My Best & Worst 2016 Films
2016 was the year that movie scripts full of self-referential crudity finally reached Peak Ironic and burned themselves out, thank goodness. Now perhaps we can go back to good stories, well told. Let’s have no more business success stories or B-team superheroes. I also hope we’ve seen the last of a very tired trope, the Rebel Girl With Absolutely No Qualifications Other Than A Pouty Attitude. Let’s have some experts in our films! The following goods and bads are in no particular order.
Best Drama: Moonlight
A young black boy growing up with enough troubles that the last thing he needs is the realisation that he’s gay, this is about connection, memory, maturity and yes, love, with three astonishing performances from the lead at different times of his life, the last being the most superb. The three can do more with a slight nod of the head than others do in a career of emoting. Heartbreaking and moving, it’ll stay in your head for days.
Best SF Movie: Arrival
Amy Adams is a comparative linguist who finds herself, along with Jeremy Renner, in a select team chosen to attempt communication with aliens. But how do you communicate when you have to understand a language that has not originated on earth? It’s a theme first explored in ‘The Arrival of Wang’, an Italian movie in which an alien has arrived who has learned Mandarin but lands in a small town in Italy. For all the beautiful effects it’s a chamber piece with a good script and a powerful twist in the tail, from writer Ted Chiang, who can sometimes be hard work on the page.
Best War Movie: Rogue One
I was prepared to loathe this after greatest hits package ‘The Force Awakens’, but I revel in critic Kim Newman’s point that it’s barely SF at all, and more a war film. So what? It’s a fanboy delight. Clearly assembled by creating an ersatz cut from old war movies, it played out like ‘The Dam Busters’ or ‘The Longest Day’ right down to the flak jackets, but it had real heart and maybe I’m alone in this, but how wonderful to see Peter Cushing one last time.
Best Superhero Movie: Dr Strange
It got everything right; the cod-metaphysics, the bonkers inter-dimensional showdowns and Tilda Swinton as The Master. Benedict Cumberbatch may not have the suavity but his frozen face is perfect for playing an occult manipulator. There were some fun nods to ‘Inception’ and at moments it felt as if Steve Ditko’s artwork from the 1960s (yes, the Marvel franchise really is that old) was being perfectly replicated on screen. Perhaps only the Dread Dormamuu disappointed but this was superior hokum.
Worst Superhero Movie: Batman VS Superman
Once again DC strikes out with probably the worst superhero movie made since DC’s ‘Green Lantern’. The convoluted, boring plot that sidelined the stars, the rehash (AGAIN!) of the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the embarrassing attempts to reflect real-world geopolitics were all horrendously misjudged. Audiences wanted a pair of stern patricians kicking the hell out of everything and got a talky, dull mess – almost as bad as DC’ ‘Suicide Squad’ and like being trapped with Comic Book Guy in a lift.
Best Musical: La La Land
Who ever thought that this moribund genre would be revived, and in such a straightforward and pleasingly unironic fashion? Admittedly it’s more romantic drama with music than the films it most wants to be; ‘Les Parapluies De Cherbourg’ crossed with ‘Les Demoiselles De Rochefort’, and the opening scene plays exactly like the latter’s transporter-set title sequence. The main difference is that this lovelorn couple are comfortably off, with time a-plenty to think about their lifestyle choices, whereas pregnant Catherine Deneuve worked in her mother’s shop while her lover went to war. So, some reservations, at least until that kicker of an ending!
Worst Gangster Movie: War On Everyone
What happened to John Michael McDonagh? How could a tale of two corrupt, unpleasant, immoral cops play out so horribly? It think’s it’s funny – it’s not. It thinks it’s ironic. It might have been once, a long time and many drafts ago. It’s certainly not sophisticated, adult or enjoyable, and those literary quotes wedged in to give it gravitas backfire. This was done better in everything from ‘Freebie And The Bean’ onwards. How to do it properly? Take a look at ‘The Nice Guys’, which gloriously gets the buddy cop film right.
Best Drama: Nocturnal Animals
A style piece with a proper writer’s script, it’s not for everyone, but there’s humanity and power here behind the sleekness. Director Tom Ford has made up for ‘A Single Man’ with this revenge tale of great emotional clarity. It pays off satisfyingly and reminded me of Boileau & Narcejac suspense books. Their electrifying thrillers have hardly ever been translated from the original French. Perhaps Ford should look at doing one next. After all, it worked for Hitchcock, who made their ‘Vertigo’.
Best Horror Film: Train To Busan
Deservedly a hit for South Korea – an action adventure about zombies that makes ‘World War Z’ look like ‘Carry On Camping’, it was thrilling and heartbreaking within its streamlined runaway plot. Zombies On A Train is caused by a biohazard that forces a motley crew of passengers to try and outrun the epidemic, crashing through the overrun stations, with plenty of surprises along the way, from the all too human villain to the Hawaiian-song-singing little girl. More intriguingly it raises some nice points about class conflict and working together for a common aim, and has the kind of smart structure we used to get from old Hollywood films.
Worst Drama: Jackie
One week if the life of Mrs Kennedy (Natalie Portman) after the assassination and before the funeral, Portman stares from the window in nice clothes crying to whining piano music. We learn absolutely nothing about her other than that she could be a bit controlling. It’s as if the director decided there were to be no insights at all, so that we could concentrate on the veracity of the decor. Like Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’, which dumped ht political intrigue to concentrate on the fashion.
Other enjoyable movies; ‘Hell or High Water’ featured brothers robbing the banks that are foreclosing on them.’Zootopia’, a plea for appreciating difference wrapped up in a kids’ cartoon, ‘Toni Erdmann’ and ‘Hail, Caesar’. The other worsts, ‘Manchester By The Sea’ (I know, just me), the pointless ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ (Oh no! Wands!) The one I haven’t caught yet is ‘Elle’ but I hear it’s terrific. Feel free to add etc.
Interestingly the year’s most popular film was fish sequel ‘Finding Dory’ and Hollywood had a financially huge year despite the average quality of films falling.