We’re halfway through the year, which means it’s time for Wylie Writes’ recap of the best and the worst films of 2016. Sometimes, these early gems fall through the cracks once Oscar season rolls around. Let these choices remind you which films you should still check out, and which movies should stay unnoticed on your moviegoing radar.
Mountains May Depart (DIR. Jia Zhang-Ke)
Mountains May Depart is the type of work that sets a high watermark for the rest of the year. It’s an excellent, significant film that portrays the cause and effect of our decisions, and how those results can carry through years – even decades – with growth and regret. Think of it as The Place Beyond the Pines without the bank robberies.
Now available on: iTunes
What an Idiot (DIR. Peter Benson)
A spineless endeavour with an awful and offensive sense of humour. Its sitcom story of a heterosexual co-worker playing “gay” in order to get close to his hot boss makes Boat Trip look like The Birdcage.
Now available on: VOD and iTunes
As for Sky Wylie (Wylie Writes’ co-editor), her favourite film of the year (so far) is Chris Kelly’s dramedy Other People. Her pick for the worst is Michael Tiddes’ smutty send-up Fifty Shades of Black.
Too Late (DIR. Dennis Hauck)
While Dennis Hauck’s Too Late doesn’t forward philosophy, the human condition or introspective thought, it does take what some might consider pulp drivel and make art around it. The tropes of classic film noir are all there, but are served upon a platter of exceptional filmmaking. Too Late is a film for film’s sake and not the originality of character and story – and it’s done so masterfully that it gets away with it. It also helps to have a razor-sharp script and a cast that can make the worn archetypes refreshing and engaging.
Norm of the North (DIR. Trevor Wall)
There is no forgiveness for Norm of the North, but hopefully there is a lesson learned in there. This value-less gas-station-bargain-bin slight against childhood lacks any kind of charm, with go-nowhere scenes and bland characters and dialogue. The animation is not up to current professional standards. Norm of the North is nothing more than a checklist of what some greenhorn producer thinks makes a good kid’s animated feature.
Now available on: DVD/Blu-ray, VOD, and iTunes
The Last Man on the Moon is an eloquent and thoughtful snapshot of a period in American history that is too often romanticized. Documentarian Mark Craig’s unassuming style and the film’s emotional impact should not be underestimated.
Now available on: DVD/Blu-ray, iTunes, and Netflix
Self-indulgence is at large in Terrence Malick’s latest. Knight of Cups says nothing about contemporary masculinity or the state of existing in the modern entertainment industry that hasn’t been said before in more competent works.
Now available on: iTunes
While I do love documentaries, it is not often that a documentary will be my film of the year. Tower, however, is not just any documentary. Tower is one of the most emotional, most well-made, most meticulously researched documentaries I have ever seen. This film documents the day of Charles Whitman’s attack on the University of Texas campus and uses rotoscope animation to interview the victims and recreate the moment. Just thinking about it now, I have no doubt that this is the correct choice for the best of the year so far.
Honourable mentions: Dear Lorde, Credit for Murder, Who Killed Eloa
I am so glad that I began taking note of what I was seeing, if only because I had completely forgotten about Sensoria. I can’t be certain if it is because this film was so forgettable or because my psyche was trying to protect me by suppressing it. Now that I’m reliving it, however, this was such a bad movie! It was neither scary nor well made, it was lacking in atmosphere and character development along with its badly told story. This film fails at every step and may well be my worst film of the year at 2016’s end – if I don’t forget about it all over again.
Now available on: VOD and iTunes
Dishonourable mentions: Chasing Valentine, Suicide Kale, First Girl I Loved
The Best (Alphabetical Order):
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (DIR. Zack Snyder)
No one is more shocked by the inclusion of Zack Snyder’s near-universally panned and long-anticipated Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice than I am. While not hitting all of its marks, Dawn of Justice is the most serious depiction of a post-9/11 comic book universe, and far more reflective of the horrific carnage of Man of Steel than early indications suggested.
Cosmos (DIR. Andrzej Żuławski)
The kinetic Polish auteur’s final film, Cosmos, is a perfect way to end a powerful filmography that has been largely ignored by mainstream audiences. It’s difficult to describe what makes a Żuławski film so great, but the madness of it all makes it difficult to turn away. Be sure to catch the Żuławski retrospective happening this summer at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Green Room (DIR. Jeremy Saulnier)
The most unwatchable movie so far this year is also one of the best. Green Room is a mean-spirited, viciously violent film driven by the activation of our instinctive need to survive.
Hail, Caesar! (DIR. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
Arguably not the Coen brothers’ most memorable work, but still riotously funny. Perhaps the funniest filmic application of dialectics to-date. Now available on: DVD/Blu-ray, VOD, and iTunes
The Invitation (DIR. Karyn Kusama)
If Green Room is the most shocking horror movie of the year so far, then The Invitation is the creepiest. While predictable, the ending is still one of the most chilling moments of the year. Now available on: iTunes
The Worst (Alphabetical Order):
Fifty Shades of Black (DIR. Michael Tiddes)
Interjecting African-American voices into a ivory white erotica franchise is a great idea: too bad the product is immature and unfunny. Now available on: DVD/Blu-ray, VOD, and iTunes
London Has Fallen (DIR. Babak Najafi)
This sequel to the popular Olympus Has Fallen bombed at the box office, so hopefully we’ve seen the last of these overly self-serious neoconservative action movies. Now available on: DVD/Blu-ray, VOD, and iTunes
Midnight Special (DIR. Jeff Nichols)
Maybe I just don’t get Jeff Nichols, but Midnight Special’s purposeful ambiguity is more irritating than awe-inspiring. Or maybe we just ran out of ideas back when Spielberg made Close Encounters of the Third Kind back in 1977. Now available on: iTunes
Money Monster (DIR. Jodie Foster)
Bernie Bros: The Movie. Money Monster’s agenda is admirable, but its execution is sloppy. It also boasts one of the most painful studio endings in recent memory. Now playing in select theatres
Now You See Me 2 (DIR. Jon M. Chu)
The sequel nobody asked for is just about as bad as the first one. This installment adds a couple of new characters (the always likable Lizzy Caplan and the energetic Daniel Radcliffe), but that’s about it. Everything else is rehashed at the expense of more fleshed-out and original character dynamics. As I wrote in my review, Now You See Me 2 is merely an encore performance. Now playing in select theatres
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