Posts Tagged ‘2016’

The Ten Best Movies – 2016

2016 was not great. Not for all those reasons you just thought of. Mostly because movies weren’t that great. There may have been more good than bad, or more good than usual, but nothing was great. Last year we were seriously discussing whether or not a Mad Max movie should win Best Picture. Sylvester Stallone was a frontrunner for an Oscar for playing Rocky Balboa. Tarantino and Iñárittu gave us what could end up being the best movies of their stellar careers. There were zero DC movies.

 

1. Tunnel – Tunnel was the best anyone could come up with in 2016. And barely at that. Any of the first five movies listed here could just as easily been number one, really. They are all very different from each other, but nothing stood above terribly taller than the rest.

 

Of course, this is all in disservice to Tunnel. Which did everything right. You don’t know it because it was made in Korea and pretty much only came out there, (where it won a Blue Dragon for Popularity, which also means nothing to you) playing only in American theaters that specialize in such things. Not that there weren’t plenty of Korean movies in regular American theaters in 2016. There was critically lauded molasses like The Handmaiden, disappointing spy epic Age Of Shadows, great but bloated Train To Busan and Operation Chromite had Liam Neeson as Genral Douglas MacArthur so of course it got to be in theaters no matter how terrible it was. Obviously, none of these came close to matching Tunnel.

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There was a time not so long ago that America made movies like this though. The closest we’ve come recently was The Martian, which also came out last year and might regret that since it could have been the best movie of this one. Essentially a made up incident that feels like it could be telling a true story, with all the same tension and danger and humor and emotion tugging as something that was true might have.2016-the-tunnel
Tunnel may not carry with the weight of typical award-gathering movies or even typical effects-laden crowd pleasers that might typically make typical top of year end lists. But besides getting nearly everything right (the ending goes on seconds too long) it isn’t just a frivolous endeavor either. In this case, it’s indirectly attacking the infrastructure problem Korea has been suffering for some time. Not exactly world changing, but maybe country changing, and in a tangible way, which could be more important.

 

 

 

2. Weiner – Sure, it’s already hopelessly out of date, but you can still enjoy the madcap follies of the most (unfortunately) famous New York Representative in history. There is a rise and fall, marital strife, great chases, political discourse and the greatest documentary quotes since American Movie.

 

The fact that it’s all real (and not even the whole story) is really not part of it. You can learn real some things, and that’s great, but it doesn’t make this any better. Whenever you hear people say “You can’t make this stuff up” it’s always stupid, you totally could make it up, and probably have, but this is one case where maybe it’s finally true. Not that you’d ever want to. But you don’t have to. You just have to watch Weiner.weiner

 

 

3. Zootopia – Any movie with two important message metaphors, a crushing breakdown by its lead actress and political intrigue all wrapped up in a fantastic mystery and laced with easy humor anchored by the perfect interplay of the leads would be a simple pick for Best Picture, never mind a top ten list. That it is animated and ostensibly for children should really make it all the more notable. Not marginalized into some ancillary category.

But of course that is not how it works.

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4. Sing Street – Did the phrase “drive it like you stole it” really exist in nineteeneightywhatever Ireland? I doubt it. There a lot of strange anachronisms in this otherwise pretty dedicated period piece. But Sing Street is less interested in its specificity of tribute than it is in universally reveling in the power of expression.sing4

 

You may like Sing Street for its uplifting ending filled with promise and fulfillment. I read it more as the imminent demise of these things, because there’s no way they make that crossing alive. But that’s just another thing that’s great about Sing Street. Something for everyone, even when it’s the same thing.sing-street-still

 

 

5. La La Land – Speaking something for everyone. La La Land isn’t totally satisfying to anyone. Including its characters.

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Without prototypical musical song, dance or even storytelling (there is no villain, no matter how much you’d like to say Keith is one) La La Land instead really only backs into being a musical, even when music is essential to its plot. Director Damian Chezelle has gotten a lot of criticism for these shortcomings (and more serious, less accurate ones) but what he never gets credit for is deciding to go with two of the best actors available to us today and worrying about the rest of it later. In doing so, he is able to go to the dramatic and humorous extremes that make this one of the best movies of 2016 without it showing any cracks.

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Sure, I wish they’d had to sing while they were fighting, since that’s what musicals are supposed to do, transpose heightened emotion into song. But maybe we should stop telling La La Land what musicals are supposed to do and accept the things La La Land does do. And does so well.

 

 

6. Christine – I’m not even sure I like this movie, never mind love it enough to put it on so high a personal pedestal as this. But I am because maybe it is great and I just haven’t completely come to terms with that yet. It is the one of these ten that I really ought to watch again, but probably won’t, because it is so divisive, even if only internally.

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Rebecca Hall’s performance deserves all the same words. Both because they are appropriate and because it forms so much of the movie. There is not really anything but her performance of Christine in Christine. Which is the point, of course. But maybe that is the problem? Not that it is so much of the movie, but that it is and there still isn’t a lot to be learned about the actual person, Christine Chubbock. Christine, the movie, isn’t all that interested in answering the questions it raises about her, nor the ones you might have had already, about this prescient tragic figure in media history.

 

And maybe that is something to love. Not in general, but in this specific case, where the singular central event (that you probably know about, even if you don’t know the names involved enough to tie it to what I am saying now, but still, seems like I should give you the chance to find out for yourself, one way or another) is such a mystery, that is why it is so famous, or a major part of why anyway, and letting it remain that is the only way to be truthful. For as much as we may know about all of this, we can’t really know any whys and this movie lets you feel that first hand. And that is something admirable, even if it tends to fly in the face of what we expect, what we may feel we deserve, from a movie.3937e12f00000578-3828585-image-a-44_1475949339427

 

7. Captain America: Civil War – After enjoying the world all to themselves for awhile, Marvel movies are now inexplicably getting put to task for being all the same. Employing a winning formula is hardly a reason to get upset, of course, just ask Coca-Cola how springing a new one on everyone works out. How any lobotomized DC production gets to be compared at all, never mind revered, is beyond my comprehension and I’d prefer it to stay that way if finding auteurism and its inherent artistic merit in Suicide Squad is the alternative.

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But obviously simply being the better comic book move is not what lands Captain America on this list (again.) But Captain America the character continues to be the most compelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and having him pitted against the other best character is not a risk that should be taken so much for granted. In comic books when this happens there is not so much consequence. The next series is written and this is all relegated to an editor’s asterisk. A failure at this juncture might prove unsustainable even for the Marvel juggernaut. But not only does making a beloved hero into a quasi-villain work, it turns “just another” super hero movie into something timely. Even prophetic. Never mind the background villain being totally human and only turning prior movie’s events into his weapons. This movie is great even without a perfect Spider-Man or an airport scene. Those things are just nice.cripjpg

 

 

8. The Edge Of Seventeen – Even the fact that I watched this on a screener sent to people more important than most of us in order to entice them to give it awards did not prepare me for what this is. The Edge Of Seventeen has more in common with Diary Of A Wimpy Kid than it probably would want to. And less in common with any other teen dramedy you might have ascribed it, based on its marketing matthe-edge-of-seventeen-2016erial.

 

Diary Of Wimpy Kid movies are mostly terrible, but maybe also a little admirable, because of how awful the protagonist is to everyone around him. The movies do not appear to be very aware of this, forcing said Wimpy Kid to learn from anything he’s done or even become attentive to the idea that he might have been terrible. So The Edge Of Seventeen clearly does not follow this trajectory. But in making Nadine so awful to everyone in her life, this movie does not lay out a clear path to success. Which makes its balancing act all the more impressive. And fruitful. Of course, without Hailee Steinfeld’s tightrope performance, you can have nothing else, she can be normal and funny, tortured and maligned, horrible and nasty and totally self-righteous about it and nearly bring you right along with her, as any movie ought to do.edgeofseventeen-steinfeld-classroom

 

 

9. Rogue One – It shouldn’t be encouraged, the conception of a sequel based on one line of dialog from a 40 year old movie. No matter how poured over and dissected that movie’s dialog might have been throughout that period.

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Rogue One is always headed to one very familiar place, but it shows us that that doesn’t have to matter as much as we might have thought. We can be enthralled and moved and just entertained without any hope of the ending we might find we want and only the one we thoroughly expect (and would be annoyed without, really.)

 

More Wild Bunch than Star Wars and all the better for it. Not simply in being different, but in being the different within such a well established set of parameters. Never mind being better than the prequels or even better than last year’s linear sequel. Rogue One stands on its own as a movie first. Then manages to not generate internet riots about its pedigree and submission to it.rogue-one-trailer

 

 

10. Hacksaw Ridge – 2016 wasn’t such a great year for movies. You can tell because Hacksaw Ridge is only mildly interesting and almost as unintentionally creepy for quite a long time. But that is before it wipes your memory clean of everything that has ever come before.

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I saw Mel Gibson interviewed after a screening of Mad Max one time and during it, he said that he’s always trying to find the line with his portrayal of violence where it makes people run out of the theater and stop right before that. He must means everyone runs out, because I’m sure a great number of people who found themselves in the midst of this extended battle sequence did run out of the theater. Maybe stumbled. It is perhaps the most visceral, hopeless, chaotic battle scene to ever happen. And it is enough, in a year full of mostly middling fare, to elevate it above those.hacksaw-ridge

 

 

 

 

10. – 15.

 

Moonlight – Everything (and everyone) says Moonlight is better than any of the movies I’ve mentioned before. But there isn’t one thing about it that stands out. It’s just very well done and slightly unconventional. What I think I like most about it is that it played to an audience that had no idea what it was getting into and wouldn’t have seen it if they had. Also, Naomi Harris is terrible in this and I fear she will win every award.

 

The Finest Hours – Something released in January should never be on anyone’s list of anything except maybe a movies released in January list. But The Finest Hours is two gripping movies pitted against each other in a race for relevance. They both win. So do you.

 

Eddie The Eagle – Movies that make me cry and few and far between and so one that does it maybe ought to be further up this list. But I know Eddie The Eagle’s limitations. And I’m thankful it never let that stop it.

 

The Secret Life Of Pets – Illumination isn’t ever going to get the recognition for the superb animation that it produces because it’s too concerned with being funny. Which is a way more worthy cause for its celebration.

 

Audrie & Daisy – More documentaries should go for court ordered interviews.

Top Five Wasted Efforts – 2016

1. John TollBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

 

John Toll has two Oscars. He won them in consecutive years. He’s shot some of the prettiest movies (and TV) in history and has absolutely nothing to prove to any of you. When he signed on to shoot Ang Lee’s new experimentally formatted movie, he was probably pretty excited about it. For someone so thoroughly experienced, this groundbreaking venture might have been enticing even without the cache of Ang Lee being attached. Being among the first to shoot in color or Cinemascope or 3D or HD or whatever technological advancement isn’t necessarily always going to garner accolades, it probably leans a little toward the opposite even, because nobody likes change and our eyes are just about the least open minded part of our bodies. So how then could shooting Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in 128fps 3D be a wasted effort?

 

Well, mostly because what John Toll signed on for originally was not Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but an (as yet unnamed) entirely different project that would have reportedly been a more intricate and effects heavy.

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Instead John Toll, triple nominated double Oscar winner, American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner, is stuck working out the kinks of a revolutionary new cinematic format on a droll drama that feels like a high school play where everyone in the class had to be included regardless of their abilities. He had to figure out that he needed five times the lighting as he normally might, which was extra annoying since he simultaneously discovered that he needed to shoot real locations because the picture would not hide most of the tricks regularly employed by Production Designers to mask the fact that the whole thing is being done on a set. All of this coming at the expense of time he could have been shooting something slightly more conventional, but infinitely more influential and/or important. Something good. Something that anyone saw. Something that anyone who saw it wasn’t stunned at the fact that the theater they were watching it in hadn’t turned off their motion smoothing setting.

 

 

 

2. Oona LaurenceBad Moms

 

From originating Matilda on Broadway to playing little Pennsatucky on Orange Is The New Black, Oona Laurence has already shown the capability and versatility that makes her the envy of actors three and four and five times her age. She was Jake Gyllenhaal’s typically movie-advanced child in Southpaw last year and filled the typically forgotten love interest proxy role in Pete’s Dragon in this one. But the best performance on her young (but extensive) career is in an otherwise forgettable and blunted supposed shock comedy, Bad Moms. In a movie filled with cartoon versions of people who never existed in the first place, all in the service of dangerous laughs for safe people, Oona Laurence’s Jane is an already anxiety ridden child now in the throes of her parents’ separation and is probably losing her mind. The movie really should be about her, but toonahen I guess the title would have to be changed since a movie called Bad Moms is obviously about mothers who want to have their own life outside of motherhood once in awhile but still love their children and will do outlandish things for them.

 

 

3. Stunt TeamHardcore Henry

 

Stunt people risk their lives every day. And for movies! It’s crazy. So really, most stunt teams are wasting their effort by the definition as I have laid out here. But they love it and they’re like magicians or con artists or something, incredibly protective about their jobs and how they do them. So it isn’t a waste, not to them; they’d probably be jumping off buildings and crashing cars on their own if they didn’t have the movies. And what a nightmare that would be for the rest of us.

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Singling out Hardcore Henry then seems so speak fairly negatively of the movie, if I‘m saying these crazy people were crazier than the rest of their ilk. And I am. It’s an awful thing. But that isn’t all of it. The stunt team on Hardcore Henry had a few other outstanding circumstances. First of all, they did it in Russia. There’s no stunt union governing the safety of their members there. There’s barely any laws at all unless you’re trying to be gay or Ukrainian. Second, it’s generally freezing. And here you are jumping around on and off moving vehicles with not quite as much blood in your extremities as there usually is. But neither of these is something particularly exclusive to Hardcore Henry. What makes this stunt team somewhat singular is the fact that they were also largely responsible for operating the cameras.

 

If you haven’t heard, Hardcore Henry is entirely recorded from the point of view of Henry himself. You never see his face because his face is the camera. Which means what Henry does, the camera operator must do. Which in turn means the camera operator is jumping around on and off moving vehicles with little to no organized supervision and not as much blood in the extremities. And in order to do this, the camera operator has to wear experimental head gear that not only impairs vision but is significantly heavier than the regular head one is used to carrying around. Even a head as big as a stuntman’s might theoretically be. (After all the swelling, I mean, not that they are egotitsts.)

 

Any behind the scenes footage from Hardcore Henry will tend to look extra insane. But only as insane as all those Jackie Chan end credit sequences. There we can see a person we recognize who for all intents and purposes does not need to be putting himself in such danger. But what cannot be seen is the monstrous effort put into even creating the environment in which men in Daft Punk helmets are doing awkward parkour in and around very dangerous materials. All so we could watch a live action version of a thing we’ve become inured to as a result of the infinitely less dangerous act of animating a video game.

 

 

4. Nigel Booth and Mark CoulierZoolander 2

 

The original Zoolander was never given a chance, with a(n intended) release date of September 14th, 2001 it was then delayed for two weeks, you know, until everybody was over it. It’s not that Zoolander was ever going to be a blockbuster, but it took a very long time to find a significant audience. That audience was never significant enough to warrant any sort of sequel, but such a long lay over seemed preposterously egregious. Even in this time of reviving most everything that has ever existed. So you might think anything involved with a sequel to a box office failure fifteen years after the fact would qualify as a waste. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

 

But the fact is, they made a Zoolander 2. And there was a larger percentage of the world’s population excited about that notion than were the original. Whether that is because it was now a known commodity or because there is a direct correlation between that percentage and the percentage that has no memory of September 11th, 2001 is not something we can definitively research (not because it would be impossible, but because the funding is understandably unavailable.)

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I suppose the biggest waste in all this falls on the person who came up with the idea to call it Twolander because other more powerful people decided against that and it is very unfortunate. But the second biggest waste involved with Zoolander 2 is the extensive make up effects and prosthetics that so many of the jokes rely upon. Jokes that mostly don’t work, but that’s just most of the jokes in Zoolander 2. It certainly has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Some of them are even designed as literal throwaways, where a character will tear off the prosthetic and toss it aside, which is the entire joke. I guess. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where a joke begins and ends in Zoolander 2. Or if they begin at all.

 

 

Ava DuVernayThe 13th

 

The 13th is obviously not a waste of a movie, as the naming of the director in this light might imply. It is a fairly staid documentary though, which might have more to do with it going straight to Netflix than any sort of nobility and/or freedom of information that seems to be the assumption.

 

There’s not any reasonable disputing the importance of the information provided. That it isn’t so interesting as a movie is beside the point, I suppose. Plenty of people make bland movies out of interesting subjects. Even people who have done great work before. There is an element of blowing a chance to make this particular subject essential viewing beyond the basics. But that isn’t the true wasteful part.

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Towards the end of The 13th, the movie shifts dramatically into a warning, which at this point is fairly standard stuff for documentaries. If there isn’t something to scare us with it’s almost as if there isn’t a reason to make it in the first place. But more than that, it turns into a political platform. By the end it becomes an unabashed Clinton campaign commercial though, and besides just being bizarre and making the movie an instant time capsule, it clearly was a waste of effort, knowing what the election results turned out to be. One could argue that maybe more such documentaries could have turned the tide just enough, and no effort could have been a wasted one, nor will it ever be, but watching this on November 10th as I did, it couldn’t have felt like anything else. I can’t imagine what watching it on next November 10th might be like. No matter what side you’re on or even if you’re without one, you’ll have to turn it off at that point, it will be laughably obsolete by then. And for a movie to qualify as important in any way, any such reaction probably has to be avoided above all else.