Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Life, the Universe, and Everything: The year in review.

We've got a lot to get through this year..... from pioneering moviemaking techinques, to new frontiers in adult-oriented animation. And, of course, next year's gonna be HUGE, with some absolutely incredible looking franchise additions hitting your screens in the coming months! So hit the jump, and prepare yourselves for a deep dive back in time...

Well done on getting through 2016, the ultimate shit-show year in almost every sphere imaginable. Here in the UK, we left the financial security and cooperative hive-mind of the European Union; across the pond you bastards voted in Donald Trump as supreme leader; and violent conflict dominated the news around the globe. I think it's safe to say that 2016 will go down in history as one of the strangest, most important, and most depressing years in modern history.

In the world of film, however, it was fucking fantastic. So fantastic, you see, that I've struggled without end over the last week or so in order to figure out my best films list - and it may surprise you (or it may not, who knows) to know that it does include a couple of films that I've not seen on anyone's lists yet. There were, as I'm sure you'll agree, also some horrific misfires in there as well - and indeed some of the worst pictures I have ever seen. Before we get there, however,  I'm gonna run down the movies that we watched in cinemas month by month for your New Year's enjoyment. So sit back, relax, and continue sipping on that champagne - we're gonna turn the clocks back to January.

January

We kicked off January in rather unexceptional style with tremendously overrated dull Oscar-bait in the form of 'The Danish Girl', starring Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe. As per, to my mind, Redmayne gave another particularly underwhelming and emotionless performance - typical of 'drama school' amateurism - yet was still widely praised by critics. Perhaps the subject matter, that of an early sex-change pioneer, left many mainstream publications scared of criticism -  in the same way that 2013's awful '12 Years a Slave' was hailed as a masterpiece. 

Following on from this, we had David O'Russell's fantastic (albeit slightly underwhelming following on from 'American Hustle') 'Joy', starring a wonderfully expressive Jennifer Lawrence as a mop inventor from the 1990s - who developed a business empire. It's brilliantly optimistic, fun, and strangely poignant. And, on the 8th, we were given Tarantino's bloody fantastic 'The Hateful Eight' - a brutal, hilarious, and gripping western cum parlor piece; starring such favorites as  Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen in career besting roles. On top of this, it was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70, and projected in a 'roadshow' format in crazy-wide angles, with an interval. Truly one of the incredible highlights of the year!

Ryan Coogler's 'Creed' was also unexpectedly amazing - creating what has to be the only actual 'good' 'Rocky' movie there has ever been - with an incredible lead performance from Michael B Jordan, and buckets of style (including some of the best shots of the year) - this one was a huge hit with critics and audiences alike. And, likewise, Lenny Abrahamson's 'Room' was a standout piece: emotional, uplifting, and at times genuinely tense - almost as if it was two movies at once. Brie Larson's portrayal of a mother in captivity is perhaps one of the greatest of the year, and has been duly noted by critics and awards boards. 

And, just when you thought January couldn't be better, we were treated to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 'The Revenant' - starring peak DiCaprio as explorer Hugh Glass on a revenge mission against Tom Hardy through a frozen wasteland. Both incredibly beautiful (like unimaginably incredibly perfect), and brutally savage, it not only stood out in January, but in 2016 as a whole. 

Other features of the month included the overtly disappointing Charlize Theron vehicle 'Dark Places', the smart, funny, and enjoyable 'The Big Short', the unfunny and unlikable mess 'Dirty Grandpa' (more on that later *wink wink*), the godawful '13 Hours', and the shitty cash-grab that was 'Ride Along 2'.

We ended January with 'Youth': Paolo Sorretino's english-language drama starring Michael Caine. Although maligned slightly by critics upon release, it had that same Sorrentino je ne sais quoi that we're looking for in this kinda film - and definitely provided an interesting feature. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the colossally overrated 'Spotlight', which certainly did not deserve to even get close to a Best Picture nom. Another typical Oscar-Bait style story, 'Spotlight' was the worst thing a movie can be: boring. Despite containing some rather good performances, I cannot fathom how critics couldn't see through it  - and almost certainly will not stand the test of time in the same way as, say, 'The Revenant'

February

With January setting such a high bar for quality (as usual), February felt like a bit of a comedown - but still contained some standout gems. We started off with a dud - the spectacularly crap 'Dad's Army'. I'm not going to pretend that the vintage TV series is in any way funny - which it isn't (unless you're older than 70) - but this reboot was infinitely worse: quaint, childish, and antiquated. Don't get me wrong, it had it's charms, but that didn't mean to say it was good. We were then treated to a strange remake of Keanu Reeves's 'Point Break', this time starring Luke Bracey. The stunts were pretty stunning, as were some of the wide angle shots of wild landscapes - but the film itself left many, including myself, sorely disappointed by it's lack of imagination, brains, or acting ability - not to mention no discernible emotional center. 
Grimur Hakonarson's Scandinavian indie 'Rams' brought the first excellent film of the month: a clever, funny, and beautifully shot piece about two farming brothers and a disease epidemic. Highly recommended. Then it was back to mediocrity again with Brian Cranston's instantly forgettable drama 'Trumbo' - a film that had so much potential in development, but in execution lacked anything to differentiate itself from every other biography film released over the last decade.

Luckily for us, a superhero swooped in to save the day in the form of 'Deadpool' - the first and best superhero film of the year. In providing an R-rated, all-star comic-book adaptation, Tim Miller created a movie that had audiences all over the world laughing their asses off - and it paid off big at the box office. So big, in fact, that there's a slew of similarly pitched ideas being discussed and produced across the cinematic world. Whether or not this pays off remains to be seen. Aaaandddd, back to mediocrity: 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies', 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip', 'The Green Inferno', 'Jen and the Holograms', 'Zoolander 2', 'The Forest', 'Grimsby', and 'Concussion' all provided scores on the spectrum between terrible and kind of okay....

Luca Guadagnino's 'A Bigger Splash' showcased immensely powerful performances from the likes of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and Matthias Schoenaerts in a sexy, sun-baked, and intelligent slow drama that provided the perfect psychological afternoon out at the cinema. And 'Bone Tomahawk', Craig S. Zahler's Western-cum-cannibal-horror-thriller thingy, starring Kurt Russell, was a true highlight: thrilling, surprising, witty, and in the end gory as fuck. Don't be surprised if you see this one appearing later on. John Hillcoat's 'Triple 9' was also a surprisingly thrilling (and surprisingly bloody) heist movie: popcorn enough to pull in the box office receipts, and unique/well-made enough to lend itself to critical appreciation. 

March

March was a funny old month... As potentially the worst time to release a film (warring with February), we had some right old shite... but towards the end of the month, we also got some of the best of the year. The former included the spectacularly awful 'London has Fallen' - another half-assed melodrama that formed part of a trend in poor blockbusters this year. Starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman, and directed by Babak Najafi, it looked cheap (poor CGI and green-screening), was filled with the kind of cliches we last saw in the 80s/90s, and had a surprising amount of casual racism for a supposed big-budget hit...

In the hangover of this particular mistake, 'Goodnight Mommy' provided a huge wave of critical acclaim. Unfortunately, I myself never got round to seeing it, but it's worth mentioning on a hype level. This was followed by the Coens' spectacular 'Hail, Caesar!' - a film that pleased me to no end with it's whimsical charm, limitless imagination, and beautifully arranged palate. Starring a talented cast including Josh Brolin, George Clooney, and Scarlett Johansson, its bizarre red-herrings and seemingly unconnected sequences provided a perfect two hours of entertainment. It remains a question of whether it will make my top ten - but I highly recommend it to you nonetheless. 

Missed opportunity horror 'The Other Side of the Door', tedious animation 'Kung Fu Panda 3',  and unnecessary teen sequel 'Allegiant' once more engendered a tired sigh from audiences, who just weren't prepared for the onslaught of generic blockbusters that were going to come their way over the remainder of the year. Indeed, this was only strengthened by the horrific 'Fifty Shades of Black', a film which was so incredibly infantile and unfunny, that one wonders how it was able to get a release in the first place. And, yes, it's about exactly what you think it is...

If anything, Charlie Kaufman's excellent stopmotion clay adult animation curio 'Anomalisa' only served to compound this misery, with its endless barrage of sadness and regret. It was, however, a distinct highlight of the year - and an incredibly powerful showcase of what the medium can do when masterminded by a great talent. Following this, things began to pick up a little. Robert Eggers' 'The Witch' proved to be the 'It Follows' of this year: creepy, atmospheric, and tense - without a reliance on cheap scares. It was done so well, in fact, that it's found its way into many year-end lists. The first entry into a new 'Twilight Zone'-esque series of spin offs, John Goodman vehicle '10 Cloverfield Lane' was one of 2016s truly great screen surprises. Featuring incredible lead performers, an ingenious central mystery, and an ultimately terrifying third act; it was the rare horror that manages to soar at the box office, have hit viewer acclaim, and also manage to score a 12A rating. Bravo.

Likewise, Ben Wheatley's crazy, nihilistic adaptation of J.G Ballard's 'High Rise' turned my head with its Kubrickian sensibilities, and unheard of levels of carnage. It's certainly not for everyone, and proved heavily divisive, but if it's for you - then hell yeah it's for you. So great I just had to see it twice.

Ah, yes, with all that positive work in March, we'd all be content to just leave it there. Unfortunately not, as bland horror 'The Boy'; potential worst-of-the-year animation 'Norm of the North'; unfunny comedy 'Rock the Kasbah'; and crappy confused blockbuster 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' blitzed audiences with a barrage of awfulness. As a sidenote on 'BvS', I'm really quite a fan of the Ultimate Edition cut, and highly recommend viewing it if you get the chance - it's just that the theatrical cut had more gaping plot holes than it knew how to fill. By far not the worst superhero movie of the year, but not the best. Likewise, critical acclaim over 'Zootopia' was something I couldn't fathom. Forcefully politically correct to the point of reverse racism, unimaginative, rather unfunny, and altogether quite forgettable; this was not Disney's high point in any way (and Disney doesn't have many high points to aspire to if we're honest with ourselves).

Still, the month ended on a relative high with the release of Soda Pictures's paranoid, neon tinged thriller 'Disorder', starring a mentally scarred Matthias Schoenaerts as a schizophrenic bodyguard; and Pablo Larrain's deeply unsettling Chilean drama 'The Club' - a film about a group of former abusive priests.

April

Ah, April. You've come to rescue us from March, haven't you? At first, we may have doubted you, given your delivery of the celluloid realization of the color beige: 'Eddie the Eagle'. Indeed, this mostly untrue but still remarkably boring bio was hardly the movie we wanted, or the movie we needed. But you were truly forgiven when you gave us 'Victoria' - Sebastian Schipper's true one-take heist movie that straight out tells 'Birdman' to fuck off (I still love that movie).
A hallucinogenic, and incredibly intense two hours follow our cast from a clubs to rooftops to banks to deserted streets and more, whilst choreographing dancing, musical performance, shootouts, and a love story. And, indeed, as it progresses, the palate transforms from a neon orange into the blue light of day. A truly dazzling film.

And this continued with Ilya Naishuller's much maligned 'Hardcore Henry'. Shot in POV format, and featuring an impressive array of stunts, locations, and vivid imagination; 'Henry' was initially subjected to five star rave reviews at festivals, before being pushed into the one star category upon general release. That doesn't stop it from being an epic slice of action cinema, with a standout performance from all around awesome-master Sharlto Copely. I have a feeling you'll be hearing about this one later as well... 'Midnight Special' and 'Nasty Baby' were both, in their own ways, very good movies - although both rather flawed by constraints on ambition or tonal unpleasantness. Kevin Costner's piece of shite incoherent thriller 'Criminal' also released here - but I think we'd all like to forget about that.

And then came the emotionally searing 'Eye in the Sky' - an incredible film which suffered from the age-old poor promotion problem, and as such received little attention. Special shoutout to performances from Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul who made this an incredibly human movie about warfare. 'The Jungle Book' was pretty good as well. Nothing special, but a solid update of a beloved classic.

The month also saw the release of the first two volumes of Miguel Gomes' 'Arabian Nights' trilogy - a grown up, hallucinogenic, and often poignant head-trip into the state of a country. As a whole, the trilogy forms one of the finest viewing experiences of the year: despite its length, you won't be bored. 'Bastille Day' and 'Jane Got a Gun' provided some meh, inoffensive entertainment to see us through to the phenomenally overrated 'Captain America: Civil War', which aimed to out-fly 'Eddie the Eagle' in visualizing blandness to the nth degree. Bland palette. Bland story. Bland acting. And overall a typical Marvel shit-show. Say what you want about DC's failed efforts in 2016, they still did a lot better than Marvel in terms of originality, style, and auteurism (although that's not necessarily saying much). 

The incredibly powerful and harrowing 'Son of Saul' rounded the month off, and brought us into May in a sonic-boom of emotion and signature style within a 4:3 aspect ratio. 

May

Let's just not talk about 'Bad Neighbours 2', okay? Lucile Hadzihalilovic's bizarre 'Evolution' provided an interesting, unsettling, and wonderfully unique vision of a world in which men are subjugated by women - and an especially merit-worthy one given the skill of the cinematography. Speaking of cinematography, Terrence Malick's 'Knight of Cups' proved just as stunning, and as utterly incomprehensible, as we'd expected it to be - leading many critics to theorize that his reign as one of Hollywood's top auteurs is almost over. Still... it's some good eye candy.

'Everybody Wants Some!!' proved to be one of the most overrated flicks of 2016, with hoardes of people raving about a film in which literally nothing happens except a staging of your uni years, except in 1980. This was done almost in the same way as 'Boyhood', where sheer boredom was magicked up by 12 years of the same talentless actor performing mundane actions, such as going to school or drinking alcohol. That too got rave reviews. Either I'm missing something or people just really want to see another 'Dazed and Confused'.

Luckily for May, Jeremy Saulnier's 'Green Room' came around to save the day. Starring Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart, it was an oppressively tense, beautifully shot, and horrifically violent locked-room thriller that literally left audiences gasping for air - and had reviewers fearing a ban by the BBFC. Despite the furore, we were left with a nigh-on perfect action movie that stands beautifully beside 'Blue Ruin'. What's next? 'Red Rage'?

Another locked-room situation followed with the intriguing and powerful 'Mustang', which followed a group of women locked up in their own home. And, indeed, 'Sing Street' provided an excellent and fun coming-of-age musical, with some truly fantastic original songs written for the score. A must watch for 80s music fans. 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' and Jodie Foster's 'Money Monster' turned out to be unfortunately disappointing ventures (with the former being so terrible that one wonders why it was even conceived in the first place).

And, lastly, the month was ended with two godawful summer blockbusters that shouldn't have seen the light of day. Firstly, the sequel that nobody wanted: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows' - an instantly forgettable mess that you probably don't even remember being released. And, secondly, Duncan Jones's truly awful 'Warcraft: The Beginning', that may as well have been 'Warcraft: The End' given that it was A) shit, and B) catered almost solely to a demographic of lonely 15 year old Hentai fans. 

June

For years, 2016 had been timetabled in releasing schedules as a busy year for the blockbuster. But, alas, it turned out to have one of the most disappointing summer seasons in recent memory: devoid of any truly good big-budget films. We began June with 'Blood Orange', a kickstarted erotic thriller starring none other than Iggy Pop. Whilst not especially fantastic, it's certainly worth a watch - and is suitably entertaining, sexy, and twisty to be a roller-coaster ride best enjoyed with popcorn. Hell, it's better than a ton of the other movies we're gonna be talking about this summer. We also had 'The Nice Guys', Shane Black's hilarious PI comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe that proved to be an early summer hit: colorful, exciting, and intensely likable. 

Then there was 'Me Before You' - an intolerable rom-com. There was 'The Boss' - a mean-spirited, unfunny comedy as a vehicle for generally unfunny (if I'm being honest) Melissa McCarthy. And there was 'Mother's Day' - another intolerable rom-com. Hell, even Michael Moore's 'Where to Invade Next' was a disappointing exercise in whimsy that lacked the seriousness and poignancy of his earlier work (which we all now know was mostly bullshit anyway). We also had the phenomenally bad 'God's of Egypt' - a CGI mess destroyed by critics and ignored by the box office - quite rightfully. And, of course, who could forget about 'Independence Day: Resurgence'; a sequel so terrible that I couldn't even fathom how the script had gotten past studio execs.

Despite it being an awful month filled with awful early-summer releases, there were some standout moments of wonder. 'The Conjuring 2' was a marked improvement on its predecessor, with James Wan masterfully scaring us in his natural 'haunted house' environment. And Ciro Guerra created one of the greatest films of the year with his ambitious monochrome feature 'Embrace of the Serpent' - which followed adventurers on separate time paths as they cross the Amazon in search for knowledge. A truly hallucinogenic, powerful, and deep experience that I cannot urge you all to have more. 

July

So we're now halfway through the year, and blockbuster season should be in full swing. I wonder what delights June 2016 brought to cinemagoers? Not many, unfortunately. 

The list of boring, unoriginal, and talentless productions boggles the mind: 'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie', 'Central Intelligence', 'Now You See Me 2''The Legend of Tarzan', 'Ghostbusters' (and whilst I'm on it, I don't think it's appropriate to defend your shitty movie which has no merit whatsoever on the basis that it's main cast is solely female), 'Ice Age: Collision Course', 'The BFG', 'Finding Dory', 'Jason Bourne''Star Trek Beyond' (slightly better), and 'Keanu' (also slightly better).

Is this it, ladies and gentlemen? The punishment for our sins? Not one, not two, but 9 COMPLETE DUDS in one month! How can this be? Luckily there were two outstanding films that saved the month. Firstly, Mads Mikkelsen vehicle 'Man and Chicken' was a suitably absurdist and offbeat comedy following a group of sex obsessed brothers living in the woods. I know it sounds weird, and it is, but it's also endearing, funny, and strangely likable.

In contrast, we have Nicholas Winding Refn's 'The Neon Demon': a beautifully shot bundle of flickering artifice. Perhaps Refn's most perfect work yet, the Danish director was able to draw from his strengths exhibited in his Ryan Gosling collaborations, to create a highly controversial, surface-dominated, and wonkily sexual melodrama that enchanted me at the cinema - and proves one of the true highlights of the year. Good luck saving the summer though...

August

As the summer began to slowly fade, a string of late high-profile releases aimed to save the year's reputation (of course, we already know that beneath the surface 2016 was incredible, but for the general 'I go to the cinema once or twice a year' public, it definitely wasn't looking up). Right off the bat, we had David Ayer's 'Suicide Squad' - a film that perplexed me to no end. Supposedly grim enough to warrant a 15 rating here in the UK, but with the heart of a 12A movie, I could see where an excellent picture once was. The beautiful color scheme, exhilarating soundtrack, and some incredible characters were all there - but despite Ayer's insistence that this was his original vision - it felt butchered by comedic re-shoots and removal of complex material; not to mention the use of some of the worst villains in comic book history. 

And, of course, for many critics, 'Suicide Squad' spelled  the end of the DC extended universe. I'm yet to see the extended cut of this particular one, but if it plays up to the BvS one, then I'd heavily disagree. Again, I'm still backing DC over Marvel (especially seeing as 'Watchmen', my all time favorite superhero movie, is now official canon given a crossover story earlier in the year) but if either one is able to persuade me, I'm open to it. 

As with July, we can once again list the bland and disappointing blockbusters that didn't really please anybody: 'Nerve' (which had potential), 'Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates' (which didn't), 'Pete's Dragon' (which was more meh than terrible if I'm being honest), 'David Brent: Life on the Road', 'Swallows and Amazons', the godawful 'Nine Lives' - we'll be seeing you again later I suspect, the godawful 'War Dogs', and the godawful 'Mechanic: Resurrection'.

That said, once again, there were some standouts and interesting features as well. Blake Lively starred 'Jaws'-esque thriller 'The Shallows' that caused a critical stir with its fantastic tension, well-made single location shot, and incredible central performance. Todd Solonz's 'Wiener-Dog' provided an absolutely hilarious dose of nihilism that effectively countered the optimistic tone of the summer box office hits - and became oddly poignant as it went on to boot. David F. Sandberg's adaptation of his own viral short film, 'Lights Out', was a surprisingly good horror - not excellent, but featuring some decent ideas and cinematography. 'The Purge: Election Year' proved to be another entertaining entry in the B- ish-Movie franchise that's a cut above the rest; this time upping the social commentary to echo a very obvious target. And Andy Sandberg's 'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping' was a genuinely funny musical comedy: biting, consistently hilarious, and featuring some catchy songs.
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September

Time for some mending... with the worst cinema summer in recent years finally over, it was time to start the quality releasing once more. Beginning with Woody Allen's charming 'Cafe Society', starring Jesse Eisenberg - an intriguing and immaculately calculated period drama that proved slightly better than last years (still impressive to my mind) 'Irrational Man'. This was followed by Luke Scott's 'Morgan' - a film with huge potential as a terrifying psychological thriller, but translated to an ultimately boring humdrum SyFy sci-fi ball of schlock. 'Sausage Party' proved to be everything that we had hoped for and more: an insanely smart take-down of religion and the stupidities of modern culture. Horrifically profane, cathartically violent, and very possibly disturbing to normal human beings; this could go down as an animated classic in the future.

Mia Hansen Love's 'Things to Come' garnered critical praise for it's tender, heartfelt, and minimalistic portrayal of a life in destruction; 'Captain Fantastic' turned out to be a synthetic, overrated, and saccharine 'whimsical-coming-of-age-story-with-banjos-and-folk-music' type tale, which was nigh on unbearable; and 'Dont Breathe' turned out to be another immaculate horror. With it, Fede Alvarez beautifully reconstructed a 1980s-esque slasher movie with some incredible twists and turns - truly marking him out as one of the directors to turn to in the world of scares.

Both 'Hell or High Water' and 'Kubo and the Two Strings' proved to be mid-month winners with audiences and critics alike - combining immense skill in genre crafts of the past. And Adam Wingard's insane 'Blair Witch' became the scariest film of the year: a funhouse of trickery and suspense that forced me to hide behind my hands for around 40 minutes (and that's not something that anyone can do lightly).

'Bridget Jones's Baby' and 'The Infiltrator' were both shit (this was a real low year for Bryan Cranston, wasn't it?); and 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' became the most overrated film of the year: another bog standard coming-of-age tale set in the woods; which bizarrely has come Number one in many end of year lists. If anyone wants to explain this to me, then please be my guest. Rob Zombie's '31' was a rollicking, entertaining, and beautifully shot slasher game-show flick starring an absolutely killer performance from Richard Brake. Sadly trashed by critics for little discernible reason, I found it to be a real Halloween treat.

Studiocanal's documentary 'De Palma' painted an immensely informative and fascinating portrait of a cinematic icon; and 'Deepwater Horizon' was an above average thoughtful blockbuster about one of the most devastating man-made incidents in human history. Of course, Tim Burton misfired once more on the mediocre 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children', but Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano came to save the day with A24's 'Swiss Army Man'. Tackling the existential natures of humanity by way of a farting corpse was no easy ask, but somehow this movie managed it with poignancy, humor, and style. Bravo.

October

Why did all the horror films release in September and not October? It left the month feeling rather bare, to be honest. We started off with crappy blockbuster a la 2016 'The Girl on the Train' (let's leave that one alone now, eh); before moving onto thrilling Mel Gibson actioner 'Blood Father' - which infuriatingly showed that the man was capable of acting as well as hating the Jewish race. 

Jim Hosking's 'The Greasy Strangler' was a singularly disgusting, wholly original, and completely bizarre Dupieux-esque production; filled with the kind of idiosyncrasies that cult movie fans such as myself crave - a true must watch if you're on its wavelength. Louis Theroux's documentary 'My Scientology Movie' landed in the more psychadelic and strange category of doc: not adding too much extra to the wealth of information on Scientology; but providing some insight in just about the strangest way possible - you'll have to watch it and see. John Michael McDonagh managed to bridge the gap to big-name drama (a predictable move) with hilariously inappropriate results. I won't spoil any more, but it's definitely worth checking out. 

Andrea Arnold's 'American Honey' made tidal waves, and for good reason: it's absolutely incredible. A hallucinogenic, 4:3, 3 hour odyssey into America - this is one hell of a road movie that you've just gotta see. Quickly followed, of course, by Tom-Hanks-runs-through-rooms-explaining-the-plot thriller 'Inferno' - which really took the biscuit as the crappiest in a crappy trilogy. 'I, Daniel Blake' was a suitably harrowing insight into the welfare state, which left me in a perpetually bad mood for about a week; and Marvel's 'Doctor Strange' was a weirdly uninteresting 'Inception' knockoff. 

November

We're getting there guys, okay, and November saw some pretty ace releases. Those ace releases were not, as you might imagine, encompassing Ben Affleck's awful 'The Accountant'. A film so contrived and unbelievable that in my review, I simply described the plot. Next came Tom Ford's beyond incredible 'Nocturnal Animals' - a tense, stylised, and mysterious drama that had me amazed from the outset to about four or five days after the showing. If it flew under your radar, then consider it an obligation to go see it!

Amy Adams had a cracking year, starring in not just 'Nocturnal Animals'; but Denis Villeneuve's 'Arrival' - the best blockbuster of the year. Smart, human, and overwhelmingly emotional; 'Arrival' built up to a finale that gives the audience a collective realisation of a different view of life, and our place in the world. A truly magisterial piece that made me have to fight away tears - B.M.D's Hulk reportedly cried for 20 minutes after the credits rolled - I don't blame him. 

We also got the godawful 'Fantastic Profits and How to Milk Them', and the intriguing creature feature set on one stretch of road - 'The Monster' - another A24 flick, showing that they just don't put a foot wrong. 'Bad Santa 2' just proved why you shouldn't flog a dead horse: I only laughed once in the entire movie, and that was due to a joke that wasn't even a real joke. A true contender for the worst of the year (we'll have to see, won't we). And 'Allied' proved to be an interesting war movie for Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, it just wasn't unique or exciting enough to garner much critical praise. 

December

Ah. The sweet release of the end of the year. Through political strife, and all consuming conflict, we had battled through 2016 - not to mention the scores of awful blockbuster efforts. But it still had some life in it - with a whole month of releases to catch up on. Spike Lee's 'Chi-Raq' was a true achievement: a greek tragedy transported to modern day Chicago, and spoken in rap verse. Starring the best John Cusack performance I have ever witnessed - this one needs to be seen with your own two eyes.




Disney's 'Moana' turned out to be a lot better than I expected it to be: starring a strong female lead, a likeable story, and some imaginative animation - it was truly a vast improvement on the weirdly lauded 'Zootopia'. 'Jet Trash' proved an interesting backpacking thriller; and 'Office Christmas Party' was particularly terrible. We quietly received Nate Parker's 'The Birth of a Nation' due to a sexual abuse scandal from earlier in the year. On that topic, over a decade ago, Parker was acquitted of sexual abuse charges. Acquitted. And innocent until proven guilty, right? But millenial 2016 just assumed he'd done the deed for some reason, and 'Nation' was boycotted. What would have been a saturated Oscar-nom wide release merely went out with a whimper. And it was an incredible film as well. Fuck you, public. 

Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' was rather disappointing; and 'Star Wars: Rogue One' gave us an altogether different type of Star Wars movie: serious, technical, and talky. That lent it a mixed reception with audiences, who either loved the new approach, or were turned off by the lack of action. I was of the former camp, although didn't love it enough to give it any more than 4 stars as a maximum. 

Lastly, 'Collateral Beauty' and 'Passengers' brought the year to a suitable end: depressing, disappointing, talent-less, and just all around fucking shit. 



All in all, we've had our hardships this year. Away from the global catastrophes, the film industry walked a weird tightrope. The blockbuster stage was almost universally terrible; with studio creations being divisive, heavily mocked by critics, and uniformly boring (Read: unadventurous). That said, on the rest of the spectrum, 2016 saw a surge of absolutely incredible movies. So many, in fact, that I'm going to have to do a top 20 movies list this year around rather than a top 10. Keep a look out for that in a day or so. 

Thanks for stopping by on my site as well, if you're reading this. It really means a lot that I have people who check out what I have to say and what I do. I wish you the best of luck in 2017; and look forward to writing more for you over the coming 12 months (hopefully less inactive than I've been this year).

Signing off,

James.














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