2016 is come and gone and though it was definitely a dramatic year in a lot of ways, I’m not sure how monumental it was in the world of cinema. I ended up seeing 64 new movies this year and while I saw things I certainly liked and didn’t like, there really wasn’t anything earthshaking like last year’s “Star Wars” for me.
Maybe that’s not really fair to 2016, but 2016 hasn’t really been fair to the rest of us, so too bad. Looking over the films I saw, I noted that I saw nine animated movies, seven comic book movies, and eight films that were “based on a true story.” I actually saw five westerns, although only two of those could be considered traditional members of the genre. True to my tastes, or maybe this is indicative of the tastes of the nation, I saw fifteen movies that were either in the sci-fi or fantasy genre. Those were of varying levels of success, like anything else, but at least one made my top ten. I’m embarrassed to say that I only saw one foreign film this year, but it was definitely one of my favorite. Here, then, in no particular order besides alphabetical, are my best and worst picks of the year.
“Arrival” is one of the rare science fiction films to come out in the last few years to actually stick the landing. I loved it, but I can understand those who didn’t. It’s slow, methodical approach to exploring the concepts of something that is truly alien didn’t work for everyone, but for those that keyed into it, the result is mind-blowing and emotionally affecting. Amy Adams gives yet another career performance. We may be looking at the next Meryl Streep.
“Bad Moms” is a movie I would never have imagined putting on my top-ten list, even on up through the opening credits of watching the movie itself. Raunchy comedies are usually terrible, and I didn’t have high hopes for this one. But I haven’t laughed this much in a long time — you know that kind of wheezy, I can’t catch my breath, fall on the floor kind of laughing. Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis give us an experience that is just purely fun.
Marvel at the Movies
This was another good year for Marvel comics, with four massive hits, two of which came directly out of their studios. I really enjoyed “Doctor Strange” for its trippy storyline and amazing visuals, but it was “Captain America – Civil War” that really blew me away. Not only is it dramatic, honestly emotional, and action-packed, but it has one of the greatest super-battles ever filmed and reintroduces Spider-Man in a way that is an absolute joy.
Technically, this, too, is a Marvel Comics movie, but “Deadpool” is in a class all its own. Ryan Reynolds finally got his passion project made, and it hit big. An anti-superhero superhero movie, “Deadpool” subverts the genre at every turn, breaking the fourth wall constantly, while never watering down the jaw dropping action. What a fun movie, and also one that’s been nominated by some of the most prestigious cinema groups in the world for big prizes. Talk about turning the system on its head.
The Coen Brothers are without question two of the finest filmmakers working in Hollywood today, and maybe ever. Their films tend to be meticulous to the point of being highly mannered, but I’m happy to trade realism for brilliant dialogue and top-notch performances. Often their films, though tinged with humor, are dark and foreboding, so the chance to see them in full comedy mode is a real treat. “Hail Caesar” was so much fun with a brilliant ensemble cast. As a skewering of the politics of Hollywood, both liberal and conservative, it is beyond compare.
Hell or High Water
This Texas crime drama is one that came out quietly and built slowly as more and more people got the chance to see it. Featuring amazing performances from Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster, this tale of two brothers desperate to raise a certain amount of money no matter the cost, is reminiscent of movies like “Sicario” or “No Country for Old Men.”
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
“Wilderpeople” is the latest film from New Zealander Taika Waititi, one of the creative forces behind “Flight of the Conchords” and the hilarious “What We Do in the Dark.” Sweet and funny, epic and intimate at the same time, this film is easily one of the most enjoyable I saw all year. Sam Neill is always great, but especially in his monosyllabic turn as Hec. None are better, however, than newcomer Julian Dennison as Ricky.
“The Invitation” is another small movie that rolled out slowly, building momentum the longer it was out. The story of a creepy dinner party in the Hollywood hills is notable for its naturalistic performances and its perfect setting. This is one of those indie films that pretends to be uncomfortable and difficult to sit through, but is in fact mesmerizing and edge-of-your-seat tense.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black’s action comedy is a blast. Starring current it-boy Ryan Gosling as a down on his heels detective and Russell Crowe as a disillusioned enforcer, this 70’s-era whodunit is 100% fun. I had a great time following this tale through its twisty plotline and unexpected turns. The acting is superb and the movie is both hilarious and exciting. The guy who helped bring us “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” is back.
Animation’s Big Year
The Disney studios have certainly had a good year. Of the top ten box office grossing films of the year, Disney can claim to have ownership of six, and that’s not even counting one of my favorite animated movies of the year, the Polynesian adventure “Moana.” Beautiful and fun, this film is tough to beat, but for my money, “Zootopia” was the most exciting, well-written and enjoyable Disney films of this year. Oddly, the Pixar selection this year, “Finding Dory,” didn’t really make much of an impact on me, despite being the top box office winner for the year. Moving on from Disney and over to Laika, the people who brought us “Paranorman” and “The Box Trolls,” no animated movie was as impressive a feat as the stop-motion wizardry on display in “Kubo and the Two Strings.” This movie was amazing, and make sure to stay for the credits where you can see a behind the scenes look at the largest stop-motion puppet ever created. Very cool.
While the majority of the animated films I saw this year were either great or at least ok, there was one that stuck out like a sore thumb. “Angry Birds” was just as dumb and pointless as I expected it to be. I don’t know whether this is a case of simply bad writing and a poor concept, or the old video game curse, but I can say for sure that this film does not make me confident for next year’s “Emoji Movie.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Some of the movies on my “bad” list are there because they are bad, and some are there because they are disappointments. “Batman v Superman” is there for both reasons. I should be totally in the tank for a movie like this. If you add up the comic book movies and the fantasy movies, they comprise over half of the films I saw this year. But this project simply proved too unwieldy for Zack Snyder and his crew. They and the suits over at Warner Brothers are missing something key when it comes to these movies. You have to like your characters. And the characters in this film are thoroughly unlikeable. Beyond everything else, this is why the Marvel movies are succeeding and the DC movies are failing.
After I gave so much love to the similar “Bad Moms,” I feel bad trashing “The Boss,” but honestly this movie was a trainwreck. Actually, I should be clear, the end was a trainwreck. The first two acts are funny. Not great, but not offensive either. Kristen Bell and Melissa McCarthy work well together. But that last act, with the sword fights and the helicopter… It felt like I was watching a parody of the movie I’d come to see. If only.
I think this movie had a longer title, but really, who cares? Dinesh D’Souza, the self-described right wing’s answer to Michael Moore proves without a doubt that he is completely incompetent. In a movie that is supposedly about the evils of the Clinton cabal, the director spends much of his time whining about having been briefly jailed for campaign contribution violations. When he does focus on his subject, his assertions are so confused and conclusions so flimsy that his argument is destroyed. Politics aside, this was a terrible movie.
Independence Day: Resurgence
I was so looking forward to this movie… in 1998. I can’t imagine why the obvious sequel to such a blockbuster hit was so long in coming, but suffice it to say it was almost twenty years too late. If that weren’t bad enough, the filmmakers couldn’t think of anything new to do. “Well, the first ship was really big. What if the ship now was really, really big?” What a waste.
Speaking of waste, “Jason Bourne” was another complete waste of time and completely ill-advised. The franchise had pretty nicely wrapped up all it needed to say about its main character – so much so that they’d already released a spin-off. That flopped and rather than just drop the whole thing, they decided to go back to the well, bringing back our super-spy for one more, inexplicably boring, round. Let it lie!
London Has Fallen
Gerard Butler turned in a surprise, if modest, hit in his “Die Hard” rip-off “Olympus Has Fallen.” Naturally they’d want to go bigger for the sequel, and “London” delivers. But is it better. No. Not that the first movie was a gem or anything, but by removing the action from the confines of the White House, the excitement is diluted. Also, the blatant xenophobia in the film just comes off as gross with the world in the state it’s in.
I almost hesitate to mention this film because most people have forgotten it even exists. This weird tale of a Hollywood pretty boy going toe to toe with a desert psycho had potential, but mostly was notable because it tried to capitalize on the recent success of Oscar Isaac, just off winning performances in “Ex Machina” and “Star Wars.” Trust me, this is one that could have stayed on the shelf.
Office Christmas Party
A combination of my affection for “Bad Moms” and my love of Jason Bateman caused a brief lapse in judgment and led me to go see this terrible movie. It looked terrible, and there was no way it was going to be anything but junk, but I went in with high hopes anyway. Sadly, the movie is exactly what the trailer promises. Five minutes of funny wrapped around 85 minutes of dumb. I would have even appreciated it if it had actually been offensive. That, at least would have been something.
“Suicide Squad was, by far, the most disappointing movie I saw all year. I had clued in that “Batman v Superman” was going to be problematic, but the trailer for this quirky anti-hero comedy looked fantastic. I have always liked director David Ayer, but whether it was a jittery studio interfering or just a bad script, “Suicide Squad” is huge mess. Poor characterizations, incoherent plot structure, and some bad acting make it nearly unwatchable. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are actually very good, but Jared Leto as the Joker is so over the top it’s like he’s doing a completely different movie.