My Top 50 Films of 2016


It's time to share my top 50 films of 2016. It includes various genres and languages, films seen at film festivals and regular screenings in Dubai and abroad.

Critically acclaimed films I didn't get to see this year which could  have made the list: Death of Louis XIVThe Love WitchNerrudaSilence

Critically acclaimed films I didn't like this: American HoneyCaptain FantasticEverybody Wants Some!!La La LandNeon DemonNocturnal Animals (except for the story line featuring Michael Shannon, if that was a film on its own, it would have been included in the list below), Paterson

It's hard to pin down one underlying theme connecting all 50 films listed below, but there are lots of films that feel melancholic and are about time and memories. 

Here it is, my top 50 films of the year:

50. Withered Green (Mohammed Hammad)

Impressive debut by Mohammed Hammad - subtle and probing film about Iman who has to ask her uncles to meet the groom who wants to propose to her younger sister, since Arab traditions requires a male presence from the bride's side. During her meetings with several male relatives to find one of them to agree to turn up, and her daily and mundane routines at work and home, hidden truths start revealing themselves about Iman and her personal and inner conflicts. 

49. Very Big Shot (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya) 

Another impressive debut film by a young Arab director. Wrote about it here

48. How to be Single (Christian Ditter)    

I thought this was quite a progressive Hollywood rom com, it wasn't just about girl meets boy or girl trying to find boy. It was also about sisters and friendship and independence. Taught me a new phrase roo, "don't fall into a dicksand" (dicksand = male oriented quicksand, when a girl loses her identity around men).  

47. Green Room ( Jeremy Saulnier) 

A commentary about America and violence. It was tense, claustraphobic and the end of film left me wanting a spin off film about Amber.  Also, this track:

46. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg) 

Two words: John Goodman

45. The Untamed (Amat Escalante)

Hard to talk about this without giving too much away. But I'll just say this, forest, sexual desires and tentacles. 

44. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)

Loveless marriage, stifling household, a passionate love affair, violence leading more violence, we follow Lady Katherine changing her constrained life to one that she takes control of, but with disturbing conequences. A descent into mental and emotional darkness. 

43. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)  

A protest film that resonates outside the UK too. Fighting economic hardship and bureaucracy with dignity, despite reaching your lowest point. Incredibly moving. 

42. Hail, Caesar! (Dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)  

This was so much fun to watch. "It's all in the hips, the lips, and the eyes and the teeth."

 41. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)

A melancholic film about mothers, daughters, loss, grief, guilt, past haunting the present.      

40. Kékszakállú (Gastón Solnicki, 2016)   

The mundane lives of young girls coming of age, that's subtle, ambiguous and visually striking. A film I hope more people will discover and see in 2017. 

39. The Wedding Ring (Rahmatou Keïta)

This film from Niger is a hidden gem in the film festival circuit. It's about Tiyaa, a young woman from an aristocrtic family who returns to her home, the sultanate of Damagaram after studying in Paris. A look at relationships between women and men in Sahelian society - love, marriage, divorce and desertion. A story told with grace and dignity, this is another film I hope more people will discover and see in 2017. 

38. Raw (Julia Ducournau) 

A horror tale about sibling rivalry, peer pressure, vegetarianism and cannibalism. Yes, vegetarianism and cannibalism.   

37. The Wailing (Na Hong-jin)  

Gripping 150min supernatural horror from South Korea with so many revelations and twists, comical and jump scare moments, you just have to embrace it and follow the ride till the very end.  

36. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)  

The suspicious weird neighbour, the missing bodies, the unsolved crimes - everything is exactly what it seems in this Japanese thriller-horror. The strained marriage and lack of communication between the husband (who is also investigating the unsolved criminal cases) and wife that eventually endangers their lives is what stood out for me.

35. Elle (Paul Verhoeven) 

A film about trauma and the refusal to be victimised, I found myself thinking a lot about and trying to understand Michèle Leblanc's character. I struggle to articulate my feelings about this film, but it is one that has stayed with me which is why it is on this list. Also, Isabelle Huppert is brilliiant in this.    

34. Zoology (Ivan I. Tverdovsky)     

A Russian tale about a woman with a tail, an allegory about contemporary Russia. About conformity, individuality and defiance. An ambigious ending that perhaps shied away from being more upfront about its message.        

33. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) 

This film made me think a lot about communication and how language shapes our thoughts. It is also a film about being vulnerable and about trust. I really enjoyed watching Amy Adams in this film. 

32. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols)  

I found this film very emotional and melancholic. Made me think of Interstellar which was in my top 20 last year. I'd like to revisit both films in a double bill.

Also, another film with a memorable soundtrack. Here's the main theme. 

31. Ascent, Dir. Fiona Tan 

A captivating film made entrirely of photos and narrated by Fiona Tan and Hiroki Hasegawa, Ascent is a reflection on the significance of Mt Fuji and its symbolism throughout Japan's history. One line towards the end of the film stayed with me, "If you can't sleep at night, it is because you are awake in someone else's dream".  

30.Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh)

My favourite film from/about the Arab region this year. Mostly marketed as Saudi rom com (which in itself is a suprising and an easy selling point), it is much, much more than that. It is a scathing commentary on the control of public spaces and women's bodies. It's sharp, funny with a great two leads, Fatima Albanawi and Hisham Faqeeh.

29. Divines (Houda Benyamina) 

A fantastic debut by Houda Benyamina starring her sister Oulaya Amamra as the very fierce, ambitious and unapologetic Douniya. Opportunities for success for this muslim teenager living in the outskirts of Paris looks limited. But she is determined to enjoy the good life and will do what it takes to have that life. It's thrilling and defiant. The film is on Netflix and I strongly urge you to watch it. It would also make a good double bill with Girlhood (Celine Sciamma) which was in my top 20 last year.   

28. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader) 

One of the most underrated films this year. It deserves more love. It is good. Also very funny. 

27. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)

An exquisite looking film, with some great twists and turns. 

26. United States of Love (Tomasz Wasilewski)

Set in 1990 Poland, soon after the end of the Cold War, I loved the cinematography in this. A despondent and melancholic film about loneliness and alienation.     

25. Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho)

Government mistrust and vulnerabilty in one of the best zombie films I've seen for a while.  

24. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari)

Another political film, this one is a horror film et in an apartment in Iran in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war. Lots of extremely scary moments in this. 

23. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

Dorothea, a single mother in her 50s and raising her teenage son in 1979, a time of cultural change and upheaval, punk music, women's lib,  . is trying to Four women in three stories set in Livingstone, Montana. All somewhat connected and each story about various degrees of unsatisfied lives. I was moved by the yearning and solitary existence in the third story. 

22. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Dorothea Fields, a single free spirited mother in her mid-50s raising her teenage sone in 1979, in Santa Barbara California. A film that captures that year with great detail and authencity. The film is also very authentic emotionally - a mother trying to understand the new counterculture of the time, trying to raise a man without a male role model. But it also becomes about a son trying to understand his mother and the woman she was, is and will be. 

A great ensemble cast that is an ode to the director's mother. Annette Benning is superb in this.     

21. Voyage of Time: Life's Journey (Terrence Malick)

Wonderous. That's all I have to say about this film. 

20. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)

An intimate portrait of Akerman's mother in the last years of her life. In its mundaneness, there's a mother-daughter relationship that reveals history and memories. Both personal and universal. 

19. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) 

An awkward and estranged father/daughter relationship, a lonely father trying to get back into his daughter's life and trying to tell her there is more to life than just work. A daughter trying to prove herself on the job and dealing with with corporate sexism who doesn't seem to have time for anything else. There's a lot of humour masking extreme sadness in this film.    

18. The Eyes of My Mother (Nicolas Pesce)

A gruesome and melancholic horror film about lonliness. One of the most disturbing, but also must see films of the year. 

17. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)

A bittersweet and funny, very funny film written and directed by Taika Waititi. So well paced and executed, this was a real suprise for me. 

16. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)

A family drama mostly set inside an apartment, a superbly crafted film with great dialogue, acting, direction. 

15. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello) 

Young Parisians revolting against the establishment. We are never told exactly why, but this is a film that somehow anticipated the troubles in Europe today. Masterful and provocative. With a great soundtrack too.

14. Further Beyond (Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor) 

A tracing of a journey from Ireland to Chile by Ambrosio O’Higgins, First Marquis of Osorno, who left Ireland to become a Spanish colonial administrator and then served the Spanish Empire. But this isn't your traditional biopic. It's a deconstructed film essay that's really about migration and identity.  A unique film. 

13. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve) 

Another film starring Isabel Huppert. Nathalie, philosophy teacher dealing with a new transition in her life, a husband that leaves her after 25 years, a mother that passes away. There is no melodrama in this film, instead, it's dealing with life through everyday circumstances. Brilliantly directed by Mia Hansen-Løve who is becoming one of my favourite filmmakers.    

12. Your Name (Makoto Shinkai)

An incredibly layered film with themes of parallel lives, missed connections, body swap, dreams and memories. My favourite animated film this year.  

11. The Bacchus Lady (E J-yong)

A devastating film about old age and lonliness. What starts off as comedic soon turns into heartbreak. 

10. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) 

A contemporary western, with great dialogue and Jeff Bridges is fantastic in this. Also has the best diner scene in film this year.

9. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016) 

A documentary that combines two histories, the fise and fall of a city and the history of silent film, all told through remarkable found footage and photos with a mesmerising soundtrack.

8. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho) 

A defiant film about standing up to real estate bullies and the preservation of histories and legacies. Clara, the main protaginist in the film is a hero and we all need someone like her in our lives.

7. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)

Sharp, intelligent and absolutely hilarious. 

6. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Koreeda) 

One of the most loving family dramas I've seen. Featuring ordinary people with ordinary lives, a film with so much empathy, loving and optimism that doesn't feel saccharine. Hirokazu Koreeda creates a world in his films that I want to live in.   

5. Little Men (Ira Sachs)  

Ira Sachs' Love is Strange was in my list of favourite films in 2014. Little Men is also set in New York and also touches upon the real estate issues in New York, but this time told through the lives of two young boys, the sensitive and empathetic Jake and the bold and confident Tony. About coming of age, friendship, following dreams. It's affectionate, moving and humane.    

4. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan) 

I felt so much cinematic pleasure whilst watching this film. References to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wong Kar Wai, but a film that is unique to its first time director Bi Gan. Halfway into the film, there's a wonderful and impressive 40min long take 40 that crosses bridges, rivers and alleyways.  A dreamlike state where the past, present and future floats together. The ending of the film left me 

A world where the past, present and future flVisually and narratively A visual Watching this felt like I was in a dream, floating through the past, present and future. The ending wowed me. 

3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

What more can be said about Moonlight that hasn't been said already? An incredibly moving and melancholic film, I am so glad to see this 'small film' it getting so much love and recognition. If you missed it this year, seek it out in 2017.

2. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) 

A portrait of Emily Dickinson's life, emotional struggles and poetry. An independent woman who followed her passion for writing, even if it was only for a few hours before dawn when she could enjoy writing freely. She challenged social and religious norms, but was also reclusive and lived within the confines of her home with her family.

With excellent direction, writing and acting, Cynthia Nixon is exceptional in this, the film its intelligent, funny and tragic, especially towards in the second half of the film. We see Dickinson dealing with the death of her parents, see isolates herself further from her family. You try to understand her inner thoughts and conflicts, about someone who wrote so well about life but who didn't really live it to the fullest. 

It's a masterpiece and was going to be my number one film this year if it weren't for... 

1. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson) 

This film came my way only a couple of weeks ago after I was worried I wouldn't get to see it this year. I've been hearing very good things about it from January after its premiere at Sundance. 

A film made up entirely of unused footage captured over 25 years by documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. It starts with this quote:

For the past 25 years, I've worked as a documentary cinematographer. I originally shot the following footage for other films, but here I ask you to see it as my memoir. These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still.  

It is masterfully edited, revealing the relationship between the person behind the camera and the person in front of it. It raises questions about objectivity, constructed narratives in documentary making, emotional and ethical complexities of filming other people's lives. But it is also a film about life and the world we live in. A remarkable film.