Best Films of 2016 so far // 5-1

Our countdown of the best films of the year so far continues. Each one is a masterpiece. Here is the top five:

5) Mustang

Mustang is a touching portrait of strong sisterly bonds and rebellion in the face of Turkish conservative values. Five teenage sisters get into trouble for innocently playing with boys from school when neighbours report obscene behaviour to their grandmother.

For in the section of Turkish society, a young girl is only of worth if she is a virgin, so she can be married off. Otherwise she is sullied and useless.

After virginity tests are carried out, any possessions are taken away that could pervert the five sisters, including a picture of a famous painting by Eugene Delacroix, depicting the symbol of France, the bare-breasted Marianne, who symbolises liberty. The ‘wife factory’ even has barred windows.

The protagonist is the youngest Lele, who is the feistiest and most determined to rebel against this repressive social order, as she dreams of reaching the promised land of Istanbul. However, the marrying of the daughters begins, ending in disastrous consequences

Shot beautifully in sun-kissed natural light, Mustang is a damning social comment on conservative values, but also an intimate family drama that is poignant and heart-breaking in equal measure.

4) Spotlight

Spotlight tells the story of how journalists investigated and uncovered one of the biggest scandals in recent history – the widespread molestation of children by catholic priests in Boston.

The attention to detail and realism brilliantly sucks you in, and what is fascinating is how the journey towards the truth isn’t a simple or straightforward one, and the crucial editorial decisions along the way.

Above all Spotlight is really moving in its presentation of journalists as white knights, who strive to serve society by holding people to account and fighting against injustice.

The film is definitely worthy of all those who contributed to the uncovering of the scandal that affected so many worldwide. A deserved winner of 2015’s Oscar for Best Picture.

3) The Witch 

A chilling folk tale set in the bleak, barren rural landscape of 17th New England, as a family of puritans is torn apart by suspicion and dark forces lurking in the wood.

The Witch is Robert Eggers’ debut feature, who conducted painstaking research to achieve tremendous levels of historical authenticity, using old fashioned language to create a drama with great weight that genuinely shocks you to the core.

This deeply unnerving film explores the constraints imposed by Puritanism, the damage inflicted by superstition and the brutality of family breakdown.

Rarely is a horror film so intelligent and artistically constructed. The Witch transcends this typically unimaginative and even ridiculous genre, leaving the viewer reeling.

2) The Survivalist

Thrilling and shocking in equal measure, The Survivalist masterfully depicts mankind’s fight for survival in an unknown point in the future after industrial society has collapsed.

A lone survivor, played with smouldering intensity by Martin McCann, reluctantly takes in a mother and daughter, and the trio do their best to survive.

Primitive roles of masculine aggression and feminine vulnerability come to the fore in a world where any civilisation has been stripped away to reveal the worst elements of human nature.

The bleak, hopeless scenario is counterbalanced by the beautiful natural surroundings. In his debut full-length film, director Stephen Fingleton brilliantly captures the bright green of the sun drenched woodland.

The look and feel of the film is truly immersive as Fingleton achieves a kind of heightened realism with a brilliantly captured natural soundtrack, in which every creek, rustling of leaves and birdsong rings out gloriously.

The Survivalist is daring, no-holds-barred cinema that slaps you in the face, not once shying away from the brutality of this nihilistic future vision.

Read the full review here.

1) Room 

Room tells the story of 5-year-old Jack and his mother, who have been held captive for years by a man known only as Old Nick. The adaptation of the novel by Emma Donoghue is told from Jack’s perspective, who was born in the confined space he calls Room.

For Ma (Brie Larson) this space is a prison that has robbed her of her young adulthood, but for Jack it is his entire world. Room depicts their time in captivity, their eventual escape and the difficulty in returning to normality in the aftermath.

Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress and deservedly so, as this is one of the most real feeling performances I have seen in ages. Her commitment to getting into the mind-set for the role included consulting trauma experts, avoiding sunlight, and going on a restrictive diet.

She also displayed great understanding of the role’s importance by interacting with sexual violence survivors in the aftermath of the film.

As you would expect the film is incredibly moving, but not entirely due to its grim subject matter, but also because of its life-affirming message: Even out of the darkest of situations, something so pure and good can emerge in the form of Jack.

Jack’s childish perspective on the world is coloured with sweet and even funny observations that lift the gloom. The mother-son relationship reminds us of the emotional intelligence and perceptiveness that children sometimes possess, and how support can go two ways in a parent- child relationship.

At the heart of the film is how Jack feels positively towards captivity, as it’s all he has ever known. Room is appealing to Jack, because it’s tangible and on some levels easy to understand, whereas the outside world represents the complexities and difficulties of growing up and facing reality. In some ways freedom is just as difficult to deal with as captivity.

This is a work of incredible thematic richness: from the claustrophobia of captivity, and the opposition between interior and exterior, to the complexity of PTSD, and the power of parent-child relationships.

Jack’s first foray into the outside world is a breath-taking cinematic moment, the likes of which you don’t come across very often, and which elevates director Lenny Abrahamson to the level of a genuinely great filmmaker.

The tone of the film is utterly perfect. A sober, respectful and unsensational exploration of sexual violence that doesn’t focus on the gruesomeness, but how the duo manage to make the best of things, and not lose hope. Room is a true masterpiece of moving, thought-provoking cinema.

By Matty Edwards

Check out the best of the rest with the previous five films from our countdown here!