The Best and Worst of Film in 2016

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For this viewer, 2016 was not a great year for film.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen a few of the hot titles everyone keeps singing the praises of (“Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Office Christmas Party,” etc.).  But while I wasn’t able to assemble a list of even 20 movies I’d feel comfortable putting in a top 10 (I enjoyed “Hardcore Henry,” for example, but would not have felt good about listing it in my top 10…if that makes sense), there were some really choice additions to Film Canon.  My favorite film of the year never really faced any challenge from others that came after.  And honestly, the rankings from 6 to 10 is interchangeable.  They’re all good movies that I really enjoyed, but none are great films.

  1. Doctor Strange:  I believe this was the first of the MCU films about a character I’d actually been a fan of before.  Well, I’d read some of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, but that’s more of me being a fan of Brubaker than of Cap.  The Doctor Strange comics are pretty bonkers, and this film captures some of that nuttiness.  There are some changes that worked, and some that didn’t.  And Mads Mikkelsen is tragically underused, another victim of Marvel’s inability to create a good villain for their films.  But overall, this was a good one.  It makes me hope they’ll get the rights to Man-Thing back.  And dive deep into the ultra-crazy of the Strange side of the Marvel Universe.
  1. Zootopia:  Funny and cute, “Zootopia” also boasts a clever script and a good story.  Like the best children’s’ films, it has everything an adult needs to enjoy watching it, too.  It does feature a truly insipid Shakira song that I can’t seem to escape.  But otherwise, it’s quite good.
  1. Hail, Caesar!: The Coen Brothers return to send up Golden Age Hollywood in this broad and strange trip into celebrity, the studio system, and communism.  There are lots of nods to classic (and not so classic) films, the cast is all top notch, and I just love how much delight the Coens take in abusing George Clooney.
  1. The Nice Guys:  A 70s odd-couple crime film written and directed by Shane Black? I’m there. It’s got Ryan Gosling being a dope and Russell Crowe being a big, scary moron.  What’s not to like.  Also, Gil Gerard!
  1. Don’t Think Twice:  It’s interesting to watch a comedy that’s just about people living their lives.  I’ve become so accustomed to comedies being ultra-broad, slap-stick affairs, with outlandish characters and pranks that seeing a down-to-Earth, funny movie about realistic people dealing with real life issues was…well, weird.  But refreshing.
  1. La La Land:  Darn it.  This film is charming as all heck.  The leads are great, the songs are catchy, the story is sweet, and I love the ending.  Who would have thought that an old-style, yet completely contemporary Hollywood musical would be so good?
  1. Approaching the Unknown: Mark Strong carries this film about a lone astronaut on a journey to Mars.  I’m a sucker for this sort of film, a celebration of the awe and wonder of the universe.  And Strong is completely up to the challenge of being virtually the only character in a full length film.
  1. The Fits:  A bolt of lighting.  I’d read an intriguing premise for this film, and watched it based only on that.  What can I say?  You’ve got to see it.  This is director Anna Rose Holmer’s second film, and first fictional one (she made a documentary about a small New York community a few years ago).  It’s beautiful, with intense and unsettling music.  It keeps you guessing until the final shot, and leaves you to contemplate the truth of things.  I love it.
  1. Moana:  The best Disney film since “Wall-E,” they got it all right this time.  Good story, good voice work, good music, and this time, the story is really about Moana.  This film deserves to be among the top-tier pantheon of Disney animation.
  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople:  Heartwarming, exciting, funny, and unpredictable, this story of a problem kid and an old man with a serious attitude problem is the kind of thing that makes you fall in love with movies again.  It’s quality all around, and will be going up there as one of the best of the decade, I’m sure.

Worst Movies of 2016

  1. Ghostbusters:  I thought a new Ghostbusters movie was a bad idea for the last 10 or 15 years that Dan Aykroyd was trying to get it done.  This film did not change my mind.
  1. Race:  Going beyond the Sports Film cliche, which this film is rife with, there’s the whole thing about making Leni Riefenstahl into a hero…Um…No.
  1. The Witch:  A modern updating of the snoozefest that was “Haxen.”  It looks amazing, but lacks even a moment of tension or excitement, much less horror.  “Hey everybody, I think there’s a witch in the woods. …Yup. There is.”  The End.  Gah!
  1. Jason Bourne:  This film features some of the worst action sequences I’ve ever seen put on film.  It also goes over the same plots and conspiracies done in the previous Bourne films.  I’m not as well versed as others, but someone said the story was essentially a carbon copy of the second film, and I believe them.  It felt very familiar. Did I mention the action scenes?  I was literally (literally!) sickened.  The shaky cam makes “The Hunger Games” look professionally made.  Truly awful.  Awful.
  1. Batman V Superman:  I didn’t see “Suicide Squad.”  I finally saw the trailer for “Suicide Squad” and I suspect it would have been able to topple this champion of garbage out of its number 1 spot.  But, alas, that battle did not happen.  I sat through the (supposedly better) extended cut of this joyless, artless, excitement-less pile of snores and groans, and I regret it.  The worst Lex Luthor?  Yup. The most morose Superman?  Yup.  The most David Ayer scripted Batman?  Yup.  Oh, and the crap CG.  And the stupid story.  And the interminable pacing.  It picked up where “Man of Steel” left off (you know, Superman kissing Lois Lane, standing in the ashes of a million dead), and somehow got worse.

Dishonorable Mention– The Keeping Room:  On many people’s list last year was the art-house Western “The Keeping Room,” which I finally saw at the beginning of 2016.  Had I seen it in 2015, it would have been my #1 worst film of the year.  I hated the movie with the fire of a thousand suns.  And I’m baffled by the praise it has received, particularly as a ‘feminist’ film.  It managed to have all the problems of art-house films (awful people being awful to each other constantly) with all the problems of contemporary horror films (the plot only moves by everyone either taking no action or taking what is obviously the stupidest action possible at exactly the worst time).  The only art-house film to make me as angry (actually, it made me even more so) was “Bellflower.”  So, F this movie.  F it so hard that I had to drag it into the future and dish my hate at it in the wrong year.

Most disappointing movies of 2016

Green Room:  Well made, and well acted, this real-world horror film about a punk band getting mixed up with some murderous neo-Nazis starts out really well.  But somewhere along the way, it felt like the writers lost the thread, and the characters started acting like the idiots from most contemporary horror films, doing the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment in order to move the plot along.  A great start, but the film left me feeling frustrated by what might have been.

The Witch:  Such a gorgeous film.  And I’d heard so much from people whose opinions I listen to.  I was really, really jazzed to see this film.  But then, NOTHING HAPPENED.  Meticulous set and costume design will only take you so far.  Every frame of the film could be hung on the wall as a piece of art.  But watching it was horrid.  Maybe (and I mean MAYBE) if it were shortened down to like 30 minutes, it could have been an interesting short.  But as a full length picture?  Yikes.  Dullsville.

The Neon Demon:  I really, really hope this empty, vacuous film is nothing more than a misstep on Nicolas Winding Refn’s part (not a sign of things to come).  The message of the film is patently obvious from almost the first frame, and at no point does the movie challenge your expectations.  Everything plays out in exactly the way you know it will.  It’s beautiful in its way, as you would expect from Refn.  But I found it lacking in all the things that make his work so interesting.

Most surprising movies of 2016

Hardcore Henry: The trailer made this film look like gimmicky garbage.  And maybe it is.  But it captured just enough of that ignorant, crazy, over-the-top wackiness of a “Crank” film for me to enjoy it.  I’m very glad I didn’t watch it in the theater, however, as I’m quite sure I’d have gotten seasick.  I’m honestly not even sure why I bothered to rent it.  Maybe I saw someone say, “give it a chance.”  I don’t know.  But 15 or 20 minutes in and I was glad I’d taken the time.  It reminds me somewhat of “Frankenstein’s Army,” another movie I like more than I feel like I should.

Star Trek Beyond:  “Star Trek Into Darkness” was a horrible mess and instantly made my short list of worst Star Trek films.  I really, really, really hated it.  So much so that all the good will I had toward the new Star Trek series was gone.  Much like what happened after I saw “Attack of the Clones” with the Star Wars films, I didn’t care what happened next.  I was done.  I didn’t have any hope for “Star Trek Beyond,” especially after seeing the trailer, which looked terrible.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself getting into it, and enjoying myself quite a bit.  Like “Captain America: Civil War” was for “The Avengers,” it’s the sequel to 2009’s “Star Trek” that we should have had.  No, it’s not perfect.  The villain is still super boring and a waste of a good actor.  The plot still has the same story-beats as “The Wrath of Khan.”  But it’s not bad.  And unlike “Revenge of the Sith,” it actually made me interested in what happens next.

Warcraft:  A movie, based on a video game, based on an earlier video game, ripping off a tabletop miniatures game, that ripped off a tabletop roleplaying game, that was ripping off J.R.R. Tolkien?  And it’s wall to wall cartoony CGI?  What’s not to hate?  But dang it, I enjoyed the heck out of this.  It’s a fun, wildly weird Fantasy epic that feels like a… well like a video game brought to life, or like dozens of Dungeons & Dragons novels I read when I was 12.  A whole heck of a lot of goofy fun.

The jury is still out on these 2016 films.

Shin Godzilla:  I can not stress enough how darned peculiar this film is.  Somehow, one of the most true in spirit to the original “Gojira,” yet also the most unlike any previous Godzilla film.  Stylistically, it’s nothing like we’ve seen from Godzilla.  Godzilla itself is not like any previous incarnation.  And yeah, it’s mostly a satire about Japanese bureaucracy.  Unabashedly so.  Weird.

The Childhood of a Leader:  When I finished watching this, I said I felt like I had watched a masterpiece, but one I didn’t understand.  It has been compared to the 70s film “The Omen,” and I can understand the comparison.  But it’s its own monster.  The film is riveting, with a driving score that grabs you and won’t let you go.  However, I was left more confused than anything.  I was left with a lot of questions, and not in a good way, like with “The Fits.”  I felt like the movie was making a statement, a strong statement.  But I have absolutely no idea what it was saying.

High Rise:  I had been wanting to read the novel for 20 plus years, and finally did when I found out it was being made into a movie.  I knew that Ben Wheatley was attached to direct, so I was very excited.  Wow.  Was he going to put on screen the horror-show that the novel presented?  Would he take it to the same places of darkness?  Well turns out, yes.  He did, and he presented the scenes from the book in a stunning way.  The film is rich in visuals and strong performances, even from some actors I’m not always so fond of.  However, I can’t escape the feeling that without having read the book, a viewer would be lost.  There’s so much going on in the film I assume would stymie someone watching, had they not read the book.  Why does X happen?  Why is Y doing this thing?  What’s up with the horse?  Why is that guy going to work?  There are a few characters missing, altered, or combined, which is typical and understandable in an adaptation, though some of the bits I liked are sadly lacking.  While I liked the movie, I feel like it’s a very difficult film to recommend to anyone who hasn’t read the source material, and that’s not how adaptations should work.

Best Score: The Childhood of a Leader by Scott Walker

Best Director:  Anna Rose Holmer for “The Fits”

Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton in “Hail, Caesar!”

Best Actress: Emma Stone in “La La Land”

Best Supporting Actor: John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Best Actor:  Mark Strong in “Approaching the Unknown”

Best Voice Actor:  Dwayne Johnson in “Moana”  2016 was a great year for animated films, with “Kung Fu Panda 3” and “Zootopia” being some highlights.  But “Moana” was a truly great film, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s voice work was outstanding.  He brought all his usual charm and humor into the character, and played a great part.

Best Weekend at Bernie’s: Swiss Army Man

I did want to mention that “Star Wars: Rogue One” came out, and it was the best Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.”  It could have fit in my #6 through #10 as much as any of the films there.  As could “Kung Fu Panda 3” or “10 Cloverfield Lane.”  And if I’m honest, “Warcraft” could have fit on there, too.

Here’s hoping 2017 will have a better crop of films.

If you’re interested in more stunning observations from me, you can follow me on Twitter at @TheOmegaDork.

You can also check out my movie reviews over on Letterboxd.

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