Amidst the cultural backlash, civil war, and whirlwind that was 2016, filmmaking soldiered on as usual, featuring a plethora of comic book-adaptations such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Captain America: Civil War (2016), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), and the sidestream rebuttal, Deadpool (2016). It was a good year if you were a comic book superhero fan, unless of course you hated Dawn of Justice and/or Suicide Squad (2016) like most did, in which case maybe it was merely decent; it was, by the same token, a bad year if you’re tired of superhero films and couldn’t care less about comic book superheros, unless you happened to like the three hour Synder-fest of Dawn of Justice or the X-Men Animated Series-inspired Apocalypse, in which case maybe the year was merely decent.
I don’t even know what any of that means.
Still, while I expect Hollywood to start mustering energy for its anti-right-wing, anti-Donald Trump films only by this year (I expect a new Manchurian Candidate [1962, 2004]-style thriller and a White House satirical comedy in the vein of Idiocracy , pronto), enough socially conscious, politically correct awards-bait were released in time for this year’s Oscar season in response to the amusing #OscarsSoWhite controversy of previous broadcasts. Ferociously non-straight, white, American male-dominated films like Birth of a Nation (2016), Hidden Figures (2016), Moonlight (2016), Fences (2016), Loving (2016), and Lion (2016) either saw wide releases or garnered high-profile Oscar nominations or both. Hollywood stars are already gearing up for their annual political protests at the 89th Oscars, which have gained momentum given the events of last year and this one, from Brexit to the US presidential election to America’s recent travel ban.
All in all, 2016 wasn’t my favorite year in film given the aforementioned groups of films, which I typically don’t care about, particularly in comparison to the stellar 2015 calendar year. In light of my lukewarm reception to the majority of the films I saw this year, and given the fact I didn’t see as many theatrical releases as I normally do, this year’s “Best of/Upcoming Year Preview” will be much shorter and to-the-point than previous ones. Instead of a comprehensive Top Ten list or a description of my biggest disappointments, surprises, and blockbusters, I’m sticking to a simpler list of recommended films from 2016. Note the genres and my particular recommendations (and warnings) for each:
Films worth watching (or rewatching) from 2016
- Deadpool (2016): The woopie-cushion underneath the modern superhero blockbuster phenomenon, Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller’s labor of love brought screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s project out of development hell and into box office domination. What is now the highest grossing R-rated film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) is also the best superhero movie of the year by a country mile, though don’t consider it family entertainment by any means.
- The Witch (2015): Though first released in January of 2015 at Sundance, this historical supernatural horror film blew the rest of the genre away when it released wide in February, 2016. This film looks, sounds, and feels like it was made by a master of his craft, but was written and directed by first-time filmmaker Robert Eggers. The film follows the story of an exiled Puritan family in 17th century New England, who find themselves terrorized by unseen, unknown forces in the then frontier wilderness. If you are into either scary movies or period films, I cannot recommend this film enough.
- Moonlight (2016): For those of you in a more low-key mood and looking to catch up on your awards-bait viewing, Moonlight is my dramatic Oscar pick for this year. It offers an intriguing look at African-American working-class life in Miami, as well as touching analysis of coming to terms with one’s sexuality. It’s one of the better coming-of-age films released in the past few years, and it’s the rare Oscar-favorite that earns its cinematographic acclaim and does not stoop to being manipulative with its themes.
- Hacksaw Ridge (2016): Mel Gibson’s long awaited return to directing was, well, worth the wait. In addition to featuring another bravado lead performance from Andrew Garfield, Gibson reminded us why he’s considered a masterclass in action filmmaking and cinematic hyperviolence. I couldn’t recommend it higher for fans of war films or those who just like amazing true stories, such as this one about the American armed forces’ first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
- Arrival (2016): This is a film for those seeking a softer, more deliberate type of science-fiction, rather than the science-fantasy Western hybridization of Star Wars or the dark, violent, hardcore science-fiction a la Alien (1979) or Predator (1987). Much like The Martian (2015), Arrival seeks to glorify nothing but scientific discovery and the wide range of human reactions to the world around them. It’s the closest modern successor to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Films to look forward to in 2017
- John Wick 2 — The first film was very good, even better than The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) released that same year. Its sequel will continue the modern action film rennaissance (disclosure, I have seen this already; review forthcoming…).
- Logan — I haven’t looked forward to a comic book adaptation this much since The Dark Knight (2008), and Logan seems primed to continue the subversive streak 20th Century Fox started with 2016’s Deadpool.
- Headshot — For those of us who can’t wait for Gareth Evans to start work on The Raid 3 (TBD), we’ll have to “settle” for Kimbo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto’s (aka “The Mo Bros.”, e.g. Killers ) first foray into action cinema, starring none other than Iko Uwais himself.
- Trainspotting 2 — Another improbable late sequel/soft-reboot in the vein of Creed (2015), Danny Boyle’s long awaited followup to his ’90s comedy-drama about drug addiction is already gathering solid reviews and solid hype.
- Kong: Skull Island — I’m not that eager for another Kong film myself, but if it delivers on the old-school monster action its trailers promise and sets up a future Lionsgate Studios showdown between the ape and the Big Lizard himself, I’ll support this.
- Alien: Covenant — If you know anything about me as a film-lover, you know I cannot live without the Alien franchise (1979, 1986, 1992). Here’s to hoping this may be the first quality, complete Alien sequel to be released since I started following the damned series.
- It Comes at Night — A24 is on fire with hits like Room (2015), Enemy (2014), A Most Violent Year (2014), Green Room (2015), Moonlight, and The Witch. Another horror film of theirs is just what we need.
- War for the Planet of the Apes — The first film in the unlikely rebooted franchise was good, and its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), was even better. I expect nothing but the best from this second sequel.
- Dunkirk — I’ve come to grips with Christopher Nolan’s gifts and limitations as a filmmaker, which has been both disappointing and entertaining, but I’m glad the man keeps testing new genres and new types of stories. A World War II film under his auteur leadership sounds fascinating.
- Blade Runner 2049 — Harrison Ford is tying off all career loose ends as he soft-reboots (closes?) another seminal work of his from decades past, this time passing the torch to new lead Ryan Gosling under the directorial guide of none other than Denis Villeneuve, my personal favorite working filmmaker.
- The Last Jedi — Who are Rey’s parents? Is Luke Skywalker going to die (my guess is yes)? And farewell, Carrie Fisher.