2016: A Cinematic Retrospective

From swiss army men to the fools who dream: our extended year in review.

The conclusion of another year is upon us, and we all know what that means: time for every possible permutation of Top Ten/Best Of lists! But in the interests of, well, not bludgeoning our readers to death with more of the same, the Movies | TV | Comics crew has decided to stick it to The Man (as we’ve been known to do every now and then) and celebrate the best of what cinema had to offer in 2016 in our own unique way. That means bold opinions, lively discussions, and perhaps an insulting jab or two along the way. Let’s begin by diving into the deep end…


Picture We Adored That Everyone Else… Didn’t


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Mint: I’d love to go into an impassioned speech over the merits of movies like DemolitionThe Shallows and even The Witch – but there’s really only one film that’s received enough unjustified online vitriol to deserve this title. Fortunately, it’s something Puff and I both agree on…

Puff: Hoo boy, Jeremy is not going to like this one… it’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Jeremy: “And here’s a 5,000 word thesis on EXACTLY why I don’t…” [10,000 words later] Anyway, I’d honestly argue that Sausage Party was actually the most relevant, socially progressive, and profoundly misunderstood film of 2016.

Puff: Look, being reminded of Sausage Party‘s existence is kinda traumatic for me. I don’t think I can go there. But I can circle back to BvS, a scrappy, bizarre stab at comic book cinema that honestly bewildered me on first viewing. After months of gestation and awful debate, I’ve kinda come to love the nihilistic take on DC’s biggest dichotomy. I’m not sure how much of it is actually brilliant, or how much is intentional on the film’s part, or if we’ll ever see a film like it again. It’s a fascinating experiment, if nothing else.

Mint: Plus, my boy Jesse Eisenberg does a mean Lex Luthor.

Jeremy: With the important caveat that I haven’t subjected myself to the Ultimate Edition, the kindest thing I can say about BvS is that it’s a Zack Snyder film, through and through.

Puff: Absolutely, and I genuinely appreciate that it’s not for everyone (also, the Ultimate Edition salvages the film. Get on it, you muppet!).

Jeremy: Someday, Puff! Sausage Party, on the other hand, is certainly taking its cues from Seth Rogen’s specific personality and brand of humor. Slathered in intentionally ‘edgy’ humor and superficial stereotypes, director duo Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon subvert these tropes and end up making one of the most relevant, resonating, and optimistic social messages of any 2016 film: the importance of coming together, despite our varying beliefs and customs and societal constructs, and learning to understand and respect our fellow man.


Picture We Hated That Everyone Else… Didn’t


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Jeremy: Hacksaw Ridge has the ‘honor’ of being one of the most horrifically misguided, hypocritical, and shamelessly pandering films 2016 had to offer. Much like its main character Desmond Doss, Mel Gibson’s latest feature struggles between condescendingly claiming the moral high ground while also indulging in some of the most gratuitously violent, thematically-backwards war sequences you’ll ever see. Nothing’s more important than standing up for your principles and beliefs, Hacksaw says… but only as long as you can keep your own hands reasonably clean. Clean consciences are good, but bending the rules just enough to look like a badass is even better, apparently.

Puff: Woah. I didn’t catch Hacksaw (I’m yet to really dive into Gibson’s filmography), and I can’t say I’m any more interested now.

Mint: I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated it, but I was sorely disappointed with A Monster Calls. It’s emotionally manipulative, relentlessly bleak and, honestly, a little dull. I was a big fan of JA Bayona’s work on The Impossible, so I’m not sure what happened here…

Puff: I think Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them got off quite softly; I found it to be zapped free of excitement or urgency, with two thin narratives smashed together in utterly unremarkable ways. It serves as a poor companion piece to the rest of the Harry Potter canon, lacking the sweeping scale, the deep character connections and, uh… well, the magic. Not the franchise’s literal magic; rather, the sense that we’re in a lush world, not a blank box. And we’re getting four more of these? Count me out.


Soundtrack of the Year


'La La Land'

Puff: I’d like to throw in Sing Street as a contender here. Atop its synth-tastic collection of existing tracks, the original songs here are a joy, especially when you watch/hear them come to life in the film. My personal selections: ‘The Riddle of the Model’, ‘A Beautiful Sea’, and, of course, ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’.

Mint: And ‘To Find You’. And ‘Go Now’. And–okay, you get the point. Sing Street has such a strong soundtrack, it’s almost a shame to watch La La Land swoop in and steal all the glory – but it’s just that good. ‘City Of Stars’, ‘Someone In The Crowd’ and ‘Audition’ are three of the best original songs of 2016 – and Justin Hurwitz’ music is enchanting. Search your feelings Jeremy, you know it to be true…

Jeremy: My heart wants to give copious amounts of love to Moana, mixing in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s incredible smash-hits (‘We Know the Way’, ‘How Far I’ll Go’, and of course, ‘You’re Welcome’) along with stunningly authentic tracks sang in the Polynesian dialect of Tokelauan. Puff is spot-on with Sing Street, and my other preference would be the delightfully weird fever-dream concocted for Swiss Army Man, featuring the a cappella talents of both Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe (‘Montage’ is an all-timer). But in the end, I have to agree with Minty and give the award to the sheer brilliance of La La Land.


Comedy Of The Year


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Mint: I’d just like to highlight what an amazing year it’s been for the comedy genre – so much so that the fact the Globes felt compelled to nominate Deadpool and Florence Foster Jenkins as two of 2016’s five best comedies feels like a slap in the face. I’m torn between several picks, but I’ve gotta go with Swiss Army Man – simply for being so absurdly entertaining and profoundly moving at the same time.

Jeremy: A man after my own heart, I like it! Ultimately, it comes down to Swiss Army Man and The Nice Guys for me. For sake of argument, The Nice Guys displays some of the best and most hilarious writing that Shane Black has to offer…not to mention the incredible comedic timing and tangible chemistry between Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and especially newcomer Angourie Rice. And I’d be remiss not to give some credit to the surprisingly delightful comedic chops of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

Puff: Holy hell are Gosling, Crowe and Rice a trio of wonders. Having said that, I didn’t get quite what I hoped for with The Nice Guys or Swiss Army Man (they deserve revisiting for sure), but I did with a very special picture: Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Taika Waititi is a gem. Bless him.


Character of the Year


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Mint: I’ve got two. The first is everyone’s favorite incompetent PI, Holland March – brought to life wonderfully by Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys. He’s responsible for most of 2016’s funniest one-liners, and it’s such a unique turn from an actor at the peak of his powers right now. The second is Hunt For The Wilderpeople‘s Ricky Baker – portrayed to wonderful comedic effect by young Julian Dennison.

Jeremy: Unlike Minty, I believe I’ll actually abide by our (completely arbitrary) rules! My runaway favorite has to be the eponymous scene-stealer from Swiss Army Man: the sentient(?) corpse Manny. Rather than being a gimmick, Manny ends up serving as the naive, innocent, and lovable avatar for us to project and recognize our inherent shortcomings as a society. Equal parts hilarious, insufferable, naive, and touchingly poignant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unique or creative character in 2016.

Mint: I didn’t choose the skux life. The skux life chose me.

Puff: Mint knows what’s up. All three are wonderful picks (Gosling’s comedic timing in The Nice Guys is incredible). Since it was technically a 2016 release in Australia, the titular figure of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs was one of the most fascinating characters I came across. Michael Fassbender’s suggestive performance only adds to the larger-than-life aura created by Boyle, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin et al, never sugarcoated, always magnetic.

Mint: All this arbitrary rule breaking must be annoying Jeremy to no end. I’d say this section has been an overwhelming success.


Best Character in an Otherwise Disappointing Picture


SUICIDE SQUAD

Jeremy: This category is admittedly a bit more arbitrary than others, but just roll with it! Out of all the disappointing films this year, it’s time to give some love to Duncan Jones’ misfire, Warcraft. In the midst of CGI mayhem, inert cardboard cutouts, and lore that really only makes sense to die-hard gamers, one aspect that clearly stands out from the rest is Orc chieftain Durotan (motion-captured by Toby Kebbell). Imbued with clear motivation, an incredibly compelling arc, and impressive nobility and nuance, this is a fully-realized character who deserved to be surrounded by a far better and more beloved film.

Mint: Perhaps it’s the atrociousness of Assassin’s Creed talking here, but I’m beginning to look back on Warcraft a little more fondly – and Kebbell is one of the main reasons why. Suicide Squad, meanwhile, deserves no such reappraisal. In the past, I’ve made my feelings very clear about how disappointed I was by it – but in the midst of all that cinematic depravity, Jai Courtney shone like Jai Courtney never has before. He was a delight, and I hope he returns for more boomerang shenanigans for years to come.

Jeremy: Ooh great point, Jai Courtney is singlehandedly responsible for why I will never dismiss Suicide Squad out of hand. And he didn’t even had to go all method-acting on us to steal the show!

Puff: While the picture itself wasn’t exactly disappointing, Lt. Bobby Andes in Nocturnal Animals was probably leagues ahead of anything else in the film. Though admittedly, a lot of that comes down to Michael Shannon’s absolutely dynamite turn. Boomerang/Durotan/Andes team-up when?


Worst Character in an Otherwise Great Picture


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Jeremy: I’m going to have to take the easy choice and go with the unholy imagery of CGI-Tarkin (Franken-Tarkin? Tarkin-stein?) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Misguided at best and morally repugnant at worst, the choice to reanimate the late Peter Cushing’s face with unproven technology has an even worse in-universe reason for existing: despite adding some interesting hierarchical intrigue to the dastardly Empire, Tarkin’s role in the film only ends up undermining and declawing the main villain, Director Orson Krennic.

Mint: I feel the same way about Tarkin, Jeremy. His “declawing” of Krennic becomes even more of a missed opportunity when you realise how well he complements Vader in the original film. It’s a shame they couldn’t focus more on the Krennic/Vader dynamic here.

Puff: Yeah, the ethics of Tarkin 2K16 get worse with each passing minute. Next time, Disney/Lucasfilm? Just recast. But since that wasn’t exactly Rogue One‘s only problem–

Mint: LIES! DECEPTION! BOR GULLET!

Jeremy: WHAT. WILL. YOU DO. WHEN DEY CATCHU- oh, wait. *gives the Rogue One reshoots/marketing the side-eye*

Puff: …nevermind!


Most Under-Appreciated Picture


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Puff: I’ll select Girl Asleep, a distinct, absurdist look into the ever-challenging realm of teenage-hood. It’s also set in 1970s Australia and was based on a production, which may explain why so few people have seen it.

Mint: Where’s Australia again?

Puff: Case in point.

Jeremy: What Mint said! In any case, my vote actually goes to the tragically undervalued Hail, Caesar! There’s something deeply disappointing about audiences missing out on (or perhaps outright rejecting) the Coen Brothers’ most earnest and heartfelt love letter to old school Hollywood. Plus, it gave us that iconic “would that it t’were so simple” vaudevillian exchange, Tilda Swinton in two roles, and introduced us to movie star-in-the-making, Alden Ehrenreich.

Puff: Ehrenreich’s sections of that film are so fantastic. I’m definitely in the Hail, Caesar!-would-be-better-if-Hobie-was-the-protagonist camp.

Mint: Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women should’ve made more of a splash. The gorgeously-shot, Montanan-set drama was released to critical acclaim in mid-October (picking up LFF’s top prize over future Oscar heavyweight Moonlight) – but never managed to build any more momentum beyond that. It’s a real shame, as it features four excellent performances from Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone – all of whom are worthy of awards consideration here.


Most Memorable Line


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Puff: At once ridiculously unsubtle and seriously opaque, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon was never afraid to bask in its operatic nature. Refn’s exposé on beauty contains a plethora of spoken gems, each playing against the viewer’s expectations and knowledge of the fashion world; my theatre had a blast with the absurdity. But there’s one line – crucially presented without context – that has stayed with me for months:

[Redacted character]: I ate her.

Jeremy: I may regret asking this, but seeing how neither Minty or I have seen it: is that spoken literally?

Puff: I’ll just say there are multiple ways to interpret it.

Mint: Lovely.

Jeremy: On a less existentially terrifying note, I once again must heap praise upon Swiss Army Man. It’s not quite a single line of dialogue, but more of a culmination late in the film where our lovable emoting corpse Manny calls out main character Hank for not putting his money where his mouth is and pursue his dream girl. For me, this one exchange captures the film’s perfect blend of emotional honesty, comedy, and just straight-up weirdness about coming to terms with ourselves, accepting others, and the perhaps naive hope of finding that special someone who’ll accept us for who we are:

Hank: Because I’m scared, okay? Because I’m just a scared, ugly, useless person.

Manny: But maybe everyone’s a little bit ugly. Yeah, maybe we’re all just ugly, dying sacks of shit. And maybe all it’ll take is one person to just be okay with that, and then the whole world will be dancing and singing and farting, and everyone will feel a little bit less alone.

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Mint: I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about that. Matching Swiss Army Man pound-for-pound in emotional resonance was fellow A24 production, Moonlight. There’s a moment in this film that affected me more than any other in 2016. It sees a scared young child, confused about his identity and at odds with everyone around him, taken under the wing of a benevolent soul: a drug dealer named Juan. Portrayed to perfection by the incomparable Mahershala Ali, Juan’s kindness is exemplified by a single, beautiful scene in which he teaches the boy how to swim, before offering him some sage advice. It’s a brief moment of hope that counters all the pain and anguish we are made to feel watching this young boy’s tragic tale – a glimmer of light, that shines luminously through all the darkness in his life.

Juan: At some point you’ve got to decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.

Puff: Forever furious that Moonlight‘s Australian release isn’t until 2017. I need this film almost as much as I need air itself.


The Best of What’s Left


Film Review 10 Cloverfield Lane

Jeremy: Our very last category will (hopefully) put to rest any outraged “What, no love for _____?” comments from our dear readers. Basically, this section is dedicated to what we felt were the highlights of 2016 that just didn’t quite fit into any of our superlatives above. Unfairly maligned blockbusters, under-seen indies, performances that deserved more love… it’s all up for grabs here!

Mint: What, no love for Collateral Beauty?!

Jeremy: *Rudely sticks tongue out in Minty’s general direction*

Puff: I have to bring up Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, an ambitious, unique, circular odyssey. One of the most striking things about Honey is the rawness with which it blurs art and reality, presenting the United States’ impoverished youth so frankly. It’s only boosted by a stunning lead performance from Sasha Lane, one of the most exciting talents to emerge this year. Moreover, Arnold–wait, Minty, did you say Collateral Beauty?

Mint: *mumbles something about the skux life*

Jeremy: If I’m being honest, I may be far too excited to see that movie… for all the wrong reasons.

Puff: I, uh… man.

Jeremy: Seriously though, I’d say Hell or High Water proved to be one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. The Texas-based western takes its cues from No Country for Old Men, ending up as a thoughtfully introspective work that showcases the talents of Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges at their absolute bests. And while on the topic, it’d be criminal to leave out Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s downright powerhouse performance in the excellent 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hailee Steinfeld’s charismatic and relatable turn in The Edge of Seventeen, and newcomer Neel Sethi (who made every film-lover from India swell with pride, if I may be so bold) and his impressive acting in The Jungle Book, set against intimidating green-screen backdrops and motion-capture performers on nothing more than a soundstage in Los Angeles.

Mint: What he said!

Puff: Movie magic, folks. Movie magic.


And so ends our Retrospective look at 2016 in film. We tried to cover a variety of movies and creators, but there’s a whole host of great work we’ve inevitably left out. Feel free to leave some more of your favourites (or least favourites) of the year below or over on Twitter, @MoviesTVComics. Thank you all for the support in our debut year; all three of us appreciate it to no end. Happy New Year to our loyal readers, and here’s to an even better cinematic journey in 2017 and beyond!

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