Monday, 2 January 2017

2016 in Review: Cinema

To go with my recent piece on theatre I saw in 2016, I thought I'd write one on cinema as well. I have a Cineworld Unlimited card (highly recommended!) and made it to the movies about 90 times last year. If you want to see everything I watched last year - with star ratings - check out Letterboxd, where I'm yayeahyeah. For now, though, thoughts on some films which stood out for me (in either a good or bad way!)

Genres are fairly arbitrary, most of what I watched seemed to fit into one of these four.


Dramas

The Edge of Seventeen was a high point - brilliantly written teen comedy-drama with a fantastic central pairing of actors Hailee Stenfield and Hayden Szeto. Stenfield rocks as a girl struggling with an argument with her best friend, who's just got together with Stenfield's brother, while still trying to cope with the grief caused by her father's death a few years earlier. I loved that we got an MC who's on anti-depressants and it's treated in a really matter-of-fact way - they're something she needs to stay healthy, so she takes them. Woody Harrelson's cynical teacher is a fabulous role and a great performance as well.

I was lucky enough to get an inivte to an advance screening of A Monster Calls, and wow, this is great! Liam Neeson's voice as the monster is perfect, while Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and newcomer Lewis MacDougall bring three superb performances to a really moving story about a boy whose mother is dying.

Hell Or High Water - a modern western crime film about a pair of brothers carrying out heists against the bank set to foreclose on the family farm - was something of a gem; I thought the mixture of drama, action and lighter moments here worked really well.

I tried Creed despite having never seen any of the other Rocky films, and thought it was outstanding. Sylvester Stallone's performance is excellent but Michael B Jordan as the title character and Tessa Thompson as his love interest are the stand-outs here. Both are breathtakingly good, while the chemistry between the pair of them is fabulous.

One which stood out as being far better than I'd expected was The Shallows - one of the tensest films I've seen for ages, with Blake Lively magnificent, Others I really enjoyed included the touching friendship between Ben Kingsley's Sikh driving instructor and Patricia Clarkson's newly-single learner driver in Learning to Drive and Race - Stephan James giving an outstanding performance as Jesse Owens.

Things I liked less? Joy seemed incredibly slow, as did The Revenant. Secret in Their Eyes was working for me up until the ending, which killed it - I had similar feelings about Passengers (which I wrote about last week.) Youth had a good soundtrack but I thought it was staggeringly boring apart from that. The Girl on the Train managed to be better than the film, but didn't really get to the dizzying heights of 'reasonable'' (although I thought Emily Blunt did as good a job as possible.)

Top few dramas of the year - I found two based on real life events, Spotlight and The Big Short, to be thought-provoking and anger-inducing in the best possible way. I loved the way The Big Short used cameos to explain financial stuff I never thought I'd be able to understand, while in Spotlight an outstanding cast team up to tell a story which is hard to watch, but shows the power of investigative journalism in uncovering horrific abuse. Another amazing one was Room; Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay giving two of the best performances of the year in this incredible story of resilience and love. My absolute favourite, though, was Bryan Cranston's superb central performances as the title character in Trumbo, playing the screenwriter blacklisted by Hollywood due to his membership in the Communist party.



Action


I almost feel like I never want to see a superhero movie again (or at least until Black Panther - Chadwick Boseman in that role being the only good thing about Captain America: Civil War.) I thought Batman vs Superman, X-Men Apocalypse, and Suicide Squad all took themselves way too seriously - that last being the worst offender; the trailer had about three times as many funny parts as the actual film did due to them removing scenes they'd included in the trailer. The one superhero one that DID stand out as really entertaining was Deadpool. I definitely prefer Marvel characters when no-one is taking them too seriously and thought this was a great job of bringing the Merc with a Mouth to the screen.


The lighter-hearted action movies worked better for me - TMNT: Out Of The Shadows and The Huntsman: Winter's War aren't films I'll be rushing to see again, but they were good enough ways to pass the time. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Central Intelligence - this was one where the trailer hadn't left me expecting much, but I thought the easy chemistry between Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson made it stand out. 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a fun watch (I actually rewatched this one last night) and I enjoyed the world-building, plus the Darcy/Elizabeth relationship felt really well done. That scene of the sisters storming down the corridor wiping out zombies is AMAZING too, one of my favourites of the year. The post-credits scene, though, REALLY left me cold, and knocked it down significantly in my view. I was a big fan of The Magnificent Seven, which was an incredibly entertaining film - and significantly more diverse in its lead roles than most big blockbusters are, always good to see.

One of the hidden gems of the year was YA adaptation Nerve, for me. I watched this before reading the book - and actually much preferred the film; it's a VERY loose adaptation but significantly improves on the source material. I found it to be really interesting and thought-provoking, looking at the effects of peer pressure and social media, and loved the climax. I'm also a big fan of the Jack Reacher series and (possibly in the minority here) think Tom Cruise does quite well in the part; I found Jack Reacher: Never Go Back to be a high-action thriller which kept me excited all the way through. Speaking about book adaptations, I quite enjoyed the first two Dan Brown movies but I have no clue what was going on with Inferno - one of the worst things I've seen for ages, despite Irrfan Khan being superb and single-handedly making the scenes involving him watchable.

Action movie of the year though? How could it possibly be ANYTHING other than Rogue One? Felicity Jones is glorious, every supporting actor is outstanding - particularly Donnie Wen and Jiang Yen - and I thought it worked brilliantly as a lead-in to the original film.



Comedies

I haven't seen that many comedies (which is bizarre; given the general state of 2016 there seemed to be so many times I needed cheering up that I'm not sure why I didn't watch dozens!) Overall, though, I enjoyed pretty much everything I did see. I found the tone of Hunt for the Wilderpeople to be slightly too wildly varied for me - mixing big laughs with very sad moments; I didn't think it quite moved between them well enough - but there's a great central relationship between the young boy and his foster father, and I thought Sam Neill and Julian Dennison (who's also excellent in Paper Planes, which I caught on Netflix) were both superb.

Eddie The Eagle and Florence Foster-Jenkins were two I went into with reasonably low expectations but ended up enjoying a lot - they're both wonderfully warm-hearted comedies, with lots of laughs but real feeling for their characters. I liked Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant as the couple in F F-J, while after a less than great start I thought Eddie got miles better as soon as Hugh Jackman appeared and eventually won me over with its charm.

I saw Bad Moms and Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping in the course of one week and found both of them completely hilarious - I'm keen to rewatch as soon as I get a chance! Again, Pop Star surprised me a bit because I wasn't expecting to be as emotionally affected by it as I was; I loved the central character's arc. 

My top two comedies of the year were too great to pick between, though. Sing Street gave us great music, a wonderful script, and a cast of mainly unknown actors turning in stunning performances - Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as the main character, Lucy Boynton as the girl he's trying to impress, and Ian Kenny as the school bully standing out. Realistic but feel-good, this 80s set comedy-drama was the best film I've seen about music since the massively-underrated Bandslam

I also absolutely adored Love & Friendship, which reunited Whit Stillman, Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. The three teamed up for The Last Days of Disco - a favourite of mine - but this Jane Austen adaptation is even better. It's an incredibly witty period comedy and I haven't laughed as much at anything else I've seen this year.



Cartoons and Children's Films

This didn't seem to be the greatest year for cartoons, with one exception (although I've heard superb things about Moana which I haven't had a chance to see due to being ill before going back to my parents' house for Christmas.)

I found Storks, Ice Age: Collision Course and The BFG to be watchable but little more, with The Secret Life of Pets standing out above the others there as having more genuinely funny moments than any of the rest. (Having said that, I was impressed by the diversity in Storks, to be fair. Easily the best-looking of the animated films I saw was Kudo and the Two Strings, which looked completely and utterly gorgeous and was a touching film as well.

Moving away from animation, I saw The Jungle Book, Swallows and Amazons, and Jem and the Holograms. I haven't read The Jungle Book so can't speak as to how close an adaptation it was, but Neel Sethi made a really great Mowgli. Of the voice cast, Idris Elba's menacing Shere Khan stood out. The other two were extremely loose adaptations; Jem worked for me, S & A definitely didn't. I thought the changes to S & A completely screwed up the characters - I knew it was going to be a fair way away from the original story and was prepared for that but thought it lost the heart of the family relationship between the four Swallows. Jem, on the other hand, was a big step away from the TV series I grew up loving in the 80s, but I thought it completely kept the spirit of the cartoon. It was warm and funny and I found it surprisingly moving. 

I wasn't sure what to expect from Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them but really enjoyed it - I loved the acting, world-building and special effects while it was really great to be watching a movie set in the Potter-verse without. Knowing exactly what was going to happen next.

Best of the year for families though - by a long, long way - was Zootropolis/Zootopia, which blew me away. I completely adored this - great to look at, incredibly funny, and with a really strong message about racism. One of the 2016 films I'd definitely consider a must-watch!



What were your favourites this year? Leave me a comment or tweet me @yayeahyeah to let me know!

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