How do you make a movie about a man in the final stages of cancer, that most insidious of diseases, but manage to keep it upbeat and filled to the brim with warmth and sweet melancholy? Tomás flies from Canada to Madrid to be with Julián, his ailing lifelong friend. Truman is the much-loved dog that Julián is desperate to find a good home for as the end nears for him. Spanish director Cesc Gay, foregoing pathos in favour of reflection and self-discovery, draws superb performances from Ricardo Darin and Javier Cámara.
2. Embrace Of The Serpent
Shot in luminous black-and-white, the past and the present are intertwined in the Amazon basin as the shaman Karamakate guides a German scientist along a path he’d taken years earlier with another explorer. Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s film is ostensibly about the deleterious impact of Spanish colonialism on indigenous cultures, but its power rests solely with the magnetism of both Nilbio Corres and Antonio Bolivar as the younger and older Karamakate and the dense, quiet beauty of the landscape.
A festering dispute over a family inheritance has meant that two grizzly old brothers in Iceland have not spoken a word to each other for forty years. All they have – all anybody has in their isolated valley – are their herds of sheep. When the government orders those herds to be destroyed because of the outbreak of a virulent infection, one of the brothers refuses to comply. An unexpected rapprochement is arrived at in a strange and beautiful movie with an uncertain ending.
4. Wide Open Sky
In this craven world, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of just how selfless some people are. And of how kids who miss out on the accident of being born into families of the wealthy urban elite can benefit so much by being exposed to music and, more importantly, encouraged by a teacher who sees their potential. Every year, Michelle Leonard drives all over the outback auditioning youngsters for the Australian Children’s Choir. What she achieves is contagious joy and spiritual revival. Wonderful.
5. Sing Street
Irish writer/director John Carney has firmly established himself as the go-to man if you’re looking for an insightful movie about what it means to play in a rock’n’roll band. This year’s release, arguably the best about the subject since his Begin Again (2013), is set in Dublin during the Eighties, with all of that forgotten era’s big hair and shoulder pads and Duran Duran. A teenage boy gets a group together to impress a girl. Exuberant and affectionate, with some great songs, too.
6. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
It may not have quite the same emotional weight of Boy (2010), or be quite as funny as What We Do In The Shadows (2014), but Taiku Waititi’s third feature is made up of equal parts heart and humour. Bad boy Ricky (Julian Dennison) and Hec (Sam Neill), his foster uncle and old misery-guts, find themselves on the run in the wilds of New Zealand. It’s a role that is money for rope for Neill, but the chemistry between him and Dennison is an absolute treat. Brilliant support players and gorgeous cinematography make this the sort of flick you’re sorry to see end.
Real-life drama, as it happened. Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom was on Mount Everest for what might have been just another doco about the world’s highest peak and the increasingly boorish ownership taken of it as a bucket-list challenge by cashed-up western ‘adventurers’. In 2013, making an ascent by night to prepare for their masters’ climb the next day, a number of sherpas were killed by a landslide. They got jack of their lot and a particular NZ tour organiser personified the crassness of the Everest industry. A riveting expose of cultural insensitivity and exploitation.
8. The Jungle Book
Mowgli the little jungle boy and his enemy, the stalking tiger Shere Khan, Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray, who gets to do a beautiful rendition of The Bare Necessities) – the characters from the pages of Rudyard Kipling’s timeless tales out of the Indian forest are still as real with children (and adults) today as they ever were. Gorgeous animation and the perfect casting of Neel Sethi as the kid result in total enchantment.
9. The Bélier Family
What might have been a sickly dollop of double-brie turned out to be one of the most heartfelt and celebratory films of the year. The Béliers are a cheesemaking family in rural France. Both parents, Gigi and Rodolphe (Karin Viard and François Damiens), are deaf, meaning that they have come to rely their daughter Paula (Louane Emera) to be their ears and voice. When Paula discovers that she can sing like an angel, she is torn between loyalty to her mum and dad and youthful ambition. Exquisite.
10. Florence Foster Jenkins
A welcome return to the screen by Hugh Grant saw him playing it straight as St Clair, the manager and doting husband of Meryl Streep’s wannabe soprano diva. Based on a true story, Florence was a wealthy New York socialite whose unshakeable self-belief led her, in 1944, to booking Carnegie Hall for a concert recital. That she was an awful singer allows for some hilarious moments – and Streep is fabulous at hitting the jarring, wrong note – but it’s more about the sincerity of her endeavour and the devotion shown her by St Clair.
The Joe Cockers
Gods of Egypt
Batman V Superman
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Bad Santa 2
Bad Neighbours 2
The Legend of Tarzan
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children