Greetings readers, and Happy New Year!
2016 has come to a close, and this blog is almost officially one year old. This year consisted of a variety of content, most of which has been well received. One of the biggest parts of this journey has been determining what I want the blog to focus around. Given that my content this year has been heavily focused on film reviews, and that it is something I am very passionate about, this piece will be dedicated to the best and worst films of 2016. This year has seen many great films, many downfalls, and even a few surprises here and there. With that, this will not be a simple ranking of best and worst films, but the most noteworthy films in unique categories I have chosen.
Now, when I say "Best and Worst of 2016", it means the best and worst of the films that I reviewed. You see, I don’t spend full weekends going to my local theater and catching all the latest releases. I see films that I want to see, and some films simply aren’t worth my time. I’m a senior in high school, and I don’t have time to catch every new release each week. To add to that, Huntsville is a fairly small city, so limited release movies are rarely in theaters where I live. I’m sure that there are films out there which are far worse than the "worst" on this list, and the same can be said for films better than the "best" on this list. These are simply chosen among the films I reviewed on the blog this year, and this is by no means my definitive list of best and worst movies of 2016.
Biggest Surprise: Arrival and Zootopia
Both of these films have something to offer beyond their marketing and trailers, and each in a unique way.
Zootopia is a simple talking animal crime noire movie on the surface, but it tackles a slew of social issues facing the world today. It sends a powerful message to both adults and children in a very subtle way, all while delivering a beautiful, emotional, and hilarious animated film.
Arrival is a sci-fi blockbuster with the powerhouse filmmaking talent of an Oscar winner. The way it so smartly used sci-fi in a year littered with mindless action blockbusters made it a breakout hit among critics and audiences. It captures human emotion in such a creative and timeless way that it will surely be a film anyone can relate for decades to come.
The reason these two films are a tie is because they both meet this category's criterion so well—they surprised me. Both surprised me in different ways which made this decision very tough. For two films that stood out in a great year of filmmaking, they both deserve this accolade.
Biggest Let-Down: Free State of Jones
This film was beaming with potential, and could have been one of the greatest films to release this year. It had great acting talent, and Matthew McConaughey for crying out loud! It also explored a very obscure portion of American history; some Confederates during the civil war who led an insurgence and sided with the Union behind enemy lines. It was a new angle to a war which has been viewed up until now simply as good vs evil (at least in film), and that no one on either side expressed a little bit of discourse.
What we got was a film with a great opening twenty minutes, and the remaining two hours were nothing but filler with stale acting, a boring story, little to no action, and speech after speech after speech from Matthew McConaughey. It’s the first film of his in awhile where I feel he brings almost no charm, something he’s known for as an actor. To his credit, he doesn’t have good writing or good characters on his side, either.
Free State of Jones is watchable, but it is a film which I walked out of feeling depressed, disappointed, and wanting. Thus, it is 2016’s biggest let down for me.
Best Superhero Film: Deadpool
Marvel properties undoubtedly topped the list of superhero flicks this year. Though Marvel Studios rolled out many great products like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, I believe the honor of best superhero film goes to Deadpool, a movie whose rights belong to a different studio entirely.
Deadpool had almost everything going against it; an R-rated comic book movie starring a somewhat obscure superhero released in early February and distributed by 20th Century Fox. But, this would go on to be many moviegoers’ favorite superhero movie of 2016, landed one of Marvel’s biggest releases ever, and became the #1 grossing R-rated movie ever.
What puts Deadpool on top is its simplicity. It is not a massive comic book movie with over a dozen characters, trippy action sequences, extensive lore, and iconic locations. It’s a small film that takes place in a bad neighborhood in Vancouver of all places. It utilizes grounded action sequences with lots of practical effects. This grounded feel is much thanks to the director, Tim Miller, a genius in visual and practical effects. The R-rating allows the film to explore areas where other films of the genre cannot with PG-13. It allows a full range of emotion, comedy, gore, and crude humor, which, like it or not, makes the film feel more real and genuine. I can’t believe I’m saying this about Deadpool, but the film feels more personal to me than other films of the genre this year for these reasons, making it my favorite superhero film of 2016.
Best Animated Film: Kubo and the Two Strings
2016 was a great year for animation lovers like myself. At the end of the day, the accolade for 'best' goes to Kubo and the Two Strings. The film shows what Laika is truly capable of from both a story and creative standpoint. The way the film captures family conflict feels more genuine than the likes of Disney, and the simplicity of the story makes it all the more relatable. The stop-motion animation is stunningly gorgeous and makes such an arduous task seem effortless on the big screen. It is birthed from strenuous work on behalf of a creative, persistent team, which makes it deserving of the title of 'best'.
Worst Film: The Accountant
*Ben Affleck's expression in the still above perfectly describes this movie.
Of the movies I reviewed this year, the ones competing for this spot were Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad (I was too nice to this film in my review), Hail, Caesar!, Free State of Jones, and The Accountant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are far worse films which received a theatrical release this year, but among the ones I saw, The Accountant ranks the worst.
At the end of the day, every other film on the 'worst' list at least gave me something memorable. The Accountant has nothing; no substance, no charm, not a hint of life in it. The acting is rubbish, the plot is confusing, there isn't a single action scene to redeem itself, and it’s a total waste of good actors. It has the perfect premise to be a good action thriller, but foolishly throws that opportunity out the door because it is so haphazardly mishandled.
If you want to hear more about The Accountant, you can read my review, but among the films I saw this past year, it is without a doubt the worst.
Best Film: Manchester By The Sea
This hallowed spot was a race between La La Land, Arrival, and Manchester By The Sea. All of these films are great, human, and unique. What made me toss Arrival was the fact that Manchester and La La Land both feel more grounded than the sci-fi drama. If you read my La La Land review, you would know that I feel it has a few flaws. Had these flaws been absent, it definitely would have been my favorite film this year, but that position has to go to Manchester By The Sea, instead.
Manchester By The Sea is an utterly human character study of Lee Chandler, played by the now honorable Casey Affleck. Affleck’s powerhouse performance feels so natural, it is as though I’m watching human interaction as it naturally plays out. Kenneth Lonergan genuinely captures trauma in his directing and writing, as it is the epicenter of the film’s story. It is a film about life itself, and appropriately feels like stepping into the life of its main character. The film has no strict three-act structure, no definite climax or resolution, and is open to interpretation of it’s preceding and succeeding events. This only adds to the life-like feeling which radiates from the film. The aesthetic of the film compliments Lonergan's genius with rich cinematography and music. Though it deals with emotionally heavy issues, it is one of the most charming movies I've ever seen because the audience can connect with the characters like they were lifelong friends. It is because human nature is captured so elegantly in great performances, writing, and directing, that it is my favorite film of 2016.
Looking back at all the films I reviewed made me realize how many movies I saw this year, and how much this blog really pushed me to get out and see more movies. With 2016 behind us, there are many more exciting stories to look forward to in 2017 which I can’t wait to discuss with you all. If there is a film you would like me to review at my discretion, remember you can make requests by emailing me at the address provided in the Contact page.
Thank you all for reading this year! Be on the lookout for more content to follow very soon.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; January 2017