It’s Christmas, which means there’s a little breathing room – hopefully – to watch the films and TV you missed during the year. It’s my experience that the families that argue most over Christmas are the ones where TV is banned, so consider it not just a rest, but a positively helpful tool to ensure that everyone continues to get along well. And if you’re all gathered together to watch something excellent, film and TV can be a bonding experience.
So what is there to watch? Admittedly, 2016 was nearly as bad for big blockbusters as it was in politics, with a sweep of big summer sequels leaving critics tearing their hair out and audiences bored to death. But this was a magical year for smaller films and animation, so there are true pleasures to catch up on.
First of all, Hunt For The Wilderpeople (on VOD now; Netflix from December 31). I’ve recommended this to everyone I’ve met since I saw it in May, and everyone who has taken my advice has loved it. Literally everyone, on both counts. It was directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) so you know it’s hilarious, but this small, unlikely story of an old man and a young foster kid lost in the woods is also touching and beautifully brought to life by stars Sam Neill and Julian Dennison. This is not just my film of 2016; it’s straight into my all-time favourites.
In other hidden gem news, Love & Friendship is out on DVD and VOD. It offers all the corsets and excellent bonnets that a period-drama loving heart could desire, but in Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan it also has an absolutely monstrous anti-heroine: heart-stoppingly beautiful and blithely self-centred. If you prefer your history more modern, go for John Carney’s Sing Street(DVD & VOD), a love letter to 80s music, your teens, young love and making music in a band with your mates. It’s joyous.
This was also the year where smart, thinky films came from the most unlikely of places. Disney Animation’s Zootropolis (out on DVD and VOD) has some astonishingly clever things to say about prejudice and privilege behind its colourful animation as a young female bunny rabbit fights for a job in her city’s police department, dominated by large predators and formidable rhinos and the like. Moana (still in cinemas) takes the Disney princess one step further away from the simpering girls of the 1950s, and has the year’s most hummable tunes. If you don’t mind horror, zombie films The Girl With All The Gifts and Train To Busan (both VOD) have more social commentary than most dramas. And for sci-fi lovers, check out Amy Adams in Arrival (in cinemas), a likely Oscar nominee and a science fiction film that’s really about humanity, not aliens (as all the best ones are).
TV also had much better diversity than the movies: the best shows of the year were led by women and people of colour
If you have longer to binge, this has been a banner year for TV. Game Of Thrones was back on form after a disappointing season five; Supergirl, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage proved that TV superheroes don’t have to be white men; Stranger Things made 80s geekery into essential viewing. TV also had much better diversity than the movies: the best shows of the year were led by women and people of colour. Check out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Netflix), Fleabag (iPlayer), Happy Valley (season one on Netflix; season two is in the BBC Store), The People Vs OJ Simpson (VOD), Orange Is The New Black (Netflix), Jane The Virgin (4OD) and The Crown (Netflix). This year it became hard to watch Veep (VOD) since reality became so much more ridiculous, but if you have the stomach for it, it has the funniest writing ever.
Finally, on New Year’s Eve at 6.20pm, BBC1 is showing Peter Pans Goes Wrong, a filmed version of the seasonal London farce. An amateur dramatics society attempts to stage JM Barrie’s play; things do not go to plan. It’s extremely British, warmly disastrous and will make you cry with laughter.
So have a merry Christmas! And remember, it’s totally fine to stick everyone in front of the TV if you need a break. It’s part of the holiday experience.
My Films Of 2016
1. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
The funniest, warmest film of the year – and it’s not even close.
2. Kubo & The Two Strings
Beautiful, magical stop-motion animation with Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey.
3. Captain America: Civil War
It’s basically the Downton Christmas special with better biceps and more explosions.
4. Hail Caesar!
The Coen Brothers and an all-star cast (Clooney! Tatum! Johansson!) in a 1950s Hollywood farce.
5. Love & Friendship
Mean Girls was surely inspired by this Jane Austen story.
6. Sing Street
An ‘80s teen musical from John Carney (Once), this is an absolute must for musos.
Adam Driver is a bus driver and poet. Absolutely nothing happens, but it’s delightful.
Amy Adams stars in a sci-fi so smart that you don’t have to like sci-fi to love it.
Disney goes to the South Pacific for a joyful holiday with a tough princess.
10. The Girl With All The Gifts
Imagine a zombie movie, but far more original and with three great female characters.