2016. The mere mention of it is yawn-inducing. It would be a gross understatement to say that this forsaken 8 months of movie-going has been a ‘disappointment’; it would be best described as a black hole, where anticipation, the promise of good premises and the talk of top trailers have fallen without any chance of escape or fightback, doomed to perish. Safe to say, at times its been a grind watching all the movies that I have this year – over 60 of them in fact, with plenty still on the table. However, for all of this arduous cinema visiting, for the repeat loop of the same old adverts, the trailers playing as if they never end and the inevitable voice of the ODEON guy who is always really pissed about ‘you two in the middle row, yeah, okay, I see you’ lingering within the atmosphere like the knowledge that one day the heat death of the universe will come (although I doubt even that will prevent Paramount from making another Transformers instalment), I am in the privileged position of being able to compare all of them. And so, with the summer season having just drawn to its welcome end, and the festival circuit and Oscar campaigning just beginning to flicker back to life, I feel like its time for a little reflection: a summary of the year so far (because, let’s face it, you haven’t read all of my individual reviews nor do you have the time to do so). And what better way to take a look back at 2016 in all of its mediocrity than with some lists – the worst, of course, and the best.
Although the dystopia which I have painted to describe 2016 at the movies is on the money for the most part, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some movies that did slip through the net. There were some that did actually work out this year, even if I think this list is on average weaker than most other years would be up to this point. So, before we have the fun of dissecting the absolute abominations that disgusted beyond the rest in the last few months, let’s try and summon up a bit of praise for the movies that stopped me from walking back from ODEON via a very tall bridge. These 10 movies are the best of the year…so far.
Want to know why something didn’t make the list? Read on at the end for a brief summary of the eligibility criteria.
10) DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD (Entertainment One)
Case in point of how rare good movies have been this year: kicking off the list is a movie that has just as much working against it as it does working for it. I wasn’t expecting much of the Brent reunion tour – I cynically assumed it was a final ploy for Ricky Gervais to regain the kind of cultural relevance that being David Brent gave him originally. And yes, Life On The Road is more often than not impossible to watch without putting your head in your hands and being so socially threatened by what Gervais says that you want to run away from the screen. But what Gervais has done here is make a movie that definitely has more than meets the eye – if you come at Life On The Road from the right angle i.e. not wanting to murder David Brent on sight (which is an opinion that I can empathise with as well as understand), then this movie is a surprisingly poignant, cleverly written and often funny character study of a man who tries so desperately to be a better man than he believes himself to be for the cameras, but just comes across as worse. While I have disagreements with it, I certainly admire Gervais for making a movie that feels like it’s saying something, and in a year this dull that’s not to be taken for granted.
9) THE JUNGLE BOOK (Disney)
Number 9 is a remake, showing that a year this despondent and bereft of life has caused me to completely abandon my usual bias against the remake. To my mind, remaking a movie (and a classic one in this case) is just a lazy cash-grab by people who clearly don’t have audience interests at heart. But when I saw The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau’s technologically stunning reimagining of the animated classic, I was ready and willing to admit I was wrong. I don’t think that the movie itself can even raise a digital paw towards the animal life, which is rendered so astonishingly that Neil Armstrong should have said something about it, but even so there’s a very solid narrative underneath. Justin Marks’s script hits the right tone, Jon Favreau is an assured director, and the turns of some of the most recognisable voices in all of Hollywood (Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Scarlett Johansson amongst others) being as memorable as you might expect. I’ll admit I didn’t quite fall in love with this movie, as I couldn’t help but feel like that it was more of a tech demonstration, like the ones you’ll see on shop floor TV’s in PC World, than an engaging film, but despite that its a decent blockbuster movie that everybody can enjoy, and in a show of Disney’s ability to actually make good movies, something that every other studio has seemed to be in dire need of these last few months, it’s the first of FOUR Disney movies on this list.
8) STAR TREK BEYOND (Paramount)
I admit that I perhaps went a little overboard in my praise for Star Trek Beyond at the time – it broke what was something like a two month long continuous stream of, frankly, shite. What you think of a movie does often depend on the climate in which you watch them, and I’m sure my opinion of Beyond would have differed if I’d just seen Goodfellas. June and early July had been so poor that my expectations had genuinely diminished, a bit like a Unicef-sponsored child whose well was running increasingly thin. But I still think Beyond is a good movie, a very good one in fact – despite a lot of questions in the movie press about whether series newcomer Justin Lin could take over from J.J. Abrams, as well as that shockingly generic first trailer, Lin delivered a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that felt more like the original TV series than the Abrams entries, as well as delivering some stunningly visceral action sequences photographed by the incredible Claudio Miranda. The performances were strong as always in the new Trek series too, and even though Idris Elba’s villain felt quite weak and the script had some teething problems, Beyond was a godsend of a movie that gave me a whole lot of enjoyment.
7) CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (Disney)
Too soon? I can hear you now, Marvel diehards across the multiverse, but I have to confess that I think Civil War is an overrated movie. After I viewed it, I checked up on what the rest of the world thought, and there were maximum score reviews and maximum score reviews and enough fan-boys climaxing over the airport fight for the sheer force of Earth’s collective orgasm to register on the Richter scale. I couldn’t help but think I saw a different movie: don’t get me wrong, Civil War is a terrific film that works very well, gets the central conflict between Rogers and Stark down to a science, has strong action impeccably directed by the Russo Brothers, all I hoped and dreamed for. But it felt choppy and a little bit jumbled; the pacing didn’t quite work, characters seemed to arrive to have one crowd-pleasing moment and then disappear again…I know these are all symptoms of the Cinematic Universe, the caveat that now means all movies have to tease upcoming films and reference previous films, to the point where the actual movie I’m trying to watch gets swamped in the whole interconnected, wibbly wobbly (but not timey wimey) ball of narrative that the MCU is, and the DCEU is fast on its way to becoming a Satanic version of. But Marvel are still doing a pretty fine job of balancing its universe out after 13 instalments (DC is shitting bricks already, and they’re barely out of the blocks), the characters are still as strong and well-acted as ever, and once again there is a propulsive storyline that continues to keep this universe interesting. Marvel are beginning to look invulnerable.
6) FINDING DORY (Disney)
No surprises here – the Pixar movie makes the top 10, a phrase repeated by every film reviewer the world over pretty much every year. But as much as Finding Dory is, as expected, an absolutely terrific movie, it doesn’t quite bridge the gap to become a classic Pixar picture. Of course, the brilliance of Nemo does loom over this movie a bit, and for everything good it does I couldn’t help but think ‘Finding Nemo did that just a tad better’. For Pixar, this is a middling movie, which means two things: 1) Pixar know how to make movies, and they are the most consistent production company in cinema history and 2) Finding Dory just doesn’t have enough to reach the top tier, a place that the Toy Story‘s, Up and WALL-E reside. That’s not to say its a disappointment by any means: Finding Dory delivers pretty much everything you could want, from an absolutely stunning voice performance (and even better story arc) from Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, more laughs than nearly every studio comedy this year, and a narrative that makes you feel for Dory in a way that I never thought possible. You do you, Pixar.
5) EDDIE THE EAGLE (Lionsgate)
If there was any movie this year that I would brand as a ‘pleasant surprise’, it would have to be this ridiculously, almost guiltily feel-good biopic about a man so nuts he was actually kind of incredible. Eddie The Eagle is not a movie that reinvents the wheel: if anything, it strengthens the wheel, following the sports movie conventions unwaveringly, to the absolute letter – a bit like Osborne followed Cameron when they were running our country. But for what it is, it’s a movie you can turn your brain off for and just let the charm of it all win you over. Taron Egerton is fast becoming a terrific lead actor, and Hugh Jackman doesn’t do him any harm with a charismatic display that never overshadows the movie. And despite all that, it’s probably not even the best movie about unlikely athletes at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. Maybe it’s because Hans Zimmer didn’t score it. Anyhow, Eddie The Eagle is probably the movie that made me smile so much I couldn’t bring myself to criticise it too much – there are some scenes that don’t work, the narrative is pushed into the template so tightly that the plot mechanisms doing so feel massively forced, almost choking you into submission. However, as a functional (emphasis on the first three letters) little movie, it’s one of the most charming you’ll find this year.
4) THE CONJURING 2 (Warner Bros.)
The highest ranking sequel on the list, and deservedly so: The Conjuring series is looking destined to be remembered as the series that brought horror back with a bang. While the last few years of horror movies have had a consistent theme of low-budget, small-scale ambition, lazy jump scares and characters stupid enough to actually take the audience’s IQ down with them, The Conjuring 2 is something so refreshing. James Wan, now horror’s undisputed emperor, has created a movie that feels like more than a standard horror movie: a film with genuine ambition, stunning and purposeful camerawork, brilliant performances and sequences, and of course a wonderfully gruesome tone. With this movie, James Wan hasn’t just reinforced himself as a terrific horror director, but a properly talented filmmaker at the peak of his powers who is almost resurrecting his genre on his back alone (I feel like it would be unfair not to mention Lights Out, a decently frightening low-budget horror he produced). Take this, Lights Out, and the upcoming Blair Witch which is gaining buzz Oscar contenders would give an arm and a leg for, and you know horror isn’t just strengthening – its exploding.
3) ZOOTROPOLIS (Disney)
I have no doubt that if every reviewer in the world did a list like this, and you averaged out which movies did the best in each of them, Disney’s technically brilliant Zootropolis (retitled from Zootopia in the States due to that title’s similarity with a Danish zoo) would take the prize by a distance. And it’s a title that, on a technical level expressly, it probably deserves: not only is it a family film that will work in every demographic as its practically impossible to dislike, but it might be the sharpest and most prescient movie about the state of the world right now. The incisiveness of Jared Bush’s screenplay sneaks up on you, blanketed underneath the cute anthropomorphism and the pretty colours, and as the narrative develops you begin to see that this is a film with far deeper motives. But as much as I love it, and it’s ultimate Disney (the only studio who seem to have figured out filmmaking at the moment) formula, which is basically as solid a structure as a movie can possibly have, I didn’t love it unconditionally: there were still two movies that stole my heart more than Zootropolis, although it will hit you dead on with every single emotional beat.
2) DEADPOOL (Fox)
“It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely goddamn brilliant. You’ll never be able to watch The Proposal in the same way now.”
“You’re probably thinking, “My boyfriend said this was a superhero movie but that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kebab!” Well, I may be super, but I’m no hero. And yeah, technically, this is a murder. But some of the best love stories start with a murder. And that’s exactly what this is, a love story. And to tell it right… I gotta take you back to long before I squeezed this ass into red spandex.” – This is one of the many monologues that Ryan Reynolds utters in the funniest superhero movie of all time, without question, without argument. Deadpool is literally the best outcome anybody could have hoped for when the movie was greenlit after some excellently funny test footage was leaked onto the web, reportedly by Reynolds HIMSELF. In a sea of similar comic book movies, Deadpool dropped in from a bridge and tore the template to shreds – R-rated? Self-referential? And yet Deadpool made more money than any other Fox comic book movie, and for far less expenditure than a certain X-Men movie that came out three months later (which will be talked about very soon). Deadpool puts in a performance so hilarious, so perfect, that you feel like he’s acting whenever he plays Ryan Reynolds. The direction and pacing are balls-to-the-wall from newcomer Tim Miller; screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have crafted a script that will give you your most intense ab workout this year, and every single cast member absolutely nailed it. The story’s a little thin, and Ed Skrein’s villain feels a bit wet if I’m being honest (come on, he’s named after washing-up liquid), but this movie is an excellent comedy, released at the perfect time – a side-splitting, fourth wall breaking (inside fourth wall breaking – that’s like, sixteen walls) retort to the comic book establishment by the new rulers of superhero filmmaking. The only thing that came as surprising is that I liked one movie, just one, more.
1) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Paramount)
I love Deadpool like I would love my own child, believe me. But while that was a movie so funny that the plot could afford to be basic, 10 Cloverfield Lane strips it all down – this movie is plot and characters, nothing else, and done to the point of sheer and utter genius. Why do I think 10 Cloverfield Lane is the movie of the year so far? It requires a break-down: director Dan Trachtenberg has delivered the best direction of the year by a distance, an almost inconceivably confident and assured piece of filmmaking, packed to the brim with suspense, tension, purposeful cuts and shots, that a great director 10 studio pictures in would be amazed by: this is Trachtenberg’s FIRST STUDIO MOVIE. It has, in the truly astonishing work by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, the two best performances of the year, worthy of Oscar nominations no matter what gets released in the latter months of 2016. Winstead, one of the most underrated lead actors in the world, is strong-willed, resourceful, and also a character that thinks ahead of the plot in a film in which every shot gives you the information to read the situation like she does – as a lead, she is nigh-on perfect. And then there’s Goodman, best known for his loveable voice performance in the Monsters Inc. movies, playing a mentally unhinged doomsday theorist who slides from being kind and happy to truly terrifying and remorseless, often in the same frame. It’s the little things, the tiny details, that turn 10 Cloverfield Lane into something that is so good its other-worldly, as well as a terrific script written by Josh Campbell and assisted by the remarkably talented Damien Chazelle, the best musical score of the year from Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary, and a consistency of tone that is unparalleled in moviemaking these last few months. I adore this movie to the point where I would jump in front of oncoming traffic to defend it. I think this movie, personally, is deserving of awards recognition, barring a festival circuit that heralds some of the best movies ever made. Trachtenberg, Winstead, Goodman and McCreary, as well as the script team, are most definitely in the conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, I really do mean this, this is a movie that would stand high in any year, in spite of the fact you could argue that 10 Cloverfield Lane is the best of a bad bunch, which 2016 has certainly been. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a wonderful film that you have to see, above anything else, and I’m absolutely delighted to say it is (so far, of course) heading up 2016.
To all of you who made it this far, thank you very much for taking the time to read this list – if you have any disagreements with it (and I know you will), then say something down in that comment box, and I’ll be happy to respond. If you liked this and you’re looking forward to more, then my Top 10 Worst Movies Of The Year (So Far) list is coming in the next few days.
Eligibility Criteria: Any movie released between 1/1/2016 and 31/8/2016 in the United States – films released outside of this period are not eligible for tbis list. Films that do not have a United States release date will be determined via their release date in the United Kingdom.