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29 December 2016

My Top 5 Movies of 2016

My cinema visits have declined again in 2016, thanks to a combination of longer days in the office and busy weekends either in London or abroad. I only watched 54 films this year and only half of those were at the cinema. It was only a few years ago that I was going to the cinema twice a week, although it was cheaper to do so then and I lived very close to multiple cinemas. On the plus side, these reduced viewing figures made picking out my top five films rather easier than last year.

1. Arrival. I was always going to enjoy a film whose central character is a female linguist, but it wasn't a given that I would like it as much as Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, which stars Amy Adams as an American linguist who is tasked with communicating with a pair of alien beings that have arrived in a strange spacecraft that has landed in Montana. The film is so much more complex and clever than this brief plot description suggests, however. It is powerfully moving, lovingly made and cleverly constructed. I felt emotionally drained when I left the screening and yet although its 1h56 runtime was just about right, it left me craving more, which, in this age of 3h30 epics, is something I rarely feel about a film.

2. Nocturnal Animals. Without wishing to sound like the London chapter of the Amy Adams fan club, I thought she was terrific in Tom Ford's second picture too, although her self-absorbed and often shallow character in Nocturnal Animals contrasted starkly with her performance in Arrival. Like Villeneuve's film, though, Nocturnal Animals' clever and precisely choreographed structure and hugely compelling plot kept me gripped until its understated but powerful conclusion. Nocturnal Animals is a visually stunning film, but one that isn't often easy to watch; rather, it's harrowing and sad, and with the theme of vengeance featuring as prominently as in the fifth film on this list. With great supporting performances, particularly from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ford's movie is very accomplished indeed.

3. Manchester by the Sea. Speaking of harrowing... Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, which comes out in the UK on 13 January, is filled with physical and emotional pain. It isn't so much heart-wrenching as heart-pummelling as it gradually tells the story of a solitary janitor (Casey Affleck) who returns to his hometown after a tragedy in the family. His return to the town awakens many of his barely acknowledged (let alone defeated) demons. Although the film could be more concise, Affleck's central performance as the broken, heartbroken man holds it all together. Just make sure that you have something comforting and light-hearted queued up to watch after the emotional battering you will probably receive.

4. Hail, Caesar! Several people walked out of the screening of the Coen brothers' latest film that I attended in Portland and if you are not a fan of the Coens, you probably won't be too fond of this anthology of wackiness set in 1950s Hollywood. It's light on plot — or, rather, it's light on coherent plot — but is wonderfully funny and a delight to watch. I saw the film almost 11 months ago and "would that it were so simple" remains one of my most common ripostes.

5. The Revenant. Back in early January, before 2016 became too bleak, The Revenant was a tough film to watch and I suspect it would be even harder to watch now. Alejandro González Iñárritu's epic tale of vengeance is as brutal as it is beautiful, with strong performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. You need to be in the right frame of mind — and to have access to as large a screen as possible — but this powerful piece of filmmaking has stayed with me throughout the year.

Bonus: La La Land. OK, so Damien Chazelle's relentlessly joyful depiction of love and ambition in a technicolour Los Angeles didn't quite make it into my top five. But as someone who has little interest in musicals, I was bowled over by how much I enjoyed the film, and I still can't get the haunting, lullaby-like refrain City of Stars out of my head. The chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is remarkable and La La Land is a delightful film. The movie is released in the UK on 12 January. Go to see it!

The full list of films I watched this year is as follows (re-watches are in italics):

- Joy
- The Danish Girl
- Mad Max: Fury Road (TV)
- The Revenant
- Oldboy (TV)
- The Hateful Eight
- Room
- The Big Short
- 99 Homes (TV)
- Looper (TV)
- Spotlight
- Trumbo
- Amy (plane)
- Ricki and the Flash (plane)
- Hail, Caesar!
- Eddie the Eagle
- Truth
- Rams
- Force Majeure (TV)
- Maryland
- High-Rise
- Midnight Special
- Lost in Translation (TV)
- Chocolat (TV)
- Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (plane)
- Edge of Tomorrow (TV)
- 45 Years (plane)
- Hannah and Her Sisters (TV)
- A Most Wanted Man (TV)
- The Talented Mr Ripley (TV)
- Tommy Boy (TV)
- Clue (TV)
- The Juror (TV)
- The Nice Guys
- Jason Bourne
- Deux jours, une nuit (TV)
- The Dark Knight (TV)
- Manchester by the Sea
- Sully
- The Girl on the Train
- Nocturnal Animals
- Free Fire
- Money Monsters (plane)
- The Accountant
- A United Kingdom
- La La Land
- Pan's Labyrinth (TV)
- Arrival
- Victoria (TV)
- The Edge of Seventeen
- Joy (TV)
- Serendipity (TV)
- Solace (TV)
- The Terminator (TV)

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