The Last Word On 2016
Well that was an average year, wasn’t it? Leaving aside death, war, Brexit and Donald, the movie year was also a little bit up and down. However, as ever, there was enough to keep us smiling, laughing, crying etc. and as tradition dictates – nay demands – here we find ourselves once again bringing you our Top 10 Of The Year – and failing miserably. This year it’s 12 – and we even had to cut that down from 15. (OK, technically it’s 13, but hey – who’s counting?)
Little bit of housekeeping – as ever we work to the awards year rather than the calendar year, so some of you may not have seen some of these yet, whilst others may, well, “have.”
So, without further nonsense or delay, debate or prevarication (OK, we’ll get on with it), we proudly present The Last Word On Earth’s Top Ten (Or Thereabouts) Movies Of 2016 – presented as ever in the time honoured tradition of reverse order, starting with Number 12 (of 10)
12: Hacksaw Ridge
Or: The Comeback Of The Year – After many moons in the Hollywood wilderness, atoning for the sins of Sugar Tits-gate, Mel Gibson announced his return in spectacular form with the most demanding, exciting, accomplished and simply visceral war movie since the first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Reversing Spielberg’s approach, Gibson slowly lulled us in to this true-life tale of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (career best work from Andrew Garfield), establishing his almost idyllic home life before – literally – blowing the world to all hell in the second hour of his movie, one of the most brilliantly sustained pieces of filmmaking this year. Hacksaw showed just how powerful and masterful Gibson can be as a director. Come on, give the man an Oscar nomination and mark his invitation “Welcome Home, Mel.”
(And if that wasn’t enough, Gibson also made a superb return in front of the camera in the little seen exploitation number, Blood Father, well worth your time if you didn’t catch its limited release.)
11: Hidden Figures
Sometimes you just want to see a simple, straightforward tale told in a simple, straightforward way. And from the opening lilting piano notes of Theodore Melfi’s film it was clear that this aimed to be a warm hearted old fashioned affair, and delivered such in a quietly moving, note perfect manner. The amazingly previously untold true story of the black women who worked at NASA in the early 1960s, Hidden Figures dealt with the racism of the day – but didn’t overwhelm itself with such social concerns, Instead it focused on the three women – all played to perfection by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae – as they quietly changed the world from within. It helped, of course, that they had Kevin Costner in support, once again delivering that performance where he singlehandedly appears to carry the whole weight of American idealism on his capable broad shoulders. A movie that made you cry – for all the right reasons.
10: I, Daniel Blake
A movie that made you cry – for all the wrong reasons – Ken Loach made a welcome return from retirement to provide the year’s finest state of the nation address. Finding himself in the most tumultuous political period of recent years, Loach, as ever, used such background to focus on the humanity of those that are forced to live at said society’s mercy (or lack of it in certain moments here.) Focusing his attention on the desperate state of the benefits system, Loach as ever elicited some remarkable performances from his two leads, comic turned actor Dave Johns and, especially, Hayley Squires, as the single mum struggling to make ends meet. Despite how it sounds, the saving grace of Loch’s best film since Kes (and that’s saying something!) were the moments of warmth and humanity it constantly managed to find within the circumstances.
That said, the food bank scene, once seen, is impossible to forget.
After the frankly dreadful I’m So Excited, it was not only a delight but somewhat a surprise to find Pedro Almodovar return to word-beating form with such a strong movie as Julieta, a tale of loss, a melodrama awash with Hitchcockian suggestion, and, very simply a deeply moving and very beautiful film. Adapted from a series of short stories by Alice Munro, Almodovar had originally planned the film as his English-language debut (possibly with Meryl Streep on board) but retreated to his native tongue to deliver this haunting tale of family fall out and estranged love between mother and daughter. With Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte both superb as the titular heroine across a split “then-and-now” format, the director weaves an almost thriller like tension, that helps bring to life quiet family moments and emotions that echo through the ages. It’s a beautifully delicate film that unwraps itself to its audience in finely modulated, often brief, events. At times it is warm and enveloping, at others almost devastatingly painful in the smallest of ways.
Julieta sees Pedro Almodovar as good as he’s ever been. Possibly better than he’s ever been
Another movie that revealed itself slowly and came to pack a helluva emotional wallop, Denis Villeneuve’s smart science fiction film was more a spiritual cousin to both Close Encounters and 2001 than it was a companion piece to Independence Day, even though it did initially deal with several large spaceships mysteriously showing up all over the world. What unfolded though was not a tale of bombast but more a meditation on loss, time and the very fabric of life itself, told in a manner that was at once both direct and elliptical. Amy Adams gave very possibly her finest performance as the linguist charged with making contact with the mysterious alien beings, also trying to come to terms with her own very personal world around her. To say any more is to give too much away – save to say this is a movie that not only sustains repeat viewing, but almost demands them. (You’ll know what we mean when you see it.)
With Arrival, Villeneuve delivered an impressive, engrossing, at times confounding, at times profoundly moving movie that explores the nature of time and even our place in the universe. Beautiful to look at, resonant to ponder over long after the final light has faded
7: Eight Says A Week – The Touring Years/Supersonic
Yes, we know we’re cheating by putting two together, but – hear us out – the reason we’ve done this is they’re more or less the same movie. Both focus on the two greatest bands Britain has ever produced (don’t bother arguing with that one –you can’t win here!) What Ron Howard’s Beatles doc, and Matt Whitecross’ Oasis movie have in common is they both chose to focus on the early years, in many ways, the glory years, of these two amazing little beat combos. The meat of the story may well lie in the acrimony and resentment that developed between John and Paul, or the all out sibling warfare of Liam and Noel that pulled their band apart, but these are not those films. This is Beatlemania in all its insanity, this is Knebworth at the moment when it genuinely felt like the whole country was singing the same song. And as such, both movies, are simply glorious.
For his movie, Howard managed to unearth plenty of previously unseen footage to delight us with – there’s a clip here of I Saw Here Standing There in Washington 1964 in which The Beatles are – literally – the greatest punk band you never saw. Howard edges things a touch by jumping ahead and ending his movie with the Fabs in that final concert on the Apple roof. But rather than go for the obvious Get Back, he closes with Lennon screaming his heart out to be loved on Don’t Let Me Down. It’s as beautifully poignant an ending now as it was then.
Whitecross too has unearthed a treasure trove of previously unseen Oasis material which, as much as anything, captures the actual warmth of the Gallagher brothers’ relationship, something that often gets neglected in the telling of their tale. As ever, Noel is the devastatingly funny one, but in his contemporary interview (all smartly kept off camera) he gives full props to his brother who, as the footage here constantly reminds, was – by a country mile – the finest frontman the UK has ever produced.
So - two great movies. Two great bands. And two great bands captured for all the world to remember at the height of their greatness. Transcendent and triumphant – we have both here!
6: The Edge Of Seventeen
A movie that owes such a debt to John Hughes (in the all the right ways) Kelly Fremon Craig’s writing and directing debut was nurtured to the screen by the safe hands of James L Brooks and was, very simply, the best teen movie in years. Wittily and smartly written, this tale of a teenage girl, lost in her own school, her own peer group and her own selfish/defensive nature, resonated because Craig and Brooks both clearly understand that a film like this needs an original voice. And, even more than that, an understanding of why the teen movie genre remains – or should remain – vital. For all the comedy, for all the drunken party moments, for all the coming-undone life lessons that all teen movies seek to capture, what really counts is finding and articulating the genuine pain of adolescence. Like her spiritual mentor Hughes before her, what Craig gets right here are the moments of loss between friends – it’s in the moment that Nadine and her former BF realise a line has been crossed that the resonance is found. More than Craig’s beautifully witty dialogue, it’s in the eyes of Hailee Steinfeld and Haley Lu Richardson as they cross a line they can probably never get back from. This film knows how to move you – and it knows how to do it in the simplest of ways.
And as for Woody Harrelson – this is what we had to say for ourselves in our original review – and we still stand by it: “the man just gets fucking better every time he opens his mouth! – Are we right? Don’t bother – we’re right!”
No movie this year was leaner, tighter or more effective that Clint Eastwood’s Sully. Clocking in at a mere 96 minutes, this was a master class in how to make a movie without a single extraneous or wasted moment. Everything that needed to be said was on the screen – Eastwood got in, got out, and left a perfectly formed story behind.
Extrapolated from a mere 200 seconds in the air – and with a ending we all knew going in – Eastwood and co nonetheless managed to produce a film that was remarkably gripping and moving in equal part. It helps of course that he had Tom Hanks at his archetypal best as the everyman pilot made extraordinary. But then again that was the real trick of Eastwood’s film – what Sully did wasn’t extraordinary. It was an ordinary working man doing his job, an ideology that both director and lead actor clearly respect and espouse. But even if that was clearly the intent, the effect was still something quite remarkable, never more so than in those brief little moments as the plane lowers itself towards the Hudson, and Eastwood cuts to an office block or two where the workers look on, dialogue free, but with a deeply felt look of “Dear God – not again” in their eyes.
And remember – it wasn’t a crash, it was a successful water landing.
4: Ethel & Ernest
For once you can keep your Pixars, your Ghiblis, and all the others blockbuster toons of the year. The finest animated movie of 2016 was an absolutely gorgeous adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ finest book. Ethel & Ernest was written by the author as both a memoir and a tribute to his parents, two ordinary people who led an ordinary life. But the real success of the film (and the book before it) was to show how these ordinary lives played out over and through the world history unfolding around them. Over fifty years, Ethel & Ernest heard of the rise of Hitler and homosexuality both, saw the devastation of WWII first hand and yet carried on, wept at their son Raymond going to art school rather than aspiring for a nice office job, and so much more. Throughout it all they endured and just loved each other. It’s such a lovely delicate story, brought to life superbly by the voices of Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent. One of the simplest but most deeply felt films of the year.
He grew it from a pip – and it was bloody beautiful.
3: La La Land
The first time we here at Last Word Towers saw La La Land a few months back, we confidently predicted it had already won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress for Emma Stone, alongside probably several other Oscars to be named later – and we still stand by that prediction (get your bets on now – we’re right!) Damien Chazelle’s reinvention of, and homage to, the classic Hollywood musical is as close to pure delight as cinema came this year. Ryan Reynolds was splendid as the struggling jazz musician, but it’s Stone’s hopeful actress that gives the film its real heart. Hell, the film even manages to get away with an impassioned speech extolling the virtues of jazz, (now that’s a hard sell) – that’s how good it was. It may not have had the best songs you’ve ever heard in a musical, but there were enough decent tunes to get by and an overall score that worked tremendously well. This is a film that casts a spell. As Chazelle has said himself of his spectacular one-take opening number on a freeway of jammed traffic – if you’re not in after that, this is not the movie for you. But if you are, La La Land will own your heart and soul for the next two hours, never more so than in its final 20 minutes or so, which remain the finest ending of any movie this year. (From the moment Emma’s audition becomes a song – you’re see!)
Joyous, validated evidence of the fact that yes, they do still make ‘em like that.
2: Captain America Civil War
So you may well ask – why a superhero movie when we’re awash in them, and why so high on the list. And the answer is an easy one – as this year proved time and again, the art of making a really, genuinely satisfying blockbuster is still a very delicate one. And one that remains incredibly difficult to pull off. Unless, it seems, you’re Marvel Studios (other Marvel movies don’t count – yes X Men, we mean you this year!)
Just ask DC. Fine, both Bats V Supes and Suicide Squad may have made tons of money, but did anyone really enjoy them? DC and Warners have devised such a corporate plan to try and ape what Marvel do so well, that they’ve forgotten at least two basics – character and care. Marvel love their heroes, they love what they can do to them, and with them. And they want the audience to share in that. Thus when Wonder Woman shows up, you go “Oh look it’s Wonder Woman.” But when Spider-Man shows up you go “Shit, that’s Spidey – and finally that’s the way Spidey was meant to be – a kid!” You are bothered.
Civil War was essentially Avengers 2 ½ - and more power to it. Bats and Supes had a half hearted moody smack down in Zack Snyder’s moody rain; Iron Man, Cap and co brilliantly laid waste to not just Berlin airport, but their entire story and relationships established over several movies. And they did it with smarts, wit, élan even – and when Giant Man unexpectedly showed up, we literally jumped out of our seats with sheer childish glee.
Why Civil War? Simply because in an age in which the big budget tentpole movie is so incredibly dominant, everything this year from the DC disasters to the abysmal Ghostbusters to the disappointing Independence Day Resurgence to the trying too hard Fantastic Beasts, reminded us just how hard it is to get this stuff right. And boy did Civil War ever get it right!
Make Mine Marvel! (“Studios” that is – not the other ones – Yes, X Men, we’re stlll looking at you!)
1: Sing Street
We saw John Carney’s ‘80s musical months ago. And it has just stuck with us ever since. The most heartfelt movie of the year – all about a boy who forms band to impress a girl. If that’s not the history of pop music then, well, it should be. Featuring a superb young cast, including leads Ferdio Walsh Peelo as the boy and (especially) Lucy Boynton as the girl, plus Jack Reynor as the older brother and erstwhile soothsayer, and a batch of songs that flitted between great original and loving pastiche from Gary Clark, Carney delivered a truly lovely, small-scale movie about big dreams trying to bust out of small town lives. (It may well be set in Dublin, but its tellingly set in the suburbs of Dublin.)
Sing Street was a movie that extolled the sheer, basic beauty and redemptive power of pop music, and one of the great things about Carney’s movie is how well it reflects its central character. It starts off tentative and uncertain, feeling itself out just as young Cosmo (Walsh-Peelo) is taking his first stabs at writing a song. It’s not terribly good to begin with, but it learns quickly, and starts to find its feet. After all, a pretty girl is always a fine inspiration. And as Cosmo and his band struggle to find themselves musicially (they move from Duran Duran to The Cure to The Clash to Spandau to Hall & Oates in rapid succession) they slowly do that thing that all great teen movies capture – they grow up in front of you. Something that is an utter joy to behold.
“it’s all about the girl, isn’t it?”
So those were the good ones. What about the rest?
The Last Word Worst Film Of 2016
To be fair this could have been a long list but we thought we had a clear winner way back in January when De Niro and Efron brought us DIRTY GRANDPA, a film so mind-numbingly dire and desperately unfunny that we genuinely thought the race for Worst starts and ends here.
True, Zac did almost give himself a run for his money in the summer with MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES but, even after humiliating the usually wonderful Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, we had to concede that Bob De Niro having an on-screen wank was still the worst thing we’d seen this year.
Until, Big Willie showed up, with only a few days left in the year to stake his claim. And so, the title of –
Worst Film Of The Year 2016 goes to COLLATERAL BEAUTY, a film so asinine in both conception and delivery that it both staggers and boggles our minds how the likes of Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Ed Norton, Keira Knightly, Michael Pena and more could have ever signed up for this. A film in which its screenwriter was so enamoured of his own title that he finds as least a dozen opportunities to have his cast drop it, and which featured not one, not two, but three – count ‘em -THREE of the worst endings. Ever. A movie during which we quietly said to ourselves over and over again whilst watching it “Please let this year end. Please let this year end. Please let…”
Last Word Honourable Mentions aka The Ones That Almost Made The List
A Monster Calls
J A Bayona’s brilliantly dark kids’ fantasy movie that turned Liam Neeson into a tree (still a batter offer than his turn in Scorsese’s deeply tedious Silence) and saw Felicity Jones confirm just what a huge talent she is. Moving, fantastical, lyrical and profoundly sad – this was so close to cracking the Top 10 (12. 13 – whatever.)
20th Century Women
Mike Mills wrote about his father coming out at 75 in his previous film Beginners, and landed Christopher Plummer with an Oscar for his troubles. Here, Mills (no, not the bass player from REM) focuses on his mother and the rag tag group of people who helped raise him in late 1970s California. Easily one of the best written movies of the year with a extremely winning ensemble cast, led by a never better Annette Bening. Greta Gerwig in support was also on career-best form.
Rogue One A Star Wars Story
The other great war movie of the year that wasn’t directed by Mel Gibson, Rogue One proved there was life in the notion of a Star Wars stand alone movie. Although let’s be honest on that point – this is not a stand alone movie per se, but the best Star Wars prequel ever, the movie that George Lucas himself failed to make three times in a row. And with an ending that you could see coming a mile off, but was even better when it arrived (finally accompanied by John Williams.) Hats off to Kathy Kennedy and co for proving you can go home again.
Biggest Disappointments Of The Year
Obviously, we’re swerving Ghostbusters because we never had high hopes. And everything we want to say about the DC cinematic universe has been stated above (see Civil War.)
So in terms of real disappointments because expectations were so high, we going with JASON BOURNE – it’s not that it was bad, it’s just that it somehow became ordinary. More of the same, ably delivered and strangely completely underwhelming. Maybe you really should leave well enough alone…
…which bring us to ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS THE MOVIE – proof not only that the boat has sailed, the Bolly has gone flat but that the jokes have followed. Shame.
(We would add INFERNO to this list but that would imply we had any hopes for it in the first place.)
The One We Got Wrong – Manchester By The Sea
It’s not often we admit to getting something wrong on this site (look at the top of the page!) but our review of the Oscar-heading Manchester By The Sea might have been a little bit harsh. But, ever mindful of our responsibility to you the reading public, we went back and watched it again. And you know what? We might have called it wrong. Maybe we were tired. Maybe our frame of mind was distracted. But Lonergan’s Manchester is a stronger movie than we gave it credit for, more powerful, more heartfelt.
But, you know what? It’s still not as good as everyone is saying it is. And Casey Affleck’s performance is still too one note to hold that Oscar that he is almost inevitably going to win.
And we’re right on that – look at the top of the page!
So, there you have it – The Last Word on the year in which the only happy memories will likely be those you had on screen as the real world was really all over the shop.
Good luck in the next one – Happy New Year!
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