Looking Back, The 2016 Edition
2016 was a weird one, for sure. Some films that were expected to be great and entertaining were, well, neither. Established film makers of great import and reputation dumped some mediocre work into the cineplexes. Others that were flying under the radar for years rose to the challenge and made some truly outstanding work.
My 2016 began with a stale Tarantino and ended with a Star Wars film. There was an Oscar winner, some cash grabs, a couple of franchises, a few surprises of the good kind, a few more surprises of the bad kind, and hopefully at least one more Oscar winner. It wasn't the nostalgia overdose that 2015 was. What it really was the year of the Canadian. We showed up in Giant Blockbusters, we created great art, we surprised everyone, especially ourselves.
But First, the M'eh
I should come up with names for these categories, like an award name or something. I'll work on that over the next year. Anyway. The m'eh is a film that just kind of shows up and isn't bad enough or good enough to evoke any strong emotions, it's just kinda grey and sits there like a wet sock. It has some nice moments, some weirdness that keeps it from being completely boring but there's just not enough to recommend anyone spend any money on it. It's usually something that was hyped and the talent involved in the film is almost overwhelming. In 2016, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is that film. Directed by the Bad Santa guys and starring Tina Fey and Martin Freeman, produced by Lorne Michaels, on paper Whiskey Tango Foxtrot should have been some kind of comedy bonanza. It does have some nice touches, Margot Robbie and the cinematography being the only two I can remember now. So it had that going for. And the film has some weird touches. But there's not enough of anything to recommend it. Instead, it's just m'eh.
Holy Crap That Looked Great, But…
The BFG looks great, it looks so amazing. But… It is missing something. Steven Spielberg directing a Melissa Mathison script, starring Mark Rylance, a score by John Williams, based on a Roald Dahl book. The BFG should've been the movie of the year, the decade. Instead… It's a great looking film. It really is. And the movie is fun and is never boring. But, it's missing some ingredients that would've pushed it into great territory. The film plays like a series of vignettes rather than a story. The score is one of John Williams' weaker efforts. I enjoyed The BFG, and I've met others who did as well. But I completely understand the folks who don't like it and I understand the audiences that avoided it. The BFG is almost too safe for mainstream audiences, if that makes any sense.
The Best But Never Got Reviewed
When I first started writing these things I made a decision to not review any film or work if I knew anyone involved in it's production. I know how weak that is, really I do. And I had some good intentions. It was all about trusting myself to be objective if I knew anyone involved in the film. And what if the movie really and honestly was horrible? How do I tell the people involved, people that I will run into, how do I tell them that this thing they worked hard on and sweated about and stressed on, how do I tell them that their hard work was for nothing and the thing they helped create is the cinematic equivalent to a punch in the bathing suit area? Anyway. This is a really long winded way to say that I had my own, weak, very weak reasons for not reviewing The Witch.
But damn, The Witch really is one of the Great Films of the year. There's a reason that it is showing up in best of the year lists everywhere. It isn't your normal horror film, not by any stretch. Set in the early days of the seventeenth century in New England, it is a story about a family exiled from their community for their extremist religious views. It doesn't take long for everything to go to hell. A missing child, rotten crops, a black goat with an attitude. Death and religious fervor and paranoia about what's in the woods. The Witch is like The Exorcist in a way - what if evil really does take a form? And what if that form is horrible and awful and seductive and sensual? The Witch needs to be seen. It's on Netflix, find it, watch it and try to tell me I'm wrong.
Another amazing film that I never got around to writing about for completely different reasons was 10 Cloverfield Lane. The performances, the story, the setting - everything comes together. The majority of the film takes place in a bomb shelter with a cast of three. There are CGI-filled films with giant casts in spandex that wish they were half as entertaining as 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The Ones That Surprised Me
I had no reason to think that Don't Breathe was going to be anything more than a home invasion story, a modern riff on Wait Until Dark or People Under the Stairs. Some jump scares, some lazy nudity, finish the review before I left the theatre and get on with my life. What I didn't expect was a film with such a minimal story and set up that it is almost abstract. Characters that are just the essential sketches so you know who is who. Victims become villains, villains become victims. There is a story that when recording Kind of Blue, Miles Davis came to the sessions with the minimalist of sketches for the songs he wanted to work on, that it would be up to the band as a whole to add the substance to these line drawings while still staying true to the minimalism that gave them breath. Don't Breathe feels like the film equivalent of that idea. The screenplay is the collection of minimalist sketches, the movie is the finished product.
Another film that completely caught me off guard was The Accountant. Such an economical film, no fat, nothing extraneous, everything serves the story being told. A superhero for the autism community, a film that tells the folks on the spectrum that they're not broken, they're just different. A cast that gives the film their everything. What isn't there to love here? And that the film is incredibly re-watchable is a serious bonus.
I really hoped that Pride, Prejudice and Zombies would be the worst film of 2016. I really did. It really is such a boring, dull, tedious, lifeless, film. Badly shot, badly edited, badly acted. I really did hope that this was the bottom of the barrel. But, nope. Not even close.
But then Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Who Really Cares At This Point and Suicide Squad happened and I lost all hope. If you're making a comic book movie and you have to release a full version to home video so people can figure out what the hell happened in your film, you are a truly awful film maker and you should stop. There is no reason for either of these movies to have been released to the public in the mess they're in. Both projects could have been fixed at the script writing stage. All the problems could have been dealt with before Jared Leto ever put one fake tattoo on his face. But instead, we have two films with too many problems to list here. Way too many problems. And the fact that they drew such huge numbers at the box office should never be considered a win for anyone. Everyone should be scared that these two movies made any money at all. But this is what happens, something awful is made and people spend money on it. Highway to Heaven ran for five seasons. Sugar, Sugar was the number one single of 1969. These two movies made enough money to keep their producers in hookers and blow for at least a year.
All of my favourite films of 2016 have a Canadian connection. Sleeping Giant, Deadpool, The Nice Guys, Arrival, The Witch and Sausage Party. They are so damn good, such amazing films that made my toes curl. We have such a giant inferiority complex in this country. We put all of our hopes on a couple of hockey games and when we don't get gold we cry to the heavens. I get it, I do. But here are making great films, starring in important films, creating things subversive and unexpected. Yeah, Sausage Party is a foul mouthed cartoon that ends with a food orgy but it also tackles the problems when matters of religion and faith stray too far from core principles. And yeah, Deadpool plays straight into my extended adolescence but it is the most fun comic book movie of ever and ever.
But when it comes right down to it, in my oh, so humble opinion, Arrival is the best film I saw in 2016. Amy Adams gives a performance that is beyond description. Denis Villeneuve and his cast and crew have made a film that moved me emotionally and intellectually, a movie that will haunt me for years to come. I love, love, love Sleeping Giant, I want to give it my sweater when it's cold out. And I'm a Shane Black fan and Ryan Gosling's comedy chops are such revelation in The Nice Guys and I adore it like a new puppy. I wear my affection for Deadpool proudly. Such a perfect storm of character and actor, I swear the character was created for Ryan Reynolds to play. And I've already expressed how I feel about The Witch. And Sausage Party is what every animated film about grocery store produce should be.
But for me, Arrival is the film of the year. 2016 was a weird one. We lost icons that will never be replaced. We have been given many reasons to give up hope, to surrender, to put down our ideals and go home and watch reruns of Highway to Heaven. But Arrival left me with hope.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. What are your thoughts? What are your favourites of 2016? What made you angry with the power and fury of a thousand suns? Don't be afraid to share in the comments.