The Best and Worst in Movies — 2016 Edition
A lot of critics seemed to be in agreement on the top movies of 2016. By the time the Oscar nominations are announced, people will be sick of hearing about Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea — especially since they probably didn’t see them. My Top 10 list usually has a few things people have seen. It also usually has a documentary and/or foreign film. It’s all based on what entertains me most, not how deep a message the movie has, or how important it is, etc. To me, what’s important is how entertained you are for two hours. These films entertained me for a few hours, and since I’ve seen most of them twice, and will be talking about them for years to come, I can say they provided me endless entertainment.
- HIDDEN FIGURES
I feel ambivalent putting this movie on the list. It was just so damn uplifting, though. The true story of three African-American women that worked at a segregated NASA office, integral to launching John Glenn into space. With this and Moonlight, it also launches beautiful singer Janelle Monae into the acting stratosphere.
It’s always nice when an animated movie can make my list. Inside Out did last year. Usually they’re so disappointing (Moana, Kubo, and Sing, for example).
- NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Board loves Ford. Yes, Tom Ford…a man who makes clothes I’ll never be able to afford, makes the most beautifully shot films. A Single Man (Colin Firth) was his debut and it was terrific. The ensemble cast here is outstanding: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Laura Linney, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer. This movie caused some terse arguments in the San Diego Film Critics Society. That’s because a few of the critics didn’t like it, and the rest of us had to spend 15 minutes arguing about how great it was. Ford sent me a nice letter thanking me for my review. I should’ve been the one sending the letter, thanking him for giving us movies like this, and making my job so damn enjoyable.
- LA LA LAND
In a lot of other years, this movie wouldn’t have made my list. It’s a gorgeously produced musical, with the best opening and closing sequences of a movie all year. The ending is what put it on the list, because without that, it’s an average film. The songs aren’t particularly memorable; but the dancers were adorable, the couple had chemistry, and it was a fun time at the movies — old Hollywood style. Young director Damien Chazelle made my list with Whiplash, and this is his second film. I’m looking forward to his future films.
It’s hard to imagine a movie with Keanu Reeves and starring a kitten would make any critics list. What’s hard for me to wrap my mind around is how much disrespect comedy gets. Samuel Jackson just got a lot of attention for knocking films that come out around awards season. He disliked Manchester by the Sea (which not only makes him an idiot, but he loses any credibility in anything else he says). Yet comedies don’t seem to get nominated for a lot of awards and it’s amazing the amount of people that didn’t even know what this movie was. It’s written by, and starring, the two comedic geniuses behind Key and Peele — Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.
Do not confuse this movie with Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz film that makes my other list), which also came out this year. This is a documentary about Anthony Weiner. It’s the best documentary of the year. Perhaps only the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was more of a train wreck, but this one had a film crew documenting it all.
The other broadcast critics and I voted Ryan Reynolds “best actor in a comedy” for the Critics’ Choice Awards and Deadpool “best action movie.” It’s more of a comedy. I’ve written jokes for various radio shows and comedians, and know how hard it can be. I’m especially critical of comedies each year, because most of them aren’t very good. This one is. And really, why do lists like this need to be filled with movies that have people dying of cancer? Let’s not prove Samuel Jackson right. That being said…
- MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Kenneth Lonergan is a terrific playwright, and this is his third film. It’s going to get a lot of Oscar nominations. Perhaps the deliberate pacing and structured storytelling wasn’t for Jackson. After all, he does gems like Snakes on a Plane. And really, if he wants to knock movies, the last two Tarantino pictures he did (Hateful Eight, Django Unchained), have a lot of flaws. Manchester has none. It’s a perfect picture in every way.
- HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
Writer/director Taika Waititi made my list with What We Do in the Shadows, which was the best comedy of 2014 (and most of my fellow critics in the San Diego Film Critics Society agreed). The team behind the Flight of the Conchords show, gave us an interesting comedy about a foster kid that finally found a home he might like. Until everything goes wrong. It’s a terrific role for Sam Neill, and a break-out role for Julian Dennison. And Rhys Darby should be comic relief in at least five movies a year.
- HELL OR HIGH WATER
It baffles me that this movie didn’t make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine are big enough stars, and Ben Foster is one of the most underrated actors working today. And who doesn’t want to see bank robberies and car chases that are done well, and without goofy dialogue by Vin Diesel? This is going to be nominated for a bunch of Oscars and everyone’s going to say, “I don’t remember that ever coming out!”
Well, that’s on you. All of us critics have been praising it from day one. One of the hosts of the radio shows I do reviews on (KGO 810 AM in San Francisco), saw it after I praised it. He and his wife loved it, too. Now, if only the listeners would take my advice.
Honorable mentions: The Family Fang (Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken), Moonlight, Remember, and And Punching the Clown, that’s a movie you only saw if you were lucky enough to catch it at the San Diego International Film Festival.
It’s unfortunate that each year it’s so much easier coming up with the worst movies. And here’s the list of films to avoid…despite the praise some of these got from other critics.
- MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2
The first movie, although a bit sitcomy, worked. This doesn’t. And to think…Tom Hank’s name is attached to this.
- RIDE ALONG 2
It’s probably safe to say, if a movie has a “2” attached to it, it’s probably destined for critics’ worst lists. Ice Cube is hard to watch, with his dopey angry guy character. Kevin Hart isn’t funny, merely annoying. We know he can be funny. Every talk show appearance he’s on is great, and Central Intelligence from this year, actually made me laugh.
- ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS THE MOVIE
I wasn’t a fan of the show, so I was the wrong audience. That shouldn’t matter, though. I loved the show Sex and the City, and hated all those films. This had two or three scenes that worked.
- MOTHER’S DAY
I was saddened to hear about Garry Marshall’s death this year. As a kid, he brought me such joy with Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. I enjoyed his movies The Flamingo Kid, Overboard, and Nothing in Common. I would’ve loved to have interviewed him, talked about those great films (and his terrific scene in Lost in America), and scolded him for his “holiday” pictures: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and now Mother’s Day — all just awful.
- WHITE GIRL
An indie picture about a blonde college student that starts doing drugs and acting crazy. It’s the type of crappy picture critics praise for being artistic. You don’t like a single character in it and don’t care what happens.
- LONDON HAS FALLEN
Olympus Has Fallen 2. But it’s in London. It’s a totally preposterous premise, and because you guys keeping buying tickets to this garbage, they’re already making a third.
- LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
I’m a fan of Jane Austen pictures. Sense and Sensibility was amazing. Even Austenland, which wasn’t a very good movie, had enjoyable scenes because I’m a fan. Yet this, despite all the critics praising it, is awful. It’s not the least bit funny, and it’s boring. My girlfriend, also a fan of Austen, agrees. So this isn’t just the male perspective.
- EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
I will use those same two exclamation points to call it simply: Crap!!
Just because it’s Richard Linklater, the critics are singing the praises of it. Sure, he captures the ‘70s perfectly. He uses decent classic rock songs, but so what? There’s virtually no story here. It’s just a bunch of guys running around, drinking beer, dancing, and trying to get laid. Give Van Halen their song back.
- BRIDGET JONES’S BABY
I’m one of the few people that felt Bridget Jones’s Diary was overrated. This long delayed sequel was…atrocious. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t believable. You don’t care about the characters, and it’s rather mean-spirited what she’s doing to two men that are courting her.
- OTHER PEOPLE
I didn’t want to put a relatively unknown movie at number one, but here’s why I did. At the showing where I saw this, half the audience just started walking out. They all disliked this as much as me, and had had enough. I lit up a cigar outside the theatre, and watched as people continued to leave early, and listened as they walked by cursing how horrible it was. It was written and directed by Chris Kelly, who writes for Saturday Night Live, and it’s the semi-autobiographical story about a gay comedian who is dealing with his mom (Molly Shannon) dying of cancer. A few funny scenes, but mostly just garbage.
Dishonorable mentions, go to these turkeys of 2016: Cafe Society, The Girl on the Train, The Forest, Elle, Weiner-Dog, Florence Foster Jenkins, Our Little Sister, and American Pastoral.