I like to start these posts with statistics. Extending my 2015 New Year’s Resolution with the #52 Films By Women pledge that a number of people were doing online (here’s a link to my Letterboxd list of all the films I saw under that pledge, which amounted to far more than the required 52), I saw ever more films in 2016 than I did in 2015.
In total, I saw 436 medium- or full-length films (I consider a medium-length film one that’s between 30-60 minutes in length, though there’s no fixed standard for that), 183 of which were in the cinema — which means that, although I saw many more films, fewer of them were at the cinema than in 2015. I have an account on Letterboxd, where I’ve ranked all 2016’s films (this will continue to be updated as I see more of them into 2017) and another of my favourite films released in the UK in 2016 (which is slightly different as many of them were 2015 films). The list below is sort of a combination of these two.
While I’m on the stats, 43% of the films I saw were directed (or co-directed) by women, where I saw 37% in 2015 and 13% in 2014, which is a pretty clear result of my resolutions mentioned above. I also increased the number of films directed by people of colour (this seems to be the accepted online term at the moment). This year 26% of the films I saw were by POC, as opposed to 16% in 2015, and 13% in 2013. It also means the number of films I saw directed by white men finally dropped beneath 50% (from 53% last year to 45% this year). It’s likely that this will be more of a focus for my resolutions going forward.
In terms of quality, 2015 may not have been a brilliant year compared to 2014, but I thought there were plenty of fine films in 2016. It’s just that, as ever, many of my favourites haven’t actually been released in the UK and I even held off seeing some films at the London Film Festival because I was assured they’d be back, so I’ve yet to see many critical favourites (La La Land, Aquarius, Personal Shopper; there are plenty of others). I’m not going to do a least favourite films list, though, because as with last year any such list would be dominated by women filmmakers, which hardly seems fair to all the terrible dreck made by men, whose work I would have avoided.
I also caught up with one or two films which would assuredly have made my favourite 2015 films list last year, if I’d only seen them in time (but which I can’t in all good faith include below). I have another Letterboxd list here of my favourite new-to-me films I saw in 2016. Therefore honourable mentions go to Magic Mike XXL and Taxi, both definite top 10 contenders.
A tender love story between two women, which has a coyness to it, but also a lot of genuine feeling [festival screening].
24 Queen of Earth (2015)
Corruscating Bergmanesque drama which sort of does the opposite to the film above, as it’s about two friends tearing each other apart.
23 Speed Sisters (2015)
Enjoyable documentary about a Palestinian team of racing car drivers, with some socio-political context.
22 Hell or High Water
As good a modern western as any in recent years, it has a great sense of space and wistfulness.
21 The Childhood of a Leader (2015)
Increasingly prophetic tale of a boy whose upbringing has gone awry, resulting in an origin story for a fascist dictator.
20 Réparer les vivants (Heal the Living)
It never quite lives up to its brilliant pre-credits sequence, but it’s beautifully made and moving [festival screening].
19 Where You’re Meant to Be
On the road with dour Scottish singer Aidan Moffat, but finds plenty of pathos in Scottish folk music.
Shouldn’t work, and subsequent revelations about its subject make sympathy ever more difficult, but this film attempts to do so; also very funny.
Tracking the lives of several people living in remote areas, finding and losing love, with a solid directorial style [festival screening].
16 La Permanence (On Call)
A film about a hospital in Paris treating refugees, filled with empathy [festival screening].
15 American Honey
Excessive in every sense, but somehow it all works.
14 The Edge of Seventeen
Coming of age films can be bad, they can be very bad, but this one has genuine humour amongst a better-than-average engagement with teenage angst in a bourgie milieu.
13 Baden Baden
A Belgian-French co-production which took me by surprise, for its deadpan humour and winning protagonist.
12 Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister, 2015)
I underrated this a lot when I first saw it, being the director’s familiar blend of sweetness and low-key storytelling about family relationships, but it’s only grown in my estimation since.
11 Mustang (2015)
Another coming-of-age story, which tries to get at something of what it means to be a teenager and find oneself, via the device of setting it within an orthodox, repressive family.
10 Nie yin niang (The Assassin, 2015)
Glorious and beautiful and confusing, I know only that I need to see this again on the big screen.
9 Love & Friendship
One of the year’s funniest films, a comedy of etiquette and misbehaviour.
8 L’Avenir (Things to Come)
It’s very difficult to encapsulate what I love about this sensitive film, but Huppert helps.
The way that Jarmusch goes big is at a conceptual level — Adam Driver plays a bus driver called Paterson in a town called Paterson in a film called Paterson — but it’s consistently sweet and amusing.
6 Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea)
Another documentary dealing with refugees, and again filled with empathy, always needed, especially now.
5 Creed (2015)
Critics in the US had this on their lists last year, but it only got a UK release earlier in 2016, and it is fantastic. I never expected to like a Rocky movie so much, or a boxing film, but there you go.
Not properly released here until 2017, but this is an exciting, beautiful, tonally-perfect story of black coming-of-age that subtly gets at a lot of the undertow of American society [one-off screening]
3 Hail, Caesar!
I know a lot of people that hated this film, but I did not; I laughed at it (never always out loud, but I was consistently amused), and I’d never have predicted five years ago I’d put the Coen Brothers so consistently in my top-10 lists.
Barely over an hour, and yes it’s not had any cinematic screenings (it deserves them), this is more than simply a collection of music videos (Beyoncé did that for her last few albums), but more of an avant-garde mood piece that examines American society, race relations, love in extremis, self-identity, and Black visual history [online release].
1 Certain Women
Easily tops this list. Loved it [festival screening].