Movies 2016 – best and worst

Over a year out of date with this post, but here we go … these are the films I watched for the first time in 2016 and this is the order I want to put them in.


Local Hero – OK so this is actually from 1983, but I’ve only just seen it and I loved it so there it is.  Made on a shoestring but yet somehow having Burt Lancaster in it (as well as future Brit stars such as Peter Capaldi, Denis Lawson, Fulton Mackay and Jenny Seagrove), it’s really lovely and a little bit silly.  Wonderful.

The Nice Guys – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourite films of all time and this has director Shane Black’s fingerprints all over it.  Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as private detectives and, although I drifted a little in quarter two, the rest was really cracking.  Dark comedy, that’s the way to describe it – dramatic scenarios with real life outcomes.  Loved it.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Girl gets cancer, boy befriends her.  Sounds rubbish but is really great.  Manages to avoid being sappy and tackles everything head-on with tact and skill.

Arrival – How incredibly refreshing to have an aliens movie without running and shooting … like getting a brain massage.  Loved it.  Not telling you what happens.

The Big Short – A potentially dry subject (the financial collapse) but sharply told with drama and humour by a great cast including Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Rafe Spall, Brad Pitt and Marisa Tomei.  Weird editing in places – changing scene by cutting someone off before they’ve finished their sente…

The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne becomes the world’s first gender reassignment patient.  Very touching, and very Tom Hooper – you can see the similarities with The King’s Speech.  Hard to see how it could have been done better.

Brooklyn – A beautifully crafted tale of a young 1950s Irish girl going to live in America.  Saiorse Ronan commands the screen and Domhnall Gleeson turns up in this as well as pretty much any decent film around at the moment (well … when I wrote that nearly a year ago that was true!).  A lovely film.

Learning to Drive – Sometimes the simplest films are the best.  Ben Kingsley teaches Patricia Clarkson to drive and it’s a quiet, unassuming, straight-to-DVD joy.  Didn’t even get a cinema release in the UK (I saw it on a plane).

A Hologram for the King – Another simple one, but disguised as Hollywood, starring as it does, Tom Hanks.  Not a lot happens as Tom tries to make things happen in Saudi Arabia, but the characters make it work.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Everybody’s seen this so there’s no need for me to tell you it’s like the first 1977 one and it’s very good.  Instead I’ll point out that stormtroopers are supposed to be anonymous.  But this time one of them defects and becomes a goodie, so after that, every time one of them got shot I was thinking, “but that’s a guy in that suit – a kid taken from his family just like this hero guy.  Why are you killing these guys?”  I probably wasn’t supposed to think that.

Eddie the Eagle – Feel-good Brit-flick with the kid from Kingsman practically unrecognisable as ski-jumper Eddie and Hugh Jackman as the washed-up coach.  Pappy and lovely, as only the British can do.  Great stuff.

An Education (2009)  Carey Mulligan looking impossibly young as a 16 year old 1960s pupil trying to get to Oxford University and her relationship with a charming older man (Peter Sarsgaard).  Written partly by Nick Hornby, it’s greater than the sum of its parts and is very, very watchable.  Carey Mulligan is exceptional in it.

Carol – Intense brooding drama with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett having a frowned-upon (at the time) fling in 1950s New York.

Room – Excellent.  Opens with a mother and 4 year old child (who I would’ve sworn black and blue was a girl but apparently isn’t) who live in a single room.  The way we learn the background feels like one of those loneliness-based sci-fi movies – Silent Runnings / Moon / Solaris etc. but it goes in a series of directions.  Great performance from the lead Brie Larson and a quite unbelievable turn by the kid, who is completely convincing throughout.  I guess you have to give credit to director Lenny Abrahamson (who did last year’s brilliant “Frank”) for that.

Zootropolis – A city, but with animals.  Great fun and suitable for young kids too.  This was called Zootopia in America– it’s the same film just branded differently.  The sloth is hilarious.

Sicario – Emily Blunt gets involved with the FBI rather too deeply for her liking.  Much better than I expected.

Spotlight – Journalists from The Boston Globe investigate Catholic priests molesting children.  Hard to believe it’s all true, but it is – and somehow it’s still happening and people are still Catholics.  People are weird.  This ended up winning the Best Picture Oscar over The Revenant (which you’ll notice I haven’t mentioned yet…)

The Lobster – Barking mad premise about being changed into an animal if you can’t find a partner, but really rather fun.  Features a largely British cast of Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw & John C Reilly.

Second Coming – I’m really not sure about this one.  Idris Elba’s missus gets pregnant but Idris is sure they haven’t done the necessary baby-making activities.  I couldn’t hear at least half of the dialogue, which is really annoying, but somehow the whole thing had me gripped.  The kid is the star in my opinion, and the direction must be great because it felt so very real.  Can’t say I understood it all though … there was a scene with a shower going mental that didn’t seem to make any sense at all … maybe if I could’ve heard the dialogue I would’ve understood…

Florence Foster Jenkins – Meryl Streep as the dotty old bat who can’t sing but nobody tells her.  Really quite delightful, which you might expect from director Stephen Frears (Philomena, Tamara Drewe, The Queen, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons).  We’re all laughing at Florence’s caterwauling, but we’re on her side as well.  Beautiful.

The Secret Life of Pets – Fun animation, largely for kids put still pretty funny.

Steve Jobs – Michael Fassbender as the Apple boss is more compelling than he should be really, and this is a country mile better than that Ashton Kutcher haemorrhoid “Jobs” from a couple of years ago.  That certainly was a load of Jobs.

Trumbo – Bryan Cranston unsurprisingly commands this rather good biopic of the 1960s screenwriter blackballed from Hollywood for being a communist.

The Legend of Barney Thomson – Robert Carlyle stars in his directorial debut about a barber getting into all kinds of trouble.  Better than the slightly silly story suggests.

Crazy, Stupid Love (2011)  An ensemble cast led by Steve Carell and also featuring Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon.  How can it be bad with that cast?  It can’t.  It’s clever and funny and very likeable.

A Bigger Splash – Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes are all that matter in this dark and slightly weird character-driven tale of posh people in Italy.  I’m *fairly* sure we were supposed to dislike Fiennes’ super-exuberant, overbearing character, but I loved him.  Ralph really is at the top of his game right now – he’s brilliant in everything.

Bad Santa 2 – Billy Bob Thornton reprises his potty-mouthed Santa role from the 2003 original and it’s the same again – crude, clumsy but rather fun.  Suffers from a very weak baddie but pulls through.

War Dogs – Better than it has any right to be, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller (the drummer from Whiplash) sell guns and get into the trouble you would imagine that involves.  Similar to Lord of War, and roughly as good.

Deadpool – Great fun superhero nonsense with a high dose of comedy.  Ryan Reynolds does his usual wisecracking bit and pokes fun at all the other superhero movies, and himself, and the movie itself.  Much more fun to do it that way than retread the same old story – though having said that, the basic plotline *is* exactly the same as all the others…

The Intern – Average pap made rather good by Robert de Niro as the veteran intern in young hotshot Anne Hathaway’s internet retailer.

99 Homes – Surprisingly absorbing story about home repossessions starring Andrew Garfield (the least memorable Spider-Man).

Love & Mercy – I really enjoyed this biopic of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys and I’m not sure why.  John Cusack plays him when he’s old, Paul Dano when he’s young.  I had no idea Brian Wilson was such a troubled soul.

The Ides of March (2011) – With Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei, this was always going to be good.  It’s political drama but it’s good political drama.

Rams – Icelandic sheep farming with subtitles?  Really?  Yes, and I really liked it.  Well, until the very end when it ended on a cliffhanger.  But I can forgive it that because it was so engaging along the way.

Captain Fantastic – Viggo Mortensen leads a family living in the wilderness rather than regular American society, having to go into civilisation.  Good.

Joy – Directed by the American Hustle guy, and it feels similar whilst being completely different.  Jennifer Lawrence stars and is surrounded by variously awful characters ably portrayed by Robert de Niro, Virginia Madsen and Bradley Cooper.  This and The Big Short have made me realise I’d rather eat my face than be in big business.

Anomalisa – Puppety animation, beautifully done – you can easily forget you’re watching puppets when they’re out of close-up, though the rhythm is odd, the timing feels awkward – but I think that’s deliberate.   It’s very weird, I wasn’t sure what was going on at some points, but it all made sense when you thought about it.  The story is just a bloke in a hotel, but just watch it, because it’s different, and nobody gets shot.  Oh, and it’s very much for grown-ups.  The sort of grown-up who’s bored with blockbusters.

Sausage Party – I felt like I should’ve enjoyed this a lot more, maybe I was in the wrong mood.  Supermarket grocery items think they’re going to heaven when they’re actually going to get eaten – very clumsy parallels to religion and some laughs (very dirty humour) but I expected more.

Slow West – Western with Michael Fassbender – just different enough from all other westerns to hold the interest, with some real surprises tucked away in there.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – I don’t know, I felt like I should’ve liked this a lot more.  Black and white with an Iranian cast and language, it oozes atmosphere and certainly kept me involved, but I was left unsatisfied.  I can’t even remember how it ended now and I only saw it last week.  I probably need to see it again.  It didn’t help that I already knew the key fact about “The Girl” walking home alone at night (thanks to lazy reviewing) so it wasn’t a surprise when it was revealed.  Bah.

Grandma – Lily Tomlin stars as a cantankerous grandmother.  One for fans of character-driven movies – I was expecting a 9/10 but it was a solid 7.  Still worth your time if you don’t need any action to tickle your tastebuds.

Hell or High Water – The new Kirk (Chris Pine) robs banks with his brother in western-look but modern day America while Jeff Bridges chases him down.  Really rather good, though I’m not sure I’ll still remember it next year.

The Girl on the Train – Emily Blunt is alcoholic and not sure if she killed someone.  Adapted from the bestseller, I found the time-jumps very confusing and the minor continuity errors jarring, but otherwise it was solid stuff.

Absolutely Fabulous – Maybe I was too young for the series – it didn’t click with me.  But now, 20 years on, I found this really rather funny, with its very densely packed jokes and endless cameos.  It’s the dicking about from the main characters that make it work – everybody else is just trinkets.  And it must surely be the only film ever to misspell both Nietzsche and Gaultier.  That’s got to be worth *something*.

45 Years – Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are completely wonderful in this very natural episode of a couple planning their 45th wedding anniversary, but then it ends when the story’s only half-told.  Most unsatisfactory.

Eye in the Sky – Alan Rickman’s last screen outing suffers from insufficient attention to detail (for example, the “compass” overlay doesn’t match the camera movement, the car engine sound doesn’t match the car on screen) but the level of suspense is excellent, especially as most of the time we’re just watching drone footage (albeit suspiciously high resolution!) and bureaucratic bickering.  Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and that Somali pirate from Captain Phillips all support, with varying degrees of success.

Amy – Oscar-winning documentary about Amy Winehouse painting her very much as a victim.

Trainwreck – Amusing but largely forgettable comedy with Amy Schumer in the vein of Bridesmaids but not quite there.

Mad Max Fury Road – I was led to believe there was very little CGI in this, but there is.  There’s lots of real stuff as well, it’s very watchable and the cinematography is great … but it didn’t grab me by the scruff of the neck like it’s clearly trying to.

Ghostbusters – Not as shit as people are saying, this is really rather fun for the first hour.  But the tiresome effects-fest climax is tedious to the extreme.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Eddie Redmayne (the guy who played Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything) is wonderful in this delightful Harry Potter spin-off, but it all gets rather boring when the over-long climax starts brewing.  It was great until then.

The Hateful Eight – Not quite up to the usual Tarantino standard but not bad.

Black Mass – Johnny Depp as real-life nasty piece of work Whitey Bulger dealing with the Mafia and FBI.  It kind of works and kind of doesn’t.  Memorable mostly for Johnny Depp looking like a waxwork.

Man Up – Likeable but average comedy with Simon Pegg and Lake Bell having an accidental blind date.

Once – The one about the Irish busker.  Not quite as delightful as I’d heard, but still very enjoyable.

Hail, Caesar – The Coen Brothers, so it’s very watchable, but at the same time rather disappointing because of high expectations.  Cameos provide the best moments (Frances McDormand’s is wonderful), Ralph Fiennes’ only scene is rather destroyed by its appearance in the trailer and it’s all a bit of a mess.  It didn’t seem to finish either, it just stopped.  I expect more from the Coens.

The Blind Side – This is the one that Sandra Bullock won her Oscar for.  I had it in my head that she plays a blind woman, but thats not what The Blind Side is all about.  It’s American Football, but don’t let that put you off, the silly sport is only a plot device.  Sandra adopts a huge, dim, likeable, disadvantaged black fella.  It’s rather too twee in places but overall it’s worth your time.

Benny and Joon (1993) – A very early Johnny Depp family drama, rather fun.

Dad’s Army – Gentle and pleasant but a bit of a missed opportunity; watchable largely for Michael Gambon’s adorable Private Godfrey.

Elvis and Nixon – Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) tries to set up a meeting with Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) so he can become an undercover agent.  Apparently that really happened.  Who knew?  Weird premise for a film, and it almost works.

Café Society – Not Woody Allen’s best work.  Jesse Eisenberg has had his moment and now he’s just annoying in everything.  Kristen Stewart doesn’t help much, and Steve Carell isn’t in it enough.  And there was no ending.  Poor.

Self/Less – Ryan Reynolds switches bodies with Ben Kingsley and somehow maintains all his mannerisms even with a different brain.  Duh.  Brain-off pap but OK.

Life – Robert Pattinson interviewing and photographing James Dean in his early career.  James Dean is a bit before my time and subsequently this failed to engage me.

The Revenant – A really excellent film by the Birdman director Alejandro Inarritu, but really heavy-going (not to mention super-gruesome), which is why it’s down here.  Writing this in mid-January, I can already tell Leonardo DiCaprio’s got the Oscar in the bag, and Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson (who’s in so many good films) are both excellent too.  It’s hard to make out a lot of the dialogue but none of it really matters, this is all about the spectacle.  Having tinkered with long complicated continuous shots in Birdman, Inarritu brings home the bacon with a couple of properly impressive set pieces  Truly magnificent cinematography and visual effects – when Leo’s being attacked by a bear, it looks for all the world as if Leo *really is* being tossed around like a rag doll.  Phenomenal.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – The first Jack Reacher was surprisingly unshit.  This one isn’t.  It just trots out the action clichés and doesn’t even try.  Loads of little details grated and we’ve seen it all before, done better.  Bourne it ain’t.

Grimsby – Super-spy Mark Strong is hindered by long-lost slacker brother Sacha Baron Cohen.  Full of gross-out comedy, it made me titter a couple of times but could’ve been a lot better.

Savannah – Wasn’t really paying attention but it had Jim Caviezel (Jesus from that pile of shite The Passion of the Christ) in it and seemed passable.

Zoolander 2 – Had its moments but fairly average.  Tons of silly cameos that added nothing.  It certainly won’t make you like Ben Stiller if you don’t already.

The Rack Pack – I think this is an iPlayer special, a bit rubbish but entertaining enough if you followed the Alex Higgins / Steve Davis era of snooker.  I don’t imagine it’s very accurate, it felt like they were playing out the stereotypes rather than what actually happened, but there’s some nice subtle use of CGI to make it look like the Alex Higgins actor really was potting those long balls.

DARYL (1985)  Standard family fare about a boy who is actually a robot inside.  Quite amiable.

Nerve – Emma Roberts discovers a new app that encourages you to accept dares for money and film yourself, while the audience decide your next dare.  It’s fun exploring the premise for the first half, but as things spiral out of control it enshittens considerably to the point of hopelessness.  Adolescent at best.

Everybody Wants Some – Jocks doing what jocks do, in the late 70s, with no discernible content whatsoever.  Hugely surprising to find it was directed by Boyhood guy Richard Linklater.  It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, the characters are largely unengaging dicks.  Utterly pointless.

10 Cloverfield Lane – Sometimes a movie needs to be seen knowing NOTHING about it to get the best out of it.  Many of my favourite movies have come about by me stumbling across them before I’d read about them.  Before they’d been ruined by the marketing, that is.  It’s ironic that it’s only through movie piracy that you get the chance to see movies before the marketing ruins them.  The first Cloverfield was a classic example of that.  If you’ve seen ANY trailer or review of that then the movie is already destroyed for you.  It only works when you have no idea what’s going on.  This “sequel” (in name only) isn’t quite the same … but almost.  The marketing gives away the *good* bits – the bits I was entertained by.  It gives nothing away about the final reel though, which presumably is because it’s the WORST IN CINEMATIC HISTORY.  For fuck’s sake.  It’s like you can see the committee of bozos in the shiny room making the shit decisions.  It’s that obvious, and it’s that bad.  I genuinely enjoyed the first hour, because it was skilfully managing my expectations.  Had I stopped watching after that period I would have slapped it in the year’s top 20 with a comment along the lines of, “yeah, really nice, kind of like ‘Room’ if we didn’t already know how to do that movie.”  But oh holy mother of crapping twat-farts, once the interesting stuff is dealt with, it collapses faster than a house of cards on Michael J Fox’s drinks tray.  When the Rapture happens (as it clearly won’t), there are a few criteria I could accept to determine who lives and who dies.  People who think Donald Trump “says what we’re all thinking”, obviously, I don’t need to tell you which side of the firewall they’re on.  Pro-life supporters who blow up abortion clinics.  And people who think the last reel of 10 Cloverfield Lane is better than the last reel of Room.  They’re out there.  And I’ll take hellfire and damnation any day of the week over an eternity with them.
(Disclaimer: That’s not true, I said that purely for dramatic effect.  Trump, yes.  Blowing up abortion clinics, yes.  But movie preference is no judge of goodness.  I’m sure there are some lovely people who enjoyed The Passion of the Christ.  It’s a mixed-up world.)

Inferno – The Da Vinci Code all over again.  Just as daft.

Warcraft: The Beginning – Not quite as shit as it might have been, largely because writer/director Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son, he also did Moon and Source Code) managed to avoid the typical trope of one-side-goodies-the-other-side-baddies.  But it’s still just swords and sorcery horse shit.

Independence Day: Resurgence – The first one, 20 years ago, was actually pretty fun for most of it, until it finished with one of the stupidest endings every committed to celuloid.  The sequel avoids that by being that stupid all the way through.  Liam Hemsworth utterly fails to match Will Smith’s effortless charm from the original, looking instead as if he’s playing a video game the whole time rather than being millimetres from death.  *All* the good bits are in the trailer.  Awful.

Doctor Strange – Oh Christ I fucking hate these Marvel shitfests.  This one sneaks in above Captain America because (a) the cast is full of British lovelies (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor), (b) it’s occasionally quite funny and (c) it doesn’t end with a punch-up for once.  The ending’s still galactically stupid, but at least it isn’t a fight.  I mistakenly saw this in 3D, which was a mistake because 3D is STILL shit and in this case for some reason everything in the foreground looks 20% smaller than it should be.  The effects are epic, in the true sense of the word, but the film is really, really awful.  You’ll love it though, because you all do.  I don’t get it.  It’s the same film every fucking time.  What are you guys seeing that I’m not?

Fifty Shades of Grey – As rubbish as you’ve heard, mostly because of the painful dialogue.

Captain America: Civil War – Presumably an experiment to find out whether the Avengers are any less tedious when they’re punching each other rather than the bad guys.  Answer: No.

The Assassin – Chinese with subtitles, set in 9th century China, this is supposed to be a marvellous film.  I don’t get it.  I got the same feeling I get when staring at a Picasso.  People say it’s great.  I just don’t understand.  I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on, throughout the entire film.  Utter nonsense.

High-Rise – Director Ben Wheatley is responsible for Sightseers and A Field in England, which were both excellent.  And with Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons, and with a script that includes a parent saying, “that’s not how you spell arse, darling,” surely it’s great, right?  No.  It’s pretentious, self-indulgent toss.


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