Sang-ho Yeon

Film Bouquets 2016

 

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It was an interesting year for film. Here, in order of release, rather than stature – and with the benefit of hindsight – are our favourite movies of 2016.

Room

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This superb adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel got 2016 off to a cracking start. There were powerful performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay as the central characters in a tragic yet oddly inspirational story.

The Revenant

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu delivered another dazzling movie, this one as savage and untamed as the grizzly bear that mauled Leonardo Di Caprio half to death – but made up for it by helping him win his first Oscar.

Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman gave us a quirky (and deeply disturbing) animation that was a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak nature of the human condition.

Dheepan

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Jacques Audiard’s fascinating study of the lives of refugees never fell into cliche. There was violence here, but it felt horribly real and totally devastating. There were affecting performances from a cast of newcomers.

Victoria

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Sebastian Schipper’s film really shouldn’t have worked. Delivered in one continuous take, the fact that it hooked us in so brilliantly was just the icing on the cake – a real ensemble piece but plaudits must go to Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine.

Sing Street

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John Carney may have only one plot but when it was delivered as beautifully as it was in Sing Street, we were happy to indulge him. This was a beautiful, heartwarming film with appeal to anybody who has ever dreamed about pop stardom.

The Neon Demon

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The fashion industry as seen by Nicolas Winding Refn is a hell hole and here, Elle Fanning as Jesse, was the latest recruit. A weird mash-up of sex, violence and extreme voyeurism, this was the director’s most assured effort yet.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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New Zealand director Taika Waititi offered up this delightfully quirky story about a troubled teenager (Julian Dennison) and his friendship with crusty curmudgeon, Hec (Sam Neill). This film reeled us in and kept us hooked to the end credits.

The Girl with all the Gifts

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Just when we thought the zombie movie had stumbled as far as it could go, Colm McCarthy’s film gave the genre a hefty kick up the backside – and there was a star-making performance from young Senna Nanua in the lead role.

Under the Shadow

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Babek Abvari’s film had all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie and a powerful political message as well. Set in post war Tehran, young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggled to keep her daughter safe from the forces of darkness.

I, Daniel Blake

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Ken Loach’s return to the screen resulted in one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year – a searing look at ‘benefits Britain’ that would have the most stony-hearted viewer in floods of tears. Should be required viewing for Tory politicians.

Train to Busan

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Another day, another zombie movie – but what a zombie movie! Korean director Sang ho Yeon gave us a galloping ‘zombies on a train’ thriller that nearly left us breathless. There were some incredible set pieces here and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

Paterson

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Jim Jarmusch presented a charming and quirky tale about a would-be poet living in a town that had the same name as him. Not very much happened, but it didn’t happen in an entirely watchable way. A delightful celebration of the creative spirit.

Life, Animated

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This compelling documentary squeaked in right at the end of the year – the true life tale of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy, initially unable to speak a word, but rescued by his love of Disney movies. It was funny, uplifting and educational – and our final pick of 2016.

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Train to Busan

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Zombie movies are a bit like buses: you wait for what seems like ages for a decent one and then two crackers come along at pretty much the same time. No sooner are we over extolling the genre-busting virtues of The Girl With All The Gifts, than Train to Busan comes thundering down the track. We’ve all heard of Snakes on a Plane, but Zombies on a train? One look at the trailer was enough to convince us that this should be our Halloween movie of choice.

South Korean writer/director Sang-ho Yeon is in the driver’s seat of this adrenalin-fuelled delight, which eschews the slow-witted lumbering zombies of George Romero and substitutes them for some hot-footed, rabid berserkers that would leave the crowd from 28 Days Later standing on the platform. They are everywhere in this film – tumbling through glass doors, raining down out of the sky and, at one point, forming an inhuman chain clinging tenaciously onto the back of a locomotive. It’s fast, it’s frantic and, above all, it’s fun to watch.

Our hero is Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) a wealthy fund manager who, from the very outset, presents as a man who looks after his own best interests. When he is obliged to (very reluctantly) escort his young daughter, Soo-an (the adorable Soo-an Kim) to Busan to rendezvous with her mother – from whom Seok Woo is separated – he expects nothing more than an uneventful journey. But there’s a barely glimpsed ‘incident’ at the station where the train starts from and an injured woman stumbles aboard and locks herself in the toilet. When she emerges, she is one of the undead and she quickly sets about biting everyone she encounters. This is a disease that travels like wildfire and, within minutes, the train is full of unwelcome travellers.  Seok Woo and a band of fellow passengers will have to use every trick they can think of if they hope to survive to the end of the line…

Like most zombie movies, this is more than it might at first appear. The train is a great big metaphor for humanity and it quickly becomes apparent that the most dastardly travellers on board are the ones who care only about themselves. Chief among them is Yong-Suk (Eui-sung Kim) a man who thinks nothing of flinging a helpless teenage girl to the ravening hordes in order to cause a diversion to escape their clutches. Time and again, the nice people (the socialists) are seen sacrificing themselves in order to help others. The question is, which side will Seok Woo end up on?

Don’t worry – this doesn’t feel anything like a lecture. While you could argue that Train to Busan isn’t particularly scary, it makes up for that shortfall by ramping events up to almost unbearable levels of suspense, utilising some incredible set pieces along the way. This is quite simply a cinematic thrill ride, one that grips like a vice all the way to its (heartbreaking) conclusion.

Don’t miss out. Book your ticket to ride before this one pulls out of the platform and disappears over the horizon.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney