2016 in Movies

My music reviews for movies that saw their theatrical release (or streaming release) in 2016 (based on IMDB’s info).

1. Sour Grapes, directed by Reuben Atlas, Jerry Rothwell (9/10)

I might have to adjust my rating; 9/10 feels too low for this incredibly entertaining examination of a massive wine fraud and the wine world of the US at large. If there is one must see documentary in 2016, it’s probably this one.

It’s a rare thing for a movie to be both funny and suspenseful. It’s a far rarer thing for a documentary to be both funny and suspenseful. I was vaguely aware of what this film was about going into it – wine fraud – but the filmmakers construct their material with such skill that they have you laughing out loud and sitting on the edge of your seat (as much as you can in a wine fraud case) in turns. This is an exceptionally made film which balances are glee at seeing rich people get taken advantage of with a genuinely intriguing fraud case that could easily be turned into a feature film, a comedy or a thriller. I haven’t enjoyed myself this much at a documentary screening in a theatre in a long, long time. Just a great, great movie. See it.

PS: The less you know about it, the better! And see it before someone spoils it for you.

2. Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner (9/10)

Essential viewing about a nuclear missile accident in the early 1980s. Read the review of Command and Control.

3. ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail, directed by Steve James (8/10)

An incredible story about the one and only bank to be indicted during our last recession. This is a film that will make you mad.

Read the review.

4. The Witness, directed by James D. Solomon (8/10)

A fascinating examination of the true story of how “38 people” heard a murder in New York City and “did nothing.” Read the review.

5. The City of Tiny Lights, directed by Pete Travis (8/10)

A nearly tremendous revitalization of film noir within the contexts of contemporary London and Islamic terrorism.

Read the review.

6. Chasing Asylum, directed by Eva Orner (8/10)

A frightening and compelling expose on what Australia does to its boat people.

Read the review.

7. Southwest of Salem, directed by Deborah Esquenazi (8/10)

This is the story of four lesbian women who were accused of gang raping two female children and performing “Satanic” rituals as part of that rape. The only evidence of their guilt were victim statements and the testimony of a medical examiner who claimed there was evidence of abuse when there wasn’t. The women spent over a decade in jail because of mass hysteria about satanism and widespread homophobia and a culture of complete ignorance with regard to gays and lesbians.

The movie is not really a procedural but still manages to portray the absolutely bizarre nature of the charges and conviction, while it tries to tell more of the human story of what happened. It’s a different approach for these kinds of wrongful conviction documentaries, but it mostly works.

And the story of how ignorance and prejudice can prevent justice is one that is well worth hearing again and again.

8. Deadpool, directed by Tim Miller (8/10)

The most fun I’ve had at a comic book movie, possibly ever. Read the review.

9. Prevenge, directed by Alice Lowe (8/10)

This film is a slightly phantasmagorical revenge thriller that uses revenge thriller tropes as a metaphor for the hormonal confusion of pregnancy. Seriously. But it’s also (a dark) comedy.

MILD SPOILERS

Basically a woman loses her husband in a climbing accident the same day that she learns she is pregnant, and her baby takes over her mind and sends her out on a killing spree to kill all those who survived the climbing accident.

I’m not one to love “psychological” thrillers where we see inside the killer’s mind, but here it actually works quite well (in part because it’s funny). And I’m unaware of another movie that’s so effective of giving a man like me a sense of the emotional roller-coaster that is pregnancy while making it enjoyable to watch.

It’s a unique experiences that manages to be both pretty hilarious and, occasionally, shocking. I have a few minor nitpicks (a few too many callbacks for me) but, on the whole, this is a really enjoyable film.

10. Apprentice, directed by Jungfen Boo (8/10)

This film is mostly nuanced portrait of moral corruption and the issue of capital punishment in Singapore. There are a few scenes that borderline on histrionic and the plot is a little contrived but, despite those things, I quite liked it, particularly the rather stunning ending of the film.

SPOILERS

Though the son confronting his father’s murderer is an old trope, this particular spin on it feels more than a little contrived. The idea that the apprentice to an executioner would be the son of a man who was killed by said executioner feels like more than a bit of a stretch. If this was a revenge film, I’d buy it. But it’s not.

The other issue I had was that the main character is a little too much of a blank slate, at times, meaning that the outbursts he has with his sister and then with the executioner feel forced or a little inauthentic.

Oh but that ending…a classic, classic ending – I won’t go into details, but it’s note-perfect – makes me forgive the issues I had with the film.

11. The Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black (8/10)

Pretty funny. Read the review of The Nice Guys.

12. Tickled, directed by David Farrier, Dylan Reeve (7/10)

This isn’t a great film, but the story is so incredible that you owe it to yourself to watch the movie, even if it is very flawed.

Read the review.

13. Hotel Dallas, directed by Sherng-Lee Huang, Livia Ungur (7/10)

This is a thought-provoking, at times very amusing – but very artsy – examination of the affect of the TV show Dallas on Romania during the communist era, with ruminations on memory, change, media representations of reality, and other things.

Yes, there’s a lot going on here. Perhaps too much. But for the most part the movie – really several different smaller ideas, including a musical, wrapped up into one thing – lives up to its philosophical posturing. And it is the rare pretentious art film that is funny – I’ve seen a lot, trust me, I know. Though it is not consistently funny, one of the sort of films within the film is extremely funny, and the musical numbers are too.

It’s certainly not your average documentary – it is about a real place and real people, though the way that’s captured is unique – but I’ve never quite seen anything like it.

The reach does exceed the grasp here but, as I’ve often sad, I’ rather see an interesting film with flaws than a competently made boring one.

14. Cameraperson, directed by Kirsten Johnson (7/10)

A fascinating collage of documentary outtakes. Read the review of Cameraperson.

15. Amanda Knox, directed by Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn (7/10)

A biased but still fascinating film that serves as a reminder we need over and over again: just because news coverage suggests someone is guilty does not, for a minute, have anything to do with the actual evidence in a case.

Read the review.

16. 93 Days, directed by Steve Gukas (7/10)

From a filmmaking standpoint, this is a very conservative docudrama, but it does what it sets out to do, and it’s apparently one of the most competently made Nigerian films to date.

Read the review.

17. Mascots, directed by Christopher Guest (7/10)

The decision to see Christopher Guest’s latest at TIFF was one made in ignorance that this is a Netflix film, which will soon be available for streaming. Alas.

It’s an amusing film that, as Jenn put it, has no dead air. It’s certainly not Guest’s best – it’s quite slight and the targets of the film are, well, easy – but it’s close to laugh-a-minute and it fulfills most of what we want from a Guest film – quirky, awkward people doing what they love most, in this case, being mascots for very small sports teams.

I’d say it’s probably for fans only but it really isn’t – a lot of the humour is broad enough (especially the mascot performances) that you don’t have to have liked his other films to enjoy this.

18. The Unknown Girl, directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne (7/10)

This is a very deliberate but at times very effective film about a relentless search for a Jane Doe’s identity.

Read the review.

19. Keanu, directed by Peter Atencio (7/10)

Enjoyable even if it’s formulaic. Read the review of Keanu.

20. The Limehouse Golem, directed by Juan Carlos Medina (7/10)

This is an atmospheric and entertaining period mystery/horror film that struggles with both telling and tone but which is mostly entertaining.

My biggest issues were with the time-hoping – there are flashbacks throughout the film and flashbacks within flashbacks, a particular pet peeve of mine – as well as with the tone of the very serious, very procedural mystery versus the campy/darkly comic imaginings of the crimes. They were enjoyable, but they often felt out of place with the rest of the film.

MAJOR SPOILERS

To give but one example: in this movie, Karl Marx – yes, that Karl Marx – saws off a prostitute’s head. You’d think a movie where that occurs would never get serious, but it does.

I also felt that the ending was a little too preposterous, and I saw it coming a ways off, which is always a little annoying. I have a hard time with Urban Legends-style reveals where small women have killed tons of people, rather violently.

That being said, it was still a very pretty film and it was quite entertaining, despite the issues I had with the tone. Also, I don’t know that I’ve seen anything else like it, so that’s something.

21. City 40, directed by Samira Goetschel (7/10)

This is a by-the-numbers but fascinating portrait of a “closed city” – one of maybe 20 in the entire world – in which access is restricted, due to the presence of nuclear weapons manufacturing. (There is one such city in the United States: Mercury, Nevada.)

The documentary is brief and pretty typical of documentaries of this type, relying on some cliches to tell this story. But it is still worth it for seeing a part of the world which we’d never be able to see without the cameras smuggled in and the footage smuggled out. The city’s role in the USSR/Russia’s nuclear weapons history (and the poisoning of that spy) is also fascinating.

22. In the Shadow of the Hill, directed by Dan Jackson (6/10)

A deeply flawed examination of the problems in Rio leading up to the Olympics this past summer.

Read the review.

23. Chasing Coltrane, directed by John Schneinfeld (6/10)

Only for those who don’t know much about him. Read the review.

24. Hail, Caesar!, directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (6/10)

A mess, but an entertaining one. Read the review of Hail!, Caesar!

25. Hannibal Buress: Comedy Camisado (6/10)

Probably like many people who don’t pay a lot of attention to stand up, I first heard of Burress after the Bill Cosby thing blew up. In this Netflix special he deals with that, and does his particular brand of observational humour.

Burress has an odd and sometimes endearing delivery, though sometimes it seems less effective. I found his material to veer from pretty damn funny to so out of my experience that I wasn’t even sure what the joke was. But, for the most part, it was funny, and a few of the jokes were really good.

26. Ali Wong: Baby Cobra, directed by Jay Karas (6/10)

This is a reasonably funny special. I took me a while to get into it but the more it went on the more I laughed.

I appreciate Wong’s frankness, but I found her frankness more admirable than always funny.

Still funny enough to watch.

27. The Accountant, directed by Gavin O’Connor (5/10)

There are some really good parts and there are some really bad parts. Read the review of The Accountant.

28. Star Trek: Beyond, directed by Justin Lin (5/1)

Meh. Read the review of Beyond.

29. X-Men: Apocalypse, directed by Bryan Singer (5/10)

Definitely not one of the best. Read the review.

30. Dr. Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson (5/10)

Same old same old. Read the review.

31. Okafor’s Law, directed by Omoni Oboli (5/10)

For the first two thirds of this film, it is a reasonably amusing Romantic Comedy – not my thing but effective and, for someone like me not familiar with Nollywood, a decent spin on the formula, despite a few sound issues. But the wheels come off in the third act, with not only a few major tonal shifts (and some violence!) but an ending that makes zero sense.

Minor SPOILERS!

The problem is, the film starts setting itself up like an amusing morality play. It fully commits to this in the uneven third act, where the Casanova has to learn his lesson about prioritizing sex over everything else. But in the most confusing moment of the film, he doesn’t learn this but we don’t learn that he doesn’t learn this until the credits roll! It makes no sense!

In fairness to the filmmakers, this was shot in July, so maybe we saw an unfinished version. Still better than a lot of Hollywood formula Rom-Coms.

32. Jason Bourne, directed by Paul Greengrass (4/10)

More of the same from this now very tired franchise. Read the review.

33. Captain America: Civil War, directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (4/10)

The worst of these Marvel films so far. Read the review.

34. Triple 9, directed by John Hillcoat (4/10)

All-star cast, high concept, some neat ideas; giant mess of a film.

Read the review.

35. Passengers, directed by Morten Tyldum (4/10)

Not the absolute disaster we’ve been told it was. Read the review.

36. Masterminds, directed by Jared Hess (4/10)

An all-star cast in a mess of a film, that still manages to be occasionally really hilarious.

Read the review.

37. Just Not Married, directed by Uduak-Obong Patrick (4/10*)

I don’t know if I’d give this movie more than a 2 if it had been made by Americans (or Brits, or Canadians, or hell, Indians), but not knowing enough about Nigerian cinema, I decided to give it a 4. It has no post, and was horribly unfinished, but it managed to be reasonably entertaining at times.

Read the review.

38. Catfight, directed by Onur Tukel (4/10)

A confused and messy film that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Read the review.

39. Marauders, directed by Steven C. Miller (4/10)

Why can’t bank heist movies just be about bank heists and stealing money any more?

This film feels like so many other bank heist films I’ve seen recently – there has to be another angle aside from making money. And that’s just so tired.

Despite committed performances from Meloni and some other people – and a bizarre performance from Bruce Willis – this film has too much plot to know what to do with. Everyone has a backstory that matters and the one person that doesn’t… well, you can guess why we don’t know his backstory. There’s so much backstory in this movie it’s frankly disorienting. It would take away from the movie, but the movie itself isn’t great. Though the first heist scene is reasonably entertaining, things go down hill from there.

Maybe I’m tired of silly red herrings where a movie spends its entire plot trying to convince us that someone else did it, even when we can figure it out pretty easily. Maybe I’m tired of films where the most famous actor doesn’t want to be there. Maybe this movie just isn’t very good.

40. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, directed by Edward Zwick (4/10)

Makes the first movie look pretty good. Read the review.

41. Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer (3/10)

Makes the Marvel movies look like masterpieces. Read the review.

42. Warcraft, directed by Duncan Jones (3/10)

This movie appears to exist to expand the world of the game for fans of the game. Read the review of Warcraft.

43. Zoolander 2, directed by Ben Stiller (3/10)

A borderline disaster – possibly a disaster. 3 now feels charitable in retrospect.

Read the review.

44. Zoombies, directed by Glenn Miller (1/10)

I don’t go on Twitter much, but every so often I see a movie that I feel like the only true way to express its awfulness is through live tweeting. This is one of those movies.

This film takes a routine zombie plot – infected monkeys infect others (always the damn monkeys! can’t whales get a turn?!?) – and makes it about as terrible as it could possibly be. I mean, the ineffectualness of everything in this film – save, perhaps, Ione Butler’s commitment to her character – is staggering. And there was so much of it that the only real way to keep track would be to take notes (or live tweet). Now, because I didn’t, I definitely do not have a catalogue of all the awfulness in this film. Let me just say that the CGI looks like it’s from over a decade ago and there’s one scene where they cut from a supposed jeep crash to a shot of the characters in that jeep falling over on a lawn, as if this could substitute for filming stunt doubles flying from the jeep.

I’m sure I will see a worse movie from 2016 sometime in the future. But it will take a rather long time. This was worse than I could have imagined. It made Stonehenge Apocalypse look competent.

Shorts

1. “Life at a Snail’s Pace,” directed by Alexandra Gaulupeau (6/10)

This short is an odd little one about a woman who is obsessed with snails and wants to enlighten us all as to their importance through her own idiosyncratic ways. I found some of it quite amusing – though I was laughing at her more than laughing with her, I’m sorry to say – but also a little overlong and disjointed. The snail sex scene is a little too long, for example.

2. “Missy Higgins: “Oh Canada,”” directed by Nicholas Kallincos, Natasha Pincus (5/10)

An Australian sings about how Canadians need to be more compassionate. Presumably she recorded it before the Canadian election swung based upon promises about Syrian refugees… 5/10 feels charitable for this manipulative and, frankly, insulting suggestion that Canada wasn’t doing enough to help the Syrians. Meanwhile, in Australia: see Chasing Asylum, above.

Read the review.