I’ve decided to do all 20 films in one big article because this has taken far too long already. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Before I start off the countdown, time for the honorable mentions. In no particular order: The BFG, The Accountant, Deepwater Horizon, Hidden Figures, Fences, Hands of Stone, Storks, Don’t Think Twice, Eddie the Eagle, The Nice Guys, Don’t Breathe, Masterminds, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hail, Caesar!, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. That’s 15 movies. That didn’t make the list! Onto the main event:
#20: Suicide Squad, a movie a lot of people didn’t like but I enjoyed, did what it needed to do. It was so much better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It is so low down the list because a lot of the criticisms for the movie were things I didn’t notice on my first viewing and I haven’t had an opportunity to watch it again to see if they’d bother me. Jared Leto played a different version of The Joker, as he had to. Margot Robbie was fantastic as Harley Quinn. Will Smith finally made a good acting choice in a very long time by playing Deadshot. Killer Croc, for how strange he looks, was actually done with makeup and prosthetics, not CGI. And Jai Courtney was somehow not dreadful as Captain Boomerang. Maybe he just has to use his natural Australian accent. The plot was commonplace. Why is almost every blockbuster doing the sky portal doomsday weapon via laser using hordes of nameless bad guys to protect it? I don’t know. The Enchantress was cool when she looked like a dirty smoke monster lady. When she went all Mayan goddess headdress belly dancer, it didn’t really make sense. Unless you count the fact that she’s played by a model. Whatever. The dude who played RoboCop in the remake really needs to speak less in exposition. But maybe that’s why he’s there. Couldn’t tell you. The plot threads and world building this movie crafts count for a lot here.
#19: Batman: The Killing Joke was an enjoyable film, but the beginning part tacked on to pad the runtime for a short theatrical release added almost nothing to the story. The scandal surrounding Barbara Gordon and Bruce Wayne knocking boots out of nowhere was dumb. She cheated on one of the Robins with Batman in the comics and had a kid with him. The bad part was the out of the ‘90s stereotypical gay friend of Batgirl. And the extremely creepy Paris Franz. When it got to the actual adaptation, it was as close to perfect as possible. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy were absolutely fantastic. The largely pointless starting segment does take a good chunk out of the film’s overall rating. Can’t be helped.
#18: Kung Fu Panda 3 was the action comedy animated movie we needed. We don’t get many of them. But when they do happen, they’re good fun. I loved the jade motif of the bad guy, played by the always wonderful J.K. Simmons. As somebody who has studied Asian cultures in both an academic setting and as a hobby, this series has always tickled my fancy. Jack Black should just keep making these. He’s far better here than he has been in anything else since Tropic Thunder.
#17: The Founder showed us the interesting goings-on in the early days of the McDonald’s fast food empire. Michael Keaton gave a wonderful performance as Ray Kroc. Do they make the observation that he tends to crib from others? Yes, going so far as to show him ripping a speech for a banquet directly from a self-help audio book on vinyl. It would be hilarious if he actually did that. But he realized McDonald’s was a billion dollar idea and pursued it until it happened. Persistence and ambition are what is required to succeed. One without the other will fail.
#16: Patriots Day gave us an account of events that happened less than four years ago. In tense, bloody detail. No sugarcoating at all. I remember being in a little Italian restaurant having some chicken marsala over linguine while they had one of the brothers cornered in a boat. Everybody in the restaurant was glued to the small mounted TV in the corner.
#15: Sing Street, the only movie on this list I did not actually see in theaters, was a delight. It is far down on this list due to the rather stereotypical nature of some of the characters and the very predictable plot. The music does make up for this, as I brought up two articles ago. Jack Reynor was amazing as the main character’s stoner older brother. And the rest of the cast is much better than they should be considering they’re mostly unknown Irish child actors. But there are a lot of clichés. Such as the school bully that’s only a jerk because his alcoholic father abuses him. Or the ridiculously strict Catholic school principal who crosses the line into assault for very little reason. And there are some overly convenient plot elements. How everybody in the band is poor, yet one of them not only has every instrument they need but knows how to play all of them. Oh, and they had the editing equipment necessary to shoot and dub a music video in 1985 Ireland. While that is a rather easy task today with a digital camcorder and a relatively cheap PC microphone, it was very difficult and expensive back then. At least to do it as well as it was shown in the film.
#14: The Edge of Seventeen was easily the best non-action comedy this year. In fact, there were no A-level straight comedy movies this year. Hopefully, 2017 will be better at this. This film centered on the trials and tribulations of a nerdy high school girl dealing with the ostracizing such people experience. While Napoleon Dynamite spoke to me far more, this movie brings an important perspective to the genre.
#13: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was extremely well done. Why it sits so far down the list for me personally is all the inside baseball that I just didn’t pick up on. I will say this, though: Not realizing Grand Moff Tarkin was completely CGI is to the film’s credit. I had no idea. So, good job filmmakers. A problem with the movie that just took me out of it was that scene when Chirrut is dying in Baze’s arms. All of the stormtroopers and soldiers around them decide not to shoot at them for like 30 seconds even though Baze gets shot about three or four times in less time than that after he stands up. While moving. Also, why doesn’t the kyber crystal around Jyn’s neck ever get used for anything? If that’s what powers lightsabers, wouldn’t fashioning one out of spare parts have been pretty cool?
#12: Moana was so much better than Zootopia. While the latter had an extremely simplistic point that it just bashes the audience over the head with constantly, the former gives us a complex narrative. Don’t let anyone else decide your purpose in life; find it for yourself. The soundtrack is also pretty awesome. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made the transition to animation extremely well. Some people criticized Jemaine Clement’s villain song. But remember, this is an animated Disney musical. There must be a villain song. And the primary antagonist was silent. How else were we gonna get it? Also, I loved it. So there.
#11: Hell or High Water was stunning in how real it felt. The cinematography, so good. Ben Foster gave the best performance of his career. Who knew the kid from Flash Forward could act after bombing as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand? He was also in Warcraft last year in a completely forgettable performance. Strange, that. A modern day Western in the best way, this film tells a gripping and dramatic story of screwing the bank that screwed the two main characters’ mother. It’s brilliant, really. Rob a bunch of branches of the bank that holds a substantial debt on your dead mother’s land and then pay off the debt with that same money. Because there’s oil under that land.
#10: Hacksaw Ridge gave us one of the most brutally intense depictions of “war is Hell” that I’ve ever seen. But, still, a story of hope and unbreakable human spirit. The amount of lives one man ended up saving is incredible. Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington both gave one of their best performances ever. And it looks like Mel Gibson might direct the sequel to Suicide Squad next. If he does, it’ll definitely be rated R.
#9: Nocturnal Animals, outside of that absolutely dreadful opening credits sequence, is a modern thriller masterpiece. Who knew a fashion designer could direct a good film? As this is a mystery-style thriller, I do not seek to spoil any of the plot elements. You just have to see it for yourself. Using a failed relationship as a vehicle for a spurned lover to write a dark book and have the one who scorned him read it was a brilliant plot contrivance. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
#8: Doctor Strange was a brilliant introduction to magic and mysticism in the MCU. The special effects were fantastic and unexpected. The spellcasting circles looked so damn cool. I totally want a Sling Ring. Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast. And the seeds of future characters got very coyly planted. The defender of the Greenwich Village Sanctum before Doctor Strange is the (dead) brother of Brother Voodoo in the comics. Brother Voodoo, while obscure, is really cool. Dormammu will clearly come back. He’s too cool and powerful of a villain for that not to happen. I want his human form with the awesome flaming skull. That’d be awesome.
#7: Split had no right to be as good as it ended up being. As a massive spoiler, we find out at the end of the movie that this was in fact a supervillain origin story that takes place in the Unbreakable universe. Such a pleasant surprise. James McAvoy gave his best acting performance ever as he has to play a whole host of wildly divergent personalities and accents. An inspired performance. I cannot wait for the concluding film in the trilogy.
#6: La La Land was so much fun. The music, the cinematography, the dance numbers, the interplay between the two main characters. The best non-animated or non-comedy musical in a very long time. No one makes these kinds of movies anymore. While not as good as Whiplash (my movie of the year in 2014,) I absolutely adore this movie. Does it deserve the amount of Oscars it will be winning in a few hours as I write this? Probably not as I’d give Best Picture to a nominated film later down this list. But it’s about Los Angeles and acting. The academy loves that kind of pandering.
#5: Captain America: Civil War may be the best MCU movie ever. It’s definitely in the top three in my book along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. That airport scene was superhero action fight perfection. The only real fault with the film is the bad guy and how much they wasted Baron Zemo. One of my favorite lesser tier Marvel Comics villains is not even in Hydra! And he does very little and his plot against the Avengers is overly complicated. The second we see that car in the middle of the night at the beginning of the movie, I immediately said “Bucky killed Tony Stark’s parents” (in the theater.) I was totally right. I love that feeling of being right about a massive movie twist like that.
#4: Kubo and the Two Strings is simply put one of the best animated films of all time. The story it weaves, the world it builds, the characters it develops, the practical stop-motion effects it seamlessly weaves with sparingly used special effects. The two strings of the title don’t immediately refer to the instrument Kubo uses, as he carries a samisen which has three strings. The moment in the film when the titular strings of the title reveal themselves is too good to spoil here. Just see this gem.
#3: Hardcore Henry is the best non-superhero action film since John Wick. Most of the amazing ones of this genre seem to manage it with fantastic ideas and small budgets. Partially funded with an Indiegogo campaign, what the filmmakers managed to accomplish in the action scenes shot in the first-person perspective is mind-blowing. Extremely well constructed and executed. One of a few films on this list pretty much no one cared about, I cannot recommend this film more. It just works so damn well. Due to that aforementioned “no one cared,” I doubt we’ll get the teased sequel. Oh, but it’d be so much fun. Crowdfunding may have to come to the rescue yet again.
#2: Manchester by the Sea is one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen. The acting is top class. Casey Affleck gives one of the greatest dramatic performances I have ever witnessed. Being able to grasp and portray indelible pain so well is a rare acting gift. I refuse to spoil the gut punch of this movie. Just go see it. You will cry if you have a soul. Ugly sobbing levels of crying.
#1: OK, I’m cheating on this last one. I couldn’t decide between two films, so it’s a tie. Deadpool and A Monster Calls are both incredibly amazing but in almost polar opposite ways (except they both manage to have Liam Neeson nightmares in them, strangely enough.) Deadpool gave us the best comic book to movie character adaptation ever. An actor hasn’t so perfectly nailed a comic book character since Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Rorschach in Watchmen. I cannot wait for Cable in the sequel. Papa Dragon is probably the best suited actor to play him. And the world building sets up a strange mutant slave service that a talented writer could easily reap several sequels out of. (I imagine several members of the inevitable X-Force will have started out as these slaves.) A Monster Calls tells a breathtaking story of loss as the main character, a young boy, deals with the inevitable slow death of his mother. Liam Neeson’s part in the film, as the Monster, is crafted so well. The use of animated parables to impart complicated morals was beautiful. I need to read the book this movie was based on.
100 & 100
The worst movie of 2016 is easily The Brothers Grimsby. Mark Strong, who was great in Kingsman: The Secret Service, at one point teabags Sacha Baron Cohen while SBC is sucking a deadly poison out of his balls. Yeah, that’s a thing that happened. The ending is terrible. The villain sucks. Nothing about this movie is fun. The jokes at the expense of working class Britons are painfully dreadful. And the twist that Sacha Baron Cohen’s character is a natural crack shot, which was at least modestly clever, is spoiled in the trailer. Good job, trailer editors!