Film Year In Review--2016
It's time for our eagerly awaited annual film wrap-up. If it's a bit later than most, it's because I go see movies with regulars folks at the cineplex, and need to catch up in early January. There are some notable titles I missed over the year--big hits I couldn't force myself to see and well-reviewed films that looked boring--but not so many that my list is pointless. (Also, some friends put out movies in 2016 that I won't be discussing because I don't think I can be objective.)
Not a great year, but most years aren't great. A fair amount of mid-range stuff, and I wasn't overwhelmed with the quality of most of the good stuff.
Before we start, a few ground rules. I discuss only feature films released or made widely available in U. S. theatres in 2016. No shorts, no TV (even if TV is often better than film). I will give out some awards, note some trends, tell you which films were good, bad and ugly, and then list my top ten. You can rush to the bottom right now to find out, but really, the best stuff is along the way.
Feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree or not. In fact, comments tend to be better when you don't agree.
Performance Of The Year: No single winner this year, but a bunch of performances I enjoyed that generally went places I didn't expect--Annette Bening in 20th Century Women, Woody Harrelson in The Edge Of Seventeen, Alia Bhatt in Kapoor & Sons, Shia LaBeouf in American Honey, Chris Gethard in Don't Think Twice, Andre Holland in Moonlight.
Star Of The Year: Amy Adams, who did notable turns in two original films, Nocturnal Animals and Arrival, as well as repeating her Lois Lane in Batman V Superman.
Busiest Actor: Anna Kendrick, who starred in five movies (one animated)--The Accountant, Get A Job, The Hollars, Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates and Trolls.
Worst Year: Jesse Eisenberg. He starred in an awful sequel (Now You See Me 2), a Woody Allen film that was DOA (Café Society) and was perhaps the worst part in a poorly-received superhero movie (Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice).
Not Quite A Star Yet Award: Gal Gadot. She's ready to be launched as a major name in this year's Wonder Woman, but her so-so work in three 2016 films--Triple 9, Criminal and Keeping Up With The Joneses--plus her first outing as Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman, hasn't exactly whetted everyone's appetite. Runner-up: Asa Butterfield. We've seen him grow up on screen in Hugo (2011), Ender's Game (2013) and now Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. But how many people would recognize his photo?
Most Preparation For A Role: Indian superstar Aamir Khan bulked up to play a young wrestler in Dangal. And then blubbered up, gaining over 60 pounds to play the same character, now middle-aged and over-the-hill.
Best Opening Credits: Deadpool
Most Memorable Opening: Nocturnal Animals. We're hit with naked, fat, older women dancing. Turns out to be an art installation (and doesn't have too much to do with the rest of the film) but certainly gets your attention. Runner-up: Elle, which begins with the rape of Isabelle Huppert.
Best Sequel: Captain America: Civil War
Worst Sequel: A highly competitive category. And the winner is...Zoolander 2. For the past fifteen years I don't recall an outcry for a sequel, so why now? Runner-up: Neighbors 2--if Zoolander waited too long, Neighbors didn't wait long enough. They should have at least waited till they had a good story.
Best Reboot: Jungle Book.
Worst Reboot: Ghostbusters. There was no reason to do a sequel in 1989 (other than money), and there was even less reason to try to recapture the magic of the original in 2016, whether it starred women, men or some combination.
Put It Out Of Its Misery Award: The Divergent series. They've been releasing one a year, starting in 2014, with diminishing returns. And, following the modern trend, they've split the last book of a trilogy into two movies, so we have yet another this year. I'd rather be left hanging.
Best Musical Number (Not In A Musical): The party dance in Girl Asleep. Unfortunately, I can't find a video, but you can catch a second or two in the trailer:
Runner-up: "Run Rabbit Run" from Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children. Once again, no video, but here's the song:
Most Generic Title: Office Christmas Party. Yep, that's what it is.
Worst Title: Genius. The main genius on display is author Thomas Wolfe, but the film is about his editor, Maxwell Perkins. I guess no one wants to see a film called Editor.
Title With The Most Wishful Thinking: Independence Day: Resurgence
Best Ending: Tie--Nocturnal Animals and The Lobster, both of which end with a woman in a restaurant waiting for a man, but in very different contexts. Runner-up: Rogue One. We knew it was coming, but it was still nice to see.
Worst Ending: High-Rise. After suffering through two hours of incoherent allegory about Britain a few decades ago, the film ends with a soundbite from Margaret Thatcher just in case we don't get it.
Worst Plot: Inferno. I'd describe it to you except I can't remember anything about it.
Plot Better Than It Had Any Right To Be: Sausage Party
Most Pointless Plot Point: In Rogue One they make a big deal of how the designer of the Death Star sabotaged it. This is to cover for an alleged plot hole in the first Star Wars, except there was no problem to begin with, so it just cheapens the original. It's simple--the Rebels steal the Death Star plans so they can figure out where it's most vulnerable. They don't need a specially set-up Death Star, they'll just do the best they can with the top secret information they managed to grab. I'm guessing if they had more time (they were in quite a hurry in the original film), they would have smuggled a huge bomb onboard. And if they had a bigger fleet, they would have sent them all to ram the Death Star. Instead, they came up with a longshot because it was about the only thing they could do. (And the Death Star needs exhaust ports--Kyber crystals seem to be unstable and you've got to deal with that. No one will even know where the ports are unless someone steals the plans--and even then they probably won't be able to get through the defenses, and if the Empire is still worried they can redo the exhaust ports after they blow up Rebel headquarters.)
Song Of The Year: "City Of Stars" from La La Land (sorry to be so obvious).
Runner-up "The Great Beyond" from Sausage Party (definitely NSFW)
Babette's Feast Award For Best Food Porn: The Founder. While not exactly rising to the culinary level of past winners, watching the McDonald brothers fry all those burgers made your mouth water (and make plans for where to go after the movie).
Dear White People Award For Stopping A Movie Dead To Deliver Your Message: Live By Night, for the scene where Ben Affleck--who's also the writer-director--tells off a rich WASP, letting him know (back during the Depression) that black people and immigrants do all the work and eventually they're going to wise up and take over. This also wins the award for line most obviously written by someone who figured Hillary Clinton would be President.
Jason Statham Award For Actor Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another But Still Manages To Be Appealing: Gerard Butler. He starred in the awful London Has Fallen, but we still like him.
Proof Award For Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play That Doesn't Translate To The Screen: Fences. The screenplay comes from the playwright (who died over ten years ago), and he's too faithful to the source. The play is set in a Pittsburgh backyard, and almost all the movie--which is almost all talk--is set in and around that backyard. With that family shouting all the time, why don't the neighbors complain?
You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Dirty Grandpa
House Of Sand And Fog Award For Miserable People Doing Miserable Things That Ends Up In Misery: Wiener-Dog. Of course, this is Todd Solondz' MO, which, oddly, makes his films easier to watch the second time around, since you've already seen the worst.
There's Something About Mary Award For The Comedy That Most Confuses Being Disgusting With Being Funny (Not That There's Something About Mary Isn't Funny, Just That Too Many People Learned The Wrong Lesson From It): The Brothers Grimsby
Occupation Of The Year: Athlete--gymnast (The Bronze), wrestlers (Dangal), hopeful baseball players (Everybody Wants Some!!), boxer (Hands Of Stone, Bleed For This), track and field (Race), ski jumper (Eddie The Eagle), football players (Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk), failed baseball player (Fences), marathon runners (Patriots Day) and we'll throw in chess masters (Magnus, Queen Of Katwe)
Decade Of The Year: The 1960s--Hidden Figures, Born To Be Blue, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Operation Avalanche, Jackie and much of Loving, Miles Ahead, The Golden Age Of Rock Music Journalism and Rules Don't Apply. (The 60s often win, but fear not, the baby boomers are on their last legs.)
Most Anti-Colonialism Film: The Legend Of Tarzan, believe it or not.
Most Anti-Communist Film: Hail, Caesar!, believe it or not.
Worst Date Movie: Silence. After watching nearly three hours of Jesuits suffering in 17th century Japan, there's not much more to say.
Lamest Enemy: The gun lobby in Miss Sloane. We keep hearing about how all-powerful they are, but they seemed like pretty feeble screw-ups to me.
Strangest Premise: Swiss Army Man. A guy stuck on an island sees a corpse wash ashore. Turns out the corpse has magical abilities, including the power to fart them off the island.
Worst Trend: It's already happening. Any movie where something bad happens (i.e., every movie) has filmmakers or critics saying it's a cautionary tale for the age of Trump. We're going to have to put up with this for four to eight more years? We already went through it with Bush.
TRENDS AND OBSERVATIONS
Hidden Figures: Zero Days, Rogue One, How To Be Single, Kubo And The Two Strings, Don't Think Twice, The 5th Wave, The Magnificent Seven, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Nine Lives, Triple 9, 10 Cloverfield Lane, 13 Hours, The Edge Of Seventeen, 20th Century Women, Elstree 1976
Zootopia: Lion, Chicken People, The Lobster, Wiener-Dog, Kung Fu Panda 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Secret Life Of Pets, Storks, War Dogs, The Angry Birds Movie, The Eagle Huntress, The Jungle Book
The Name Game: The Brothers Grimbsy, Hello My Name Is Doris, Hardcore Henry, Kapoor & Sons, Keanu, Florence Foster Jenkins, Maggie's Plan, Finding Dory, Weiner, Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, Jason Bourne, Norm Of The North, Morgan, Sully, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Mr. Church, Jack Reacher, Magnus, Miss Sloane, Loving, Jackie, Eddie The Eagle, Toni Erdmann, Neruda, Snowden, Julieta, Ben-Hur, Max Steel, No Manches Frida, Paterson, A Man Called Ove
Color My World: The Bronze, City Of Gold, Fifty Shades Of Black, Born To Be Blue, Green Room, White Girl, The Golden Age Of Rock Music Journalism, Meet The Blacks
Where It's At: Sing Street, 10 Cloverfield Lane, London Has Fallen, Southside With You, Elstree 1976, Manchester By The Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Paterson, Free State Of Jones, A Beautiful Planet
I Do Declare!: Hail Caesar!, Nuts!, Raiders!: The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, Bang! The Bert Berns Story, Boo! A Madea Halloween, Everybody Wants Some!!
For A Song: Don't Think Twice, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Midnight Special, White Girl, The Edge Of Seventeen
Falling From A Height And Hitting Your Head On A Blunt Object=Comedy Gold: Why Him?, Christmas Office Party and I'm also going to give it to Central Intelligence and Keeping Up With The Joneses
The Water Broke: Mechanic: Resurrection, Why Him?, Passengers, Miss Peregine's Home For Peculiar Children, Sing
Ben Affleck Is A Very Effective Killer: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, The Accountant, Live By Night
Woman Doing Jobs That Men Do (And Generally Doing It Better): Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, Moana, Elle, Bad Moms, Arrival, Ghostbusters 2, Miss Sloane, Toni Erdmann
L.A.'s A Wondrous Toy: La La Land, Rules Don't Apply, Hail Caesar!, Knight Of Cups, City Of Gold, The Nice Guys, Hunter Gatherer
There's A Magical Realm On The Other Side Of The Water: The BFG, Moana, Kubo And The Two Strings, Evolution
Pratt Fall: After starring in Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jurassic World (and doing the lead voice in The LEGO Movie), Chris Pratt seemed poised to be the next superstar, but two high profile disappointments in 2016--The Magnificent Seven and Passengers--showed he's still got a few things to prove.
Meta Much?: Nocturnal Animals, Zoom, Jackie
Creepy--And Generally Secret--Admirer: The Hollars, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Swiss Army Man, Girl Asleep, Central Intelligence, Hunter Gatherer, The Accountant, The Girl On The Train, Elle
Monster Of Choice: The giant, as seen in The BFG, A Monster Calls, Moana, Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children
Go-To Science Guy: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who shows up in Batman V Superman, Zoolander 2, Ice Age: Collision Course and For The Love Of Spock.
Andrew Garfield Suffers For His Religion: Silence, Hacksaw Ridge,
Liam Neeson Speaks Unpleasant Truths: Silence, A Monster Calls
Kids In A Cave: Kubo And The Two Strings, Moana, Rogue One
What Makes Philip Roth A Great Writer Doesn't Make Movies Based On His Novels Great: Indignation, American Pastoral
Advice On How To Deal With Women: Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Everybody Wants Some!!
Let's Have A Hearing: Sully, Miss Sloane, Deepwater Horizon
Cosby Jokes: The Brothers Grimsby, Barbershop: The Next Cut
Kids Raised In The Wild: Pete's Dragon, The Legend Of Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Captain Fantastic, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Kubo And The Two Strings
Confusion At The Box Office: 13th and 13 Hours, Weiner and Wiener-Dog.
Surviving A Plane Crash: Sully, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, London Has Fallen
Start The Film With The Lead Talking Directly Into Camera Even If The Audience Doesn't Understand What's Going On: Miss Sloane, The Founder, Always Shine
Otherworldly Beings May Be More Trouble Than They're Worth: Midnight Special, Arrival, Miss Peregrine, Fantastic Beasts, Evolution
Why Can't Good Guy Superheroes Get Along?: Captain America: Civil War, Batman V Superman, Deadpool
School Kids Are Sadists: A Monster Calls, Sing Street, Moonlight, Girl Asleep
Want To Hold On To A Beautiful Woman?--Lock Her In Your Underground Lair: Don't Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Morgan, Split
Texas (or Southwest) Cop On One Last Case: Hell Or High Water, The Hollow Point, Nocturnal Animals
NASA Is The Place To Be: Hidden Figures, Operation Avalanche, A Space Program
Who Am I? (Not To Be Confused With Who Are You?): Collateral Beauty, The Girl On The Train, Lobster, Lion, Kubo And The Two Strings, Always Shine, Evolution
Killing Deer Without A Gun: Morgan, Captain Fantastic
Indulgent Parents: 20th Century Women, The Edge Of Seventeen, A Monster Calls, Bad Moms, Midnight Special, The Brothers Grimsby
Note: I was charitable this year--when a film was on the edge, I rounded up
The Jungle Book, Kapoor & Sons, Sing Street, Karel Zeman: Adventurer In Film, Green Room, Captain America: Civil War, De Palma, Don't Think Twice, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words, Bad Moms, Bang! The Bert Berns Story, Hell Or High Water, Sausage Party, Zoom, For The Love Of Spock, The Accountant, Arrival, Loving, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (in large part due to its connection to the first Star Wars), Dangal, Hidden Figures
13 Hours, Zootopia, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Bronze, Hello My Name Is Doris, City Of Gold, Everybody Wants Some!!, Born To Be Blue, Demolition, The Secret Life Of Pets, A Space Program, The Nice Guys, Maggie's Plan, Central Intelligence, Raiders!: The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, Wiener-Dog, The BFG, Star Trek Beyond, In Order Of Disappearance, Sully, Ticket To Write: The Golden Age Of Rock Music Journalism, Nerve, Moonlight, Doctor Strange, Hunter Gatherer, Manchester By The Sea, Magnus, Always Shine, Kubo And The Two Strings, The Founder, Collateral Beauty, Lion, Elle, Silence, Sing, Paterson
Ride Along 2, Dirty Grandpa, Hail Caesar!, How To Be Single, Triple 9, The Brothers Grimsby, Midnight Special, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Zoolander 2, Barbershop: The Next Cut, London Has Fallen, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Keanu, Elstree 1976, High-Rise, Miles Ahead, Criminal, X-Men: Apocalypse, Money Monster, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Now You See Me 2, Genius, Finding Dory, Swiss Army Man, Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Captain Fantastic, Ghostbusters, Café Society, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Jason Bourne, Suicide Squad, Indignation, The Purge: Election Year, Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World, War Dogs, Cosmos, Morgan, Mechanic: Resurrection, The Legend Of Tarzan, The Hollars, Operation Avalanche, Miss Peregine's Home For Peculiar Children, Masterminds, The Girl On The Train, American Honey, The Magnificent Seven, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Inferno, The Edge Of Seventeen, Rules Don't Apply, Moana, Keeping Up With The Joneses, Allied, Evolution, Miss Sloane, Jackie, Deepwater Horizon, Office Christmas Party, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Eddie The Eagle, Why Him?, Fences, The Hollow Point, Passengers, Toni Erdmann, A Monster Calls, Live By Night
TOP TEN (In Alphabetical Order):
20th Century Women
Captures an era and has characters who act like real people.
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week--The Touring Years
Lots of new footage (to me, anyway) in this compilation. We know the story, but age cannot wither, nor custom stale, their infinite variety.
A superhero epics that has less "super," "hero" and "epic" than usual, but a lot more personality.
Even at around 80 minutes it threatens to overdo it, yet has a sense of fun and style that overcomes the low budget.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
A surprising romp in the wilds of New Zealand.
Knight Of Cups
I've given up trying to defend Terrence Malick's style of overheard life. Don't see it, you won't like it.
La La Land
A film that's original yet captures the spirit of Golden Age Hollywood musicals. (All the more amazing in that it doesn't feature the same level of singing, dancing or songwriting that the classics offer.) And I love the long takes--musical numbers where you can actually see the performers perform.
You have to create a truly new and imaginative world to keep surrealism going for two hours.
Stylish, but also quite powerful.
Like last year's top ten title Korla, here's a documentary with a fascinating subject I knew very little about, and one with twists and turns I didn't see coming.
BONUS (Two others that almost made it)
Horror is probably my least favorite genre, so maybe I'm overrating this little film that could.