If 2015 was a disappointing follow up to 2014, 2016 was even more of a let-down. Many of the marquee releases frustrated filmgoers, while a raft of sequels and reboots missed the mark. The rot started early with Dad’s Army failing to recapture the quaint laughs of the original series despite a tremendous cast. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mashed period drama with zombie action but did neither of them well, while Zoolander 2 proved that there wasn’t anything else to offer beyond Derek’s first outing, and London Has Fallen showed what Donald Trump might create if he was ever let loose in Hollywood.
The supposed redeemer of the Warner Bros/DC movie universe, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, was less saviour and more crazed zealot. An absolute mess of a movie, it would have been better served by jettisoning the second half of its title and focusing on the intriguing Bruce versus Clark clash. Suicide Squad fared slightly better despite another mess of a script, whilst Fox’s final instalment in their rebooted mutant trilogy, X-Men: Apocalypse, suffered by piling yet more misery on an already overloaded Magneto, placing him under the thumb of a second rate version a great comic villain.
Now You See Me 2 upped the returning magicians smugness, replacing modesty with a ho-hum caper and an unnecessary final plot twist. Independence Day 2: Resurgence also abandoned the agreeable temperament of its part one, swapping character for soulless CGI space explosions. The London set The Conjuring 2 spoiled good work in the early running by turning a three-bedroom semi-detached in to a Tardis-like pile that suddenly took half an hour to run around come the required chase-about finale. The Jungle Book ‘live-action’ remake had a tough act to follow but started well by casting Bill Murray as its Baloo; relegating him to a support player who didn’t turn up until nearly an hour in ensured Jon Favreau’s film had little chance of besting the 1967 original.
Hardcore Henry attempted something innovative by offering the very first ‘first person’ movie. It turned out there was a reason it hadn’t been done before though; motion sickness and mind melting migraines. The long awaited new instalment in the Ghostbusters franchise inspired entirely the wrong sort of vapours, but thankfully the blame could not be placed on its female cast; one of the worst scripts of the year put the new quartet out of business. Jason Bourne fared no better, lazily doing an impression of itself; shaky-cam chases down back alleys for Jason, tie loosening and laptop punching for the FBI folk back home.
The BFG showed there wasn’t enough material in Roald Dahl’s fantastic novella for a full length feature film. Ben Hur staked its claim as the most unwanted and unwatched remake of all time, whilst the The Light Between Oceans almost drowned itself in oversentimentality. Bridget Jones Baby advocated that the best way to sort out your relationship woes is to chuck an unexpected child in to the mix, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children tried to relocate X-Men-like-tweens to the nineteen-forties but failed despite another winning turn from Eva Green. Under eighteen film fans were supposed to console themselves with Ratchet & Clank, Angry Birds: The Movie, and Trolls, proof that when it comes to profit there’s no product Hollywood won’t cash in on.
Clint Eastwood didn’t thinking landing a passenger plane on the Hudson River was dramatic enough for Sully so tried to stir up a fuss in a subsequent investigation that didn’t actually happen, while Deepwater Horizon promised a fiery recreation of its real life drama but spent too long getting there. Fictional turmoil was even too much for The Girl On The Train which had so many plot holes Tate Taylor must have shot the film on Swiss cheese. Elsewhere in the book-to-movie world Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them couldn’t recapture the magic of Hogwarts mostly due to a Harry replacement whose personality was constantly set to bumbling mode.
Despite this deluge of mediocrity, there were some films that were worth the ticket price. Midnight Special evoked the best government-out-to-get-me traditions of eighties sci-fi, Triple 9 saw one of the year’s best ensemble casts elevate an average script, and Simon Pegg’s Star Trek: Beyond script brought the fun back to the series and offered a nice tribute to the late Anton Yelchin. War Dogs showed how shockingly easy it is to upset a government’s procurement process, The Shallows somehow turned a Syfy movie of the week in to one of the best thrillers of the year, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows made for a surprisingly fun blockbuster.
Pleasant sequel surprises continued with an out-of-the blue Blair Witch and an equally unexpected Cloverfield (2008) spin-off 10 Cloverfield Lane. Doctor Strange successfully added another twist to the Marvel Universe, Kubo and the Two Strings was an underappreciated children’s classic, Captain Fantastic should see Viggo Mortensen win his first acting Oscar, and Room rightly secured Brie Larson hers. And in a year of political upheaval Ken Loach did what Ken Loach does best with I Nathan Blake, burning down more social bigotry. From it all, here are FilmsFilmsFilms ten best pictures from one of the roughest years in the new millennium.
The 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture was a tough one to call in February. Despite the undoubted quality of Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight the Academy has a poor track record in rewarding pictures that show up failings in the American system, the likes of All The Presidents Men (1976), Network (1976), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Malcolm X (1992), American History X (1998), The Insider (1999), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), and Dallas Buyers Club (2013) all missing out on the big award. Taking the Church to task in one of the most Christian heavy countries in the world was always going to be an uphill struggle come awards season, but so heinous were the crimes revealed in Spotlight not even the Academy could turn away. The weight of what the journalists at the Boston Globe were chasing is enough to raise the stakes for what is a fairly standard newspaper investigation script. The other winning element was the performance of one of the year’s best ensembles. Everyone is suitably understated, including Michael Keaton who continues his career renaissance, with the exception of the simmering Mark Ruffalo who embodies the viewer’s anger wonderfully. The finale is one of cinema’s most cathartic moments, but the final credits coda will draw an outraged gasp from anyone with the most basic internal moral compass.
Tasty Morsel – Margot Robbie had to turn down the role of Sacha (Rachel McAdams) due to exhaustion after shooting a number of films back to back.
Rocky Balboa never paid attention to the odds, but the chances of him making a comeback after the dismal Rocky V (1990) were low. Prospects seemed even smaller when Sylvester Stallone started considering strapping Balboa’s gloves back on at the age of sixty for Rocky Balboa (2006). The film was a surprise hit though, offering a decent story that didn’t lazily rely on a trip down memory lane to get Rocky swinging fists again. It was a fitting final bow for the Italian Stallion. What Stallone and Rocky fans hadn’t figured on was another instalment that would top what Rocky Balboa had achieved. Writer Ryan Coogler had an idea though. What on paper seems worryingly close to the plot of Rocky V, Coogler pictured Balboa turning trainer, coming to the aid of the semi-illegitimate son of his former rival Apollo Creed. Donnie Johnson, aka Adonis Creed, is desperate to prove himself in the ring without relying on his dead father’s name. Struggling he seeks out an aging Rocky, himself barely getting by on past glories, to help him train. What raised the story beyond the cliché was the quality of the script and those involved in committing it to film. Behind the camera was Coogler himself, fresh off deserved acclaim for Fruitvale Station(2013), while in front of the camera was Michael B Jordan. Not only did he look near identical to a young Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) he had the acting chops to carry the part. Jordan was only topped by Stallone who produced the performance of his career, toning down his Rocky-isms for a much more natural and effecting display that quite rightly earned him an Oscar nomination. Rumours abound that a whole new franchise will materialise following the exploits of Adonis. Whether this will see the end of Rocky in Creed IV via an ill-advised bout with a towering Russian we can only wait and see.
Tasty Morsel – Stallone was 69 when Creed hit cinema screens, the same age as Burgess Meredith (Mickey) when Rocky (1976) was released.
Despite criticism, there were three things to enjoy in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009); Hugh Jackman’s continued stellar work as Logan, Live Schreiber’s fantastic Sabretooth, and Ryan Reynolds opening scene as Deadpool. Marvel’s ‘Merc with a mouth’ would always prove difficult to translate to the screen, but even though it appeared Reynolds was asked to rein his performance in, there was enough of a spark to get fans interested in a further Deadpool outing. When X-Men Origins: Wolverine produced an underwhelming return at the box office Fox distanced themselves from any Weapon-X character spin-offs. Reynolds though, having staked a claim to bringing Wade Wilson to the screen as far back as 2000, would not be deterred. A ‘leaked’ test video then found its way on to YouTube showing what Reynolds had planned for the character; a true fourth-wall breaking, profanity spewing, super violent Deadpool. Fan support grew exponentially, and Fox relented, allowing Reynolds to team up with first time director Tim Miller to produce the first R rated superhero film. Reynolds delivered the Deadpool he always wanted, and though Fox only stumped up £58million (by comparison the budget for X-Men: Apocalypse was £178million) their faith was rewarded. Deadpool was simultaneously one of the best comedies and superhero movies of the year, a semi-spoof that took pleasure in sending up the recent slew of comic book movies. Wilson’s constant chatter with the viewer was a brilliant device, underwritten by a constant need to poke fun at himself and those around him. His sparring partner, villain Ajax, was cardboard cut-out, but this wasn’t the point; Deadpool was all about the laughs, be they crude, clever, or slapstick. And if that wasn’t enough fans of Wilson’s on page exploits had a huge array of Easter eggs to uncover. A planned sequel featuring Deadpool's nemesis Cable (son of Jean Grey and Cyclops) is hotly anticipated.
Tasty Morsel - Keep an eye out for the small drops of blood in the serum Wade is injected with. The serum provided Wade with advanced healing powers thanks to the blood coming from none other than Wolverine himself.
- EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!
It might not be immediately obvious but one of the biggest influences from late nineties cinema that lingers still is the overly elaborate script. The like of Se7en (1995), The Sixth Sense (1999), Memento (2000), Vanilla Sky (2001), and Saw (2004) whetted the public appetite for inventive narratives and impossible-to-predict plot turns. From then on a lot of scripts were deemed unfit for consumption by studios unless they were capped off by a clever twist. This was good news for film fans initially, but as the plot-surprise-well dried up mainstream movies became more contrived. This years The Girl On The Train marked the lowest point yet, a film built solely around a supposedly shrewd twist; the movie was so pleased with itself it threw all other plot logic out of the window. How refreshing then that one of the best films of the year was Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!. Dispensing with anything like a forced plot, we join baseball player Jake as he starts college life in 1980’s Texas. The burgeoning camaraderie he strikes up with the occupants and fellow players in his sorority house drive what plot there is, but it’s less about telling a point A to point B tale than it is spending two hours with a fascinating group of people. There is admittedly a fascination and added romance for British viewers when looking in on the wild side of American college life, the house parties, the endless cast of pretty people, the late nights and later mornings. But with that caveat accepted, there is still something endearing about the cast of characters Jake encounters and it’s the entirely natural settings and situations that Linklater places them in that creates the humour that runs through the film. There’s no cliché love stories, no threat and triumph, no quest to go on, just a handful of days spent with a group of authentically written and superbly acted characters. The greatest credit you can pay Everybody Wants Some! is that by the time term time starts proper you want to stay with Jake and his team to see what other fun and games await them. Here’s hoping Linklater breaks the habit of a lifetime and shoots his first sequel.
Tasty Morsel – Seen as an unofficial follow-up to his high-school set Dazed and Confused (1993), Linklater stated that the film was more of a natural successor to Boyhood, with that film ending with Dalton heading off to university.
- CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Marvel Studios jumped their biggest hurdle with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-man (2015), proving that if the script is tight, the cast is right, and the film is well made well even an unknown comic property can spin cinematic gold. Returning to more familiar territory, next up was the third Captain America film. In actuality there were so many characters involved it was an unofficial third Avengers film, but while the amount of heroes was high it didn’t seem high enough to tackle the story Marvel Studios wanted to tell; Civil War, one of the most venerated comic storylines of all time. The reason the story worked so well on the page was the sheer number of characters in play. With the US government worried about the amount of super powered people in the world a compulsory registry of their powers and identities would be set up. This imposed enlistment split Marvel’s heroes down the middle, kick starting a ‘war’ which would eventually see Spiderman reveal his Peter Parker identity and lead to the death of Steve Rogers. The problem for Marvel Studios was that despite bolstering their cinema roster with the likes of Ant-man, Black Panther, Vision, Scarlet Witch and (thanks to a deal with Sony) Spiderman, there still didn’t seem enough heroes to warrant a register; it would have twenty names, tops. It’s a credit to all involved then that this plot hole wasn’t an issue for Captain America: Civil War. The stories driving force was the moral dilemma of the register itself, with both Ironman and Captain America putting forward good arguments for and against it. It really is impossible to decide who is right which makes the division lines drawn up all the more murky. A nice turn from Daniel Bruhl as villain Helmut Zemo leads to an unexpected and genuinely moving twist, while the airport based battle between the two sides is the finest set piece yet scene in any of the Marvel Studios movie. Directors the Russo brothers were also wise enough to leave some of the tension unresolved ensuring Civil War has lasting repercussions as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its conquering run of form.
Tasty Morsel – The speech made by Sharon Carter at Peggy Carter’s funeral, ‘Your job is to plant yourself like a tree…’ was a direct lift from the comic Amazing Spiderman #537, where the speech is made by Captain America.
- THE NICE GUYS
Continuing the year’s theme for more simplified storytelling, writer and director Shane Black continued his gradual return to the spotlight by finally getting The Nice Guys on to cinema screens. His first film since Iron Man 3 (2013), the script for The Nice Guys started coming together in 2001 when the central characters, a pair of private detectives from 1977 Los Angeles, were first sketched out. The private investigators Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) would change significantly as Black toyed and tweaked the script over time. A television pilot was mooted at one stage before Black found success with his Iron Man picture; the doors of Hollywood began to open once again and a movie version of The Nice Guys was a possibility. With Crowe his first choice for the crotchety Healy, Black approached the New Zealander with the script and simultaneously contacted Gosling for the March role. The prospect of working opposite each other sealed the deal for the pair, and Black was given the green light. A spiritual successor to his underappreciated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), the film is less about the investigation the titular pair undertake than it is about the relationship between them. Crowe and Gosling are the year’s best duo, an easy bond that’s immediate from the off. Gosling parks his cool and quiet tough guy act so Crowe can fully embrace the tough nut Healy, and both benefit from Black’s script which is as sharp and witty as any of his previous works, ‘You know who else was just following orders? Adolf Hitler’. The plot itself, the death of a porn star and the disappearance of a teenage girl in the murky world of the adult film world, never stands still for more than half a scene, and though it might strain logic at times its care free momentum evokes all the best from Black’s previous projects, Lethal Weapon (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991), and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). For such an adult film The Nice Guys have more fun than most of children’s films you’ll see in any cinematic year.
Tasty Morsel – Recognise the body of Sid Shattuck? The dummy was a mock-up of a bearded Robert Downey Jnr. as a uncredited cameo and nod to the star of Black’s previous detective movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
- GREEN ROOM
While many are quick to lament all that’s wrong with modern life on the internet, one of the undeniable positives is the community spirit of crowdfunding. Filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier, having scored a cult hit with his debut Murder Party (2007) was struggling to find a studio for his follow-up feature. Seeking to go it alone the writer/ director started his own Kickstarter campaign, amassing over time the $433,000 needed to create Blue Ruin (2013). The film was a critical and commercial hit, more than doubling its budget. For his third feature Saulnier came up with a unique singular premise; what if a rock band was trapped inside their green room but a gang of marauding fans? Only the best filmmakers can turn a slim idea in to a ninety minute success and Saulnier created the tensest movie experience of the year with Green Room. The band became down-on-their-luck the Ain’t Rights and the gig was a last minute slot at a Nazi bar deep in the forests of Oregon. When the band inadvertently witness a murder they are trapped in their dressing room by a mob of skinheads determined to finish them off to prevent the police turning up and uncovering their drug factory in the basement. Though it’s a cinematic shortcut to tension to place your heroes amongst a gang of right-wing thugs, it’s a foundation upon which Saulnier builds fantastically, starting with the central idea of a small four wall prison. Shades of Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) follow with the Ain’t Rights fending off waves of skinheads trying to smoke them out of their bolthole. Elevating proceedings is Patrick Stewart in a long overdue villain role. His calm demeanour unsettles just as much as the shouty louts at his command. Matching Stewart are Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner as the unlucky rockers trapped in the green room with Imogen Poots, an unlucky groupie. Who will survive and who will end up as dog food is impossible to predict, with each passing minute making anyone’s escape more and more unlikely. The result is the tautest thriller since Saw (2004).
Tasty Morsel – The Ain’t Rights chancy choice of opening song, Nazi Punks Fuck Off, was a cover of a song originally by the Dead Kennedys.
- SAUSAGE PARTY
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, crude humour requires a significant amount of skill to get right. Any filmmaker can throw a cheap fart gag in to proceedings, but to do so well is a comedic art. Lowbrow humour can’t simply be thrown together, as the flops Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Grimsby and Bad Santa 2 found out this year. Like any cinematic genre, crude humour films are a matter of taste. Three minutes in to Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan’s Sausage Party viewers will have a good idea whether the subsequent eight-five additional minutes are going to double them up in laughter or have them typing our a furious letter to the Daily Mail. Vulgar the jokes may be, but what jokes they are. In the finest traditions of The Producers (1967), Dumb and Dumber (1994), and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999), Sausage Party will test the mettle of even the darkest humour enthusiast. But every shocked gasp is followed by a belly laugh and a smile, ‘Everything we've ever known is a dirt covered pile of shit. Jacking off in our fucking faces, covering our eyes with their cum, so cum covered we can't fucking see!’. The story premise goes a long way to soften the blow of the earthy humour, a clever device that every viewer can relate to; ever wondered what happens to all the food on supermarket shelves when the lights go out? Cue all manner of sigh and chuckle food puns. No bread bun is left unturned but it would be a heart of stone that isn’t entertained by the escapades of a hot dog sausage and his quest to hook up with the roll he’s destined to be twinned with. Just when you think things can’t get any more ridiculous, the anti is upped again, climaxing, quite literally, in some serious food on food action. Amongst all the silliness and profanity is a rather tense plot that somehow pulls you in as Frank the sausage must convince his fellow foodstuffs that the shinning beacon of beyond the supermarket doors isn’t all they believe it to be. It’s such an absorbing quest, you forget you’re actually cheering on the contents of your shopping trolley. A sequel would make for delicious seconds.
Tasty Morsel – Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs reportedly turned down a role voicing a bottle of Courvoisier mistakenly thinking the film would be live action with all the actors dressed in food costumes.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), Mars Attacks (1996), Independence Day (1996) when Hollywood depicts the arrival on Earth of life from beyond the stars it doesn’t end well for mankind. In 1998 writer Ted Chiang offered his own riposte to the fiery destruction of alien ray guns with his novella Story Of Your Life. A small trove of literary prizes later, Hollywood began to sniff around the story with a furrowed brow; how to bring a story of language and determinism to the big screen without alienating the majority of audience members. The answer was teaming scriptwriter Eric Heisserer with director Denis Villeneuve. The filmmaker was glowing with the success of Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014) and Sicario (2015) and together with Heisserer the pair managed to wrangle a workable script from Chiang’s book. Villeneuve made the most of his $47million, ensuring Arrival had the scale and look of a story that was truly global, the towering heptapods that hover over various locations on Earth the most convincingly realised depiction of alien contact yet seen on the big screen. Having established his stories authenticity Villeneuve then reduces the plot down to a small window on the worldwide event, the efforts of linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly to establish communications with the two multi-limbed creatures aboard the Montana based heptapod. The machinations of the US government and the other regimes around the world roll on as a tense backdrop to the growing relationship between the two academics and their otherworldly counterparts. The climax, for those of us brought up on the alien induced annihilation of War of the Worlds (2005) and Battle: Los Angeles (2011), is impossible to predict, refreshing and life affirming. The story’s end for Louise and Ian, played to career high standards by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is equally moving without a hint of mawkishness. With an impressive $160million haul, the stakes for Villeneuve’s next project have been raised considerably; a follow up to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), Blade Runner 2049 due for release in June.
Tasty Morsel – If you’re wondering what General Shang whispers to Louise in the film’s final scenes, it has been revealed to be ‘In war there are no winners, only widows’.
- ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
With thirty nine years of sombre remembrance hanging over Rogue One: A Star Wars Story it was inevitable that it would be the darkest instalment in the Star Wars franchise to date. The ‘Many Bothans died to bring us this information’ assertion was the biggest solemn note in Star Wars (1977); it was all fun and games running around the Death Star and duelling with Tie-Fighters, but these adventures were only possible because a number of brave souls gave their lives to steal the Death Star plans in the first place. The story of that sacrifice would form the first ever one-off film in the Star Wars story. It was little surprise then that Gareth Edwards movie was the most tightly scripted galaxy-far-far-away film yet. Without the weight of establishing a new trilogy or the worry of where it would leave its characters, Rogue One whizzes by, pausing only to sprinkle in a treasure trove of Star Wars tributes for eagle-eyed fans. No time is wasted, not even on the traditional opening story crawl; in the ultra efficient opening scene the plight of heroine Jyn Erso and the thrust of the plot, ‘The work has stalled, I need you to come back’ is laid out. From there Felicity Jones’ Erso arrives fully formed, and unlike almost everyone else in the Star Wars world she isn’t too inclined to get involved in the galactic scuffle between the Rebellion and the Empire. The rest of the characters drawn to the Rebel cause are equally dubious in motivation and background, making for one of the most interesting array of heroes seen in the space saga. Its thus even more affecting when you realise none of this group are likely to make it past the final credits. On top of this comes the Star Wars gold, the aforementioned numerous blink-and-you’ll-miss-them tributes, and the stunning return of two of the series greatest villains. Watching Darth Vader return to do what he does best is joyous, but even more phenomenal is the return of acting great Peter Cushing. Though some of the CGI shots look ever so slightly off, the majority of his posthumous recreations are spookily real and it’s a real treat to see the veteran actor on screen one last time. But for all the doom and gloom, it’s the final moments which mark Edwards’s movie as a contender for best Star Wars film to date. The last five minutes are a nail-biting run up to the opening moments of Star Wars (1977) which, due to the untimely passing of franchise legend Carrie Fisher this year, will draw a tear from the most stony of film fans, ‘Hope.’.
Tasty Morsel – Keep an eye out for Jeremy Bulloch, who originally played Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), as an Imperial Officer in one of the final scenes.