I saw 93 films in 2016 overall, but removing repeat screenings and rewatching classics, there are 75 films left pitching for the Golden Stans.
It is traditional for me to open with awarding the Cone of Shame to the worst movie of the year. While I managed to avoid dogs this year, Batman V Superman was a mess, but rather than give the award to the film, it goes to DC director Zack Snyder on behalf of the DC and Warners management for overseeing the unholy mess. Surely someone in the hierarchy realised that trying to combine elements of The Dark Knight Returns and the Death of Superman, plus the introduction of Woman Woman and a new Lex Luthor, and lay the foundations for the birth of the JLA would be too much for one film? Oppressively dark and oppressively shot, BvS shortchanged movie fans everywhere, whether they were comic geeks or not.
Moving on to the good stuff, many films had fantastic soundtracks this year, in particular:
- Brimstone - Junkie XL
- Hell Or High Water - Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
- The Childhood Of A Leader - Scott Walker
- The Ghoul - Waen Shepherd
In each case, the scores added to the overall experience of the film, however the winner of the Golden Stan for Best Score goes to Scott Walker. I’m prepared to admit that the score may have too much of its own personality, that it’s too prominent, that just maybe the images are just there to support the music, but it absolutely blew me away.
Just as many films ‘sounded’ great in 2016, so as many again ‘looked’ fantastic; indeed, cinematography this year was not only of high quality but also prominent in quantity. The not-very-short shortlist looks like this:
- The Revenant - Emmanuel Lubezki
- Son of Saul - Matyas Erdely
- The Childhood Of A Leader - Lol Crawley
- Hell Or High Water - Giles Nuttgens
- Nocturnal Animals - Seamus McGarvey
- Manchester By The Sea - Jody Lee Lipes
- La La Land - Linus SandgrenBrimstone - Rogier Stoffers
Brimstone, to my eyes, looks better than Hateful Eight, while Hell Or High Water had a bleached, barren quality befitting the film’ locations. Sandgren is a key part in La La Land’s immense success (not least that opening shot), while Seamus McGarvey seems to delight in the stylistic challenges thrown at him by Tom Ford. Lipes achieved a level of intimacy yet with objectivity on Manchester, while Crawley’s work on Childhood was all about objectivity, inviting you to gaze in horror. Erdely’s and Lubezki’s work helped to create the intensely immersive Saul and Revenant.
No doubt each of the nominees faced their own challenges, but there’s no getting away from the enormous obstacles that Lubezki faced, so he gets the gong for Best Cinematography.
The Golden Stan for Best Adapted Screenplay can only go to one script, and that script is The Big Short by Charles Randolph and (crucially) Adam McKay. They made the unfilmable massively enjoyable without losing the detail and context that gives the film its meaning.
The shortlist for the Golden Stan for Original Screenplay is:
- Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea
- Alice Low for Revenge
- Taylor Sheridan for Hell Or High Water
Each of these writers have distinctive voices and clear, particular concerns. Sheridan followed up Sicario with another modern Western, positively reeking of the here and now and the great unwashed who put Trump into power. The success of Low’s pregnant serial killer movie springs from her elegant script, where text and subtext seem to swap places from scene-to-scene. While Lonergan has been a little dismissive of praise for Manchester (“if it had been released in the 70s, you’d just say that it was good”), his script and plotting is the initial foundation stone of the film’s emotional impact. For making the unwatchable so compelling, the award goes to Lonergan.
And now on to the acting awards. First up is Supporting Actress; here’s the shortlist:
- Kate Dickie for The Witch
- Julianne Moore for Maggie’s Plan
- Hayley Squires for I, Daniel Blake
- Adriana Ugarte for Julieta
- Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
- Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea
Kate Dickie is arguably cast a little too with type in The Witch as the frustrated and troubled wife and mother, but is utterly convincing. Hayley Squires is similarly convincing in Daniel Blake. Adriana Ugarte is a Spanish star of the future if she can maintain the form she showcases in Julieta. Alicia Vikander finally arrived as far as I’m concerned with her best performance to date, stealing the movie from Eddie Redmayne. Julianne Moore’s performance teetered on the edge of farce but the truth was always there in her eyes. While I note her lack of screen time in Manchester, Michelle Williams gets the Golden Stan (her first win after this her third nomination) for her part in delivering one of the most powerful scenes ever committed to film. I’m steeling myself in preparation for seeing that scene again when Manchester goes on general release.
Next, it’s Supporting Actor. Here’s the shortlist:
- Steve Carrell for The Big Short
- Willem Dafoe for Dog Eat Dog
- Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea
- Ralph Ineson for The Witch
- Bill Nighy for Their Finest
Great roles for men were in short supply in 2016. Lucas Hedges is adept at the trauma and the unforced comedy at play in Manchester and helps ensure the unwatchable is entirely watchable. Ralph Ineson is just as compelling as Kate Dickie in The Witch, while Dafoe and Nighy deploy their comedy chops with elan. However, the Golden Stan goes to Steve Carrell, the emotional and moral anchor at the heart of The Big Short.
In serendipitous juxtaposition, the leading roles for women were many and varied (at least to my eyes!): my initial longlist for Best Actress ran to 17 names with two featuring for multiple performances. In the end, this is the not-so-shortlist:
- Amy Adams for Nocturnal Animals, and Arrival
- Kate Beckinsale for Love & Friendship
- Paula Beer for Frantz
- Berenice Bejo for Childhood of a Leader, and After Love
- Dakota Fanning for Brimstone
- Rebecca Hall for Christine
- Isabelle Huppert for Elle
- Noa Kooler for Through The Wall
- Brie Larson for Room
- Alice Low for Revenge
- Emma Stone for La La Land
- Emma Suarez for Julieta
Picking a winner from these performers is tough. Kate Beckinsale delivered a timely reminder of just how good she can be when not dressed in skintight black leather. Rebecca Hall was brave and committed with her unflinching portrayal of the titular Christine. Amy Adams maintained her run rate, with Arrival less challenging than her role in Nocturnal Animals but allowing her to be the clear ‘hero’ of the narrative. Berenice Bejo offered two visions of troubled motherhood. Paula Beer, Dakota Fanning and Brie Larson all excelled as women overcoming conflict and oppressive challenges. Both Emma Stone and Noa Kooler are luminous in lighter roles that nevertheless have strong undertows of painful reality. Emma Suarez commanded the screen in Julieta. Alice Low served her twisted humour and vision well by being her own lead. Isabelle Huppert was mighty and brave in Elle, never just a victim.
A winner? I unapologetically give the award to Emma Stone: it’s been a long time since a camera fell so desperately in love with an actress.
As already mentioned in the Supporting Actor category, great roles for men were not overflowing, thus in contrast with the Best Actress category, here’s a properly short shortlist for Best Actor:
- Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea
- Leonardo di Caprio for The Revenant
- Dave Johns for I, Daniel Blake
- Tom Meeten for The Ghoul
- Pierre Niney for Frantz
- Guy Pearce for Brimstone
- Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl
- Geza Gohrig for Son of Saul
There’s no doubting the commitment of the performers here. Guy Pearce delivered one of the greatest cinema villains ever as the vengeful preacher in Brimstone that fairly shook me to the core. The conditions di Caprio had to work in are well-documented and no doubt helped him to deliver a career-best performance. Tom Meeten threw himself into the maelstrom of madness at the heart of The Ghoul. Pierre Niney was perfect for Frantz, conveying the ever-shifting mystery and conflicted emotions that drive the film. Like his co-star, Dave Johns was utterly believable in Daniel Blake. Eddie Redmayne was genuinely excellent (remember, I haven’t previously rated Redmayne!) in The Danish Girl. However, the two outstanding portrayals of 2016 came from Casey Affleck in Manchester and Geza Rohrig for Saul. The latter had a hell of challenge: if I recall correctly, he’s in every scene bar two, mostly with the camera in his face or peering over his shoulder. The grace under pressure here is impressive, especially given Saul was his debut.
However, Casey Affleck takes the award for his natural, beautiful, nuanced portrayal of a man understandably deeply affected by grief. It takes two to tango and his part in ‘that’ scene with Michelle Williams must not be underestimated. I suspect that Caffleck’s performance will be remembered for decades to come.
The final acting award for Best Couple has two all-too-obvious recipients: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Their chemistry fires the film up and ensures that no matter how challenging the filming set-up, the joie de vivre is always front and centre.
The Golden Stan for Best Director started with a longlist of 20, but I’ve managed to get down to half that for the shortlist:
- Damien Chazelle for La La Land
- Brady Corbet for The Childhood Of A Leader
- Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea
- Alice Low for Revenge
- David Mackenzie for Hell Or High Water
- Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
- Adam McKay for The Big Short
- Laszlo Nemes for Son of Saul
- Francois Ozon for Frantz
- Ben Wheatley for Free Fire
Working backwards, Wheatley took delicious and delirious pleasure in his 80-minute shoot-out. Ozon continued to grow up, adding some real emotional engagement with his characters to his Hitchcockian observational position. Nemes’s conception and delivery created a holocaust movie that moves beyond victimhood. McKay crafted that rare thing: a funny but important movie that should be required vieiwing for anyone over the age of 18. McCarthy made up for playing one of the worst fictional journalists ever (in The Wire) by directing with reserve a tale of quality journalism, somehow making the work-aday utterly dramatic. Mackenzie’s direction of Hell Or High Water was assured, recalling past ‘modern’ Westerns without losing the film’s currency. Is Alice Low the next Ben Wheatley? I certainly hope so and look forward to whatever she chooses to direct next. The final trio then: Lonergan directs his script with great sensitivity, Corbet helms the most complete, singular and challenging vision of the year, and Chazelle seemingly trumps Whiplash. As much as I admire Chazelle for making me fall in love with a musical and applaud his audacity, the Golden Stan for Best Director goes to Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea.
Finally then, the big one: Best Film. This isn’t a shortlist as such, more a list of those films that enjoyed the most in 2016 in the order that I saw them:
- Room: quite how all those involved in this managed to turn such an awful scenario into fairytale I don’t know, but I applaud them for doing so.
- The Revenant: it had many issues, but when this was on fire, it was ON FIRE!
- The Big Short: a timely and important film, refreshingly told.
- Spotlight: unshowy depiction of the unshowy good work journalists can do; a despairing warning to the media and its audience in the free-to-air age…
- Captain America: Civil War: The best superhero fight of all time. A new Spider-Man that had this fanboy at ‘hello’. Some small, beautiful moments of character interplay. One of top 10 best superhero movies. Quite how the Russo brothers top this, I don’t know.
- Son Of Saul: immersive movie of the year? As it should be, this was uncomfortable, challenging and bleak vieiwing, but humanity in all its hues was evident.
- Mustang: a great ensemble cast brought this tale of burgeoning female adulthood and its conflict with religious and cultural oppression to considerable life. A real eye-opener.
- Julieta: another excellent work in the mature-Almodovar vein.
- The Childhood Of A Leader: this knocked me sideways, aided by that score by Scott Walker. But this is Brady Corbet’s movie. Challenging and relevant.
- Hell Or High Water: a great modern ‘American movie’. Watch this and it’s no surprise that Trump beat Clinton.
- La La Land: I saw this on a Saturday morning during the London Film Festival. I don’t like musicals, I don’t ‘get’ them, but this one got me.
- Frantz: in which Francois Ozeon continues to mature, emotionally engaging with his characters. Post-Brexit, this was a reminder of the potential horror now at the gates of every European state.
- Manchester By The Sea: it’s already won four Golden Stans… I simply can’t wait to see this for a second and third time.
- Mindhorn: achingly funny British comedy that meant my hanky was soaked with tears of laughter. Some of the best/silliest gags I’ve ever seen.
- Arrival: the thinking woman’s Interstellar anyone?
- Elle: if Ozon was less Hitchcock than usual, Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert went fully Hitch. In a year dominated by the gender and diversity debate, director and star cheekily leave no convention unchallenged, no base unloaded. Strong stuff no doubt, but it needs to be seen.
- Brimstone: the gothic horror movie of 2016! Brimstone held me in its grip for 2.5 hours even as some people were leaving the cinema in disgust.
- Prevenge: a film to watch with a crowd. Once seen, you’ll never look at a pregnant woman the same way ever again.
- Free Fire: 90 minutes long with 80 minutes of gunplay, Wheatley’s Free Fire ripped every action movie of late a new one. Teaches Tarantino a lesson too. Exhilarating and hilarious.
- I, Daniel Blake: austerity Britain dissected. Loach and Laverty’s anger at the system is treated with a light touch: rather than shout at you, the film builds your emotional connection to its very real characters, its anger building inside you through osmosis.
- Rogue One: the best Star Wars movie yet? For once, studio heads did the right thing: allowed all the heroes to die! I’m looking forward to watching Rogue One and New Hope back-to-back.
Ultimately, two films stood head and shoulders above all others. My emotional reaction to both was intense. In a year dominated by death and broken dreams, it is only just that Manchester By The Sea and La La Land share the Golden Stan for Best Film.