2016 might be a year we’d all rather soon forget, but it did give us some memorable movies. We saw Spider-man finally swing with the Avengers, experienced the first Star Wars stand alone flick, witnessed Hollywood learn that an R rating doesn’t mean death at the box office and got our first complete gender swap of a beloved franchise.
Of course there were also movies that were memorable for a different reason. Crappy reasons. So with that juxtaposition in mind let’s talk about my best and worst of the last year.
BEST: Hell or High Water
Chris Pine slips himself into a tight pair of blue jeans for a bank heist romp through rural Texas. His intense level handsomeness almost becomes a distraction, charming us as a gruff, all business criminal with a heart of gold.
But that Chris Pine-iness is put to good use in Hell or High Water, a great heist movies with good tension throughout and a couple surprising moments. My only gripe with the movie is Jeff Bridges. While he does mumble his way to a excellent lawman performance, I wish his character wasn’t the “loveable racist” type. The film doesn’t let Bridges’ character get away with racist jabs completely without consequence…just mostly without consequence.
This one falls into a category I like to call “Good Actor in Bad Thing”, and the thing is very bad indeed. Poor Tom Hiddleston is stuck in an apartment building full of pretentious assholes who love to swim in pools and shop at minimalist grocery stores. Soon the delicate social construct of the apartment’s ruling class break down and Hiddleston is forced to swallow big ole’ ham fisted message about capitalism, classism and consumerism.
High-Rise thinks its cleverly bizarre, when really it is a hapless, indecipherable wreck.
BEST: Don’t Breathe
Fede Alvarez did a masterful job remaking Evil Dead, unfortunately I’m not sure audiences understood what that movie was trying to do. Don’t Breathe, however, is pretty much universally loved, so its nice to see this director rewarded with a hit.
Don’t Breathe is easily 2016’s best horror film, or is it the years best, most intense thriller? Either way, don’t bother looking up the trailer, just watch go watch it immediately.
WORST: The Neon Demon
From the year’s best horror to the year’s worst. You could be forgiven for not knowing Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is a horror, I certainly didn’t, not until the third act anyhow. From the marketing I was expecting something closer to Black Swan. What I got was necrophilia and cannibalism. Yes, that’s a spoiler. No, I don’t care. I may very well have saved you two hours of your life.
The Neon Demon is replete with disaffected characters who spend two hours glaring at one another. There’s a growing trend of directing performers to act by “not acting” and its quickly become an annoying trope to me.
Unless your character’s names are Spock or Data they better display a some emotion, dammit.
BEST: 10 Cloverfield Lane
I’ve already talked about how much I love this film in our 2016 Summer Movie Wrap Up episode, so I won’t repeat myself too much. A bottle episode of a science fiction anthology series? Might as well made it specifically for Gregg.
WORST: Gods of Egypt
Did you know that not all historical figures were white and British? Apparently nearly all historians and anthropologists agree on this. Hogwash! Next thing you know they’ll be telling us Jesus wasn’t an Italian man.
If you follow the film world even casually you probably recognize Gods of Egypt as the film that exemplified whitewashing in 2016. To the director and studio’s credit, they did apologize for this rather horrendous error, but it was still pretty hard to ignore the white hot glow of this action adventure.
I guess the only silver lining is that this wasn’t a good film scarred by dickish Hollywood casting. It was a soon-to-be-forgotten cartoon devoid of even “so bad it’s good” value.
Space eggs visit earth and Amy Adams is enlisted to find meaning in alien coffee stains. Somehow a studio exec heard that pitch and said “You’ve struck oil my friend! Have $47 million dollars.” We like to complain Hollywood isn’t cranking our original stories anymore, but the truth is they do it all the time, we just don’t seem to notice. Unless it says Marvel or DC on the poster, we’re not really interested.
Arrival, a brilliant, elegant sci-fi film about communication and fatalism, is the sort of movie that we would ordinarily manage to ignore, but somehow it broke through the superhero ceiling and found an audience. This would have been my movie of the year if it wasn’t for Ava DuVernay’s 13th.
WORST: Assassin’s Creed
You might be thinking that Assassin’s Creed is probably another in a long line of underwritten, barely coherent video game adaptations, and you’d be right. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard give it the old assassin’s try, but this franchise wannabe is strangled by its own ineptitude with action sequences curiously cloaked in smoke and dust and editing seemingly handled with the gentle touch of a jackhammer.
The source material for Assassin’s Creed isn’t exactly strong, even for a video game. It’s a game about a dude who watching old home movies of his ancestors.
His ancestors are pretty awesome, to be fair. They’re an ancient clan of assassins at war with a secret society hell bent on ruling the world. Seems pretty simple and cool, right? But you know what would be even more cool? If we combined that with The History Channel!
For me this is hands down the best film of the year. DuVernay delivers a crushing indictment of the US prison system and details a legacy of racism has led to a new kind of slavery within the country. It is an absolutely essential watch, especially for those of us who’s skin colour allows us to be carry on blissfully unaffected by institutionalized discrimination.
WORST: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
At last we come to it. Two classic super heroes, manipulated by the forces of evil to become unwitting enemies, collide in the ruins of Metropolis in an epic battle of comic book titans and…it could not be more boring.
We could argue all day long about the tone. It’s too dark. It’s too gritty. It’s too grim. But the tone was never the problem. Ultimately when your main character’s motivation and goals are never clear there isn’t much hope for a conflict we care about. Considering the title of the movie promises a big epic conflict, Zach Snyder’s failure to deliver is inexcusable.