While the online community has largely bought in to the '2016 is of the devil' narrative - and for good reason asthe year has, on the real world politics level, been pretty crap - there is also a point to make that 2016 has been an uncommonly good year in terms of emerging film talents. As has been my habit for a good long time now I am focusing my year end list not on a traditional best-of but instead on what I consider to be the best and brightest talents to emerge over the course of the year. Rather than a rear-facing, 'Here's some stuff that happened that I liked' list, I like to think of this more as a forward-looking, 'Here's a bunch of things to look forward to more of' list, one that promises good things in the future as these talents continue to build on their early successes.
As always with these lists some caveats and notes on process are needed. To qualify for this list you must have premiered either your first or second feature film within 2016. Though there are exceptions when I catch up with a film later in its run, I generally count the festival premiere rather than the public release for that date, so sorry Robert Eggers and The Witch. You were 2015, not 2016 for these purposes. And anything that I have a direct credit on is counted out for conflict of interest reasons, so sorry to Mattie Do's Dearest Sister and Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie's The Void. You guys were never in the running. And there is, of course the fact that I cannot possibly see everything, so some titles will be missing due purely to the limited number of hours in a day. But still ... even with those restrictions my initial short list had 25 titles competing for 10 spots, which speaks greatly to the overall strength of the year. And here are my 10 favorites, in alphabetical order!
Babak Anvari (Under The Shadow)
Did anyone see Under The Shadow coming? Though writer-director Babak Anvari had previously been BAFTA nominated for his short film Two & Two the subject matter there was so radically different from the haunting power of Iran set ghost story that the entire production was, to a certain extent, an act of faith. And that faith was richly rewarded.
A deeply personal film revolving around a young mother robbed of her future and relegated to the sidelines as an educated woman in the aftermath of the Iranian Cultural Revolution - Anvari is on record saying he wrote the film for his mother - Under The Shadow excels not only as an atmospheric horror film but also as a portrait of a largely neglected period of history, an allegory for the current arc of western politics as they retreat to the right, and an insightful picture of parent-child relationships. Any one of these elements would be enough to drive the film but it's the interplay of them all that really elevates it to being something special enough that it's now the UK submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.