We’ve now reached the Top 10, so prepare to get very excited…
10 – THE JUNGLE BOOK
Part of Disney’s phenomenal year at the box office as well as with critics was the latest in their current trend of converting their animated classics into live-action fare. This time, it was their beloved loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book getting the update treatment, and those with fond memories of the animated version soon rested easily because this was an absolute joy to witness.
The film proudly boasts some of the most fantastic visual effects of the year, with director Jon Favreau and an army of digital effects artists creating an entire jungle atmosphere as well as several animal characters from scratch, except for young Neel Sethi as Mowgli who turned out to be the only actually real thing on-screen, though you wouldn’t think that from just how photo-realistic the backgrounds and animals look. You’d swear everything was actually real, even the animals which you know for a fact are CGI but look so good it would be easy to mistake it for a lost David Attenborough documentary. If the effects team on this movie don’t end up with a large bulk of awards for their work over the next couple of months, then it will be a true and honest crime.
It’s not just the visuals getting a major upgrade, as large chunks of the story are altered for a modern audience which, for the most part, end up being better than the classic 1967 version. The story flows much better, the characters seem more like actual characters and have endearing conversations with one another, and certain motivations are explored a bit more to make them more fleshed out. Shere Khan, here voiced by Idris Elba – himself coming from a hugely talented cast brought on board for this that includes Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and many others – is made a bit more interesting here, to a point where it makes his character even scarier than his intimidating version in the older film. Kipling purists probably didn’t enjoy this film as much as others, but those who loved the old Disney film – the version which most of the world knows far more than the source material, so it only makes sense that it’s closer to that than Kipling’s book – certainly got the bare necessities from it to enjoy all the way through.
Plus, it gave us Christopher Walken as a giant orangutan singing “I Wanna Be Like You”, and it’s as amazing as it sounds. Listen for yourself…
9 – ZOOTROPOLIS
Wow, Disney was on FIRE with their animal-centric films this year, weren’t they? But Zootropolis, the company’s 54th animated film in their official canon, wasn’t just a cute family film with bright colours and lovable characters, it was a film that took on a heavy topic and pulled it off rather ingeniously, especially in a year where it felt more relevant than ever.
It tackled themes like racism, discrimination, police brutality and ethnic stereotyping, and that’s just skimming the surface of its subtext. The film features a sharp divide between predators and prey, a prejudice that is brought out in full force at several points in this movie that makes it a seriously topical movie in a year where fear-mongering and racial perjury has not only been heavily prominent in politics and other worldwide events, but have mostly succeeded in gaining power despite their bigotry. The beauty of this film is not that it teaches how bigotry is not a very good trait to have, because that should be fairly obvious to anyone with an IQ over 40, but that it gives strong and hopeful messages to younger audiences that equality and love are achievable as long as you yourself are just a decent human being. Again, all this heavy weight in a film about an adorable bunny cop in a world populated by animals.
Speaking of which, the world-building that we get to see in this film is nothing short of inspired. It’s fascinating to see how much thought has gone into making this world seem alive and fully functioning, from how giraffes buy and receive drinks from a stall to an entire city built for smaller creatures like mice and marmosets which is essentially a smaller version of the actual city. Not only that, but it’s a hugely entertaining cop movie that has a strong mystery to it, features several hilarious moments like a trip to a sloth-run DMV, some heartfelt moments of emotions (especially when it tackles all those themes of racism et al), and enough family entertainment that should keep the kids interested as well as the adults.
Who would have thought that the film to talk the most sense about racism in modern society would be a Disney film about a bunny cop? Truly this has been a strange year…
8 – I, DANIEL BLAKE
Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or-winning British drama claimed to be a film for the people, and that it certainly was with its scathing attack on social services and bureaucratic job centres, and a heart-wrenching account of modern day poverty and the good, honest people that end up affected by it.
Comedian Dave Johns is wonderful in this very serious role as a middle-aged man forced to go through endless forms and frustrating amounts of hold music just to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance, and even more fantastic is Hayley Squires as the troubled single mother whom Johns’ titular character befriends. Johns and Squires play two sympathetic people who are unfairly treated by the welfare system, forcing them both to make heart-breaking sacrifices just to keep a roof over their heads, and Loach makes you feel the raw anger that is brewing underneath their calmer exteriors, giving you unparalleled access to the real world that certain governments don’t want to think about.
Loach once more brings his trademark naturalistic direction to this gravely solemn situation, giving every scene a spark of grounded life that keeps you invested in these characters as they go from one rough setback after another. It’s times like this when we’re honestly thankful that Loach is still working, even at the age of 80, because without him or his long list of past explorations of hardships within working-class Britain, like renowned teledrama Cathy Come Home or his classic film Kes among many other films to his name, we probably wouldn’t have something as powerfully told or as depressingly timely as this film is.
It forces us all to re-examine our broken welfare system, and gives us the faintest of hopes that things can be changed to help those in need in the future, especially by those who see I, Daniel Blake and want to amend it so there aren’t any more films like this – as powerful as they are – to be made…
7 – SWISS ARMY MAN
Any movie that begins with Paul Dano riding a Daniel Radcliffe-shaped corpse across the sea with its flatulence propelling it like a jet-ski, is bound to grab hold of your undivided attention right from the word go, and Swiss Army Man presented such a bizarre yet endearing concept that it was impossible not to ignore.
Dano and Radcliffe made the most unusual of cinematic double-acts this year, yet as strange as their initial pairing may seem it was also one of the most heart-warming. Their chemistry alone gave the film enough gas (ahem) to steer on as its own complete, satisfying film, but even though one of them was playing a dead person they had never felt so alive as individual performers. Radcliffe, in particular, had arguably the greater physical challenge of lying mostly still for almost the entirety of the film, and he genuinely excelled at playing what could have very easily been the most ridiculous character of the year, maybe even the decade.
Ultimately, though, Swiss Army Man turned out to be an adventure film unlike any other, with quirky opinions on the civilised world, even quirkier tools and pieces of equipment (you WILL believe that an erect penis can be used as a compass!), and of course, a special bond at its very heart that gave it the humanity and warmth that audiences needed. It definitely isn’t for everyone, and there are certainly people out there who are instantly put off by the film’s incessant weirdness as soon as Dano rides Radcliffe’s farts across the sea, but those who stick around will be entranced by the sheer wonderment of this highly unusual adventure.
Who knew that one of the year’s most endearing films would feature Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse?
6 – EYE IN THE SKY
The modern art of war has never been as captivating, or even as provocative, as it was in Gavin Hood’s intense and highly cerebral thriller that explored a genuine dilemma of morality versus logic, all with the most advanced of warfare in these increasingly Orwellian times.
A great ensemble cast, from Helen Mirren to the late Alan Rickman (another one of 2016’s tragic victims), expertly deliver the central conflict and its emotional impact, especially on the characters behind this whole operation. Nobody is technically in the wrong, but a fateful decision needs to be made that could either save countless lives or seal their fates; this film so brilliantly examines the cost of war in this day and age through this dilemma, leaving you with a final outcome so haunting that it will make you re-examine the power that governments can control at the mere press of a button.
It’s the sort of film that presents a clear argument and, like the very best of its kind, allows you to fully understand both sides without ever presenting it as a black-and-white situation, a notion that Hood quite admirably uses to not only craft a strong dramatic arc but also treat the audience like smart, intellectual individuals. It is a film that works as an intense war thriller, and also as an ethical example of inner-military politics, a mix not often seen in most films about war but is nonetheless welcomed with open arms.
Powerfully told, impossibly cerebral, and most of all extremely entertaining, Eye in the Sky is one of the year’s most unmissable films, and certainly deserves its place in the year’s top 10…