2016 was an eye-rolling year for a lot of reasons, but in terms of film releases we actually got a really great set and I genuinely had a tough time picking through them for a top ten list. In a year where I’ve been blindsided by so many unexpected films it took me several days to boil them down but I finally got off of my ass and did it.
A note: I haven’t seen everything this year. There are some films I know would make this list if I’d seen them (Jackie and Silence seem to have been made in a hidden lab somewhere, specifically designed for me to love) but since I not only did not have the money or time or, frankly, the access to see every single thing that came out this year I have gone with favorites, things I love and am drawn to, rather than prestige – despite there being plenty of that to go around – and I hope this leads you to try out some things you might have missed.
Number Ten – Star Trek Beyond
There aren’t a lot of blockbusters on this list but this one had to be included. After shuffling around and putting out enjoyable-but-not-super-Trekkie films since the reboot, this franchise has finally found footing and done something fantastic. I have issues with Idris Elba’s villain in this film but those aside this is a very well-done, self-aware film in the series that was made by fans, for fans.
Excitement and geeking out aside this really is a well-made film. The cast has been on-point since 2009 when the reboot occurred but here they embrace them in a huge way, putting out a character-driven story that feels like a longer episode of the original series. This is even including that ridiculous Beastie Boys moment that managed to feel just on the safe side of “tacked-on” and be entertaining.
The long and short of it is that I just have not had this much fun with a Trek film in years. I loved it from start to finish and I wish more people had seen it in theatres, I hope it finds a new life on blu-ray/digital rental. One of the most fun experiences of the year, for sure.
Number Nine – Shin Godzilla
This was a blast. I laughed so hard when that adorable baby-Godzilla showed up, wiggling through the streets.
America has been struggling to grasp what to do with Godzilla. We put out our own film in the 90’s, one that I love because I saw it as a child but that is so ridiculously bad that Japan shot back and had their classic kaiju kill the one we had created. “Fair enough,” we said, and two years ago we tried again to…let’s call it mixed results.
Japan has relaunched the franchise after decades of grown men in rubber suits wrestling with each other and refocused the series on the main attraction himself with a new angle. You watch this and you’ll get all the ridiculousness you could possibly want from one of these films and, surprisingly, there is almost no lag in the pacing. If you have any interest in these kinds of things (or, you know, fun) then this is one you need to see.
Number Eight – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Many of you who know me will know that Star Wars is such a ridiculously integral part of my life. My desk at work is covered in Pop! Vinyl figures (Chris Cho is to thank for the furry Chewie) and my shelves/walls at home are covered in figures, comics, and art. I have a huge chunk of my main bookshelf dedicated to the Expanded Universe and it is overflowing.
It might surprise some that I put Rogue One as far down on this list as I have but I feel like this is the right spot. I loved it and was immensely satisfied with it. Since we reviewed this one I’ve gone ahead and linked it below for those more interested in what I thought of it but safe to say this one is great, absolutely one of my favorites from this year.
Read the full WDED review here: https://writedrunkeditdrunk.com/2016/12/16/the-first-star-wars-spinoff-is-a-rousing-success/
Number Seven – Nocturnal Animals
I really wasn’t sure what I would think of this when I walked in but Aaron Taylor-Johnson is freaky in it. The entire cast is great but he really sucked me in.
This hit me on a really personal level and I have not, as of yet, been able to figure out why. I was completely blindsided by it and walked out nearly speechless.
Our full WDED review can be read here: https://writedrunkeditdrunk.com/2016/12/10/tom-fords-nocturnal-animals-is-a-flawed-but-gripping-film/
Number Six – Arrival
Amy Adams is really something, isn’t she? This was one that, when I first saw the trailer, I knew I’d love it and unlike with Passengers I wasn’t disappointed (seriously, I wanted that to be good so badly).
This is one I’ll be revisiting when it comes out on blu-ray, an excellent and twisted up film about how we talk to each other and the differences our language barriers can create, as well as what we can accomplish when we learn from those differences. This is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in science fiction in general and even those who are just curious, I urge everyone to watch it.
The full WDED review is here: https://writedrunkeditdrunk.com/2016/11/13/arrival-asks-the-hard-questions/
Number Five – Swiss Army Man
This is just weird. Seriously, this is a very strange film. The entire thing centers on loneliness and isolation both in reality and mentally, wrapping it all together around the friendship between a castaway and a farting corpse. Who would have thought that this would also be one of the most touching comedies of the year?
Daniel Radcliffe is absolutely fearless, he has gone far beyond existing as “the kid who played Harry Potter” and has now become a daring actor instead. His choices have been interesting and he has not, as of yet, delivered a performance I didn’t like. This is no exception and actually looks like it might have been either a living hell or a hell of a lot of fun to film, maybe both.
Paul Dano is also incredible in this one despite how awkward and off-putting a lot of the role is. The entire performance looked uncomfortable and came off as such, which almost anyone can connect with. The idea that a person can feel isolated, feel frustrated with their families or the society they live in, even from the lack of interpersonal experience, can speak to a lot of people – maybe even the majority of them.
I laughed my ass off and in the process I was made to think about life overall. Not often a film revolving around fart jokes does that, you know?
Number Four – The Handmaiden
When this finished I sat and wondered…what the hell did I just watch?
Park Chan-wook surprised me with Oldboy a few years back, a South Korean film that has become a staple for anyone who likes weird, crazy ideas that get fully realized on film in a tight and well executed thriller. The Handmaiden is no different, a strange little film based off of a novel that has moved the plot to a Korea occupied by Colonial Japan. Within this world there are twists and turns that I did not see coming at all, explanations revealed by act changes and no wasted moments as we watch these two women come to find friendship and more with each other.
Caution: you don’t want the kids watching this one with you. The sexuality in this was off-putting at times, graphic even. I was, by and large, pretty damn uncomfortable while watching some of it but that might be the point of it. You’re watching such intimate moments with such theatrical dialogue that at times it feels overblown and dramatic to the point that it can be wild to see.
Number Three – The Witch
This premiered at Sundance in 2015 and I heard almost nothing but great things for a year before finally getting a go at it myself. I drove up to see the movie with a friend in Omaha and remember it vividly, that first viewing sticks with you.
This is not a subtle film. It lets you know within the first 15 minutes exactly what it is and what is going on. From there it proceeds to work really hard on making you question the relationships in the family we follow through this story, wondering what is going on between all of them and letting you see glimpses of it slowly as it progresses. This is not a jump-scare film, with lots of gore and thrills. Instead we go through a slow-burn, a film that builds to a climax. The entirety of it is leading you to the finale, working on each character to give them reasons to care about them or to despise them (those twins were so annoying). By the end I was gripping my armrest, my heart was pounding, and I had no idea what to think but I knew I loved it.
I bought this on blu-ray when it came out and further watches have really driven everything home for me, this was truly a horror masterpiece that will leave you tense for days afterward and, hopefully, with a renewed and healthy fear of the woods.
Number Two – The Wailing
Another South Korean movie makes the list! I found out about the director, Na Hong-jin, earlier this year and was anticipating this film a lot after all I learned.
What I saw was more than what I bargained for.
At a near 3-hour runtime this is no slouch. The pacing in this is perfection, the cast performs ably, and the visuals are rough on the viewer but in all of that time I was never bored, not one dull moment. The imagery is stunning as well, sweeping shots of the Korean hills and forests breaking up the character interaction nicely.
By the end I was white as a sheet and absolutely terrified. I cannot wait to show this one around, to get people turned onto it. South Korea has really been putting out some fantastic films in the last decade or so and this is a shining moment in all of that, a horrifyingly beautiful movie about parenthood and fear wrapped in Eastern lore.
Number One – La La Land
By now I’ve probably driven most people I know nuts talking about this one. I’ve had the soundtrack playing nonstop, I’ve been whistling the songs, and I’ve been thinking a lot about love.
I talked a lot in my review of it about how much I adored this film but…this is an excuse to continue waxing poetic about it so why not?
Rarely do I enjoy a musical. This one, however, is seamless and the songs are not forced into the plot, no cuts to add them after the acting has been filmed. Rather, Chazelle uses long shots to establish where the characters are in the discussion and make them a part of the dialogue in an impressive display of camera work, in particular with the opening number which I believe is all one long shot. The film is a series of these but as it goes on the entire thing gets more theatrical. There are only 4 songs I would honestly say feel like those from a standard musical and those are near the beginning, the first half. As the film develops the songs do as well, maturing with the relationship between these two characters.
And let’s talk about our characters – Mia and Sebastian. We see these two dreamers who want vastly different things, one to gain stardom and the other to use his passion for jazz to bring it back by opening his own club. Their journey to these goals together is a driving force of the film and indeed brings about the resolution.
This is a very emotional film as well, bringing more laughs than I had expected as well as a moment that absolutely blindsided me. I figured out the most likely ending around two thirds of the way through and was expecting to cry (I do that when films hit particularly hard) but seriously, Emma Stone came out of nowhere in this specific scene that I will not spoil here.
La La Land is my absolute favorite film from this year, despite it being of a genre I have no fondness for and there being other things that I really loved this year. I saw it twice, powerless to resist the desire to relive it. It remains my number one of the year and indeed one of my favorites period. I’ve already looked into pre-ordering the blu-ray and flirted with buying the soundtrack on vinyl. I cannot recommend this enough.
While that’s my top ten I have to say that this was a pretty solid year otherwise as well and I know there are several that would have been on this list if I’d seen them. Some that I saw did not make the cut but are still very noteworthy and fascinating.
- The Neon Demon – I wasn’t too fond of this on a first viewing, but it grew on me when I saw it a second time. Very out-there, visually gorgeous to watch, and creepy. I don’t think it’s for everyone and I’ll admit that Refn was best with Drive but I still think this is worth watching.
- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – This is an amazing comedy mockumentary about an artist who goes solo and…well, disappears right up his own ass. Not many things this year had me laughing all the way through but it’s so rare to see comedy executed this perfectly. The Lonely Island has gone from SNL gag to legitimate silly-hip-hop to actual comedic talent.
- Hacksaw Ridge – I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist and this was basically our god of war, our hero in the smoke that leapt out to save people. Mel Gibson is a lot of negative things but one thing no one can take away from him is his eye for cinema. He can use it as a platform for the two things he loves – blood and religion – all he wants and it does not take away from the stories he tells. Ten years after his last directorial effort he pops back up with this and I loved it.
- The Shallows – We did it guys, we finally got another good shark movie. Not since the mighty Jaws have we really had one worth watching for more than laughs. I loved how intense this was, how stressful it got at places. The whole thing is just gripping.
- Doctor Strange – Finally, Marvel starts mixing it up. Not in their formula, I think it’s too late for that, but this was such a weird little movie. I think I knew it was going to be a big one for me around the time that Cumberbatch’s fingers started growing fingers, which then proceeded to grow fingers. In a world that is drowning in comic book movies this was a huge surprise.
- Hush – Deaf girl trapped in her house by a creepy killer? Sure, why not. And I’m glad I watched it, what a fun film to go through. It’s exciting, it’s got genuinely frightening moments, and the lead actress does a solid job of playing deaf.
That’s it folks! 2016 was a great year in film and I hope you all enjoyed going through it with me. WDED will be back with more reviews in 2017.