Year-End Movie Roundup! The Best, The Worst, and Everything In Between In 2016!
As movie years go, 2016 wasn’t a complete dumpster fire but I wouldn’t call it especially strong. Nevertheless, 2016 contained its share of bright shining gems along with some bona-fide stinkers. With “best of” lists rolling in, I figured it was time to pipe in with my own thoughts regarding this last year. So gather ’round kids! It’s time for Darth Gandalf’s worst, weirdest, overrated, underappreciated, and best movies of the year.
*NOTE 1: Obviously it’s damn near impossible to see every movie and there are several potential films that could be on this list that I just haven’t seen or haven’t released in my area yet. These include Finding Dory, 20th Century Women, LA LA Land, Fences, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, Jackie, Hidden Figures, the Jungle Book, Lion, Silence, The Founder, Live By Night, and A Monster Calls among others. Based on how many of these I see before Oscar night I may update this list.
**NOTE 2: Additionally, I’ve narrowed down my “Best Of” list to include (save one) only films I consider 9s and 10s. However, there were plenty of other films I thoroughly enjoyed. So here are the Best of the Rest: Deadpool, Rogue One, X-Men: Apocalypse, The Magnificent Seven, BvS: Ultimate Cut, Doctor Strange, Risen, Zootopia, Raiders, Blood Father, War Dogs, Loving, and Swiss Army Man.
Swiss Army Man
This one takes the prize by a country mile. It’s not even close. Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan gave audiences a poignant and reflective tale on loneliness, friendship, and unrequited love. It just happened to involve a shipwrecked young man who befriends a corpse that provides water, farts constantly, and with the passage of time, begins to come back to life. The ending is as bittersweet as it is memorable. Usually I’m able to give a score for a film within a few days at most. However, Swiss Army Man remains unquantifiable because it’s so weird. Thankfully its just as good as it is bizarre.
MOST OVERRATED MOVIE
Release the Social Justice Warrior nerd rage. I think some people were afraid to criticize this film because of the blowback. I mean there’s no avoiding the fact that the cast is all women and that there were a ton of misogynist asshats who hated this movie based solely on that fact. I wasn’t one of them. I just felt it was a poor film for numerous reasons such as a mediocre script, a weak villain, a shitty theme song, bad special effects, and identity confusion. Yet many moviegoers went full Slimer-on-a-sugar-rush apeshit for this movie. One of my Facebook friends even called it better than the original. Ghost please. The film is by no means a disaster, but comparing it to the original is absurd.
MOST UNDERRATED MOVIE
Todd Phillips’ (The Hangover) comedy about two young arms dealers during the Iraq War was an unexpected gem. Sporting two stellar performances from Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, the film was funny, contemplative, and damn entertaining. Voice-overs don’t always succeed in films but it did so here. Other than Bradley Cooper’s wooden performance, War Dogs was just a genuine good time at the movies.
MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIE
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I’d probably call myself a marginal Harry Potter fan. The movies were quite enjoyable although I thought the books were better. (Isn’t that always the case?) The adventures of Newt Scamander in 1920s New York City seemed promising. Unfortunately, this movie left me feeling flat. There was style and spectacle but not a lot of substance. Other than Dan Fogler’s performance, the acting was sub-par. I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. If this is supposed to be “Harry Potter for adults” I hope the franchise gets better with time.
MOST OVERLOOKED MOVIE
Oh hey kids it’s Mel Gibson! After a ten-year unofficial sanctioning by Hollywood, Mel Gibson came back in a big way. He directed the outstanding Hacksaw Ridge (more on that later) and starred in director Jean Francois-Richet’s riveting film about a teenage girl caught up in a drug cartel nightmare who seeks help from her estranged ex-con father. Gibson is brilliant and intense as the father John Link, drawing from his own personal battle with addiction to deliver a powerful performance. This is full-on crazy Gibson and I loved it. Erin Moriarty also shines as Link’s daughter Lucy while Michael Parks and William H. Macy deliver equally memorable performances. It’s a shame this film got a limited release and was regulated to VOD.
WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Juvenile, laborious, and painfully unfunny, Seth Rogen’s atrocious Sausage Party was easily the worst movie of the year for me. A film that tries way too hard to be edgy, it’s probably the most racist film I’ve ever seen and was 88 minutes of pure torture. There was so much talent involved in this film I was positive it would at least be watchable. Boy was I wrong. This film is so abysmally awful it may just make you a vegan.
And now for my top movies of the year!
#16 Deadpool (8/10)
The only 8/10 on my list, Deadpool was maybe the most fun I had at the movies all year. Juvenile, riotous, bloody, over the top, and above all hilarious, this movie delivers. Somehow it manages to be meta, a stereotypical comicbook film, and an atypical comicbook film. Ryan Reynolds rocks as the man in red and despite recent events, I know the sequel will be just as funny. I can’t wait to see more adventures of The Merc with the Mouth.
#15 13th (9/10)
My only documentary on the list, director Ava DuVernay’s (Selma) compelling film takes a hard look at the prison system and the mass incarceration of black men. Moreover, it’s a complicated look at the tangled history of race relations in the United States and makes a compelling argument that slavery is being perpetuated through mass incarceration. A historic examination at perceptions of race from the 13th Amendment all the way through the Civil Rights act, the Nixon administration, the Regan years, and the Black Lives Matter movement, 13th‘s topics are as complex as they are incendiary. It’s a fascinating subject that proves DuVernay is one of the brightest and most talented young directors working today.
#14 Sully (9/10)
I had no particular desire to see this movie. While the subject matter was interesting to a small degree, I probably wouldn’t have seen it if not for the fact that I had free tickets. Man am I glad I did. While Clint Eastwood’s films tend to be hit or miss with me, Sully was definitely a hit. Eastwood’s depiction of “The Miracle on the Hudson” and the subsequent aftermath was as compelling as it was fascinating. Tom Hanks delivers an understated performance as “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who saved every life onboard US Airways Flight 1549 after the engines failed shortly after takeoff. While the plane crash sequence is the highlight of the film, the circumstances and survivors of the doomed flight make for great drama.
#13 The Accountant (9/10)
Although Ben Affleck made a splash with his performance as The Dark Knight in BvS, The Accountant was definitely the better starring vehicle. A throwback to 80s action thrillers, Affleck crushes it as an autistic accountant who un-cooks the books for criminals worldwide. A master of guns and martial arts, Affleck gives one of the better performances of his career as Christian Wolff, AKA “The Accountant.” Supporting roles from J.K. Simmons and Jon Bernthal, only add to an already phenomenal film that will keep you entertained throughout.
#12 The Conjuring 2 (9/10)
While I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, two such films happened to make it on my “best of” list this year. This is the first one. A first-rate horror heart-stopper, director James Wan delivers another gripping tale of possession. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as Lorraine and Ed Warren, a married couple specializing in paranormal investigations. The sequel focuses on the infamous Enfield Poltergeist, and the family that was terrorized by it. Possession stories often walk a fine line, and can veer into the realm of hokey. The Conjuring 2 is the complete opposite of that. Well acted, great source material, impeccably shot, and sporting a harrowing score, Wan’s film left me simultaneously terrified and wanting more of the Warren’s adventures. And with a box-office take north of $300 million off of a $40 million budget, I’m sure we will see more sooner rather than later.
#11 Star Trek Beyond (9/10)
The third edition in the rebooted franchise, Beyond was probably the Star Trek-iest of the new films. I was weary of Justin Lin taking the helm but this installment was arguably the best of the three. Idris Elba plays a great original villain in Krall, an alien bent on destroying the Federation. With each passing film this cast develops better chemistry. Unfortunately for Trek fans the film underperformed at the box office, and the future of the franchise remains in doubt. Nevertheless, Star Trek Beyond nearly cracked my top ten it was that good.
#10 Captain America: Civil War
Arguably the best Marvel movie to date, the Russo brothers “Avengers Light” movie pits superhero against superhero in a moral dilemma in which both parties are right. Any critic who says films like this are nothing but popcorn fun are probably elitist schmucks who put Fellini somewhere slightly above Jesus in historical significance. Although this film had a slightly weak villain, the themes it addresses, the action sequences, and of course Tom Holland’s Spider-man make for a fantastic film. Anthony and Joe Russo should just direct every Marvel movie at this point.
#9 Imperium (9/10)
If you think Daniel Radcliffe is just Harry Potter, watch Imperium. Seeing the former movie wizard take on the role of an undercover FBI neo-Nazi was a sight to behold. Director Daniel Ragussis’ insightful look into what makes white supremacists tick manages to be riveting and introspective. And considering the outcome of the US election, timely as well.
#8 Don’t Breathe (9/10)
Holy shit this movie! Everything you’ve heard about this movie is true and then some. Director Fede Alvarez’s followup to his Evil Dead remake proves even scarier. At a taut 88 minutes, this horror/thriller grips your heart like a hand made of ice picks, as three would be burglars try to rob a blind man’s house and get more than they bargained for. Stephen Lang’s “The Blind Man” makes for a new icon in the horror genre that’s on par with Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, Candyman, and Jigsaw. It’s easily the best horror film in ten years and the twisted ending will make your jaw drop.
#7 10 Cloverfield Lane (9/10)
I’m not a fan of Cloverfield and frankly don’t get the fascination. To me it was nothing more than a mediocre found footage monster film. Not so with its spiritual sequel. A tremendous psychological thriller, you cannot take your eyes off of 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s claustrophobic, unnerving, brilliantly lit, and superbly acted. While Mary Elizabeth Winstead shines as the titular heroine Michelle, it’s John Goodman’s Howard Stambler who steals the show. A doomsday prepper who anticipated a worldwide apocalypse, he’s your prototypical anti-social extremist. However, Goodman transforms a potential cliché character into a fascinating character study. You can’t help but feel empathetic and terrified of Howard.
#6 Midnight Special (9.5/10)
Jeff Nichols released two very different films this year, Loving and Midnight Special. The former was good, the latter was breathtaking. A film ostensibly concerning a boy with special powers and the father that tries to protect him, Midnight Special isn’t intellectual sci-fi so much as it is soulful. It also serves as allegory for children with special needs and the difficulties of fatherhood. Moreover there’s a hopefulness about the movie that promises that the world is more than what we see. Michael Shannon captivates as Roy Tomlin, the boy’s father and proves (AGAIN!) why he’s one of our finest living actors. But it’s Jaeden Lieberher that absolutely blew me away as Roy’s son, the troubled and gifted Alton Meyer. Lieberher filmed this movie just after he turned eleven years old and it’s rare to see talent in one so young.
#5 Green Room (9.5/10)
So I never expected to have two films that center around neo-Nazis in my top ten list, but here we are. This movie is everything critics and fans say it is and more. Director Jeremy Saulnier’s film about a punk band that plays a gig at a white supremacist bar only to stumble upon the aftermath of a murder, takes the term “thriller” to a whole new level. I watched this film on a plane ride and I don’t think my sphincter unclenched the whole flight. Deftly shot with varying degrees of green lighting, Green Room shines a light on the white supremacist not-so-underground-now movement and how perceived marginalization can drive one to extremes. It’s lamentable that we lost Anton Yelchin so young because he delivers as the main protagonist Pat. The real star is Patrick Stewart though. Hooolllleeee shiiiit. His character of Darcy Baker, leader of the skin heads, is malevolent and delivered with a cold, calculating logic that will just chill you. It’s implacable, almost indifferent evil. To him eliminating Pat and his friends is on par with wiping up spilled milk with a paper towel. Whereas you can’t see Daniel Radcliffe the same after Imperium, the same holds true for Stewart. Jean-Luc Picard or Professor X he is not.
#4 Hacksaw Ridge (9.5/10)
Powerful, emotional, riveting, reflective–all these verbs describe Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort since 2006’s Apocalypto. And it was worth the wait. Andrew Garfield delivers a career best performance as Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector ever to win the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving 75 men during one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. The cinematography is some of the best of 2016 and Hacksaw Ridge contains war sequences of unbelievable depth and intensity. Gibson proves why he’s still a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
#3 Nocturnal Animals (10/10)
This was the last film I watched in 2016, and days later director Tom Ford’s film still haunts me. I questioned whether I was caught up in the “most recent thing is the best thing” mindset but I don’t think so. Ford (who’s known mostly as a fashion designer) delivers a stunning work of cinema that I can’t stop thinking about. The film centers on an unhappy gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) who suddenly receives an advanced copy of a novel from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that rocks her world. While on the surface it’s a book about a weak man whose wife and daughter are kidnapped, raped, and killed, it’s actually a scathing indictment of their marriage and personalities. The film contains three distinct stories–the present day Susan, the novel itself, and the past Susan and her marriage with Edward. None of the stories get short shrift however, and are individually shot in distinct ways. Aaron Taylor-Johnson who I consider a mediocre actor, comes out of left field to deliver a stellar performance as a psychopath and murderer. Adams and Gyllenhaal are also fantastic, with the latter pulling double duty as Susan’s ex-husband and the victimized husband Tony Hastings. But it’s Michael Shannon who really chews the scenery as Bobby Andes, a Texas lawman dying of lung cancer who’s seen too many criminals get off over the years. This is a film that’s not getting a lot of Oscar buzz, but it should.
#2 Hell or High Water (10/10)
A neo-classic Western that rises above clichéd tropes, David MacKenzie’s film works on every single level. I’m still in awe of how relevant, well acted, well written, shot, and scored this film is. The performances are revelatory, especially from Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster. And Chris Pine has never been better. I’m sitting there watching the film thinking, “I can’t believe this is Captain Kirk! It’s like it’s not even the same actor.” If you don’t think there’s a class warfare problem going on in this country, watch the last fifteen minutes of Hell or High Water and the conversation between Bridges and Pine. A great movie that’s timeless and demands repeat viewings.
#1 Arrival (10/10)
I don’t think I’ve had a movie affect me on such a personal level like Arrival did in a long time. After suffering some really tough personal losses this year, Arrival was exactly the film I needed to see. It provided much-needed catharsis for myself. Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece is a finely crafted, thinking man’s science-fiction film that also manages to be very personal. A two-hour examination of how we communicate, the film about Earth’s first contact with an intelligent alien species, also asks the big questions: What is our purpose on Earth? Is life worth living in spite of the pain you know will happen? How do we cope with grief and loss? It’s profound and moving and everything I want a cinematic experience to be. It’s no coincidence that two Amy Adams films made my top three. She’s a brilliant actress who I hope will not only be nominated for an Oscar but finally take home the golden statue.
Faith, family, and friends was always my mother’s motto, and without question those three things help you get through the trying times in life. In addition, film has always been my great personal elixir to soothe, navigate, and accept the troubles that life throws your way. As George R.R. Martin famously wrote, “The night is dark and full of terrors.” Yet films, especially good ones, cast a light in the darkness that chases the terrors away, if only for a short time. Here’s to a great past year in film and let’s hope 2017 is even better.
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