This is a good thing in a way, because otherwise (spoiler alert) this year's list might well have two Star Wars movies in it.
In my Best of 2015 post I noted how that year had seen a bumper crop of spy movies.
Well, 2016 was especially good for horror flicks. None of the following made the final cut for best of this year, but they were on the long list:
For a start there was Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk — a horror western. Then we had Lights Out, another horror movie which actually works. A gem which swept aside the usual clichés. Teresa Palmer was tremendously effective in it
Even better was The Boy, written by Stacey Menear, which really delivered the goods. Excellent, and scary.
Then we had Don’t Breathe A sterling and impressive non-supernatural horror story, which flips the premise of Wait Until Dark on its head: instead of the blind heroine being menaced by bad guys, the bad guys — in this case teen burglars — are menaced by a blind home owner. Jane Levy was terrific in it.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Quite wasn't strictly speaking horror but it was possibly Tim Burton’s best movie ever. And Jane Goldman’s script is terrific. What a surprise.
Moving on to science fiction we had Star Trek Beyond, the best of the franchise so far with a neat screenplay slotted together like a fine piece of carpentry. And I really liked Sofia Boutella as the alien chick.
In Deep Water Horizon Mark Wahlberg had a great moment when he reels off a list of malfunctioning equipment on the oil platform like a homage to his list of girl’s porno names in Ted. And in a year when I was getting fed up with Marvel movies, Doctor Strange scored strongly. Wonderfully trippy, often very funny, with some excellent actors.
I suppose you could classify The Purge: Election Year among the horror films. I was afraid this franchise would begin to falter with this third entry, but no way.
I was struck again by the brilliance of the Purge concept. Like a zombie movie but it could actually happen. Unbearably suspenseful. And astonishingly radical: We are invited to applaud the spectacle of poor black people shooting rich white people... In a church.
In Trumbo Bryan Cranston really revels in making himself look a wreck.This film was catnip for screenwriters. And it made a fascinating companion piece to the Coen Brother's Hail Caesar.
Okay folks, that's it for runners-up. We are now moving on to the actual best of the year list. And this year there are a dozen movies which get that honour... and be warned, some of my choices are idiosyncratic, and fly in the face of received wisdom and the critical consensus.
So, the top twelve:
For a start we have Criminal a science fiction/thriller hybrid featuring a longhaired Kevin Costner. Universally loathed by the critics but I loved it and think it's a classic. Check it out.
Even better was Matt Cook and John Hillcoat's Triple 9, a storming crime thriller. Genuinely dark and brutal and sleazy. And what an incredible cast. Kate Winslett was amazing as a ruthless gangster. Don't miss it.
Also in the dark thriller mould was The Accountant, a supremely well fashioned script by Bill Dubuque featuring Ben Affleck as a new kind of action hero, an autistic savant and bean counter.
In an utterly different vein there was the extraordinary Room about a kidnapped woman held prisoner for years in a tiny room with the son fathered by her abductor. I thought it would end when they got out of the room but that’s when the story just begins...
Next is Arrival, a science fiction movie in the mode of 2001, Solaris or The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was made by the director and cinematographer of Sicario, which was the best film of last year. Arrival is deeply moving and beautifully made. It completely pulled the wool over my eyes.
The Jungle Book was a surprise. Really excellent, and I’ve never seen an audience of bratty kids so rapt and silent. I've already mentioned Hail Caesar, another movie about Hollywood in its years of Cold War paranoia. Hilarious, lovingly made and quite possibly the Coen’s finest.
Now we're moving towards the top five and things are heating up (and if you've missed any of these I urge you to catch them).
Number five is no surprise, and it would rate higher if it wasn't such a colossal bleedin' global blockbuster. The Star Wars-reviving The Force Awakens needs no boost from my little blog. But it's still a masterpiece.
Next we have Allied, a beautifully crafted tale of love, betrayal and espionage in World War Two. It's absolutely first rate, a proper movie which audiences can — and should — love. I can’t believe the vicious negativity of the reviews that greeted it. Well, nobody knows less about cinema than a film critic...
We're in the top three now, and to be honest I couldn't decide whether number three should be Allied or Shane Black's The Nice Guys. But where Allied made me shed tears of grief, The Nice Guys had me crying with laughter. Utterly hilarious. It made me want to write a film. Apart from one very dodgy Nixon prosthetic, it's sheer bliss.
America Honey was amazing, and utterly different from every other movie on this list. An indie masterpiece and a deeply moving exploration of the underside of the American dream. I couldn’t get this movie out of my head.
And now we're at number one. The movie which, out of careful consideration and sheer visceral pleasure, I regard as the finest of the year. I've already cited Sicario, the best movie of 2015. Well, it was written by Taylor Sheridan. And Sheridan has done it again.
Hell Or High Water is a masterpiece in every regard. It tells the story of two Texas rangers who are on the trail of two bank robbers, brothers who are battling against the remorseless economic forces of the 21st century. Influenced by Larry McMurtry, Taylor Sheridan creates superb, believable characters and moves them through a exquisitely plotted and tragic adventure. Exhilarating thrills and unbearable suspense... and profundity. Superb.
(Image credits: all the posters are from Imp Awards. I particularly love the retro black-light Doctor Strange poster which captures the 1960s psychedelic aesthetic.)