As 2016 draws to a close the Maverick Film editorial team take on the big question – what was the film of the year? Which films defined 2016? Which will we remember in years to come? Here are our verdicts, (all of which had a UK release date between January 1st and December 31st 2016 in order to qualify).
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Arran Byers
Naming Rogue One as the film of 2016 may seem an odd, perhaps predictable choice, but for some Star Wars fans it was further evidence that Disney are without a doubt the right people to look after the franchise. To those very familiar with the original trilogy this was a great modern throwback, giving glimpses of everything the fans wanted to see and setting up A New Hope perfectly.
Iconic characters from the 1977 romp appeared but also characters from more recent Star Wars canon, Star Wars Rebels’ Saw Gerrera for instance. Returning characters are only half the fun; it is the sight of the Death Star looming over planets, the roar of TIE fighters and the Empire at full power bringing fear unto all that made my hair stand-up. In the final act this film brought the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back to the fore with the heroes against all the odds and the final act of the Empire being a true moment of cinematic history.
But what makes this film really stand out is the way it sells itself to non-fans, something that many have commented on. This is a Star Wars film that really is a war, not just a few battles weaved together across two hours, which is a fairly bleak, gritty insight into this galactic war between good and evil. The price paid for victory in this film is high – Felicity Jones’ character, Jyn Erso, grows to understand this sacrifice for all its complexity which, whilst not the best performance of the year, is an impressive testament to her ability.
This film then became a symbol of how far cinema has come in 2016; technical achievements using live effects and some awesome CGI paired with a great worldwide cast giving powerful performances and a film franchise ongoing yet not tired out. It may seem presumptive but one reckons Carrie Fisher would approve of this film that ended 2016 triumphantly and came sadly too late for her to see.
Arrival – Oliver Rowe
Fresh off the successes of Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, this year Denis Villeneuve brought us Arrival.
Arrival is not an alien invasion movie, despite being an alien invasion movie. As pretentious as that might sound, it’s true; Arrival’s narrative is symbolic and exploratory, as the best of science fiction often is. It’s intelligent, and thinks its audience is too, which is always good to see.
The performances are solid and the overall quality of the film is enough to forgive the arguable lack of charisma that Amy Adams has had in some of her previous roles, indeed this is one of her best performances. Even though it deals in parables and allegories, it is never tedious or boring, and as an audience member you really care about what’s actually happening to our main two characters, as well as what this actually means.
What’s particularly interesting (to me, at least) is the element of the nation state, and how each respective country’s culture and history leads to different understandings of the language of those who have arrived. Linking to this is the untypical climax of the film – it’s not a gun ho ‘merica fest but a tense intellectual struggle at its heart, and it’s all the better for it. That’s not to say it’s a completely unconventional story; the ending is relatively predictable but the way it all unfolds is uplifting, and Arrival is ultimately a film of hope and resolve, which I think we could all use a healthy dose of to round off 2016.
The Hateful Eight – George Storr
Tarantino’s return was nail-biting, blood curdling and critically under appreciated. Considering that both The Martian, and Steven Spielberg’s enjoyable but underwhelming Bridge of Spies, were nominated for best picture The Hateful Eight definitely merited a nomination and is one of the very best films of 2016.
It was at least winner in the Best Original Score category and nominated for Oscars for its cinematography as well for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance.
What The Hateful Eight is though is infinitely memorable and beautifully crafted. Samuel L. Jackson stars alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth and their performances are stellar. For Samuel L. Jackson this film is career defining. Most of the film takes place in one room, but importantly the plot doesn’t feel stale as a result of the limited setting. As Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson cut their way into the back stories of the suspicious occupants of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they are stuck due to a snow storm, Tarantino expertly builds tension resulting in a climax as brutal as it is gripping.
The one room atmosphere led to comparisons with Reservoir Dogs but The Hateful Eight is very much its own film. It’s fresh, original and beautiful. Opening shots of the snow bound mountain make for a symbolic differentiation from its predecessor, Django Unchained- that’s Tarantino saying “sure, it’s a western, but this isn’t just more of the same”.
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The real key to The Hateful Eight though is its manipulation of your expectations as a viewer. Every person that watches the film will have a different experience on first viewing. Eight strangers are thrown together, trapped and the viewer is asked- which ones do you trust? What do you think is motivating these people? Which ones are dangerous? The pacing of the film encourages the audience to guess and second-guess. The resulting film is nothing short of gripping.
All the Tarantino hallmarks are present, and The Hateful Eight is above all an artful example of his writing, and of his craft. Quentin Tarantino takes the viewer on a journey and it’s one they won’t forget.