"Look at me, I'm Chris. I saw high-concept foreign cinema instead of paying to see Batman v Superman twice."
The following movies are not necessarily the best ones that came out in 2016, but rather the five that I’m most likely to recommend to anyone else or, alternatively, the five movies I think are most worth talking about. I didn’t start writing for this site to produce the same content everyone else does, and I have no desire to start bloviating about how everyone needs to watch La La Land, Arrival, and Moonlight. If you’ve spent enough time on the internet to find terribleblog.net, then you’ve already heard enough about those three movies. Speaking of movies that didn’t make the cut, here are some movies that I saw that just weren’t worthy of making this list:
Just didn’t move the needle. It was decently funny, but didn’t hit anything out of the park. Is the George Michael dream sequence now somewhat tragic?
Hell or Highwater
I enjoyed it enough, but it just didn’t feel anywhere near deserving the hype it received. I’d go into detail but Kevin D. Williamson has already written an excellent piece about it [here].
Train to Busan
It’s a good zombie movie that takes place in South Korea. That’s about all there is to say. Nothing about it really stands out, besides the excellent supporting role filled by Dong-seok Ma.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Great movie, and one that has been reviewed very positively [here]. I knew ahead of time that John Goodman would get totally snubbed by the various awards ceremonies, but that doesn’t make it okay.
As I’ve said before in the face of substantial criticism, I will watch practically anything with Mel Gibson. He’s still a great director and, as evidenced by Blood Father, still a top notch actor. Nothing else about the movie is worth discussing, but Gibson proves himself as great as he was in Get the Gringo. I ignore his craziness the way people ignore Tom Cruise’s mania.
I am so ashamed that I didn’t get a chance to watch this yet. I’ve been busy.
Alright, I’m sick of doing that. Onto the top five.
Ah, shit. I went on that awful tangent about not being like other websites praising movies we’ve already heard enough about, and the first movie I want to write about is Deadpool. This is a tricky enough scenario as it is; I feel the same way about Deadpool that everyone else does: it’s a hysterical movie that’s head and shoulders above most comic book movies, although it may have been partially responsible for Suicide Squad. We all know this, because everyone else has written about it.
How about this: my absolute favorite part of Deadpool is the romance. The fourth wall breaks, the constant barrage of humor, and the legitimately great action is all well and good, but this movie has (rather easily) the best romance I’ve ever seen in a comic book movie, and it’s actually comma good that it was released on Valentine’s Day. It’s the only comic book movie where I cared whether the male and female lead would end up together. Despite having a flimsy-at-best plot, this is the movie that saved me from forever condemning comic movies to the pile of “just not good anymore” (he arrogantly scoffed, acting as if he wasn’t going to be first in line for Guardians of the Galaxy 2).
4. Kubo and the Two Strings
I knew going into this list that I was going to give at least one spot to an animated movie, and I’ve only seen three this year: Zootopia, Moana, and Kubo and the Two Strings (sorry, but I’m not paying real, human money to watch The Killing Joke). A brief note about Zootopia, which most certainly did not make the cut: it’s astonishingly well animated, pretty much cementing Disney as the best animation studio ever. Seriously, it’s better looking than most (if not all) Pixar movies. While being a little bit funny and with a genuinely good message, this is just too much of a kid movie for me to include. Buy it on Blu Ray for you nephews and nieces, but keep it away from me. Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old, but the whole thing just felt too immature and cutesy for me.
Now how could I not include Moana on the list? Moana is arguably not just better than Kubo and the Two Strings, but a lot better. The music is top notch; despite my distaste for Hamilton and its frankly ludicrous popularity, I can’t help but admit Lin Manuel Miranda knocked it out of the park with his original songs. The animation is a bit more stylized than I’d expected, but the comedic timing that Disney has been so masterful with over the past 70 years is still present, and the writing is better than Kubo’s. The performances are great, the characters are great (besides that stupid rooster; which I sincerely hope (likely in vain) was intended to be a parody of cute Disney sidekicks), and the story is great. How could I not go with Moana? Two words: emotional resonance. I don’t need to go into Kubo’s excellent characters, gorgeous shots, and unbelievable animation; all I need is a scene of approximately 20 seconds.
Allow me to explain: I saw Kubo and the Two Strings on a Sunday evening, at the latest possible showing. There was no one else there, I accidentally paid for the 3D showing like a complete dunce, and it was in the smallest possible theater. I couldn’t go in tabula rasa; anyone who’s familiar with Coraline and ParaNorman knows that Laika is one of the most jaw-droppingly impressive animation studios in the world today. Towards the beginning of the movie there’s a scene where Kubo and his mother sit silently in a cave they’ve crudely furnished into a home. Kubo doesn’t say much; he just takes care of his mother, who says nothing at all. She’s suffering from a severe head injury and has been rendered torpid until night falls, whereupon she’s suddenly more active and talkative. Until that point, however, Kubo is the one responsible for her. He tells her about his day, he feeds her, gets her out of bed, while she has no discernable reaction. And I sat there watching this young man quietly taking care of his nearly comatose mother, alone in a tiny theater with my cheap little plastic 3D glasses.
I watched, and I sobbed my eyes out.
3. Swiss Army Man
Ok, now on to the farting corpse.
In the words of Roger Ebert after he saw The Hangover, “Now this is what I’m talkin’ about.” Just when you think all Hollywood can produce is remakes, sequels, prequels, tangential Star Wars stories, and adaptations of books of the month, along comes the most ferociously original movie I’ve ever seen. Swiss Army Man is one of those movies that had an unbelievable trailer and totally lived up to it; concerning the misadventures of a man and a presumably dead body who wash ashore on a seemingly abandoned island, the movie takes its time to set up the characters while never revealing too much. The action is kept fast when it needs to be, slow when it just wants to hang around; it’s funny, it’s sweet, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Much has been made of the numerous fart jokes in the movie, but to be honest I hardly noticed them. I was too busy focusing on the depths of human friendship the movie saw fit to explore. This is what we need more of in the industry.
Side note: how in the hell was Daniel Radcliffe not nominated for an Oscar? He spends nearly the entire movie with a rigor mortis rictus, speaking with puffs out of his slightly askew jaw, and is still more fascinating and fun to watch than any other character this year. Forget Harry Potter; this will be the role I’m always going to remember him for.
2. Don’t Breathe
Ah, another movie I knew no one actually watched, allowing me to describe the plot. Don’t Breathe is about three young adults who endeavor to relieve an old, blind man of his excess financial assets, whereas the old man would rather hold onto it – conflict naturally ensues. Director/writer/producer Fede Alvarez gained well-deserved fame for Evil Dead – a fascinating product that was a remake of an already beloved horror movie that somehow ended up being great – and he’s very clearly outdone himself here. The first time I saw it I was convinced it was just a remake of the magnificent Wait Until Dark but with some heavy role reversal, but now I know better. Don’t Breathe is wonderfully original and easily much scarier than any other movie released this year.
This is one of the movies where, as soon as I saw it, I immediately knew it was going to be on the list of my favorite films of the year; it occupied the top spot for some time. I’m not sure there was better camerawork in a movie (besides the next one on this list), nor tighter editing, tighter dialogue, and tighter action. Don’t Breathe is about as tight as Mr. Pataki’s grip on his dakimakura, and it’s unquestionably the most stressful movie I’ve seen in theaters. Even on a second viewing where I knew all the beats and scares and twists, I was still white-knuckling my theater seat’s armrests.
1. The Handmaiden
Let’s face it, you knew this would top the list. Visually spectacular, enticing, sexy, sly, elegant, and (HOT TAKE ALERT) far more important to the LGBT community than Moonlight is, this movie is the current peak of Park Chan-Wook’s already illustrious career. The Handmaiden has already significantly raised the bar for all movies I’m going to watch from now on; anything that raises my standards is going to have to top this list.
An important note: The Handmaiden has not been nominated for any Oscars. That, in and of itself, doesn’t bother me too terribly, as the Academy Awards have long neglected worthy titles such as Leon the Professional and Harakiri. These things happen. What gets me is the reason The Handmaiden got snubbed in so, so many categories. Consider this, if you will: Suicide Squad got nominated for an Oscar. Suppress that gag reflex. The Oscar was for Best Makeup/Hairstyling, which anyone who’s seen The Handmaiden knows ought to go to the best Korean movie ever made. I had no idea why Suicide Squad even got nominated. (Editor’s Note: Remember Killer Croc? That was all makeup, no CGI) Fine, fine, I’ll admit that I completely forgot Killer Croc was even in that insipid little cockroach of a movie. Nevertheless, I’d easily put The Handmaiden as the winner of this category (if not Deadpool, for Ryan Reynolds’ makeup), and not just because it’s a period piece. The hairstyles are really impressive! The makeup is perfect!
But you’re not going to see any Academy Awards for The Handmaiden, and here’s my best guess why. Each foreign nation is allowed to nominate one (1) movie for Oscar consideration. For the longest time, I thought this meant that the movie the country nominated would be considered for Best Foreign Film. Instead, I think this means that if your movie isn’t picked as your country’s representative for the awards ceremony, it can’t garner any nominations in any categories. This has, presumably, been the law of the land ever since the award show’s inception; I’m not going to put forth the effort to actually look this up or contact any award show official to confirm or deny this, but I will take the time out of my busy schedule to just blindly believe this without any facts in front of me. Just as Harlan Ellison fought for A.E. van Vogt to get the Lifetime Achievement Award in the SFWA, so too must I take up the banner to get this awful rule changed in the so-called academy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Handmaiden deserves Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, and Best Costume Design. To ignore all of these facets just because the South Korean coalition decided to nominate Age of Shadows is to deprive the drooling masses who watch award ceremonies like this the chance to be enlightened, to have their culture-deprived entertainment rituals enriched by something with a heart, with a soul, with a spine.
But hey, if it doesn’t get an Oscar nod, it doesn’t get an Oscar nod. After all, Army of Darkness never got an Oscar, and that is the best movie ever made.