10. The Revenant
If anybody deserves an Oscar for lying incapacitated for three quarters of a movie, it’s surely Leonardo DiCaprio. The Revenant does have its drawbacks—the plot could almost be considered dull and the dialogue stunted and obvious—but the way the film looks and feels is incredible. The cinematography puts violence at the forefront of the narrative while setting it against the backdrop of the North American winter. An extended shot in the opening sequence, where the camera travels through a ruthless battle scene, sends an immediate message to the audience that carries all the way through the film, past the now infamous bear-mauling scene and on to the final, epic knife-fight. The Revenant speaks not only to the brutality of men but to the fragility of human life, with the filmmakers using the landscape masterfully. As easy as it may be to make the Canadian wilderness look good, the entire film has a visceral sense of danger and isolation amongst the beauty. If you haven’t already, this is definitely one you’ll want to see on a big screen.
I imagine a room full of Hollywood executives as they’re pitched the idea for Arrival, and after hearing it, they simply ask, “So, when do the aliens invade?” The film is not a classic sci-fi blockbuster, and it’s so much the better for it. I do have to admit, at several points, Arrival almost lost me. And no, it wasn’t because of the lack of violence (“So, there’s only one explosion?”) Films that are deliberately confusing can often be frustrating and this film is no exception. But, without giving too much away, everything comes together pretty wonderfully in the end. That’s not to say the film answers every question it sets out to ask, but the character arcs are emotionally satisfying and the plot intelligently resolved. What really makes this film special though are the themes that it explores. The science fiction conventions are in some ways no more than a convenient device for asking philosophical questions about the nature of communication and the role that language plays in the way we think about and experience reality. Arrival is not your typical popcorn-flick, which is exactly why it makes the list.
8. Sausage Party
“It made me laugh, but it also made me think,” he said, taking another drag of his joint. Stoner comedy at its finest. At first I thought Sausage Party was no more than a Pixar parody of endless dick jokes, but the longer I watched, the more I realised that Seth Rogen was actually trying to tell me something… something… important? The message gets a little overbearing towards the end, but it’s handled with such politically incorrect genius that you can’t help but forgive it. It’s a genuinely funny film for the less mature at heart that would probably be on the list even if it wasn’t an Orwellian allegory for our own world, exploring themes about race, religion and sexuality. And, spoiler alert, in what is to become one of my favourite movie endings ever, all the foods of the world put aside their differences and come together. A spectacular choice.
Just when we thought we’d seen every possible incarnation of a superhero origin story we could stomach, along came the notoriously R rated (in the US, at least), politically incorrect and relatively low-budget Deadpool. The character we see on screen is fairly true to his original comic counterpart, due mostly to the efforts of Ryan Reynolds in the lead role. The long-time fan of ‘the merc with the mouth’ nails the part in a way he was never allowed to in the dismal Wolverine: Origins version of the character (which for more observant viewers is referenced throughout Deadpool more than once). The jokes are meta to the point of absurdity, in some ways providing a commentary not just on the character and story but on the superhero genre itself, while still managing to avoid completely falling into parody. The film is also a pretty creative example of storytelling, feeling as though the writers came up with a single, perfect scene and constructed the entire movie around it in flashbacks before the ultimate final battle. If you enjoy superhero movies, or if you enjoy making fun of them, this is likely to be a movie on your own list for 2016.
6. Girl Asleep
Girl Asleep is one you may have missed. It’s a quirky little Australian film based on the critically acclaimed production by Windmill Theatre. It’s charmingly retro, peppered with the tropes of 70’s Australiana and melding them with some more fantastical archetypes. The story definitely falls into the ‘coming of age’ genre, almost to the point of cliché, but it does so in a very Alice in Wonderland or Where the Wild Things Are sort of style. The film is aesthetically theatrical, and it’s not hard to see how it must have played out on the stage, from the incredible costumes and set design to the performances of Bethany Whitmore and Harrison Feldman. The story is at once both allegorical and affecting, though at times a little too overt in its message and the stereotypes it uses to deliver it. But really, that’s all part of the fun—we know these characters, we know this story, but we’ve never seen it done quite like this before.