This month I’m reviewing the Best Of 2016. Everyone loves lists come year’s end, and although 2016 as been a fucking nightmare, there were some great works that came out this year. I’ll be doing a Best Of TV, Best Of Music, Best Of Books, and today’s Best Of Movies.
The year end Best Of for movies is always difficult. Usually because Hollywood has decided to release all of its Oscar-bait movies in the last half of November and December. Oh, those flicks are usually only released in the greater sprawl that is NYC and LA. The vast majority of us don’t see what are arguably the best movies of year until the beginning of the next.
However, I’ve lately come to realize that I hate the Oscars (as well as other award shows) and the vast majority of the movies deemed worthy of awards. I take umbrage with not just the quality of the judgments made but the judges themselves, which is why any reality competition show I see invariable ends with me throwing things and storming out of the room. This has been growing in me over the last few years. I use to respect the Oscars but not any more.
So for this, my last Best Of for 2016, I’m going to keep things simple. Here are the movies I saw this year I very much enjoyed:
1. Hail, Caesar!
Nearly all of 2016 was unpleasant. There were only a handful of moments that were genuinely fun. For me, watching the Cohen Brothers return to comic form with the Hollywood nostalgia-spoof piece Hail, Caesar! was fun. I know there are a lot of Cohen critics that found the film contrived, if not too silly to take seriously, but I strongly disagree. When paired with the Oscar-bait Trumbo, Hail, Caesar! gives us a much more believable portrait of those in the entertainment industry and how they live lives of un-ironic farce. As someone whose parent inflicted a never-ending succession of musicals and Golden Age Hollywood on him, I found this song-and-dance flick intensely satisfying.
In January 2012 Key and Peele began its comedic insurgence. The duo, Keegan-Michael Key
and Jordan Peele, quickly became some of best comedians available–clever without being mean, sincere without being melodramatic, and willing to be seriously silly. Keanu, a random send-up of John Wick and the buddy action comedy we didn’t know we craved, is the film fans have been eager for pretty much since the pair debuted. Two grown-ass men go on an inadvertent crime spree to recover a kitten. I’m all in. Keanu isn’t roll on the floor funny nor is it some kind of scathing satire. It is, quite simply, entertaining and buoyant.
3. Rogue One
Perhaps the movie with the most hype and highest expectations of the year. Rogue One lived up to its promise. We were given a stand alone film that augmented the original trilogy without detracting from them while at the same time being able to exist without any knowing connection to the other films. Pure success. There are those who’ve written ham-fisted negative and middling reviews of the film but these reveal a stark misapprehension of the narrative as well as a generally lackadaisical if not exhausted viewership. Being a lazy reader doesn’t effect the quality of what was read. I will definitely be writing more on Rogue One in in 2017 (but it seems to have been everything I wanted), but for now know that this film achieved the intimacy of Star Wars, the grandiose space opera battling of Return of the Jedi, and the foreboding of Empire Strikes Back. It is by no means superior to the originals, but it is a different creature unlike The Force Awakens. Rogue One is a promising start to opening up the Star Wars universe to more and deeper storytelling, and more stories told benefit all.
4. The Nice Guys
I found myself liking this movie more than I thought I would. Ryan Gossling manages to keep his silly dreamboat persona in check while Russell Crowe is able to let his inner meathead out in a very deft manner. The chemistry between these two stars was a boon and really carried the film. I’m a sucker for LA movies, especially for anything noir-ish. This detective flick does a fantastic job of navigating its genre’s waters while staying fresh. How so? For one, Gossling’s character has a daughter, a proto-Nancy Drew, stealing every scene she’s in. Thematically, incompetence isn’t played as just a dumb gag but presented as momentary character flaws in everyone making the whole story that much more believable in its ridiculousness.Such a move set this LA crime tale is in stark contrast to the unearned emotion and sloppy storytelling of say Inherent Vice. I was a big fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which turns out to have been writer/director Shane Black’s debut, and The Nice Guys is a more adroit version. Although the opening is needlessly gratuitous, there is a balance to the story that is pleasing and performances that are quirky without being fatuous.
5. The Neon Demon
A film more hated than enjoyed or even tolerated. Despite himself, Nicolas Winding Refn (whose Ryan Gossling vehicle Drive is adored, pun intended) has created a highly stylized film equal parts disturbing, repulsive, captivating, and critical. I say ‘despite’ because this film only exists as quality if we ignore intention. The Neon Demon‘s narrative is one that moves from misogyny (first two thirds) to gynephobia (it’s stunning final third). This movie isn’t about vanity; looking is what this film is about, the male gaze certainly but moreover the corruption of objectification and how it makes us all guilty.
There are a slew of other movies that I’m probably not going to be able to see in the theatre due to living in rural Kentucky but will definitely see and am certain will be quite good–Don’t Think Twice, Arrival, Moonlight, American Honey, Edge of Seventeen, and, although I know it will not be good, Assassin’s Creed.
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