I didn’t do much writing last year, but I did still see quite a few films. So here’s my ‘best of‘ list for 2016 with some additional thoughts.
1. Under the Shadow
I hate horror films. However, on the basis of the three or so Iranian films that I’ve seen, I love Iranian cinema. So this ‘Iranian’ (but internationally funded and produced) horror flick put me in something of a quandary. But I was very glad I took the risk of seeing it, as it became one of my most memorable films of 2016. Set in 1980’s Tehran, mid-Iraq conflict, most of this film focusses on a young wife and mother struggling to find a role for herself in the relatively newly established world of revolutionary Iran. An almost documentary-style opening quickly ramps up the psychological tension, to the point where I had to hide behind my scarf for part of the film. I loved the ambiguity in the presentation of isolation and genuine fear, and the depiction of a Jane Fonda workout as an act of rebellion.
2. Our Little Sister
This was probably the most undramatic film I saw all year, but that’s not a criticism. This Japanese film is set just about as far from the bright lights of Tokyo as you can get, with the gentle pace of small town living reflected in the lives of three sisters. But when a newly discovered younger sister arrives…. she fits into their world pretty seamlessly. There are a few jagged moments but I found this peaceful film to be soothingly enjoyable without being snooze-some.
Without doubt the best documentary of the year. I didn’t really know who Anthony Weiner was until recently, apart from a vague notion that he was linked to something unsavoury in the pant department. But the film makers quickly move beyond his previous indiscretions to depict a truly charismatic politician, who is genuinely able to connect with voters, giving him a real chance of becoming the mayor of New York. His wife, Huma Abedin, is one of his key supporters and this documentary not only charts the machinations of two keen political operators but also their relationship as a family with a young son. Sometimes verging on painful to watch, the level of access to both the Weiner campaign and the Weiner marriage made this a fascinating documentary.
This has to win for the most original film of the year. An adult animation filled with bitterness and the odd sex toy, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it initially. But on reflection I’ve concluded that it was really rather good, although I’m not altogether sure why.
5. Queen of Katwe
The Year of Crap should have one at least one Disney-style properly inspirational and heart-lifting film, and that film is Queen of Katwe. The story of Ugandan slum-dweller Phiona’s rise to the chess elite was directed by Mira Nair (and in fact produced by Disney) but without adding too much gloss to her situation. Obstacles are presented and overcome, hope triumphs, and there are some excellent performances from the younger members of the cast. This film also wins for the best closing credits song with “#1 Spice”.