Friday, July 21, 2017

And What Didn't Make My 2016 Top Ten List

As a companion piece to my Top Ten list, every year I write a post to discuss some of the other major films that got a lot of positive attention, in order to give some context to my own choices. I find this type of analysis piece helpful when working out how I feel about my list and the year in film as a whole. I wish more critics would do similar write-ups, as what's not on someone's top ten list can be as fun to discuss as what is. Please note that I will not be writing about films listed among my honorable mentions like "Silence" or "Moonlight."

Let's talk about the big awards contenders first. Why isn't "La La Land" on the list? Well, while I appreciated all the care and craft that Damien Chazelle and his collaboration poured into the film - not to mention the audacity of making a wholly original jazz musical in this day and age - the film didn't work for me. Stone and Gosling are a great pair, and the film was fine when it was dealing with their relationship. But every time they were obliged to act like they were in a musical, it all fell apart. These two just aren't musical actors, and the only big number that landed right was the first one - which didn't feature them.

What about "Arrival"? A heady science-fiction film with prestige honors should have been right up my alley, right? Well, again, I liked what the film was trying to do, but I couldn't' stop thinking of all the ways that it could have been better, and the manufactured dramatics at the climax really grated. It was a smart film, but it could have been smarter. Ditto "Jackie," which I found impressive in bits and pieces, but never as a whole. There were a lot of indie films that I had been looking forward to which just didn't connect. "The Nice Guys" was too uneven and unsure of what it was doing. "Everybody Wants Some" and "Swiss Army man" felt too slight. "Sing Street" had some good songs, but was way too indulgent for me. "Certain Women" had one great story, and two completely useless ones. "The Neon Demon" was just ugly through and through.

As I've already written about in a previous article, I suffered an awful disconnect with the foreign arthouse pictures this year. I was pretty cool on "Elle," "Toni Erdmann," "Things to Come," "The Lobster," "Julieta," "A Bigger Splash," "It's Only the End of the World," and liked "The Handmaiden" all the way up until it became a pulpy revenge picture with extra lesbian fetishization. "Aquarius" and "Under the Shadow" had me intrigued, but their flaws were too major to ignore. However, I was impressed some of the genre films - "Train to Busan" and "Shin Godzilla" were in serious contention for spots on the Top Ten list earlier in the year. "Your Name," however, was not. This is probably the best Makoto Shinkai film I've seen yet, but it still has all the bad habits that make me think he's still got a long way to go.

Usually a big populist mainstream hit or two manage to grab some critical attention, but there weren't may contenders this year. "Deadpool" was the biggest one, which I found enjoyable, but not excellent in any sense. "10 Cloverfield Lane" and "Green Room" had their supporters, but I didn't find either to be transcendent of their very specific genres. "Kubo and the Two Strings," sadly, struck me as Laika's least successful film due to poor writing. There were some pleasant surprises, however, with the latest "Star Trek" film, and "Captain America: Civil War," which delivered all the summer action thrills I could ever have hoped for.

Movies just missing a spot on the list included "The Edge of Seventeen," "Hail Caesar!" "Anthropoid," and "Hell or High Water." I considered "Our Little Sister," the recent Hirozaku Koreeda film, for my Plus One spot, but realized I wasn't all that impressed with the film, at least not enough to want to spotlight it. Oh, and after some deliberation, I've decided Beyonce's "Lemonade" really shouldn't count as a theatrical film.

And that's my 2016 in film.


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