Sunday, December 25, 2016

Best movies of 2016


Image result for movie directorAnyone moronic enough to post a list purporting to name the best films of a particular year invites mockery, ridicule, insults and other such inappropriate responses, as well as a handful of thoughtful dissensions, points given to advance a conversation and, sometimes (if rarely) the codependent praise from someone who assumes the reviewer's happiness depends on readers being in complete agreement with the year-end assessment. 

Not that my views are anything a great many bother to check with , but it does bear saying that this is a listing of my favorite movies of 2016 and is not intended to be definitive nor to invalidate the views of anyone else nor demean their critical acumen. Pompous as that last sentence sounds ,I admit that it's an attempt to head off the "that's-just-your-opinion" crowd who offer that phrase so many times as if diminishes whatever critical remarks happened to upset them. I will admit that yes, it is just my opinion, subjective, personal, inconsistent and the whole shot, but while not necessarily adding myself into this equation, I  would respond only that not all  opinions are created equal.  Most reasonable film fans, avid or otherwise, can differ while having an actual conversation about these things and resist the urge to reach for the hatchet. That said, I hope you all had a good 2016 for movie seeing. There aren't a lot of remarks about the films due to the simple fact that I wrote far fewer film reviews  this year. What comments there on the films are excerpts from reviews I've posted elsewhere. Yes, a species of self-plagiarism.




1.Hell and High Water --Director David McKenzie brings a rock  solid sense of place in  this contemporary Texas-set drama. Two brothers, outraged that their recently deceased mother was being cheated by a bank holding an outstanding debt on the property she lived   on, a ploy they secured to attain claim to the property and reap huge profits from oil leases after her passing, devise an ironic plan to solve this  injustice. They commit a string of robberies of  the bank's branch offices, the goal being to pay off the bank with the bank's  own money. This is a reward for those who've been waiting for the old school notion of movie making to arise again, with credible and complex characterization, crisp and believable dialogue, a sense of humor amid the doings that drive the plot toward inevitable tragedy, a sense of resolution that does feel false the tale's end. Choice and balanced performances by Ben Foster and Chris Pine as the brothers, one the loose cannon, the impulsive one, the one with a natural instinct for larceny , the other more centered, cautious, motivated by a sense of justice . Pine is especially good, laconic and lean, a thousand miles from his admittedly  clever William Shatner impersonations in the current "Star Trek" revival. Add to  the fine  writing and casting is the film's visual feast, which captures the heat, dryness, and flat vastness of Texas as this wonderfully comic melodrama plays itself out.
2.Arrival-- The surprise here is that this a science fiction with actual science in it, at least on the theoretical level, or , at least, theoretical science that sounds legitimate. The additional pleasure is that the scientist characters who speak the science and theorize within the audience’s comprehension level (without any sense of talking down to an unwashed mass) sound like a couple of people any of us might know, talking shop between peers, spit-balling, trouble shooting, dedicated to solving the problem at hand, in this case attempting to translate the alien language of extraterrestrials who’ve taken to hovering over select spots over the earth in floating leviathans — before the nations of the world open fire with everything they have. This story does have an arc that takes a familiar turn toward the race — against -time, but the suspense is plausible and swift and it is gratifying to not lose the sense of what’s happening plot-wise . Coherence of premise and plot were not sacrificed in the interest of unconvincing visual inducements to get more anxious than we have right to be. 
3.Zootopia
4.Batman v Superman --Snyder goes a different direction and, though one needs to admit that his story lines are often muddied film to film, his visual style , from his dark , steely color schemes, his sense of alternating slow motion and rapid motion during action scenes, his ability to fluidly provide with a sweeping series of panorama camera moves that gives us a vision of a world where human kind is challenged by both heroes and defenders who's existence in the midst is terrifying on the face of it, effectively resonates with the dread caused by dark headlines from a world that is anything but serene . The fight sequences are splendid indeed, Ben Affleck may well be the definitive Batman for years to come, and Henry Cavil as Superman creates a subtly complex portrayal of super hero bedeviled by the negative results his attempts to help the mortal world result in. There are a number of well argued defenses of Batman v Superman one can Google that defend Snyder's style as applied to these icons, and which argue that BvS is quite a bit of a triumph and a breakthrough in the genre. I would recommend Mark Hughes' calm, thoughtful defense in the online edition of Forbes. The short and the long this set of paragraphs is to make mention that even with flaws, there is verve and flair, grit and brilliance in this movie and that anyone with a love of comic books in general owes themselves the gift of seeing a film that will be a game changer for how comic book movies are made;


5. Blood Father--Mel Gibson is controversial and , besides other annoying traits, a bit of a ham actor who prefers his characters to be in some continual, which is to say routine state of emotiona upheaval. Still, the man can do some good work, and in Blood Father we find himself in a variation of The Searchers. In this instance, a convict recently  released from prison and trying desperately to remain clean and sober finds himself in a slippery situation as he goes off to rescue his estranged daughter when she vanishes , kidnapped by a nasty Mexician drug cartel she'd taken up  with. Gibson, prone to snarl, cry and foam at the mouth , reins it in and gives a measured   performance of a man with a past that cannot be forgiven trying to redeem himself by protecting the only thing that is more precious than his own needs. Lean narrative, curt and crisp dialogue, nothing so over the top that makes so likely to suspend your suspension of disbelief, Blood Father is a splendidly rendered genre thriller, directed with sharp effiency by Jean-Francois Richet.
6.The Nice Guys
7.Dead Pool --To his credit director Tim Miller doesn't lose his place in all the unfolding, but for all the bells, gunshots, explosions and Snyder-style use of quick juxtapositions of slow motion and normal time to accentuate the power of all of those explosions flying glass, beheadings and on-the-beat snarkery coming from Deadpool's sheathed mouth makes you yearn for a movie that didn't think it was so clever. Ryan Reynolds gets his career saved from that looming fate of being known as the actor who destroyed the hip factor in DC's Green Lantern character, although he portrays the hyperactive Wilson with many of the same mannerisms. ticks, bobs, gestures and verbal rhythms.  
8.Allied
9.Sully
10.Don't Think Twice
11.Hail Caesar! --Hail Caesar! is a shaggy dog story , of course, quirky , elegant, slap stick, stammering, screwball and acidly satiric at various turns of plots and subplots. Joel and Ethan Coen thrive on going against expectation , with an uncanny sense of timing of when to do so. They are adept of getting you hooked on a notions being played out on the screen and then interrupting it with zany intrusions that are their subversive way of telling us that the movie makers are only telling stories that are supported by an audiences willingness to stop arguing long enough with the ill-logic of movie's premise and enjoy the brief respite a good yarn avails us to. The point of a shaggy dog stories is that there are not points, that once a story begins and proceeds through related incident and complication as new locals and characters of all sorts are introduced over the course of the fictional journey, one expects a great punch line, a profound moral, illustration of life - affirming platitudes, or some horrible, inevitable tragedy; shaggy dog stories aren't like that though. The end of them are usually some small pun for which the build-up was more intricate than it needed to be, but that's the point. Everything winds up where it's supposed to be by forces more subtle  and more incidental than we can imagine. What the subtle forces maybe are unknown at any given point , and the Coen Brothers don't speak to that. They make movies, though, that have us laughing and scratching our heads at the same time, evidence of genius in my view. Hail Caesar! is a funny, busy, puzzling and literate screwball comedy, compelling in it's engrossing mixture of sweetness and cynicism. Very fine stuff indeed! 
12.Eat the Question.-- Eat That Question :Frank Zappa in his Own Words  was a generally good representation of Zappa the social critic and Zappa the serious musician. The interview segments, which are abundant, span his career , as does the generous inclusion of live performances with The Mothers of Invention. He was extremely intelligent, actually iconoclastic and gifted as a composer, but like many others with vast talents that prefer no constraint and mouths that prefer no editing, you get he feeling he indulged his worst habits as often as he did his best talents. There is a repetition of ideas in his asides, rants and excoriations, a set of notions that he honed and delivered continuously over the years, libertarian-genius bromides that wear you down toward the end of the film. Still, despite the repetition, you do marvel at the way in which he cuts away the fat and gets to the crude, stupid heart that is pulse of consumerist culture.But as a fan of Zappa's music, I was very happy, as the film includes generous portions from live performances that make us realize that above all else, Zappa was an artist, a genius of some sort. Even die hard fans and scholars of his work have complained that Zappa didn’t challenge himself nearly enough and often times released albums that were sub-par, highlighting musical ideas from bygone decades that no longer seemed fresh, riveting, or daring. His satire, as well, ceased being funny or witty in large measure and was, for a good number of records released through the Seventies and even through much of the Eighties, merely mean spirited. His cynicism had conquered his inspiration , likely because he realized that he could make money being this cartoon character “Frank Zappa”, becoming the man his fans wanted him to be. It was about making money in order to finance his larger orchestral projects, and the irony that he needed to compromise his principles and act the way new fans with disposable income expected to behave was likely not lost on him.