Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 on Film

All the 2016 releases I saw, from worst to best. Enjoy- and thanks to all for reading this year.

Don't Breathe

It says a hell of a lot about a film that it can be both worse made and less unforgivably contemptuous than the next two picks. Don't Breathe does not understand how to make us empathize with characters and decides to contrive a ridiculous kidnapping sub-plot so that we root against the 'villain' whom has been set upon by 3 thieving little shits. 

These 'heroes' are both inept and utterly insufferable, combining every irritating young character trait under the sun for a trio which are genuinely more offensive to the eyes and ears than Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman

With bland direction, unforgivable waste of a usable concept and several scenes that fail in every way to create suspense- instead just sewing a seed of frustration and anger- I loathe Don't Breathe. It takes a lot to topple the self-indulgent tedium of It Follows as worst horror flick of the decade thus far... but this may have just clinched it. 
  
The Girl on the Train

Jesus fucking christ. You know the next film was very nearly at the bottom of the list (not for its impressive technique, but the contempt with which it was presented) but director Tate Taylor clinched it with quite possibly one of the most aimless and bland thrillers I've ever seen. 

Emily Blunt does her best but her 'performance' is just a lot of poorly-handled winging the director could not hope to give any goal or drive. The twists are as vapid and pointless as any of its ineptly handled action sequences. Its trailers were shamelessly fronting the 'sex-sells' gimmick despite the fact that it was being sold as a 'feminist' movie. 

How? How is blatant exploitation of your attractive female leads constantly throughout all your trailers remotely feminist? How indeed is a movie who's trio of central female characters are all ostensibly 'bad' people through their actions or utter ineptitude in the face of smarter and stronger male villains in any way feminist? This is as bad as it gets- and boy is it fucking disgraceful. 

Civil War

Where to begin? Marvel's characteristically schizophrenic action sequences in which you can never tell what the hell's going on? The agonizing acting in which even Robert Downey Jr looked like he was phoning it in? The hilarious attempts at vapid exposition to pad out what was effectively a script of five big fight scenes and bland crap in-between to make us feel like we'd seen a film? The gross, unforgivable fact that the film seemed to begin and end with literally nothing changed after years worth of build up and the promise of a conclusive chapter in the Iron Man & Cap saga?

For me, Civil War only drew so much ire many hours after I'd seen what at first appeared to be just another blase, tedious superhero action flick with too many characters and no enough going on to pass between them. Then I remembered that because of this insane lack of depth or storytelling- the film had literally invented its only interesting plot point in the form of Hydra killers that could take out the team easy as hell. I was physically frightened for characters I didn't give a shit about if only because the movie had spent an hour developing this sub-plot that could actually harm them and present palpable threat in a world where literally nothing matters. What did the geniuses over at Marvel do?

The most cowardly thing ever: They said "The killers were actually dead- but that doesn't matter because the real twist is over here please ignore our literally repulsive writing and give us more of your money!

They made up an hour of plot only to throw it away so they could pad out the run-time. This is, without a doubt, the most insulting thing I've ever been exposed to as a film-goer. I'm not 'personally wounded'- I don't actually give a shit- but on a basic level this is one of the worst things ever. Marvel's Civil War is one of the very worst films I've ever seen- and this is the sole reason. Do us all a favor: Dig a deep hole, die in it, and then keep fucking digging.


The Nice Guys

John Boy. John Boy John Boy John Boy. Shane Black isn't exactly a master-genius-auteur director but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was (if in some places irritating) at least fun as fuck and knew what it was doing. The Nice Guys spends over an hour riding high at the top of this list and then they introduce a character clearly for his looks and it shows: John Boy is the kind of made-up fantasy villain little kids dream of and the producers clearly wanted us to do other stuff over because outside of a nonexistent persona he's the most misused, inconsistent and abundantly awful villain I've seen this year. Just badass for the sake of being badass- but then of course easily downed by the hero the second the story calls for it. Unforgivable stuff- and from such and entertaining start it was a real shame to see this one slide down the drain. Can only hope Black's return to the Predator franchise redeems him. 


  Free State of Jones

Y'now at this point I do totally ignore Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB ect etc because, in the end, the only opinion that ever matters is your own. That being said: Its deeply edifying to see that nearly all of the review sites around did not bow into this boring period-piece headed by a big A-list star. Inexplicably poor direction and dire pacing leave Free State of Jones dead in the mud- no matter how interesting its story may be. 


The Neon Demon

Nicholas Winding Refn's film-making has become increasingly irritating over the years. From gritty roots in Pusher up through the slightly more malleable style of Bronson and finally through to Drive: The apotheosis of what he brings to the silver screen with a snazzy blend of poetic ideas and grounded criminal drama. Its a fantastic piece of work- but perhaps its made the man's head a little too big. 

The features that have followed have been increasingly 'artsy' and detached themselves from conventional narrative and cinematic ideas in favor of exploring something new. New and very poorly handled, I might add, and The Neon Demon is thus far the apotheosis of this strand of his career. Its dull, lifeless, distractingly stylized and descends into genuinely frustrating pseudo-intellectual twist territory near the end because I can only assume Refn thought that's what Horror films have to do in order to achieve their third act gut-punch of terror. In the real world: The only Horror here is that its 2 hours long. 

Deepwater Horizon

It infuriates me that I have to defend myself by saying that I do indeed care for the 11 men that lost their lives during the real-life tragedy this film is based on. It takes a truly malicious kind of person to fuel their own insecure affection for a movie by calling others heartless Nazi bastards (?!? and ect) for not connecting with it in the same way.

I walked out of DH saying that I'd much rather have watched a Micheal Bay Transformers movie- for at the very least he pads out their insulting run-times with plot and in doing so builds excitement for the action to follow. Somehow the director made a movie during which an hour is spent on an exploding oil rig explosively detailing its gradual descent into destruction with massive pyrotechnics going of left and right hopelessly dull. The only film I've ever almost fallen asleep in- and such a shame considering the promise of its exceptionally handled trailer. 

  Hell or High Water

Not necessarily a bad film, in fact Hell or High Water is certainly a well crafted revisionist western. That being said, its a monotonous bore which tries and utterly fails to nab the magic the Coens hit with No Country for Old Men and worse still does that arrogant film thing of just assuming that its just as good if not better. A mediocre waste of time which, despite several twists and turns, feels like 120 minutes of holding pattern. 


  Inferno

Entertaining in its utter stupidity, Inferno closes the trilogy that consisted of a very out-of-place Tom Hanks reciting lines of exposition ad-nauseum to explain things that nobody in the audience either knows about or cares about. Its a tiresome cavalcade of pretty locations in Italy in which many either painfully obvious or perplexingly convoluted twists take place all for the sake of spicing up its messy plot.

The final 'action' sequence is genuinely frustrating in how shoddily its directed. That bad. A real shame that a flick this bad can make it so far past the bottom of a list like this.

10 Cloverfield Lane

What emerged from the best trailer I've seen in a long time was yet another film that knew it was above average- the worst kind. I don't mean to sound malicious here but I'm so sick and tired of that class between the shit like Civil War and movies handled with genuine care and craft that understand how to make a film and as a result spend the entire run-time showing us they're not terrible, rather than actually trying to do good. 10 Cloverfield Lane forces a lack of dialogue going in just so it can pretend that it does visual storytelling. It sets it in a restricted setting to gain that 'edge' over the big blockbusters of the year. It tries and fails to pull off claustrophobic drama because its trying to hard to be The Thing or 12 Angry Men or Panic Room

When I pay for a ticket, I expect nothing. I don't demand good films and thus don't usually get mad when they're terrible. I do, however, want the creators to have a little self-respect: To break out with something separate from the rest of cinema so that, even if its garbage, I've had a new experience. 10 Cloverfield Lane thinks its the best restricted set film ever made. Its not. It is every restricted set film ever made, but worse. 

The Jungle Book

Ugh. Where to start? Its above the previous picks because the animation was absolutely gorgeous- but outside of that we have really unemotive faces on the animal characters, horrifically out of place brutality, shoe-horned in songs and more pretensions than the group of people who hate Tree of Life say Tree of Life has.  

To explain: We have heavy-handed messages that fall flat from the outset but are painfully pursued throughout and if anything don't make sense. Why do the wolves rule? Why are the other animals OK with this? Whats with all the pointless comic characters that add nothing and waste time I could spend getting closer to the credits? Whats with the pointless 3 minute cameo of SJ?

Most of all: Pretensions directed as us as an audience. I don't want to compare the films but I will say that this recent re-telling basically took all the beats the animated Jungle Book hit with perfect poise and just expects us to think its done the same thing. At one point Bagheera asks Baloo to talk to Mowgli- since he's the "only one he listens to". The same line cropped up in 1967's version, except Mowgli was visibly enamored with Baloo and the film had taken the time to give the line the context it needed to make fucking sense. Here the two have just met and kind of got along and suddenly Baloo is the light of the little kid's fucking life. No. No. This shit infuriates me in films, leaving gaps we're expected to jarringly cross for the sake of letting bad writers leech of of works they take for granted we've seen and understand. Its asinine, contemptuous and just makes me hate everything this film stands for as a re-make: By doing something new but still prancing about in the dead man's shoes pretending they're still as pretty as they always were despite the stench of corpses. 

Christopher Walken redeems it a little though. What a man.

Suicide Squad

One of the worse acted films of the year, Suicide Squad introduced us to Jared Leto's abysmal Joker iteration: The kind of character that is designed to chew the scenery in a natural, entertaining way that is de-railed utterly when an actor we know packs some serious skill delivers every second of movement and dialogue with an infuriating arrogance. I counted at least one moment for each character that was poorly executed to the point of wincing- and what's worse: The film was very clearly written around a few interesting DC villains fighting at the end, with the tedious intro segment desperately cobbled together to fill the time beforehand.

A lot of people have called this a mess but I think the exact opposite: I think its 130 minutes of straight-forward action that could easily have been cut down to a succinct and effective 90. Character and plot introductions are done and re-done as tediously as possible and I genuinely forgot that I had seen it a few minutes after we walked out of the cinema.

All bad, right? What saves it? Well: Suicide Squad was fun whilst it lasted. Irritating in places- but at least it had the spine to pursue a new story and the skill to pull of some of the most impressive action set pieces of the season. Also: Diablo. The most interesting character I've yet seen come out of any superhero adaptation- the super-powered pyromaniac presents a well-handled arc and actual intrigue in the form of a character who is unwilling to use their powers because of a tragedy caused at their own hands. That alone is better than any of the thinly-veiled shit Civil War pretended drove its power limits story-line- and kept me more than invested throughout. 


Passengers

Passengers held a lot of fascinating ideas about isolation and exploration which it failed to explore for the sake of a sci-fi romance between two of the biggest stars out there. Gratuitous and grabbing for cash as quick as it can, it did generate a decent sense of scale and spectacle around the ship. Its no Solaris (and I hope it wasn't trying to be) but there's very little wrong with this one outside of its bland mediocrity. 

Green Room

Despite Jeremy Saulnier's penchant for immediate and brutal violence, Green Room failed to hit me on pretty much all other fronts. Its characters quickly became meat for the slaughter but the speed in which the director kills them off failed to generate any sense of tragedy or loss or, well: Anything. Its a remarkably hollow flick which amounts to quite literally nothing by the end. If it wasn't for the craft with which most of it was pieced together, this would be a hell of a lot lower.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice

By no means better written than what can effectively be called its Marvel clone- and packing a moment of what the actual fuck when Batman just decides to stop pummeling Superman because he heard his mum's name- and then immediately acts like the man he's known for all of 15 minutes (the entirety of which they spent fighting) is his best friend. 

That being said, I did find both the plot and discussion on a hero's power better developed and realized here than in Marvel's attempt. There, a building was smoking for a few seconds and then 'THEY MUST PAY', plus a meek reference to Age of Ultron. In Dawn of Justice, we get far better context for their conflict: A well-acted characters speaking on what they have lost on a personal, human level- as well as court tribunals bringing Superman to justice for his collateral damage.

It loses this intrigue and remarkable depth in a murky sea of cringe-inducing dialogue and something about a big Doomsday creature the film pulls out of its arse- but at the very least the actors try in this one bar an utterly insufferable Lex Luthor (in a mortifying turn by a hopefully regretful Jessie Eisenberg) and the first half is both genuinely interesting, well produced and packs some gorgeous visuals courtesy of the always-on Zack Snyder. Pretty bad, but certainly not awful- and with Synder's visual sensibility and much more considered look at character and power than his other films this is easily the most bearable (if only through its interesting ideas) superhero flick of a year filled with mostly awful superhero flicks. 

The Birth of a Nation


By no means a bad picture and far from the maypole of controversy it seems to be, Nation ends really well and for the most part holds strong throughout despite some disheveled direction. Far more worthy than the movie its namesake is provocatively taken from: D.W Griffith's 1915 silent film that spends 3 hours glorifying the KKK


High-Rise

High-Rise was not a very good film, nor was it a very bad one- and I can't for the life of me explain why. Ben Wheatley's utterly compelling dystopian fuck-fest passes your mind around a gentle string of glory holes and I couldn't find a single fault, or favorite, in its mesmerizing method. The man did something different and startlingly dynamic with cinema this year... and I can only hope he hones this currently neutral technique and brings us something truly special in the near future. Best of luck.

Gods of Egypt

As well as Dawn of Justice, I saw very little to loathe as so many others did in Gods of Egypt . It was an earnest take on Egyptian mythology with admittedly strange robotic god monsters and Hollywood white-washing that, whilst a terrible principle, didn't distract me from the movie at any point. Its nearly the 'worst' film I saw this year on a technical level- but what I love about it, and if anything what saves it, is confidence. Plain and simple. Gods of Egypt wore its simplicity, absurdity and distracting surreality on its sleeve from beginning to end;  and with the all-too-safe shite of Civil War and the unbelievably pretentious Jungle Book in mind, we could all use a thing like that. 

You can shoot the best film ever made- but if it outwardly knows and shows how great it is, or on the other hand is too meek to embrace its own existence- then the experience really loses something. Gods of Egypt knew what it was and, rather than camping it up or shying away- it took confidence it what it had created and ran with it. Bar the justifiably horrid white-washing I see literally nothing to despise about this stupid, stupid movie- and sadly that's a key point in its favor against other Hollywood Blockbusters this year. More of this please. 

Rouge One

What Rouge One boils down to is this: The first two thirds are pretty dull by most standards save a few memorable action sequences and that bit on the really long ladder with the song (may be remembering something else there). 

That in mind the final half-hour or so is superb: Loads of fun and an often fantastically assembled array of action moments on display- topped with a Darth Vader scene which ranks among my very favorite pieces of Star Wars period. 

Moral of the story? Watch it once, then only come back for a clip of the end and the bit with IP Man.

The Magnificent Seven

A film in which director Anton Fuqua spends the best part of 130 minutes sucking off Seven Samurai and reminding me of a whole bunch of fantastic westerns I want to watch again. Saasgard is the worst, most self-obsessed non-TV performance in a year that also featured Jessie Eisenberg's Lex Luthor and we have a worst scene contender in the form of D'Onofrio's death: an unsettlingly awquard long take of his face which I assume was meant to capture the protracted violence of Kurosawa's climax? All the more out of place considering that bar that one moment Fuqua took the polar opposite approach with lightning fast gun-play. Speaking of which, The Magnificent Seven makes it this high for its viciously entertaining action set-pieces, by far the best of the year.


The Girl with All the Gifts

Starting off with some of the most intelligent storytelling in recent mainstream memory and drawing an astonishingly vivid world out of its tiny budget- The Girl with All the Gifts is basically The Last of Us but better. The only horror film I've seen in ages to make me physically squirm in my seat and, as a result, a seminal lesson to genre film-makers who need to learn that caring about a character makes us infinitely more affected by the threat that pursues them. Ending was rubbish, though. 

Cafe Society

Imagine, if you will, a good Woody Allen film. Its a rare sight these days, in fact most days- so to have sub-par actors I didn't know had it in them turn in memorable performances and the script sizzle with great lines and genuinely funny moments was great to see. The star of the show was however easily Vittorio Storaro- who's opening shot will quite literally up-turn your entire expectation of the film to come. Yes its re-treating the steps of The Apartment with a contrived addition of complexity- but it finds a different and surprisingly restrained place to end the story... and that's the last thing I expected that from Woody Allen.

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson

Sully quickly prompted me to search out its director and it was no surprise that the steady hand of Clint Eastwood was guiding the way in one of the more personable and compelling biopics I've seen in a while. Anchored by sympathetic direction and an honest story it really is compelling whilst it lasts, despite the distinct lack of later impact. Well-told.

Nocturnal Animals

Whilst it did drag on and left me wondering why the Amy Adams segments were even necessary at times, Nocturnal Animals tried something truly special this year.

Tried is of course the key word, but amidst some expertly handled physically uncomfortable drama and sublime technique in blocking and editing throughout it is director Tom Ford's earnest attempt at something loftier than near anything else this year attempted which makes his second feature stand out from the pack.

In short: Andrei Rublev. The ending of that film brings all the threads together without words for the most transcendentally powerful scene in cinema. It achieves something beyond both the language of film and that of our real world for an impact I dare say is closer to divine than mortal.

Ford's conclusion to Nocturnal Animals tries the same thing. Its blatantly obvious- and the fact that it is so perceptibly there is what makes it so commendable. Its an impossibly tough task to take everyone up out of their seats and off to the infinite with a simple scene in a movie- and Ford's startling ambition marks him out as an artist to watch in the coming years. I may not have been remotely moved by his first try- but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't itching for the man to have another go. 

Port of Call

Harking back in part to Kurosawa's police procedural High & Low, Port of Call is Hong Kong cinema's dark, dingy answer to Se7en that drops the stunning set-piece sequences for the frankness and honesty that I love about international cinema. I picked it up on a plane flying EVA and if not for that would have never even heard of it- but there is something about its gritty realism and still pumping heart that doesn't falter below the layers of dirt and grime that I just can't shake. 

Much like Kurosawa's piece, the disarming simplicity of the ending (identically set between two-way glass) is stunning to behold. Why do people kill other people? Why would a guy to choke a girl, shear off her flesh, tear out her lungs and cut her into tiny little pieces? Why would he then just turn himself in, before any evidence can be amassed or suspects named?

Why indeed.

Deadpool

The only genuinely, consistently good Superhero film I've ever seen- Deadpool is another feature brimming with confidence. I found the fourth wall breaks that irritated a few I talked to endearing for their sheer nothingness- the lack of importance the film places upon them whilst earlier works like the aforementioned Kiss Kiss Bang Bang would shove their 'cleverness' down our throats each time (bar some gradually obnoxious opening credits).

I love its musical stylings, the fact that the action is sublimely directed and we can see and feel every strike and shot throughout, the non-stop humor, breathless pacing and compelling non-linear structure that remarkably manages to hold us at one set-piece for about an hour through deftly positioned flashbacks and action sequences. 

Reynolds is great, the writing is excellent and its currently only film I've ever gone back to the cinema to see again. A shame (as little as I think it matters) that the main critics' debate focused so strongly on the big-budget superhero flicks of this year- when in reality I'd say Deadpool is far more worthy of our words [and time] than all of them combined, and will be for what looks like many years to come...


Allied

With what I'd call his very best film, Robert Zemeckis created a loving tribute to 40s cinema in the first half followed by an engaging and often evocative spy thriller in the second. Featuring several inspired flourishes of direction, subtly sizzling romance, fascinating ideas and gorgeous photography- its cracking entertainment that only fails in terms of some very awquard scenes of violence. Great fun.

Arrival

Denis Villenueve has done it again, this time with a smart sci-fi which smacks a little of The Tree of Life in its opening segments and then spirals off into one of the most intelligent offerings the genre has seen in recent years. I can only hope that he keeps making one film per year as good as he has because the man is easily the finest director working today and us getting a really great Blade Runner sequel could make me dive into the 2020s a happy man. 

Also: I love the fact that despite everyone knowing about the Aliens in the trailer, Villenueve waits and builds them up so that we can have a genuinely masterful long-take revelation that sweeps towards the spacecraft in a gorgeous valley rolling with elusive mist and ringing with composing duo Andersson and Ulvaeus' fantastic soundtrack. Easily my favorite shot of the year. 


Embrace of the Serpent

A really special film, Embrace of the Serpent paces itself remarkably well- steaming through a very short two hours with exceptional patience and a plethora of truly memorable moments. 

It packs the finest cinematography of the year, photographing the Colombian jungle in luscious Black & White, that is constantly filled with an atmospheric mix of ambient sound which makes director Ciro Guerra's work a fantastically engrossing experience. 

What's more: We have an insanely dynamic dramatic flow- often dove-tailing from tranquil travel in the river to really unsettling, exciting and frightening moments of tension with the people we meet along the way. 

Based on two expeditions taking place 40 years apart and featuring the same shaman guide, Embrace of the Serpent finally features two standout performances by Nilbio Torres and especially the hilariously adamant Antonio Bolivar (both non-acting natives as the film depicts) as that shaman in 1907 and '47 respectively. They are uniquely great in the role and really help make it such a transcendent odyssey through the exotic jungle. Wonderful piece of work. 

1 comment:

  1. Stilllll haven't seen Embrace of the Serpent. I know I know! I enjoyed so many of the movies on your list. Great work here!

    ReplyDelete