Looking back over a surprisingly positive year at the flicks, Getintothis‘ Del Pike looks at the highs and lows with a little help from his friends.
It’s going to be almost impossible for us come December 31 to find too much to celebrate when looking back on 2016, let’s be honest. We did pretty well in the sports world granted, but the death toll of musical heroes, the double whammy of Brexit and Trump and the totting up of the national debt really does leave little to cheer about.
Those of us lucky and wise enough to hide away from the earthly gloom in the dark environs of your local flea pit may have got the better deal, for while the world we know was spinning on a wonky axle, the alternative world of cinema was the one last vestige of greatness. There were disappointments by the barrowload, there always are, but there were some mighty diamonds hidden in the rough too.
As far as cinema is concerned, 2016 was the most prolific event movie year in many a moon. No sooner had the first decent Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi faded from our screens came the announcement of Rogue One. A year of teasers that lead us to ponder is this going to be a regular Christmas present from the mighty twin powers of Lucas and Disney?
As far as Marvel and DC fans were concerned, 2016 was a 12-month dream date, with something to please just about everyone. The three most iconic DC heroes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman finally came face to face, Spiderman and Ant-Man joined the ranks of a showdown to end all showdowns in Captain America Civil War. X Men delivered a killer third chapter in their prequel trilogy and for the more mature amongst us Deadpool and Suicide Squad filled a sorely-needed space. Cumberbatch fans too had their dreams come true with his uber-sexy portrayal of Doctor Strange, not a bad year at all for caped crusaders.
Art-house buffs had plenty to chew on with new offerings from Pedro Almodovar, Ben Wheatley, Nicolas Winding Refn and Tom Ford.
Music fans had more than enough reasons to go to the flicks this year with films from or about Nick Cave, The Stooges, Miles Davis, Oasis and The Beatles, whilst it was difficult to tell who was smiling the most – Harry Potter fans or the Liverpool tourist board with the release of Fantastic Beasts.
We really were spoiled, but before we reveal our favourite moments, lets spare a moment for those movies that promised so much but failed to make the grade.
A Christmas Day date at the end of 2015 with Quentin Tarantino that continued into the New Year, really did fail to hit the mark. The Hateful Eight was a promising idea; an old style Western from a life-long fan became basically a re-working of Reservoir Dogs, twice as long and nowhere near as entertaining. Uncomfortable in its dealings with race, Tarantino never copes too well with this, and with the most tiresome dialogue since Death Proof, this was one of QT’s dullest movies to date.
Similarly The Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar! failed to please majorly. All the hallmarks of a great Coens’ movie but bulldozed together in such a hotchpotch of red herrings, dead ends and pointless cameos, it was difficult to keep up. Channing Tatum’s camp as hell sailor in a bar-room dance routine was a highpoint, lost in a sea of lows. Not even the great George Clooney could save this limping dog.
Most of the disappointments this year came in the form of sequels and reboots like the pointless Blair Witch that simply failed to scare, Jason Bourne, an overblown mess in search of a plot and Alice Through the Looking Glass, thankfully not directed by Tim Burton as it would have been his absolute worst film to date.
Ghostbusters provided family fun for the summer hols but proved no threat to the original, despite cameos from all surviving 80s ‘Busters. McCarthy and Wiig proved to be worthy contenders to the Murray and Aykroyd throne but the presence of Chris Hemsworth as a beefy dumbbell brought little to Paul Feig’s earnest re-boot. Zoolander 2 was another failed effort to reignite the magic of the original.
When the most successful sequel this year in terms of plain entertainment is Finding Dory, then we know it’s time for something new, and there’s something quite depressing when two of the year’s surprise hits were an Ab Fab movie and another Bridget Jones.
So onto our countdown of the best of the year, grab your popcorn and put your 3D specs on now!
10. Miles Ahead (Dir: Don Cheadle)
Don Cheadle’s biopic of Jazz legend Miles Davis is no classic and on its release this writer damned it as slapstick, I really did. But beneath the godawful tacked on plot of a missing master tape and the bogus casting of Ewan McGregor as a hapless rock journo, lies one of the most brilliant portrayals of a musical legend ever. Cheadle, who also wrote and directed the movie, turns in the performance of a lifetime as Davis on the rocks. In the flashbacks, he looks as slick as a cat and in the strung-out cocaine days he simply stuns. The music is great, Cheadle is brilliant, but don’t expect a faithful biography because it just isn’t there.
9. The Neon Demon (Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn)
Critically panned on its release, this is a movie well worth a second sitting. Following on from the success of Drive and semi-success of Only God Forgives, Refn leaves Ryan Gosling behind to focus on Elle Fanning, a wannabe fashion model, Jessie, lost in the neon labyrinth of Refn’s own version of L.A. Stylised to the hilt and admittedly difficult to follow, the film is visually stunning from start to finish and borrows heavily from David Lynch’s Mulholland Dv and Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The technicolour glare of Italian Giallo is the lifeblood of this film and multiple dark taboos make for an uncomfortable but compelling watch. As Refn’s films become more and more abstract he is joining the ranks of Bruno Forzani (The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) as a modern-day psycho-head masher. Don’t believe the naysayers and find out for yourself, just don’t forget your shades.
8. Julieta (Dir: Pedro Almodovar)
Following on from Pedro Almodovar’s ill-fated excursion into screwball comedy with the airborne farce, I’m So Excited, 2016 saw the iconic Spanish director come back down to earth with a smooth landing. Julieta is a return to familiar territory with a tale of a troubled woman trying to retrace her steps and find out where she stepped onto the wrong boat and track down her daughter in the meantime. With brilliant performances from all concerned, the story never quite ignites in the same way as say Women on the Verge… or Volver, but the trademark colourful clothing, décor and characters certainly satisfy. It may take a little time for Almodovar to rediscover his mojo after an uncharacteristic fail, and Julieta is that first step.
7. Room (Dir: Lenny Abrahamson)
The surprise indie hit of the year, Room starts with a woman and child imprisoned in a cell, enjoying the most peculiar of relationships and leaving the hapless viewer to work out what the hell is going on. The results are worth the wait.
We hand you over to our own Nathan Pang to find out why this was his film of the year (contains spoilers)…
“Bold and full of heart, Lenny Abrahamson’s lovingly crafted Room is a quiet wonder. Brie Larson is back to her Short Term 12 forte – self-assured and strong, fighting back against trauma. Larson’s Ma/Joy raises Jack, played remarkably naturalistically by then 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay, in a shed that becomes their whole world. Adapted by Emma Donoghue, based on her bestseller, the film avoids the melodrama (that BBC Three’s recent captive escape drama Thirteen became dangerously close to), and instead is driven by hope. That, and two outstanding performances. Though Room is claustrophobic, the idiosyncratic exploration of a mother and son’s relationship in their daily habits expand those walls tenfold. And then breaks out of it in one of the most thrilling sequences I’ve seen all year, that’s equal parts wondrous and terrifying.
The film observes our world from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who feels like Joy’s little alien creature discovering Earth for the first time, and yet is a unique and intensely human character piece. The balancing act of Ma’s nightmarish reality and Jack’s wide eyed education could have clashed in lesser hands, but Tremblay and Larson’s (Oscar winning) performances holds it tight, carrying each other through a vast emotional range. It’s a two hour, drawn out catharsis that independent drama does best.”
6. Deadpool / Suicide Squad (Dir: Tim Miller / David Ayer)
This pairing of DC / Marvel oddities for grownups deserve joint accolade. Deadpool is the superior of the two, no doubts there, but both provided a welcome respite away from the glut of super hero movies this year and multiplexes bursting with rugrats.
Deadpool is a classic zeitgeist movie, a tough antihero in a tough world, that hits all the right buttons in terms of laughs and thrills (a la Kick Ass with balls), but has an incredibly dark heart too. Ryan Reynolds’ self-referencing and arch jabs at the Marvel franchise help to make sense of what is going on here and once the novelty of endless f-bombs has dried up its time to start following the plot. Stan Lee as a leering DJ in a strip joint probably sits the most uncomfortably amidst the non-PC barrage of gags, but this is meant to offend as much as entertain and succeeds.
Suicide Squad, the most hyped movie of the year thanks in no small part to Margot Robbie’s iconic Harley Quinn get-up, was met by mixed reviews. Most barbs were aimed at The Joker, played creepily against the grain by Jared Leto. It wasn’t so much his emo portrayal that was criticised as his lack of screen time. In fairness Ledger was always going to be a tough act to follow. The film is a non-stop action romp though that is best enjoyed with your brain on the shelf. Robbie steals the show with her gum chewing and wise cracking and paves the way for her own franchise the second she enters the frame.
Suicide Squad is not as dark as the trailers and comic book lore would have us believe and hardly deserves its 15 certificate, but like Deadpool it provides something a little different and that’s what matters.
5. Eight Days a Week (Dir: Ron Howard)
Howard’s film of The Beatles’ invasion of America caused more than a minor celebration in the band’s home city and brought together fans on online forums and at the red-carpet event at FACT. Whilst the film showed The Beatles to be intelligent, hilarious and at times painfully at odds with their new-found situation, it excelled in showing what a bloody brilliant band they were. The corporate face of The Beatles, particularly in Liverpool that has seen them transform into a mass commodity and tourist trap has somewhat taken away the fact that the reason they got so big was because they were a great band. Through meticulous application of elbow grease, Eight Days a Week presents the band in crystal clear HD with sound to match and you really have never heard them sound so good. The bonus footage of their legendary Shea Stadium gig shown after the film was the ultimate early Christmas present for Beatles fans. Richard Curtis and Whoopi Goldberg could happily have ended up on the cutting room floor.
4. Nocturnal Animals (Dir: Tom Ford)
Alongside The Neon Demon and High Rise, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals straddled the line between arthouse and mainstream to perfect effect.
Getintothis’ Laurence Thompson reviewed the film on release and said; “The story is almost distressing in its pettiness – how could something so beautiful and true be so inextricably entwined with vicious motive? Without giving too much away, it’s this Tom Ford makes his subject with Nocturnal Animals. Beginning with a slow motion montage gyrating the several flesh (to steal a description of Diana from George Szirtes‘ Actaeon) of real life Willendorf Venuses and ending with the most crushing, vindictive scene you will see all year, Ford‘s movie is not a pleasant escapist fantasy. It is, however, a monument to a rarely spoken-of dimension to artistic ambition: revenge.”
3. I Daniel Blake (Dir: Kenneth Loach)
British director Loach has been delivering dour slices of realism on an almost steady basis since he hit TV and cinema screens in the late 60s with the likes of Cathy Come Home, Poor Cow and Kes. More recent works have taken his political views to further fields like Land and Freedom, Carla’s Song and Ae Fond Kiss, but 2016 was undoubtedly the year when we needed Loach in the UK the most. His perfectly timed polemic on Austerity Britain, follows the title character played beautifully by comedian Dave Johns as he fails to get back on the employment / benefits ladder after being signed off work with a heart attack. His battle to count in society brings him face to face with the ridiculous bureaucracy that has become a part of the British landscape but also with a family of drifters of whom he becomes the surrogate grandfather. The film is almost impossible to watch at times and like Loach’s best work is made bearable by intervals of humour and compassion. The film is a must for Loach fans but should also be required viewing for anyone who considers the lost in our society as nothing more than a nuisance.
2. High Rise (Dir: Ben Wheatley)
Given the visual nature of JG Ballard’s novels it is surprising that so little of his work has been committed to celluloid. Steven Speilberg’s autobiographical Empire of The Sun succeeded to an extent but this is Ballard’s most untypical book of his otherwise surreal, dreamy, dystopian vision. Paradise Towers, the 1987 Doctor Who story came closer to capturing the spirit of High Rise than David Cronenberg did with Crash. In fact, Cronenberg’s Shivers came closer to High Rise than his Crash came to Ballard’s Crash. Fitting then that Doctor Who collaborator and Britain’s current director darling, Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) should finally make the connection between Ballard and the big screen. It’s ironic that it has taken so long with Ballard’s almost unhealthy obsession with screen glamour (see Atrocity Exhibition). Wheatley’s adaption of High Rise, a tale of class struggle within a rapidly self-destructing London tower block is certainly glamorous.
Tom Hiddleston spends the first quarter of the movie auditioning for the new James Bond whilst Sienna Miller is every part the starlet. Echoing A Clockwork Orange in its garish mis en scene and location, it’s a film that makes us feel equally as queasy as that Kubrick classic. As tenants turn unmercifully upon each other and Portishead pound out Abba’s SOS at a masked ball, this is stylised British cinema at its best.
Like the book, the endless spiral to destruction and debauchery become a little repetitive, but that is the nature of the beast, the day by day greed of humanity and the sense that we never ever learn from our mistakes. The film also includes the most inspired use of a Fall track ever which can only be good.
1. The Revenant (Dir: Alejandro Inarritu)
In terms of sheer cinematic splendour, The Revenant tops our list this year. Inarritu had already scored a blinder opening 2015 with Birdman and he similarly opens 2016 with this most epic of adventures. America, 1823 and Frontiersman Hugh Glass (a career best from Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself protecting his son from an attack from native American Indians during a pelt gathering expedition. Many men are lost and an attack on Glass from a grizzly bear doesn’t help against the blizzards and rapids of the landscape. With only the scheming, murderous Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to ensure his safe journey back to civilization, the future looks bleak.
What ensues is a visually stunning journey (based loosely on the tale of the real life Hugh Glass) across the wild plains of young America, as brutal as it is beautiful. Long periods of convalescence are broken by surprisingly high octane adventure and despite a reliance on CGI in some of the more challenging sequences, the film never fails to take your breath away. And did I mention the Ryuichi Sakamoto soundtrack? Think essential.
Anyone who still sees Di Caprio as the annoying imp from Titanic, despite his many impressive roles can rest easy, as this is one of the most deserved Oscar wins in years. Interviews with the star have revealed that he was forced to perform in temperatures of less than minus 40 degrees and eat raw liver despite being a veggie since 1992.
The film itself recalls the epic stature of movies like Apocalypse Now and The Mission and takes us back to a time when the big screen really matters. Made bespoke for IMAX as much as Gravity was a few years back but with enough to carry its appeal through to home viewing, The Revenant is a unique triumph.
If 2017 can offer up as rich a table of delights as this year then you’d better get your season ticket now.