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The greatest films of 2016: part I

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"They don't make 'em like they used to." It's one of the most oft-repeated - and lazy - claims about modern cinema but 2016 proved the naysayers wrong with a dynamic onslaught of richly emotional and engrossing experiences. From all corners of the globe, all manner of genres and filmmakers conspired to open our minds, from black comedy to chilling horror, family fun to arthouse atmosphere.

With the year rolling to a close, Cineworld content editor Sean Wilson selects 10 personal favourite films from an outstanding 12 months, beginning in part I with movies 10 to 6.

10. Julieta

Flamboyant Spanish auteur and provocateur Pedro Almodovar bounced back with this, his most pulled-together, emotionally satisfying and captivating drama in years, one drenched in his familiar vibrant primary colours but with a pleasingly grounded human story at the centre of all the red, orange and blue hues.

In his usual style it shifts gears with remarkable ease, beginning with the eponymous Julieta's confessional letter to her long-estranged daughter, one that acts as our entryway into a dramatic story of grief and family relationships that criss-crosses many different genres from noirish mystery to pastiche melodrama.

It's all anchored by the sensitive, multi-generational portrayal of Julieta herself, a character who opens up like a Russian doll in front of our eyes thanks to superb performances from Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte, playing the younger and older version of Julieta, respectively. And when the transition between the two generations does finally come, it's one of the year's most spine-tingling scenes.


9. Zootropolis

How do Disney do it? Not content with one-upping their luscious animation year on year (2016 also saw the resplendently beautiful Moana), the Mouse House also daringly pushed the story boat out with this slyly subversive yet agreeably warmhearted and hilarious family-friendly adventure.

It centres around one of Disney's most endearing creations in years: plucky police bunny Judy Hopps (winningly voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) whose arrival in the mammal metropolis of the title soon leads her to uncovering a conspiracy involving missing animals. The design of the movie is stupendous, Zootropolis divided into distinct zones that take the breath away (miniature 'Little Rodentia' is a treat), but there's heart and brains lurking behind the good looks, a plea for acceptance and solidarity that creeps up on viewers almost imperceptibly.

It's a delight that has an important moral to teach its young audience, but in Disney's usual style it's delivered with the utmost delicacy and never at the expense of having a great time.


8. Under the Shadow

It's always a thrill when a filmmaker announces their debut with a rich, full-blooded and emotionally memorable experience. That's what Tehran-born, London-based filmmaker Babak Anvari has done with this deliciously creepy Gothic shocker, a horror story set during the height of post-revolutionary Iran as a mother and her young daughter find themselves besieged by air strikes. However, when one missile lands through their roof, it appears to bring something far more sinister into their apartment, one that fixates on the young girl's doll...

Expertly mixing a sense of time and place with political history and a quietly emphatic study of gender equality, Anvari's movie is also deliciously creepy, carefully emphasising subtle sound design in the manner of classic ghost stories to suggest when danger is near. The setting gives the movie both a freshness and ironic sense of humour (a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the regime, provides chuckles), but Under the Shadow really works because it recognises that scary movies only scare when we invest and believe in their characters.


7. The Witch

Horror of the olde worlde kind takes centre stage in another fabulously accomplished debut feature, this from filmmaker Robert Eggers.

With dialogue drawn from real-life sources and an authentically muddy, slate-skied sense of its bleak 17th century setting, this brilliantly frightening story of a banished New England Puritan family torn apart by seeming supernatural forces draws power from its Shining-esque ambiguity: is witchcraft involved, or does it all stem from religious hysteria?

Indeed, the main terror of The Witch resides not in its supernatural trappings (although there's plenty of creepy stuff along those lines) but in the anguish and breakdown of the family unit. Chief among them is seriously impressive newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin, whose emergence into adolescence adds more complexity and uncertainty to this witches cauldron of tension, superstition and mania. Plus, in the form of Black Philip the movie contains the most sinister goat ever to bleat its way onto the big screen.


6. Arrival

Science-fiction is very often a genre tarred with the dumb brush, unfairly so seeing as it's given rise to so many of cinema's great cerebral masterpieces over the years like the original The Day the Earth Stood Still and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

How great it was to see Denis Villeneuve's triumphant follow-up to Sicario continuing the legacy of its esteemed predecessors. Placing character before explosions, atmosphere before convoluted plot mechanics, this thoughtful story of first contact does an outstanding job of grounding its fantastical conceit through discreet visual language (there are no hordes of patriotic soldiers here) and, especially, a quietly powerful performance from Amy Adams whose every reaction quivers with wonder and discovery.

In the manner of all great sci-fi, Arrival (adapted from the short novella 'Story of Your Life' by Ted Chiang) isn't really interested in aliens or spectacle but people, and the wide-ranging impact our seemingly inconsequential lives can have amidst a vast universe. With both Villeneuve and Adams steering well clear of melodrama and cliche, the movie's hotly debated, time-tripping twists find a recognisably human centre.


Check back tomorrow for Sean's top 5 movies of 2016, and don't forget to send in your own choices @Cineworld.