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It’s that time of year where critics and commentators reveal their picks for the best films of 2016 and it wouldn’t go amiss if Entertainment Fuse Movies didn’t reveal their choices.
2016 was a mixed a year, the summer blockbuster season was certainly a disappointment, seeing a number of underwhelming offerings like Jason Bourne, The Secret Life of Pets and Warcraft and a barrage of uninspired R-Rated comedies. However, animation offered a better range of films and there were strong mid-budget films with some great entries in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.
10. Hardcore Henry
Kicking off this list is a something a little unusual, the Russian-American co-produced action movie Hardcore Henry. Shot from a first-person perspective Hardcore Henry was a delightfully violent action film, the big highlight being a rooftop fight with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me” playing in the background.
The plot for Hardcore Henry can be written on a napkin and the critical response was mixed, but it is destined to become a cult classic thanks to its violence and gore and pretty much being a video game turned into a movie. Sharlto Copley clearly had fun with multiple roles and started a bumper year for Haley Bennett (also appearing in The Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train). A must see for action junkies.
9. Finding Dory
On the outset, a sequel to Finding Nemo seemed like it would be a needless endeavor: it was looked like an attempt to continue a story that had a perfect conclusion. Somehow Pixar did the impossible and made a film that was nearly as great as the original. The studio did what they do best, made a film that appealed to children and adults and pulled at audiences heartstrings – Finding Dory has the saddest opening to a Pixar film since Up and some great teary moments. Parents could relate to the film because it was a story about parenting, particularly caring for a child with special needs while children can appreciate the message of accepting and being yourself and not letting anything get in your way. Andrew Stanton and his co-writer Victoria Strouse found a creative way to continue the Finding Nemo series by focusing on Dory and her origins, gave audience great comedic moments, introduced fun new characters like Becky and the sea lions and shows what Pixar can do even with a mandated project (Disney were planning to make a sequel with or without Pixar).
The Italian crime film Suburra is the obligatory foreign language entry in my list – a cleverly crafted crime drama where one seemingly small event triggers the Roman underworld. Suburra was an HBO series condensed into a two hour film, showing multiple factions being drawn into conflict over a land deal during the course of seven days, including a senior gangster fixer, a far-right terrorist turned criminal, a Mafia family that had fallen on hard times, a corrupt politician and a man in debt to the Mafia.
Suburra had a terrific screenplay that tied all these storylines together and allowed audiences to follow this complicated film. Suburra was a treat for fans of gangster films, having a compelling crime story, moments of brutal violence and clashing visuals of modern and ancient Rome. Director Stefano Sollima has landed a big Hollywood gig, Soldado, the sequel to Sicario and Suburra is set to be followed by a Netflix series.
7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The latest Star Wars movie has met expectations and has already been a box-office hit. It was also an improvement on 2015’s The Force Awakens which basically a remake of A New Hope. Rogue One is the first spin-off in the Star Wars, expanding the movie series beyond the Skywalker family and despite it telling the story that audiences know the outcome to, it felt fresh and original.
Rogue One was a direct prequel to A New Hope, telling the story of the rebels who found the plans for the Death Star and the writers Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz did an incredible job tying the original and prequels together. Gareth Edwards also did a commendable job at recreating the look of the original trilogy while also putting his own stamp on the series – he essentially made a Second World War film in the Star Wars universe. The final battle is one of the best action scenes in the series.
Rogue One also had a great cast and big emotional moments. Alan Tudyk stole the show as K2-SO, the cynical, badass droid that is basically C-3PO with self-confidence. However, the film does suffer from a saggy middle act.
6. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange is the first of two superhero movies to make it onto my list. Doctor Strange continues the MCU’s excellent track record and director Scott Derrickson and writers C. Robert Cargill and Jon Spaihts followed the origins story template that worked so well for Iron Man and Ant-Man. Like those movies, Doctor Strange has a comedic tone, they are origins stories with characters needing to learn and train in a new skill (in Doctor Strange‘s case he has to learn the mystic arts) and like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange undergoes a similar character arc: an arrogant genius who gets a life altering injury and needs to use their new found skills for the greater good.
Doctor Strange was visually one of the most ambitious in the MCU, the highlight being the battle scene in an alternative version of New York and was like Inception on steroids. The ending was parodied in memes by fans. Doctor Strange sadly share some of the same problems that other MCU films have – a nondescript villain and generic love interest but it was an entertaining entry in the series and Marvel Studios clearly hopes to use Doctor Strange as a jumping off point for adventures in other universes.
5. The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys marks a return to the buddy-cop genre for Shane Black following his foray into the superhero genre, making one of the most divisive entries in the genre: Iron Man 3. The Nice Guys was a box-office disappointment, making $57.3 Million from its $50 million budget which is a huge shame because he got to play to his strength, making a incredibly witty mystery film set in Los Angeles while embracing its ’70s settings of neon, sleaze and radical politics and referenced films like Get Carter and Chinatown. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling made a great double act as the thug with a heart of gold and a money grabbing swindler, while Angourie Rice was terrific find to play Gosling’s teenage daughter. Plus Keith David had a supporting role and all films and TV shows can be made ten times more awesome with Keith David.
4. Captain America: Civil War
The other superhero movie to make it onto my list was the MCU’s first offering in 2016: the big superhero smackdown between two of the series’ greatest heroes. Captain America: Civil War worked as a stand-alone adventure, continuing the wider series and introducing Black Panther and a new Spider-Man to audiences. The team behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier was brought back to adapt one of Marvel’s more controversial storylines and they were able to improve upon it. The creative team added some moral complexity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with both Captain America and Iron Man both making valid arguments about accountancy and freedom – I personally sided with Iron Man and his support for UN supervision over the Avengers. The airport battle was one of the best action scenes in the genre and unlike Avengers: Age of Ultron Captain America: Civil War was able to balance its multiple characters and storylines. Captain America: Civil War also played on the MCU problem of having a unmemorable villain by turning him into a background manipulator.
Walt Disney Animation Studios treated audiences to two films this year. Moana was the second film from the studio and their latest offering from their famous princess brand. Moana is also one of the best Disney Princess films, using a standard ‘Heroes Journey’ template to give audiences one of strongest female characters in a family film, a self-confident young woman who is the chosen one to save her island and the whole world. Moana does follow Disney tropes, a young girl who longs for more, has a family tragedy and even an animal sidekick (an incredibly dumb one). However, there is self-awareness with the film, Dwayne Johnson’s Maui acts like he knows he’s in a Disney film and the writers and directors do subvert Disney tropes, like Moana actually being taught how to lead.
Moana had what fans would want from a Disney film and more – it had terrific animation and great songs, a respect for Polynesian culture and had a star-making performance from its teenage lead Auli’i Cravalho.
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in sci-fi films that try to base themselves on hard science. 2014 had Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, 2015 saw Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Martian and 2016’s offering was Arrival from Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner Arrival aims to be a realistic yet cerebral look first contact and Villeneuve gave us a slow and thoughtful sci-fi flick.
What made Arrival work was its detailed look at how the world would react to the coming of aliens to our planet with the audience seeing it through the bubble of a scientific outpost in Montana. There was the international political situation, the wider societal reaction and the pure physical and emotional strain that people studying the aliens would be under. Villeneuve was equipped with an excellent screenplay by Eric Heisserer that looks at many the potential arguments that could arise and had an incredible twist.
Villeneuve is an in-demand director: his sequel to the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner is one of the most anticipated films of 2017 and he has recently been approached to helm an adaptation of the epic sci-fi novel Dune.
1. A Monster Calls
The film that tops my list is J. A. Bayona’s adaptation of A Monster Calls, a painfully emotional fantasy drama that only the most hardened of people would not be touched by. Patrick Ness adapted his own novel which tells of a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) who cares for his sick mother (Felicity Jones) and deals with the upheaval in his life by fantasizing about a tree monster who visits him at night.
Bayona is one best of emerging directors, he already has The Orphanage and The Impossible and his work shows that he is on course to become the next Steven Spielberg. All three of his films have a theme about family and childhood and with The Impossible and A Monster Calls shows he knows how to pull at audience’s heartstrings. A Monster Calls could easily have been a film that could have been made by Spielberg – a special effects-heavy family drama that has an emotional weight to match the visual spectacle.
A Monster Calls mixes both a realistic setting and situation, heart-wrenching emotions, a various of art styles and big visual moments. More films like this should be made.