Last year’s best film was ’76. I struggle to recall a year in which the best film was so far ahead of any of the other films produced in the same year by Nollywood filmmakers. It has in common with the year’s distant second, 93 Days, a titular preoccupation with numbers. But where the latter film seems to take a safer route to the cinemas—what with its sponsorship—’76 seems riskier and the product of ambitious filmmaking. Izu Ojukwu deserves the awards his film received. In fact, he deserves more.
Overall, Nollywood fared decently in terms of box office returns, but only a handful of films were worthy of critical acclaim. The cinema business is unsupportive of ambition and a serious commitment to filmmaking. A film like Green White Green, for example, has not had a cinema run. And unless a film is from a well-known local producer, it receives shabby treatment at our cinemas, with terrible screening times and sweaty hall conditions being visited upon viewers. Is it any wonder that not many are encouraged to see local films?
Away from this poor show by Nigerian cinema chains, the list below is mindful only of what appears on the screen. Instead of the usual five or 10 nominations per category, the list below has no arbitrary number in a category. This is to avoid subpar efforts from sneaking in to make up the numbers. There are three categories: Films of the Year, Lead Performances and Supporting Performances.
Last year’s best film was ’76. I struggle to recall a year in which the best film was so far ahead of the other films produced in the same year by Nollywood filmmakers.
Films of the Year
Izu Ojukwu made the best film to be released in 2016, and quite possibly the best film to be made in a long time. The film’s leads, Ramsey Nouah and Rita Dominic, produce the best acting of their careers. The supporting cast of Chidi Mokeme and Memry Savhu and Adonija Owiriwa deliver stellar turns as well. It is a tribute to the direction provided by Ojukwu that Mokeme, who until now was no one’s idea of a good actor, emerges as close to a character actor as Nollywood has ever produced. Winner of the most awards at the AMVCA, ’76 had no real competition, such was its excellence.
- 93 Days
Steve Gukas has been hedging his bets for a while, protecting his investments. His last film, A Place in the Stars, had several well-meaning organisations providing support. 93 Days succeeds because this time Gukas goes beyond the brief to deliver a heartfelt tribute to the people who made sure Lagos and Nigeria as we know it remains.
- Honourable mention: Green White Green
Abba Makama’s feature Green White Green shows that experimentation is possible in Nollywood. A bold experiment, the film shows how some ambition and a fair amount of imagination might reinvent the wheel. It even criticises the industry into which it is born. How’s that for balls?
Lead Performances of the Year
- Ramsey Nouah
Almost everyone in ’76 has earned a place on any list of best performances in 2016. But it is Ramsey Nouah’s solid, assured performance as Joseph Dewa that carries the film. If his portrayal of a headstrong, loyal soldier hit one false note, the film would collapse. That is a lot of pressure, considering how highly anticipated ’76 has been. Instead, Mr Nouah excels, providing a portrait of the Nigerian as both good citizen and heroic individual. Mr Nouah makes asking if he is a good actor a needless question. What you get on screen is not an actor but a man and an officer. It is more than a little strange that he did not win the Best Actor award at the AMVCA.
- Rita Dominic
Ms Dominic has been good before, notably as the uncouth secretary in The Meeting. As Suzie, lover to Ramsey Nouah’s Joseph Dewa, her character is better behaved this time. Suzie has no real joys throughout the film, given that she is confronted with her disapproving family on one side and the unknowable man she is in love with on the other. Dominic carries the pain of loving a soldier well. There is a scene in which she hears a woman rejoicing at the return of her husband while hers remains missing. Watch her face as it telegraphs a pain that has jumped several notches upon hearing this news. Watch her scenes with Nouah; how the actors feed off each other’s excellence. And then watch her on the verge of a betrayal as she is grilled by a military man. Watch Ms Dominic.
Overall, Nollywood fared decently in terms of box office returns, but only a handful of films were worthy of critical acclaim.
- Sambasa Nzeribe
Mr Nzeribe is the archetypal Nollywood toughie. You go to him when you want a villain with cold-hearted charm. Tall, menacing and charismatic, he is not the typical Nollywood leading man, who, over generations, has tended to be buttery faced: Ramsey Nouah, OC Ukeje, RMD. Perhaps that is why his first leading role is that of a villain. Slow Country, Eric Aghimien’s second feature, sees these two men being reunited. The film hardly consolidates the directorial promise offered us by A Mile from Home, a fault that can be put down to less than stellar screenwriting. Yet Sambasa’s terrifying turn, prompted by the man’s fierce and physical acting and his steely yet malleable face, makes you look. In what might be considered an upset, he took his second acting AMVCA, this time as the leading man.
Supporting Performances of the Year
- Nancy Isime
As Carmen, a sexpot who is also a pastor’s daughter, Isime overshadows every actor in the Femi Odugbemi debut feature film Gidi Blues. The script does not serve her well, mired as it is in misogyny, but Isime does adequately with the skimpy material she was given.
- Omoni Oboli
Ms Oboli fares much better in her small role in the comedy It’s Her Day than she does in her own film, Wives on Strike. As the sane ex of comedian Bovi’s lead character, her Angela provides the balance to his glossy, airhead bride.
- Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama/Gideon Okeke
The graceful Iyamah-Idhalama was everywhere last year, and nowhere was she more effective than in 93 Days. And in that film, nowhere was she more competent than as an inmate in an Ebola care facility.
Okeke, who has, on occasion, been unable to get out of his own way, finds his stride in 93 Days. Under the threat of death, his character goes under and a pearl of Okeke acting rises to the surface.
- Honourable Mention:
In The Wedding Party, Sobowale plays the typical Nigerian: loud, foul-mouthed and, in her own way, loving. Her act is over the top—exactly what the role demands. It is self-aware camp, not intended to be taken seriously, and Sobowale knows this. The whole schtick leaves one with the feeling that you simply cannot put a lid on this (Toyin) Tomato.
Nico Panagio, who is not Nigerian, produced the best acting in The CEO. Sadly, it was not enough to save the film.