It's Christmas Day. There is a high probability you have partaken heavily of something not inclined to leave you sharp of senses or quick of wits. You don't want to read the usual sort of finely-observed and keenly-argued nonsense about an obscure film you've no intention of ever watching. You want something easier on the mental processes.
That's fine – I get that completely. I can do undemanding seasonal filler with the best of them, and so permit me to share with you my pick of the 65 new movies I have found myself sitting in front of at various times in 2016. I suppose I am taking a bit of a risk given the year's not over yet and there's always a chance that Passengers, which I'm planning on catching before the end of the month, will turn out to be really good. But, based on the advance buzz which has reached my ears, I sort of doubt it.
And so, in fairly strict chronological order, here are not necessarily the ten best films of 2016, but ten which seemed to me to be both distinctive and distinguished.
Joy – Quite a good crop of awards-trawling contenders this year, wasn't terribly impressed by The Revenant myself, did like The Big Short a lot, and quite pleased with the eventual success of Spotlight. I find the film which has stayed longest with me was David O Russell's Joy, one of those odd films which is a bio-pic of someone rather obscure outside of the US. In this case that just means the rest of us could enjoy a biographical drama by a top director and actors (Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Bradley Cooper) which managed to be both polished and just a little bit weird.
Marguerite – A good year for films about dreadful singing, and in particular the life of Florence Foster Jenkins. Florence Foster Jenkins itself wasn't too bad, distinguished primarily by a terrific Hugh Grant performance, but better in every way, if you ask me, was this film by Xavier Gianolli, which blended comedy and deeply moving drama and featured a great turn in the title role from Catherine Frot.
High-Rise – I suppose this qualifies as the first mainstream release from the cult British horror director Ben Wheatley, but given this is a black comedy about the total collapse of society in a 1970s tower block, that's a fairly specific interpretation of 'mainstream'. Purists may object to the relative lack of subtlety and sheer weirdness in this film compared to some of Wheatley's other films, but this is the work of a man staking a claim to a place as a major British director for many years to come.
Victoria – I'm noticing a bit of a tendency for films with girls' names to dominate this list, and come to think of it there are a lot of female-focused films here or hereabouts. Hmmm. This one is here mainly because there was nothing else quite like it on the screen in 2016: a two hour drama composed of a single unbroken shot, roaming all over Berlin, and managing to tell a compelling and thoughtful story too.
Eye in the Sky – Probably the most compelling and urgently topical drama of the year, made more poignant by featuring the final on-screen performance of the great Alan Rickman (just one of the many huge talents to depart forever this year). It takes what sounds like a slightly dry and worthy issue – the use of drone strikes to prosecute the so-called war on terror – and turns it into a utterly gripping political thriller.
The Nice Guys – I went to see Shane Black's latest film with my then-partner and she fled the cinema about three-quarters of the way through, unable to handle the level of violence. Naturally I stayed to the end, partly because I am desensitised to all but the most extreme gore but mainly because this was as smart and funny as you would expect from a Shane Black movie, with great chemistry from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Probably not one for Granny, even so.
Captain Fantastic – Another film from a place somewhere off the beaten track of cinema, featuring Viggo Mortensen as the very counter-cultural father of a brood of eccentrically-raised children. Another film which asks significant questions about what society is for and what values we want to establish, but again one with some great performances and very moving moments.
The Girl with All the Gifts – The current vogue for zombie apocalypses got started nearly fifteen years ago and shows no signs of running out of steam, so you might expect all the films in this genre to be getting a bit repetitive and predictable. Not so, for this one managed to include all the stuff you really want to see in a proper zombie movie, and also be one of the year's best couple of SF movies, too. If you put a gun to my head, I'd probably choose this as my favourite film of 2016.
Queen of Katwe – There aren't many films about chess, probably for very sensible reasons. That said, when they do make a film about chess, it's often pretty good, as in this case. You could certainly argue that Mira Nair's film is not without its share of sporting cliches, but it also makes a great job of telling a fascinating and too-little-known story. Nice performances, again, and it raises some serious issues in a not-too-heavy manner, again, too.
Arrival – The proverbial good SF film, as I described it at the time, had more than a touch of the Christopher Nolans about it, but that's never a bad thing. The strangeness and intensity of Denis Villeneuve's ethereal fable about how our languages shape how we view the world means that it's probably not a film with universal appeal, but it is a hugely accomplished and impressive one.
And what of 2017? Well, as usual, the early buzz is all about ongoing franchises, with a new installment of the Planet of the Apes series on the way – always a big moment for 24LAS. There are, as usual, a plethora of Marvel-based comic book movies, including yet more outings for Wolverine and Spider-Man and a hotly-awaited reappearance by the Guardians of the Galaxy, while DC bravely persevere in their own endeavours by launching Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. For those with different tastes, the year will at least offer a new Christopher Nolan film, as he has a go at a lavish historical epic in the form of Dunkirk. And, last but not least, there is of course what may well turn out to be the film of the year: Jason Statham in Fast and Furious 8. With such an embarrassment of riches incoming, you hardly need critics to tell you just how good they are, but I expect I will be hanging about the place anyway as usual.