Sunday, January 01, 2017

2016 in film

Stan's "The 10 best films of 2016" and Ann's "2016's Ten Best Films" annual look at films.

Ann and Stan: Not a great year for films. Romantic comedies, where are you?  

Can someone revive that genre, please?

And while three superhero films make our list, it seemed like every month saw yet another comic book turned into a live action film.

Here's our look at the ten best films you could see in your home during 2016.

The best release of 2016. Great script, great acting, real chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.  This film about Detroit, corruption, government hacks and so much was set in the 70s – probably because setting it in 2016 would have made it a horror film.  Instead, it's an action comedy that recalls the classic teaming of Lily Tomlin and Art Carney in Robert Benton's THE LATE SHOW.  Writer-director Shane Black created something to be proud of and this film is going to only look better in the coming years.

Where are the comedies this year?  As 2016 finally ends, we think you’ll agree we could all use a lot more laughter.  Zac Efron's carving out a career as someone dependably funny (at least until he pulls a Jonah Hill and tries to do a WAR DOGS).  This film made your sides ache.  It was a non-stop laugh fest, a don't take a handful of popcorn right now or you will be spewing it film.  Everyone here was at the top of their game.  Aubrey Plaza deserves special note and, if you thought she was funny in DIRTY GRANDPA (and she was), prepare for her to be hilarious. 

2016 wasn't a year for comedies.  It wasn't really a year for dramas.  Oliver Stone's SNOWDEN is the highest ranked drama to make our list.  This film tells the story of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden who gave up so much to inform the American people of what their government was actually doing to them.   Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers what should be an Academy Award winning Best Actor performance.  It's one of the few films this year that actually dealt with the times we live in and actually aspired to be something more than a thrill ride -- or, as was too often the case in 2016, a failed thrill ride.

If we didn't get comedies and we didn't get dramas, what did we get?  Ryan Reynolds was awful in GREEN LANTERN.  Who would have thought he could deliver in DEADPOOL?  But he did.  And the script, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, was sharp with dialogue and plot twists and turns were praising.  Director Tim Miller brought action scenes alive.  Most shocking of all?  Leslie Uggams as Blind Al.  We doubt even Leslie's biggest fans can claim they weren't shocked by her strong performance.  Few superhero films are worthy of acting nominations but Uggams damn sure deserves a Best Supporting Actress for her work here.

Oh, Melissa McCarthy, what is happening to you?  GHOSTBUSTERS was sub-standard and disappointing.  Just because they were "girls" they couldn’t be sexual?  Bill Murray was a panting tongue over Sigourney Weaver throughout the original film.  Melissa played a role that was poorly written and poorly thought out.  Adult women came off like pre-tweens.  THE BOSS, however, did deliver some much needed laughter.  And went to the problem of Melissa's films of late: she has to carry it all herself.  Kristen Bell is not a comic actress and she goes soggy throughout -- wet blanket -- failing to provide Melissa with either a partner in crime or someone to play off of for friction.  And don't even get us started on career failure Tyler Labine who never delivers no matter how many times he shows up for work.  Melissa and the children and Peter Dinklage carried the film.  Audiences turned out for this.  But another film where bad TV actors like Bell and Labine filling out the supporting roles and the audience will quickly move on.

There was so much wrong with this film.  The central message wasn't one of the problems.  The new Spider-Man was not one of the problems.  The performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. were not the problems.  Marvel's continued burying of women would be one of the problems and why the hell do you have a Scarlet Witch if you do nothing with her?  Scarlet Witch demands a front and center role.  But yet again, every other character upstages her. Scarlett Johansson got a little bit more to do as Black Widow (and thankfully avoided the round up that left others behind bars) but she didn't have enough to do either.  This film featured: Captain America, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hawkeye,  Falcon, Winter Soldier, War Machine, Black Panther and Vision.  That's ten men.  And the only female superheroes showing up were Black Widow and Scarlet Witch -- that's ten to two.  Does no one see the problem here?  Or that it's the same problem over and over: women are ignored.  Stop waiting for MARVEL's film with a solo female star and start integrating these films that are being made currently.  There's no excuse, in 2016, to have five male superheroes on a team for every one female super hero.  The problem gets worse with each installment.

The (estranged before her mother passed away) daughter of Nina Simone waited way too long to finally speak up and state the obvious: Zoe Saldana is incredibly effective in the role.  Zoe was beat up for wearing a fake nose (Nicole Kidman won an Oscar for doing the same thing) and she was trashed because her skin wasn't naturally dark enough according to some.  Long before the film was released, it had been endlessly attacked.  It lied! Or so one criticism went, by creating a sexual relationship between Zoe's Nina and the helper played by David Oyelowo.  All of this before the film came out -- all this and a call for a boycott with a Facebook page.  When it was released, nearly everyone trashed it.  We saw it then, we've seen it since.  Oyelowo delivers a very leveled and textured performance.  But Zo Saldana goes all the way with the role of Nina in a way few actors ever do.  Her performance is raw and real.  While Will Smith's bad acting and poor box office will most likely rightly deny him an Oscar nomination, Zoe, if she's denied, will be denied because a bunch of idiots decided to attack this woman of color because they didn't feel she had enough color.  Zoe is so good, she doesn't just deserve a nomination, she deserves the award.  But lots of luck there after the public tantrum destroyed this musical drama. 

David Oyelowo had quite a year.  He also co-starred in this film with Lupita Nyongo as a woman with a skill for chess which both enhances and complicates her life.  This film will probably be overlooked by the nonsense push for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (a film we’ve seen a thousand times before and a thousand times better) so we’re including it and semi-violating our own rule (this film streams starting January 10th of next year -- however, it briefly streamed on AMAZON while it was in the theaters).  But it's a great film and one that will be forgotten at the end of 2017 when it would more clearly qualify for praise so we're noting it now.  And if you think that's wrong, we've both seen the bootleg already -- visit your local barbershop and you can get a copy as well.  The only actress that truly challenges Zoe Saldana for Best Actress is Lupita Nyongo -- between the two women, they carried dramatic acting for women in 2016.  (Ruth Negga gives a good -- not great -- performance in LOVING.  Strange fun fact, this Ethopian-Irish actress is much lighter than the woman she plays and, of course, her nose is much thinner and less pronounced.  But no one had a problem with this casting.)

Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key take their comedy to the big screen with a hilarious film that underperformed at the box office.  But so what?  These days fewer and fewer of us go to the movies and films get discovered and new life via streaming and TV.  DROP DEAD FRED, for example, is a classic to many of us today.  In real time when it was in theaters, it got awful reviews and only made $14 million in ticket sales.  KEANU is a film that wide exposure is going to make one of the 2016 releases that truly lives beyond its initial release.

Bryan Singer's latest outing improves with viewing.  But the problems with this series -- which was a reboot and FOX wants to reboot again -- is the continued emphasis on men.  X-MEN, when people were excited, brought us Storm (Halle Berry), Logan (Hugh Jackman), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Cyclops (James Marsden).  Yes, Charles and Magneto were part of the first film, but more supporting characters.  Suddenly, as the series moved along, they were recast with the talented Michael Fassbender and the so-so James McAvoy.  Worse, Charles and Magento now ate up time and were joined with a recast Mystique.  Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence lumbered through the role without any humor or sparkle and made clear that, in this role, Rebecca Romijin is the better actress.  Had this film not been so weighted by boys -- not men, boys -- it might have done better at the box office.  Charles is a boy.  Hank is a boy.  Stunted boys, but boys.  And we were forced to endure all this crap when all we wanted to see was the new Storm and Jean Grey.  What we didn't need was the hard-to-be-a-mutant Cyclops entry.  We had to wait to enter the story via a boy.  How boy-ring.  The first 15 minutes of the movie are visually stunning.  But in it's own way, the third act is so much better than the rest of the film as we finally get to see Jean Grey, Storm and the rest in action.  If this is where the reboot had started, FOX might not be pondering how to reboot the reboot.

The movies we're most looking forward to in the coming year?



Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


The year-in-review pieces up here: