Well, shit – it’s the end of another year, and you know what that means? It’s time to make some lists!
Now, bear in mind, that I haven’t seen nearly as many of the films from this year that I wanted to. At the time of making of this list, some titles I have missed are: Arrival, Silence, Midnight Special, Elle, Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange, Don’t Breathe and a whole slew of others. I can blame that on time, financial situation or simply the fact that some of these have gotten a really limited release here (or will only debut on home video). And some titles I really am not even very anxious to see – like Ghostbusters. Or Neighbors 2.
But from what I saw this year, I put together this following list.
The Nice Guys
– The movie of the year for me. Why? Because Shane Black seems to have tagged onto something really special, as he chose to make this a 70’s-set period piece. Somehow his snappy dialogue, love for film noir, sense of humor and his trademark loser characters seem to perfectly blend into that time. And the execution of the period (locations, sets, vehicles, wardrobe, atmosphere, music) is flawless. Even more flawless is the latest addition into the now-legendary “Shane Black odd couple”-duos: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. You can see the two actors absolutely relish playing these sort-of loveable losers, as they try to solve the mystery of a missing porn-actress and a film reel that’s containing some sensitive material which could be unredeeming for a bunch of different parties. Especially Gosling is a revelation of some serious hidden physical comedy talent here.
– A helluva impressive animated film, as it works on such many levels; on the surface it’s a buddy comedy/detective story, but underneath it has a lot to say about some contemporary issues going on in the world today (such as racism, sexism, xenophobia). In my review of the film I expressed big hopes, that some of these observations would stick within at least the child audiences minds. Sure didn’t catch on the adults, I guess… What makes this movie an even more impressive feat is when they released a great and pretty candid behind the scenes-doc made with full access to the production team, and it was revealed that in the last year of production pretty much the entire story was completely retooled. Even the protagonist of the film got switched up! These people deserve all the credit that they can possibly get.
The VVitch: a New England Folk-Tale
– One helluva feature-film debut from writer/director Robert Eggers. He is a history buff, and his extensive research into every aspect of the 17th century New England is present in every naturally-lit frame of this movie – you honestly feel like they just sent the cast and crew back in time to film this. And it’s not an “Boo! In your face!!!”-horror movie; it’s a slow-burn of the finest order. The way Eggers keeps slowly tightening the screws as the isolated puritan family gets terrorized by more and more frequent attacks from the mostly unseen antagonists as well as getting torn apart from within is harrowing to watch. And it’s helped by some great performances from both the adults (Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie) as well as all the children. Especially a single-take scene of the older son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), coming out from a catatonic state/possession before dying is one of the most memorable standout scenes of the year. And the ending is brilliant in it’s ambiguousness.
The Neon Demon
– Without competition, the most beautifully photographed film of the year (the use of colours even gave me some serious Argento vibes). With an exceptionally haunting score (again by Cliff Martinez). And beautifully haunting performances as well, now that I think about it. Elle Fanning makes a major leap into more multi-faceted and “adult” roles here (not THAT kind of “adult”, you sickos!). Now – after only one viewing, one might not quite understand what the fuck the film is all about – but it definitely sticks in your mind for weeks afterwards (I always consider this to be a mark of a good film). And gradually, after you’ve digested it enough, you can make your own interpretations; I guess that’s pretty much always the case when a Nicolas Winding Refn-movie is concerned. Might make a good double-feature with David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive in the future, now that I think of it…
– Best Marvel-movie of the year (sorry, Civil War-fans; I did like that one, but in my books The Winter Soldier is still the better one). Heck – it’s the best comic-book/superhero-movie of the year. The foulmouthed immortal merc proved once and for all, that you CAN make an R-rated movie about a comic book-property this day and age, and it CAN be good, and it CAN be opened in the February “death-slot” and be an enormous success. Second time’s the charm and kudos to Ryan Reynolds for keeping the pressure on Fox so that this could be made Right after that fiasco that was the X-Men Origins: Wolverine-version of Wade Wilson.
10 Cloverfield Lane
– One of the most intense movies of the year. Now, in TV they describe these one-location things as “bottle shows”, so I guess this could be called a “bottle-movie”. Three characters in a bunker – two of them not there really by choice. An unknown threat outside – maybe biological, maybe not. But as is always the case in the best works of this genre, the biggest threat comes from within. And John Goodman‘s mercurial “Howard” is one of the creepiest villains on screen this year. I’m really liking how this Cloverfield-universe is giving young filmmakers the chance to do these “little big movies” in what is essentially an Outer Limits-style series. A lot of people were complaining about the ending after this came out, which I just don’t understand as to me it really feels like the ONLY way it could’ve (and should’ve) ended.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
– I don’t know if it’s too early to call the Lonely Island-guys (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaeffer) the modern equivalent of the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker(in their prime), but that day may yet come. They have been slowly building an absolutely hilarious body of work, with their SNL Digital Shorts, their song parodies and their movies. I think their debut-feature Hot Rod and the Taccone-directed MacGruber are two of the best comedies in the last ten years. Popstar is a mockumentary that will probably be even more rewarding in multiple viewings, as there is just so much stuff in there to digest, but even after one watch I think it is an incredibly clever piece of satire of both the music industry of today as well as the insanity of the whole contemporary celebrity-culture (a running gag that parodies those annoying TMZ office-videos is a particular standout). And it has a whole load of some absolutely hilarious songs to boot. Great cameos from real artists as well.
Swiss Army Man
– In this age of sequels, remakes, reboots, cinematic universes and whatnot, it’s extremely rare to come across a film that can be described as a “true original”. But this film by “The Daniels” – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – truly fits that description. While a typical studio-pitch of this might read as something like “Castaway meets Weekend at Bernies“, it is much, much more than that. Is it a fantasy? Or is it hallucinations inside a disturbed mind? The answer is left for the audience. And Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are something of a dream-team of actors for this. I like how Radcliffe has slowly been creeping away from under the shadow of Harry Potter and keeps choosing some VERY different types of roles.
– The Coen Brothers’ loving homage to the Classic Era of Hollywood gave them a chance to film some bits and pieces of practically every genre of movies that were produced in those ages. And all of this is tied into a trademark plot of intrigue, espionage, melodrama and slapstick-craziness that would be expected from them. Solid and stern lead performance by Josh Brolin as the sort of “fixer-upper” of a major studio and another great George Clooney idiot-character (this film is part of the series that Clooney has described as “The Idiot Clooney“-movies) as a matinee idol who gets kidnapped/brainwashed by a bunch of Communists, but the rest of the large ensemble cast also gets a chance to really let go while playing a bunch of larger-than-life types – that may not veer that far from some real-life personas living and working at the time.
Kubo and the Two Strings
– I think Laika Studios feels like some sort of a best-kept secret in the world of animation. They have made four stop-motion features so far, and it just seems that they haven’t found the mass audience. I wonder why this is? Is the general public just feeling like stop-motion is some relic of the past, and the only way to go is with either hand-drawn 2D animation of the 3D computer animation? Or are their films maybe seen as TOO quirky or grim? I don’t know – the critics seem to like them. As well as the various award committees. What I do know is that each and every one of their movies are incredibly unique pieces of work – and they are constantly improving their working methods. You might say that they are going more and more into that stop-motion/CGI hybrid direction. And Kubo really has such an ambitious scope that it couldn’t have been done without the addition of digital FX. I guess the best way to describe it would be as an animated samurai fantasy fairy-tale. And that would be leaving out a lot. I like how the movie deals with the nature of stories and storytelling inside of it. Like with all Laika films, it will be rewarding with multiple viewings.
Runners-up: Star Trek Beyond, The Conjuring 2, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Jungle Book.
Outside of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, pretty much all the other movies this year that had Batman in them.
So many giant blockbusters/sequels just plain & simply SUCKED this year: X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resugence, Alice: Through the Looking Glass, The Huntsman, Zoolander 2, Now You See Me 2, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back... On the plus-side, the audiences didn’t exactly flock in to see these either (well, outside of X-Men), so maybe they are finally starting to see the light…
The Best Supporting Performance by an Animal:
Steven the seagull in The Shallows.