Top 10 Films of 2016: Ushers’ Choice

2016 may not go down in history as being the best year ever but one of its few successes was the number of stand-out film releases it saw peppered throughout its tumultuous twelve months. With this in mind, we asked our Ushers – the nice lot who rip your tickets, show you to your seats and yes – watch all of our films – to give us a run down of their favourite flicks of 2016…

1. Mustang by Nuala Shaar

“A stirring feminist fairytale set in rural Turkey, Mustang follows the colourful but troubled coming-of-age of five spirited sisters, captive under the rule of their conservative grandmother and downright tyrannical uncle; one by one, they are groomed for marriage, with devastating consequences for some. Crucially, despite these circumstances, the girls – often depicted as one irrepressible entity, all flowing hair and lithe, tangled limbs – are able to cultivate a fierce strength through solidarity, rallying against their oppression at every turn. Indeed, though imbued with a quiet melancholy, the film, much like its indomitable heroines, refuses to be weighed down by the seriousness of its subject matter. Rather, powerfully employed claustrophobic tension is offset by dazzling moments of palpable euphoria, such as when the girls escape their ‘prison’ to attend a women’s-only football match featuring their favourite team. So great is the emotional investment engendered by the film that we share in their joy and excitement wholeheartedly.

Movingly acted and elegantly shot, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s exhilarating debut is a defiant celebration of sisterhood, testament to the transformative power of a bond shared between women. The director – who, incidentally, was pregnant during shooting, a fact which deterred the film’s original producer – has crafted a nuanced and insightful portrait of burgeoning womanhood, one which boasts a distinctly female voice (quite literally, thanks to the narration of youngest sister Lale). Notably, its sun-drenched, subtly sensual scenes of the girls play-fighting and lounging around half-clothed feel neither voyeuristic nor exploitative, but rather expressively tactile, conveying an authentic sense of intimacy.

Mustang serves as an ode to female resilience and youthful rebellion, yet its overall sentiment of empowerment is entirely universal in its capacity to inspire; the film poignantly illustrates the importance of being truly free and of preserving hope in what may seem a hopeless situation. It also earns major points for its achingly beautiful soundtrack, composed by accomplished multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis. No other feature this year was more strikingly evocative of the strength of the human spirit, and so it gets my vote for top pick of 2016.”

Mustang will be back on our screens on Sat 17 Dec. Book tickets here.

2. Victoria by Kieran Healy

“Before watching Victoria, I was a little sceptical as the film carried the slogan ‘one city, one night, one take’ and appeared to be marketing itself off of a technical gimmick. However, these feelings of scepticism were lost just minutes into the movie as adrenalin kicked in and I became totally immersed. The film is set in the dark underbelly of Berlin and begins in a techno club where we meet our heroine Victoria. It is from here that we follow Victoria through the streets of Berlin on a night of risk, euphoria and incongruous debauchery. Hypothetically speaking the film takes you out for the best and worst night of your life! Recently, we have seen a lot of tracking shot madness from Birdman, Son of Saul and Hard to be a God. These are of course incredible movies, but for me Victoria, with its casual feel and masterful 140min long continuous shot, has to be is this year’s one take wonder!”

3. I, Daniel Blake by Marie-Claire Cadillac

“The welfare system for everyday people in need, serves primarily to denigrate, humiliate and dehumanise at every angle. This deliberate strategy of conscious cruelty comes to light in Ken Loaches crucial film I, Daniel Blake. It works on many levels and it comes as no surprise how the film plays out, acutely mirroring a society which rewards those with extrinsic values and punishes those with intrinsic values. What is surprising and heartening to see, is the subtle threads of compassion being woven into the relationships between Daniel, Katie and her two children, Dylan and Daisy, Daniel’s neighbour, Ann in the job centre and the ladies in the food bank. Such superb filmmaking is powerful. I have been personally moved by the groundswell of genuinely lovely, caring people coming to see this film. And it is for this reason that I, Daniel Blake surges forward and wins my vote for outstanding film of the year. This momentum will continue to build and resonate and, for me, this is to witness cinema working at its finest.”

4. Our Little Sister by Louise Keane

Our Little Sister is a heart-warming tale of three sisters who live in Kamakura who are joined by their 14 year old half-sister after the death of their father. The film tells the story of how the three older sisters had been brought up by their grandparents after their parents separated and it is at their father’s funeral upon finding out that their half-sister is now an orphan, that they invite her to come and live with them.

The film explores the themes of sisterhood, adolescence, relationships and the complications that can arise when families disintegrate and splinter off into different lives. Being one of three sisters myself it really reminded me of the bond that I have with my two sisters and how lucky I am to have them. As the film progresses it is truly lovely to see how after initially being unsure about having their little sister stay with them the three older sisters show how they start to bond and develop proper sisterly relationships and how they eventually wonder how they ever did not have her in their lives. A must see film for anyone who has, once had, or would one day like to have, a little sister.”

5. The Childhood of a Leader by Hazel Shaw

“Quite how Brady Corbet managed to persuade Scott Walker to soundtrack his debut feature film I will never truly understand. Protect You + Me made use of Corbet’s ability to ramp up the tension in should-be-safe scenes, but with Scott Walker’s help he took this to a whole new level in The Childhood of a Leader. The score pinned me to my seat and tied knots in my stomach as I waited for the terrible events to appear on-screen that I was certain were coming, but which never actually appeared. The film takes its time over a series of small episodes in a childhood, giving the most minor details a significance and sense of menace beyond what seems rational. Trying to decide on a leader who fits with the “hints” provided by the film or read it as a mapping out or diagnosis of totalitarianism is to try and avoid the power of the film – sit back, let the music sweep you up, and become a part of the art.”

6. Nocturnal Animals by Aidan Sheehan

Nocturnal Animals is an absorbing look at relationships and the lingering effect they can have on individuals. The film centres around Susan, an art dealer living an extravagant yet unfulfilled life, and the manuscript for a novel she receives from her estranged ex-husband Edward. What impressed me most about the film was the non-linear structure. Nocturnal Animals seamlessly shifts between the present, the past and the fictional narrative of the manuscript, which comes to life as Susan reads it. Serial imagery helps blur the lines between fiction and reality, whilst flashbacks give the audience an insight into the demise of their relationship – the source of inspiration for the novel. Aptly named ‘Nocturnal Animals’ (a reference to the nickname Edward had for Susan), the novel is a darker, twisted, more exaggerated version of their relationship. A captivating yet uncomfortable watch, this film explores themes of love, revenge and cruelty. One of the stand out films of 2016.”

7. Sweet Bean by Cat Butler

“A beautiful film in its simplicity, Sweet Bean tugged at my heart strings. Kirin Kiki and Masatoshi Nagase’s subtle and honest performances fit the film’s style well; it was touching to watch their characters’ unlikely friendship develop. I think it’s a must see on a dreary Sunday afternoon to warm the soul. Is that enough? I actually didn’t see the end because of a false fire alarm, so I’ve not gone into much detail. But please bring it back so I can see the end of it!”

8. Anomalisa by Tom Hughes

“It’s quite rare to see an animated feature intended solely for adults; even the most serious works in this form are usually buoyed by the sense of magic and wonder that its freedom of expression affords. Expect no such levity here; this film is as devastatingly bleak and mature as they come. Present are the brilliant comedy and surreal flair that make Charlie Kaufman the most inventive screenwriter in Hollywood today, but the fantastical elements aren’t here to excite and entertain so much as to allow the narrative to function as an extended metaphor for certain definite psychological conditions. For example, the alienated protagonist lives in a world where everyone he meets has the same voice, and the same face (the filmmakers scanned hundreds of male and female faces to create a ‘standard’ human face) everyone, that is, except the anomalous Lisa of the title. As compared to literature, cinema usually depicts externalities i.e. stuff you can point a camera at. Here it feels like Kaufman and co. have pointed their camera into the mind of the most jaded, narcissistic character ever to walk the earth, giving us a sympathetic insight into that state of mind like we’ve never seen before.”

9. Notes on Blindness by Hussain Ussaili

Notes On Blindness, the account of John. M. Hull, is a sincere and inviting poetic exposé of a man losing his sight, his struggle to accept it and his family’s embrace of the inevitable. An immersive documentation rousing the mind’s periphery to graciously ponder… that which Man expects by default, human fragility, and the wonder of human adaptation. The most substantive film of 2016. A film for everyone.”

10. Embrace of the Serpent by Silvestre Fernandez

“This is a film that elegantly and poetically demonstrates the ravages of colonialism through parallel journeys taken by a local shaman and a European explorer who meet in the surroundings of the Amazon. At times, it feels like a scientific ethnographic study but it is the slow paced narrative and breath-taking photography which makes this film truly special. This film also reads like a history lesson… one that we have not learnt yet.”

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