Movie roundup: Best and worst films of 2016

By on January 1, 2017
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Deadpool

1. A Bigger Splash: This look at beautiful people, jealousy and desire is worth the price of admission to see Ralph Fiennes, Lord Voldemort himself, strut his stuff to disco era Rolling Stones. He unleashes some of the goofiest dance moves since Elaine Benes in what must be his loosest performance ever.

2. Deadpool: As played by Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool is part of the Marvel family, a distant cousin to Iron Man and Captain America, but he’s a refreshing super-antihero, a weaponized bad attitude come-to-life with a chip on his shoulder and a raunchy quip on his lips.

3. Everybody Wants Some: Director Richard Linklater’s film “Boyhood” was a slice-of-life that showcased 12 years in the upbringing of a growing boy. His latest movie is also a slice-of-life but in a much-condensed form, spanning just three funny and affectionately nostalgic days in the life of a 1970s college baseball player.

4. The Handmaiden: This is an epic story of madness, con games, double crosses, double-double crosses, kinky sex, desire and more. Director Chan-wook Park wrings every ounce of lascivious pleasure from the film’s sprawling story of sex and intrigue.

5. Hell or High Water: Echoes of the Coen brothers ricochet throughout “Hell or High Water” but with its deliberate pace, Nick Cave’s moody score and Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the leads, it’s more than a stop-gap between Coen Brothers neo westerns, it’s one of the most richly satisfying movies of the year.

6. La La Land: From a trickily edited opening song-and-dance number to a spectacular ballet among the stars to heartfelt human feelings, this Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling musical doesn’t just breathe new life into an old genre it performs CPR on it, bringing its beating heart back to vibrant life.

7. Loving: “Loving” is simultaneously a powerful look at a racist time and, when it asks, “What is the danger to the state of Virginia from interracial marriage?” a timely and universal reminder that Loving v. Virginia was just one of many steps humanity has to take before everyone is afforded fundamental rights.

8. Manchester by the Sea: ”Manchester by the Sea” is a finely acted look at grief and the aftermath of heartbreak but it’s also very a funny odd couple/buddy flick that isn’t afraid to flip flop between drama and comedy.

9. Moonlight: “Moonlight” is a compelling film about a young man finding a place in the world. Director Barry Jenkins splits the story into thirds, each examining a different time in the life of Chiron, a young, gay African-American man, as he comes to grips with who he is.

10. Paterson: “Paterson” luxuriates in the mundane aspects of a poetry-writing bus driver’s life, and is punctuated by on-screen depictions of his poetry. What could have been insufferable turns into a beautifully rendered portrait of people who find beauty and art in everyday life.

WORST FILMS OF 2016

1. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is bombastic. The experience of watching it is like having a drunk at a bar tell you the story after five beers. It’s loud and in-your-face with the occasional maudlin moment.

There was a time when superhero movies were fun, escapist entertainment. Those days seem to have passed. There are a total of two laughs in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” although there are several other unintentionally laughable moments. Now our caped and cowled heroes are as dark and troubled as a reject from a Kafka novel which, in this case, makes for a rather loud but dreary night at the movies.

2. Ben Hur: The new “Ben-Hur” may be all about forgiveness, but it’s hard to forgive some of director Timur Bekmambetov’s filmmaking choices. The frenetic editing is meant to convey a sense of urgency but instead of creating drama the fast cuts only emphasize what an empty exercise this is. The most famous version of the story, 1959’s epic, may be a bit of a slog these days at over three hours, but at least that version allowed us time to get to know and understand the character’s motivations. The latest retelling ignores niceties like allowing the story to unfold gradually, creating creative tension and the old chestnut, showing not telling, opting instead to bombard the screen with random 3-D images that, when strung together, form some semblance of a story.

3. Dirty Grandpa: I figure the Robert De Niro comedy is called, simply and inelegantly, “Dirty Grandpa” because “Filthy-Foul-Mouthed-Misogynist-Sex-Crazed-Pervert-Filthy-Rotten-Old-Coot-Grandpa” was too ungainly for the marquee.

“Dirty Grandpa” is credited to one writer but feels like it was penned by a group of drunken frat boys on the beer and bourbon binge. What, I guess, is supposed to be a funny look at aging and making the most of the time we all have, is reduced to a spectacle of a once revered thespian calling his lawyer grandson “Alan Douceowitz.” If this were a drinking game where you took a shot every time De Niro says “vagina” (and all of that word’s derivations) or any number of other words I can’t print here you’d have alcohol poisoning half an hour in. It mistakes politically incorrect “did he really just say that” jokes for actual humour.

4. The Huntsman: Winter War: Over long, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War“ drones on for almost two hours until the narrator (Liam Neeson) reappears. As his dulcet tones close the movie with something to the effect of the story may be over “but fairy talks never end,” it doesn’t seem so much like an ending as it does a threat that they might make a sequel to this mess.

5. Independence Day: Resurgence: It’s the kind of movie where you root for the aliens, hoping they make quick work of humanity because that would be less painful than sitting through one more minute of this mess. You don’t watch “Independence Day: Resurgence,” you subject yourself to it because even though it could be the end of humanity there’s no real humanity here, just empty heroics.

I really hated “Independence Day: Resurgence.” It’s a popcorn flick but this popcorn stale. “Independence Day”? More like “Groundhog Day.” We’ve seen it before and better.

6. Mother’s Day: “Mother’s Day” is filled to over flowing with faux heart warming moments, like a Lifetime movie on steroids. It hits all the emotional hot buttons—a dead wife who also happens to be a veteran, abandonment, first love, an awkward dad, kids growing up too fast—and tops off the whole thing with two, count ‘em two, dewy-eyed American sweethearts, Julia Roberts and Jenifer Aniston. To avoid troubling the audience with actual human emotions director Garry Marshall runs the whole thing through The Sitcomizer™ to ensure maximum blandness and erase the possibility that viewers will see something they haven’t already witnessed a hundred times before.

7. My Big Fat Wedding 2: It’s hard not to sound cynical and grumpy when reviewing a movie like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” It is a fourteen-years-in-the-making sequel to one of the biggest grossing romantic comedies of all time, and while it has much of the warmth as the original, it feels warmed over. It’s a catch-all for every crowd-pleasing clichés about big families. Let’s teach an old guy how to use a computer! Kids leaving home! Wait, there’s an inappropriate aunt! Battle of the sexes! No stereotype goes unturned in a screenplay (once again penned by Vardalos) that feels as bloated as an overstuffed Yemista.

8. Norm of the North: There will be a time in the near future when “Inside Out” and “Norm of the North” will be listed on your Netflix queue as animated films, but make no mistake they don’t belong in the same category. Where “Inside Out” is a happy serving of eye candy topped with a transcendent story, “Norm” seems to exist not as a story but simply as a vessel for cute characters.

“Norm of the North” is as entertaining as you’d think a children’s cartoon starring Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo will be. It’s cut rate Saturday morning cartoon level animation—some scenes don’t even look fully rendered—that relies on kid-friendly characters rather than story or jokes. In other words, if “Inside Out” is the Ferrari of kids animation, sleek and well-made, “Norm of the North” is the Edsel.

It assumes children don’t need entertainment that works on any other level than, ”Where can I buy a cute stuffed Norm doll?” Despite its family friendly messages about friends, family and loyalty, the movie doesn’t try and disguise its cynical heart. At the spokesbear audition Vera gushes over Norm, “He’s cute and marketable, it’s perfect.” You can only imagine a similar conversation in the design phase for this movie. Also, is Norm’s description of Mr. Greene as “a creepy one note villain” dialogue from the script or a passage from the stage directions that accidentally made it into the film? It’s hard to know.

9. Suicide Squad: Tired of good guys? The Captain Americas, ‘yer Iron Men or Wondrous Women? If their virtuous acts and heroic posing are wearing thin or not to your liking, along comes a crew of anti-heroes willing to bend the rules to protect the planet. For a group of psychopaths they sure seem to be OK people. The worst thing they do—minus the wholesale carnage the government allows them to create—is go temporarily AWOL for a drink in between battles. Over cocktails they discuss life, love and motivations. There are rom coms with more edge.

On the plus side “Suicide Squad” doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as “Batman v Superman.” On the downside director David Ayer took a premise that gave him permission to go as far overboard as he wanted and yet the movie feels familiar, like it is trying to echo the very movies it should be an antidote to.

10. Zoolander 2: I usually avoid the scatological in my reviews but suffice to say any movie whose best joke involves the morphing of the word “faces” into feces over and over, that features a hotel made of “reclaimed human waste” and subtitles itself with “No. 2” is really asking for it.

To put it more delicately, villain Mugato marvels at how “super white hot blazingly stupid” Derek is, and you’ll do the same thing about the film. Stupid can be OK if it’s funny but “Zoolander 2” leaves the laughs on the runway.

Special Mention: Knight of Cups: Sometimes it can be hard to be a Terrence Malick fan. At their best the director’s poetic films are soulful investigations of the human spirit. His greatest movies—“Tree of Life,” “Badlands”—are masterworks of spiritual introspection but his worst work crosses the lane into pretention in a way that makes Kanye West’s Twitter account look humble. It can be a struggle to actually enjoy some of his work, but never have I battled with a Malick movie the way I did with “Knight of Cups.” Fought to stay in my seat until the end. It’s a cure for insomnia not unlike watching expensive, glossy paint dry. I gave “Knight of Cups” one out of five stars because there is something there. I’m just not sure what it is and I’m not sure Malick does either. Tedium, thy name is “Knight of Cups.”

  • Touncdowh! That’s a really cool way of putting it!