The Best & Worst of 2016

I watched so many films in 2016 that I’d forgotten I saw some of them so recently. Going back over the list, there were films I watched as late as March that I was amazed weren’t things I’d seen a couple of years ago. I don’t know what this signifies, really, other than that watching almost 200 films in a year has warped my perspective.

Anyway, it’s now time to consider the quality of that viewing: which films were the worst? Which the best? And what did I miss?

So without further ado…



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016

This year I saw some films so bad that Home on the Range hasn’t made my bottom five! In alphabetical order, they were…

300: Rise of an Empire300: Rise of an Empire
300 was hardly the height of cinematic class, but this makes it look like an accomplished work of auteurism (though, considering how Zack Snyder has continued down a similar aesthetic path, perhaps it always was). It’s just poorly made, with flat performances, cheap direction, aimless violence, and CGI that wouldn’t look great in a computer game.

Cool WorldCool World
Maybe if director Ralph Bakshi had got his way Cool World would be a masterpiece. Maybe not, too. Torn between conflicting interests (it’s a kid-friendly movie with adult content) and with distractingly poor technical aspects (the animation and live action often seem mismatched), it’s an unappealing mess.

HomeHome
DreamWorks’ animated movies never quite achieve the crossover acclaim that greets almost anything Pixar spit out, which is sometimes a shame… and sometimes it really isn’t, like with this irritating movie about an irritating alien and his irritating human friend. Pixar have never made anything this annoying. Not even Cars.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp AgainThe Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
“Is this even worse [than The Rocky Horror Glee Show]? Well, that’s a bit like someone forcing you to eat a dog shit and a cat shit before asking you which tasted nicer.” Most accurate review I’ve ever written.


The Twilight Saga: New MoonThe Twilight Saga: New Moon
New Moon contains the single funniest scene in any movie I’ve seen this year. Unfortunately, New Moon is not a comedy (not deliberately, anyway) and that scene is not a comedy interlude (not deliberately, anyway). For all the Twilight saga’s other sins, I will forever love it for giving us Face Punch. (Oh, but the rest of the film is pretty terrible.)



The Twenty Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016

Last year I commemorated the fact I’d doubled my titular target by also doubling the size of my top ten, joking about having never done a percentage increase before. But that got me thinking: what if I did? So from now on my “top 10” will be a “top 10%” — which this year means it’s a top 20 again.

My guiding principle when ranking this year’s picks became films that excited me — not in the adrenaline-pumping sense of having fantastic action sequences, but in the sense of films which left me feeling thrilled by their cinematic achievements. Not that I’m saying every film here is some wonder of Cinema, just that the notion guided some of my choices. It’s ended up with some very good, perhaps even better, films slipping down the chart. But never mind: as is usually the case with lists like this, it’s only a snapshot of my thinking right now.

Finally: as always, this list is created from the movies I watched for the first time this year, not just new releases. However, I did watch 38 films that had their UK release in 2016, and six of them are in my top twenty, so I’ve noted their ‘2016 rank’ too.

An intelligent, considered sci-fi movie that ponders artificial intelligence and its potential right to life, but also a gripping psychological thriller about three individuals locked in a bunker. And there’s Oscar Isaac’s dance scene too.

Sion Sono’s comic book epic mixes battle rap, comic grotesques, ultra violence, gratuitous nudity, more barmy notions than you can shake a stick at, and probably the kitchen sink too, into possibly the most batshit-crazy movie I’ve ever seen. Is it trash or art? It can be two things.

Wes Anderson described his typically-idiosyncratic young-love adventure as “an autobiography about something that didn’t happen”, which is possibly my favourite description of a film ever. A movie for the romantic adventurer in every childhood bookworm.

The best comedy or musical of 2015 is neither of those things, but it is one in a pleasing run of intelligent sci-fi movies Hollywood is offering these days. Trust Ridley Scott and Matt Damon to make a movie about using science to grow potatoes into a gripping adventure.

An underrated le Carré thriller starring Sean Connery as a book publisher coerced into helping MI6 and the CIA bring over a defector, alongside Michelle Pfeiffer as his Russian contact. Strong performances enliven a typically le Carré plot: grounded, plausible, unguessable, with a surprising conclusion.

2016 #6 A neo-noir crime thriller about racism featuring nudism and drug abuse… from Disney! It’s still a kid-friendly animated comedy, of course, but one that functions particularly well — arguably even better — for adult fans.

It looks like such a boilerplate indie movie that I kinda expected to hate this, but it caught me off guard with characters I related to and a story that I found affecting without being saccharine. Probably the most emotional a movie has made me feel this year.

Famed for Daniel Day-Lewis’ awards-scooping performance that is arguably one of the greatest of all time, there’s actually much more to Spielberg’s biopic. Playing like a gorgeously-shot period version of The West Wing, if you like men politicking in gaslit rooms, this is heaven.

Now we move into my Top Ten. Yeah, I know it’s #12, but I really thought these two would make it. I guess they’re kinda =10th, then; though that would be cheating… Anyway: I hadn’t even heard of this movie before this year, but the coincidence of a blog post and a Blu-ray release led me to purchase it and I was so glad I did. It’s Rear Windscreen meets Duel Down Under in a superb Ozploitation thriller.

2016 #5 Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling reveal rarely-seen comic talent as a pair of not-actually-that-nice guys who nonetheless have some morals in Shane Black’s spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This has just as convoluted a plot, and it matters just as little — its major asset is that it’s frequently hilarious.

2016 #4 Yes, really. And, just so we’re clear on what’s going on here, neither Civil War nor Doctor Strange are in my Top 9. Is BvS ‘better’ than anything Marvel Studios put out this year? Hm. But is it a more interesting movie? I thought so. Zack Snyder made a dark, morally ambiguous, imperfect movie that reflects the dark, morally ambiguous, imperfect days we live in. Perhaps it’s just too timely for its own good? People don’t seem to want a movie that questions our heroes and our relationship towards them in a world where real-life heroes feel in short supply. It’s clearly not the movie a lot of people think they need, but maybe it’s the one they deserve right now.

Of all the films on this list, Cold in July has arguably the most surprising plot: it takes sharp right-angle turns at several points, never breaking the style and genre it sets itself in, but instead shuttling the viewer off in entirely different directions than expected. By the time it reaches its action-packed climax, you have no idea quite what it’s going to do — and how better to end a neo-noir thriller than that?

2016 #3 This may be all the way down in 8th place, but in some respects it’s #1: I’m not sure I’ve had more pure fun watching a movie this year than I did during Deadpool (The Nice Guys would be closest). Okay, so it’s a little puerile really, but the humour comes thick and fast, and the regular fourth-wall breaking undercuts not just the film but the whole superhero genre. Having talked about the excitement of great Cinema at the start, this isn’t that, but it is a fantastically good time.

Steven Soderbergh transforms a pretty straightforward revenge story into an elliptical narrative that has you constantly questioning what you’re watching — is it flashback, flash-forward, a dream, a plan, a fantasy…? In the end it’s probably none of those things, but Soderbergh’s unusual editing techniques create an arthouse/mainstream mash-up that is a uniquely querying, mystifying, yet satisfying experience.

2016 #2 In an era when Hollywood considers “science-fiction” a byword for “action-adventure”, it’s all the more remarkable that an intelligent, adult drama like this was backed by a major studio. It’s partly a timely message about the need for mankind to understand each other across nations and work together, but it’s also a thoughtful meditation on the human condition — what it means to be human, what it costs us, and if it’s worth it. Director Denis Villeneuve paces events sublimely, imbuing the alien spacecraft with a wonder and fascination that you’d’ve thought lost in modern “anything is possible” cinema, but the film really belongs to Amy Adams and her layered, affectingly real performance.

Another thought-provoking science-fiction movie (for those not keeping count, it’s the fourth in this list), Predestination has been less heralded but deserves to be better known. Adapted from a short story by genre giant Robert A. Heinlein, it’s satisfying both as a tangled time travel mystery (with some great twists, whether you guess them or not) and as a consideration of human and historical issues about things like identity and feminism.

2016 #1 I’m as surprised as anyone by how much I liked The Revenant, having not been particularly enamoured of the previous Alejandro G. Iñárritu films I’d seen, but this gruelling survival-story Western oozes excellence from every frame. Leo’s pretty good, as are the rest of the cast, but Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is the highlight: appropriately crisp depictions of wintery nature, an incredible use of natural light, and single-shot sequences that blow Birdman out of the water. By telling the story primarily with these visuals, Iñárritu has created a work of true cinema.

Like Lincoln, this is a beautifully-shot biopic about people stood around in rooms talking. The big gun it has in its corner, however, is an actual West Wing writer — its creator, no less — Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s screenplay is a precisely constructed marvel, brought to the screen by a quality cast capable of wrapping their tongues around his magnificent dialogue, and in Danny Boyle a director with the right visual sensibilities to make the material sing. What could have just been an Apple fanboy’s wet dream is instead a gripping character drama with a surprising corporate thriller vibe at times.

An orange to The Raid’s apple, this sequel is bigger and grander in every conceivable aspect. A sprawling crime epic, spanning many years, many locations, and many characters, it’s the antithesis of the tightly-focused first film — but all the better for it. Even with the more intricate plot, there’s still plenty of time for elaborate action sequences, crafted with even greater skill and inventiveness than the first movie. It’s surely one of the greatest action movies ever made.

In a top twenty filled with crime thrillers (see: #15, #11, #9, #7, #2), gorgeously-shot movies (see: #13, #6, #4, #3), and remarkable female leads (see: #20, #15, #6, #5), it’s only fitting that a film which does all of these so skilfully should top my list. Emily Blunt is the powerhouse FBI agent who finds herself out of her depth in a complex cross-agency investigation that leads her, and us, to some dark and morally questionable places. It’s all incredibly shot by the reliably amazing Roger Deakins. Between this and his other entry in my top ten, I think Denis Villeneuve has marked himself out as one of the most exciting directors working right now.


I always want to include this section of my post, but sometimes I’m not quite sure what to put in it — if it was just some more ranked films, I’d’ve included them above. But this year I have something concrete to begin with, because there were several films that I surprised myself by not including in my top twenty. They were films that I really liked — and, perhaps even more so, lots of other people really liked and include in their lists — but which, for some reason, when I was sorting through my options, fell by the wayside in favour of… well, in favour of the films that did make it in. I’m talking about films like Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (maybe that’s not on many other lists, but I really enjoyed it), The Iron Giant… and, of course, Rogue One. My already mixed feelings about the latest Star Wars movie were massaged by happening to read Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes and Film Crit Hulk’s dissection of the film while preparing this list, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything they have to say, between them they managed to clarify and illuminate some problems I already had with the movie, and that kinda put me off its inclusion.

A shout out, too, for those less-widely-loved films that I really, really liked but couldn’t quite justify being in this top twenty — films like Crimson Peak, Dragon (Wu Xia), The Good Dinosaur, Grand Piano, Lost River, Pan, and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights. And despite all those Shaw Brothers movies I watched, none ended up charting — but One-Armed Swordsman came close.

Finally, I can’t end this without mentioning the 26 films that earned 5-star ratings this year — especially as I haven’t actually published reviews for nine of them yet! So, 15 made it into the top twenty, but as they’re spread throughout the list I’ll name them again: Arrival, Cold in July, Deadpool, Ex Machina, The Limey, Lincoln, The Martian, The Nice Guys, Predestination, The Raid 2, The Revenant, Road Games, The Russia House, Sicario, and Steve Jobs. The other 11 were: 12 Years a Slave, Barry Lyndon, Hamlet, The Iron Giant, Macbeth, Napoleon, The Pianist, Spotlight, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Witness for the Prosecution, and Wuthering Heights. Additionally, short film The Present also got full marks.


During 2016 I watched 38 movies that were released in 2016, but of course that means there were plenty I missed. As usual, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that are listed as 2016 on IMDb (unless IMDb got it glaringly wrong) that I’ve not yet seen.

They’re chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — though I’ve decided to not include any more bloody Ice Age films on these lists, because they keep making them, they keep doing pretty well at the box office, and I keep not watching them.

The BFG
Ghostbusters
The Jungle Book
La La Land
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Finding Dory
The Handmaiden
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
The Neon Demon
Silence
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Allied
Assassin’s Creed
Ben-Hur
The BFG
Blair Witch
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Don’t Breathe
Eddie the Eagle
Everybody Wants Some!!
Finding Dory
Ghostbusters
The Girl on the Train
Gods of Egypt
Hail, Caesar!
The Handmaiden
Hell or High Water
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I, Daniel Blake
Independence Day: Resurgence
Inferno
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land
The Legend of Tarzan
Live by Night
London Has Fallen
The Magnificent Seven
Manchester by the Sea
Me Before You
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Moana
A Monster Calls
Moonlight
The Neon Demon
Nocturnal Animals
Now You See Me 2
Passengers
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Sausage Party
The Secret Life of Pets
Silence
Sing
Sing Street
Sully: Miracle on the Hudson
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Warcraft: The Beginning
Your Name

…and many more.


And that’s 2016 over… apart from the 36 reviews I still have to post, of course. I think that’s one of my worst ever. That’s what comes of not doing my advent calendar.

It’s also the end of 100 Films’ first decade, which I intend to make even more of a fuss about than I already have when the official birthday rolls around at the end of February. I’m thinking lists, and probably statistics. Any excuse for some statistics.

But, for now, all that remains is for me to thank you for reading and wish you all the best with your own film-watching endeavours. Let’s hope 2017 is a better one for us all.

The Suspenseful Monthly Update for May 2016

The number of films I watched this May dipped well below the monthly average for 2016, but was that still enough to get to #100 this month?

I know, the suspense must be killing you. Read on…


#89 The Hateful Eight (2015)
#90 The Raid 2 (2014), aka The Raid 2: Berandal
#91 Calvary (2014)
#92 Captain America: Civil War (2016)
#93 Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)
#94 Ted 2 (Extended Edition) (2015)
#95 Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
#96 Hamlet (1964), aka Гамлет
#97 Just Friends (2005)
#98 X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
#99 The Assassin (2015), aka Cìkè Niè Yǐnniáng
#100 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
#101 Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969), aka Du bei dao wang

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  • This month’s WDYMYHS pick coincides with #100, so it seemed only natural to pick the most acclaimed film I’d never seen (at least according to IMDb users), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.


Last year I reached #100 by the earliest date I’ve ever done it, July 27th. It finally beat a personal record that had stood since 2007. At the time, I wrote that 2015 had “been rather good by my standards, so it’s [a record] I don’t foresee breaking again. I mean, if I had five consecutive best-ever months (i.e. better than I’ve ever done, x5) then I could squeeze it in by the end of May.” Hahaha, what a ridiculous notion that would be!

That was before October 2015’s ludicrous 31-film tally, so in the end I didn’t need five “better than I’ve ever done” months, just four really good ones and one fairly average one to reach #100 on May 28th.

“Fairly average” there is a relative term: May 2016’s total of 13 films may rank =17th out of the last 24 months, but it’s above the all-time average for every month (the nearest is October’s 12.63), so it ain’t bad really. And although it breaks the 20-films-per-month run I’d been having in 2016, it does maintain my 10-per-month streak for the 24th month — i.e. two straight years.

Looking ahead, May may be a better indicator of what’s to come for the rest of the year — as I keep mentioning in these monthly posts, I’ve been intending to watch fewer film this year (to make room for other stuff), and I only pushed to #100 so quickly after I ‘accidentally’ had a really good couple of months at the start. My goal is to maintain that 10-per-month minimum, which now sees 2016 looking at #171+ (up from last month’s 160-ish). If the rest of the year does look like May (i.e. about 13 films a month), I’d end up around #192. If I ‘slip’ back into watching a lot of films, the average for the year so far (20.2) places me in the 240s.



It’s 100 Favourites’ G-spot! Experience ghosts, gladiators, and gangsters, in a month that’s all about films beginning with the letter G.



The 12th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I was quite down on its predecessor for all sorts of reasons, but my unquestioned favourite film this month is The Raid 2. I won’t be surprised if it turns up again on my year-end top ten, too.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I’ll talk about what in hell led me to watch it when I get round to reviewing it, but, while I actually wound up not minding Just Friends (for what it is, anyway), it’s definitely the lowest-quality movie I watched this month.

Winner of Marvel’s Civil War
Tom Holland, aka Spider-Man.

Loser of Marvel’s Civil War
Zack Snyder and his plans for DC’s movie universe.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Was it massively popular new-release Captain America: Civil War? No, that came third. Was it one of the widely-acknowledged greatest movies of all time, The Godfather? No, that came second. This month’s most popular post was a 21-year-old James Bond movie, GoldenEye.


2016 starts looking towards its place on the all-time ranking of 100 Films years: with 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012 already passed, sights are set on beating 2013’s 110, and maybe 2010’s 122…

The Raid 2 (2014)

aka The Raid 2: Berandal

2016 #90
Gareth Evans | 150 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | Indonesia & USA / Indonesian, English & Japanese | 18*

I wasn’t as impressed as some were by The Raid when I finally got round to watching it two years ago — in my review I said its action was merely equal to other Asian fight flicks, asserted that Dredd had done the same story in a more rounded fashion, and compared the whole thing to Mamma Mia. To use a term that came up in my comments recently: where Mamma Mia is a chick flick, The Raid is definitely a dick flick. That’s probably why it’s taken me this long to get round to its sequel, which was at least as well-liked by the viewing public, if not more so (it has a higher rating on IMDb) — but I couldn’t trust that last time, so why this time? However, it turns out The Raid 2 is an entirely different kettle of fish.

That’s certainly true of the plot — this may be the least “just a rehash of the first film” sequel ever made. Starting mere hours after its predecessor finished, the sequel begins with good cop Rama (Iko Uwais) being co-opted into an anti-corruption internal affairs unit. It’s not just about doing the right thing, though: Rama wants a shot at Bejo (Alex Abbad), a rising criminal who murdered Rama’s brother. Rama is promptly asked to leave his wife and young son behind to go undercover in a prison with the aim of getting close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of powerful mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Unfortunately, instead of being sentenced to a couple of months as promised, Rama is given years in jail. Nonetheless, he manages to ingratiate himself with his target, and upon his eventual release is immediately granted a position in Bangun’s organisation. And, look, this is meant to be a review, not a plot summary — it all just spirals from there.

Where the first film was an efficient, simple thriller designed almost solely to link the startling action sequences, here writer-director Gareth Evans has created a sprawling crime epic. Anyone who’s seen the kind of gangster actioners Hong Kong cinema has produced since the ’80s or so will feel in familiar territory. That’s no bad thing, however, just a point of genre comparison. By expanding the world he’s created out in every direction, Evans has created a work that is not only bigger in a literal sense, but also deeper, more complex, and more interesting than the straightforward adrenaline rush of the movie that made his name.

That’s not to say The Raid 2 skimps on the action front, mind. Oh no. Far from it. If anything, the physical displays here are even greater, and certainly more varied. A free-for-all riot in a muddy prison yard brings to mind the church fight from Kingsman in its crazed frenzy; the first film’s Mad Dog, Yayan Ruhian, is back as a new character who gets a remarkable battle around a multi-level nightclub; the instantly iconic and aptly named Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) gets a showcase on a subway car, and later double teams with her chum Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) to take on Rama; and that’s not even the climax, as our hero goes toe to toe with knife-wielding henchman The Assassin (Cecep Arief Rahman) in a kitchen-set rumble that has to be seen to be believed.

But as incredible as each of those are — and indeed they are — the highest of highlights is surely the car chase. There’s a chance you’ll have heard about this even if you’re not especially interested in the film: a bit of behind-the-scenes detail about how they achieved one particular shot went viral a couple of years ago. If you haven’t seen that, nor the film, then don’t seek it out — it actually kinda spoils it a little bit, knowing how it was done. (Without spoiling it, it was all done practically, whereas a Hollywood blockbuster would undoubtedly have done it with CGI — and spent as much on that one shot as Evans and co have on this entire movie.) The sequence is more than just one technically-impressive shot, however, but an exciting and innovative action scene all round, that definitely pushed the boundaries of the filmmakers’ capabilities (they had to get in a specialist outfit from overseas to help realise their ambitions).

Those are just the highlights — there are numerous smaller but no less accomplished sequences elsewhere, too. To be precise, there are 19 fight scenes, featuring more complex choreography than the first film — and it’s one of the fight choreographers who said that, so it must be true. The two-and-a-half hour running time may mean The Raid 2 isn’t the unrelenting action-fest that the first film was, but those memorable combats are just as much a part of the film’s DNA. I don’t think anyone’s going to feel shortchanged.

From a filmmaking point of view, it’s even more accomplished. Evans demonstrated he knew how to lens action in the first movie, but here the whole movie looks more polished and more expensive (even though it only cost $4.5 million). There’s greater ambition on display in every facet, including both the choreography and the camerawork. Most Hollywood blockbusters seem to push (or exceed) the two-and-a-half hour mark these days, and even when it fills that time, it feels like it’s partly because no one quite knew when to cut back. The Raid 2, however, feels suitably epic — just as you think a film that’s two-and-a-half hours long ought to feel, really.

For me, The Raid 2 outclasses its predecessor in every possible way, from the deeper and more involving story, to the jaw-dropping feats of choreography and performance, to the more assured and polished filmmaking. An instant action classic.

5 out of 5

The Raid 2 will be available on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK from tomorrow.

It placed 2nd on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

* The MPAA insisted on 4½ seconds of cuts to get an R rating. The UK version is uncut. ^