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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

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

Read the review.

6. 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.

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

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

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

This is a pretty fantastic low budget dark comedy with a really unique spin on pregnancy. Well worth your time.

Read the review.

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

A deliberate but affecting portrait of someone becoming an executioner.

Read the review.

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

Pretty funny. Read the review of The Nice Guys.

11. 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.

12. 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.

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

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

14. 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.

15. 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.

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

Guest’s latest is a little easy and obvious but still very funny.

Read the review.

17. 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.

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

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

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

An entertaining but flawed period horror comedy.

Read the review.

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

Fascinating. Read the review.

21. 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.

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

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

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

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

24. 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.

24. 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.

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

Meh. Read the review of Beyond.

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

Definitely not one of the best. Read the review.

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

Same old same old. Read the review.

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

This is a reasonably entertaining romantic comedy until a really confusing (and tonally confused) third act. I think I dropped my rating down a point upon further reflection.

Read the review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the review.

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

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

33. 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.

34. 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.

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

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

Read the review.

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

So much plot. Read the review.

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

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

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

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

39. 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.

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

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

Read the review.

41. 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.