It’s been a pretty eventful year for movie fans. Between blockbusters and award-winning independents, there has been more than enough to keep us busy.
But it’s not only the big-budget films that have been delivering – art house dramas, animated features, and even a superhero movie have all been able to find success in today’s crowded market.
One of the biggest news stories of the year has been the emergence of the ‘New Hollywood’. Shocking the industry, many of the year’s biggest and most beloved movies were made for a fraction of the cost of a traditional Hollywood production.
The new wave of cinema exhibited at film festivals across the world in the last year has cemented the fact that viewers want their cinema experience to be as distinctive as possible. This wave of independent filmmaking is here to stay.
The biggest surprise of 2016 was undoubtedly the British gangster film, The Rover. Not only was it the critically acclaimed directorial debut of Logan star Robert Pattinson, but its low-budget style and cast of unknowns turned heads and won over audiences worldwide. In fact, The Rover was one of the most popular movies of the year – ranking number three on the 2016 IMDb top 10 list.
Set in present-day London, the dramatic thriller charts the journey of former bank robber, Charlie (Pattinson), who is released from prison and driven by his desire for redemption to commit one last heist. Along the way, he encounters a group of ex-cons who team up with him for one last job, leading to an explosive finale.
The premise of The Rover might sound familiar. Like its predecessor, Possession, it too is the story of a wealthy playboy who teams up with a group of criminals to pull one last job. However, where Possession was focused on the battle of desire as two men fight for the affections of a woman, The Rover explores the battle for survival as rival gangs fight for control of London’s drug trade. It is, therefore, a much more violent and grittier film than its predecessor. And, perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of this very fact, one of the film’s trailers depicts a scene of brutal violence toward the end. As the saying goes, when they don’t give you sugar, you take it from elsewhere.
While we’re on the subject of British gangster films, it would be remiss not to mention Get Out. Directed by the multi-hyphenate Jordan Peele, the groundbreaking horror-comedy premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim before receiving a limited theatrical release a few days later. Starring Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya as the eponymous character and bolstered by a standout supporting cast, including Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Silverman, and Courtney B. Vance, the film became one of the year’s most talked-about movies. And, though it was met with a mixed response on social media, it stands as a testament to just how much of a conversation piece Get Out is today.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
We’ve come full circle now, back to the original premise of this article – the emergence of the ‘New Hollywood’. As mentioned, an independent streak has emerged this year, spearheaded by two of the biggest names in Hollywood – Tom Hardy and Robert Pattinson. Together with Guy Ritchie, the director of The Knights of the Round Table, Kingsman: The Secret Service is the first film of the year to be released under the big-budget auteurism of the New Hollywood.
Hardy’s character, Max, is a young, brash British agent who, following the assassination of a royal bridegroom, discovers that the Secret Service has been corrupted by greed. After infiltrating a meeting of international criminals, Hardy’s character betrays the agency and joins forces with the villains to expose its corrupt practices. In solidarity, their accomplice, a character played by Pattinson, turns against them and sides with the agency.
Carrying on the tradition of British gangster films, Kingsman follows in the footsteps of The Godfather and Scarface as it examines the betrayal of those who stand to benefit most from an unregulated criminal underworld. But it is very much its own unique film, as Kingsman: The Secret Service is not so much a retelling of an existing myth as it is a celebration of the rich tapestry that is the English language. Here, words have power and are not to be trifled with. As a result, the characters’ dialogue is suffused with an undercurrent of menace that is ever-present in their every conversation. The result is a brilliantly entertaining film that will appeal to anyone who enjoys a compelling conversation and a thrill ride of a movie ride.
Speaking of unique and entertaining linguistic pleasures, Lady Bird is the best film this year – and it’s not even close. Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, this sharp satire explores the conflicting desires – and the terror that results from following one’s passions – that characterise the modern age. Set in Sacramento in the 1970s, Lady Bird follows the eponymous character, Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan), a Stanford-educated young woman who defies societal convention by taking a job as a dental nurse and moving into her own apartment.
An adaptation of the classic George Saunders short story, ‘Lady Bird’, the film also stars Christine Baranski, Celia McAdams, Parker Posey, Toni Collette, and Blythe Danner. What’s more, it is the only film of the year to feature a spoken word performance by the legendary Maya Angelou.
As the eponymous character embarks on a journey of self-discovery, she struggles to reconcile her passion for becoming a dentist with her family’s expectations that she pursue a more conventionally ‘female’ career. The result is a movie that is at once hilarious, moving, and thought-provoking.
Rounding out the best of the best this year is Wonder. The only film to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and nominated for multiple awards, including the Grand Jury Prize, Wonder tells the story of Amandla Stenberg, a recent high school graduate who finds herself struggling to make her way in the world. Desperate to pay off her student loans, she accepts a job offer from a wealthy white family and is transported to their glamorous mansion where she must serve as companion and caretaker to their spoiled daughter, Jackie Ocean.
In doing so, she befriends Andre Holland, a young man who lives in a nearby town and also desperately needs a job. Hoping to win her way to success, Andre offers to mentor Amandla in return for her help in finding work. Little does either of them know that their unlikely collaboration will result in an unbreakable bond and help alter the course of fate for the better.
The deeply heart-breaking story of Wonder is directed by the award-winning Jennifer Johnston. In her 20s, Johnston set out to make a film about a young woman’s coming of age in the digital age, only to have the project fall apart. Resolved to never give up and inspired by stories of strong women she had met along the way, she returned with a new and improved vision, a passionate social media following, and a new project: Wonder. Though set in the present day, the film channels the heartache of the millennial generation, as well as those that have come before them, to address the issue of youth unemployment. The film’s stunning visuals and rich atmosphere (courtesy of Boasting a stunning black cast, Wonder is the definitive representation of ‘New Hollywood’) will make it an essential watch for fans of fashion and pop culture alike.