We’re not quite done with the year that was! Cal finally rounds-up his filmic favourites.
A number of notable Oscar contenders still haven’t landed in cinemas close to me just yet, so I haven’t managed to see the likes of Live By Night, Silence, La La Land, Hell or High Water, and any number of other movies that people are raving about. And no, I didn’t catch whatever indie movie you saw at a film festival that only five other people know about. Hell, I didn’t even watch that many movies throughout 2016, to the point that I haven’t even bothered with a worst movies list because the lowest rating I dished out to a 2016 release was 5/10.
Got all that? Good. We can move on.
Top 5 Best Movies of 2016
1. Hacksaw Ridge
With Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto under his directorial belt, Mel Gibson’s track record as a filmmaker is second to none, and thankfully his staggering winning streak is confidently maintained with 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge. Even though a decade has elapsed since Gibson’s Apocalypto, he makes his return behind the camera without missing a beat, showing yet again why he seriously needs the opportunity to direct more movies. A stunningly vivid World War II picture, Hacksaw Ridge dramatises the heroic story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who determinedly set out to serve his country without ever picking up a weapon. Almost impossibly, Gibson transforms what could have been a preachy religious fable into a frequently gripping and emotive war film.
Affecting and powerful, Hacksaw Ridge is the movie of the year. I may not have seen all the Oscar contenders, but there’s no chance it will not be beaten – it’s the greatest motion picture of 2016, and one of the best movies of the decade. The story of Desmond Doss absolutely needed to be told, and it’s satisfying to behold such a phenomenal motion picture after many decades of attempts to get it made. Hacksaw Ridge may be corny at times, but Gibson commits to the material with utmost sincerity. The movie even closes with archival footage and interviews of the real people of this story, which serves as an effective footnote. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s best movie to date, and that’s a big call.
Even though Clint Eastwood is approaching the age of 90, he continues to amaze with his passion and dedication to the art of filmmaking, and Sully is one of his better efforts of the century. Based on a true story, it’s all about the aftermath of an incident when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger was compelled to land his aircraft on the surface of the Hudson River after serious engine failure. Rather than a straightforward retelling of events, it jumps back and forth, eventually giving us a simply breathtaking sequence of the landing itself. And best of all, it doesn’t whitewash or eschew the potential dangers of Sully’s decisions, and though the investigation and vilifying of Sully is certainly exaggerated, it works in the context of this dramatisation, making for a more dramatically involving movie.
What’s particularly impressive about Sully is that it runs a beautifully brisk 90 minutes, and manages to tell its story in an efficient manner without much in the way of narrative flab. The time simply breezes by, which reflects the great performances, great writing, and great filmmaking. Eastwood is hit and miss with his motion pictures, but Sully is a bona fide hit, his best directorial effort since Gran Torino.
Starting with Tangled in 2010, Disney animation has continually given us Pixar-level computer-animated efforts each and every year, and Zootopia is yet another exciting reminder of what the studio can do. (Note: I have not yet seen Moana.) A sumptuous visual experience, Zootopia manages to be almost unbearably poignant and seriously funny, tackling truly profound themes relating to tolerance and acceptance that are becoming more and more timely in contemporary society. And best of all, it manages to do so without coming off as preachy or insincere. It’s a fine balancing act, yet the filmmaking team pull it off with seemingly little effort.
Zootopia also excels in its characters, giving us a pair of leads that are easy to like and root for, while the rest of the ensemble is colourful and charming across the board. It’s the best animated movie of the year – a damn sight better than Pixar’s release for the year, Finding Dory, which fell a little short of its mark.
4. Green Room
Director Jeremy Saulnier landed on my radar in a big bad way with Blue Ruin a few years ago, and thankfully his follow-up effort is just as great. Let’s get this out of the way first: Green Room is simplicity personified, as there isn’t much in the way of underlying themes and it won’t make you cry. It’s a simple story of a punk-rock band going up against seriously dangerous white supremacists, but it’s the execution which allows the movie to soar. Unbearably intense and often viciously violent, Green Room is a gripping experience, making it far more gratifying than many of the year’s big blockbusters.
We have never seen Patrick Stewart like this before. Utterly shedding his Star Trek image, Stewart is terrifying and commanding whenever he appears; he’s a real threat. This is also one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances (seriously, rest in peace dude), and here he shows that he has real dramatic chops. If you have the stomach for it, you should definitely check out Green Room.
5. Blood Father
Here’s a motion picture I’ve been looking forward to since it was first announced a few years ago, but the wait was worth it. Mel Gibson still has genuine acting talent, a fact that’s increasingly evident throughout Blood Father, which features perhaps his finest performance to date, alongside Lethal Weapon. More than just a B-grade actioner, Blood Father is a heartfelt thriller which puts characters ahead of action, and finds a solid emotional core that I simply did not expect.
Viciously violent, the movie makes a real impact when it comes to the action sequences, and Gibson manages to be a rock-solid badass as he protects his estranged daughter from a dangerous gang whilst also delivering some amusing one-liners. Blood Father does its job extraordinary well before bowing out around the 90-minute mark, not outstaying its welcome. Yeah, it could have done with a bit more meat on its bones, but I can’t complain too much. Make no mistake, I would love to see a pure action fiesta with Lord Mel in the centre, but a gratifying character-based drama with a few brutal action beats? Even better. See this one.
Honourable Mentions: Arrival, Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Star Trek Beyond.
Best Movie You Probably Didn’t See: The Nice Guys.
Shane Black fell out of favour with some folks after Iron Man 3, and here he returns to his standard modus operandi, crafting an original black comedy which feels like a spiritual follow-up to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s an intricate detective story set in the 1970s which involves the porn industry, and it fits right into Black’s wheelhouse with witty dialogue and a hint of action, because he just can’t help himself. So why the fuck didn’t more people see it?!
Black is certainly no stranger to box office underperformance, since KKBB likewise failed to find its audience back in 2005. But just as that movie gradually turned into a cult hit, I’m confident that The Nice Guys will get a second life on home video, especially because it was a reasonably high profile release. I enjoyed the movie at the cinema, and it still stands up at home.
Most Fun: Deadpool.
As much as I love the motion pictures in my Top 5, I would sooner flip on Deadpool if I was seeking a fun movie to watch. There has been a degree of backlash against the movie in the months following its monstrous success, but that has come mostly from the pretentious contrarians who are clearly dead inside. Deadpool isn’t revolutionary, but it’s the right movie at just the right time, arriving in the midst of a crowded cinematic marketplace dominated by PG-13 superhero blockbusters that’s frankly getting old. Joyfully subverting the clichés of the genre, this is an R-rated movie aimed at adults, full of gleeful ultraviolence, profane one-liners, and a fair bit of fourth-wall-breaking.
Although I might have liked more Deadpool action, the movie never necessarily drags, and it’s certainly bolstered by the non-linear narrative which gives the pacing an added zip.
Most Underrated: Eddie the Eagle.
The purpose behind Eddie the Eagle was to create an old-fashioned sports-comedy in the vein of Cool Runnings (who doesn’t love that movie? Seriously), and I would say the filmmakers succeeded in their ambition. A sweet little underdog story, the movie works because it’s genuinely enjoyable from start to finish, on top of being heartfelt and often amusing. Add to this some wonderful performances from the likes of Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton, and you can’t go wrong with Eddie the Eagle.
Also: Train to Busan, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Brothers Grimsby.
Most Overrated: Doctor Strange.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate Doctor Strange, but I found it difficult to love it as much as the critics did. It’s yet another superhero origins story, but it arrives at a time when the formula has grown utterly stale, and it looks all the more rote in the shadow of Deadpool. Furthermore, Doctor Strange was marketed as a mind-bending, surreal extravaganza, yet it still plays out with a blockbuster sensibility when trippy, psychedelic, colourful visuals are best appreciated when you can sit back, relax, and properly take it all in. Thus, the movie focuses on large-scale, kinetic action set-pieces as opposed to deliberately-paced, surrealistic immersion and esoteric cerebral exploration that might have made for a more interesting movie, especially in the context of the MCU. This was, after all, marketed as “the weird Marvel movie.”
Shortcomings aside, Doctor Strange manages to stay afloat, and it’s still a good movie for the most part, but its sole purpose was to induct this new character into the MCU, and as a result often just feels like homework for the next Avengers sequel. I can’t see myself revisiting this one very often.
Most Disappointing: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice/Suicide Squad.
Man of Steel at long last kicked off the DC Extended Universe after a few false starts (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex), and it took three years for Warner Bros. to get their shit together and actually churn out more titles. What a bona fide disappointment to behold these two overblown husks, both of which wasted so much potential.
To start with, Batman v Superman takes on far too much narrative material for its runtime, and wants to lay all the groundwork for the Justice League movie as it goes about its business. The seriously out-of-place cameos for other members of the Justice League remain cringe-worthy, and Wonder Woman is so underdeveloped and forgettable that I didn’t even realise she was meant to be Wonder Woman until she got the costume on. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is beyond awful, and it makes no sense that he just happens to know the true identities of Batman and Superman. I could go on and on about the movie, including the horrific “Martha” moment, but suffice it to say, this one sucks.
As for Suicide Squad… I liked the characters, the actors and the general cinematic style with its clever use of popular music, but the story itself is insanely uninteresting and the movie suffers from a poor choice of villain. This is meant to be an old-school movie, but director David Ayer lets the movie out of his control for an overblown climax that might as well have featured in an X-Men movie. Add to this the harsh editing, which likely came as a result of studio meddling, and this one falls short of its potential.
Also: X-Men: Apocalypse.
Biggest Surprise: Pete’s Dragon.
I don’t think anybody really expected much of Pete’s Dragon, a live-action remake of a 1970s Disney movie which was partly animated. But the concept is used as a foundation for a seriously poignant fantasy-drama that feels like the work of a visionary auteur, rather than a blockbuster puppeteer being controlled by the studio. It’s anchored by tender performances and a convincing central dragon, and even though the whole enterprise is a tad cliché, it nevertheless works. This one seemed to fly under the radar for most people, but it’s worth checking out. Trust me.
Deserved to Flop: Ghostbusters: Answer the Call.
Enough said. Fuck this movie.
Deserved Better Box Office: The Magnificent Seven.
I was ambivalent at best towards this remake, but the talent involved certainly piqued my interest, particularly since it features the last score to be written by James Horner before his premature death. I enjoyed The Magnificent Seven at the cinema and I still enjoy it at home – it’s an old-fashioned boys movie, a Western with handsome production values and an agreeably charismatic cast.
Antoine Fuqua can do macho movies in his sleep, and he shows yet again why he’s one of the better action filmmakers of late. The climactic action sequences is enormous in scale and never anything less than involving, and the PG-13 rating doesn’t neuter the content as much as I had feared. I love a good cowboy movie, and The Magnificent Seven did it for me. It didn’t deserve to underperform as much as it did.