2016. We’ll not dwell on what an awful year it was. Suffice to say there was a lot happening in the movie world, some of it bad, some of it rather wonderful. Here is Electric Shadows’ take on the year in film.
As is customary, we’ll begin with…
WORST FILM OF THE YEAR – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
OfAllTheFilmSites.com editor Rob Wallis and myself begun The Electric Shadows’ podcast this year. For said podcast we have spent approximately 12 hours watching or discussing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. “Visionary” director Zack Snyder’s superhero magnum stinkus is mean-spirited, miserable, ugly, incoherent and fundamentally misunderstands its two titular heroes. Ben Affleck tries hard as Bruce Wayne/The Caped Crusader, but Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman wins the day by virtue of smiling. By the time that happens you’ve forgotten people can smile. By the way, Terrence Malick’s embarrasing Knight of Cups ran this an oh-so-close second…
BEST “MAD AS ARSEHOLES” MOVIE – The Accountant
Speaking of Ben Affleck, much better was his bizarre Bourne Will Hunting franchise starter The Accountant. Sort of a Batman movie minus the costumes, it has Ben as an autistic assassin / financial auditor (really) who must protect office number cruncher Anna Kendrick when they uncover dodgy corporate goings-on. Outlandish plot contrivances, barmy characters, tonal inconsistency, B-movie hokiness and A-star wattage, plus splatty Ichi & Scratchy violence all makes this so unreal it pretty much excuses the questionable depiction of autism. Sequel now please.
BEST “FUCK YOU BREXIT” MOVIE – Tale of Tales
In the UK this year 17m people believed bald-faced liars Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove and decided to go all Little Britain and run away from Europe. Clearly none of them had seen Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, probably because his name ended with vowels and they don’t like that foreign muck. An Italian/French/UK co-production, this sumptuous adult fairy tale is a perfect example of what we can achieve together, shot on location in Italy with an international cast featuring Brit favourites Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson and Bebe Cave, all co-produced by Brit legend Jeremy Thomas. Dear UK film industry – good luck trying to get involved in projects like this again when the red tape of Article 50 garrottes any ambition. Bit of politics there…
THE GOOD INTENTIONS AWARD – A United Kingdom
Brexit cast a long, small-minded shadow over the year. Meaning it was right and proper the London Film Festival should open with Amma Asante’s topically titled A United Kingdom. Recounting the late 1940s true story of a love affair between the King of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana) and an English office worker, and the government approved racism they faced, if good intentions could get star ratings this would be five stars all the way. But, despite the best efforts of David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike as the star-crossed lovers, A United Kingdom was practically Disney in its treatment of the issues. Particularly Jack Davenport’s British attaché, Lord Alistair Complete and Utter Privileged Bastard III. Points for trying though.
HAPPY ENDINGS DON’T OCCUR OUTSIDE THE MOVIES – Stallone’s Oscar snub
It should have been so perfect. Twenty-nine years after losing out on a Best Actor Oscar for the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone wins Best Supporting Actor when returning to the role in Creed. Stallone was genuinely impressive as the aging pugilist, marking time having outlived friends and family, finding a new lease of life training Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, Adonis. The Oscar was his and deservedly so. Then Mark Rylance won Best Supporting Actor for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. We like Rylance, but while the performance was good his role was too slight for it to be great. Stallone was great and should have got his happy ending. And Creed director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan’s total lack of any nomination was an embarrassing misstep by the Academy in a year when the Oscars drew controversy for the overwhelmingly white faces of nominees.
BEST “I’VE GOT SOMETHING IN MY EYE” MOMENT – Creed (warning: spoiler in this section)
Rocky movies are known for their emotional peaks. And during Creed’s final fight there are four successive grand emotional moments between Rocky and his protégé Adonis.
- After Adonis’ eye has swollen shut, Rocky tapping onto the back of his head the number of fingers a doctor is holding up.
- The illegitimate Adonis telling Rocky the fight must continue so the young man can prove he was not a mistake.
- Rocky telling Adonis if he lets the fight continue, Adonis must help him fight his cancer (and win the fight).
- Cue the Rocky theme.
It sounds soapy when written down, but the above crystallises the irony free emotional gut punches the Rocky series does efficiently and effectively.
2016’S BIGGEST SIGH OF RELIEF – Rogue One
The Force Awakens achieved the apparent impossible by being a good Star Wars movie. Rogue One had a big act to follow, but was a resounding case of mission accomplished. Felicity Jones was good as the leader of her rainbow coalition of rebels, the diversity of which inevitably drew knuckleheaded complaints of political correctness. How can you argue against Donnie Yen being in a Star Wars film? Godzilla director Gareth Edwards drew on war movies and news footage for his depiction of the rebel’s mission to steal the Death Star plans, delivering a breathless final battle. A CGI resurrection of an old Star Wars character drew criticism and stands as the first major ethical debate about using dead actors. On a technical note, gloomy 3D slows the first hour right down, the film’s pace swifter in properly lit 2D.
LEGO MAKES EVERYTHING EVEN BETTER – Rogue One recreation (warning: spoiler in this section)
At the climax of Rogue One is the appearance of a certain black clad Sith Lord, cutting a terrifying swathe through hapless Rebel troopers. Someone has Legofied it, but the little bricks of happiness only enhance the power of that moment…
BEST “WELCOME BACK” MOVIE – David Brent: Life on the Road
The Blair Witch returned in 2016 and no-one cared. But, David Brent was also back, headlining his own movie. Opinion was sharply divided on whether this was a good idea, but we loved it. And couldn’t help but notice a pattern has emerged in British films…
YOU JO IT MAKES SENSE – Jo Hartley in British films
You may not know her name, but you’ll recognise Jo Hartley. After debuting in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes, she came to prominence as the mum of a troubled skinhead in Meadows’ This is England film and subsequent TV series. Quietly, Hartley has established herself as a lucky charm for British movies; if Jo’s in it, chances are it’s a good ‘un. This year Hartley was David Brent’s shot at salvation, and the world’s most supportive mum in the adorable Eddie the Eagle. Next year you’ll be able to catch her doing sterling work as a midwife in Alice Lowe’s psycho-pregnancy horror-comedy Prevenge. Predictably, the film delivers.
THE GREG STILLSON AWARD – Donald Trump
For years, The Dead Zone’s future President Greg Stillson was the most terrifying depiction of a psycho in the Oval Office. Thankfully, he existed only in Stephen King’s novel and David Cronenberg’s film adaptation – flamboyantly realised by Martin Sheen. But, Donald Trump is coming across very Stillson, and the above scene now doesn’t seem so improbable…
2016’S BEST VILLAIN – 2016
Donald Trump may bring about the end of the world, but he’s not the year’s most memorable villain. That accolade must go to 2016 itself, a veritable shit-shower of tragic deaths, global strife and populist idiocy. Even within the confines of moviedom the obituary list this year was sobering. RIP Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Peter Vaughan, Jon Polito, Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker, and too many others.
BEST HONEST TRAILER – Labyrinth
Anyone familiar with our annual round-ups knows we love the irreverent yet affectionate Honest Trailers. Contenders for this year’s best Honest Trailer included Deadpool (with uber-meta voice cameo from Ryan Reynolds) and Batman v Superman. But, their tribute to David Bowie and Jim Henson’s 80s classic is a gem, and not afraid to point out Labyrinth isn’t quite the masterpiece you remember. And only Honest Trailers could include an, if you will, insert from Requiem for a Dream and get away with it.
THE DOG HAS HAD ITS DAY – Video Watchdog
A death that went largely unnoticed by popular culture this year was the sad demise of Video Watchdog magazine in October. For 26 years this unashamedly detail obsessed bi-monthly then monthly movie journal delighted in championing the good, the bad and the ugly of movies. Horror (particularly classic Italian horror), sci-fi and fantasy were prime areas of interest, but Video Watchdog brought important cinema from across the globe to wider attention and was resolutely unsnobbish in its interests. Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro were amongst high profile fans. Farwell VW, you’re sorely missed.
2016’s TASTIEST CINEMATIC GREENS – Napoleon
This year’s Cinematic Greens award goes to the 5 and a half hour restoration of Abel Gance’s silent 1927 masterpiece, Napoleon. Long hard to see due to labyrinthine legal disputes over rights, the film, a result of decades of work spearheaded by legendary restoration expert Kevin Brownlow, is now available in a lavish Blu-Ray boxset. Napoleon remains a staggering achievement, a testament to the enduring power (and enjoyability) of silent cinema.
NAPOLEON NOW AVAILABLE, AND I’M STILL SHELVED? – Snowpiercer
Third year running that we’ve had to include Snowpiercer being unavailable to UK audiences. The one upside: the film is now ripe for a cult following because nothing creates rabid fandom like limited availability. Still sucks that you can’t readily see it here though.
A RETURN TO FORM – Snowden
Snowden was no masterpiece, but it was nice to see Oliver Stone back on form on the 25th anniversary of JFK’s release. With his recent movies, we just weren’t getting the old blood out of Stone; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and the godawful Savages were career lows. Snowden sees Stone back on familiar turf: spying governments, coup d’etats, ruinous wars, all anchored by a typically winning performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
END OF AN ANIMATED ERA – When Marnie Was There
Saying goodbye is never easy, but it’s more difficult when you’re bidding Studio Ghibli farewell. The fabulous house of Japanese animated fantasy is now on indefinite hiatus, largely due to key founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata seemingly being better artists than succession planners. When Marnie Was There, directed by long-time Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, was a successful send off in the gentle house style. Key Ghibli characteristics were present and correct: rural Japan, the end of childhood, the supernatural and the joy of flight. The House of Totoro may be gone for good, but its legacy is forever.
ROOM FOR ONE MORE – Films with Room in the title
TOO MANY COOKS AWARD – Suicide Squad
Following Batman v Superman’s negative reception, Warner Bros.’ placed their hopes on Suicide Squad. Meaning a scrappy Guardians of the Galaxy rip-off suddenly had to save the WB and DC movie strategy. It didn’t work. While not a BvS level disaster, Suicide Squad was a dreary mess, cobbled together from different versions following creative differences and studio jitters. Even the company who cut the trailers got to have a go at the finished film. Coming June 2017, Wonder Woman. Will she save DC’s day?
HIDDEN GEM – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
It placed in our Top 10 Films of 2016 list, but not nearly enough love was given to The Lonely Island’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Comedy of the year, as Rob Wallis explained on the Electric Shadows podcast the dramatic stakes centre on a self-entitled waste of space needing to acquire a modicum of self-awareness. Laugh out loud funny, it’s a worthy follow-up to TLI’s mighty Hot Rod and further proof of why we love Andy Samberg. Which leads us too…
DELETED SCENE BETTER THAN ANY SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER (except maybe Captain America: Civil War) – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
This potty-mouthed, inappropriate hymn to pre-teen rebellion is funny, catchy and truly has something to say about the generation gap…
POD PEOPLE – Rob Daniel & Rob Wallis
We’re rounding up now, so one more self-promoting shout out to 2016 being the inaugural year of The Electric Shadows podcast. 15 episodes under our belt so far, all available on iTunes or you can listen to them here.
BEST FILM OF THE YEAR – The Witch
Robert Eggers’ devilishly delicious horror has elements of The Shining and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, but retains a freshness and originality that fires the mind and chills the spine. A 17th century set tale of a pious family in the remote New England countryside being terrorised by demons possibly imaginary, possibly real, it’s one hell of a debut from Eggers and the best movie of 2016.
So, how did 2016 compare to previous years?
And don’t forget to check out Electric Shadows’ Top 10 Films of 2016