2016: A Cinematic Review

Looking Back at the highs and lows of 2016 at the Cinema

2016 has been a pretty shit, let’s be honest right from the get go: it’s been a year that saw Brexit, the Election of President Trump (sigh), the deaths of some wonderfully talented people and an array of truly talentless people sadly entering into the public consciousness- Honey G I’m looking at you! Closer to home here in Northern Ireland 2016 saw yet another year where our political institutions remained stuck in a quagmire with no sign of any real change coming anytime soon: but hey BanterFlix isn’t a political website so let’s not get bogged down by talking about such depressing things, we’re a film review site after all so let’s talk about what 2016 has been like at the cinema.

Awards season this year was dominated by films like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant and Spotlight: George Miller’s film didn’t pick up any of the supposed ‘biggies’ but this steampunk pseudo-western dominated the technical categories and rightfully so, it’s a film that deserved to be seen on the biggest screen with the best sound system and worth every penny of your cinema ticket. After four previous attempts it was finally Leo’s year as he took home the Oscar for his performance in the Revenant, a performance that saw the actor really suffer for his art and whilst he’s given better performances in previous roles 2016 was deemed by the Academy to be ‘his year’. Brie Larson also won Best Actress for her equally impressive performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, it’s strange to think that a film about a mother and son living within captivity would be so wonderfully uplifting, but it really is and I’d recommend watching it. Whilst Larson was fully deserving in the many accolades bestowed upon her this year, for me it was young (I feel old enough to say that now) Jacob Tremblay who really made the film really work.

Cinemagoers suffering from comic book fatigue will have found no respite this year with no less than six big-budget blockbusters hitting cinemas this year. Some were better than others, Deadpool for instance showed than when handled correctly comic book movies could be aimed at older audiences and not just 12A viewing demographic. Personally I found Deadpool somewhat disappointing; yes it was edgier and more visceral than most of the usual comic-book output; but it still felt like it was targeted towards younger viewers: I’d much rather have another film like Dredd, a comic book movie with an 18 viewing certificate that I could enjoy as an adult. I’m well aware that I’m an immature 34 year old at the best of times, but every now and again I want to watch something a 12 year old can’t.

If post-credit stings have become the norm thanks to Marvel, then 2016 has seen several other studios trying to copy yet another idea Marvel Studio have popularized, the expanded cinematic universe. Along with DC Comics who’ve taken their first tentative steps into this boxset viewing mentality, we’ve also seen the emergence of the Cloverfield expanded universe and next year we’ll see even more, with Universal entering into the fray with their rebooted classical monsters series and even Hasbro who’ll attempt to expand their own Transformers franchise beyond their standalone sequels (Yes Really).

DC’s attempt didn’t really get off to a great start, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice received lukewarm reviews from critics and viewers alike, but that seemed positively tame compared to the panning Suicide Squad would receive months later (more on that later). Batman vs Superman wasn’t a terrible film, but it wasn’t a very good one either; it was lumbered with the weight of expectation as it tried to establish this new universe within one film and give us a new Batman for the post-Nolan era.

Put simply BvS had too much going on and it’s attempt to put two pop-culture icons against each other just felt more contrived than Freddy vs Jason back in 2003; but that’s nothing compared to the ludicrous way in which the writers got their  leading men to reconcile their differences. Marvel Studio’s handled the similar problem with Captain America: Civil War as Cap and Iron Man ended up on opposing sides, but the result was handled much more confidently and Civil War improves for me with each repeated viewing. DC’s central problem and I’ve said this repeatedly is that they just doesn’t seem to know what to do with Superman within their cinematic universe, they’ve tried to ‘Batmanify’ Kal-El and it just hasn’t worked.

As I’ve already mentioned BvS wasn’t great, but it felt like Shakespeare compared to Suicide Squad a deeply muddled feature that seemed to lose itself in the editing room floor.  David Ayer’s film endured extensive reshoots and retooling to lighten the tone and up the violence levels, but the final result is film that felt like the producers started out trying to make an omelette and ended up making scrambled eggs instead. All the ingredients were there for a good film, DC does the Dirty Dozen with an impressive ensemble cast, but in the end it was a disappointing muddled, schizophrenic feature that spent too much time leering at Margot Robbie’s Derriere and not enough trying to tell an interesting coherent story. Much like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in BvS, Jared Leto’s Joker felt shoehorned into the overall narrative and his presence within the film was ultimately superfluous.

Another big disappointment for me this year and I take no pleasure in saying so was Sony’s attempted reboot of Ghostbusters. I wanted this film to be good, I genuinely did, but it wasn’t!  It was never going to hold a candle to the original which remains one of my favourite films of all time; but I wanted Paul Feig’s film to deliver as a massive fuck you to the considerable online trolling the film received in the run up to its release. Feig’s film isn’t bad, it’s no Dirty Grandpa or Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (two truly terrible films), but Ghostbusters just wasn’t funny enough and it was severely hampered by a screenplay filled with nostalgia and lip-service to fans of the original, many of whom  didn’t want this film in the first place.

It feels awkward just bringing it up, but I never had any problem with the decision to reboot the franchise with four women in the leading roles, in fact I embraced it: these were four really funny women, who ultimately deserved a better screenplay than they were given. On the plus side though watching Ghostbusters helped me discover Kate McKinnon and I’ve never looked back.

Maybe my tastes are changing but as a 34 year old cinemagoer sometimes this past year I’ve been left sitting in my cinema seat feeling like I’m 70 year old during trips to my local multiplex wondering what I’ve just watched and why I bothered paying to see it. I’ve sat through some real stinkers this year, the aforementioned Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave come instantly to mind, but there’s been many more this year, films like War on Everyone, The Legend of Tarzan and even the much heralded Fantastic Beasts left me feeling deeply underwhelmed: but one film more than others has left me feeling more annoyed than any other and that’s Independence Day: Resurgence. A truly horrible sequel that we didn’t really need in the first place. It offered very little to justify its existence and to put things into perspective Will Smith dodged this bullet when he refused to come back and this is an actor who signed up for Suicide Squad and Collateral Beauty this year.

I don’t wanna be too downbeat, but I but I only mentioned Resurgence because I wanted to talk about Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and I was trying to make a seamless segue from one film to another. Arrival is a fantastic piece of filmmaking, a good old fashioned sci-fi feature that had lofty ideas and aspirations. It’s beautifully shot and features a fantastic central performance from Amy Adams. It was the film we needed in 2016, a year that has seen so much negativity throughout the world: it tries to remind us that instead of putting up barriers and living in isolation we should learn to sit down and talk to each other.

The year ended with the release of Rogue One, the first non episodic instalment within the Star Wars franchise. Fans of the original trilogy have been quick to praise the film and it’s darker more adult tone: some have even claimed it’s the best film within the series since Empire Strikes Back. Whilst I’ll admit that’s probably true, the film’s final act is simply superb, but I still think Rogue One could’ve been a lot better. I’d have liked more time with these new characters and a chance to really get to know them as they undertook this perilous mission. It’s the prequel we should’ve got when the prequels were first announced; but that’s my problem for a standalone entry within the franchise it felt very safe and not as far removed from the Skywalker universe as it could’ve been.

Whilst I’m talking about Star Wars I couldn’t not talk about Star Trek the franchise celebrated it’s 50th anniversary this year so there was a huge level of expectation upon Beyond’s shoulders. Thankfully the film delivered and featured the best punch the air moment I can remember at the cinema for quite some time. Yes Idris Elba’s villain could have been fleshed out more, but Star Trek Beyond bucked the trend this year: it wasn’t mean and moody or super-serious, but it was a big-budget blockbuster that was true to the spirit of Roddenberry’s creation and a hell of a lot of fun.

Every year it’s near impossible to pick just one film as your out and out favourite of the past year, particularly when you’ve films like Arrival, Sing Street and Green Room to choose from: I actually saw  Jeremy Saulnier’s film back in 2015 and anyone who knows me will know I haven’t shut up about it ever since. This year I’ve similarly waxed lyrical about Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire which I saw at the London Film Festival, but I’ll resist temptation to bore you with just how much I loved it and you’ll have to wait until April when the film is released, but believe me it’s really really good, like early Tarantino good!

All those films are great and they feature in my top 10 for 2016, well apart from Free Fire for obvious reasons, this year there was a clear frontrunner for me and that was Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This fantastically funny film from the director of What We Do in the Shadows had me laughing from start to finish. It’s a simply wonderful film and its recently found its way onto Netflix’s streaming services and I’d fully recommend checking it out.

There’s been some real cinematic gems this year and I simply don’t have time to talk about all of them, picking just ten has been really difficult. There’s some great films that haven’t made my list, movies like Spotlight , 10 Cloverfield Lane, Nocturnal Animals and The Shallows: even Nicolas Winding Refn’s much maligned feature The Neon Demon. the film divided opinion and as much as I liked it, I’d say to anyone who thought it was fantastic hoke out Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno (Not the Tom Hanks one) to see the movies the director is paying homage to within his stylish feature.

So that’s been my brief little recap of the past 12 months of cinema, here’s my Top 10 films for the year and here’s to 2017 and more trips to the cinema.

1)      Hunt for the Wilder People

2)      Arrival

3)      Sing Street

4)      Green Room

5)      Room

6)      I, Daniel Blake

7)      Hell or Highwater

8)      The Witch

9)      The Girl with all the Gifts

10)   Café Society

Written by Jim McClean

 

 

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