2016 has been a turbulent year for a whole host of reasons, but one thing that has remained consistent is the strength of cinema. At the start of the year, after a year when admissions were the fourth highest in 44 years, it looked like 2016 would struggle to follow it. However, as I write this in the second week of December, admissions up to the end of November are down just 0.3% and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has only just opened.
Looking back at 2016, the films that have delivered the biggest numbers of admissions, with the exception of perhaps Finding Dory, have all outperformed expectations. It was a trend established early in the year, as Deadpool, whose previous appearance in an X-Men film was something of a disaster, finally nailed the tone of the character, ultimately giving comic book fans something that felt genuinely fresh. As a result, it’s the biggest comic book film of the year, surpassing the much higher profile outings for Captain America and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
It continued into April with the release of The Jungle Book. Last year’s Cinderella indicated that Disney’s plan to remake their classic animated films in live-action made sound financial sense but wasn’t perhaps the most inspiring idea on a creative level. Thankfully Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book was not only a technical wonder but it brought new life to familiar characters and the voice cast was well chosen. It became the biggest film of the year, a title it held for almost six months until the release of Bridget Jones’s Baby.
The two previous films in the series were huge but the last one was 12 years ago, and there was no guarantee Bridget would still feel relevant in a different time. We needn’t have worried, and if anything, audiences needed Bridget’s particular brand of comic escapism, and almost £50m in box office receipts resulted. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is still in cinemas and may well end up toppling Bridget, but Bridget Jones’s Baby is undoubtedly one of 2016’s biggest success stories.
As for my favourite films, January saw one of the very best American films of the year released, in Ryan Coogler’s Creed. It built on the promise he showed with Fruitvale Station, and Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson brought depth and humanity to their characters, which made their respective battles even more involving. Coogler has been signed up for a big Marvel project (Black Panther), which automatically makes it the most exciting on their upcoming slate.
Awards season is always packed full of great films and this year was no different, with The Big Short, Spotlight, Room and The Revenant all released within two weeks of each other. My other favourite film of January was Danish drama, A War. Part war drama, part courtroom drama, all gripping.
February was dominated by Deadpool, but a stunning western slipped quietly on to screens. Bone Tomahawk united a rag-tag ensemble, including Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox, and saw them take on the most brutal, unknowable antagonists of 2016. There were scenes in Bone Tomahawk amongst the most gruesome I’ve ever seen and will probably never forget, but it was like Predator meets Open Range, and thus completely worth it.
The best films of March were animations but couldn’t have been more different. Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa was a sombre but fitfully hilarious tale of a man dealing with ennui in a US motel room. Painfully honest at times, it uses its style of animation in an absolutely inspired way. A couple of weeks later, Disney released Zootropolis, which is the best animated film of the year and a recent high point for Disney (and there have been a few).
April saw Curzon Artificial Eye release two of the year’s best films, including the almost unbearably powerful and Oscar-winning, Son of Saul, and the ‘holy shit, how did they do that?!’, single-take Victoria. Alan Rickman sadly passed away at the start of the year, but Eye In The Sky proved he was producing high-quality work right until the end of his career.
The first truly warm weekend of the year in May, clearly hit the box office of both Florence Foster Jenkins and Bad Neighbours 2, but they were two of the most satisfying comedies of the year, and are ripe for discovery on home video. Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room was one of the most brutal, white-knuckle experiences of the year, and Oscar-nominee, Mustang, was one of the most heartbreaking.
In June, cinema played second fiddle to the football but The Nice Guys provided one of the most entertaining acting pairings in recent history, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s mismatched private investigators. Gosling also proved he possesses a gift for physical comedy that will hopefully be utilised a lot more in the future.
July and August saw huge cinema admissions, thanks to a congested slate of blockbusters including Finding Dory, The BFG, Jason Bourne and Suicide Squad. August also saw one of the best television characters of all time debut on the big screen, and while David Brent: Life on the Road disappointed at the box office, many fans of The Office may be surprised when they discover it on other formats as it’s one of the most underrated films of the year.
September saw two of the very best of 2016 released, in David Mackenzie’s thrilling western, Hell or High Water and Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople. The latter contained the year’s funniest performance from 13-year-old Julian Dennison. Ricky Baker is one of the year’s great comic creations.
Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake scooped the Palme d’Or at Cannes and upon its release in October it became one of the year’s most important cinema releases. A devastating portrait of life on benefits under our current administration, it contained some of the year’s most powerful scenes, and it became one of Loach’s biggest films at the box office. Another Brit winner at Cannes, Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, was a scuzzy, exhilarating and beautiful portrait of disaffected youth in America’s south.
November saw the year’s best sci-fi released, as French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, continued his glacial ascendance to the very top rung of Hollywood filmmakers with Arrival. Smart, moving and containing a captivating lead performance from Amy Adams, it expanded my mind a little with its ideas and the way it presented its narrative. A week later the year’s best mega-blockbuster was released, as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them allied charm, a lightness of touch and cute creatures to such effect it managed to get even non-Harry Potter fans, like myself, on board.
Like last year though (and next year), the climax of 2016 will be all about a galaxy far far away, and while Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a lot to live up to, I think we could all do with some big screen escapism at the moment.
This article first appeared on Huffington Post UK.