On Christmas Day I made my family watch Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s film about a woman who is kidnapped, raped and then has to raise her child in a shed. I thought it would be festive. As it turned out, it actually put a bit of a dampener on the day. Mum had a permanent look of horror fixed on her face, while dad just sat there shaking his head at me. All of a sudden I felt quite silly in my paper hat. But reactions like that are exactly why Room is my film of 2016. The subject matter is as shocking as it sounds, but it’s the emotional arcs of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s characters that make it such an overwhelming experience. It’s like being crushed under gallons of Oscar-worthy tears and the weight of a hundred Josef Fritzls. Who doesn’t want that when they go to the cinema?
And if you think that Room was released in 2015, you must be American and therefore do not matter. For this list is going strictly by UK release dates. That means La La Land and Moonlight, which come out here in early 2017, don’t count. The Academy can rub their nipples over them as much as they like, but as far as I’m concerned they don’t exist yet.
What does make my list, in second place, in fact, is Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams reads a story-within-a-story about even more kidnapping and rape, except in this film it’s all figurative. I thought placing two literal examples right at the top might make me look a bit morbid. Tom Ford’s second directional feature is stylish and meticulous – and the horrifying tension only physically cripples you for a couple of hours.
Next I have Anomalisa, a stop-motion animation with puppets, where everyone apart from the main character has the same voice because people are vapid vessels of nothingness. It’s closely followed by Japanese anime Your Name, which isn’t immediately as miserable as my other picks, but mass destruction and death do play an integral part in the excitement.
David Mackenzie’s modern-day Western Hell or High Water also makes it onto my highly important list. Jeff Bridges chases Chris Pine and Ben Foster as they attempt to pay off their debts with the money they’ve stolen from a series of banks. The best part is that the banks are actually the biggest thieves of all, and between them and the petty criminals trying to counteract corporate corruption, you realise there really is no hope.
There were some points in the year where I seemed to slip into a dreamlike state and endured moments of genuine happiness, like for Disney’s Zootropolis and Moana. But the memory of punk rock band members being hacked like a kebab in Jeremy Saulnier’s slasher Green Room is far more vivid. Then there was the battle against communism in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, which aptly reminded us that God is a capitalist. Even Rogue One: A Star Wars Story entertained the idea that there are shades of grey between good and evil, making 2016 a truly confusing and traumatic year.
But anyway, these are my top picks.
I would have liked to include a couple of surprises, like creepy fashion film The Neon Demon and technophobic thriller Nerve, although there probably needs to be more justification than simply ‘not being rubbish’. There’s also no room for anything superhero-related. Granted, 2016 would have felt empty and uneventful if it hadn’t been stuffed with highly paid actors taking themselves incredibly seriously while dangling from a wire. But those films are made by unimaginative sea cows who incessantly moo underwater until they’re translated by a scriptwriter. Independence Day: Resurgence, however, will be the film I associate with this year. Where many of the picks in my top ten merely address the theme of despair, IDR manufacturers it as an actual substance. We can only be thankful that the reality of 2016 has been comparatively benign.