Thursday, January 5, 2017
Best of 2016 - Was 2016 a good year for movies?
As a year, 2016 was sometimes painful to get through, with all the celebrity deaths and the political turmoil everyone was forced to endure. But I think we came out of this year with a better sense of identity and where we want to go from here. We're learning from our mistakes and want a better future for everyone. It might take a while to get there, and it won't be easy, but someday we'll get to the place we all want to achieve.
Now let's talk about the 2016 for cinema and ask the same question we ask every year - Was this a good year for movies?
Traditionally, I say it is a good year for movies if there are three or four memorable or worthwhile films. Any fewer, and it was a bad year for movies, any more and it was a great year. Ones that you can watch over and over again, ones that stick with you long after you watched it, or movies that made you think or feel a little bit more than usual. Basically, the movies that will last beyond the first few months of being released to DVD.
I'll get into exactly which films did that for me in my look at the top films of 2016, but I feel there about four movies that have stuck with me since I saw them, and most of them have been out since August.
I thought 2013 was an okay year for movies, with the ones I remember loving being "her" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," while 2014 had definite improvements with movies like "Nightcrawler," "Gone Girl," "The Lego Movie" and "Birdman," but 2015 was the best year for movies in recent memory, giving us movies like "The Force Awakens," "Inside Out," "The Martian," "Creed," "Spotlight" and of course "Mad Max: Fury Road."
But 2016? With four initial standout movies, this has been a good year, but not a great year. There were a ton of good, but not great movies this year - "Ghostbusters," "Star Trek: Beyond," "Finding Dory," "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," "Sully," "The Nice Guys," "Zootopia" and "Kung Fu Panda 3" were all within the C to B range. They were all fun or considerate when they needed to be, but they were flawed and didn't have much staying power. A couple of weeks after I watched these movies, I had forgotten about most of them. They were not bad experiences, just not necessarily memorable ones.
Keep in mind, I'm saying all this without watching films like "La La Land," "Manchester by the Sea," "Moonlight," "Lion" and a few others, so this is an incomplete analysis. But, for the time being, I felt 2016 was fine. It produced more than enough servicable movies, which might explain why most of the highest grossing films of the year were animated films meant for children, like "Finding Dory" and "The Secret Life of Pets."
But now let's take a look at the best (and worst) that 2016 had to offer. As always, here are the categories, starting off with...
Biggest Surprise - "10 Cloverfield Lane"
When I heard that "Cloverfield" was getting a sequel, I brushed this film off as nothing more than a stupid cash-grab of a fairly pretentious monster movie and didn't give it another thought until I read some reviews and realized it was worth checking out. And what I witnessed was one of the most claustrophobic experiences of the year that consistently racked up the tension through excellent camera work and a terrifying performance from John Goodman. This one is less about the monsters and more about what humans become in the face of monsters. Or perhaps there aren't any monsters at all. That's what gives "10 Cloverfield Lane" its staying power - how vague and ambigious it is about the aliens.
Granted, the ending does ruin that a bit by giving us a solid answer, which marked down the film a bit for me, but there's no denying the creepy factor to the first hour and a half of this great thriller.
Most Technologically Impressive - "Kubo and the Two Strings"
This year has been a bit of a downgrade in terms of techonlogical advancements. 2015 gave us a superhero that could shrink to the size of ant, BB-8, this most vicious bear attack of all time, and sent us to Mars. And while there some great sequences involving CGI in most of the major blockbusters of this year, films like "Ghostbusters" stumbled throughout.
So this year, I'm giving it to the most beautiful movie I saw, "Kubo and the Two Strings." Sometimes the most impressive movies are the ones that pour everything into their craft while making it look easy. "Kubo"'s backgrounds and use of paper are still stuck in my memory and gave us some haunting yet stunning visuals. Above all else, I will remember the style of "Kubo and the Two Strings."
Most Fun in Theaters - "Captain America: Civil War"
Marvel does it yet again. While this one is heavier on quieter moments and character-building scenes, the titular battle at the airport is the best sequence in any Marvel movie so far, blending together action and comedy perfectly, playing to the strengths of each hero involved, whether those are physical strengths or character strengths. I had a gigantic smile on my face throughout this sequence and if it weren't for a certain climax to a certain monster film, the airport fight would have been the best scene of 2016. But we'll get to that.
Sleep Inducer - "The Girl on the Train"
Looking back on this one, the mystery of "The Girl on the Train" is so forgettable that its hardly worth mentioning. Add in the lazy pacing, the uncaring performances and the lack of any real sense of danger, and you get probably the most boring movie of 2016.
Film I Need to See Again - "The Witch"
I didn't write a review of this one, but it certainly deserves another chance on my part. When I went to see this, I had overworked myself by putting too much on plate and forced myself to see it when I clearly wasn't ready for it. As a result, I fell asleep while watching "The Witch."
But it wasn't the movies' fault. It was my fault.
From the bits of the movie that I remember being awake for, I did enjoy the otherworldy atmosphere and the setting. So this is one worth checking out again and giving a fair shot.
Funniest Film - "Deadpool"
I think everyone can agree on this. Superheroes + Constant fourth-wall breaking + An R-rating + No fucks = A laugh riot. "Deapool" was a breath of fresh-air in the superhero genre, while mixing it up and giving us some of the best raunchy comedy since "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Biggest Disappointment- "The Magnificent Seven"
With the many big name actors involved in this film, especially Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke, I expected better from "The Magnificent Seven." I thought it was going to be a film that would honor the legacy of the original film, as well as "Seven Samurai," and show that they are films worth checking out. Instead, we got a film so full of western cliches that it is impossible for it to have any unique character or identity. There really is no reason for this movie to exist, and that's the biggest disappointment of all.
Most Forgettable - "Suicide Squad"
I realize there are plenty of people who either loved or hated this film, but I went in to "Suicide Squad" with zero expectations, and had a bad time where I didn't remember or care about anything that happened. If it weren't for the many complaints towards "Suicide Squad" and my review of the film, I would have completely forgotten about this one.
Most Overrated - "Doctor Strange"
Usually, this spot is saved for the film generating the most Oscar buzz that I feel doesn't deserve it. But considering I haven't seen many Oscar films yet, I'll go with the film that got way too many positive reviews.
"Doctor Strange" and "Zootopia" both did well with critics and audiences, but didn't always click with me. "Zootopia" was fun at times and had a bit more creativity, which puts it ahead of "Doctor Strange" for me. While the newest Marvel film isn't bad by any means, it is the most forgettable movie Marvel has come out with since "Thor: Dark World." There's a lack of comedy and the most memorable character, for me, was Doctor Strange's cape.
That's not a good sign when people like Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen are being outdone by a piece of CGI clothe.
Most Underrated - "Don't Breathe"
I've talked to several people about their feelings on "Don't Breathe" and they have always been less than my own. Part of this might be due to the simplistic nature of the plot, while another part is probably the strange turn the film takes near the end and makes it all feel a bit comical.
But I had a blast with "Don't Breathe," and for a while I had considered putting this as the best film of 2016. It is the most basic movie of the year, but due to that simplicity it is also the most terrifying. This takes what "10 Cloverfield Lane" started and makes the stalker more intelligent and logical, but also at a disadvantage by being blind. It is wonderful to see that get turned into a strength throughout the film and watch as despicable people get hunted down by a twisted man.
Best Performance - Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water"
The best example of perfect casting in 2016.
Bridges plays a Texas Ranger who is about to retire and is looking for one last chance at glory, and sees that by stopping a series of small bank robberies. He is fully of bravado and ego, while still being intelligent and calm about his plans that it is impossible not to like him. Additionally, of all the characters in "Hell or High Water" he goes through the most change and realizes that life is more than just a series of accomplishments.
Bridges disappears in this performance and gives us a Texan that is keen on the old ways, but recognizes the changing winds. He may not like them, as with most people in this dying south, but he learns to bend with them without breaking.
Most Anticipated Film of 2017 - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"
Lots of big name films coming out in 2017. We'll see DC spread its wings and try out different genre pieces with "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League," Spider-Man returns to Marvel, King Kong comes back to the big screen and we'll be getting a new rendition of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, just to name a few that stick out to me.
But if I had to pick one, seeing more of the Guardians will be a blast. The trailer alone has me convinced that this will be just as much fun as the first one, except now more outlandish and expansive. You can't go wrong with that.
Best Scene - Yashiori Strategy/Climactic Battle from "Shin Godzilla"
This is a new category for 2016, but one that I had to bring in just to talk about how much I loved the ending to "Shin Godzilla" (again).
If there was one scene that I kept playing over and over again in my head from 2016, it was Japan's final stand against Godzilla from the most recent entry in the series. In most Godzilla films, the military throws bombs and missiles at Godzilla aimlessly, hoping that one will somehow leave a mark and bring him down, but we all know how well that works. It often gives off the impression that the military is useless in Godzilla movies. This is made even worse in "Shin Godzilla" with them fighting the most terrifying incarnation of the King of the Monsters to date, as well as a creature that is constantly evolving.
So imagine my surprise when this climax occurs and we get a military unit that is not only capable of keeping up with Godzilla, but utilizes his weaknesses and everything they've learned about him to their advantage. The military also uses the environment around them well, planting bombs in light-rail trains and dropping massive buildings on top of Godzilla. This is the most intelligent and strategic plan to stop Godzilla yet and it is glorious to witness, especially in a film that makes the country of Japan its main character.
Add in the classic military march by Akira Ifukube that kept my toes tapping the entire time, and you get the most action-packed sequence of 2016 that never gets old. I really wish a DVD would come out for "Shin Godzilla" quickly so I can watch this scene again.
This scene was triumphant, while still remaining terrifying like the rest of the film, to make for the most exhilirating scene of 2016.
Worst Film - "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice"
By far, the most insulting movie of 2016.
It almost feels cliche to pick on "Batman vs. Superman" at this point, since my inital review ripped the movie to shreads for being a boring, dull, non-sensical and off-putting mess. The film doesn't understand what makes Batman or Superman the endearing characters we all know and love and does whatever it wants with our "heroes" by making them idiot meat-puppets who are obsessed with either trivial matters or looking good for his girl. Outside of a few laughably bad moments (Bat Jesus, anyone?), "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is best just forgotten and never mentioned again.
And that's it for my look back on 2016. If you're wondering what are my picks for the best overall films of 2016, stay tuned because in the next few days I'll be posting my top movies of the year and wrap up my look at 2016.