Monday, January 9, 2017

My Favorite Movies of 2016


2016 was an all around pretty terrible god damn year, right?

You were there, so you know. It was crap. It was all crap... except for movies. For some reason, when it came to movies, 2016 was actually pretty damn good. Which is an extra good thing, because this was definitely a year when we all needed an escape now and then.

This is my seventh year of posting my Top Ten Favorite Movies, and just like in the previous posts, the same rules apply. This is my list. It's my own choices and my own rankings. My decisions were not necessarily based totally on the art of the film, or the technical skill, or the amount of talent on display, or how re-watchable these films might be, no, my decisions were much more arbitrary, and thus, unimpeachable. I tell you this in order to maybe pre-explain why something you really, really liked might not have appeared on my Top Ten, or even on the Honorable Mentions that are listed after that. What I'm saying is, I'm not claiming these are irrefutably "the best" films of 2016, but they are my favorites.

Also, I'm proud to say I managed to avoid seeing enough really bad films that I wasn't able to create a Top Ten Worst Films list, but I did see a few that were real stinkers, so I included those at the very, very bottom... where they belong.

So, perhaps a little late, but here it is... enjoy.

BEST MOVIES OF 2016

10. The Greasy Strangler

Picture not entirely accurate

Ronnie runs a disco walking tour along with his browbeaten son, Brayden. When a sexy, alluring woman named Janet comes to take the tour, it begins a competition between father and son for her attentions. It also brings about the appearance of an oily, slimy, inhuman maniac who stalks the streets at night and strangles the innocent-soon dubbed the Greasy Strangler.

This is the only film I saw twice at Fantastic Fest.

Is it gross? Yes. Is there a lot of ugly cock in the film? Oh, yeah. Is it weird? Jesus Christ, yes. Does it try to make you uncomfortable. Yes, at times. But what it's not, is mean or ugly... at least, not in intent. It's not frat humor. I mean, yes, it is kind of terrible, but it's also genius.

Really. I loved it.

The key to the Greasy Strangle is that it tries to tell an actual story. It doesn't exist to just mock its characters, it tries to build real ones (or at least "real" ones), it's just that they're weirdos, with super weird, and (presumably) unrealistic lives. Of course, that story is a little hard to describe. imagine if Napolean Dynamite hadn't been made by Mormons, and involved a lot more murder and nudity, and you're close. Yes, you could easily dismiss this weird god damn film--and just as easily be run off by it, to be honest--but if you give it its space and let it run, the sets, the music, the dialogue, the costumes, the pure comedic timing of the main trio, the willingness to just be colossally nuts... you'll see, it's a well-made and ballsy film. Maybe a bit too long, but whatever. Either way, it's a unique film, something that needs to be seen to be believed. It's a Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie, my friends. Bottom line? This was a surprisingly funny and pretty insane film, and yet, in the end, it really is about fathers and sons and the bonds they share.

And the importance of cooking greasy. Not to mention, the creamiest of creamy cocktails.

People waste their time on shit like The Room, or Birdemic--crappy films made by untalented schlubs--but Greasy Strangler is the real deal, my friends, this is the one true weird and creepy King of Midnight Movies. This is your brilliant outsider art, that is also a truly great film.



9. Deadpool

Wade Wilson is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary. His world comes crashing down when evil scientist Ajax tortures, disfigures and transforms him into Deadpool. The rogue experiment leaves Deadpool with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor. With help from mutant allies Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Deadpool uses his new skills to hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

I've never been a fan of Deadpool.

The character of Deadpool was born in a real bad time for comics, a well known low point known as... the 90s. The 90s were a dark time, a grim and gritty time, and comics were struggling to be seen by the genral public as more than just ham-fisted, four-color fisticuffs. In short, the 90s were like puberty for comics, and as a result, some real bad decisions were made. Ill-advised goatees were grown. Clothing with too many pockets were worn. Everything was bloated, and looked like it was probably oily to the touch. When it came to women, or sex, there was clearly zero understanding. So, yeah... during the 90s, Deadpool was on brand. Ninja stuff. Wolverine type powers. Dumb name that involves the words "blood", "dead", "kill", "razor", yadda, yada, yadda, maybe used alone, but probably in some kind of combination. He was a garbage character made for garbage people, just crap art in it's pure essence. And looking back now, some days, I don't know how the industry survived. I can only chalk it up to the fact that we were too dumb to know any better.

Anyway... Long story short? Deadpool was terrible.

So, when it looked like the project was finally going to get off the ground (shockingly, despite FOX's best efforts to the contrary for over a decade), thanks to a mysteriously "leaked" film test that the internet loved, I just wasn't interested. But as time went on... I started to notice things. The costume looked pretty good. Really good, in fact. And despite the extremely low budget, the scenes I saw all looked good too. And not just good, but fun too. The ads seemed to be in on fun, as well. The more I saw, the more it seemed like the people involved were in it for love. They seemed to care.

I like that, so I went.

A lot of people talk now about how this film is a "new and different" way to approach superhero films, but it's not, don't be fooled by that shit. That's just nonsense from people who either don't know what they're talking about, or don't want to admit that they liked a superhero movie. What I saw when I went to this movie was a good time action film, one that was mostly funny, had some nice moments, some great fights, was pretty clever, was unafraid of its darkness, but wasn't drowning in it, and as a surprise bonus, it included the best version of the X-Men Colossus yet, and it was all wrapped up with a surprisingly sweet message about real love, and how it's what's inside that really counts. Really. Seriously. I was shocked too. When I went to Deadpool, what I saw was a good film, made by people who cared.

That made all the difference.



8. Men and Chicken

Two outcast brothers get to know their biological family and discover the horrible truth about themselves and their relatives.

That synopsis is right, but it also doesn't come anywhere close to explaining this film.

Men and Chicken is about two brothers. One is trying to have a normal life, but he's saddled with his highly combative, and chronically masturbating, older brother. Upon their Father's death, they discover that they were adopted and so they set off to find their real Father. This leads them to a small island populated by weirdos, and specifically three long-lost, and highly combative, brothers that they never knew they had. The film is all about dealing with crazy family, and why that is a worthwhile endeavor, obviously, but it's also a super weird and super funny and surprisingly complex comedy. The physical comedy in this film is top notch, seriously top notch, the actors really throw themselves into these roles, and yet, that brilliance is easily surpassed by the consistently lightning-quick wit. There are multiple scenes that just ping-pong back and forth so fast, it'll leave you breathless, and, as someone watching a subtitled film, that's really saying something.

The chemistry of this cast of oddballs is joy to watch.

The brothers are hyper unrealistic in their portrayal, of course, as is the story itself, and even the incredible set they inhabit--a run down Sanitarium that seems to be mostly rot and mold--and yet there's a deliberate consistency to it all that is maintained throughout. This consistency is important for the insanity of the final act, and as a result, when it all comes together at the end, it ends up fitting very nicely. Simply put, this whole film works. In every way it intended to, Men and Chicken works, and that's very satisfying.



7. Hell or High Water

Toby is a divorced father who's trying to make a better life for his son. His brother Tanner is an ex-convict with a short temper and a loose trigger finger. Together, they plan a series of heists against the bank that's about to foreclose on their family ranch. Standing in their way is Marcus, a Texas Ranger who's only weeks away from retirement. As the siblings plot their final robbery, they must also prepare for a showdown with a crafty lawman who's not ready to ride off into the sunset.

Hell or High Water is a simple and straight forward film.

Now, for some people, they would see this as detrimental right from the start. Sure, you could probably say that you could tell what was going to happen in the film, or claim that you had seen something like it before, but honestly, that's just meaningless nonsense. That's just you, getting in your own way. This isn't a film that's trying to trick you, or change the way things are done. This is a film that's all about telling a story, and it does a really good job of that.

People call this film Texas Noir--despite mostly being filmed in New Mexico, ahem--and like most noir films, it's all about that believable atmosphere. It's just wide open vistas and prairie scrub land the whole time, all oozing with desert heat and dusty sweat.

It's not just a well made film, it's a gorgeous film too.

After that, it's almost hard to the rest of the film's quality put into the appropriate words. The cast is stellar. The script is tight. The story is tense. It looks amazing throughout. Everyone's motivations are murky, and everyone takes their turn as hero and villain. Everything works just like it's supposed to, pulling you along exactly like it should. In short, this is just plain old good work, subtly brilliant, and surprisingly unflashy. If you're the type of person who claims there aren't any "adult (not porn)" films anymore, then this is the film for you.

It's a good story, well told, and that's all you really need.



6. High Rise


Life for the residents of a tower block begins to run out of control.

High Rise is pretty much the exact opposite of Hell or High Water.

Where Hell or High Water is a basically straight forward classic tale, High Rise is a much more twisted and opaque one. Based off the J.G. Ballard novel about the residents of a high-rise tower who devolve into madness, this wasn't really a film I expected to work as a film. The novel certainly isn't one that you'd call "adaptation friendly". There's no real hero or villain really, no winners by any means, there's not even much of a resolution, to be honest, and a good portion of the book is basically suburban cavemen climbing up and down garbage-strewn stairwells in order to murder and steal from each other. It really didn't seem like it would have much appeal...

But then, there's Ben Wheatley.

Here's a Director who specializes in weird. He's someone with tons of style, tons of flare, and tons of ability, (and maybe less concern for narrative in general). Frankly, he was the perfect choice for this adaptation, because what High Rise needed was wall to wall style, since, like I said, the story was always more impressionistic than anything else.

Anyway, the result is a gorgeous film, both at the start when everything is a crazy 1950s dream-life, where everything is clean and straight and beautiful, and when it's all eventually broken down and covered in filth and gore too. The building is a living being in the film, and it's utterly broken and wrong, its blood-spattered walls and trash-cluttered halls all perfectly reflect the tower occupants' descent into madness. Tom Hiddleston is particularly great, as is Luke Evans, and the story of how the rush for wealth, and the unavoidable cut-throat competition of capitalism, ultimately damages you is a grimy and vicious one, but the most important statements are the ones embedded in what you see on the screen. I loved what I saw.

Also, this film had my favorite poster of the year.



5. The Invitation

While attending a dinner party at his former house, a man begins to believe that his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister plans for the guests.

You know, if you haven't seen this movie, then don't watch the trailer.

Also, if you like good movies, and you haven't seen The Invitation... go see this movie. Don't look it up. Don't read about it. Just watch it. I went into this film blind, and it blew me away. Even better, I watched it a second time a few weeks later, and it was even better.

Now, some people out there will say "I knew blank was going to happen," or maybe, "It was obvious something was going on." Well, congratulations, Sherlock Fucking Holmes, way to spend the whole movie trying to outguess the plot.

Here's your prize... Nothing.

I mean, sure... What's going on? Is something going to happen? Is it real, or is it all residual anger, hurt feelings, and lack of closure manifesting as paranoia? Yes, it's true, these are the central questions of the movie, but the film isn't about guessing the "twist", it's about the tension, that standing-on-a-precipice feeling of uncertainty, it's about the journey. It's about the people and their relationships. Simply put, The Invitation is a thriller, and it's a really good one too. Karyn Kusama shows a deft and sure hand here. She has made an amazing film. It is a Masterclass in how to take your audience on a ride. It's a super tight, super confined story of old friends and unavoidable baggage. And to loop it all around again, you may think you know what's going on in this film, and you may be right, but it's still so much more than that.

Don't try to figure out this movie, just watch it.



4. Swiss Army Man

Hank is stranded on a deserted island, having given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a corpse named Manny washes up on shore; the two become fast friends, and ultimately go on an epic adventure that will bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams.

Nothing about this film should work for me at all.

It's an "art" film about a farting corpse, with an unstoppable boner, that teaches the protagonist about the power of friendship. The soundtrack is ridiculously twee. It's even set in the Pacific Northwest. The film is so god damn hipster, it should have a curly mustache. For God's sake, the Writer/Director team simply refers to themselves as "The Daniels".

AAAARRRGGGHHH!

At first look, that's all just so god damn awful sounding, that I'd understand if we all just decided to shut down Hollywood forever. Just close it up and be done with it, because shit's gone too far...

But...

But I'd be wrong. We'd all be wrong, because in a year of emotionally vibrant and touching films, Swiss Army Man is one of the best. Everything I said is true. The film is definitely about a farting corpse, with an unstoppable boner, that teaches the protagonist about the power of friendship, but it works. It works so well. It's strange and funny, and affecting, and just plain good. And that's not to say that it's not dark either, or sad. It is, it's very sad. There will be tears, believe me. After all, it's about a farting corpse, with an unstoppable boner, that teaches the protagonist about the power of friendship, so... right from the start, you know at least one character doesn't survive, right? Plus, the other character spends the whole movie alone in the woods playing dress up with a dead guy, so... yeah, shit's fucked up in this film. This is a movie about depression and loneliness and the desperation that grows out of that, consuming everything about a person, until they have nothing left. It's about being at the bottom of the barrel and being unable to climb out.

And then, maybe... finding some hope.

It's funny, and sweet, and very honest. And most importantly, despite the fact that it revolves around a guy riding a farting corpse across the ocean like a gassed-up Jetski, it's strangely believable (or "believable" at least). It's odd, but it makes its own sense. It embraces itself, and doesn't flinch away from its darkness. It's about loss and hope.

In the end, it's surprising. That definitely makes it worth your time.



3. Elle

A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.

I didn't want to see this film.

When deciding what to see or not see, I have a small, informal list of things that generally put me off films right from the start. Blatant propaganda is one. I won't see American Sniper, Patriot's Day, United 93, Act of Valor, Lone Survivor, any of those type of films. Fuck no, and I served, so it's not a distaste for the military or my country, it's the tone, it's the blind approach. If you like them, great, go like them, but they're just not for me. Christian movies are on the list too, big time. God's Not Dead... 1 AND 2, The Left Behind films, Son of God, Miracles from Heaven, Heaven is for Real (which the kid lied about), or that one with Kirk Cameron about the Fireman? No thank you. Again, if they're for you, that's great, but they're not for me. Ever. I'm also not interested in real life hardship/survivor stories either. The Perfect Storm, All is Lost, Deep Water Horizon, Into the Wild... Hard pass. They just bore me. I'm just not interested. Now, at the same time, these are generally not hard and fast rules either, they're more like loose guidelines, well, besides the Christian movie one... But I digress, my point is, the firmest of these rules is I'm pretty much not interested in any movie where Rape is a central plot point.

Elle is all about rape.

I would've skipped it too, but there was so much positive buzz at Fantastic Fest, and then the lottery sat me in it, so I went. That's kind of how it works at Fantastic Fest. Whatever you get, you go see, because you never know, it might be great.

I was wary.

I love Paul Verhoeven. I think Starship Troopers and Robocop are genius films. Genius. But, seriously... I was wary. A bunch of white European guys doing a rape revenge film? That seems like really iffy ground, right? In fact, even though I've seen this film, and I was flat-out wowed by it, I would still hesitate to recommend it to a lot of people, because it's a really hard film.

And because it is all about rape.

But probably not in the way you expect--or at least, not completely. You probably already have something in mind, when you think Rape Revenge Film, right? I feel safe in saying it's probably not accurate, or at least not completely accurate. But it's probably not wrong either. Elle is what it is, but it's also very unexpected. A lot of that is because Paul Verhoeven is a genius, his direction is awesome, and the script he's working off is sharp and fast, but mostly it's because of Isabelle Huppert. She's amazing. Her portrayal of Michelle is a complex, mercurial mix of power and vulnerability, of seething anger and petty jealousy, of love and regret. It's so good. She is witty and smart and funny and hurt and angry and strong. There are layers and layers to her, creating questions about who she is and where she comes from with such ease. It's a fascinating and riveting performance. I wasn't expecting it, I wasn't even interested in seeing it, but man... I loved it.

This is a great film, and yeah, it's a tough film, like I said, it's all about rape, but at the same time, it's not the film you'd expect it to be.



2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.

This movie is delightful. Straight up DEEEE-lightful.

Maybe you haven't seen What We Do in the Shadows yet, and let me just say first off about that... if not, then you should correct that immediately, but of more immediate importance, this probably means you don't know who Taika Waititi is.

You will, of course, this coming November, when Thor: Ragnarok comes out. After that, everyone will know who Taika Waititi is, because he's really talented. His work is funny, it's smart, and it's good looking. He's the real deal, people, and if you want the inside poop from your boy Johnny, honestly, you shouldn't wait until Thanksgiving to get to know his work.

Especially when his latest film is Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Because like I said above, this movie is DE-lightful. Said just like that too, with heavy emphasis on the first syllable, and very firm in your belief, not just brooking no dissent, but in such way that you are obviously unable to imagine how there could possibly be any at all. Once you see the film, you will understand. It's charming and really funny and really sweet, but with a surprisingly sharp edge of darkness, as well. It's a story of two lost people finding each other, and then getting lost together while the whole world looks for them, and you will have no problem spending your time with these two goons. This is a film about loneliness, but it's also about finding your chosen family and your place in the world. It's about two pals on a wild adventure too. Plus, it's really, really funny. Seriously, it's just a damn good time.

The "Ricky Baker" song will stick in your head forever.



1. Green Room

A punk rock band is forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar.

Jeremy Saulnier is the shit, people.

I'm full-on in the bag for this guy. We are currently at the beginning of what's going to be an incredible career. I've gone on and on about this guy's work. Blue Ruin was his last film, and it was amazing. Amazing! If you haven't seen, then go see it. It's a fantastic and bloody revenge film full of tension and raw emotion. It is hard-hitting, people. It is the type of film you watch with your hands over your open mouth. I didn't expect it, and it easily ended up my favorite movie of 2014.

Easily.

So, when I heard his next film was going to involve Patrick Stewart, punk rock, and skinheads, I was definitely interested. In fact, I was actively waiting for it. Does that mean I'm biased? Probably. Is it possible to make a personal Top Ten Movies list without being biased? Isn't that the whole point?

I first saw Green Room at Fantastic Fest in 2015.

That was almost a year and a half ago. I've seen it two more times since then, and it's just as powerful, just as shocking. Green Room is a siege film and a war film. It's the story of a punk rock band playing dive bars on a shoestring tour, who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have to fight their way out.

It is bloody, and mean, and scary, but it's not exploitive. The key to Saulnier's movies lie in his honesty. There's a truth to this rock show that is so apparent, that it cements the film in an unavoidable reality. This isn't a slasher movie. I mean, it's bloody as hell, but it's not a group of clean white upstanding teens running afoul with some toothless, inbred rednecks, it's a bunch of regular people who find themselves in a bad place, that then try to get out of it. That's why it hooks you so deep, because the things the characters do seem like reasonable options. None of them do that horror film classic stupid shit cliche that drives you nuts as you're watching, here, because the characters are real and understandable--panicking, trying to be smart, making decisions you might imagine that you would make--this is what makes the consequences all the more horrifying. It's the reality that makes it all so terrifying. That's why you watch this movie from the edge of your seat, your fists balled and your eyes wide and your mouth hanging open, tense and flinching.

I loved it, I'm a huge fan. It's such a good time.

Plus, in the end, is it really all that surprising that in the year 2016, my favorite movie would turn out to be one that is all about killing motherfucking nazis? People, let me tell you, if your answer is yes, than you don't know me.



The Honorable Mentions

And then there's the other guys...

As I said at the beginning of all this, 2016 was a hell of a year for movies. It was pretty hard to come up with a list of ten, and honestly, I've still got a big chunk of films that I didn't even get a chance to see. Because of this, I've decided to include a list of a few of the films that were so close to making the cut, but didn't.

Now, just to clarify, I don't consider these films to all be "Number 11", y'know?

That's not really how I make my list. I kind of informally split my list-arranging into Top Five type movies, and Bottom Five type movies, (like I said, it's all arbitrary), so some of these films are definitely (technically) "better" than others that did make the list, but for various reasons they were squeezed out of the particular spot they were vying for.

So, if you plan on going out to see my Top Ten, then you should definitely see these eight films too, because they're all fantastic too.

Moonlight is probably (hopefully) going to win Oscars. It's intense and beautiful. It's an amazing film. Captain America: Civil War is a beginning to end good time that does a damn good job of wrapping up Cap's trilogy, all while furthering the over-arching story of the MCU. Plus, Spider-man fights Giant Man. I mean, come on... The Arrival is an amazing film, well-written, good looking, and with a great message. Denis Villeneuve is a name you should always pay attention to. The Handmaiden is a super erotic crime story about a complex con game that slowly unfolds in the most satisfying way. And like I said... super erotic. The Shallows is pure pulply goodness, it's the best kind of high art genre trash. Jaume Collet-Serra makes diamonds out of coal. The Nice Guys is peak Shane Black. Crowe and Gosling belong together. It's brilliant L.A. Noir. Honestly, that's all I should need to say. Toni Erdmann might have been my favorite film at Fantastic Fest. I didn't expect it to be, since it was two and half hours long, and billed as "Germany's funniest film", but it's this sweet and melancholy and charming look at family, and I just loved it. Finally, last but certainly not least, there's Sing Street. Initially I avoided this film, expecting it to be a kind of "retro Glee", but it's not. It's a love letter of pop music told as a coming of age story in 80's Ireland. It's a silly little feel good movie that will actually make you feel good. Plus, the music is great.

These are all great films. Don't forget about them.





THE MAYBES

These eight films might have made the list, if I'd had a chance to see them before the end of the year. Maybe. Who knows, I didn't see them, but I have heard good things, so y'know... if you're not sure what to see, I've heard these are good. I'm going to check them out eventually, you should too.





THE WORST

And then there are these jerks...

I'm glad I didn't see enough films to make a Worst of the Year list. It kind of makes you feel good when your list of shitty films is far outnumbered by your list of fantastic ones. However, that being said, I did see some terrible ones, with five in particular standing out as especially awful. So, even though I didn't make a list, here are the Worst Films of the Year.

For a film set in Egypt, Gods of Egypt had no Egyptians in the main cast. In fact, most of them were lily white. How the hell does that shit still happen? And on top of all that, it was dumb. Warcraft was the dullest epic fantasy action film I've ever seen. I was shocked at how dull it was. It is aggressively dull. It is weaponized dull. X-Men: Apocalypse continues the franchise's long held tradition of being ugly, stupid, poorly made, and stuck in the 90s. Most years, this would've easily been the worst film of the year, but this year... this year was special. This year, we had Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and it was terrible. Every single aspect of it was terrible, from its terrible name, to its terrible script, to its ridiculously terrible overly dark setting, to its terrible handling of iconic characters. It's just wall to wall nonsense. It's an impressively bad film, truly bottom of the barrel. It's shockingly bad. And yet, it's still not the worst...

The worst film of the year is Suicide Squad. Easily. Hands down. I have never seen a more inept movie. It's badly written, badly directed, and badly acted. It's badly edited, and most shocking of all, it's badly put together. It's barely assembled in a coherent order. And most of all, it's ugly and dumb. I hate to go to the cliche of comparing this film to a Hot Topic store, but that's what it is, it's like someone ate a Hot Topic store, and then threw up on something good, ruining it forever. That's this movie. There is nothing good about it. People point to Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, but they're fooling themselves. She's 100% part of the problem, bringing a character to life that romanticizes an obviously abusive relationship. Plus, her shoes are a crime against humanity. Without hyperbole, I believe that Suicide Squad may actually be the worst film ever made.

But the worst part of all of this--besides these films being total garbage from a technical, cinematic, and narrative standpoint--is that taken all together, the admitted budget of these five films is nearly a billion dollars. A billion dollars. That's not counting marketing either, which is probably another billion dollars, at least. Five movies. Over a billion dollars. All irredeemably terrible.

That just makes it all the worse.




So that's it. 2016 is done. Thank god.

Go see some movies,
Jon

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