to them.

4: Creed

Or, if you will Rocky 7. Because despite the focus on Apollo Creed’s son, this is a film about the end of Rocky, about legacy and about what all of that means. And it cleverly has Michael B.Jordan embody the question – what does a rich kid have to fight for (and convincingly answers it)? Our highest scoring remnant of last years Oscar race, this is an exceptionally made commercial film, hitting all the right beats a boxing movie needs, and taking smart notes from the original Rocky. A smart archivist could probably make a Boyhood like epic watching Stallone age through these films, but writer director Ryan Coogler understands when to homage, when to steal and when to go to Goodison Park.

3: Love And Friendship

There is a degree of relief to see that Kate Beckinsale can not only be in a good film again, but be so good in what is basically a minor Jane Austen adaptation. Minor Jane Austen, quite major Whit Stillman, who manages to combine his ability with a dry wit, with the grandmother of the form. But it is absolutely Beckinsale’s film and she uses the opportunity to be catty, manipulative, despicable and thoroughly convincing that this is the only way for a woman in her position to get by. Excellent dimwitted support from Tom Bennett (which perhaps is part influenced by his Dad Mr Bennett) and a fluid filming style makes it a really satisfying, and very funny, watch.

2: Arrival

It is interesting that a lot of the films tiptoeing around award season have split audiences, with some very extreme reactions. I really liked Arrival, in the way of enjoying something really well made, this continues the idea of competence porn to an extreme position. Amy Adams is great in the lead role, managing her melancholic air through the machinations of the plot, making the piece feel tonally satisfactory. Others hated it, many sci fi fans felt the plot development was obvious, lots of people hated the tone, and that the whole thing was slow. I think I worked out what was going on about two minutes before the reveal, and just enjoyed how it had been set-up in form and content. Villeneuve uses the history of idea-based sc-fi film well to ground the film and also deliver his story, and the film is never not beautiful. A terrific bit of big screen film making.

1: Hail, Caesar!

I was underwhelmed by Hail, Caesar! the first time I saw it. I thought it was flippant, too light about the HUAC and blacklisting, its pastiches broad and I didn’t need to see George Clooney doing his comedy mugging again. I wanted the singing and the dancing and the comedy: you shouldn’t tease me with a Esther Williams homage and leave me hanging on for more. But on rewatch I actually saw what was going on, The Coen Brothers were throwing everything against the wall to create an alternate Hollywood where Charlton Heston had been enlightened with communist philosophy, where Gene Kelly was actually a Russian spy and this was all not going to destabilise the USA. Hail! Caesar posits the world actually suggested by the HUAC, but also one overseen by gold hearted thugs like Mannix. None of this really matters, you can enjoy the screwball plot, the set pieces and sweetness of the sprawling cast. But it was interesting that the things I wanted to give more on the first viewing, became the very things I wanted them to be on repeat, comforting and fun. And frankly its refreshing to have an adult comedy voted the best film of the year.

So there you go, argue in the comments. Exactly 50 films got more than one vote, the bottom nine (which I think is on a par with the top ten for average quality) were:
50 Popstar
49:Bone Tomahawk
48: Edge Of Seventeen
47: Train To Busan
46: Where You’re Meant To Be
45: The Nice Guys
44: Rams
43: Pete’s Dragon
42: Childhood Of A Leader

And there you go. Will you remember this months big movies when we get round to December this year or will LaLa Land and Cameraperson fade? See you in December to find out.


  1. 1
    Mark M on 3 Feb 2017 #

    What we now need is a sequel to Things To Come in which the characters storm out of a showing of Hail, Caesar! on account of its appalling misrepresentation of a prominent member of their beloved Frankfurt School…

    I was expecting Rogue One to top the poll – I’m glad it didn’t. That top 10 is very pleasing, especially the high placings for Creed and Love & Friendship.

  2. 2
    Phil on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Arrival’s certainly well done – and I didn’t see the twist coming until it was right on us – but it’s a bit heavy on the genre tropes to be really satisfying.

    My son spotted the “McCarthyite fantasy” setting of Hail Caesar!; it sailed right over my head, but thinking back it’s right there. Looking forward to seeing it again some time. Really I’d like to go and see it at the cinema again tomorrow – would that it were so simple!

    Oh, and Childhood of a Leader was ace. OK, maybe not ace exactly, but very memorable.

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Memorable is a perfect word for Childhood Of A Leader. It is all soundtrack really, but what a soundtrack – the woman next to me asked if it could be turned down, to which the usher (ok, random staff member) said they have been instructed to play it at that volume. Not sure if showing the fictional childhood of a fictional fascist leader is more or less prescient now!

  4. 4
    Alba on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Surprising rankings. My favourites (Victoria aside, which didn’t feel like primarily a gimmick to me at all) are mainly clustered in the 20-11 section. No, I’m not talking about sodding Sing Street, which I concede is the best of John Carney’s films, but God it’s so ingratiating and thinly written.

    The top 3 were all films from directors I like that I was disappointed by. I have a feeling a need a second watch of Hail Caesar too.

    Thanks for running the poll, Pete.

  5. 5
    Alba on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Also wtf at no Embrace of the Serpent??

    I could say the same about A Bigger Splash and The Neon Demon, but I know they were more divisive.

  6. 6
    Mark M on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Yes, thanks Pete!

    When it came out, Arrival felt like it was going to sweep the e/o/y polls and then roll triumphantly into the awards season, which hasn’t quite happened. The doubts seem to be more… organic than the La La Land backlash (as in, I can think of plenty of reasons to dislike La La Land, but taking against it loudly has become a point of pride in certain circles, whereas the Arrival was more gradual). I get both sides – I enjoyed it, but it was 16th on my list, so some other people clearly liked a lot more than I did – and other hand, a fair number of people (mostly teenagers) in the audience when I saw clearly found it sooooo boring. (Neither the slight reputational readjustments experienced by Arrival and La La Land are anything compared with the total critical U-turn on Nate Parker’s The Birth Of A Nation).

    Wondered whether Hailee Steinfeld would get a Freaky Trigger music and film poll double – in that’s a near miss on the movie front, but a no-show pop wise.

    Anyway, here’s my top 17.

  7. 7
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Feb 2017 #

    Five of mine here:

    Zootropolis! I thoroughly loved this, it was my #1, Pete describes well it’s attractions – there’s maybe an interesting but spoilery conversation to be had about the amazing moment at the heart of the film, and how it’s easier to do when you’re not dealing with live stars and their protectiveness of their image.

    I enjoyed the dance party, but isn’t it also literally the end credits?

    (I think Pete means the original Irish IE the Danes)

    Ghostbusters! This is the one I thought might be too divisive, I loved it start to finish. In particular – well in particular of course Kate McKinnon, but also seeing my female scientist friends react to a film where the force that causes some of the plot points is an amped-up version of the struggle to get people to listen to you.

    Rogue One! This is the one that I worried might have turned up too late – I liked it a LOT more than Pete, I thought it was its own film (in a different genre to the rest of SW, as befits) and I hope that it stays as a result, less relatable.

    Arrival! I loved this as well, towards the end (about 5-10 minutes before the reveal I opined that half the film was great, and half reminded me of my least favourite aspects of Interstellar / Gravity – glad to be wrong).

    #2 – I’m curious about which tropes you’re unhappy with?

    One thing I do remember from this is that due to the UK Election/Referendum largely being overnight, but the US Election in their evening, I was very familiar with the feeling early in the film where Amy Adams falls asleep in front of confusing and terrible news, and wakes in front of worse.

    Hail, Caesar!! – I.. didn’t love this? I only saw it the once though, and I’m a little cautious of films about films. It’s definitely both never dull as it barrels along disparate storylines, and glorious in its pastiches. Sadly the best gag (“Would that it were so simple”) is the entirety of the second trailer. I should probably see it a second time.

    That’s the five here that I voted for, but bizarrely I completely forgot that I saw Deadpool when coming up with the list. It’s a lot of fun, and by chance of releasing it’s ended up in conversation with the dreadful X-Men Apocalypse, which took itself exactly as seriously as Deadpool insists the X-Men do.

    The one I think would have done better except it probably never showed anywhere large was Adult Life Choices, not just an indie film but a schmindie film.

    But still a lovely film, I saw it shortly after Hunt for the Wilderpeople and in my head they’re on the same wavelength.

    The other two that I was convinced would be in here were The Revenant and High-Rise – I saw the first at a Screen Unseen random film viewing in January, I’m not sure I’d have gone to see it myself, but I’m glad I did, large parts of it (the parts we didn’t spend in Leo’s bronchial passages) were beautiful. High-Rise I went to on purpose, and thought it was a triumph on pretty much every level (and there were a lot, boom boom).

    Thank you very much for all of this, Pete!

  8. 8
    Phil on 5 Feb 2017 #

    #7 – things like the montage of Breaking! News! from the world’s TV screens (wot, no Twitter?); Adams’s opening conversation with Renner (“You think Language is fundamentally human? Nonsense! Clearly Science is the most fundamentally human!”); and, perhaps the hoariest of the lot, the plot line where brave but unarmed scientists dealing with alien intelligences get pushed out of the way by brutish but terrified armed forces. The big plot was new to me, to be fair, and the alienness of the aliens (and their craft) was very persuasive.

  9. 9
    Mark M on 5 Feb 2017 #

    Re7: I thought the first third of High-Rise was terrific, but once things start to fall apart in the tower block, so did the film for me in that it felt directionless and repetitive. That’s a common problem with societal breakdown pics, one it shares with one Wheatley’s acknowledged reference points*, Godard’s Weekend. The design etc was amazing, though.

    I wonder whether The Revenant felt like the year before in people’s heads.

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 5 Feb 2017 #

    I liked the Revenant but it was too long and Tom Hardy’s performance let the whole thing down. And I agree wholeheartedly with you Mark about High-Rise, it started intriguingly but let itself down once society broke down.

    I heard good things about Adult Life Choices, its on my list of things to catch up with.

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