So who else is ready for this year to be over? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who felt that things got pretty rough over the last twelve months, but we’ll get to the Bad list soon enough. For now, let’s try to focus on the things that were GOOD about 2016; namely the movies that you all should have gone out to see when they were still in theaters. Unlike last year, I did manage to see quite a bit more movies which has led to a somewhat more well-rounded list, even if you can probably guess which genres got a lot of love from me this year.
Without further ado, LET’S START COUNTING!!
Honorable Mention: Skiptrace
Now last year I needed an extra spot just to fit an indie film on my list as most of what my local theater got was just the mainstream fare and therefore those kinds of films completely dominated my Best Of list. This time I actually went through the effort of seeing the smaller stuff, and while most of them still didn’t make it on my list, at least there’s SOME representation this time around to help fill things out. Because of that, I figured I’d be less serious with my unofficial eleven spot and would choose a movie that wasn’t exactly GOOD but a hell of a lot of fun. It was a tossup between Skiptrace and Huntsman: Winter’s War, but I’m gonna give it to the Jackie Chan flick just out of sheer nostalgia. It’s a Renny Harlin action comedy starring Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville; basically making this the greatest thing imaginable for the ONE GUY out there that loves Jackie Chan buddy films but also thinks that Die Hard 2 is the best in the series and that Johnny Knoxville is an underrated actor. So basically it was made for me and no one else (Die Hard 2 is criminally underrated). Look, this movie is really sloppy, especially on the production side (why the hell is Jackie Chan subbed, dubbed, and ACTUALLY speaking English all in the same movie!?), but it’s got so many joyful and delightfully stupid moments like Johnny Knoxville being rolled down a hill in a garbage can or Jackie Chan getting in a fist fight while using a Russian Nesting Doll as a shield that it makes up for the cliché ridden script and lack of any real structure. Even the stuff that’s straight up incompetent is hilarious like how the script puts these two on a train for no other reason than to jump off of it two minutes later, or how a woman gets shot three times and there’s ZERO blood to show for it. It all adds to the goofy charm that makes it hard to stop watching even knowing just how bad the plot is that revolves around Jackie and Johnny needing to cross all of China looking for a damn cell phone charger. In the end, none of that ends up mattering all that much when you’ve got Johnny Knoxville trying to dodge bowling balls or when we get to see drunk ass Jackie Chan singing Rolling in the Deep while hanging out in a Mongolian village. If you’re looking for something incredibly silly and nonsensical with just enough sincerity and heart to avoid coming off as too cynically made just on Jackie’s star power, then you’ll definitely have a good time here. Also, if you like watching Johnny Knoxville get the crap beat out of him because that happens constantly!
10. Swiss Army Man
Phew! There’s at least ONE prestige movie on my list this year! Almost makes it worth having to drive forty freaking minutes to see these things! Seriously, I live in an interesting crossroad where I tend to be able to see smaller release movies, but only because there’s a classy (i.e. expensive) theater just under an hour away. This movie, along with Don’t Think Twice, Southside with You, and a few others were only possible because of these long ass trips and the best one of those that I saw this year was the Daniel Radcliffe Farting Corpse movie. It’s not perfect and I do feel it belabors a pretty simple point too much, but the gimmick about Daniel Radcliffe slowly rediscovering his humanity through increasingly bizarre superpowers does end up working and is incredibly entertaining to watch throughout. The movie manages to be REALLY funny because of these moments, and while I wasn’t as wrapped up in Paul Dano’s story as much as Radcliffe’s, it certainly does its job as far as forwarding the narrative and conveying its message to the audience about closing yourself off from the world. Honestly though, that’s so secondary to what makes this movie fun to watch which obviously is dead guy tricks and fart jokes.
9. The Edge of Seventeen
With so many terrible adaptations of YA novels that are aimed at teenage girls, it’s nice that there’s STILL filmmakers out there who won’t talk down to them and give them something that’s genuinely insightful and funny. Now sure, there’s a bit too many sitcom moments in here (presumably due to James L Brook’s influence), but the movie has the strength of its convictions to go wherever the hell it needs to for its story and for this character that they’ve written which makes the situations all the more relatable, even if you haven’t PERSONALLY experienced what it’s like to be a sixteen year old girl. Couple that with a solid cast who knows how to mine this uncomfortable material for comedic gold, and you have a classic in the making along the lines of Clueless or Mean Girls. It will take a few years, and it probably won’t be as beloved as the John Hughes films, but I’m betting that this is gonna have a loyal fan base once it finds out this actually exist (because no went to go see it in the theaters for some reason).
Picking a best animated film this year was harder than putting together this whole list as I just didn’t seem to connect with the big hitters this year the way everyone else did. Zootopia was fine, but am I the only one who remembers how stupid the explanation for the wild animals and how it’s wrapped up in a Breaking Bad parody? Kubo and the Two Strings along with Moana were pretty damn good in my estimation, but the plots were rather aimless as the journey itself felt like disparate set pieces that were stitched together after the fact. Now there’s nothing WRONG with this as a lot of adventure movies feel that way, but it’s also not something I would expect to find in THE BEST animated film of the year. Ultimately, I settled on Sing which was similarly (and in some areas much more so) flawed in its execution, but it’s go for broke over the top sincerity in providing you super concentrated feels wrapped up in songs everyone loves made this one a delight to sit through even if Seth MacFarlane’s character is a huge jerk and drags the movie down almost every time they focus on him. Maybe this one isn’t gonna hold up when we can watch the good scenes on YouTube and don’t have to sit through Matthew McConaughey shtick to get to them, but I’m hard pressed to name an animated movie I had more fun sitting through this year. That said, if they do a sequel, they BETTER put some Billy Joel in there! Not Piano Man or Scene from an Italian Restaurant though. That would be pushing it just a bit too far.
7. The Boy
This was a surprisingly good year for sequels and horror movies, and while many of the solid films in the former category didn’t make it onto this list, there was no way I wouldn’t show some props to the latter genre stepping up their game this year. So why The Boy specifically? Well the other ones that ALMOST made it on the list had one major flaw in common which is that they didn’t really know how to end. Lights Out didn’t really capitalize as strongly on its premise as it should have and the ending didn’t seem to fully understand what was so fascinating about its story. Don’t Breathe may be the best two thirds of any horror film this year, but the third act nearly ruined the whole thing for me. Out of all of them, I thought The Boy had the strongest ending which was no doubt silly but felt like a legitimate continuation of the themes that had made the movie so interesting up to that point. It’s not without its faults, mostly in some odd stylistic choices that pop up randomly throughout, but The Boy was easily the biggest surprise of the year as I expected next to nothing from it and got more than anyone could have expected from a horror film this year, let alone a PG-13 one from January.
Ah yes. The movie that made millions of douchebags cry out in entitled rage. The fact that this movie was genuinely good is enough to make it one of my favorites of the year, but the fact that its mere existence has gotten so many perpetually angry people so salty is just the icing on the cake. As one of those high-falutin film critics who actually goes out there and SEES movies instead of just using them to prop up my own grievances, it’s a strongly cast and hilarious action comedy that has some serious structural issues towards the end of the second act, but more than makes up for it with the explosive and engaging finale. Like with most things that women do though, being REALLY good is never enough for some people and the future of this particular iteration of the franchise is in jeopardy despite solid reviews and a worldwide gross of over two hundred million dollars. Maybe the man-babies will get their bottle and Ghost Corps will start releasing pandering bullshit to keep the worst among us that much more content and secure in their oh so fragile masculinity, which sadly enough is distressingly indicative of the times we live in. For one shining moment though, before the entire world went to hell, we got a genuinely funny film with a bunch of ass kicking women that turned out to be one of the best comedies of the year. Looking at how desperately the whiners and losers of the world want the history to be rewritten to say otherwise is telling enough of how important this movie is; not just for being a damn fine comedy but for being able to flabbergast so many jerks just by merely existing.
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Soon enough, there are going to be some merely good Star Wars movies the same way that the Marvel films are solid staples throughout the year but don’t really engender too much critical praise beyond that at this point (hence why the Netflix series are trying so hard to be different), but for now the two that we’ve gotten since the Disney acquisition have been a breath of fresh air and exactly what the franchise needs to rebuild itself after the disastrous prequels and the uninspired clone wars stuff that followed. Rouge One is not the kind of game changer that The Force Awakens was, but that’s hardly a detriment. Is there an opposite of damning with faint praise? Praising with faint damning? Well that’s basically what comparing Rogue One to The Force Awakens is. It’s ALMOST as good as the best movie of last year which is still pretty damn impressive! Taking the fantastical world of Star Wars and setting a grim and dirty spy thriller right in the middle of it isn’t exactly a new concept (just read any of the Extended Universe books) but it’s definitely a bigger risk than Disney needed to take to ensure that people still care about Star Wars between now and Episode VIII. Now the next few of these side stories sound like they’re the kind of safe bets we were expecting (a Han Solo film followed by a Bobba Fett one), but for now it’s refreshing that they not only bothered to take such a risk but that they managed to pull it off better than most other gritty re-imaginings of beloved franchises. Plus, it’s always fun to watch Donnie Yen kick everyone’s ass!
4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The one thing that always bugged me about the Harry Potter books was just how distant the wizards were from the muggle world. Even if there WAS magic out there, that’s still no reason to completely ignore modern technology like electricity or the internet. Hell, can you imagine what Hollywood would look like if there was ACTUAL movie magic!? This film takes full advantage of that premise as the wizarding world in the United States is heavily integrated (though covertly so) with their non-magical counterparts and seeing how this all works is an absolute delight, especially with those themes so expertly woven into Newt Scamander’s journey to find his lost creatures while causing as little fuss as possible. If Collin Farrell’s B story involving the New Salem jerks were stronger, this COULD have gotten a few spots higher in the list, but even with that huge weakness it’s still one of the most fun movies of the year and probably the most interesting reboot we could have gotten from the Harry Potter series at this point. Maybe we’ll get even crazier and unexpected films down the road as the franchise branches out even further, but this radically different take on such a familiar series is exactly what they needed to do right now and it succeeds with flying colors. I only give the edge to this one over Rogue One which managed to do a lot of the same type of world building only because the characters were much more endearing here than they were in that movie. Jacob and Queenie OTP!!
3. The Witch
Horror films for me, at least the good ones, tend to be more visceral and engaging rather than abject terrifying or all that unsettling. This movie? Yeah, other than The Shining and maybe The Exorcist, there’s not a horror film out there that’s as delightfully stressful to sit through as this pitch black dive into religious fundamentalism, hubris, resentment, and oh yeah, REALLY SCARY WITCHCRAFT! We barely even get a glimpse of any witches, but the ones we do get are horrifying in ways that call back silent era classics like Häxan; a movie that’s still unsettling even to this day. The only flaw of note here is that the dialogue is hard to understand; both in the vernacular they use and the low growl at which some characters speak. That said the actors still manage to get across the emotional weight of every scene, so it hardly detracts from a movie that’s already more about mood and mounting dread rather than the specific details of their beliefs, though that still manages to get across strongly enough to be a central theme here. In a year that was really good for your standard run of the mill horror movies, this was something wholly different. It’s one of those movies that’s going to have a huge shelf life and whose importance will matter to the genre in ways other than being one of the best films of the year it came out (and I know it was in festivals in 2015, but it didn’t get an ACTUAL release until 2016). Hopefully the first time director here, Robert Eggers, doesn’t completely flame out after this film and we’re looking at another horror master in the making. I’m looking at YOU, Shyamalan!
2. The Handmaiden
A Chan Wook Park film is one of the best films of the year? I know. You are all quite shocked. The guy has is easily one of the best directors working today and his latest outing is one of the best he’s made so far. It’s not quite up to Old Boy (but what in the hell IS at that level?) but this is probably his best film after that… at least of the films I’ve seen. The characters are engrossing with their own conflicting motivations, the pacing and structure are fine-tuned like a well-crafted instrument, and it manages to encompass such a wide range of emotions that it would be remarkable if we didn’t know going in that this was made by a true genius at his craft. Whether it’s the twists and turns in the plot, the hilarious comedy bits throughout, or even the fantastic sex scenes that are as lovingly well directed as everything else in the movie, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy and it all blends together seamlessly. MAYBE you could argue that the film is too long (the second half drags a tiny bit) and maybe for some people the shifting tone won’t feel as well executed as I found it to be, but that’s about all I can think of that can be viewed negatively about this movie. Well, except for the obviously stupid stuff like hating to read subtitles. This movie is so good, that I’d say it’s even better than my number one movie of the year which I didn’t choose lightly but will probably have a smaller impact than this film which, like all of Chan Wook Park’s films, will be a well beloved classic for decades to come. Speaking of my number one movie of the year…
1. The Purge: Election Year
So why this movie; especially over ones are destined to be as enduring as The Handmaiden or even The Witch? This movie, on top of being a WONDERFULLY made film in the vein of classic John Carpenter film, is THE movie of 2016. There is not a single movie released this year that encompasses everything I’ve felt about this tragic fucking year like this one, and I knew this WELL before November. Starting with the death of David Bowie, all the way until right this god damn moment, 2016 has been a year of unease and uncertainty for everyone; especially those like me who managed to coast through life without much adversity or overwhelming heartbreak. This movie speaks directly to that in the most overt and in some ways gratifying manner; showing a world gone to hell not by shitty policies and cowardly people not standing up for what’s right but rather with a bunch of Jason Voorhees and George Zimmerman wannabes roaming the streets with a chip on their shoulder and without a brain in their head. The purge is an obvious microcosm of everything that’s wrong with us as a society. The vanity, stubbornness, prejudice, and self-serving rationalization that we’re all living through right now as we transition into 2017 summed up in a single twelve hour holiday and pumped up to eleven. It’s simultaneously fascinating to watch how this holiday has poisoned the populace (especially those who grew up not knowing a world before the purge) while also being satisfying to see our heroes stand up and brutally stop these people in simplistically gratifying “kill or be killed” scenario. That was all true about the last movie though, even if this one goes all in on the metaphors that were being teased and hinted at in The Purge: Anarchy. What sets this one apart from the last film and why it’s my favorite movie of this year, is that it has hope. Behind all the bloodshed, there are people trying to do the right thing. Beyond all the depravity and righteousness, there are those who still have their humanity and will do whatever they can to preserve it in themselves and in others. Now sadly enough, this movie turned out to be TOO optimistic considering how it thought things would ultimately turn out this year, but that just makes the film that much more fascinating to me. The filmmakers of a series that involves ritualized slaughter, the abjection of morality and decency by simply convincing people that cruelty and selfishness were symbols of personal freedom, and people putting on stupid Halloween masks to murder their fellow citizens, had higher hopes for the future of humanity than what we could ultimately deliver on this year. Rather than take that as the crushing indictment of our society that it can easily (and not inaccurately) be taken as, I choose to look at the ending of this film and find even more hope than before. A message that no matter how bad things can get, the right people will be able to drag the rest of the world kicking and screaming into finding empathy and understanding of our fellow people, and eventually doing right by everyone instead of just doing right by themselves. All that said, and even if you ignore all those points I just made, it’s still a really fun and well-made movie in the mold of Escape from New York or any other film that was directed by (or took inspiration from) Carpenter’s unique brand of ultra-violence and social commentary. Frank Grillo as the immortal cinema bad ass, Elizabeth Mitchell as the one who has to carry humanity’s fate on her shoulders, and Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, and Betty Gabriel as the ones caught in the middle of a war they never asked to be a part of, are all well cast and handle their roles with aplomb. It’s not a perfect movie with some cheap looking moments here and there, and I am coming at this from a privileged point of view meaning that things like the world resting on the shoulders of a white woman or Mykelti Williamson’s embarrassingly corny dialogue can be seen as somewhat tone deaf, but for me there was no other film this year that meant more to me as I was watching it and means more to me as I think back on it now. Maybe it won’t hold up in the years to come as the sting of its social commentary starts to fade with time; still leaving us with an amazing action film, but less of an important one. Even if that is the ultimate fate of this movie, for right now there’s nothing else I would want to have at the top of my list for this year and if you haven’t seen the damn thing (or any of the movies on this list) then make it your New Year’s Resolution to fix that!
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