2016 is down. Fucking hell. What a dumpster fire of a year. But at least cinema was great, right? Well, mostly it was great. It was a weirdly bad year for blockbusters. But everything else was really god damn great. So great that in a year where I thought all the Best Picture nominees were pretty damn great (except for Lion, which I haven’t seen), only one is in my top 10. I like to save this lists for the week or so before Oscar season as a way to get more content for the list and get a better sense of the year as a whole. So while not everything was seen, this should be a pretty good indicator of how good the year was. Below is the list of all the new releases I saw from 2016, with write ups of the top 10. I also did something I didn’t anticipate doing, which is writing about the worst movie I saw this year. I only did so because it’s the only movie I ever quit watching halfway through and never returned to. So while the year had some amazing highs, it had the lowest low I’ve had the misfortune of sitting through. Without further ado, here is my cinematic 2016.
Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Harley Quinn Smith, Lily Rose Depp, Johnny Depp, and Ralph Garman
Two years ago, I thought I had seen the worst movie I ever had the displeasure of seeing. It was Kevin Smiths at time low point, Tusk. I honestly couldn’t imagine a movie being worse than that or as incompetent as that movie. But Smith is seemingly determined to be the preeminent lazy filmmaker in the business, as he has currently topped his all time worst movie. I can’t even really get too deep into this movie, because it made me do something I have never done before. Halfway through the movie, I just stopped. I couldn’t take it anymore. And I was watching it at my old job where I could legitimately pay more attention to what I’m watching than to what my job entailed. Of the miserable 40 minutes or so I watched, it was the most insufferable movie I’ve ever seen. Completely enamored with itself for no other reason than it thinks it’s weird, the humor lands with a crippling thud. It’s almost miraculous to see jokes just die so quickly, the humor being shat out of it’s actors faces stillborn. The writing all over the board is terrible, not just the jokes. No one is playing a real character, so the acting goes from bland to outright terrible. One can only hope this has finally ended any goodwill he still had left over from Clerks and we are never cursed with an artistic endeavor in this medium from this mediocre poison peddler.
The Neon Demon
Independence Day: Resurgence
Swiss Army Man
The Greasy Strangler
Dog Eat Dog
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman: Bad Blood
The Mind’s Eye
Southside With You/Barry
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Elvis & Nixon
Live By Night
Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children
Eddie The Eagle
Gods of Egypt
I Am Not A Serial Killer
Barbershop: The Next Cut
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Hard Target 2
In A Valley of Violence
The Secret Life of Pets
The Magnificent Seven
Captain America: Civil War
All The Way
The Good Neighbor
10 Cloverfield Lane
The Jungle Book
Manchester By The Sea
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows
BvS: Ultimate Edition
La La Land
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
I Am Not Your Negro
The Purge: Election Year
Star Trek Beyond
Star Wars: Rogue One
Kubo and The Two Strings
Kill Zone 2
The Conjuring 2
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Michael Parks, and Diego Luna
Mel Gibson is one of the most magnetic screen presences Hollywood has delivered in the last 40 years. He can be a smooth operator but bring some real menace to the proceedings. Sadly his real life shittiness has affected his work life and many people won’t give his movies a chance anymore. But they should, because his recent work has come with some emotional honesty that suggests some soul searching on his part. Here Mel is coming to terms with the horrific beliefs of his past and how it damaged his future and his family. Playing an ex con that has to protect his daughters from cartel thugs, Mel does not shy away from the blemishes of this/his character. This is an angry man, easily able to commit acts of violence. Once a neo nazi biker, he’s trying to fix his past mistakes but he’s still not there yet. Change isn’t immediate or easy. Not only is it a smarter movie than it has any right to be, it’s a thrilling movie. Expertly crafted by Richet and plotted out to be more subversive than a typical old man action movie. This is a taut thriller that plays more like a 70s flick. Mel is phenomenal, the best he’s been in years. I can only hope that whatever he does next continues this winning streak of his.
Director: Ava DuVernay
In a year where racial strife has come back in a big way due to the mediocrity of angry white people becoming a political movement, there’s been some high profile documentaries to come out in 2016 that had the kinda good fortune to be so timely. I don’t really consider OJ: Made In America a movie so I haven’t placed it here, otherwise it would be my top doc of the year. But for a doc that is actually a movie, this is another amazing Netflix original that hit like a brick to the face. Ava DuVernay proves yet again that she is a voice to reckon with, showing us in this masterwork that affects of the 13th Amendment and how it essentially kickstarted an industry of legalized slavery, aka The Prison Industrial Complex. The immaculately researched and detailed look at the domino effect of this Amendment is staggering and a real blow. Yeah, maybe it hit me this hard cause I’m a privileged white guy (yay 35k a year salary). But I think anyone who watches this will be entranced by the sadly relevant topic at hand. It’s a haunting movie, one that goes completely against the beliefs of the shitbirds that think America isn’t great anymore. The kind of people that want minorities under their bootheels even more than they already are, where they get their unfair advantages back again. For anyone with a conscious, this should spark some anger in you that makes you want to get involved. Otherwise you voted for an orange cat testicle and helped cement your own doom. Congrats!
Everybody Wants Some
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoeclin, Wyatt Rusell, and Zoey Deutch
Linklater is a master and has hit a great god damn stride in the last few years. This may be his best movie in the last 15 years, as it is a spiritual sequel to his landmark Dazed and Confused that comes within inches of that movies classic hang out vibes. We hang out with the baseball team of a Texas college on the weekend before the fall semester starts in 1980. No real drama or plot to speak of, just a bunch of freewheeling dudes with a lot of competition in their blood hanging out and partying. What Linklater is going for here is a continuation of the theme of Dazed. Where that movie was about the incoming realities of having to grow up, this movie is about the incoming reality about the rest of your life being formed around you. The time to be a kid is coming to a close and your future is within inches of your face. So nows the time to have fun. And fun they have. Linklater was a baseball player in college so this all sings with the finely tuned details of someone who has lived this life. It’s charming as hell and really comes as another call to arms that Linklater is the best filmmaker we have about the passage of time and as the best detailer of the undramatic aspects of life. Nobody does down time like Linklater.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr
This movie came out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks, lighting the fuse for my newfound admiration of Flanagan and whatever he decides to do. A slasher movie with a great hook, that of focusing on a deaf woman being haunted by a maniac for no other reason than he saw her. It’s a simple movie, quick and to the point that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Flanagan shows some serious horror bonafides, ratcheting up the tension like a master and using the deafness of our main character to do some really cool stuff with the slasher genre. And by humanizing the killer, it makes it all the scarier. It’s like he took the idea of The Strangers and just decided to do it better, with none of the bad decision making the propelled the narrative of that movie. A Netflix original that helped to strengthen the brand immensely, this is a bright spot in a great year for horror. Flanagan is a talent to always keep an eye out for.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Issei Ogata, and Liam Neeson
This is essentially the ultimate culmination of the work Marty has been doing his entire career. There’s two types of Marty movies. The highly violent/decadent movies like Taxi Driver or The Wolf of Wall Street. Then there’s the low key and thoughtful movies that don’t necessarily play to the mainstream, like The Last Temptation of Christ or Kundun. This falls into the latter category. Following two Portuguese priests (Garfield and Driver) as they make their way to Japan to spread Christianity to the Japanese, as well as find their estranged mentor (Neeson) who is rumored to have renounced his faith. Facing brutal persecution from the political powers of Japan, Garfield faces a severe test of his faith. Should he stick to his convictions no matter how many innocent Japanese are tortured and killed? Is renouncing his faith in public to save them a blasphemous act or a selfless sacrifice? Is one side right here or are both sides wrong or are both sides right? This is not an easy movie nor is it a movie that has answers for those looking for them. It also isn’t a problematic pro colonialism movie, as Scorsese is not some old world asshole. A man who has made a career out of thrusting us into the worlds of characters and springing judgement upon them at the end of his stories is not just gonna make a clear eyed plea for racial domination. This is a story tailor made for Scorsese, a man who has been chasing spiritual stories his entire career and has thrown his own doubts and beliefs onto screen with a fiery passion. This isn’t a movie that makes faith seem like a cure all for the worlds problems. What the movie is ultimately saying is that doubt is ultimately linked to faith. Garfield has to struggle the entire movie about what the right course of action is, since there’s no easy answer to his trials. He can assume, but there’s no definites. By the end of the movie he has to make a tough choice and live with the consequences, hoping for the best in the hereafter that he was right. It’s a powerful movie that hits hard and doesn’t play easy. And it’s a gorgeous movie, maybe the best technical achievement of Marty’s illustrious career. A stunning achievement to help close out a great year.
Director: David Lowery
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford
In a year where Disney already struck gold with the live action redo of The Jungle Book, nobody really expected the other remake to even come close to it, let alone best it. Because the second remake was based off of a damn near forgotten Disney movie, so excitement wasn’t too high. But this movie came out bearing very little resemblance to it’s forbearer and it knocked everyone back. Yet another movie from this list that would feel of a piece with movies from the 70s, this movie was a heartfelt little masterpiece. Focusing on a young boy named Pete who is stranded and orphaned in the woods of the northwest, he is saved by a lone dragon and a bond is forged. When Pete is found by Howard, the bond is threatened to break at the possibility of Pete finding a new family. But Urban brings a physical threat to the dragon, which brings everyone together. Small scale and highly intimate, the emotions are perfectly conveyed and the story is told with masterlike precision. It’s a movie where the beauty of it really has to be seen to really get, as it’s all in little gestures and subtle narrative beats. And for animals lovers in particular, this movie is like a knife to the heart. Perhaps the biggest surprise I had in 2016, I love this movie and Lowery has officially entered the “whatever he makes next I will see no matter what” camp, which is a shared trait with the other directors on this top 10.
Hell or High Water
Director: David MacKenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birminham
There’s been a neverending barrage of thinkpieces about how cinema is dying and how the middle class of cinema is disappearing. But every now and then, one of the countless middle class movies that are made breaks away from the indie pack and grabs alot of attention. And this year, this was that movie. A beautiful and brilliant little throwback to the crime thrillers of the 70’s, we follow bank robbing brothers as they try to gather up enough money to save their land from foreclosure. This isn’t a grim dark movie. It’s actually kinda charming and has a good deal of humor. But it doesn’t pull punches when it comes time for the consequences to land. For the vast majority of the movie, it’s got a kinda hang out vibe where we get to know our robbers and the cops out to get them. The cast is all amazing in their roles, Pine finally getting to show he’s an amazing actor outside of Trek or Carnahan movies. Bridges is great in a role that could be described as a more charming Rooster Cogburn. Foster shows off his considerable talents at playing really charming nutjobs. But what really sells this movie above fun genre picture is the thematic interest in people being forced out of their homes, the manifest destiny issue that Native Americans felt and that Middle Americans are feeling now at the hands of thieving banks. Everyone and everything in this movie, surface level and subtly, are all about hitting this theme. And in the year where Middle America was conned into thinking they’d be saved by an orange con man, this movie became much more timely than it already was. Because now we can look back at it and see who elected this shitbird and why. A thrilling movie with charm and heart to spare in between legitimate anger at the world, this is a modern day masterpiece.
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, and Harvey Scrimshaw
Robert Eggers exploded onto the scene with this masterful debut that most people would kill to have made. A movie that is completely enmeshed in the realism of the time period it’s set while also planting itself fully into the fantastical, it’s quite the balancing act that crafts one of the most moody and upsetting movies in a good long while. Focusing on a family that was too fundamentalist for the puritans as they are exiled to a remote piece of land on the edges of the woods, we follow this family as they are haunted by a witch(es?). What’s immediately brilliant about the movie is that it doesn’t play games with the content of the movie. This isn’t ambiguous about the threat. There are witches and shit is gonna get real. What else is brilliant about it is how the thematic game it’s playing isn’t an easy sell, playing very #problematic. It’s a movie that posits that witches are real and that maybe the witch trials weren’t exactly wrong. But that is also simplifying things a bit, as the main message is really about how religious fundamentalism can lead to it’s own demise. Because the family is right to believe that witches are at play, but their complete disdain for females distracts them from the real issue at hand which then causes their own demise. Hell, it even pushes the eldest daughter away from the light and right into the arms of the devil. All of this is couched in one of the most divisive movie horror has seen in a while, cause there’s a weirdly large number of people that don’t think it’s a horror movie. It’s a slow burn that doesn’t play ambiguous, a movie dense with period accurate details and language. This isn’t an easy movie for regular audiences. But for those willing to open their minds to the most moody horror flick in a long time that will root it’s way into your soul, this is a masterpiece of not just horror cinema but cinema in general.
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, and Patrick Stewart
Blue Ruin, Saulnier’s previous movie, was a masterpiece of subversive revenge cinema. A really artful but brutal look at the horrific cycle of violence that come with the search for revenge, it was an immediate call to the world that this was a major filmmaker to keep an eye on. He returns with something that may not be as emotionally deep as his previous movie but one that is a pulse pounding thrill ride that pulls no punches. An exercise in tension, Saulnier puts a down on it’s luck punk band in the cross hairs of a gang of neo nazis, being forced to hide in the green room of the gangs bar. Having to figure out how to survive while being scoped out by the lead Nazi (Stewart), tension is palpable almost immediately. Being thrown into the lions den of these hateful pricks, the band is in way over their heads. Safe to say without spoilers, whoever survives (if any) will not come out completely whole. Without ever becoming a comical gorefest, the movie never shies away from the violence that is committed and it is done with a clinical brutality. It happens and it’s not overdone. A disembowling is one of the most disgusting scenes of the year without shouting it at the audience to look at it. Just happens. By the time the movie reaches it’s end, you’re almost wiped out by how tense the movie was. But your also impressed by how smart the movie was in becoming the 21st centuries answer to Assault on Precinct 13. Saulnier shifts ever so slightly in his follow up and crafts another masterpiece.
The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, and Margaret Qualley
Shane Black is one of the most enjoyable voices in cinema. For me at least. He’s right up there with Tarantino, similar in the sense that they use an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture to craft a throwback that never feels redundant. This continues that trend with Black as he crafts what may very well be his best movie, despite the fact that he’s still tackling themes that he’s been chasing his entire career. But this time out he gets the perfect vehicle to chase them with the best cast and a plot that manages to feel relevant to today while being a timeless case of convoluted noir busywork. It’s a smart, thrilling piece of cinema that is boundlessly creative. Oh, it’s also the funniest movie of the year and one of the most quotable/rewatchable movies in years. Black’s an iconically funny writer and this sees him at the top of his game, showcasing all types of humor at an elite level. It also doesn’t hurt that he has two amazingly game leads to bring this humor to life, with Crowe and (especially) Gosling showcasing new facets of their talents and crafting one of the best comedic duos in cinema. Gosling in particular does career best work, shedding the brooding emo shtick and delivering some nexrt level comedic acting while still bringing the gravitas. It’s a shame that the movie wasn’t successful, as we should be blessed with one of these movies every 2 or 3 years. Check this out immediately as this is my favorite pick of an amazingly dense year for great cinema.