Whew! 2016 has been a rough year, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to go online, for fear of another heartbreaking loss. We’ve lost some of the greats this year—and even the excitement of another award season failed to make up for it. Needless to say, I’m happy to move on to 2017. But, before we look ahead to the movies that will (hopefully) bring us a little joy in the coming year, it’s time to take a look at the best of 2016.
For me, this year was another year of a couple of stand-outs and a bunch of pretty good releases—so, once again, ordering them has been a little tricky. But here’s my rough list of 2016 favorites, loosely ordered, building up to my favorite movie of the year.
It may have come out early in the year (Valentine’s weekend, to be exact), but this quirky superhero thriller still managed to stay on top, even beating out some of the year’s most heavily-buzzed award season contenders. Why? Because it’s clever, it’s funny, it’s totally unexpected...and Ryan Reynolds is hilarious. Sure, Marvel released some other good movies this year, but there’s just something about the wacky irreverence of it all that helped Deadpool win me over.
I do love a good real-life adventure. The true story of Saroo’s decades-long quest to return home to his family is heartbreaking and emotional—and young Sunny Pawar is so charming that you can’t help but fall in love with the character and become invested in his story. Though its final act isn’t quite as strong as the beginning of the film, it’s still a moving journey.
This year produced some great animated movies—especially where Disney and Pixar were concerned. But Pixar’s Finding Dory took the top prize for me. Sure, the story is quite a bit like the 2003 original, but I love the original—and I also love the characters (both new and old) and the heart of this charming and fun-filled sequel.
Have I mentioned my love of good true stories? Well, Hidden Figures was another one that grabbed my attention—and my heart—this year. It tells a remarkable story about three real women who fought against racism and sexism to provide for their families while taking their careers in directions that previously seemed impossible. It’s an inspiring story—and it’s entertaining, too.
Here’s a different kind of true story: a little-known documentary about a controversial pastor in a war-torn country. Almost Holy isn’t an easy film. It’s fascinating but challenging—and it’s loaded with difficult gray areas. But it’s also the kind of film—and the kind of character—that stays with you long after you finish watching.
The list of true stories continues with Pablo Larraín’s Jackie Kennedy biopic. The film covers a short period in the former First Lady’s life—and it does so through just a simple interview with a magazine reporter. But this character-driven film says a whole lot about this beloved figure—about her personality, her intelligence, and her shrewdness, too. It seems like a pretty simple film—but, like many others on my list this year, it’s the kind that haunts you long afterward.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson isn’t based on a true story, but it’s another simple but fascinating film. Adam Driver is perfect for the role of the quiet bus driver/poet who goes through the same routines every day, observing the little details of the world around him. It definitely isn’t the kind of movie that all audiences will enjoy—because it’s anything but action-packed—but it’s thoughtful, quirky, and beautiful in its own way.
For some reason, Paramount chose not to screen this memorable award season sci-fi drama in all markets—so I was forced to catch up after its release. Amy Adams gives a strong performance as a linguist who’s called in to help communicate with aliens who mysteriously land on Earth. But it’s the striking story and its unexpected ending that make it a truly stand-out release.
John Carney’s latest release is easily the most underrated—and underappreciated—film of the year. Sure, Carney’s films all seem to have the same themes, but the fact that Sing Street is another movie about aspiring musicians doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a delightful, uplifting movie with some great ‘80s music and a cool retro style.
La La Land
After surviving numerous award seasons, I’ve learned to be suspicious of buzz. When people start talking about a movie like it’s some kind of superhuman work of cinematic art, I get a little nervous—because so few movies (including a few this year) actually live up to the hype. But Damian Chazelle’s La La Land deserves every bit of the buzz. It’s modern and retro, it’s musical and dramatic, it’s vibrant and beautiful and absolutely effervescent. It’s the kind of movie that I’ll watch over and over again, to help me survive the Movie Dead Zone of the next few months.
But, on the Other Hand...
I may have seen some noteworthy films this year, but I also saw some pretty terrible ones—maybe not Bowie, Prince, and George Michael all dying in the same year bad...but pretty painful nonetheless. So here’s a look at the worst films of the year—again, loosely ordered, building up to the most painful experience.
In this crowd-funded Rooster Teeth feature, a bunch of blundering imbeciles mess up an intergalactic mission and are forced to battle an otherworldly threat. While it could have been fun in an ‘80s action-comedy kind of way, the idiotic characters and convoluted story make it the kind of move that only a fan could truly love.
The Wild Life
Every once in a while, my daughter will ask me, “Hey, Mom, remember that movie called The Wild Life?” And I will smile and nod and make the appropriate sounds in response to whatever it is that she’s referencing. But I’m actually lying—because no, I don’t really remember that movie. Sure, I remember that it’s about Robinson Crusoe and some animals on an island, but the rest is so totally bland and forgettable that it’s entirely slipped my mind.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
I’m not one of those people who get offended by every little thing—but Neighbors 2 is the kind of movie that really gets my extra X chromosome fired up. Though it poses as a kind of feminist comedy, allowing sorority girls to be the same kind of troublemakers as frat boys, it’s only an equal-opportunity movie in that it makes its female characters look just as stupid and crude and irresponsible as the boys in the original. Yeah...thanks a lot.
Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles: Out of the Shadows
I can’t say that I enjoyed the original TMNT reboot, but I could at least understand its nostalgia factor. This time around, however, the nostalgia has worn off, and the characters are so irritating that it makes for a long and unpleasant experience. I’d appreciate it if the turtles would now kindly return to the shadows and middle-aged men’s memories, where they belong.
Game adaptations are nothing new—and they’re rarely notable cinematic works. So the fact that Warcraft is a grand and epic mess of monotonous action sequences and overcomplicated storylines is really no big surprise. But the fact that it was helmed by a talented director like Duncan Jones makes it just plain sad.
The year just wouldn’t be complete without a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Now, there are some people who love Nicholas Sparks movies—and the novels on which they’re based. But while some work better than others, 2016’s offering, The Choice doesn’t have a lot going for it. It’s awkward and predictable and painfully drawn-out. Fortunately, Deadpool was brilliantly counter-programmed for release on Valentine’s weekend, so audiences had better movie-going options that week.
I Am Wrath
I really wanted to like I Am Wrath. I really tried. After all, it was filmed right here in my hometown—and that alone made me root for this little cinematic underdog. Sure, there are a few things to like about this movie—though probably only if you’re from Columbus. And, alas, the boilerplate story and overall silliness could explain why the film was given only an online release.
Gods of Egypt
I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt—so much so that I graduated from college just a credit or two shy of a history minor. But even my lifelong fascination couldn’t help this ridiculous, gilded mess. Granted, it may make for an entertaining booze-fueled late-night cheese-fest—but, as a serious action movie, it’s a big, sparkly disaster.
Now, I realize that people are torn on this film. For some reason, some people think that Seth Rogen and Company’s raunchy, food-themed animated adventure is absolutely hilarious. But I’m pretty sure that those people have been smoking something. I don’t think I laughed once at any of the thinly-veiled references in this 89-minute comic calamity.
Norm of the North
When studios choose not to screen a film for critics, there’s sometimes a very good reason. That was definitely the case for Norm of the North, a muddled animated adventure that may have looked decent a couple of decades ago. I probably should have heeded the warning signs: not only did it not screen for critics, but it was also released in January and it starred the voice of Rob Schneider. But I still chose to take my daughter to see it on a chilly winter afternoon. And I lived to regret it.
Okay...now that I’ve made it through that excruciating list, I’m eager to move on—to forget that I saw those last 10 films and start a new year with a clean slate. So here’s to 2017—to a year of action, adventure, laughter, and tears at your favorite theater. Once again this year, I look forward to returning to my regular seat to soak it all in before reporting back to all of you.
Happy New Year, everyone! I’ll see you at the movies!