Embrace of the Serpent: Ciro Guerra’s Herzogian expedition into the Amazon jungle across two different time periods was comfortably my favourite film of 2016. Sublime, poetic and utterly absorbing, it was a damning indictment of European colonialism in South America that demands your full attention until its haunting, hallucinogenic conclusion. AC.
Son of Saul: Offering a cinematic view of the Holocaust that I had never seen before, Son of Saul was a cinematographic masterpiece. With the camera rarely straying away from protagonist Saul’s face, as he tries to provide a traditional Jewish burial for the son whose body he has pulled from the gas chambers, his reactions are the only explicit indication of the true horrors of life in Auschwitz. AC.
Arrival: Director Denis Villeneuve has been one to watch in the last few years – Incendies, Enemy, Prisoners, Sicario all great but perhaps missing that... something, to make it that bit better. With Arrival, he found that something and I'm now very intrigued by his next project, Blade Runner 2049. Amy Adams performance may be a career best. Despite some unfortunate American exceptionalism tones, the themes of time and of working together were handled perfectly. Also, the sound and visual design on this sci-fi is just incredible – some of the best I've ever seen in a film. HW.
Where You’re Meant To Be: Former Arab Strap lead-singer Aidan Moffat’s endearing exploration into Scotland’s rich folk music heritage was equally charming, warm, funny and emotive. A documentary small in its focus, but possessing a lyrically poignant quality that leaves a lasting impact. AC.
Hell or High Water: A brilliantly crafted, modern-day Western from director David Mackenzie. Brilliantly strong performances all round, with Ben Foster’s morally complex character probably being the standout. In fact, the morality of all the characters is grey, leaving who to root for as satisfyingly ambiguous. The financial inequality and race themes running throughout were well woven into the story and it all looked beautiful. It sounded that way too, thanks to the ever-dependable Nick Cave and Warren Ellis providing the score. HW.
Weiner: I’ve loved everything about Anthony Weiner’s sex scandal since the story broke the first time, and the filmmakers did phenomenally well to capture every significant, humiliating, excruciating moment of his disastrous New York Mayoral campaign. As wonderful as it is to see Weiner squirm, unbroken in his mindblowing arrogance and utter lack of self-awareness, the most fascinating parts of Weiner come from his long-suffering wife Huma. In one scene, she looks on, despondent, as Weiner brags about the verbal joust he’d had on live TV the night before, seemingly unaware of her humiliation at the fact that the subject of the interview was his repeated texting of cock photos to other women. I can’t remember the last time I watched a film three times in one week. AC.
Room: If I weren’t such a manly man, I would have cried at least fifteen times during this. A rather harrowing story is made ten times more positive by the fact that we see it through the eyes of a five year old. The film follows a mum and son, held hostage in a small shed at the end of their captors garden – this life is all the son has ever known. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are really strong in their individual performances and their chemistry with each other. That bond that makes the film so powerful. HW.
OJ Made in America: I was naively reluctant to watch this for the same reason I put off watching Star Wars until I was in my twenties, because it felt like it was something I already knew inside out. While I was right about the latter, I was blown away by how much I didn’t know about OJ Simpson and his murder trial. Epic in both scope and scale, this meticulous, impassioned and hugely entertaining film put both the trial and Simpson’s life and career into a whole new context. AC.
Spotlight: A really solid film about the Boston Globe’s exposure of the Catholic Church’s systematic cover up of abuse. Another great ensemble cast here with great performances – all the roles were really well written, well rounded characters. Writer and director Tom McCarthy certainly gave a Sidney Lumet vibe in the way this was made and it really works. HW.
The Revenant: Could have shaved fifteen minutes off the runtime perhaps, and I can see how this would be a struggle for some viewers, but I could have watched it all day. The bear attack and first scene were particularly engrossing, even with slightly poor CGI on the former – God knows how that's gonna look in twenty years. Regardless, beautiful cinematography and powerful acting throughout. HW.