The Films of 2016; Hits, Misses, and Where The Oscars Got It Right
2016, Boy Was It Wierd
I know I am really really late with my movie hubs this year, but I'll be up front; with the ludicrous freak show playing out on the news every day, writing about my favorite films of the year just hasn't seemed all that important. However, I am a movie geek, and as any true geek knows, sooner or later the geekery must out. With the Oscars this weekend, I'm finally ready to publish my ranked list of the year's films. This is especially true since I have actually seen a (for me) freakishly large percentage of the year's nominees. I still have yet to see two of the Best Picture nominees, Manchester by the Sea and Hacksaw Ridge. I also have yet to see the following nominees: Elle, Loving, Jackie, Florence Foster Jenkins, Nocturnal Animals, 20th Century Women, The Red Turtle, My Life As a Zucchini, Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, Land of Mine, Tanna, Silence, Passengers, Allied, Trolls, 13 Hours, Deepwater Horizon, Sully, Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, O.J.: Made in America, and all but one of the nominated short films (I have seen Pixar's Piper, which is pretty dang awesome). In addition to these Oscar-nominated films, I also consider the following as-yet unwatched films essential viewing before setting 2016 to rest: your name., In This Corner of the World, A Silent Voice, Edge of Seventeen, Snowden, The Magnificent Seven, The Girl on the Train, The Founder and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. I do have holds on fourteen of the above titles through my local library, and intend to see Sully, Snowden, Bad Moms and The Shallows within a few days after the show. Given this rather broad caveat, I have still seen a lot of the nominees, and 65 films from the year overall, and so my list should still be most interesting. One: the number one film on the list is 25 years old, but made its American theatrical debut last year (similarly, another of the top ten was a foreign-language nominee last year, but was released stateside this year). Two: as the above image suggests, this was a big year for comic-related movies, in both good ways and bad--much more on this later. Three: it was a big year for musicals; two of the best musicals I've ever seen came out this year, with one snagging a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations, and the other getting the shaft from Oscar. Oh, and Disney had one of its best musicals, despite the songs themselves being a bit weak ("Shiny," really?). Four: speaking of Disney, they had a HUGE year--the tail end of last year's record-smashing Star Wars: The Force Awakens was bookended by the excellent Rogue One, and in between they had TWO of their best-yet Marvel movies and TWO of their best-ever animated movies. And then some... Five: there were a LOT of disappointments--some mild (Hail, Caesar!) some BIG (Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman). Even so, I did not see any film this year that was worse than mediocre (no Paul Blart 2, thank God!). Anyway, enough pussyfooting around... As with last year, I'll start with my Top 10, then list the films that could have deserved some Best Picture discussion, then finish with the rest. And now, on with the show!
The Top Ten
1. Omoide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday)
Let's get something out of the way first: Isao Takahata's wonderfully contemplative tale of coming to grips with one's past in order to fully embrace the present and move forward to a better future was FINALLY released in U.S. theatres 25 years after its initial release. Doesn't matter--this still counts as the best film of the year, if only because the well-done English-language dub starring Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel is new. Also, this is one of the best animated films ever released, which places it high in the running for best films, period. It's just a shame that GKIDS didn't see fit to push this one as aggressively with the Academy as, say, Boy and the World; the fact that this still is not an Oscar nominee is damn near criminal. And before you say, "But the film is 25 years old!" just remember that Charlie Chaplin's Limelight WON an Oscar (for Original Dramatic Score) 20 years after its release. Anyway, thank the Gods Disney FINALLY let this film see its American debut--they sat on it for over a decade after purchasing the rights along with Spirited Away and most of the rest of the Studio Ghibli catalog. Watch it if you get a chance--just be aware that Takahata's films are not aimed at kids, and this one ranks with Grave of the Fireflies as a film that requires some maturity to enjoy properly.
As far as genuine 2016 releases go, Zootopia has pretty easily been my number one pick for most of the year. I have felt for a while now that Disney has been trying hard (maybe even too hard) to make a Pixar film under their own banner, and I truly feel that with this film they succeeded. The film is not flawless--it's a bit too strident in its anti-racism message. However, given Disney's, ahem, checkered history with racial insensitivity, I have to give them props for a film that hammers a new message home without getting too preachy. Who knew a film starring anthropromorphic animals from the Mouse House would actually be the best anti-racism film of the year? It doesn't hurt that the visuals are pretty stunning, the voice acting is a powerful argument for voice-acting Oscars, and the clever use of pop culture nods helps keep adults interested in a way Disney films often forget to (I particularly enjoyed the Breaking Bad scene). I know people of all ages who adore this film, and the fact that it's not even up for Best Picture is straight up criminal; at least it's almost a lock to win Best Animated Feature, but there really should have been more nominations for this one--Production Design, Film Editing and the two Sound categories are definites, Original Screenplay and Original Song (Shakira's "Try Everything") not bad choices.
3. La La Land
This valentine to Hollywood (along with my remembering to count Only Yesterday) ended Zootopia's dominance of my 2016 movie list. That said, I am still a bit flabbergasted that the sophomore film from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle managed to tie Titanic and All About Eve for the most-ever Oscar nominations with fourteen. It also set a record at the Golden Globes as the first film to win seven. There is serious expectation that the film may tie the record for most wins as well, with eleven. I almost want to see it win all fourteen, if only because the only possible way to do that would be for the film to tie itself in the Best Original Song category. That said, the film is already getting some blowback in the face of all this effusive praise, but the fact of the matter is that the film very nearly is that good. I for one now count Oscar-nominated Damien Chazelle as one of my favorite directors; if his two films so far are any indication, he is a talent to watch. Of course, I already feel this way about the film's Oscar-nominated leads; Ryan Gosling is tremendously talented, and I straight-up love Emma Stone. She is at the top of her game here, and I'm saying that recalling full well that she should have won the Oscar two years ago for Birdman, and that she was arguably snubbed last year when she was not nominated for Irrational Man. In addition to the nods for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress and the two for Orginal Song, the film also has nods for Best Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Original Score, and I can find little fault with any of these nominations. That said, I'm not sure they picked the best Original Song contenders. True, both "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" and "City of Stars" are fully integral to the fabric of the film, but they suffer upon removal. John Legend's "Start a Fire" is not only a great song that is important to the film, it is a great stand-alone song. I've been maintaining for some time that if the Academy really wants to improve viewership, they should have more Original Song nominees that actually sound great as songs. Use my Best Use of Music in Film category (which this film would be a shoo-in to be nominated for) to reward songs according to how they truly fit the film. Anyway, enough ranting. This was one hell of a year for musicals...
4. Sing Street
And yet La La Land somehow managed to so thoroughly hijack the conversation that John Carney's critically acclaimed coming-of-age musical about a young Dublin lad who meets a girl, falls head-over-heels in love, and decides to win her over by asking her to be in a video for his band, then actually has to form a band to follow through on his ruse got completely left out in the cold when the Oscar nominations were announced. Actually, the overall awards reception was cool on this film, which is all the more puzzling since Carney does have an awards history; his film Once won the Best Original Song Oscar for the lovely "Falling Slowly," and his last film Begin Again was nominated in the same category for "Lost Stars." And yet, this film--despite being a musical full of original music--didn't score a single nod. Criminal. "Drive It Like You Stole It" absolutely should have been a nominee, and one could also argue for the lovely "Up." Also, like La La Land and Zootopia, this is simply a delightful film. Anyway, give it a look--you'll be glad you did.
5. En Man Som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove)
I have been hearing for some time about A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman's bestselling novel. My Mum read it and loved it, and it's been extremely popular at my local library. It is on my to-read list, but there are just so many things on that list. Naturally, when I learned that there was a Swedish film based on the novel, I was eager to see it. When I learned that it would be a double Oscar-nominee, I had to see it ASAP. Luckily, I was able to do so; I am happy to report that this, too, is a delightful film, well-deserving of some Oscar love. That said, it really should have been up for Best Picture, and perhaps a few other awards (Adapted Screenplay, perhaps). It is up for two Oscars--Best Foreign-Language Film and (surprisingly) Best Makeup. In fact, this makes two years in a row a delightful Swedish film is up for Best Makeup--that rascally Makeup Branch! It's even funnier because it's up against two films (Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad) that are not up for any other awards. Honestly, this film has little shot at winning, but I'd love to see it win if only because of the cute and utterly good Iranian immigrant who is Ove's new neighbor and a powerfully positive force in his life--it could be a subtle way for the members of the Academy to thumb their noses at the idiots in Washington. Also, no way this film can lose to Suicide Squad for Makeup! Here's hoping...
6. Avril et le Monde Truqué (April and the Extraordinary World)
I honestly am rather shocked at the utter lack of awards buzz for April and the Extraordinary World. A coproduction between France, Canada and Belgium, this is easily one of the best animated films I've ever seen that is neither American nor Japanese. Also, much like Sing Street, it was showered with accolades early in the year, only to be swept aside by newer films later on. This is a shame, as the film should at least have scored a Best Animated Feature nomination. The movie is a bit slow-moving and heavy compared to the year's other animated features, and it's nowhere near as pretty as Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings or Finding Dory, but that doesn't diminish the fact that this is an excellent film.
7. Captain America: Civil War
Another film that I honestly expected to at least snag one "below-the-line" nomination was the year's biggest comicbook event film (sorry, Batman v. Superman), Marvel's Captain America: Civil War. In addition to being probably the year's best comic-based film, it was a glorious return to form for Marvel after the muddled misstep of Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was both more coherent and less reliant on familiarity with other Marvel films than the aforementioned, and Daniel Brühl's Zemo probably ranks only behind Tom Hiddleston's Loki as the MCU's best and most well-received villain to date (granted, that's weak praise in and of itself, so let me mention that I thought they did a great job). Also, Tom Holland's Spider-Man. Need I say more? It's kind of funny that the conversation at the start of the year was poised to be about how Marvel and DC, the two titans of comics, were going head-to-head with films in which two titans of each of their own catalogs (Captain America and Iron Man, Batman and Superman) would be going head-to-head. I have to say, Marvel and Disney beat the crap out of DC/ Time-Warner in that matchup. Will each party learn the lessons they should? Doubtful, but we'll see. Either way, Marvel went strong right on into Doctor Strange, and my most anticipated film of 2017 has got to be Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Now if only they could bring that same A-game to their comics like back in the day...
I've already noted it, but Disney had one heck of a year in 2016! Not only did they more or less start the year with one of their best animated offerings yet, they ended it on almost as high a note. Even Pixar stumbled last year when they tried to release two films--Inside Out was the best film of the year, but The Good Dinosaur was about their weakest film since A Bug's Life. Not so though with Disney and Moana. This is a really good film, and much has been made of the fact that it's the first animated Disney movie with a female lead who is in no way, shape or form a love interest. In fact, the primary male character is an abrasive demigod who spends a good portion of film attempting to distance himself from Moana. The film is gorgeous, it does a predictably good job of providing the usual "be true to yourself" motto of so many Disney films (including Zootopia), and it is just plain fun. Dwayne Johnson is great is the demigod Maui, and newcomer Auli'i Cravalho is not to be outdone in the title role--this is another good film to make the case for voice acting Oscars. The songs are a bit weak by Disney standards, and the nominated song "How Far I'll Go" has the same weakness as the nominated songs for La La Land (it loses much of its punch outside of the film), but the music overall is awesome, and the lack of an Original Score nomination is a serious snub (though I cannot fault the nods for the three films I have seen that are nominated in this category). The movie fully deserves its primary nod--Best Animated Feature--though it is a darkhorse in a category where many see Kubo and the Two Strings as the only likely spoiler to Zootopia's win. Do give this film a look--it will make you happy.
9. Krigen (A War)
I know, I know, my Top 10 is really weird this year. This Danish film was actually nominated during last Oscar season in the Best Foreign Language Feature category; however, it did not actually screen in American theatres until 2016, hence its inclusion here. Also, the film is pretty awesome, and would have been far more deserving of the Oscar than the film that actually won, Son of Saul. This film is an intimate portrait of a family in wartime, who must deal with the fallout of a decision by the father while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It is a powerful film, and one of the more serious ones that really got to me this year.
Speaking of serious films, Deadpool is most assuredly and emphatically NOT such a film. A rude, crude, vulgar and generally off-kilter comedy about a wisecracking mercenary with superpowers, including the power to break the fourth wall in twain, this is simultaneously the best "superhero" movie ever released by Fox and the one they probably have the least ability to take credit for. The flywheels at the studio, in a criminally brief fit of actual inspiration, cast Ryan Reynolds to play Deadpool all the way back in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and then proceeded to so thoroughly ruin the character that many thought we'd never see him again; Fox apparently got the erroneous impression from this that nobody wanted a Deadpool movie. Luckily, Ryan Reynolds was not only the perfect choice to play the "Merc with a Mouth," but he also really, really wanted to play the part. Without his persistence and some leaked test footage, this film never would have been greenlit. Even then, and despite one of the best promotional campaigns in movie history, somehow all the prognosticators and critics--not mention the suits at Fox--were absolutely blindsided when Deadpool became one of the biggest hits of the year. Really? Is Fox really that deaf to comic fans? Regardless, the film was a hit, and now the sequel has already been greenlight, with Cable all but confirmed to make his cinematic debut, and Domino being talked up as well. Oh please can we have Stephen Lang as Cable and someone awesome like Emma Stone or Scarlett Johansson as Domino? Do not watch Deadpool expecting your typical comic-book movie; think more along the lines of Kick-Ass or Kingsman: The Secret Service but with a shattered fourth wall and an Oscar-snubbed performance by Ryan Reynolds, and get ready for a wild good time. This film seriously was snubbed for Best Actor, as well as arguably for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay; I cannot believe, however, that nobody seems to be talking about the film's other totally egregious snub--Best Costume Design. Are we ever going to get this sort of fidelity in comic book costuming again? I don't think so.
The Best of the Rest
11. Doctor Strange
In all honesty, much like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange was a Marvel release that had only my partial interest before its release. And like Guardians, I was pleasantly surprised, albeit not to quite the same degree. Even if it were a weak story about uninteresting characters, Doctor Strange is easily one of the most visually arresting films of the year--it fully deserves that Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. However, Benedict Cumberbatch's excellent performance as Dr. Stephen Strange--a famed neurosurgeon introduced to the mystic arts and forced into a parallel confrontation with his own arrogance and hubris following a harrowing car crash that leaves his hands debilitated--is one of the stronger performances of the year, and one of the strongest in the comic-book genre. He is ably supported by Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and (especially) Chiwetel Ejiofor. This is an excellent introduction to a corner of the Marvel Universe hitherto untouched by their films, and I look forward to Strange in whatever capacity he may appear in Thor: Ragnarok. And can Marvel and Fox please, please, please, please learn to play nice within a few years so that Doctor Strange can take on the pupil he recently took on in the comics, the X-Man Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik? If that happens, I am THERE for that movie!
12. Hidden Figures
It seems that, most years, a few films all but escape any sort of buzz right up until the cusp of awards season, at which point a couple such films burst forward from the wings which astonishing speed and support. It seems to me that, this year, Hidden Figures was just such a film. I suppose that's appropriate, given the title. Honestly, of the films up for Best Picture this year, I'd give this one a close second to La La Land and these two a bit of breathing room above the rest, if I were ranking them on sheer watchability alone. They are both compulsively watchable films of the sort that make for great populist entries in the category. It doesn't hurt that this film is a) based on a true story; b) based on a popular book; c) about the trials and triumphs during the early years of the space program; and d) very, very much about people fighting against and overcoming racial (and to an extent gender-based) discrimination. It has a conventional structure, three likeable and charming leads you can't help but root for, a rascally Kevin Costner and a stick-in-the-mud Jim Parsons who both grow as people, a kick-ass soundtrack, great production values, and you walk away both satisified and feeling that you've learned something. Oh, and both this film and Moonlight prominently feature two acclaimed up-and-coming actors that got some serious buzz this year, Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali (a Supporting Actor nominee for Moonlight). Of course, this brings us to the film's perceived snubs. Not only did Pharrell's excellent music get overlooked, but the only acting nod went to Monáe's co-star Octavia Spencer (the third co-star, Taraji P. Henson, is particularly regarded as a snub). That said, Spencer's well-deserved nod is joined by a Best Picture nod and one for Adapted Screenplay; not too bad for a film that pretty much came out of nowhere at the end of the year.
Speaking of films that kind of caught me unawares... In truth, I had heard of Lion long before the awards shows really got underway. That said, it somehow failed to catch my attention, and it wasn't until it managed to snag six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor for Dev Patel and Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman, that I really truly realized that, hey, I need to see this movie! This is particularly true due to the extreme (and criminal) rarity of Asian nominees in any Acting category at the Oscars; that I like Patel and consider him a very talented actor just made it even more interesting to me to see the film. That said, I still went to the film fully unaware of what I was walking into; I was not expecting the film I saw. Lion is, simply, a pretty powerful film. It is an "important movie," dealing with a very real and overlooked issue--the shockingly large number of children who go missing annually in India. It handles this by telling the very intimate story of one boy who goes missing, gets adopted by a loving and devoted couple who take him home to Tasmania, and who--twenty-five years later--finally manages to locate his hometown and, thereby, his family. It is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, and features the character of Saroo in practically every scene of its runtime. This makes it, at first glance, odd that Patel is up for a Supporting Actor nod. However, and this caught me off guard, young Sunny Pawar is the star of the first half of the film. Nicole Kidman and David Wenham do not appear until about an hour into the film, and Patel and Rooney Mara come along even later. This truly is an ensemble film, and therefore there are no clear leads. However, that hasn't always stopped the Academy (Anthony Hopkins' Best Actor win for a half-hour of screentime in The Silence of the Lambs, anyone?). Anyway, the film also has nods for Adapted Screenplay (the film is based on Brierley's book), Cinematography and Original Music, and I see little fault there. Perhaps Wenham and Mara could have gotten a bit more buzz, and the overall production values could have allowed for a couple more nods, but I'd say overall the Academy pretty much got this one on the nose, except of course for nominating it for Best Picture BEFORE Zootopia, Sing Street, A Man Called Ove, April and the Extraordinary World or Moana. Also, Sia's "Never Give Up" would have been a great choice for Best Original Song. Do give Lion a watch, but be ready to use the old tear ducts a bit.
It's interesting how many Best Picture nominees just missed my Top 10, isn't it? In truth, I went into the new film from Denis Villenueve rather cautiously optimistic; I am usually very skeptical about alien-themed films, but this one had tremendous buzz and multiple Oscar nominations behind it, and Villenueve's last feature, Sicario, was flippin' awesome! Also, Sicario was decidedly snubbed at last year's Oscars, garnering only three "below-the-line" nominations and no wins, so I was hopeful that I'd leave Arrival ready to fully support its eight nominations, including one for the director and one for Best Picture. I also was curious that, despite eight nominations--this film was being labeled a snubbee, on account of star Amy Adams not picking up a nod for a role many call one of her best. After seeing the film, I'm inclined to agree. That said, though the film began almost exactly as I anticipated, it slowly morphed into a film I wasn't expecting. I rather liked it, and I do believe it is a great film, but the weird direction the film takes makes it very difficult to rate effectively. This may be a film that will rise in the rankings with time and repeat viewings. Perhaps not--time will tell. Regardless, this was one of year's best head-scratchers, and I see little reason to suspect that it does not deserve its nods for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Film Editing, and Sound Mixing and Editing.
15. Kubo and the Two Strings
I am becoming rather fond of upstart Laika Studios. Paranorman was a bit weak but fun, but Coraline and The Boxtrolls are pretty definite classics, and their new film Kubo and the Two Strings may be the best yet. It also is notable for one of the biggest double-takes I've ever done while looking at a new crop of Oscar nominations: in addition to the guaranteed nod for this film in Best Animated Feature, there is a second one for Best Visual Effects! I have been saying for sometime that animated films would have a shot at dominating the "below-the-line" categories if the members of the Academy would get over their prejudice against animation, but I'm not sure I thought I'd ever see one of these films up for Visual Effects! I guess the fact that the film is stop-motion makes it easier for them to declare it visual effects instead of animation? At any rate, this is a very interesting and visually stunning film that should have also been a frontrunner for Best Production Design, and probably most of the technical awards. Also, it is a solid argument for Best Vocal Acting Oscars. Do give this one a watch--this is not your run-of-the-mill animated film.
16. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I follow the media pretty closely when it comes to new movies. My primary sources are IMDb and Anime News Network, but I most certainly do use other media outlets, including NPR. I recall having been introduced to a few films via NPR, including Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow and the documentaries It Might Get Loud and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The most recent such film is Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I have long wanted to see Waititi's acclaimed series Flight of the Conchords, and also the film What We Do in the Shadows, but this was my first actual introduction to his work. And it certainly is a fine introduction. This is truly a charmingly off-kilter and ultimately heartwarming little gem of a film, and it is a true shame that it has gotten so little notice. I mean, that eulogy. I heard an excerpt on NPR, in which a preacher was giving one of the most amusing eulogies I've ever heard, and I think I decided right then to see the film. If nothing else, it is always nice to see what films the Kiwis have to offer (answer: some pretty durned good ones).
17. Captain Fantastic
Let's say this up front: Captain Fantastic is not the film I thought it would be. That said, it is a well-made and ultimately fascinating film about an unconventional man trying with increasing frustration to keep his unconventional (and rather large) family on their own idiosyncratic course. Viggo Mortensen, probably the most surprising nominee for Best Actor this year, gives one of his strongest performances, and is strongly supported by a cast of (primarily) talented unknowns (Frank Langella, Steve Zahn and Missi Pyle are among the more seasoned cast members, and all are excellent). The film has some truly great moments: the scene where Ben (Mortensen)'s eight-year-old schools his two cousins on the Bill of Rights, allowing Ben to school his sister and brother-in-law (Kathryn Hahn and Mr. Zahn) on home parenting versus public schooling is truly classic. So, if you can recover from your disappointment that this is not a film of the Wes Anderson mold, you may find, as I did, that it is well worth a look.
18. Hell or High Water
It's interesting, and I cannot fully make up my mind if it is insulting, that both the director and screenwriter of last year's incredible Sicario used that film to promote their 2016 projects, and that both of them saw their films not only surpass that film in Oscar nominations but actually score Best Picture nods. In fact, Taylor Sheridan's nomination for Hell or High Water has got be at least partly to make up for his snub last year. That is not to say this film did not have an excellent screenplay--it did, and it deserves to be nominated. However, much as I love Jeff Bridges, this is not his strongest work, and it pales in comparison to Benicio del Toro's snubbed-in-this-category role in Sicario, not to mention Bridges' own iconic role as Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski in The Big Lebowski (also an Oscar-snubbed role). In fact, I was more impressed by Chris Pine's work in this film, in all honesty. Anyway, I'm also not sure Hell or High Water really truly should be up for Best Picture; it's a very good film, but I've already noted enough serious snubs in this category that you can imagine that I can't help but unfavorably consider this a consolation for Sicario. Nonetheless, it's a fun and enjoyable movie--that is not in dispute. In addition to the three nominations alluded to already (Best Picture, Supporting Actor and Orginal Screenplay), there is also a nomination for Film Editing that I can find little fault with, though it would not have made my list of five.
19. Hail, Caesar!
And here we have one of my disappointments for the year, the newest film from the Brothers Coen, Hail, Caesar! Now, in all fairness to the Coens, my hopes for this film were so high (and I was anticipating it for so long) that it was almost sure to disappoint me at least a bit. Not only did it reteam the Coens with George Clooney (for the fourth time), Scarlett Johansson (second time) and Josh Brolin (third time), not to mention Joel's wife Frances McDormand, it brought in several talented newcomers to their films like Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. Also, previews were pretty good, albeit not stellar. However, the February release date worried me, especially since I think the film was originally penciled in for a fall release. Disappointing or not, however, this love letter to Hollywood and the movies of the fifties is a collection of great vignettes, featuring stellar production values (that Best Production Design Oscar nod is well-deserved) and several great moments--Fiennes' Laurence Laurentz, director, trying to shoehorn can't-act-his-way-out-of-a-box country bumpkin Hobie Doyle (a wonderful Alden Ehrenreich) into his period costume drama is pretty much worth the cost of admission. In fact, few pieces of the whole are at all bad, or even uninteresting. They just don't all fit--this is decidedly one of the Coen Brothers' more unfocused narratives. Tonally, however, the film is definitely more focused than The Ladykillers or Burn After Reading. The upshot of this is that, while the film meanders, the audience is treated to spot-on recreations of a wide range of fifties' cinematic styles and genres. The film really should have been nominated for pretty much all of the "below-the-line" awards, except perhaps the Best Film Editing award. It certainly deserved a Makeup nod more than Suicide Squad, and also one for Costume Design. I actually count Ehrenreich omission in the Supporting Actor category a small snub, and Fiennes is one of several who deserved more buzz than they got. In the end, I have often said that a weak film from the Coen Brothers is still a durned good film, so a pretty good one like this definitely holds a spot high on my list.
20. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I love the Harry Potter movies, but they pale in comparison to the books and so always fall a bit low on my lists of the best films of the year. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has a different problem; it is an original story by J.K. Rowling that is loosely based on a very short book she wrote as an Easter Egg for Potterphiles, and so doesn't have the rushed feel of the movies which try to condense very long stories into a shorter time frame, but it also doesn't have the characters we know and love. Truth be told, this film has potential to rise in the rankings, moreso than some of the others we've looked at so far. And 20 of 63 is still a respectable ranking. But I do so wish one of these films would reach the potential I see in the franchise. Anyway, I still loved this film. A lot. It is truly delightful, and pretty much a visual treat; and yet, its two Oscar nominations shockingly do not include one for Best Visual Effects. They are, rather, for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design. These are both well-deserved, mind you--this film could even give Hail, Caesar! a run for its money in the latter race, though both films are likely to lose to the juggernaut that is La La Land. I think my main issue with this film was that Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander was a somewhat difficult protagonist to fully get behind at times; thank God for Kowalski (Dan Fogler is a hoot in this film as a muggle--sorry, no-maj--in way over his head). Let me just say again, though, that I did thoroughly enjoy seeing a film set in Rowling's world that didn't seem like it was moving along at double-speed or more. And Johnny Depp's cameo was fun, setting the stage for Fantastic Beasts 2. Can I just please ask that we eventually get a Harry Potter series, so that we can finally see the books brought to life at normal speed to go along with this film?
21. The Jungle Book
Back to the topic of Disney's big year... Disney actually largely dominated the box office during the first third of the year, due to three main forces: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Zootopia, and this film, the latest in their current drive to create live-action versions of their animated classics. The Jungle Book fully deserved to do so well at the box office, and is a pretty durned good film overall. In fact, it has surprised me by getting quite a bit of awards buzz, though in the end it only snagged one Oscar nomination--Best Visual Effects. The effects are pretty awesome, with maybe Doctor Strange providing honest competition. Also, the movie overall is very well-done, with newcomer Neel Sethi ably anchoring the production with a fine performance as Mowgli. The all-star voice acting cast is also excellent, providing one of the stronger cases yet for voice-acting Oscars (though it also provides evidence that Christopher Walken is not a singer). I definitely feel that the film should have garnered a bit more Oscar praise, much like last year's Cinderella. Here's hoping the upcoming remake of Beauty and the Beast continues this trend of excellent films for Disney.
22. The Nice Guys
Shane Black is a fun director, and the previews for The Nice Guys looked pretty fun, so I had pretty decent hopes for this summer release. I was not disappointed. If anything, I was rather pleasantly suprised, as not only did most of the expected pieces click into place quite nicely, but one dramatically exceeded expectations--Angourie Rice plays Holly March, the daughter of Ryan Gosling's Holland March, and the character is pretty awesome; her shenanigans alone make the film worth a watch. The film also rocks a great 70s cheese asthetic, and if my much-ballyhooed Oscar for Best Use of Music in Film were in use this year this film would be a contender; this could also be a contender for Best Costume Design and Production Design. If you enjoyed Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you might find this one just as enjoyable. It may not be as Oscar-worthy as some of the films lower on the list, but I fully expect this one to have staying power for rewatchability.
23. The Infiltrator
A film that got a modest amount of early-season buzz but that kind of faded away before awards season really got underway, The Infiltrator tells the true story of the federal undercover agent who engaged in a lengthy sting operation against Pablo Escobar's infamous drug cartel. As Agent Robert Mazur, Brian Cranston gives an excellent measured performance that could be considered a minor snub in the Best Actor category; he is well-supported by an excellent cast including John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger and Benjamin Bratt. The film overall is well-made and interesting, and should also have been more a part of the awards season conversation. Those who enjoy reality-based thrillers and character dramas should find plenty to like here.
24. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Ah, the first of what will probably be many Star Wars spinoffs released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner. And, I'll be blunt--Rogue One is one of the best films yet in the franchise, and stands with Star Wars: The Force Awakens as one of the best stand-alone films in the bunch. I know that may be blasphemy, but most of the original trilogy were too interlocking to be fully standalone, and the less said about the second trilogy the better. Also, I am not and have never been a serious Star Wars fan. Sure I like the movies, and I'll readily acknowledge the historical impact of the original trilogy. And I'll acknowledge that The Force Awakens seemed a bit like a rehash of A New Hope, and that Rogue One suffers from the same issue I mentioned under Fantastic Beasts--too few familiar faces. On the other hand, it is hilarious fun to me to note of a Disney film, "And there were no survivors..." and mostly mean it. Plus, Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso is a pretty good lead, and Alan Tudyk's K-2SO may be the best droid in the entire series. Anyway, the film certainly deserved more love from Oscar than just two nominations, for Best Visual Effects and Sound Mixing--Production seems like a big snub, and Sound Editing even more so.
25. Money Monster
This film definitely caught my attention before its release; directed by Jodie Foster, and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the film's star power alone cried out to me. Unfortunately, due to timing issues I missed its theatrical run, and by the time I saw it the film had been all but left behind. It's a shame, because this actually is a pretty durned good film. Perhaps its polemical leanings were responsible for the film's tepid reaction. Either way, this film about a desperate man who endeavors to hit big money where it hurts by taking a cable stock trading show hostage does a fine job as a thriller while simultaneously making its agenda abundantly clear--those who have money don't give a damn about those who don't. Clooney plays Lee Gates, the glib, spineless host of Money Monster, Roberts plays his no-nonsense producer, and Jack O'Connell plays the hapless young man with a gun and no prayer, and all three sell their roles skillfully. I'm not sure this is truly an Oscar-level film, and I debated placing it so highly, but it spoke to me enough that I feel compelled to give it a high ranking.
Frankly, Barry Jenkins' Moonlight is one of those films I almost ranked higher than Money Monster, and one could say they are more or less at a dead heat on my list. In stark contrast to Monster, this film is clearly Oscar-level, and indeed is nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Supporting Actress for Naomie Harris. That said, it simply didn't hit me as hard personally. I was also slightly put off by the unconventional structure; one could easily make the case that Moonlight is three interconnected films rather than just one film with three parts. The film is the story of one guy at three points in his life; that's it, really. It is very well-made; in addition to the above-mentioned nominations, there are also nods for Best Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing and Original Score, and I agree with the latter one particularly--the score to this film is pretty great. Overall, though, the film just didn't do it for me quite like those in my Top 20.
27. Kung Fu Panda 3
Honestly, I was as surprised that the third installment in the Kung Fu Panda series got next to no love during awards season as I was when the first film was nominated for an Oscar back in 2009. This is a very good series, something I had not yet realized when that first nomination was announced. This film is also notable as the first major animated film to be a U.S./ China co-production, and it did very well at the Chinese box-office. It certainly deserved more praise in several categories, notably Best Original Score, and is yet another example of the need for voice acting Oscars. The adventures of Po the panda (Jack Black) are not over yet, and I for one look forward to the next one.
28. Café Society
One of the great constants in the movie industry is that just about every year, like clockwork, we will get a new Woody Allen film; one of the not-so-great constants of the industry is that the film will then receive far less buzz and fewer awards than should have been the case. Certainly both these constants held true when Mr. Allen released Café Society and it was then largely forgotten. At the very least, the film should have been a contender for Best Costume Design and Production Design, and arguably for Cinematography and Original Screenplay. Also, if the Best Use of Music in Film Oscar existed, Woody Allen's films would usually be nominated or considered, and this film is no exception. This is also notable as far and away the best of the three films so far to costar Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. The film will not convert anyone who doesn't like Woody Allen, but to those who do this is cinematic comfort food--and I mean that in a good way.
29. Queen of Katwe
Based on the true story of a chess prodigy from the slums of Uganda, Queen of Katwe was one of Disney's more middling successes in 2016, despite the fact that it's a pretty durned good film. Featuring solid performances from David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga, and a lively soundtrack, the film further showcases Mira Nair's ability to make an entertaining film. It also is one of several recent attempts by Disney to rise above their reputation as a rather racially insensitive company, and I'd say it's one of their more successful efforts. If nothing else, the song "Back to Life" by Alicia Keys could be counted as a probable snub in the Best Original song category at this year's Oscars. The film may not be the strongest movie of the year, but I liked it immensely.
Ava Duvernay's 13th leads off the very small pack of 2016 documentaries I've seen so far, and it is a pretty powerful film. However, I have trouble accurately rating documentaries against non-documentary features, in large part due to somewhat differing criteria, and they tend to hover a bit lower on my list than they probably should. Focusing more strongly on the criteria one might apply to nonfiction works, this film rates much higher. That said, there are moments that come across as a bit repetitive, and the film is undeniably polemical; some better editing might have turned this into a truly great film. Anyway, one cannot deny the importance of its message--that the prison industrial complex has essentially allowed for the reinstatement of slavery in America--or that the film does a fine job of making its case. It also has an excellent soundtrack, including an excellent original song by Common, "Letter to the Free," that has garnered some awards attention and could have been a contender for Oscar. This is one of several race-related films in Oscar contention this year, and may be one of the better ones.
Speaking of race-related films, this filmic presentation of the stage play by August Wilson features pretty noteworthy (and Oscar-nominated) performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and is pretty durned good overall. However, the fact is that this barely qualifies as an adaptation of a stage play--it really and truly feels more like a play filmed on location with a higher budget. This is why the film is no higher on my list, and why I do not believe it should be up for Best Picture. Honestly the fourth nod, a posthumous nomination for Wilson in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, could also be considered a bit iffy--the film may have been less stagey in different hands. This is not to knock Wilson's skill as a writer--he has a great grasp for dialogue, and I have little doubt his plays deserve their accolades--but many authors see their work suffer when they try to transfer it to another medium (this is famously an issue for novelists adapting their own work for the screen). Either way, the film is up for four Oscars, and I am always pleased to see Denzel and Mrs. Davis honored for their work. And I sure would like to see this play on Broadway before I die; I just wish it had been a bit more "cinematic" this go-round.
32. Love & Friendship
Speaking of rather stagey films... I still have not seen very many Whit Stillman films (in particular, I must see The Last Days of Disco one of these days), but between this and Metropolitan I think Mr. Stillman would sharply differ from me on how "cinematic" Fences was. I kind of hate to say it, but this film has already largely faded from my memory. Indeed, it may be a bit higher on the list than it truly should have been, though I do recall that it was at least quite well done. It also is yet another film that received much praise early in the year but barely made a blip on the Oscar radar. A period piece with excellent production values, it should have been a solid contender for Best Production Design and Costume Design, if nothing else.
33. The BFG
I have noted on several occasions already how many Disney films performed well or straight overperformed this year. This is not one of those films. In fact, it is not hyperbole to say that The BFG pretty much tanked. And, for the life of me, I haven't the foggiest notion why. Disney producing a Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of a beloved book by Roald Dahl sounds like a sure-fire bet, especially if the title character is played by Mark Rylance, the man who had just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for another Spielberg film. $55 million on an estimated $140 million budget as of October, and the film is officially a theatrical dud. And yet... This is a gorgeous and most enjoyable film featuring great performances from both Rylance and his co-star Ruby Barnhill. Maybe it'll eventually earn its budget back on DVD and blu-ray. Still, the film's underperformance no doubt crippled its awards chances--this should have been a fair contender in several "below-the-line" categories, if not most. Oh, well. The film drags at times, but mostly this ranks as one of the more charming and family-friendly films I've seen this year.
34. Life, Animated
A film about Owen Suskind, an autistic man who learned to communicate with his family by using dialogue from Disney animated films, this was to me a most intriguing documentary. While it may seem at first glance to lack the "important movie" oomph of 13th, there is unquestionably an element here of raising awareness for autism and those living with it. One might also see the story as proof positive of my contention that animated films are no less powerful than their live-action counterparts, and can occasionally be more so. It might also be seen as an ultimately uplifting story, which is not always the case with documentaries. The joy on Suskind's face when he meets Gilbert Gottfried--that was a great scene. If nothing else, I'm glad the Academy's nominees in the Best Documentary Feature category are not all downbeat looks at race relations.
35. Jim: The James Foley Story
For the second year in a row, the Academy has made room for at least one Documentary Feature amongst its nominees for Best Original Song. And just like last year's choices, the nominee was left out of the running in Documentary Feature category. "The Empty Chair," a plaintive and relatively moving song written and performed by Sting, is decidedly more deserving of its nod than Racing Extinction's "Manta Ray," and less so than Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground. That said, it is the sort of song that practically screams "Oscar nominee," and we could really use more that scream "great song!" Having watched the film, and then being able to understand the meaning of the "empty chair" image, I "get" the song, and I do rate it highly. However, I think the film (which is about war correspondent James Foley and the sequence of events leading up to his murder by ISIS) would have been a stronger contender in the Best Documentary Feature category.
36. Everybody Wants Some!
Richard Linklater's "sequel-in-spirit" to his classic Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some! is indisputably the weaker film. That said, it is still a fun film likely to develop its own following over the years. Much like the former film captured a moment in time in the 70s, this film chronicled a somewhat longer block of the 80s. Also, the characters are mostly college age, versus being mostly high school age. As an ode to an era, the film should have been a contender for Best Production Design, and probably also Costume Design. Further, this is the kind of film for which we really must have an Oscar for Best Use of Music in Film. Pop this one in to kick back and unwind after some of the more serious "Oscar fare."
A documentary about New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose compulsion towards sexting ruined his political career and made him the butt of an avalanche of far-too-easy jokes, Weiner is simultaneously pretty hilarious and rather painful. One of the more talked-about docs of the year, its absence from the race could be seen as one of the bigger snubs. Perhaps Oscar voters, still smarting from a gruesome Presidential election, didn't want to spend much time watching a film that wallows in the political process? Either way, this is an instructive and intriguing film, well worth a watch.
38. A Hologram for the King
I was really looking forward to this film from Tom Tykwer, the German director who once upon a time burst upon the scene with the fascinating Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) before drifting ever further into a sea of obscurity. Even more so since it stars Tom Hanks, who I still believe in even if the Academy has clearly decided they should see other people. This film is odd, and quite slow-paced, but I did like it, and look forward to eventually adding it to my collection. A washed-up businessman (Hanks) makes a last-ditch effort to correct his life's course by traveling to Saudi Arabia and trying to sell holographic technology to a prince. If that basic plot sounds interesting to you, I think you'll like this film. At any rate, surely it could have scored a bit more awards consideration.
39. Maggie's Plan
Much like the previous film, Maggie's Plan is a film where your impression will be heavily informed by what you bring to the screening in the first place. The film is a quirky, eccentric take on the basic rom-com template, featuring an incredibly charming Greta Gerwig and fine supporting performances by Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore. If that is your cup of tea, you just may love this film. If you, like me, suspect that quirky, eccentric rom-coms are becoming a dime a dozen and that a film might benefit from having more than Greta Gerwig, however charming she may be, you may just find this film pretty good but hardly a classic. Also, don't you hate it when a film takes an unfortunately placed time-jump? I think I would have rated this film higher had they taken a different route with the timing. Anyway, it is a very interesting and enjoyable film--I just wish it had been more so.
40. Eye in the Sky
And now we come to the film that has the dubious distinction of featuring the last live-action performance by the late, great Alan Rickman. Indeed, there was a small but vocal contingent pushing for Mr. Rickman to get some awards consideration for his role. Personally I thought he did a fine job, but that it was clear that he was sick--to me he seemed drained and a bit weak, though he was gamely giving his best. It certainly is rather criminal that the man who so memorably brought Severus Snape to life never got a single Oscar nomination. The film itself is quite good, an effective thriller about a multinational effort to capture terrorists in Kenya, which becomes a tense political standoff when a) the mission is changed from capture to eliminate, and b) a young girl starts selling bread loaves within the radius of the strike zone. As the "on-the-ground" operative tasked with getting the girl out of harm's way, Barkhad Abdi does a fine job proving that Captain Phillips wasn't a fluke, and the rest of the cast is similarly solid, with Helen Mirren being (strangely) one of the weaker links. The film plays out largely in real time, and is one of the better thrillers of the year.
41. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Another of the year's strong thrillers is 10 Cloverfield Lane, which features what has to be the creepiest role I've ever seen John Goodman take on, and that's a pretty strong statement given some of his other roles. He is excellent, and worth the cost of admission. With the vast majority of the film taking place within a bunker owned by Goodman's Howard, there really are only two other major characters--Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle and John Gallagher, Jr.'s Emmett. The entire film has a cramped, claustophobic feel that lends itself brilliantly to the creepy vibe of the story and Howard. Truth be told, I may have underrated this film, but this is the sort of movie that I seldom seek out on my own. It has potential, though, to become a favorite over time, and I have no doubt many already seek to elevate it to cult status.
I wish to list one last film in this section, which like the last two was an early 2016 release--the Jesse Owens pseudo-biopic Race. Centered on a strong performance by Stephan James as Owens, the film chronicles his rise to prominence and the controversy surrounding his decision (and those of his teammates) to compete in the 1936 Munich Olympics, which many wished to boycott due to Adolph Hitler's treatment of Jews and certain other groups. And, of course, it features great scenes recreating moments from the Olympics themselves, both on and off the field. This film is not brilliant, and barely clips or falls short of Oscar level in most categories, but only narrowly misses the mark in most of them; it is nonetheless a tremendously enjoyable and inspirational film, that gets marks for sheer likeability.
And the Rest
43. Star Trek Beyond
The third film in the rebooted Star Trek series, Star Trek Beyond had the unfortunate distinction of being released about a month or so after the freak accident death of 27-year-old Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the series. This is particularly poignant and strange in light of the fact that Leonard Nimoy had died after the previous film in the series, and the death of "Spock Prime" was actually a pretty notable plot point in this installment. Otherwise, the film continued the series with little excitement, other than a bit of controversy over certain changes/ additions to the stories of the core characters. The film is a more than serviceable sci-fi/ action flick, well worth watching. Strangely, the film is not an Oscar nominee for Best Visual Effects or either sound category, but it did score a lone nod for Best Makeup, which category it actually has a good shot of winning. I suspect this nomination was in large part due to the fascinating makeup for Scotty's new lady-friend, Jaylah, Sofia Boutella's character that was, I think, one of the brightest spots in the film.
44. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
One of the bigger disappointments of the year is the newest film from Tim Burton, and adaptation of the book series by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The movie isn't bad, and in typical Burton fashion it a veritable treat to the eyes and ears (for the most part--a plot point involving eyes was not my favorite). That said, the movie played fast and loose with the books, as follows: the firestarter Emma and the floating girl Olivia had their powers pretty much switched, to no gain that I can think of; and the film started off otherwise extremely faithful, before drifting off the rails in the second third and leaping off them completely in the final third. Also, the conclusion of the film was not nearly as impressive as the books. Perhaps those who have never read the books will find more to love. At any rate, though I would not put this forward as a contender for Best Adapted Screenplay, it certainly could have been one for Best Production Design, and perhaps for some of the other "below-the-line" categories. And we can always hold out hope for an animated series that is faithful to the source material.
45. The Secret Life of Pets
You may, before long, notice a theme for this section of the film list. Most of these are films that disappointed me. In the case of The Secret Life of Pets, the disappointment stems from an instance of marketing being too good--the first trailer, released about a year before the actual film, was freakin' brilliant, and I could hardly wait to see the film. Eventually, the second trailer came out, and my expectations were tempered. Then the film opened to... decent reviews. At any rate, when I finally saw the film I was pleasantly surprised. Even so, I cannot deny a major plummeting of interest prior to my viewing, and I also cannot deny that in a year this strong for animation this one is not the strongest contender even in that category. I still love it, though, as I suspect will anybody who has ever kept a pet.
46. Mei Ren Yu (The Mermaid)
It's both sad and fascinating how much Hollywood dominates the worldwide box office. In most territories, the majority of top-grossing films come from the U.S.; contrarywise, the highest-grossing films from other territories usually play here as niche films in a few markets, or at best as limited-run films that play mainly in art-house theatres. Certainly, that is how I was able to see Amélie, one of the highest-grossing French films ever, and Spirited Away, which was the first film to earn $200 million before playing in American theatres; it is still the highest-grossing anime ever at the Japanese box-office and was until recently the highest-grossing one worldwide. In the case of The Mermaid, I'm not even certain I could have seen it in theatres, despite the fact that it made $431 million in China, and $553 million worldwide, making it China's highest-grossing film and the 12th highest for 2016. Naturally, I had to seek this one out. The fact that it is directed by Stephen Chow of Kung Fu Hustle fame, was said to have a strongly pro-environmental message and stars a gorgeous Chinese actress (Yun Lin) as the titular mermaid Shan just made me even more excited to see the film. Thus, much like the previous two films, my disappointment was at least partially self-inflicted. My main trouble with the film is that it's just. so. wierd. That is all. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable film that I'll be sure to try and add to the collection to watch every now and again. But, as mermaid movies go, I'm afraid this one could have made more of a Splash!
47. Miles Ahead
A biopic about famed musician Miles Davis, Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead was a film I really wanted to like but was not blown away by. The acting was excellent, and this film by definition is a case for Best Use of Music in Film, but I expected more. Do give the film a look, especially if you are a fan of Davis or Cheadle. If nothing else, I like the line Davis utters: "If you're gonna tell a story, come at it with some attitude."
48. The Lobster
As weird as The Mermaid was, nothing I saw this year movie-wise came close to the weirdness of The Lobster. Written and directed by the people behind the Oscar-nominated Greek film Dogtooth, I was wary of this film for precisely that reason. However, I was fascinated by the premise and forced to note that this was one of the most critically-beloved films from the early part of 2016, so I had to watch it. And just happened to do so within a couple weeks of The Mermaid. What a double-whammy of wierdness! Anyone who knows me knows I love wierdness and originality in storytelling, so for a story to be almost too wierd for me is a rather troubling concept. This film takes place in a world where single people are apparently mandated to find a mate. To facilitate this, they check into a singles' facility for a month; at the end of the month, if they have found a partner, everything's cool, and they move onto the next phase. If not, they get turned into an animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell's character David had chosen a lobster as his animal, hence the film's title. I certainly am glad I saw this film at least once, but I must concede I am in little hurry to do it again. It is the very defintion of original, however, so the Best Original Screenplay nomination is considerably more deserved than Dogtooth's Best Foreign Language Feature nod had been.
49. Hello, My Name Is Doris
Ah, another weird movie. In fact, I'd go so far as to call Hello, My Name Is Doris downright creepy. It's interesting, and fairly original, and Sally Field is a tremendously talented actress, but the fact remains that Doris is a straight-up stalker after a guy half her age. I guarantee that if the roles had been reversed, and a 70-year-old male actor was going after a 35-year-old female actor with the same single-minded fervor the reception to the film would have been quite different. That said, Mrs. Field is talented enough to mostly absolve Doris of her behavior and make the film not only watchable but relatively enjoyable. Even so, I think I was expecting a different film.
50. Eddie the Eagle
Honestly, this film may be a bit low on my list, but like Race it is a sort of rah-rah inspirational film that checks off the points it needs to to be a good movie without trying too hard to become a gret movie. Rising star Taron Egerton is a hoot as a somewhat fictionalized version of Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, here a scrappy Englishman so determined to be an Olympic champion despite clear physical limitations that he managed to steal the show at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Hugh Jackman is also great as his very reluctant coach and mentor Bronson Peary; the movie overall is pretty great, and endlessly watchable. It's just that its debatable how good it actually is. It's definitely worth at least one viewing, though--perhaps to get your head on straight after the last couple of wierd on my list.
51. Green Room
Another acclaimed film from the early part of 2016, Green Room shares with Star Trek Beyond the distinction of being an Anton Yelchin film I got to see only after his untimely passing. It also received tremendous praise among fans of bloody action-thrillers as one of the best such films of the year, and Patrick Stewart got tons of buzz as the owner of the bar where things go awry for Yelchin & Co.'s rock band, and the leader of the cell of Neo-Nazis who are responsible for making things go awry. Personally, I found his performance a tad too soft-spoken--I could only understand half the things he said. That may have been a problem with the sound mixing--I don't know. I do know that the performance was otherwise pretty awesome. I also enjoyed getting to see Alia Shawkat in a substantial role--this has rarely happened since her days playing Maeby Fünke in the classic series Arrested Development. The film gets a bit bloody for my tastes, but it was well worth a look.
52. Neighbors 2
I was not a part of the huge crowds that flocked to see the original Neighbors, but I did eventually see it and enjoy it, and so I looked forward to the sequeal, especially since Chloë Grace Moretz was set to star. And I did eventually get to see it, and enjoy it. If you've seen the first movie, you know pretty much what to expect here, the only real difference being a surprisingly strong neo-feminist vibe to the film. Both films are raunchy comedies that cross the line a couple times but are generally among the better such films out there. This one won't win many awards, but I have no doubt it will have many fans.
53. The Light Between Oceans
This year I made a point to read some of the books upon which upcoming films were to be based, and was introduced to some really good books as a result. I'm not sure I can say the same for the films. M.L. Steadman's first novel, The Light Between Oceans, is a really good book, despite rumors that it all but ripped off a preexisting Irish screenplay called The Rootcutter. On Janus Island, off the coast of Western Australia at the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, stands a lighthouse; Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is its new keeper. Not long after, local girl Isabel Graysmark (a glorious Alicia Vikander) becomes his wife, and the two start on a family. Then tragedy strikes. And again. After two miscarriages (I think it was three in the book), she is borderline crazy with grief, and when a ship washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live baby Isabel is able to persuade Tom to keep the child and raise her themselves. It is, let's be blunt, an extremely melodramatic story. Needless to say, the couple eventually learns the cost of their choice, and the melodrama gets ratcheted up a bit. All this plays out better in the book than in the film. What's more, like the Harry Potter films, I rather felt while watching this film that I was watching the book on fast-forward. That said, the film is mostly quite faithful to the book, and Fassbender, Vikander and Rachel Weisz do the best they can with their considerable talents to keep the film afloat--they are aided by excellent production values, beautiful scenery, and the tremendous talents of the various girls who play Lucy-Grace at different points in her life, making her just about as lovable a little girl as she was in the book. It may not be the Oscar-bait film I thought it would be, but I am glad I saw it nonetheless--I just recommend the book more.
54. A Bigger Splash
A film that garnered a lot of good buzz early in the year is this sun-soaked Mediterranean drama starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and... Dakota Johnson. Mostly, they do a fine job, but the usually reliable Fiennes' Harry Hawkes was a bit too overblown, and I see his going way over-the-top here as even greater proof that he was reamed when he didn't get a Best Actor nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film overall has lovely scenery (in more ways than one), and solid production values; the story is somewhat forgettable, however, and frankly so is the film. I rate it as highly as I do because it was pretty well-done, but I barely remember the flick and have middling desire to see it again. It wouldn't hurt for killing a couple hours, however.
55. Central Intelligence
I actually rather liked the Kevin Hart/ Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson comedy Central Intelligence, though I certainly could have liked it better. For one, some of the humor is of the extremely awkward variety; also, all the double- and triple-crosses in the latter part of the film do pile up on each other to the point where I'm not entirely certain it all holds water--maybe after a few more viewings I can be sure. That said, this is (mostly) a very funny movie with a good heart. Kevin Hart is growing on me (he was hilarious in The Secret Life of Pets, by the way), and I have long been a fan of the Rock. Also, Jason Bateman is usually an asset to any film he's in, and his cameo is a great scene. I cannot call this a particularly Oscar-worthy film, but it may turn out to be one of the year's more rewatchable movies.
Much like the previous film, Paul Feig's reboot of Ghostbusters is a genuinely funny and interesting film that suffers from a bit too much awkward humor and a rather overblown finale. Unlike Central Intelligence, this one also suffers from being a reboot of one of the most beloved comedies in movie history, and having not effectively made the case for its own existence. Of course, the filmmakers cannot be held entirely responsible for all the trolls who chose to latch onto the idea that the reboot would star females and completely miss the point of why anyone would have the audacity to attempt this movie. It is a long and complicated story, which I do not pretend to know in its entirety, but I do know that this was a convenient and creative way to sidestep the rather thorny issues that may be raised by a more conventional reboot or even the sequel that had been sought for so long. All that is to say, simply, just watch the dang movie and then decide if it was worth it. The new leads are all excellent in their roles: Kristen Wiig is effective as Erin Gilbert, a bookish nerd who is a little too serious; Melissa McCarthy does a great job as her somewhat more kooky (but professional in her own way) former friend and new colleague Abby Yates; Leslie Jones is better than I thought she'd be as the streetwise Patty Tolan, who has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of New York City; and Kate McKinnon is a freakin' hoot as Jillian Holtzmann, Yates' colleague and an inventor of unbelievable skill. And then there's Chris Hemsworth... I have to say that Kevin, Gilbert & Co.'s new secretary, has to be one of the worst employees ever. And he is hilarious. I had to ask my brother, though: "Do you think Loki played a trick on Thor?" Just think; if he did, Kevin could well be the result. And the cameos... Harold Ramis has passed on, may he rest in peace, and Rick Moranis has rather definitively retired from acting, but practically all the old gang shows up at one point or another: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and even Annie Potts all stop in for appearances of varying levels of amusement. Not to mention that Mr. Rosso and Mr. Kowchevski came back as ghosts (sorry, just watched that other Paul Feig title, Freaks and Geeks). Though I was deeply amused to watch a fan's soul die when he posted his reaction to the trailer online, I cannot dislike this movie. Don't be afraid of no ghosts--watch the movie with an open mind, and you will have a good time.
I'll be up front: blatant faith-based films seldom score all that well with me. That said, Risen was a really well-made film, certainly far better on a basic production values level than, say, last year's War Room. The story of Jesus' resurrection told from the vantage point of a Roman centurion, the film is actually very interesting and watchable, and features pretty decent production values. This also may be the most notable post-Harry Potter role I've seen for Tom Felton, so that's interesting. The film may even be a bit underrated here; only time will tell.
58. Sausage Party
Hmmm... I bet you didn't think this year would see the release of a film that could make Deadpool seem like family entertainment. If any film could do it, though, it's Sausage Party, the utterly demented exercise in absurdity that dares to imagine what food does when nobody is looking. It certainly would get the seal of approval from Deadpool, were he to watch it; two words--"lesbian tacos." The movie is vulgar, loaded with blue language and innuendo, flirts heavily with racial and ethnic stereotypes, and in short does everything it can to make sure that, if you are human, you will be offended at some point. You know, like South Park. It is also pretty freakin' hilarious. You will laugh out loud and squirm uncomfortably, often at the same time. Just listen to the song that helps kick things off, "The Great Beyond." If the film had a shot at Oscar, it would be with this song; I honestly think it should have had more buzz in the Original Song category. Do not watch this film if you do not wish to be offended at least once; otherwise, enjoy the ride.
59. Suicide Squad
I for one was highly offended by Suicide Squad, but for very different reasons than for Sausage Party. My offense had far more to do with the fact that I am now convinced that the DCEU is going to keep on sucking, since they don't seem to give a hoot about the fans. In all honesty, since my expectations for the film were sky-high, I'd probably be far less upset if I'd gone at it with a level of interest more like that which I had for Batman v. Superman. I'd still have to concede that the film is a muddled mess, with a weakly defined central narrative and a pretty generic and forgettable main villain; these are simply things that are made worse because they were easily avoidable errors that reek of studio interference and not listening to fans. However, even these things did not tick me off nearly as much as the film's rendition of the Joker, and especially his relationship with Harley Quinn. I was stoked at the live-action debut of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, my favorite DC character, and remain convinced that Margot Robbie was one heck of a great choice to play Harley. I also still feel that Jared Leto could prove to be a good choice to play the Joker--the man has mad talent--but they need to dial waaaaaaay back on certain aspects of the character as presented in Suicide Squad. The Joker is not a pimp or a juggalo, he is not lovesick over Harley, and he has much more flair and panache. The way he was presented was just off, and I want it fixed! Maybe start Gotham City Sirens with a scene of Harley kicking his ass, then reintroduce him later on unencumbered by all that stupid baggage? Incidentally, the fact that the Joker's look is all wrong is one reason I can hardly believe that this film actually managed to score an Oscar nod for Best Makeup. This is doubly insulting given that there should have been an Original Song nod for the Twenty-One Pilots hit "Heathens," no doubt the biggest radio single of the year to come from any 2016 movie. Anyway, I could easily go on and on about this film's faults, but it is not all terrible. Robbie beautifully captures Harley's manic insanity, and fits the part visually (though I'd really have preferred a look closer to either her classic appearance or her New 52 look). The posters and trailers were awesome (indeed, much of my disappointment stemmed from the great promotional campaign). Viola Davis was perfect as Amanda Waller, and ditto for Jay Hernandez as El Diablo. I continue to hope for the DCEU to improve, and I am hopeful for Gotham City Sirens and Suicide Squad 2. However, after each DC film I feel a little like I am Charlie Brown, DC/ Time-Warner is Lucy, and I've just tried to kick the football. Please, Warner Brothers, don't be Lucy any more!
60. X-Men: Apocalypse
Unfortunately, Suicide Squad wasn't the only comic-book movie to get my hopes up only to dash them mercilessly. Actually, my issues with X-Men: Apocalypse are a bit more in line with those I had with Batman v. Superman. Mostly, it is an overblown mess that squanders some great characters and misuses others. That said, it is far more fun and enjoyable than either of the year's DCEU releases. Also, it's still not as bad as X-Men III: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Psylocke, a character whose debut had me super excited, had even less screentime or clear importance to the story than the Joker ended up having in Squad (though Olivia Munn gave no indication that her casting was a mistake). Alexandra Shipp was actually really good as Storm, but apart from one excellent scene she too was terribly underused. And poor Oscar Isaac was saddled with an Apocalypse that really, really should have been reconsidered. All in all, though, the movie did a fine job as an episode of the overall story; it just wasn't that notable as a standalone film.
In truth, this offbeat comedy from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele might deserve to be a bit higher on my list. I certainly do need to check out their Comedy Central show one of these days--I've been told it's hilarious. That said, this particular bit of their comedy left little distinct impression after one viewing. In fairness, it was one of the first films I saw in 2016, and it struck me as a film that can grow on you with time. One thing did leave an impression, though--Keanu. The cat is the star of the film. Can we have an Oscar for Best Performance by an Animal? Anyway, the film was pretty funny, and did have some great scenes; I'll have to see it again sometime.
62. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
I could go on and on about everything wrong with Batman v. Superman. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I won't. I'm tired, and I've run out of steam for this particular article. Sorry. There are plenty of other folks who have unloaded about this film, though--a quick Google search or a look on the IMDb page should satisfy you if you wish to read a point-by-point on the film's many faults. Let's just say that Warner Brothers really should have fired Zack Snyder over this one. Also, Jesse Eisenberg gave one of his stronger performances in a role for which he was hopelessly miscast. Lex Luthor? Really??!!?! This is not the worst film of the year, probably not even close, but damn the filmmakers missed the boat this time!
I probably should rate this film higher, but it simply doesn't matter. A solid entry in the "They're remaking this now? WHY?!?" category, this is a well-made remake that honestly could have been a lot worse, but that will no doubt be forgotten before long.
64. Alice through the Looking Glass
And now we come to perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year. Then again, my expectations for this were low enough that that's debatable. Let's just say Disney should have quit when they were ahead on this franchise. I actually almost forgot to put this film on my list; that'll tell you something right there.
65. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Even the lovely Margot Robbie and generally likeable Tina Fey could barely save this movie from being dull and uninteresting. As lowest rated films of the year go, it's actually not that bad, but I was definitely not blown away by this one.
That's all, folks!
So there you have it, the films of 2016 from best to worst. I told you it'd be an odd list. I thank you very much for taking the time to read my selections and impressions of the year's films. As always, I strongly encourage you to leave your own comments: what do you agree with, what you do disagree with, and what films should I be certain to seek out before laying 2016 to rest for good? Happy viewing!
I can't believe it, but I somehow left Finding Dory off of my list of 2016 films I've seen. Granted, it's pretty weak for a Pixar film, and certainly not as good as Finding Nemo, but I should have remembered it nonetheless. The film should be near the top of the Best of the Rest section, between Star Trek Beyond and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It worries me that Pixar's steps seem to be faltering so much--this film rates just about at the same level as The Good Dinosaur and Cars 2; it's actually pretty ironic considering how consistently Disney is starting to put out stuff under their own banner. The film is gorgeous, no doubt about it, and it has many great moments, but the issues that I had as a science geek with the first film were nothing on my issues with this one. It's well worth watching, but nowhere near the year's best for animation.