Well, I think I’m pretty safe in saying that 2016 was a garbage dumpster fire of a year for all of us. Between a number of beloved celebrity deaths that seems almost spiteful, a presidential election that more or less guarantees death by nuclear fire in the next four years, and turmoil overseas that, as an American, I can’t begin to process, this year has been a waking nightmare. To borrow a line from Scott Pilgrim, “If 2016 had a face I would punch it. I would punch 2016 in the face.”
Weirdly, though, 2016 did have one bright spot among the avalanche of festering sewage: it turns out this was a pretty good year for film. In fact, the last couple of years have been a real struggle to come up with ten films I liked enough to even do a Retrospekticus – this year, I had enough material to double it.
So here it is, friends and neighbors – the Bottom 10 of my favorite films of the year. As usual, these are just my particular loves, and in no way reflect the opinions of anyone else on this site (or on this planet, for that matter). Any other year, I would be proud to call this list my Top Ten, and I hold each of these films in high esteem. Thanks for reading, and as always I look forward to being told how wrong I am in the comments. (All images courtesy IMDB.com)
20. The VVitch
“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live…deliciously?”
Genuinely haunting, with gorgeous cinematography and costuming, The VVItch was this year’s most atmospheric horror movie. It’s a stunningly bleak portrait of life in the New World, intermingled with the supernatural fears and superstitions of the era. It’s a restless, dirty little film, forcing the audience into the reality of these characters and their plight. And it introduced Black Phillip, who has gone on to join the Babadook as one of the 21st century’s modern horror icons.
“Oh, I’m gonna spell it out for ya, motherfucker.”
Believe it or not, this is probably my most watched movie of 2016 – I caught it twice in the theater, and have watched it at least three times since it came out on Blu-Ray. It’s a film that goes down easy – at just over an hour and a half, there’s not one overlong scene, not a line wasted (which is saying something, considering how much the titular character talks). I’m not a huge Deadpool fan – I dig the Joe Kelly stuff, but everything else reads a little hollow for me – but I have to admit, Ryan Reynolds brings the character to manic, ebullient life. And the movie’s just hilariously fun, a quality that most superhero films (including a couple higher on this very list) have had in short supply.
18. The Jungle Book
“Are you alone out here? What are you doing so deep in the jungle? Don’t you know what you are?... I know what you are. I know…where you come from. Poor, sweet little cub. I’ll keep you closssse. Let go of your fear now….”
I’m not 100% onboard with the…live-actioning? What are we calling these?...of Disney animated classics. I skipped Cinderella, and I’ll probably give the new Beauty and the Beast a miss as well. But man, I fell hook, line, and sinker for The Jungle Book. Director Jon Favreau and a team of top flight visual effects artists bring Mogli’s home to vibrant life, completely immersing the audience in the world of the Jungle as Mogli experiences it. Neel Sethi charms in his debut as Mogli, the man-cub, and an all-star cast of voice talent (including such luminaries as Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, and Scarlett Johansson) absolutely delight as the creatures who seek to control his destiny. Wisely, the film cherry picks the best songs from the classic animated soundtrack, meaning we get “I Wanna Be Like You” as performed by Christopher Walken, which is worth the price of admission alone.
17. Doctor Strange
“Dormammu. I’ve come to bargain.”
At this point, it might actually be more interesting for Marvel (specifically the MCU) to put out a film that doesn’t work. It might be fun to dissect what went wrong, how a property fell apart in adaptation, what pitfall to avoid next time. We all thought that Ant Man was going to be that guy; when it succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations (including, it appears, Marvel itself), all eyes turned to Dr. Strange.
I’m sure you can tell where this is going. Dr. Strange is a slick, whip-smart exploration of the mystical side of the MCU, with enough trippy Ditko-inspired visuals and a sitar-infused score that sure to satisfy even the deadest-head. Yes, it follows the traditional beats of an action film a little too closely for a movie that should probably be more lackadaisically paced, but it makes up for its speed with a clever and visually jaw-dropping climax that twists the traditional “final confrontation with the villain” on its head. I’m also impressed by how loosely it ties itself to the MCU’s overarching narrative – outside of a couple of references (and one big Macguffin) the film is allowed to stand on its own merits – at least until the credits roll.
16. DOOMED! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four
“How many movies did Roger Corman make that never got released? One."
It’s no secret that I have a lot of genuine affection for the unreleased Fantastic Four film from 1994 – enough that I wrote about it for this site when the trailer for this documentary was released a couple of years back. (Its in the archives, I promise.) I’m equally adoring of the doc itself: an in-depth, well researched and interviewed exploration of the film’s creation and subsequent shelving. It was a genuine thrill to hear the cast’s recollections of the movie’s creation, as well as the producer and director talk about their theories as to why the movie never actually saw the light of day. There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage and photos from the older film interspersed between interviews, giving the audience a look at the making of this legendary lost picture. DOOMED! is a fascinating, compelling look at the occasionally black underbelly of cinema production, as well as a critical reappraisal of one of comic cinema’s most misanthropic features.
“Being good at this kind of work is not very beautiful.”
A callback to the Big Studio Pictures of the 40s and 50s, Allied is at once a remarkable period piece and an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Of course, the suspense would have been even more pressing had the second-act twist not been given away in the trailer but I digress. Robert Zemeckis proves once again just how talented he is at visually crafting a story. He uses the closeness of his camera first to pull Pitt’s Max Vatan and Cotillard’s Marianne Beausejour together; then, as Vatan’s suspicions grow, that same closeness becomes claustrophobic, paranoid, questioning. Allied is a masterclass of cinematography, not to mention its tightly wound script and a wardrobe that rivals The VVitch for an Oscar nod for costuming. Unquestioningly Zemeckis's strongest film in years.
14. Office Christmas Party
“I’ve got donuts! I’ve got jelly and sprinkles, but not cronuts because they’re a bastard pastry.”
I will not apologize for what I find funny, and Office Christmas Party was hands-down my favorite comedy of the year. Kate McKinnon is a goddamn treasure and should be in everything. Jason Bateman needed a real win after Horrible Bosses 2 and The Gift (yeah, yeah, he’s in another film that’s coming up in a bit – but you have to admit, this is way more in his wheelhouse). Not to mention Batman’s tremendous chemistry with Olivia Munn, who is also terrifically funny and way more real here than anything Ive seen her in before. Round that out with TJ Miller, who had the year of his life between this and Deadpool, and Jennifer Aniston, proving once again that she was secretly the most talented Friend, and you have 2016’s answer to The Hangover and Bridesmaids. I’m ashamed of you all for not seeing it.
“You have a dress and an animal sidekick – you’re a princess.”
Just in case it wasn’t already clear – we are in the midst of another Disney Renaissance. Tangled, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Moana – not to mention a film we’ll get to in a bit – have all been unquestionably brilliant hits, and The Good Dinosaur at least got some really positive reviews. Frozen, in particular, seems a particularly pertinent comparison, as Moana shares its commitment to a strong female protagonist as well as a musical soundtrack positively infested with earworms. To be fair, there’s no “Let It Go” megahit singles here, but Jermaine Clement’s “Shiny” is pretty damn close – and “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome” are joyful additions to the catalog of Disney classics. I gotta say, that Lin-Manuel Miranda guy is going places. Keep your eyes on him, I think he’s gonna hit big.
12. The Lobster
“If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps.”
David, our protagonist in Yorgos Lanthimos’s dystopian surreality, is a man of halves in a world that that rejects incompletion. He wishes to claim bisexuality on his information card, only to be told that option is no longer available; he claims his show size is 12 ½ and assigned a 13. He desperately seeks companionship, but can only find it amongst those who have rejected it. It’s these foibles, combined with Colin Farrell’s quietly desperate performance, which make David and the strange binary world he occupies so compelling. The Lobster is not an easy film to take in – it’s neither comedy nor drama nor romance, but a threadbare quilt of all three, spun together and draped comfortably over Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s a film that raises more questions that it feels comfortable answering, a film that begs further dissection as it brushes the viewer aside, content with its own mystery. It’s a puzzle box, and I for one was delighted to take a crack at solving it.
11. 10 Cloverfield Lane
“I’m going to keep you alive. You were in an accident and I saved your life by bringing you here. Everyone outside of here is dead.”
Literally, the only thing that could have made 10 Cloverfield Lane better, in my mind, is to go complete Being John Malkovich on it and just have John Goodman play himself as the film’s antagonist. Don’t change a word of his dialogue or a single action he takes in the film: just, when he dramatically reveals himself at the beginning of the movie, have Michelle squint up in confusion and say, “…John Goodman?”
Even without that self-imposed bit of meta-commentary, though, this film stands out as a taut little mind-fuck of a thriller. Its brilliance lies in what initially comes off as the film tipping its hand early – one of the central mysteries of the film is actually solved by the end of the first act. Everything that follows, however, builds upon itself, as doubt, mistrust, and jealousy seep into the cracks of the relationships between the characters. Without getting into spoilers, the film ends with Michelle making a fateful decision, one that brings her arc to such a fulfilling conclusion that this film just missed making my top 10 for the year.
And that’s it for the back half! Come back (hopefully) tomorrow to take a look at my Ten Favorite films of the Year!