In a year the world has witnessed plot-defying, genre-busting real-life drama and shocking departures, we reflect on the films that helped us escape from it all. Covering love, politics, romance, animation, action and thrillers, these 21 films represent our particular favourites from all quarters of the globe. All life is here…
 

Hell or High Water

On the surface it's a modern-day heist Western about two brothers on a bank robbing spree in West Texas pursued by a sheriff (Jeff Bridges in an Oscar-worthy performance) and his deputy (who enjoy hurling racist insults at each other in a way the Lone Ranger and Tonto probably should have done). Dig a little deeper and you have a subtle story of the times we're living in. High-octane action, smart script writing, comedy and camaraderie combine to deliver an outstanding drama about Trump's America.

Read our review in full

 

The Big Short

"The truth is like poetry—and most people fucking hate poetry." Michael Lewis, the author of the book the film is adapted from, overheard this statement in a Washington D.C. bar. And it could explain why the global financial crisis of 2008 happened. The Big Short is about mortgages—specifically sub-prime mortgages—and it had me wide-eyed and riveted as it entertainingly and cleverly tells the story of what caused the global economic meltdown. It's extremely well made (it got me breathless over mortgages, for goodness sake). The sharply written script cuts to the core and the exceptional ensemble cast led by Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Christian Bale is polished to perfection.

 

Paterson

Adam Driver stars as Paterson, a bus driver who works in Paterson, New Jersey. Jim Jarmusch’s new film is an ode to the quiet life and it's a masterpiece. Very little happens and yet so much happens as Paterson lives a life of routine with his happy-go-lucky wife Laura, played with aplomb by Golshifteh Farahani.

Read our review in full

 

Anomalisa

Animated comedy/drama masterpiece, featuring one of the most erotic scenes in cinema, from rule-breaker writer/director Charlie Kaufman. Michael Stone is a married father-of-one and a celebrated motivational speaker, voiced by David Thewlis. On a business trip in Cincinnati his depression comes to the fore and he decides to call an ex-lover to see if she’s free for the evening…

 

Love & Friendship

A little known Jane Austen novella has been unearthed and adapted into a razor-sharp comedy-of-manners by the mighty fine director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Last Days of Disco). Kate Beckinsale stars as the capricious and scandalous widow Lady Susan who isn't above upsetting a household if it means she'll get her man. The pitch perfect cast includes Chloë Sevigny, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet and Stephen Fry. A special mention must go to Tom Bennett for his immaculate performance as the pea-brained Sir James Martin.

Video interview with Whit Stillman and Kate Beckinsale

 

Rams

World Cinema is still the all-encompassing label applied to foreign-language films. Increasingly, this feels like a disservice to the variety of drama and comedy on offer whose only crime is to require you to read sub-titles! This offering from Iceland is about two feuding sheep farming brothers who haven’t spoken to each in decades. They also happen to live within spitting distance of each other.

 

Maggie's Plan

Screwball romantic satirical comedy with a witty script, appealing cast—including Julianne Moore with a Danish accent—and a New York City backdrop. What more can you ask for? Greta Gerwig is Maggie, a 30-something singleton who wants a child so desperately she opts for artificial insemination. Until academic John (Ethan Hawke) comes along, disrupts her turkey baster work-in-progress and declares his wife-and-kids-leaving love for her. And this is only the beginning…! Director Rebecca Miller stomps all over Woody Allen's oeuvre with her witty, snarky, funny and pretty subversive romcom.

Video interview with director Rebecca Miller

 

I, Daniel Blake

Ken Loach won the Palme d’ Or at Cannes this year for this shattering film about human dignity versus the bureaucracy of the benefits system. Widower Daniel, played by stand-up comic David Johns, suffers a heart attack and, against his will, is forbidden from working until his doctor feels he’s well enough to return. He has to apply for incapacity benefits but comes up against jobsworthy officials and endless form filling in a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions.

Read our review in full

 

Little Men

When it comes to deep films about family relationships, Indie director Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange) has nailed it! Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear) inherits and moves into his father’s Brooklyn brownstone with his wife (Jennifer Ehle), the breadwinner, and their 13-year-old son, Jake. The property includes a shop, run by Leonor, who rented it from Brian’s father for a token. Her son, Tony, is the same age as Jake and the boys become inseparable—until Brian serves an eviction notice on Leonor…

Read our review in full

 

Everybody Wants Some!!

Richard Linklater’s films have the air of the personal about them and this is no exception. His latest film had me smiling from the moment it opened with 'My Sharona' to the final end credits via The Sugar Hill Gang’s 'Rapper's Delight', Devo’s 'Whip It' and many more tunes from 1980. The soundtrack nostalgia fest, coupled with Linklater’s multi-faceted characters and trademark clever, sensitive, genius banter, makes this film about a college baseball team all-round good fun. It's that perfect summer movie destined for cultdom. This is Animal House with an I.Q.

 

Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales is fun, forbidding and frisky. Fairy tales usually are. Starring Toby Jones, Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassell this film is made up of three tales in three separate Italian kingdoms and it is strange, weird and gorgeous. Expect ogres, witches, sea monsters, kings, queens, magical settings, flaying, tightropes, Shirley Henderson and an adorable flea.

 

Up for Love

One of the funniest films of the year and you probably didn’t even know about it. This neglected French film is a romcom which literally asks the question 'does size matter?' It's funny and provocative, think Shallow Hal with a sharper edge. Some quarters will judge the un-PC nature of the story to be in bad taste but I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. The sumptuous homes and moneyed lifestyle could have been exasperating without the witty script and likeable characters, including French superstar Jean Dujardin. In any event, it lacks the schmaltz of most British romcoms—and that's a good thing.

 

L’Avenir (a.k.a. Things to Come)

Isabelle Huppert stars as philosophy teacher Nathalie, whose husband suddenly departs, leaving her to face up to some big questions about her once-settled existence. A smart indie from upcoming writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve, winning her the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

 

Valley of Love

Huppert again, alongside a gargantuan Gérard Depardieu, as a long-divorced couple who are summoned to California’s Death Valley for a supernatural encounter with their dead son. A high-concept tale of love and loss with a tender heart, pitching human grief, hope and frailty against an imposing sun-baked wilderness.

 

Julieta

Pedro Almodóvar’s accomplished psychological drama stars Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez as a woman whose carefree youth is overcome in later life by guilt and regret. Based on three interconnected stories by Alice Munro, with the action transported from rural Canada to Madrid and a remote Galician fishing village.

 

Nocturnal Animals

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal play an LA art gallery owner and her ex-husband, who sends her the manuscript of his new novel which contains disturbing echoes of her deepest fears. A tense and artful noir drama from fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford, adapted from Austin Wright’s previously neglected thriller Tony and Susan.

 

A Bigger Splash

Ralph Fiennes upstages Tilda Swinton’s androgynous rock queen as her hell-raising ex-husband, who interrupts a summer of recuperation at a Sicilian hideaway with ill-disguised plans to win her back. A tempestuous tale of love and intrigue, with strong support from Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson.

Read more: Can Exes Remain Friends?

 

Adult Life Skills

Broadchurch’s Jodie Whittaker stars in Rachel Tunnard’s bittersweet debut comedy about a sorrowful 29-year-old who lives in a shed at the bottom of her mum’s garden, making dumb films on her phone with her thumbs as puppets as she grieves for her lost twin. Witty, wise and life-affirming, a deserving winner of the Nora Ephron Prize at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

 

Zootropolis

Arguably the most joyful film of the year! Disney’s delightful family animation is a film for our times in which all creatures great and small must learn learn to live in harmony together and tolerate their differences. The film playfully examines the politics of fear, identity, cultural differences and prejudice with wit and charm, where prey and predator work together to make their world better.

 

Bridget Jones's Baby

 

Our favourite singleton (Renée Zellweger) returned to the big screen after a long absence and is now 40-something and, er, single again. The film opens at Daniel’s funeral—sob—and Bridget spies her other ex, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) amongst the congregation, with his hyper elegant wife. Cue a few one night stands later, with Darcy and a sexy American entrepreneur (Patrick Dempsey), Bridget finds herself "up the duff" and clueless about which one could be the father. Yes, it’s all very daft but it is very funny with more than one highly comical slapstick moment, which makes it far superior to the previous instalment, The Edge of Reason.

 

Train to Busan

Perhaps it's fitting to end our review of the year with a zombie movie. This offering is destined to become a cult classic. The Train to Busan is tense and thrilling and an exceptionally good film from Korea! Alongside an engaging plot there were hoards of frenzied bloodsuckers, gaping open wounds, dislocated limbs and likeable characters I grew to care about. It’s very funny and desperately sad. First-class entertainment, even though it left me a little heartbroken.

 

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