Top 10 Films of 2016

Now that January has ended and I’ve had a chance to see some of the USA’s awards contenders, I’m ready to publish my Top 10 list. The sad truth is that I haven’t had a chance to watch every film I wanted to see this year and there are some, like Moonlight, that haven’t even had a nation-wide release in the UK yet. Still, I’ve seen enough great films this year to make a list with which I’m happy. One trend I’ve noticed with these films is that many of them display an element of nostalgia, harkening back to lost eras and happier, simpler times. Many of these films also carry messages of hope and inspiration, entreating people to try harder and to dream bigger and to believe in greater possibilities. Still, there are some dark and brutal movies in there as well; the kind which remind us that life isn’t some fairy-tale musical. 2016 was a frightful and terrible year for many people and it’s just as important for art to reflect that as it is to counteract it. So, without further ado, here are my ten favourite (and five least favourite) films of 2016.

10. Paterson – Jim Jarmusch

paterson

Paterson is a film that feels both authentic and fantastic at once. Like the poetry that inspired it, Paterson isn’t trying to tell a story, it’s trying to capture a tone, a feeling. It is a subdued and contemplative film that finds beauty and profundity in the ordinary and mundane. Like poetry, Paterson is shaped less by its plot and characters than it is by its mood and structure. The film flows beautifully and there is a remarkable air of tranquillity that is seldom seen in movies. There is no obstacle that must be overcome, no foe to be defeated and no arc that must be fulfilled. It’s just a glimpse of life in a small town with a rich history and culture and an observation of the everyday things that become the subjects of Paterson’s poems. The poems are simple, plainspoken and honest, and so is this film. Review here.

9. Hell or High Water – David Mackenzie

hell-or-high-water

Like No Country for Old Men and FX’s Justified, Hell or High Water is a Western set a long, long time after the Western era came to an end. It has the usual tropes of the classic cowboy films, the bank robberies, the shootouts, the men with badges, but none of the romance or mythos. The age of the cowboy is long gone and the old Texan way of life is either dead or dying. What we have here is just a couple of brothers trying to steal just enough to pay off their late-mother’s mortgage and a grizzled ranger getting one last job done before settling down to a dull, aimless life of retirement. Each character, from the main roles to the background players, is memorable. The rustic landscape is shot beautifully. The screenplay brings a wealth of life and colour to an otherwise familiar concept and amounts to a thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating film. Review here.

8. Jackie – Pablo Lerraín

jackie

This film is both a compelling character study of a brave, remarkable woman going through an unimaginable crisis and a moving portrait of grief, loneliness and loss. The First Lady must confront the sorrow, anguish and pain she feels over the trauma that has been inflicted upon her and must reconcile her own private feelings towards her husband with that of the nation. After dedicating her entire life towards her husband’s work and calling, Jackie has no idea who she is supposed to be now that he’s gone. Even without him in her life, she cannot be her own person. She has a duty to perform, a promise to keep and a legacy to define and preserve. This complicated mixture of sorrow, anger, ambivalence, shock, uncertainty, isolation and endurance is captured by Portman in an exceptionally heartbreaking performance. After a life of being defined by her husband, Jackie is a film that seeks to view Jacqueline Kennedy on her own terms and it does an excellent job of doing so. Review here.

7. La La Land – Damien Chazelle

la-la-land

Made in the vein of the classic Hollywood musicals, La La Land is a film that captures that same sensation previously encapsulated by the likes of Gene Kelly and Astaire & Rogers. The look of the film is gorgeous, the style is irresistible and the musical numbers are spectacular. The movie is a fantasy set in a whimsical city of dreamers where two romantic idealists find love. There is so much charm, glamour and bravado to this film that it isn’t hard to understand why it has become the smash hit that it is. Much of this is creditable to Chazelle whose inventive and dynamic direction gave the film its fervent energy and masterful command over different styles and genres. Also essential were Gosling and Stone who, despite not being particularly great singers, brought so much heart to their performances that their voices didn’t really matter all that much. It isn’t my favourite film (or even musical) of the year but, if it does sweep the Oscars like it almost certainly will, it won’t be unearned. Review here.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight

kubo-and-the-two-strings

2016 was a strong year for animation but, for me, Kubo and the Two Strings was easily the best of them. The animation is stupendous (as confirmed by a well-deserved Oscar nomination for visual effects), the characters are wonderful and the story is both exciting and affective. Like all the best children’s films, Kubo takes it audience seriously and seeks to both challenge and astound them. The movie is dark, scary and complex, but it is also silly, moving and thrilling. At its heart is the most classic of all stories, the hero’s journey, that unfolds into an epic tale of love, loss, melancholy, courage, resilience and salvation. It is a film that believes in the power of stories to move, commemorate and redeem and ends on a staggeringly profound note. This film is a landmark achievement not just for Laika but for animation as a genre. Review here.

5. Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford

nocturnal-animals

No other film this year has confounded me the way Nocturnal Animals has. It is sinister, yet beautiful. It is unbearable, yet captivating. It is a difficult film to categorise because it has no clear resolution and is constantly jumping between different stories and genres. At times it is a melancholic tale of misery and regret. Sometimes it is twisted fable of vengeance with elements of the Western mixed in. At other times it is a melodramatic story of an idealistic but doomed romance. The film is meticulously crafted and exquisitely shot, making expert use of its colours, staging and music. The film also makes excellent use of its ensemble, featuring particularly great performances from Adams, Gyllenhaal, Shannon and an unrecognisable Taylor-Johnson. Nocturnal Animals is a gut-wrenching and at times downright unpleasant film to watch, but not once does it cease to be fascinating. Review here.

4. Sing Street – John Carney

sing-street

Sing Street does not have the incredible production value, the gorgeous style or the frantic energy of La La Land, and yet it is still my favourite movie musical of the year. This is because, for me at least, Sing Street had more heart to it. It shares similar ideas of love, dreams and fantasy, but it also has a layer of kitchen-sink realism that I feel lends it more authenticity. This coming-of-age story about an Irish lad starting his own band to win the heart of a pretty, young model is just teeming with tenderness, sorrow and humour. The moments of sadness hit hard, which means that the moments of joy and triumph are all the more elated and earned. The film also boasts of a marvellous soundtrack and that it wasn’t even nominated in the Oscar category for Best Song is a crime. Review here.

3. Silence – Martin Scorsese

silence

Few directors, especially living directors, can claim to have crafted a body of work as consistent, as influential and as brilliant as Martin Scorsese and Silence is one of his finest. Decades in the making and quite clearly a passion project for him; the film underscores many of the themes featured throughout Scorsese’s filmography such as sin, perdition and deliverance. Two Jesuit priests come to feudal Japan in search of their lost mentor and are subjected to unendurable forms of pain, anguish and despair. One could suspect that Scorsese did some soul-searching in the making of this film as he raises challenging questions that cannot possibly be answered. How much suffering can a man endure for his faith and how much should he have to endure? Is it more moral to maintain one’s faith while others suffer or to renounce it to save them? However cruel and brutal their methods, are the Japanese right to view Christianity as corruptive to their culture? Silence is an utterly gut-wrenching yet profoundly enigmatic work of cinema crafted by one of the great masters of our time. Review here.

2. I, Daniel Blake – Ken Loach

i-daniel-blake

Ken Loach has demonstrated better than any other British filmmaker film’s power as a political and social vehicle. With I, Daniel Blake he has continued his crusade for the downtrodden and forgotten underdogs of the UK by highlighting a system of “conscious cruelty” in action. Daniel Blake, a man who has been deemed physically unfit to work, is forced to meet a series of inane, superfluous regulations in order to qualify for a benefit, only to be confounded at every turn by a pitiless system that cares only for the bottom line. Whether or not you agree with Loach’s politics or whether the benefits system really is as cruel as it portrayed is inconsequential. This is a great film because it succeeds brilliantly in conveying the desperation and frustration of Daniel’s dilemma, as well as the misery and helplessness of Katie’s situation, to the extent that it feels gut-wrenchingly authentic. Review here.

1. Arrival – Denis Villeneuve

arrival

For me, this was the most stimulating, fulfilling and moving film of the year. The characters of Arrival are faced with an ambiguous and potentially foreboding situation that could spell doom if handled negligently or indelicately. And yet, with the threat of global war hanging in the balance, it is thought, empathy and cooperation that triumph. It is a masterfully crafted film with an astounding, thought-provoking story that raises compelling questions about time, language and humanity. Villeneuve’s wonderfully skilled and subtle direction is matched only by Adams’ stunning performance as a linguist seeking to form a connection with an alien people and finding that her very perception of reality has been altered. No other film this year has captivated, astounded and inspired me the way this one has. I hope to see more films in the future that can match Arrival in its sophistication, depth and optimism. Review here.

Now here are my five least favourite films of the year.

5. Mother’s Day – Another entry in the series of holiday films characterised by weak jokes, cheap morals and wasted talent. The movie is bland, forgettable and has absolutely nothing of value to offer on the subject of motherhood. Review here.

4. Independence Day: Resurgence – There is no reason for this film to exist. It had no momentum, no pull and no purpose. Just another stale attempt to cash in on an old favourite. Review here.

3. The Huntsman: Winter’s War – This film has even less reason to exist because its predecessor wasn’t even that popular to begin with. This was a film without appeal or focus; it had absolutely nothing to offer whatsoever. Review here.

2. Alice Through the Looking Glass – The continuation of a butchering of a classic. This film, just like the one before it, misses everything that was strange and wonderful about the Lewis Carroll books and instead turned in something banal and dull. Review here.

1. Dirty Grandpa – It wasn’t even close. This is one of the vilest, most hateful films I’ve ever had the displeasure to see. The mere thought of its despicable humour, vile characters and debasement of a cinematic legend still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Review here.

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Top 10 Films of 2015

It’s the end of January now so I thought I should finally get round to compiling by obligatory Top Ten list of the year. The reason I’ve waited a month to do this rather than make one at the end of 2015 is (partly) because I’ve fallen behind on my reviews and have been trying to catch up with them all month while also working on my dissertation which is due in two weeks. Another reason though is because I live in the UK which means that many of the American movies that turn out to be the biggest awards contenders don’t get a general release here until January and February so I wanted to give myself a chance to see some of them. I’m glad that I have now because a good number of them have ended up making my list. Overall 2015 was an exciting year. It was a year where franchises were reinvented, old hands came back and showed that they’ve still got it, and where the best films of the year were able to distinguish themselves by their sheer diversity. Regrettably there are always going to be a few films that I’ve missed or that haven’t reached the UK yet but I’m content with the list I’ve put together. Here are my ten favourite (and five least favourite) films of the year.

 

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams

The Force Awakens

Probably my most highly anticipated film of the year, I am so incredibly pleased that this film turned out to be as great as it did. Returning to this universe was like seeing an old friend again and it pleases me to know that the magic is still there. Seeing the old faces was a real treat but what really sold me on this film was the new characters. Rey, Finn, BB-8, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren were all names that I enjoyed becoming acquainted with and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in the sequels. The starship fights and lightsaber duels were as exhilarating as they’ve ever been and were executed to stunning effect. The sets and the landscapes were spectacular and blended well with this universe, feeling both new and familiar at the same time. Everything about this movie looks and feels like a Star Wars film and it is good to have this franchise back on top form once again. Review here.

9. Creed – Ryan Coogler

Creed

Definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year, this is a franchise reboot of a very different kind. What I liked about Creed though was how barebones it was. It wasn’t trying to outdo any of the Rocky films nor did it try to exploit the franchise’s success. Instead it tries to tell its own story with its own character in its own way. Adonis is a compelling character in his journey to prove that he has what it takes to be a great fighter and to do so on his own terms. Tessa Thompson is a welcome addition as a character who does not begin and end as a love interest. She is her own character with her own story and her own life to live. Sylvester Stallone’s return as the iconic Rocky Balboa is a triumph as he delivers the strongest performance of his entire career. Creed is a dynamic film packed with astounding character moments and stupendously choreographed fight scenes. Review here.

8. Steve Jobs – Danny Boyle

Steve Jobs

For me this was the single most compelling character study of the entire year. The film’s format allowed for a thorough examination of this tortured genius’ psyche by showing him at work and interacting with others at three different stages of his life. The entire ensemble shines in this film but Fassbender is still able to stand out as the tyrannical, egotistical mastermind at the centre of it all. As Jobs he commands an extraordinary on-screen presence and drives the entire film with an intensely bombastic performance throughout. Sorkin’s dialogue is fast, sharp and incredibly intelligent, allowing each character to interact on a highly creative and intellectual level and to keep this film moving forward with each second. This is a film that never stops moving and that commands your immediate attention from beginning to end. Review here.

7. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino

The Hateful Eight

This film is a Tarantino blend of John Carpenter and Agatha Christie set in the West with eight fascinatingly nefarious characters driving it. What’s not to love? The interactions between these characters are wildly entertaining and utterly compelling as they face a tense and unnerving situation together in their own twisted and aggressive ways. Character is king as Tarantino allows this situation to simply play out with each exchange of dialogue and each monologue until things finally come to a head. Every part is perfectly cast as each actor completely inhabits their character and employs a fluid command of Tarantino’s stylised dialogue. This film runs for three hours and at no point did I ever feel bored or wearied. I was completely invested and thoroughly entertained through it all and wouldn’t change a single scene. Review here.

6. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy

Spotlight

In terms of plot alone this was perhaps the most compelling film of the year. The uncovering of a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to cover up widespread instances of child molestation in Boston makes for a complex, challenging and significant story and not a single second is wasted in its telling. There is an intricacy and a methodicalness to the shaping of this film as each scene carries it forward with a purpose. Not one step is glossed over and not one element is overlooked. The audience is able to become invested in this story through the characters who are confounded and challenged by what it is they discover. Each character is fully rounded and is portrayed with a naturalism and authenticity that keeps the film grounded. The drama in this film is never overplayed or exaggerated but instead remains firmly genuine and honest. Thus every single moment of drama this film conveys is completely real and completely earned. Review here.

5. Ex Machina – Alex Garland

Ex Machina

A stimulating film that raises fascinating questions about the human consciousness. This film depicts a man who crosses paths with a being who looks, sounds, feels, moves and behaves like a human being. He knows that she (or rather it) is a machine but cannot deny or ignore the feelings he has developed for her (it). With those feelings comes the uncertainty and the inevitable questions. Is this being capable of real thought and emotion? How does one tell if those thoughts and emotions are real or artificial? Is there a difference? Does this being understand the difference? The questions and themes are discussed and debated throughout this film in an intelligent and captivating way as the mystery surrounding this character subtly unfolds. The character itself is astonishingly designed, utilising some of the best us of CGI on a single character in any film, and is portrayed superbly by Alicia Vikander. Definitely one of the most absorbing and thought-provoking films of the year. Review here.

4. Room – Lenny Abrahamson

Room

Room is an emotionally profound film that manages to turn something dark and twisted into something moving and beautiful. Told and seen from a child’s perspective, there is an innocence and a heart to this film that both warms and breaks your heart. Tremblay could very well be the greatest surprise of the year with a stunning performance that beggars belief. The journey his character embarks upon is an extraordinary one and it is his performance that carries the entire film. The way that this film managed to place its characters in such a despairing situation but to then focus instead on the positive and hopeful part of their lives without diminishing their confinement cannot be understated. This film is a remarkable achievement in its portrayal of the human condition and is one of the most touching and poignant films of the year. Review here.

3. Inside Out – Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen

Inside Out

Films like this are the reason why we should never underestimate children’s films. Through ingenious storytelling, amazing characters and superb animation Pixar has constructed one of the most intelligent, entertaining and profound films of the entire year. The film’s exploration of the emotional spectrum is able to be clever and creative while still being simple enough for children and adults to follow. The themes of growing up and of being in touch with one’s emotions are universal and are presented with astonishing insight and maturity. This is a film that challenges its audience without alienating them and is able to make the viewer laugh as soon as it makes them cry. There are grown-up films that wish they could be as smart, as enjoyable and as emotional as Inside Out, a children’s masterpiece. Review here.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller

Mad Max Fury Road

The most intense, action-packed, exhilarating film of the year, hands down! Going to see Fury Road in the cinema was more than a viewing, it was an experience that left me out of breath by the time the credits rolled. What makes this film so intriguing however is that there is actually a compelling story taking place beneath all the carnage that goes largely unspoken. It is a story of survival and about retaining or even regaining one’s humanity. It’s also a surprisingly feminist film that has cleverly disguised itself as a Man Movie. Each character is given a personality and a distinctive story-arc. Furiosa in particular has distinguished herself as the heroine of the year, proving herself to be just as compelling and as badass (if not more so) as any other action hero. The car chase however is what makes this film as it boasts of some of the most incredible action ever put on screen. Fury Road is a perfect action movie and that is not a declaration I make lightly. Review here.

1. Carol – Todd Haynes

Carol

The most beautiful, stunning, immaculately crafted film that I’ve seen this year. Of all the films I’ve seen in 2015 Carol is my favourite for two reasons. Firstly is the artistry that went into its creation. Every single frame of this film looks like a photograph and everything, from the angles to the colours to the lighting, is employed to create a tranquil mood and to enhance the story. Secondly is the relationship between Carol and Therese which is portrayed with such passion and tenderness that you cannot help but be drawn in. There is a transcendent beauty to the love they share but also a deep sorrow to the circumstances keeping them apart. This film is perfectly written, acted, designed and directed to tell an intimate and passionate tale of love and no other film this year has moved me in the way Carol has. It is a marvellous achievement in art, romance and cinema and it is my favourite film of 2015. Review here.

Honourable Mentions: The Big Short, Bridge of SpiesBrooklyn, Far from the Madding CrowdMacbethThe Martian, The RevenantStraight Outta ComptonThe WalkYouth

Now here are my five least favourite films of 2015.

5. Fifty Shades of Grey – A stupid story based on a trashy book that tried to turn itself into a serious romance. This film never had a chance due to the dull protagonist, the silly writing and the lack of anything resembling a compelling romance. Review here.

4. Pan – A film that has fundamentally misunderstood the story upon which it is based and failed to capture any semblance of the magic. This film is a cliché-ridden misadventure with some truly bizarre ideas thrown in. Review here.

3. Boy Next Door – This film has absolutely no reason to exist. It is a tired story with tired characters relying on tired clichés that fails to offer anything of actual substance. Review here.

2. Jupiter Ascending – A space opera that offers drab exposition, pointless action and sci-fi rip-offs in place of character, spectacle and emotion. The film’s only redeeming feature is that much of it is laughable. Review here (although I should note that my thoughts on the film have since become much more negative).

1. Terminator Genisys – I hate everything about this film from its butchering of the iconic characters to the grossly nonsensical story to the utterly diluted tone and action. This is so much more than a bad film, this is an insultingly bad film. Review here.

Top 10 Scariest Films

With Halloween just around the corner I thought I’d put together a list of my favourite horror films. We all love a good scare (well, most of us) and there’s nothing like a good horror film to provoke that spine-tingling, adrenaline-rushing, blood-curdling reaction out of you. Everyone is obviously going to have their own ideas of what they find scary and will also have their own unique reactions to the films that depict those scares. For me the best horror films are those that play with the psychological aspects of fear. They don’t simply resort to jump-scares and bloody imagery as a means of frightening their audiences, they understand what it is beneath the surface that makes people afraid and they go after it. They provide their scares by building an environment of insecurity and dread through atmosphere and tension. They can be subtle and ambiguous or blatant and clear so long as they understand the nature of whatever fear it is they are trying to exploit. Fear is an incredibly complex emotion and it takes a good deal of intellect and skill to understand how to harness and express it in any medium including film. What follows is a list of the 10 films that I have found to be the most terrifying.

 

10. The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting

There are many who hold that what you don’t see in a horror film is always scarier than what you do. No film exemplifies this better than The Haunting, the definitive haunted house movie. Not once do we ever see a ghost in this film and yet the tension and the scares are always present. People are naturally afraid of what they cannot understand or explain and so Robert Wise was able to exploit this fear through ambiguity and uncertainty. We are never sure how much of what is happening is in Nell’s head or how much of it is real. Even when it is clear that something supernatural is at work, or at least appears to be, the ambiguous nature of the threat means that we’re never sure what to expect. Sometimes less really is more and The Haunting is proof of that.

9. Evil Dead II (1982)

Evil Dead II

It shouldn’t even be possible for a film to be both terrifying and hilarious at the same time and yet, somehow, Sam Raimi pulled it off. Even though The Evil Dead is more of a conventional horror and is certainly scary in a more traditional way, for me the second instalment takes the cake due to how depraved and batshit insane it is. Between the tree rape, the fight between Ash and his disembodied hand and the laughing deer head, we’re never sure whether we should be laughing or screaming. Whereas The Haunting succeeds in being scary through restraint and subtlety, Evil Dead II succeeds by doing the exact opposite. The bizarre mixture of masterful slapstick and over-the-top blood and gore was somehow able to blend together to create what is easily the most successful horror-comedy (that I can think of) ever created.

8. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Don't Look Now

Probably the most artistically directed and least conventional horror film on this list, there was a time when Don’t Look Now was more famous for its steamy sex scene than it was for its scares. Today however this film is a horror classic, providing a beautifully haunting essay on terror and dread. The film flirts with supernatural and occult ideas with Venice itself portrayed as an almost otherworldly city, full of strange sights and unsettling people. The ambiguity and vagueness of it all makes for a stunningly creepy atmosphere. On top of it all of course is the overlying fear of loss with the two leading characters broken and traumatised by the death of their young daughter. The pain and suffering they undergo is then stretched to horrific proportions as the film builds up to its terrifying finale.

7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby

There’s something about this film that really gets under my skin. Putting the satanic themes aside, the dread and paranoia that Rosemary experiences throughout her disturbing pregnancy is almost unbearable to watch. Watching her struggle to keep her sanity as she loses her ability to distinguish between reality and fiction is like watching a living nightmare. This idea that everyone she knows and trusts are somehow abusing and torturing her without her knowledge and that everything in her life that makes her feel loved and safe might be an illusion is a frightening one. Polanski’s ability to interweave the fearful aspects of the mysterious and the mystical has a petrifying effect as Rosemary descends deeper into madness and fear.

6. Alien (1979)

Alien

The tagline says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream”. The iconic chest-burster scene is of course the moment when the screams are at their loudest and it still manages to get a good jump out of me whenever I watch it. What really makes this film a cinematic horror classic though is the claustrophobia it evokes. Surrounded only be the silent, timeless void of space, these characters are trapped by the dark, mechanical confines of their ship with a silent and deadly beast. The uncertainty of their surroundings builds a palpable source of tension that only grows more and more agonising as the crewmembers become more confined and afraid. Giger’s incredible design of the alien, a terrifying monster with a cold, metallic exterior, plays no small part in heightening the fear in this chilling film.

5. The Thing (1982)

The Thing

Thinking about it now the premise of this film is very similar to that of Alien. Both films depict an unknown life form that terrorises a group in an isolated location from which they cannot escape. However what made The Thing a scarier experience for me is that, as well as having the same sense of claustrophobia as Alien, it also has an added element of paranoia. This being can assume the form of any one of these characters and so we are never sure who we can trust. The moments when the group is (seemingly) alone are ripe with tension as they attempt to discover if everyone really is whoever they appear to be. Much like in Alien, the grotesquely horrifying design of this creature adds just as much to the scares as Carpenter’s expert direction.

4. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

Probably the most influential horror film to be made in the last 50 years, this story of demonic possession has set the standard for what a modern horror film should be. Depicting a compelling tale of fear, loss and faith and combining it with a forbidding supernatural concept, The Exorcist delivers scares across the spectrum as two priests gather to combat the wrath of the demon-child. Regan provides this film with a fascinatingly scary villain who is as unpredictable as she is menacing. With such daunting moments as Father Merrin’s silhouette emanated by that eerie light, the climax on those hard, fatal steps and of course the crucifix scene, few mainstream horrors have managed to be as frightening or as shocking as this film.*

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

This film is every single kind of fucked up! Watching the teenagers in this film fall victim to Leatherface’s homicidal rampage was scary enough, but what really horrified me was that dinner scene where we see Leatherface and his warped, deranged family in all of their depravity. While I’m all for horror films that dig into the psychological themes of fear and terror, sometimes all a film has to be is completely and utterly terrifying in order to become a staple of its genre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that is immense and unrelenting in its horror. Not much more needs to be said about this film because it simply is what it is: a frenzied, depraved, insane horror film.

2. The Shining (1980)

The Shining

It wouldn’t be a horror list without some mention of Stephen King and Kubrick’s The Shining remains the scariest adaptation ever made of King’s work. One thing Kubrick always knew how to do well was atmosphere and his use of unsettling music, uncomfortably long takes and creepy imagery made him the perfect candidate to direct what is perhaps cinema’s quintessential horror film. Nicholson’s performance as the violently unhinged Jack Torrance is wonderfully demented in the way Nicholson knows how to do so well and remains one of the craziest performances in any horror film. The film’s scariest moments from the creepy twins to the lady in the bath to the climatic chase in the maze have all become iconic since the film’s release and still scare me out of my wits.

1. The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents

The film absolutely terrifies me to my core every time I watch it. The Capote-penned story of a governess who is given the charge of two delightful children in a house with a tragic and disturbing history is a monument of everything that I love in a horror film. It is dark, ambiguous, subtle, sinister and beautiful. The underlying mystery of this estate, its strange occurrences and whether or not the children know anything about it is immaculately crafted and stupendously executed. The uncertainty surrounding these occurrences, whether there really is something evil at work or if they are merely the fantasies of a chaste governess, is every bit as fascinating as it daunting. This is gothic horror at its finest and there is no other film that frightens me as much as this does. I still get chills whenever I hear that song about the weeping willow.

Top 10 Disney Animations

To mark Pixar’s triumphant return this year with Inside Out now in theatres and The Good Dinosaur coming out later, I thought I’d put together a list of my top 10 favourite Pixar films. However, upon realising that Inside Out is only the 15th film they’ve ever made, I thought that putting together a top 10 seemed almost redundant which is why I’ve decided to do Disney animations (including Pixar) instead. That’s when I realised that I haven’t watched most of these films since I was a kid. One Disney marathon later I’ve finally finished putting together a list. Disney has made some truly wonderful films over the years rich in heart, creativity and imagination and so narrowing them down to 10 choices was no easy task. While watching these films I found that one unfortunate downside of growing up is that I can’t really enjoy these films in the same way that I did as a kid. The great thing about Disney though is that there’s just as much for adults to enjoy as there are for kids and so I was able to rediscover and enjoy many of these films in ways I hadn’t expected. What follows is a list of the 10 films that I enjoyed the most and that I felt had the most profound effects on me.

 

10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I debated with myself for ages over whether I should include this film on the list due to how uneven it is. There are parts of this film that I really, really love but there are other parts that I really, really hate. The romance between Esmeralda and Phoebus is quite generic, the story can be a bit clunky whenever it diverges from Hugo’s original novel and I absolutely despise the gargoyles. However the good things about it were simply too good to ignore. Quasimodo and Frollo are both fantastic characters and their stories are so brilliantly done. Quasimodo’s quest to find love and acceptance amongst others is truly touching whereas Frollo is utterly compelling as the merciless and corrupt judge attempting to convince himself that what he does is God’s will. It is a dark and daring story, especially for Disney, that the music and the animation turns into an incredible viewing experience.

9. Frozen (2013)

Frozen

Two years after its release this film is still everywhere and many people are just about sick and tired of it. However I simply enjoyed it too much not to include it on the list. Disney is of course famous for its many different fairy tales and Frozen is one of the best. I really like how it took the fairy tale format but was able to update it in certain ways that set it apart from its predecessors. One way it did this was by placing the story’s focus on the relationship between the sisters rather than on a romance. Elsa and Anna are both great characters in their own rights and the film did a fantastic job of showcasing the bond between them whilst also allowing them their own individual moments to shine. The film also boasts of stupendous animation and one of Disney’s best (if overplayed) soundtracks.

8. Up (2009)

Up

This film deserves its place for the opening 10 minutes alone which, for me, is the single greatest sequence that Pixar has ever done in any of their films. It speaks volumes for Pixar’s ability to move an entire audience in such a simple yet effective way and its readiness to challenge its audience, particularly the children, with mature and complex ideas. The opening sequence aside, Up stands as one of Pixar’s most enjoyable films. There is a real sense of adventure to the quest that Carl and Russell embark upon as the film marvellously delivers on the thrills and excitement. The film also provides some of Pixar’s best comedy with Dug standing out as a personal highlight for me. Pixar’s uncanny ability to make its audience laugh just as soon as it makes them cry never fails to astonish me and Up succeeds at both with flying colours.

7. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Alice in Wonderland

How do I even begin to describe this film? The universe this film takes place in does not make any sense whatsoever and that is why I love it. There is no rhyme or reason to Wonderland; it is all sheer and utter madness. Many have tried to adapt Lewis Carroll’s novels to the big screen, but this film is one of the only ones to ever capture the spirit of them. Disney understood that the insanity is what makes Wonderland and so, whatever divergences they may have taken from the original novels, they remained steadfast and true to the story’s essence. Watching the level-headed Alice as she attempts to apply reason and logic to the sheer lunacy of the characters she encounters only to get helplessly lost is both riveting and hilarious. Even as an adult I still cannot get over how bonkers this film is which is why, of all the films on this list, this is easily the one that makes me laugh the most.

6. Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out

The inclusion of this film might seem a bit premature considering that it’s still in theatres but I was so blown away by this film that I didn’t feel like I could leave it out. For me there is no other film by Pixar that better illustrates why they are so good at what they do. With Inside Out Pixar found a way to explore the depths of the human mind and emotions in a way that is both accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike. The themes and ideas of this film are simplified yet intelligent. The mechanics of the universe are complex yet comprehensible. The message is challenging yet poignant. Pixar found a way to explore a large and stimulating idea while still allowing room for hysterical comedy, unforgettable characters and emotionally profound moments. It takes an extraordinary amount of intelligence, heart and skill to create a film of this calibre and Pixar has shown once again that they’ve still got plenty of each.

5. The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King

I absolutely love this film to bits. The Hamlet-inspired story of Simba’s quest for redemption and then vengeance (or justice if you prefer) is a thoroughly captivating one that never fails to grab my attention. Some of Disney’s best characters, from the wise and benevolent Mufasa to the deliciously evil Scar to the loveable duo that is Timon and Pumba, come from this film and provide some outstanding character moments. Even now watching Simba approach his father’s lifeless body is harrowing for me to watch. The soundtrack is also my absolute favourite from any Disney film with the fantastic Elton John/Tim Rice songs and Hans Zimmer’s incredible orchestration providing the film with some of its best highlights. The film does have a few imperfections (for example they do kind of botch the film’s message towards the end), but none of them have ever been able to diminish this film in my eyes. I think that The Lion King is a superb film and love it just as much as I did when I was a kid.

4. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast

I mentioned earlier how Disney is famous for making films based on fairy tales and, for me, Beauty and the Beast is their crowning achievement. Everything about this film is done perfectly. The romance between Belle and the Beast unfolds and develops at just the right pace and the bond they form with one another is such an endearing one. The side characters, from the smugly dense Gaston to the elegantly charming Lumiere to the maternally gracious Mrs. Potts, are all great and all provide the film with a wealth of enjoyable highlights. The songs are all as memorable as they are excellent and complement the overall story perfectly. The animation makes gorgeous use of colour and flows seamlessly. The story progresses naturally and never drags or rushes. There is simply nothing wrong with this film. It has all of the charm, the enticement and the magic needed for a magnificent fairy tale and delivers it flawlessly.

3. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3

There was never a question about a Toy Story film making this list; the only question was which one. The question of which Toy Story film is the best could probably go on forever but my personal favourite is the third. Of all the films in the trilogy, this was the one that had the most profound effect on me. I saw it an age when I wasn’t quite an adult yet but my childhood was long behind me. The film’s theme about growing up yet always keeping a part of your childhood within your heart really struck a chord with me and so this film always provokes me with a strong sense of bittersweet nostalgia. As far as story and character goes there is plenty to praise but, more than anything else, it’s the nostalgia that does it for me. The brilliant characters, the moving story and the hilarious comedy are added bonuses.

2. WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E

For me this has to be the most beautiful and most enchanting film that Pixar has ever made. That the film was able to turn a machine into a loveable protagonist with a fully-rounded personality, form a romantic bond between him and another machine and then send him on a galactic journey, all without any substantial use of dialogue, is a testament to Pixar’s incredible storytelling abilities. One of the fundamental rules of storytelling in films is ‘show, don’t tell’, and few films do that better than WALL-E. The breathtaking visuals in this film convey a moving tale of love, discovery and wonder in such a spectacular way that this film never fails to astound me. There is a certain gracefulness and delicacy to this film that I have yet to see in Disney’s other offerings save the top entry. Watching WALL-E and EVE fly through space with one another was like watching a cosmic ballet. The sense of wonder and majesty this film provides is almost unparalleled.

1. Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia

Fantasia is more than a great Disney film, it is a cinematic masterpiece. This film transcended what was considered the traditional narrative structure for films at the time and played a significant part in redefining what storytelling meant in films. By providing animated sequences to match famous works of classical music, Fantasia provides stories both abstract and narrative, all expressed purely through visual and musical means. One sequence provides a story simply told through colours and shapes while another is a fully-formed short-story complete with characters and a plot. The film shifts in tone from being childish and funny to being serious and profound. My personal favourite sequence is the last one with the Night on Bald Mountain followed by the Ave Maria. The dark intensity of the former becoming overpowered by the divine beauty of the latter provides a poignantly powerful moment with the staggering animation matching perfectly with the music. This film pushed the boundaries of what art and film were capable of and did it in such an unbelievable and affecting way that it remains today one of Disney’s finest achievements and without question my favourite of all their films.

Top 10 Superhero Films

After watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and three episodes of Daredevil I’ve found myself in a superhero mood and thought I’d compile this list. The superhero genre has scaled to such incredible heights over the last decade and a half that it is almost hard to believe there was once a time when these kinds of films were not held in high regard. There was actually a time when any film with a superhero was considered a joke and box-office poison. Now superhero films are everywhere. Today the superhero genre is one that audiences are taking seriously and that has seen a lot of success and praise. These films are now being made by talented filmmakers who actually care about the source material and who put in the work and the effort to ensure that the result does them justice. What follows is a list of my 10 personal favourite films within this genre.

 

 10. Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen film

A vastly underrated film in my opinion, I think that the main trouble with Watchmen is that it didn’t really find its audience. Those who had read Alan Moore’s seminal book about an alternate history where superheroes are a driving force in the Cold War were unsure whether it could even be translated to film while those who hadn’t were perhaps put off by their unfamiliarity with the story and the lack of star-power. As someone who has read the book, I think that the film Snyder gave us is the best that any of us could have ever hoped for. I’m scratching my head trying to work out what he could possibly have done differently. His faithfulness to the source material is unquestionable as can be seen in his painstaking recreations of Gibbons’ visuals, the film is in keeping with Moore’s dark and gritty tone and the translation of the story and characters to the big screen is simply astonishing.

 9. X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men First Class film

This was a tough call and I’m sure there are a lot of people who prefer X2 or Days of Future Past to this one, but I had to go with First Class. It actually kind of annoys me that this is my favourite of the X-Men films because it barely has any of my favourite X-Men in it. However I had to go with it because it is such a good film. McAvoy and Fassbender are perfectly cast as the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto and the story of their shared past is such a compelling one. In addition it has a great story, the characters who are in it are well-used and the 1960s setting is fantastic. At a time when the X-Men series was struggling, following its two prior failures, Vaughn’s decision to reinvent the franchise by going right back to the beginning was a bold one and it worked out brilliantly. It was smart, it was fun and it saved the franchise. It also has one of the best cameos in any film ever.

8. Batman (1989)

Batman film

This one is a classic. Breaking away from the campy tone that defined the Adam West era, this film was a dark and serious take on the Caped Crusader that depicted him as a conflicted, unhinged vigilante. Michael Keaton’s excellent portrayal of Batman is overshadowed only by Jack Nicholson’s crazed performance as the Joker, by the marvellous production design and by the dark, brooding atmosphere that only Tim Burton could bring. This is the film that transcended superhero films beyond the action genre by providing a psychological insight into one of pop culture’s most famous characters.

7. Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable film

The only film on this list not based on a comic book or a graphic novel. Made back before Shyamalan became, well… Shyamalan, Unbreakable is a dark, enthralling film that provides an insightful commentary into this genre. It brought a philosophical element into the discussion on the superhero mythology by asking whether becoming a superhero is a matter of choice or of destiny. It questions what it really means to be a superhero and the sort of implications and ramifications that come with such an idea. Unbreakable provides an intelligent deconstruction of the superhero genre and shows that superheroes films aren’t all about action and thrills.

6. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta film

I was surprised to find that this isn’t a film often featured on lists of superhero films. Maybe this is because a lot of people don’t consider V to be a superhero (although if Batman and Daredevil count, surely he counts as well). In any case V for Vendetta is an awesome film about a vigilante who, rather than fighting against a bad guy, chooses to fight against an idea as he takes a stance against an Orwellian totalitarian regime in the name of freedom. Hugo Weaving is impeccably cast as the theatrical, morally ambiguous V in a film that provides a unique portrayal of a superhero whose real power is that of an idea. It is well worth watching, even if it does take a lot of divergences from the original graphic novel.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy film

More of a sci-fi film than a superhero film but still counts regardless. Guardians of the Galaxy was a risky move on Marvel’s part, considering that only devoted comic book fans were at all familiar with these heroes or the world that they inhabit, and so its monumental success is a testament to the characters that made this film as great as it was. There is not a single weak link amongst the five leads as we see them working with and off each other to make what is an incredibly fun and entertaining film. Groot alone makes this film worth watching. (Incidentally it is now my dream to one day see Rocket Raccoon and Tony Stark meet).

4. Superman (1978)

Superman film

Even though I actually like Man of Steel, this film remains far and away my favourite Superman film and Christopher Reeve remains the quintessential Superman. Back before superhero films showed that they could be intelligent, dark, complex and thought provoking, Superman was a fun, uplifting and exciting film that made us all believe that a man could really fly. This film didn’t need to be dark or gritty to be effective, all it needed was spirit and imagination. The iconic hero, the inspirational John Williams score and the thrilling action have ensured that this film remains a classic that still holds up today.

3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 film

Back when films like Spider-Man, ­X-Men and Blade were bringing the superhero genre back to the big screen and were still experimenting with the format, this was the film that finally perfected it. It has everything that a fun, exciting superhero film needs. It has an iconic hero, an entertaining villain, excellent action, a great sense of humour, and groundbreaking visual effects. Even though I preferred Marc Webb’s take on Spider-Man to Sam Raimi’s and felt that Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, this film nevertheless remains the best Spider-Man film to date and without question one of the best superhero films ever made.

2. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers film

This was the film that changed everything. After five films over the course of four years building up to this momentous occasion, The Avengers was the film that finally brought these heroes from their different franchises together for the first time. It marked an important step in the evolution of the superhero genre and it was executed to perfection. Not only did these characters work together incredibly well and complement each other perfectly, but The Avengers is also an excellently scripted, well-directed, action-packed film that pitted the Avengers against a villain who remains the best baddie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever doubts the audience may have had about the idea of a shared universe, this was the film that put an end to them once and for all.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight film

I know that picking this film for the number 1 spot may be a bit of a cliché, but that’s how amazing this film really is. Batman is hands-down my favourite superhero and Christian Bale remains my favourite portrayal of him. Heath Ledger’s Joker is not only the best incarnation of that character, he is one of the greatest film villains of all time. Under Nolan’s direction, The Dark Knight is an intelligent film that explores the nature of chaos and provides an insight into the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker. It is a thrilling film that gets the blood pumping with its intense action and its dark tone. The Dark Knight is one of those rare films that actually lived up to every single expectation that the audience had and is still just as exhilarating to watch today.