I was originally going to write a foreword about how 2016 was a terrible year, but I am already sick of hearing that, so I’m going to embrace a different perspective. 2016 was an…interesting…learning experience. On a personal level- the year drew attention to my strengths, weaknesses, potential, limitations and unhealthy obsession with the “Carnosaur” trilogy. Yes, I felt the collective dread when a clown masquerading as a Politician somehow became the President-elect of the United States. But I’ve now learned the importance of understanding the political landscape, so we can hopefully avoid these kinds of mistakes in the future. Yet I have also come to the realization that it’s just as important to understand those you don’t agree with, as hostile generalizations will only drive us further apart. I’ve even learned that the mental image of a shirtless Putin bending Trump over his Oval Office Desk is very contagious and this sentence may cause an epidemic. But on a more bittersweet note, 2016 taught me it was time to move on…
I know, I know, this is obviously the most devastating news of 2016, but hear me out. I’ve been critiquing movies since 2007, with “Rush Hour 3” being my first (posted) review. I chose to adopt a video format for some of my works in 2009 and my original intention had been to lampoon bad movies- because that was a totally original concept that hadn’t been done by the entire internet…I eventually broadened my horizons with “Kickass of Awesome“, “Guidelines to Not Sucking at Video Reviewing“, “Review Memoirs“, New movie vlogs and my most popular contribution to the web: “Critiquing the Critics“. But what began as passion deteriorated into obligation and eventually I became bored, if not miserable. When even recording vlogs became tedious, I adopted a scripted format, but even that ran out of momentum. The strange thing is I didn’t realize any of this until I was working on my critiques of “Halloween 4” and “Never Back Down 3“. I would stare at the computer for hours, wondering when reviewing had become such a chore. This went on for about a week before I completed those reviews. It suddenly dawned on me that this had been happening for awhile and each subsequent critique- video or written- would drain a lot out of me. It has always been my ambition to become a professional screen-writer, yet instead of working on my dream, I was trying to come up with something to say about someone elses work. So even though 2016 was a stern teacher, I can’t deny that I was thoroughly educated in many different areas. I intend to post a final video going further into my feelings and I also want to assure you that I’m not going to completely disappear from the reviewing community. If I feel inspired to record a video or write a review, I’ll do it without hesitation. But it has been a good 10 years and I just think it’s time to wrap it up. I can’t thank those who have watched, read or even critiqued my reviews enough. I love you all, almost as much as I love “Carnosaur 3: Primal Species“.
But enough of this emotional shit, what about 2016’s contribution to cinema? I think this has been a pretty solid year for the movies, as I was consistently entertained and suffered through fewer disappointments. There were some odd quirks, like how September somehow upstaged the entirety of Summer. But even the upcoming ‘Worst Of’ List didn’t provide anything that made me truly angry. I can only remember the happier experiences, which achieved orgasmic levels with the following list. As always, these are merely my opinions and opinions are like assholes- sometimes a doctor has got to stick a lubricated finger inside of them. You don’t have to agree with me, even though I am obviously right about everything and you should definitely agree with me.
9) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story– The “Star Wars” saga has always been known for its innovative effects and “Rogue One” definitely pushed boundaries, even using its technology to ‘raise actors from the dead’. I’m not entirely sure if they built actual models and sets, or if they designed the CGI to resemble practical effects, but “Rogue One” has the rusty aesthetics that I crave from my “Star Wars” movies. Director Gareth Edwards and DOP Greig Fraser frame so many memorable visuals, with eye popping colors and breathtaking set pieces. I like the contrasts between the gorgeous landscapes and the gritty costume designs. The cinematography, mixed in with the exceptional score by Michael Giacchino, often evoked emotion when the story or characters could not. This is low on the list because part of me wonders how much the fanservice will hold up upon multiple viewings, as it is a little distracting, even if I enjoy it (for now). Furthermore, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) was a rather underwhelming protagonist, with the entire supporting cast being significantly more interesting than her. I debated whether to include “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” on the list, or if it should function as a runner-up, but the experience left me very happy so I decided to honor that.
8) Doctor Strange– Yeah, yeah, I know “Doctor Strange” is a slave the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula, but as someone who believes that said formula has yet to grow stale, I’m perfectly content with the movie being reminiscent of the likes of “Iron Man”, “Thor“, etc. In terms of the script, “Doctor Strange” treads on familiar territory by covering similar character arcs, conflicts and tones of its predecessors but it does them very well. I enjoyed seeing the titular Doctor flaunt his arrogance around indiscriminately, because he’s charismatic, funny and still has a heart. Yet his fall is gripping and his rise from the ashes is satisfying. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch is is a compelling screen-presence and his interactions with the supporting cast are fun. I laughed. I sniffled. I squeed and I was thoroughly invested in all the conflicts and scenarios. Visually, the kaleidoscope inspired imagery was f@cking cool and unique, helping differentiate “Doctor Strange” from its contemporaries. Even though people complain about the rather bland villain (Mads Mikkelsen), I didn’t mind as ‘origin story’ antagonists are usually only designed to help build up the protagonist- which this one did effectively. The pacing is swift, without being in too much of a hurry and the action scenes are exciting. As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this was a very satisfying experience that was enhanced by the IMAX screen I saw it on.
7) Deadpool– While being held back due to the occasional bout of amateurish direction, “Deadpool” was hilarious, exhilarating and occasionally even moving, but it primarily excels because of how odd it is compared to other comic book flicks. It not only wears its R rating proudly, containing graphic violence, sexuality and vulgar comedy- stuff you normally don’t find in this genre, but it’s bizarre fourth wall breaking ensured that I was not going to forget this any time soon. Or ever. It also happens to just be really good, with stylish choreography, likable characters and even a love story that entertained me just as much as the action thanks to the chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin. I also found it to be very funny. There is an unpredictable nature to the humor, so I was constantly being caught off my guard, which only made me laugh harder. Awesome stuff.
6) Shin Godzilla– I wanted to rate this movie higher on the list…so…much…Yet I had to knock it down a few notches because while the new Godzilla design is cool and menacing, this is the only Godzilla movie where I felt like Godzilla himself was a mere special effect…a good special effect, but not really a character- unlike the remainder of the Toho universe, no matter how much the sad music tried telling me otherwise. Yet surrounding the questionable take on the King of the Monsters is a very exceptional movie, with strong performances and clever dialogue. I liked how the entire narrative is built around the Governments reaction to Godzilla’s rampage, never giving into the temptation to force in a token romance or family drama. The tension continues to build and build as the situation becomes increasingly desperate and I was completely hooked all the way through. When Godzilla does attack, prepare yourself for some of the best miniature work ever and the new atomic beam was freaking awesome. Co-Director Hideaki Anno’s bizarre imagination is put to good use, without derailing the final product off the rails. Seeing this in theaters also magnified the experience, as I am a bit of a G-dog fanboy.
5) Arrival– While the special effects are imaginative and convincing, “Arrival” is compelling primarily because it boasts a strong and often creative story. It offered new and thought provoking ideas surrounding our concept of time and language. This might be the kind of movie that stimulates the mind, but it doesn’t lose its emotional core in the process. The acting, writing and editing worked together to tug on my heartstrings, while the haunting cinematography, music and the slow burn pacing successfully made this into one of the most suspenseful pictures of the year. I found myself eagerly yet nervously wondering what would happen next and the following scene would build upon my excitement and unease, with the climax giving me a satisfying pay-off. It’s probably one of the few entries on this list that won’t raise eye brows, as it’s universally agreed to be an exceptionally well made film, without any real weaknesses. You might not be invested in the material, but can you find any genuine flaws? I can’t think of any. “Arrival” is elegant, nerve wracking and intelligent, probably being the ‘best’ movie on this list from an objective standpoint.
4) Deepwater Horizon– “Deepwater Horizon” patiently builds up to a big explosion, but whereas I would normally anticipate such a spectacle with disturbed glee, I was actually dreading it. The film did a phenomenal job of making me fear the impending catastrophe, with every death standing out as tragic despite the minimal characterizations. The suspense was masterful, primarily because of how the actors interacted with the effects. Characters would constantly find themselves receiving minor burns, bumps and other wounds, with the makeup artists doing a great job at making them all look authentic. Little obstacles such as heated handles, falling debris or even small explosions ensured that I was always on my guard, wondering what danger was lurking right around the corner. Then the major challenges would arise and jack up the intensity to unbearable levels, with the action being designed to make us feel like we’re part the situation. This made the experience that much more terrifying and I was left emotionally exhausted by the time it was finished. I would say that “Arrival” is technically superior, even though it was placed lower on the list, but this had a bigger impact on me. In fact, I ranked this entire list based on their impact on me.
3: Primal Species) Blood Father– “Blood Father” has the soul of an exploitation film, with the only sign of legit production value coming from the impressive cast (which also includes William H. Macy and Michael Parks). It’s violent, gritty, sometimes unpleasant and doesn’t have a lot of variety in its locations, but these points add to the films’ almost-apocalyptic atmosphere. The cinematography emphasizes the isolation of the desert landscapes and you can see traces of “No Country for Old Men” and “Sicario” in the direction- based on how they’re paced, staged, framed, etc. I felt the tension, cringed during the brutal action sequences and even felt nostalgic, as there is definitely a “Mad Max” vibe going on. The dialogue is excellent and the actors all look like they’re having a blast in their roles. Mel Gibson in particular is a bit too convincing as the aggressive, chaotic, grumpy, quasi-racist, recovering alcoholic. I also appreciated how Gibson and Moriarty have chemistry as the Father-Daughter pair and they even avoid the obnoxious ‘bratty, hostile kid’ tropes. They do bicker, but these vitriolic interactions are balanced out with enough moments of warmth and care (and they’re all so well written). The action scenes are a little restrained, as the film favors suspense over spectacle, but there are a handful of really cool moments that function as satisfying pay-offs to the slow burn build-ups. I’m partial to this genre and “Blood Father” functions as an effective throwback and as its own entity.
2) The Nice Guys– “The Nice Guys” is clever to its core, producing very well written characters- complete with strengths, weaknesses, quirks and arcs- that give the cast a lot of room to show their acting range. They’re participating in an intriguing story that actually enters some unpredictable territory. It often intentionally defied the cliches and conventions normally accompanying the genre, without being pretentious about it. The director does an excellent job with the neo-noir visual style and I loved the Neon Lighting and the flashy production design- which recreates the time period in a colorful kind of way. “The Nice Guys” is also really funny, with great comedic timing by its cast, lots of quotable lines and many hilarious situations and sight gags. The humor is just strange enough to catch you off guard, but not so weird that it starts to become alienating. “The Nice Guys” also boasts genuine tension and drama. When characters found themselves in peril, I was nervous for them. When their personal weaknesses rose to the surface and affected those around them, I felt sad. “The Nice Guys” gave me the full cinematic experience, with no real shortcomings or misfires. All of its content worked for me on some level.
1) The Wailing (2016)
“The Wailing” was excellent, even though the long running-time (2 and a half hours), lack of clarity and the eccentric tone will certainly alienate some viewers. The first act resembles a comedy, complete with quirky characterizations, amusing sight gags and hilarious banter. But around the 45 minute point, “The Wailing” becomes bleak and TERRIFYING. I would usually criticize this sudden shift in tone, but for some reason, it works here. I think I love it because the humor disarmed me, leaving me unprepared for the horrors I was about to endure. The imagery is haunting, with the methodical pacing soaking up a lot of atmosphere. I think the movies’ greatest weapon is its unpredictability, as every time I thought I knew where it was leading, it would throw me a curve ball. “The Wailing” was constantly tricking me into following false leads, so I spent the majority of the running-time in the dark…unsure what would happen next. This doesn’t happen often and is a great recipe for suspense. The cinematography deserves special mention as well, as the visuals strike the perfect balance of foreboding and breathtaking. The sound design enhanced the mood, while the director uses clever symbolism and subtle implications to get your mind working. There aren’t any memorable jump scares and to be honest, I can’t even recall many individually ‘scary’ moments. Yet every scene is designed to make you feel a little more uneasy, collectively building up to a bone chilling finale that has stayed with me for weeks.
“The Wailing” is pretty confusing and probably requires multiple viewings to understand it, as there is a lot of ambiguous content surrounding the lore and motivations of various characters/entities. I don’t want to discuss my theories, as it would probably spoil too much of the story, but there is a lot left to our interpretation. I’m still trying to piece this puzzle together, but this is great because I want to watch the movie AGAIN just to find answers. You can argue that the director had no real structure to his vision and gave us a lot of nothing, disguised as as mystery. I disagree, but even if this is true, cinema has always been a sleight-of-hand medium. If we are caught in a films illusion, we are witnessing characters participate in a story. If the spell fails, then we are watching actors playing with props in a set. When I accuse certain arthouse flicks of using smoke-and-mirrors techniques to trick the audience into believing there is a deeper meaning in the work, it’s because said arthouse flick has failed to capture my interest…Therefore, all that’s left is for me to critique and analyze. But “The Wailing” kept me fascinated and nervous throughout the entire experience. Warning though: Prepare to read subtitles that sometimes flash across the screen a little too quickly.
This was actually a very difficult list to compile, because I realized that I loved the majority of these movies about equally. I really don’t like “Deepwater Horizon” (#4) anymore than “Doctor Strange” (#8) and I was constantly changing the order as I was writing this. At one point, “Blood Father” (#3) and “Deadpool” (#7) were flipped. “Arrival” (#5) was at #4, then moved to #3, was changed to #6, before settling on its final number. “Shin Godzilla” (#6) was lower on the list and then I decided to place it a lot higher, as it was my favorite theatrical experience of the year, but I ultimately gave it sixth place. I normally base my lists around my reaction to the film, which is why something like “Blood Father” is even present in the first place, but sometimes the objective quality did influence my decision. I might’ve loved “Shin Godzilla” and thoroughly enjoyed “Rogue One“, but they are among the more flawed entries on this list, so I had to be a little harsher with their placement. “Rogue One” was always at the bottom and “The Nice Guys” was always at #2, but there was never any question that “The Wailing” would be the ‘winner’. “The Wailing” not only challenged me, but made me want to rise to the challenge and scrutinize its narrative. I’ve spent hours researching the movie, deciphering it, debating its merits and truths. It almost has become an obsession, so “The Wailing” had the most profound impact on me. My tastes have always been eccentric though and just because I loved these movies, you might not. I always emphasize that these are my ‘favorites’ and not the ‘best’, because ‘best’ implies that I have some deeper knowledge of cinema that puts my opinion above yours…I mean, granted, I do have some deeper knowledge of cinema, which puts my opinion above yours, but only because watching the entire “Carnosaur” trilogy back-to-back is tantamount to achieving nirvana.
Or I just have shit tastes. But sometimes fecal matter has a horrid aftertaste, so can I survive the list of films that I hated? Stay tuned!