Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Some of What Might Be the Best Movies of 2016
My plan in 2016 has been to watch what I call "good movies". Once upon a time when this blog was in its prime I would watch every single piece of shit that Hollywood produced. Now I can look at the wonder that is "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2" and say "no". I'm very happy about that. 25% of my life has passed, I've seen enough shitty movies. I can tolerate some cheese like "Warcraft" or "X-Men Apocalypse" every now and then, but if its "Divergent 3"? I don't need to see it. I'm free of that crap! So here's ten good movies from 2016 that I saw instead:
10) Captain America: Civil War – Okay, so a superhero film is on the list. But it is not Deadpool and it is definitely not "Buttfuck v Superfuck: Dawn of Fuck". Actually I think "Captain America: Civil War" really only hangs on this list thanks to my eternal hatred of "BvS", which is already the Worst Movie of 2016. (Debate is over.) "Civil War" is how you do that movie right. You have real characters, you have real stakes, and you have humor. It also does not hurt to have a giant Ant-Man fighting Spider-Man fighting androids fighting robots fighting mutants in the greatest and silliest comic brawl of all time. "Civil War" gives you the taste of everything the Marvel universe can do. It can hit sillier highs and lower emotional blows than any movie Marvel has done before.
I’ve been wishing the worst on the Marvel Universe for as long as this blog has existed. Yet it has continued to go forward and usually get better with each passing year. "Civil War" is the movie that finally made me a convert. Disney, you can do whatever you want with your superheroes. You’ll be golden in my eyes as long as Zack Snyder is there to remind me how shit it could otherwise be.
9) The Neon Demon – Nicolas Winding Refn is not an easy director to like. My first thoughts on Neon Demon were actually leaning negative. After "Only God Forgives" I figured I had lost all hope for Refn and his painfully slow paced movies starring non-human mannequins with a penchant for necrophilia. But "The Neon Demon" looked like he was making his version of "Suspira". Elle Fanning, ironically of "We Bought a Zoo" fame, goes to the sleazy city of Los Angeles to become a model. She is (apparently) the most beautiful girl in the world so is lusted after by creepy cameramen, rapist hotel managers, and Jena Malone. Jena Malone also fucks a corpse during this movie.
Really a lot of my reaction to "The Neon Demon" was "so what?" Yeah, LA is sleazy, and models are bitches, and the fashion industry is superficial and awful. We all know that. Is this all Refn has to say? "Bitches be cray, right, fellas?" I feel like "The Devil Wears Prada" was able to make a more sophisticated statement on the fashion industry ten years ago then just "man, them girl eat each other". However, even with those criticisms, "The Neon Demon" is a pretty incredible movie. It does not go quite to the levels of full David Lynchian insanity as I was hoping, but it is the best looking movie of the entire year. "Neon Demon" is also the best sounding movie of the entire year. It is a gorgeous piece of art, with a deeply disturbing story to tell. Even after I dismissed it, "The Neon Demon" has stuck with me. I suspect it will only rise in rank as time goes on.
8) Green Room –RIP Anton Yelchin.
It was a real tough decision between "Green Room" and "10 Cloverfield Lane". 2016 has actually good horror movies. Even the crappy horror movies marketed to idiots like "The Shallows" and "The Purge 3" haven't been that bad. Mainstream horror is back. So naturally I'm going to ignore that trend entirely and celebrate an Indie film from the colorful director of "Blue Ruin". "Green Room" is the roughest sit on the list. It is a brutal movie where people do horrible things to each other for not very good reasons. But it is crushingly intense, pushing the tension further and further, until suddenly every character in the movie seems to break at once. This definitely feels like another "Blue Ruin", where the horrible violence has this nihilistic pointlessness to it all.
In "Green Room" a struggling Indie Punk Rock band visits a Neo-Nazi bar in the middle of nowhere. When one of the rockers accidentally witnesses a murder, they find themselves under siege in the bar's green room. Anton Yelchin puts in a great run as the lead, as does Imogen Poots, as does Patrick Stewart in his first villainous role in decades. (What was the last one, "Conspiracy Theory"?) What appears to be a brutal attack from a well-organized Nazi crew instead descends in anarchy on both sides. "Green Room" puts a dose of tragic realism into the situation. It's gory, it's violent, people get destroyed in really awful ways. But it is stirring and sad, even beyond the lurid tragedy of the events.
So hopefully my next pick is not as awful.
7) The Mermaid – Stephen Chow is a weird man who makes weird movies, and this Chinese film is no different. With "The Mermaid" we have our first foreign language pick, meaning that my hipster cinephile cred is fully intact. Where Stephen Chow’s previous films have been incredibly wacky kung-fu movies like "Shaolin Soccer" or "Kung Fu Hustle", The Mermaid is a romantic slapstick comedy musical environmentalist... something or other. A rich mustachioed playboy, Liu Xuan joins up with a gang of industrialists to develop a cove. Little does he know he is poisoning a community of various Stephen Chow regulars and a beautiful young mermaid, Shan. Shan is sent to infiltrate the human world by hiding her flipper in a dress and walking awkwardly to several dates with the playboy.
Turns out underneath his cool rich exterior, Liu Xuan is really a goofy guy. And his mustache comes right off. The Mermaid ends up being this bizarre love story between two people that want to sing very loudly to each other and eat a ton of fried chicken in a child’s amusement park. For those looking for choppy-socky action, you won’t find much here. It does get shockingly violent for such a light nonsensical film. Maybe not "Green Room" violent, but a lot closer than you would think. "The Mermaid" is currently the most successful Chinese film of all time, and for good reason. It is a big old crazy seafood buffet of a film. You don’t really know what all these scaly slimy tentacled things are that you’re eating, but you know they’re all delicious.
6) The Nice Guys – Much like a little other movie from a decade earlier, the great "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", "The Nice Guys" is one of the best movies nobody saw this year. Nobody wanted to see it except for a single theater in Hazlet, New Jersey that was inexplicably sold out. Such a shame because Shane Black’s brand of comedy is what I wish all comedy could be. Instead Melissa McCarthy stars in six films a year and Kevin Hart stars in like fifty. Maybe I want clever dialog, throw-backs to previous references, and silly spins on detective Noir stories? Maybe I just really want every film to be "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"?
Someday I need to cobble together a film series on LA neo-noir comedy through the ages. I’d stick "The Nice Guys" right between "Inherent Vice" and "The Naked Gun", with room left over for "The Big Lebowski" and then "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". (I happened to really like "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", don’tcha know?) "The Nice Guys" is this great Seventies period piece. The villain’s plan is to protect the interests of the Detroit Auto Industry just a decade before it would be slaughtered by the Japanese. This historical inevitability adds a Coen Bros-level of absurdity to what is already a great action packed movie helmed by Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, and a fantastic turn from the young Angourie Rice.
Also it reminds me a lot of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". Which by the way, is a very good movie.
("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang".)
("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang".)
5) Midnight Special – I really do not understand why a movie like "Midnight Special" had to be this unknown Indie thing. It’s a SciFi thriller. Why do people not want to see that? Why do they want to see Kevin Hart in anything? I just don’t understand. Anyway, "Midnight Special" is very good. The movie begins with two men and a seemingly autistic boy on the run in the darkness of Texas, racing across the country for an unknown reason. Director Jeff Nichols keeps the audience completely in the dark as to what it is going on. All we know is that these men are wanted by the police, the boy has magical light powers, and somehow it all ties in with a Christian cult that has been rounded up by the NSA for breaking government codes.
"Midnight Special" begins as an incredibly intense dark film. But slowly the film introduces its characters and reveals a rather tender side. Between the magical weirdness and clicking clock to the next location, "Midnight Special" is a story of a family trying to save their son the best they know how during incredible circumstances. It feels like either a very good Stephen King novel. Or perhaps a version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where the moral of the story is not to abandon your family to fly into space with aliens.
Seeing how good Jeff Nichols is with "Midnight Special", his upcoming Oscar Bait Civil Rights piece, "Loving" might be more worth my time than I originally thought.
4) The Boy and the Beast – "The Boy and the Beast" is pretty clearly Mamoru Hosoda’s worst movie. But that’s like saying "The Boy and the Beast" is the worst three-way you’ll ever have with Victoria’s Secret models. Hosoda at his worst is still miles better than most directors at their best. Where (Best Movie EvarTM) "Wolf Children" was the story of a human mother raising werewolf children, "The Boy and the Beast" is the story of an lost human being raised by a bear samurai, Kumatetsu. Kumatetsu is a lazy warrior of great strength but a complete wreck of a personal life. The boy and the beast live together and grow into functioning adults thanks to their positive effects on their lives.
Mamoru Hosoda has a special power of making these wonderfully positive and warm movies. "The Boy and the Beast"’s worst mistake is actually introducing a villain late in the third act. Until then the best conflicts were between the boy, Ren’s struggles of falling in love with a human girl, attempting to reconnect with his human family, and staying in the animal people realm. Somehow just throwing in a magical demon makes for a less interesting conflict. But otherwise Hosoda still has all of his charms and emotional touches. "The Boy and the Beast" is unmissable.
3) The VVitch – I’ve had my eyes on "The VVitch" for what feels like most of my life now. This thing had a lot of buzz coming out of last year’s Sundance Film Festival. I think I saw the first trailers in March or something. But never with a release date. Finally this vvinter "The VVitch" was finally released. Every year it seems we have our new “indie horror renaissance” flick: " It Follows", "The Babadook". Now it is "The VVitch". I’m fine with that, this is a great movie. Mix "The Shining" with "The Lords of Salem" and you get a brutal slow massacre of a horror movie. A family falls apart as they are haunted by a vvitch outside their farmstead, and their own internal fears and nightmares turn them against each other.
We have known since the time of Hawthorne that the Puritans were a regressive, incredibly neurotic people. Not enough horror stories take the chance to set themselves during such a paranoid culture as the first immigrants to the dark cold land that was New England. "The VVitch" has very little in it that the jump crowd would call overtly scary. It has more of a deranged vibe. Something is clearly vvrong in every shot, this family is clearly broken. Incestuous feelings, sexual jealousy, desperation, and a completely warped view of Christianity come together in a properly creepy horror film.
2) Swiss Army Man – Honestly, I was thinking of ranking "Swiss Army Man" a lot lower than it currently lands. It’s good, it’s very good. But really, "Swiss Army Man" belongs somewhere at #4 or #5, I’ll be honest. But this is the only movie I’ve ever seen where an older couple walked out halfway through and then demanded of me “how can you watch this?” If it freaks the squares out, "Swiss Army Man" gets an honorary #2.
"Swiss Army Man" is made by the director duo known as “DANIELS”, creators of the Turn Down for What music video and a short film called Interesting Ball where, among other things, a man disappears up his best friend's ass. DANIELS’ main artistic inspiration can be best described as what would happen if Cronenberg laughed at the human body instead of being fascinated by its degradation. Paul Dano plays a deeply repressed castaway about to kill himself on a deserted body, haunted only by memories of how he let life pass him by. Then the corpse of Daniel Radcliffe washes ashore. The corpse turns out to be a humanoid multipurpose tool – a Swiss Army Man – that can be a jet ski when it farts, and become a water bottle when it pukes. It also has kung-fu grip to break wood, and its boner leads Dano to the girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) of their collective dreams
Between the elaborate fart jokes, "Swiss Army Man" ends up being a freakishly sincere celebration of life. Daniel Radcliffe learns to talk again and is fascinated by romance. He is eager to live again. Meanwhile the living Paul Dano cannot even masturbate thanks to a mangled upbringing. The entire experience turns out to be this long weird therapy session for Dano’s character, who crossdresses as his own fantasy girl to date the dead body. Together they live out the life that they should have had, ultimately unsure where this is going and what will happen when they return to society.
"Swiss Army Man" is the only film I’ve ever seen that can make fart joke after fart joke, but every time it asks you to laugh with the farter, not at them. It wants us all to fart together, as one happy flatulent human family.
1) Everybody Wants Some!! – 2016 is going to be a very good year if it comes up with something better than "Everybody Wants Some!!" in its remaining months. Richard Linklater is probably the best director working today. Nobody is making movies like this, and really, more directors should. "Everybody Wants Some!!" is a solid production, full of amazing casting finds. I predicted years ago that Zooey Deutsch of Vampire Academy (one of the worst movies I've ever covered on this blog) would someday do great work. And now Linklater has made my prediction come true, along with so much else in "Everybody Wants Some!!"
"Everybody Wants Some!!" is a movie without a villain, without much character arcs, and largely without a plot at all. It is simply the first three days of college for a Freshman baseball player Jake and his jock teammates in 1980 Texas. This crew would be the villains of any Eighties comedy film. They’re handsome, they’re athletic, they score all the chicks, and they throw killer parties. But here, we get to see the world from their eyes. "Everybody Wants Some!!" is basically two hours of the best party anybody has ever had, and Linklater invited his audience to come along for the ride. The cast is simply a charming group of young hot beefcake having a great time, listening to the greatest hits of the era, and getting laid.
Of course, Richard Linklater’s college life was not like this. Nobody’s college life was like this. Or if it is, I have lived my life wrong and I admit this wholeheartedly. I’ll end this blog for good tomorrow, get in shape, and be drunk and happy continuously until I’m fifty and die of a heart attack from too much raw living if anybody's college life was like this. Jake has a better college experience in three days than most of us have in four years. He makes friends, he gets a girlfriend, he plays ball, he discos, etc. etc. "Everybody Wants Some!!" is pure fantasy, but it is a warm open fantasy trying to show what life could have been in a certain time and a certain place. Because really, the jocks are just like anybody else. They're just people, and in this case extremely cool people that I want to hang out with more.
"Everybody Wants Some!!" is simply the kind of movie that makes you feel good. It’s a refresher that we all need. There’s so much darkness in the world, there’s so much darkness even on my own list, it’s great to see something that is nothing but brightness and hope for the future. Hell, "Green Room" and "The Neon Demon" alone justify putting "Everybody Wants Some!!" at the top. College is a time of figuring out who you are, and breaking down the old boundaries and bullshit of high school. This is the movie that just gets the best of it. "Everybody Wants Some!!" wants to present that time of transition in the best and most positive way possible. And I'm not too cynical to hate happiness just yet.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: "10 Cloverfield Lane", "Finding Dory", "Zootopia", and "The Jungle Book".
Oh yeah, and "Deadpool". It was alright.
* BEST MOVIES OF 2015, THE VERY LATE LIST:
14) The End of the Tour
12) The Revenant
11) The Big Short
10) Kingsman: The Secret Service
8) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
7) Ex Machina
6) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
4) Mad Max: Fury Road
3) The Hateful Eight