by Michael B. Hock
It’s that time of year. The highly anticipated movies from 2016 have come and gone. Will Smith is headed back into his mountain fortress to give us a good winter. We have an idea of what is going to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and we also have an idea of what is probably not going to be picked for best picture at the Oscars, most likely involving mutated ninja turtles. It’s a time of year to reflect on what we’ve seen.
And we’ve seen a lot. The crew of the Enterprise teamed up to stop another intergalactic threat. A clown with a hammer took on Cara Delevingne’s dancing. Batman took on Superman. Another Sherlock actor became a superhero. Deadpool finally became a movie. There were pets and their secret lives, Ryan Gosling solved crimes and wooed Emma Stone, and Karan Soni was pretty much everywhere. The Ghostbusters busted ghosts again, and Harry Potter came back in both 1920’s wizarding world form, and in corpse form. Also, Star Wars was a thing again. I’m happy about that.
It was a busy year.
I’m not a professional critic, but I’m going to do one anyway. Mostly because this is my website, and I’ll do what I want with it. Also, I never let being a professional anything stop me… that’s what makes me great. But also, because I want to. There were a lot of good movies this year. There were some duds, but for the most part, I walked away pretty impressed with what I saw. Normally I pick a movie of the year I really like, and then I write about it, but this year, I’m actually doing a top 10 list, and I’m including three, extra, underrated movies of the year that you probably should have seen but you didn’t. So, that comes out to a top 13 list, because I felt that some movies that didn’t get any love deserved it.
As with all lists, this is subjective. These are my favorite films. I don’t even know what I’d consider to be “the best” but I think we get wrapped up on some imaginary metric of what is “the best” that we forget that these movies are here for us to enjoy them. If you don’t like a movie, that’s ok. If you love a movie, that’s cool too. That’s what’s great about movies… they’re here for us to enjoy. Or not in some cases.
Anyway, on to the list.
I put Nerve on the list because not enough people saw it, but it was actually a pretty good movie. It has a great concept – an online game has anonymous users bet on what people will and won’t do – then pushes it to the limit, getting even the audience in on the action. I mean, Emma Roberts kissing a random Dave Franco, then moving on to some light shoplifting is cute before they start shooting at each other. Only a late act twist stops this from being a great movie.
This is also a beautifully shot film, with neon colors popping off the screen, and low angles that work well with a film obsessed with people on their phones all the time. That attention to detail is easily missed in other films, but it makes this world inviting, before it becomes remarkably sinister.
What I love about this movie is the fact that the idea of random people egging on total strangers is a pretty poignant idea right now. We hide behind screens and we forget that our actions, even online actions, have consequences. It’s easy to forget that when we type in something and then can shut off all notifications and just walk away. I feel this movie should have been more important in 2016.
12. The Shallows
When I first heard that Blake Lively was going to star in a film that was largely her, stranded on a small rock while a shark circled her, my first reaction was to wonder if some screenwriter, desperate for an idea during a meeting, shuffled the pages of Jaws and Open Water to create some unholy hybrid. Thankfully, I was wrong on every count.
A tense story that relies heavily on Lively’s ability to sell not only a woman who has baggage that she works out while stranded on the rock, but of a desperate woman who sees her salvation only a few yards away, but can’t reach it. One of the moments that really sticks out to me as being amazing is a small transition when Lively’s character wakes up on that rock, the sun having gone down and now she’s losing heat. I remember sitting in the theater, almost getting cold myself as the character woke up to the shock of the change in everything.
The Shallows works because Lively sells every moment of terror, every moment of determination, and every moment of sacrifice. It’s a one woman show that relies on the strength of the actress to sell what is going on. It’s an overlooked movie that deserves your respect.
11. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
If you want to know the true talent of The Lonely Island, I’d recommend you check out Hot Rod, their masterpiece that could have easily just signaled Andy Samberg taking on the “Will Ferrell does something wacky” movie role, but instead becomes the story of a guy that wants to raise money for his father’s heart transplant so they can finally fight.
If you don’t have the time for that, make time but let me use their song Jack Sparrow as an example of what makes The Lonely Island so great. It’s a comedy song about how Michael Bolton watched The Pirates of The Caribbean trilogy, and is trying to change their song into being about the movie instead of a cool hook while they talk about having sex with girls in the club. Rather than take the comedy for themselves, they give the laughs to someone else, making him look good.
That’s the strength of Popstar. A mockumentary worthy of Spinal Tap, it would be easy to put in cameos that say “Hey… there’s that guy!” (small laugh). Instead the trio writes their own comedy while still finding time to make Pink uncomfortable at a song about equal rights, Emma Stone as a singer in need of a rapper, or Seal as a wolf fighter. This is a hilarious movie. You should be watching it now.
10. Star Trek Beyond
After the lightness that was the Star Trek reboot that managed to remake the original while staying true to the original series (in no small feet) Star Trek Into Darkness stumbled a little. Mostly due to a misguided need to keep the movie’s villain a secret, despite the fact that everyone knew it was Khan. Star Trek Beyond makes up for that, putting the fun back in it. I could talk about small aliens fighting over a piece of metal, fun with Bones and Spock, or even Scotty’s adventures, but no. I’m going to talk about the ending.
Watching the crew of the Enterprise (now on the Franklin, named after the director’s father who let him stay up to watch Star Trek) kill all the bad guys by blasting “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys shouldn’t have worked. They even used a joke from Futurama. But you know what? I loved every second of it. It was an amazing sequence, and reminder that Star Trek may be a lot of technobabble and fun ways to explore space, but in the end, sometimes, you just need to blast a song to save the day. And that will work.
9. The Accountant
The Accountant is a very sparse film. The story of an autistic man who is good with numbers, it doesn’t waste a lot of time. There are a lot of sub-plots, mysteries, and flashbacks, but it never wastes time going back to something un-needed. Even the quasi-romance between Anna Kendrick’s character and Ben Affleck’s titular accountant is played quickly, and doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to change one character over the other to make the romance fit. It’s a film that is very aware of every moment, and adjusts itself accordingly. Not many films show the restraint that this one does.
This movie also flows together very well. By that I mean that for this mini-review, I was going to try to pinpoint a single scene that I really feel works, but each one ties together to the next in a way that moves the story forward. There’s little need to focus on just one moment when the next promises an answer or asks a new question.
It’s a clever film. That’s the best I can say about it.
8. Hail, Caesar
I won’t count Hail, Caesar among the Cohen Brothers best movies like Raising Arizona, the Big Lebowski, or The Hudsucker Proxy. But it does what they often set out to do: they take the guys that get things done put them front and center, all while mocking the handsome movie stars you probably came to see. Watching Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney sing about “No Dames” or George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock suddenly finding himself kidnaped and learning about the values of communism adds an extra laugh when you realize who’s playing those characters.
What makes it all work is James Brolin’s Mannix, the tough talking head of the studio meant to make them all behave. It’s well constructed (like a Passion Play!) and a movie that does what it’s supposed to: makes you laugh. It’s just an enjoyable time.
7. Swiss Army Man
I think we can all agree that when we heard that Daniel Radcliffe was going to star in a movie where he was a farting corpse, we all wondered what was going on. Still, those of us who braved that description and the previews and watched as in the first 10 minutes of the film, Paul Dano’s Hank rode that corpse off his tiny island back to civilization using the power of farts, we still wondered what was going on. But what followed was a beautiful story about trash, what we throw away, Jurassic Park, and the story of friendship.
Swiss Army Man is an important movie. It takes a look at what it means to be alone, and how that can not only be isolating, but make those of us feel as if we are not meant to be part of society. It can make us feel as if we are cast-offs, unworthy of being around others. Yes, the story is an acquired taste. But once you can get past the cynical description, it’s a story worth following.
Disney is usually reliable when it comes to movies. Currently, between Moana,
Avengers 3, Captain America: Civil War, and Rogue One, they made about elevenity billion dollars this past year. What surprised me so much about Moana is the quality of the film, and how much it tied so much together.
I was surprised that the movie spent so much time on a little island before setting off for adventure. Usually that’s the turning point: Rapunzel is trapped in her tower and wants to leave so she does, Elsa becomes an X-Man… they go on some kind of quest, a journey. Moana spends time learning why that journey is important, then goes off. When she does leave, the moment is just that much more powerful. Throw in Dwayne Johnson in his most memorable role of the year, and you have a wonderful movie that holds together well.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have Jermaine Clement as a murderous crab.
5. The Nice Guys
“What if we did the Big Lebowski, but with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling?” Someone might have said. Then they made The Nice Guys, a mystery that features two guys who technically should be solving it, but are more interested in getting paid. Once again, Shane Black taps into the chemistry of the actors, focusing on what makes them movie stars but also having them play against type. Crowe, a gruff enforcer can barely see past his beer belly, and Gosling, a charming detective goes off searching for a missing husband whose ashes are sitting a few feet away.
The Nice Guys also has some kind of sub-plot involving an evil automotive industry, but at the end of the day, none of that matters. What matters is focusing on these guys, who are clearly having a blast.
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
Everybody Wants Some!! is a hangout movie. It’s light on plot, focusing on a few lazy days at the end of summer when a college baseball team is getting together, it mostly drifts into the stories of these guys as they party and give each other a hard time. This is the first movie in a long time that I was just having fun hanging out, enjoying my time with the characters, and wanting to spend time with them. It would be easy to dismiss this as a type of running of the bros movie, but that would be missing out on a great movie that’s just kind of fun. There’s a message in there, probably. But I’m not going to spend a lot of time looking for it. I’m going to spend time just enjoying it.
3. Hell Or High Water
Despite being a Western where the White Hats… Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) go up against a couple of bank robbers brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) the movie remains relatively neutral on the subject of who is “right” and who is “wrong.” Sure, the Howards are robbing banks. Specifically, banks that are trying to take their land. And so they can pay off the deed so they can own it. But they’re still breaking the law, and Marcus knows that.
But there’s one point where the film seems to lighten up a bit on the Howards. After going rogue and robbing a bank that he shouldn’t, Tanner pulls Toby out of a small diner where he was getting to know Jenny Ann, a waitress (played by Katy Mixon.) She needs the money, so he reaches into his stash and gives her a hefty tip – one that will help her family. Marcus responds by trying to take this money away from her as evidence.
This is a small moment that helps show this movie blurring the line between what is right and what is “right.” Particularly setting it against the backdrop of poor towns in Texas, it highlights the struggles of a class of people who are dying off, but are still trying to cling to their way of living. It’s a lot more powerful film that one might expect going in.
The movie builds to a powerful climax, but it’s the epilogue between Toby and Marcus that really starts to blur things even further. It’s an amazingly powerful moment in a film filled with powerful moments.
2. La La Land
They are currently inventing awards to throw at this film. They should. It is an amazing film, one that takes a cold hard look at dreams, love, and everything we do to hold onto both. It’s a movie that expertly builds our expectations, then finds ways to dash them or subvert them. It’s the best filmed movie of the year, taking on long shots or single takes that add to the song and dance numbers rather than point them out and say “LOOK! BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE SINGING!”
It helps that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aren’t only talented, but they also manage to commit to their roles as Mia and Seb. I wrote a lot about this in my review, I could write a lot more about this film, and I probably will one day. For now, it will have to settle for being my second favorite movie of the year. Right after…
Let’s face the reality: Deadpool wasn’t supposed to happen. They made him a minor character in the worst Wolverine movie (and the second worst X-Men movie.) They didn’t slash the budget so much as they hacked to pieces. The story itself was a pretty cliche one… guy gets superpowers, then goes on a killing rampage. Oh, and it was dumped in early February, near Valentine’s Day, in a year that was going to feature Batman fighting Superman, Captain America going up against Iron Man, Spider-Man, this time in Avenger form, and Benedict Cumberbatch casting magic spells. And for the most part, they were good. But they didn’t take the risks Deadpool did.
Deadpool was supposed to be a footnote. A “hey, we got too many superhero movies this year, and you know who started it? Ryan Reynolds.”
Then, in true Deadpool style, it smashed the face of all the haters, made a dick joke, and then went on to be awesome. From the opening sequence of mayhem to a film told largely out of order, Deadpool is the type of movie I love. It’s an underdog that knows it might get overlooked, so why not? Why not change all of the opening credits to something funny? Why not do an extended Ferris Bueller reference at the end? Why not talk about why there aren’t more X-Men in a movie with this much mayhem?
Deadpool also gave people what they wanted. A million think pieces were launched, wondering if it was the R Rating, or the style, or the whatever the made the movie what it was, when the answer was simple. They took a famous character that people loved. They made a movie about him. They didn’t compromise the character too much. They changed one or two things to help people relate to the character more. Then they made the movie. They didn’t add a tragic backstory or give him extra superpowers like knives sticking out of his hands or heat vision. They gave us the story we wanted to see. And I’m afraid they didn’t learn the right lessons.
Simply put: they gave us a great movie.
There you have it, my list of favorite movies of the year. Feel free to disagree. But even writing this, I got a smile on my face thinking about them. But as this year wraps up, I’m really looking forward to what 2017 is going to bring us. And you know I’ll be there, writing something about them.