Moonlight, movie, film stillWelcome to our annual round-up of the best movies of the year. We hope you find something to agree with, but we’re sure you’ll find plenty to disagree with too. We know we did.
The first thing the eagle-eyed among you will notice is that we’ve started from the bottom; who doesn’t like a bit of suspense? The next thing you might spot is that there are in fact 11 films on this list: that’s because we had a three-way tie for fifth, and two films garnering an equal number of votes for 10th place (you’ll also notice there’s no six or seven on this list, thanks to that triple-header at No.5).
Now, the voting. We asked each of our three critics – Jake Wilson, Sandra Hall and Paul Byrnes – and our regular film writers – Stephanie Bunbury, Garry Maddox, Craig Mathieson and Karl Quinn – to nominate their top 10 movies of the year.
Their lists varied so wildly that we ended up with more than 40 films nominated. We culled that long list by dropping films that only one person nominated, but still ended up with 20 films that garnered multiple votes.
Then we ranked them, with each person’s top film getting 10 points, and their 10th getting one. That gave us a number for each film, and that gave us our final ranking.
Look, we know it’s not the most scientific method invented, but you try and get seven experts on film to agree and see how you go. Let the debate begin. 10. Land of Mine
Land of Mine is about a group of young German soldiers, most of them teenagers, who have been sent to Denmark’s west coast at the end of WWII to help clear it of landmines, even though they’ve received only rudimentary training. It’s a harrowing story neatly shaped into melodrama by Danish writer-director Martin Zandvliet. We learn a little about the group’s hopes for the future, but it’s the here and now that commands the centre of the frame. The stretch of white sand where the boys spend their days and the shed in which they’re locked away at night are so thoroughly infused with dread and pain that you’re inclined to park any reservations you might have about the script’s formulaic style until it’s done with you. SHEqual 10. Colossal
The times called for a monster movie, and while writer-director Nacho Vigalondo turns the genre upside down, Colossal is nothing if not a film about monsters (the only question is how many). Beginning from one of the most inspired magic realist premises since Groundhog Day, Vigalondo warps time and space with impeccable Lewis Carroll logic and builds towards a stunning moment of pure cinema that also happens to be completely in tune with the zeitgeist. As a burnt-out web journalist who returns home to confront a strange destiny, Anne Hathaway makes up for everything, even Les Miserables. Beware spoilers. JW9. Personal Shopper
In Olivier Assayas’ gripping, Paris-set psychological thriller, the thread of digital technology and otherworldly mysteries are somehow intertwined, creating a ghost story for the modern age. Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, an American working as an assistant to a mostly absent movie star who is the ambivalent link between fixed points: fashion houses and her employer, the spirit of her dead brother and the everyday world. A malevolent entity haunts Maureen by text message even as she tries on other identities, and the role draws a remarkable performance from Stewart. She’s a 21st-century transceiver, processing both information and emotion. CM8. A Ghost Story
It’s a lonely existence, being a ghost. After crashing his car and dying, C (Casey Affleck) is condemned to haunt his old house. For decades – maybe centuries – he remains on the fringes of human existence, unable to communicate with successive occupants except by occasionally smashing a plate, remembering his wife M (Rooney Mara), even drifting back into a time before the house was built, but always alone. Affleck’s ghost costume is the simplest possible: a sheet with two black eyes painted on it. From this joke-shop image, director David Lowery conjures a moving reflection on memory and the passage of life into death. SB5. I Am Not Your Negro
Piecing together a narration from the work of James Baldwin, Haitian-born director Raoul Peck gave us one of the most surprising and galvanising films of the year – part biography of Baldwin, part documentary about the history of race relations in America, and part essay film about how words and images can still transform the world. Baldwin was a celebrated novelist and civil rights campaigner, a friend of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers – all of whom were murdered. Peck takes the blazing eloquence of Baldwin’s writing and brings it forward, so that it seems new and utterly relevant. The boldness and brilliance of the film, in both argument and technique, are breathtaking. PBEqual 5. Lady Macbeth
It starts off like Wuthering Heights and ends like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, as the lady of the title morphs from victim to valiant proto-feminist to outright villain. It’s a period drama like none you’ve seen before, a Gothic thriller that manages to be both spare and lush at the same time. Writer-director William Oldroyd proves a spartan budget – just ???350,000 (roughly $600,000) – is no impediment to rich storytelling, and might even serve as an antidote to all that Hollywood blockbuster bloat. But the film really belongs to 19-year-old Florence Pugh in the title role. Once seen, her astonishing performance will be seared into your brain for years to come. KQEqual 5. Toni Erdmann
Maren Ade’s comedy of masquerade is also a shrewd satire on 21st-century business practices, a dream romance between father and daughter (Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller, both tremendous), and an arrestingly ambiguous statement on patriarchy, the word and concept of the year. Formally, it’s both new and old, throwing conventional notions of pacing out the window while confirming the principle – which Hollywood has largely forgotten – that an absurd idea gets funnier the more realistically it’s treated. And yet some people don’t think it’s a comedy at all. I can only say I saw it twice with a crowd, and both times they were in stitches. JW4. Manchester by the Sea
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan works by stealth. When first introduced, Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler doesn’t exactly invite empathy; he’s a loner with a quick temper. Yet Lonergan gradually draws you into his life, deepening your understanding of him with each step until you reach the tragedy that transformed him. Lonergan is a genius when it comes to family dynamics, and here he’s at his best. The soundness of his script and the delicacy of his direction are both aimed at getting the best out of a terrific cast. Affleck is heartbreaking, and Lucas Hedges is a match for him as the young nephew who depends on him, while Michelle Williams takes a brief scene and makes it the heart of the film. SH3. Dunkirk
A number of mainstream hits could reasonably stake a claim to a spot on this year’s top 10 list – Lion, The Big Sick, Logan and Wonder Woman among them – but the standout is Christopher Nolan’s immersive wartime drama. Instead of focusing on the myth of the famous Dunkirk spirit, the British director took a creative leap to show the desperate reality of battle. With three time frames, many anonymous characters, limited dialogue and a pulsating soundtrack, it’s a movie that shows moments of exceptional bravery that are barely noticed amid the carnage and fear. Grippingly intense and masterfully made, it is one of the year’s most powerful cinema experiences. GM2. Get Out
Society itself is the monster in Jordan Peele’s expertly paced thriller, which starts out as a sprightly update of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and ends up in a basement full of horrors. Preppy white hipster Rose (Allison Williams) assures her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) that he needn’t fear meeting her parents: they’re lovely, colour-blind liberals. It is their exaggerated friendliness that first unnerves him, however, as do the eerily docile black servants, Rose’s thuggish brother, and her psychiatrist mother’s eagerness to hypnotise him. Get Out is classically scary entertainment, but it’s also a brilliant, nuanced riff on racism. SB
And the film of the year is… 1. Moonlight
A boy’s childhood in a Miami ghetto with a crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris); a crack dealer (Mahershala Ali) who becomes that boy’s friend; the boy bullied in middle school for being gay; who becomes a hardened prison veteran in adulthood – but still gay. In his second feature, Miami-based writer-director Barry Jenkins gives us a vision of heaven and hell in black lives in Florida. His stroke of genius is to recognise one within the other, so that the film becomes suffused with compassion, melancholia and tenderness, without losing its nose for the truth of how poverty and crime destroy people. In the year of Black Lives Matter, this is an astonishingly timely film, but even without that, Moonlight would have seemed new and original. Very few films tell us a story we haven’t seen before: to do it with transcendent beauty and courage, through a suite of sublime performances, is a remarkable achievement. And for once the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognised that with the Oscar for best picture – albeit after the hideous mix-up in presentation of the award. Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor too, for his profoundly human performance. It’s hard to think of another film that’s been so right for our times. PB
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.