Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Captain America: Civil War
The Little Prince
10 Cloverfield Lane
Every year, I struggle to write one of these Top Ten lists. I’m certain that in a few months I’ll look back at this list and think “Why wasn’t X movie on it?” and “That one shouldn’t have been.” But regardless, I will now attempt to put together my ten favorite films of the year. Judging by my taste in movies, it should be an interesting selection. So, let’s get started.
Also, Honorable Mentions:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Captain America: Civil War
The Little Prince
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 - Sausage Party
Okay- I am aware of the fact that in terms of film-making quality Sausage Party is far inferior to anything else on this list. And yet, it’s still on the list because, of all the movies I saw over the year, this one made me laugh the most (and considering how many of the movies on this list are comedies, that’s no small feat). A horror comedy about talking food that realize they will soon be eaten, this is a movie that has everything from stupid food puns to highly offensive ethnic stereotypes to extremely graphic violence. Oh, and did I mention the giant food orgy at the end? I know, it’s incredibly dumb- but I dare you to watch and not have a damn good time.
9 - Moana
The Third Disney Golden Age (or Second Disney Renaissance) is still going strong. In contrast to Disney’s other release this year (I’ll get to that soon), Moana is a classic Disney fantasy story, but updated for the 21st century. This includes both animation technology (the film is absolutely gorgeous), the music (I hate how Lin Manuel Miranda is more talented than I ever will be) and content wise (it’s always good to see more women and people of color as protagonists). Plus, it has Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson singing. What more could you ask?
8 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I struggled with the placement of Rogue One on this list, since last year I placed The Force Awakens in slot number four and later regretted it. Now the opposite will probably happen and I’ll regret not placing it lower. But regardless, Rogue One is the movie that shows that the Star Wars franchise has room for lots of different kinds of movies. Whereas the other entries are epic space operas, this is a dark, gritty war movie. I had always wondered what a darker Star Wars movie would be like, and know I have my answer: it is awesome.
7 - Green Room
New studio A24 (who have released three of the films on this list) and director Jeremy Saulnier (creator of Blue Ruin) both continue to impress with Green Room. The way I see it, there’s two good kinds of horror movie- compelling psychological horror and edge-of-your-seat thriller films, and Green Room is an excellent example of the latter. I can’t remember the last film I saw that created tension and suspense as well as this movie. Plus, whoever would have thought that Patrick Stewart would play such a good Nazi? Although it was unfortunately one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles, Green Room will go down as one of the best horror-thrillers of the decade.
6 - Arrival
After already proving himself with the excellent Prisoners and Sicario, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve continues to distinguish himself as one of Hollywood’s new great directors with Arrival. The story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial life, Arrival is certainly the most intelligent movie of the year, which is especially refreshing considering how rare smart sci-fi movies are. This, in combination with Bradford Young’s impeccable cinematography and a tour de force by Amy Adams (the fact that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar this year but Meryl Streep was for the fiftieth time appalls me) creates one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century so far. Now we just wait and see how Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is like.
5 - Zootopia
For a long time I struggled with which of Disney’s two movies I should put on this list, until eventually I came to the realization of: “Why not both?” Like I said above, Zootopia is very different from Moana, being a buddy cop movie (or bunny-cop movie) with talking animals. It’s clever, funny, and incredibly entertaining. But what really bumps this movie up so high is its message regarding tolerance, prejudice, and pre-judging someone because of who they are. Although some complained the movie’s message is heavy-handed, judging by recent events I don’t think this is at all a bad thing (some anvils need to be dropped after all).
4 - Deadpool
Hey everyone! It’s me again: Deadpool! I know you’ve all been missing me, so I thought I’d stop in and say hi! So it turns out, people like me. I know, shocker, right? In fact, judging by the giant checks I keep getting in the mail, people like me almost as much as they like Jesus! I am pissed off that the Academy didn’t just mail me all the Oscars though- I mean, they nominated Meryl Streep for fucking Florence Foster Jenkins and I get nothing?! Fuck that shit, who needs em’- I’ve got a sequel to make!
3 - The Lobster
Almost certainly the least-known movie on this list, The Lobster is a masterfully dark, cynical comedy. It has no clear message- it starts by satirizing our compulsive need to be a part of relationships, then turns around and makes fun of people who aren’t in relationships. Its equal opportunity humor and just sort of hates everything, demonstrated by the film’s ability to make you laugh at some really awful subjects. Although the bizarre premise (people who can’t find love are turned into animals) and grim tone will ensure that it remains a highly niche film, I think The Lobster is one of the funniest films released in quite some time.
2 - Swiss Army Man
Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking: “Why is the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie on your top ten of the year list?” Well, as you have surely figured out from the list already, I love bizarre, absurdist humor, and in a year chock-full of this type of comedy, Swiss Army Man stands at the top of the pack. Weird, crass, yet oddly poignant, Swiss Amy Man will make you laugh by using Daniel Radcliffe’s fart-filled body as a speedboat and yet still make you smile at the budding friendship between him and Paul Dano and the life lessons they learn as they travel back to civilization. It is a wholly unique film, and I doubt that I’ll anything as weird and wonderful for some time (excepting, of course, the last entry on this list).
1 - The Neon Demon
I still can’t believe I saw advance screenings of Swiss Army Man and The Neon Demon on the same day- by the time the credits rolled for Refn’s latest film I was sure I was in some sort of fever dream. I’m really not sure what it says about my mental state that this is my favorite film of the year, but it’s just so bizarre and horrible and incredibly beautiful. A cynical look at the nature of beauty, desire, envy, and power, Refn looks at the world of high fashion and sees a world filled with monsters. It is certain to shock and appall you, but sometimes that is what the best cinema does. It is a movie that, if nothing else, you will never forget.
AJ Martin on Get Out
A lot of people have been talking about how odd it is that Jordan Peele, who is well known for being a master of sketch comedy, wrote and directed Get Out, a psychological horror film about race. For me, its honestly not all that strange, though it is odd to see Peele’s name attached to something that doesn't also involve his long-time partner, Keegan Michael Key. Having watched many of the sketches from his hit Comedy Central show, Key & Peele, I think the potential to create interesting horror or drama is apparent. Many of the sketches on that show involved taking issues of race, setting them up in a dramatic way but using a punchline to turn the drama into comedy. Take away the punchline, and you’ve got meaningful drama. The same goes for horror, and Peele proves with Get Out that he can write basically anything.
The movie follows a couple, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), who are about to go visit Rose’s family in white suburbia. Chris, nervous about meeting a family of white people who may or may not be racially insensitive, starts to become even more alarmed when he sees how few black people live in the parent’s community. Things worsen as Chris sees just how strangely the few black people he does meet act, and soon learns why that he never should have visited in the first place.
It may seem from my description like little happens in this film, but that is merely my attempt to keep as much of what happens a secret for those who may be interested in seeing the film. The movie is edge-of-your-seat tense (almost exhaustingly so), with almost every scene building the suspense of the increasingly horrible situation Chris is trapped in. The true prowess of Peele’s writing and direction comes through in scenes where nothing overtly scary actually happens, but you are tensely waiting for the many warning signs to build into a reveal or scare. The movie is never reliant on jump-scares for its horror, making the suspense feel less manufactured.
And, like a lot of the other works of Peele, the movie expertly crafts a message about race. While at times the racial rhetoric may feel slightly heavy-handed, it's the level of accuracy that adds to the uncomfortable feeling that the movie generates and feeds into the film’s overall tension. I, a white, middle-class, heterosexual man, have never had to worry about things like whether or not my significant other's parents are racist nor have I been asked to show my licence to a police officer when I wasn't even driving a car. But these are things that real people have to go through on a daily basis for no other reason than who they are, and the movie uses that injustice to enhance both its message and tension.
Honestly, the only thing I left the theatre yearning for was a longer third act. The film feels like it moves from its final twist to the end too quickly, and I wanted to know more about what was going on and the implications of Chris’ situation. But this issue is minor when looking at the film as a whole. Get Out is a really good horror movie, proving that Jordan Peele has the skills to write practically anything. It kept me intrigued, much more so than most horror films, and for that I must recommend it to even those who claim (like me) to not be horror fans.
I have titled this “My Most Hated Films of 2016” rather than “Worst of 2016” for a reason. These are the movies that I believe to be the ten worst out of the selection of films I saw in which were released in 2016. Thus, it is highly possible that more atrocious piles of garbage oozed out of the drudgerous orifices which festered off the decaying, decrepit mass that was the year 2016, but I didn’t have the misfortune of seeing those dumpster-fires. I didn’t see Norm of the North. Or Dirty Grandpa. Or Collateral Beauty. Or Mother’s Day.
So keep that in mind when you read this list and think “Psh, he could have seen worse.” Trust me, I know. But that didn’t make these ten any less painful to sit through. Welcome to my annual vent session. Let’s begin.
10 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
If you had shown me a list of the ten movies that appear in this article at the beginning of 2016, told me they were the worst films I was going to see that year and asked me to rank them on how shitty I assumed they would be, I probably would have put this movie a hell of a lot higher than this. Considering the movie to which it is a sequel, the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was my most hated movie of that year, I assumed that a sequel would only compound upon the problems of the original. However, to be perfectly honest, this movie is leagues better than the original. The turtles themselves are far less annoying, more characters from the original cartoon appear and an action sequence involving a tank and a waterfall happens that is actually pretty entertaining.
However, being better than the first movie is not enough to save this one from being a tired, poorly put-together action flop. Though the four protagonist brothers managed to be significantly less irksome in this film, the villainous henchman Bebop and Rocksteady filled that void almost immediately. They reminded me of a slightly less racist Skids and Mudflap from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which is a comparison that I do not give lightly. On top of that, the movie is bogged down with Stephen Amell’s terribly boring performance as the iconic TMNT character Casey Jones, the fact that the camera in Michael Bay-produced movies still seems to think Megan Fox is a sex object and the same pointless in-fighting between the turtles that all of these movies have. In the end, we were left with a poor attempt to cash in on the 80’s nostalgia wave and an example of what happens when you do what the fans want, but do it wrong.
9 - Warcraft
Let me preface this by saying that though I am an avid gamer, I have virtually no experience with the Warcraft universe. I never played the original games or the highly popular World of Warcraft, so my experience with this movie was likely far different than that of someone who has spent the past decade enjoying the stories and characters of the expansive fictional universe. That being said, I find it hard to believe I would have enjoyed this movie even if I was a fan of the games. A generic fantasy spectacle film with little in the way of interesting characters or narrative probably wouldn’t have been enough to make this list, but I certainly don’t think I would have enjoyed it either.
There are problems, however, that I feel like stem inherently from the fact that I have no knowledge of the Warcraft universe outside this movie, which made me as a viewer feel as though the movie was not made with anyone like me in mind. The first half of the film cuts between locations, characters and plot points with little regard for those in the theatre who don’t know what the fuck is going on. I felt like the 80 year olds that you expect to see confused throughout a Lord of the Rings movie, as I was constantly looking at a friend of mine and asking “Who’s that guy?” or “Where are they?”. As he had also never played Warcraft, he had no idea either.
Eventually, this issue bottoms out when the film gives way to its very generic story, but this merely shifts the issue over to the film’s characters. Perhaps these characters, all of whom fit generic fantasy archetypes without any level of innovation or creativity, would be more interesting to me if I knew their backstory or personality from playing the games. Or perhaps these characters are equally dull and lifeless in the games. Either way, the final product we are left with is a movie that seems to have little regard for anyone in the audience who isn’t familiar with the source material and does nothing to make up for this fact.
8 - X-Men: Apocalypse
Have you ever seen a movie that was so over-the-top with its dramatic elements that you found yourself laughing out loud during sections that were obviously meant to be pivotal and emotional moments in the film? Have you ever, upon seeing one of the main character's wife and young daughter killed in what is meant to be a heart-breaking scene, actually had to stifle a snort of laughter in order to not seem like a horrible asshole? Or perhaps guffawed when the main villain is trying to be intimidating by cutting off someone's head with sand (yes, you read that correctly) because the CGI is so appallingly bad that it looks like an effect from the late 90’s?
If you answered yes to these questions, than you have seen X-Men: Apocalypse. This movie takes everything interesting about the good X-Men films, throws it out the window and tries to go for the spectacle, mind-numbing action angle. It never tries to talk about the deeper implications of being a mutant in the real world (something all the good X-Men movies do), but instead throws a series of increasingly ridiculous scenarios at the wall hoping something will stick. The terrible special effects quality mixed with lackluster villain characters make the action segments a chore. The performances by the newest members of the team are just as sloppy as the writing of the film itself, with even X-Men veterans like James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult falling prey to the poor script. Worst of all may be the films portrayal of Magneto, whose allegiance seems to be as easily changed as Batman (I’ll get to that later). This is easily the worst Magneto performance we’ve ever seen, which is a shame seeing as Michael Fassbender portrayed him so well in his other two films.
In one scene, some of the younger X-Men are seen walking out of a screening of Return of the Jedi. As they exit, they are debating whether or not the movie was better than the original Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back. As they argue, one of them snidely remarks that the “third film in the series is always the worst”. I couldn’t agree more.
7 - Gods of Egypt
Whitewashing in Hollywood is a big problem, and it’s one that continues to surface as studios continue to be reluctant to cast minority actors in lead roles. And while I could go on for pages about the politics behind whitewashing, I’ll spare you and merely focus on one of 2016’s worst examples of it. Gods of Egypt, seemingly a knock-off of the already abysmal Clash of the Titans series, is about a young Egyptian man trying to help a once-powerful god get his eye back so he can defeat another, far more sinister god. I want you to guess how many of those three main characters are Egyptian. Or even Middle-eastern. Or even non-white.
Of course they aren’t. One is Australian, another Danish and another Scottish. And maybe this wouldn’t be an issue that I’d care so much about if the movie wasn’t a goddamn mess, but it is. The action is sloppy and the special effects are borderline intolerable, which is pretty unforgivable for a movie whose sole purpose is to have flashy action sequences. I wish I could talk about the plot of the movie, but I can’t remember a single thing that happened in the film, as every action set piece was so jarring that I didn’t even really know what was going on while I was watching.
And then, as if the film wants to remind you that they don’t give a shit about hiring even vaguely region accurate actors, Gerard Butler’s performance hits you over the head like an anvil from a fucking Tom and Jerry cartoon. His performance is laughably ridiculous, not even trying to mask his Scottish accent as he screams at the top of his lungs. If not for the genuinely charming banter between the film’s two protagonists, this film may have easily been in my bottom three.
6 - Risen
There are two types of religious movies: the historic religious epic and the modern Christian drama, the latter of which I have no experience with. The former category has produced some excellent films, with movies like the classic The Ten Commandments and the animated The Prince of Egypt just two great examples. However, Risen completely fails to be anything other than one of the most boring movies I have seen over the last few years. The story of the Roman man tasked with finding the body of Jesus Christ may seem like an interesting idea for a story, but lackluster performances and terrible pacing makes the movie feel like it's trying to trudge through three feet of mud.
The movie is filled to the brim with expository dialogue, delivered from the mouths of actors who seem almost as bored on set as we were in the theatre. And the lack of emotional weight from any of the actors makes anything that may have been exciting in the movie fall insanely flat. I wish I had more to say about the film, but the only word that even comes to mind when I think about it is boring. It’s a total drag to sit through, and I implore that you avoid the monotony that it offers.
5 - Suicide Squad
Poor, poor DC comics. You tried so hard to be Marvel, but you just couldn’t do it. You saw Guardians of the Galaxy and thought you’d try your hand at a similar concept, throwing in that darker spin that people love (in theory) about you. Unfortunately, you apparently didn’t understand anything about why people liked Guardians of the Galaxy and are still completely ignorant to the fact that dark doesn't work unless it's well written.
Supposedly edited together by the same people that put together the film’s trailer, Suicide Squad doesn’t ever seem to stop and give you a moment to breathe. With its over-saturated color palate and constant cacophony of sound and effects, the film feels like a headache that refuses to go away, pounding at the inside of your skull with no relief in sight besides just leaving the fucking theatre. The rapidity of the cuts between shots doesn’t make things any better, and merely stands to remind the audience of how many times it appears this film was reworked to try and make it into something palatable.
On the off chance that the film does give you a goddamn second to think, you start to realize that the sensory overload of the majority of the film is probably there to distract you from the horrible writing and completely detestable characters. The movie tries to pass off its characters as charming villains, bad guys who you can root for because they are fun to watch and share this inseparable connection. What the movie gives us is a bunch of unlikeable assholes, each with fewer positive qualities than the last who seem to just loudly clamor for the spotlight. And while all of the performances are bad in their own right, the most egregious by far is Jared Leto as what is probably the worst Joker in the history of Batman films. In the end, Suicide Squad's biggest fault is that it has completely turned me off the DC cinematic universe, extinguishing the last bit of hope that Marvel would have some kind of competition.
4 - Nine Lives
Movies like this make me wonder whether or not actors got in trouble for doing some really illegal or immoral shit. Like maybe Kevin Spacy really is Frank Underwood and he pushed a young reporter in front of a train, and the only person who saw him do it was Barry Sonnenfeld. And then Sonnenfeld promised Spacey he wouldn’t tell anybody so long as he agreed to star in Nine Lives, a film that looks and feels like a cheaper, worse version of The Shaggy Dog. That would explain why Spacey looks so pained every time he is on screen in this film, and why the majority of the movie is him saying unfunny, snarky crap while a CGI cat jumps around.
This movie feels like you dug up the worst time capsule from the 90’s about 300 years too early. Every element of this movie is a copy-and-paste trope of two-decade old family films, and these tropes have aged less like a fine wine and more like rotten meat. Before the movie even begins, you will have already figured out every intricacy of the plot, as the filmmakers have not even attempted to deviate from the kind of drivel this film seeks to mimic. The characters are shallow, dialogue unbearable, and the set design ghastly. I’d dare you to try and find a single shot in the movie that doesn’t have abrasively bright red in it, but that would mean you’d have to watch the movie and I don’t want you to have to do that.
On top of all of that, the film has some of the worst, most uncomfortable CGI I have seen in recent years. For shots where the filmmakers needed the cat to do something wacky or a stunt that would probably severely injure it, a CG effect that looks eerily like the dog from Son of the Mask plops onto screen and burns itself deep into both your retinas and your nightmares. During a scene towards the end of the movie, where a character jumps off the roof of a building and the cat follows, I actually started to think I was having some kind of fever dream. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
3 - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
I don’t like Zack Synder movies. I don’t like how they're written, directed, stylized, shot or edited. His film’s colors are always overly washed-out and macabre, dialogue lifelessly dismal and cynical, and action (while at first interesting) overblown. And, when he decides that his movies are going to say something about society or the human condition, he never stops to take a second and wonder “Did what I just write make literally any fucking sense, or am I just speaking poetically out my ass?”.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice epitomises the Zack Synder filmmaking code: all style, no substance. The film pits Batman and Superman against each other for reasons so sloppily cobbled together that I expect the writers assumed nobody would give a shit so long as the two heroes beat the fuck out of each other. The movie spends two grueling hours building up this unbelievable hatred between the two heroes, only to have it all fall apart when Batman realizes that their mothers share the same name (I’m not kidding). This movie features the dumbest Batman in the history of film, the least charismatic and most boring Superman in the history of film and a Lex Luthor that acts more like a hand-me-down Joker than the cocky businessman that he is supposed to be.
All of the movie’s stupidity and poor writing culminates when Batman and Superman eventually team up with Wonder Woman against Doomsday, a creation made by Lex Luthor to destroy Earth. Why does Luthor want to destroy Earth? Why does he even hate Superman in the first place? Why was it so easy for him to create Doomsday? What even is Doomsday? None of these questions are even remotely answered. The movie ends with the death of Superman, completely wasted on a film in which no one in the audience even remotely gave a shit about Superman, followed by the implication that Superman isn't actually dead, because God forbid they take a single risk in this dumpster-fire of a script. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse than Man of Steel, Snyder one upped himself with this detritus. I’m almost impressed.
2 - The Choice
Did you know there are twelve movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels? Twelve?!? That means if you wanted to spend 21.95 hours (I did the math) watching boring characters attempt to pull at your heartstrings by talking about the power of love and revel in how pretty they are, you can. After watching The Choice, I feel like making that decision is almost certifiable, but that’s your decision to make. I am but a humble critic, and this is but a souless trash-heap of a film.
These kind of movies aren’t my cup of tea to begin with, but I feel like I could have slightly more appreciation for the movie if the characters felt like people and not cardboard cut-outs of GQ and Victoria’s Secret models. The two leads have virtually no personality to speak of, which means that their chemistry in non-existent. And in a movie which hinges on the audience caring about the relationship between these two (seeing as nothing of note happens until the last 15 minutes of the movie), this makes the film preposterously boring. Imagine the ‘staring at each other’ segments from Drive, accept the characters aren’t developed, the director has no stylistic vision and the dialogue feels like it came off a goddamn throw pillow.
Once something finally does happen, prompting one of the lead characters to make the titular ‘choice’, it feels like it comes completely out of left field. Essentially, the female lead (I honestly don’t care enough to look up her character's name) gets hit by a car and the male lead has to choose whether or not to pull the plug. She has an expressly written will that says, if put in this situation, she wants to be taken off the life support, but the male lead selfishly can’t do it. When the female lead eventually recovers, it frames this as a triumph of the love of the male lead, as if it is somehow wrong to do the thing that your significant other wanted in that situation rather than leaving them in a state that they specifically said they didn’t want to be in. And that’s the tone of the whole film. Idealism with a hint of naivety and a side of bullshit. No thanks.
1 - Masterminds
The bad comedy is the worst kind of movie. Most of the bad films above have some, albeit minute, redeeming qualities that keep the film from being categorized with the worst of the worst. However, these qualities are usually either a good score, action sequences or use of cinematography. These are not generally the focuses of a comedy film, and thus a comedy that isn’t funny has none of these traits to potentially fall back on. Comedy films tend to rely solely on the jokes that they make, which make the great ones amazing and the bad ones nigh unwatchable. Masterminds falls firmly into the latter category, as a film that is so out of touch with what is actually funny that it manages to be one of the least funny films I have ever seen.
The movie feels like it was written by a bunch of twelve years olds, or by the kinds of people that think uncreative toilet humor is hilarious. And where 2016’s Deadpool was clever along with being crude, this film decides that all it needs to do is show something raunchy or say something ridiculous to get a laugh. It feels like watching a problem child cry out for attention every few seconds by loudly farting or saying something about poop. The film seems like it is desperately vying for the attention of the audience without having a fucking clue as to what an audience actually wants out of a film.
Here are some of the film’s highlight moments of comedy. Zach Galifianakis and Kate McKinnon, an unhappily married couple, take awkward photos on a swingset. Full stop. Galifianakis puts talcum powder on his taint. Full stop. Galifianakis gets Montezuma's Revenge and poops in a pool. Full fucking stop. The entire movie is like this: an unfunny piece of comedy that has no set-up or punch-line to speak of. Scenes abruptly start and end with no purpose, with nothing to distract you from the fact that genuinely funny people like Galifianakis, McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson are dying brutal deaths right in front of you. It is a horrible, unpleasant, festering waste-heap of a film. I squirmed in my seat uncomfortably for its 96 minute runtime, which felt as if an eternity would be shorter. To quote the excellent 90’s comedy television show The Critic, “It stinks”.
AJ Martin's Top Ten Films of 2016
I just wanted to quickly mention a few other films from 2016 that I really liked, but didn’t make the list. Captain America: Civil War was quite possibly the first time a Marvel film did drama really well, bringing some of the MCU’s best action, story and character interaction. American Honey was one of the most genuine and human films I saw last year, with excellent performances by Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf and beautiful cinematography. The Neon Demon oozed with Nicolas Winding Refn’s style and visual genius, with some stellar performances to boot. Zootopia was a creative and fun Disney experience, with some deeper themes that will probably resonate for years to come.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to my favorite films of 2016!
10 - Silence
Martin Scorsese’s passion-project/ period piece about Jesuit priests trying to find their old mentor in 17th century Japan is a breathtakingly beautiful film, both in terms of its visual style and its performances. Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are all incredible as priests struggling to spread their religion in a land in which it is forbidden, and their performances are only enhanced by the gorgeous natural landscapes upon which the film is shot. The story tackles issues of religious persecution and faith in a dynamic, interesting and seamless way, creating a story that is as intriguing as it is morbid. I highly recommend Silence to any fan of Scorsese's work, or just about anybody in the mood for an excellent, heavy drama.
9 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first of probably many spin-off stories to take place in the Star Wars universe, Rouge One adds a touch of originality to the canon that The Force Awakens seemed to lack. This film is a war movie first and a Star Wars movie second, soaking in the darker tone and deeper themes of a team of rebels tasked with what is essentially a suicide mission. With a cast of mostly really interesting characters (I personally feel Jyn Erso is boring), the movie manages to break from the potential pit of monotony that this series easily could have fallen into to deliver an intriguing look at a familiar universe. Plus, the last 30 minutes feature some of the best action in any movie from 2016, which a scene involving Darth Vader that actually left me speechless. This is a Star Wars film that I would easily recommend to anyone, even if the other films in the series aren’t your favorites. A fresh take on an old classic, this is.
8 - Deadpool
In a year with some truly abysmal superhero fodder, Deadpool breaches the monotony of an overworked genre and manages to deliver something truly original and hilarious. Ryan Reynolds’ performance as the merc with a mouth creates one of the stand-out characters of the year, who flings hilariously creative jabs at previous superhero works, pop culture icons and even his own film. The movie also effortlessly turns its own budget issues into pieces of comedy, flowing with the punches like few films I have ever seen. After 10 years of trying to get the film made, Reynolds and director Tim Miller one of the best action movies and one of the best comedies of the year. Definitely worth a watch for some truly original superhero content!
7 - The Nice Guys
One of my most anticipated movies of 2016, The Nice Guys practically drips with style. The film revels in its 1970’s setting, with probably my favorite aesthetic of any film from the year. The excellent atmosphere is enhanced by stellar chemistry between Ryan Gosling’s bumbling private investigator and Russell Crowe’s stoic muscle-for-hire, plus an excellent performance by Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter. This movie continues to prove that Gosling can perform as virtually any character, moving seamlessly from being a cool, quiet driver in Drive to his buffoon of a character in this film. It is an excellent, joyous romp that pays homage to a decade that was, if anything, a little more vibrant.
6 - Green Room
I am not a horror movie guy, especially the kind of stuff that is over reliant on jump-scares or cheap horror elements to get a few screams out of the tweens in the audience. Luckily, Green Room avoids all of the lazy conventions of bad horror and creates one of the most tense and nail-biting experiences of 2016. The cliche of being on the edge of your seat was created for movies like this, where the intensity is dialed up to 11 and stays there for practically the entire runtime. The performances are captivating (Patrick Stewart plays a Neo-Nazi), the story gripping and the violence so gritty and real that you will find yourself jumping at the sight of it. It’s a high-octane experience that you won’t be able to forget, even if you try.
5 - Manchester By the Sea
Having grown up just an hour’s drive away from Boston, I am always looking out for films about the area that capture the essence of Massachusetts people. Most of the time, movie’s interpretations of Bostonians are far too over-the-top, and they just end up feelinging like a slightly reworked version of a stereotypical New-Yorker. Manchester By the Sea avoids this problem better than any Boston film I have ever seen, managing to capture the tone of the area without exploiting it. The characters, masterfully crafted by Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and the rest of the cast, feel like real New England people. The overwhelmingly genuine nature of the performances and writing, along with a heartbreakingly tragic story, make Manchester By the Sea a spectacular viewing experience. If you watch it, prepare to be blown away. And cry. A lot.
4 - Moana
I loved this movie like most people seemed to love Frozen. I thought Frozen was a decent film, but nothing near as good as this. Moana is a beautifully animated, excellently written masterwork by Disney, a film that encompasses everything lovely about the classic Disney story. The film’s Polynesian setting and culture, enhanced by excellently written characters and wonderfully colorful music (lyrics by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda), make for one of the most charming movies of the recent Disney wave. It has everything a Disney fan could possibly ask for, including Dwayne Johnson rapping. How could you ask for any more than that?
3 - Moonlight
When I saw Moonlight, I made the mistake of seeing Doctor Strange in 3D beforehand. Needless to say, I walking into Moonlight with a massive headache and expected to have my experience somewhat tarnished. Fortunately for me, Barry Jenkins created a film so captivating and emotionally powerful that it was impossible for my experience to be ruined by something so trivial as physical pain. The story of a young African-American from Miami learning to come to terms with both his life and his sexuality is enthralling, effortlessly created by some of the best performances and cinematography of the year. Moonlight was probably the most profound film I saw in 2016, a movie that speaks deeply to what life in America can be like. It was an amazing experience to behold.
2 - La La Land
This was a movie tailor-made for lovers of film; a brilliant homage to classic 1950’s musicals with all the vibrancy and energy that you would expect. Damien Chazelle combines his brilliant writing and visual style with a love for music that feels unparalleled, creating a masterful musical that manages to perfectly capture the essence of classic cinema. With stunning performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, fantastic musical numbers and a heartwarming yet bittersweet story about following your dream, La La Land was everything that I could have hoped it would be. Most people seem to be assuming that this is a shoo-in for Best Picture, and I find it hard to challenge that. Honestly, I think it is well deserved.
1 - Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika is one of the most innovative and imaginative film studios around, creating some of the best films one could possibly hope to find. Coraline and Paranorman are two of my favorite films of the past decade, so I was incredibly excited to see how they would tackle Kubo and the Two Strings, a film which from its mere announcement excited me (probably because it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, Samurai Jack). Not only was I not disappointed by the film we got, but I was once again blown away by the artistry and talent of the Laika team. Kubo and the Two Strings is breathtakingly beautiful, capturing the setting with grace and precision using Laika’s trademark stop-motion style. The opening of the film, which involves a young boy named Kubo taking care of his sick mother, is some of the most subtle, expertly crafted storytelling of recent film, taking its time and not pandering to its potentially young audience. From there, the film continues to tackle difficult themes effortlessly, using its brilliant character writing and screenplay to captivate the audience. I can't think of a single moment watching Kubo where I wasn’t amazed by almost every aspect of the film. It disappoints me that I live in a world where this movie was a commercial bomb and Batman v. Superman makes $870 million. So, please, support this movie by checking it out. You won’t regret it, I promise.
2016 was a terrible year for everything except for film. Amidst this horror show of a year, some really incredible filmmakers put out some really incredible works of art. After much agony, I have compiled my definitive top ten films of the year (along with a few honorable mentions, because why not).
Editor's note: It is once again time for our yearly movie round-up- the rest of this week we will be publishing lists of our writer's favorites films. Note that these are not the movies that we think are the objectively best, merely our personal favorites. So, please enjoy.
Hell or High Water
10 - 20th Century Women
The first of five A24 releases featured in my 2016 movie roundup, 20th Century Women is a funny and poignant story about three women in the 1970s who band together to raise a boy. These women are all in the boy’s life in incredibly different capacities: Julie, seventeen, is his friend; Abbie, mid-twenties, is renting the spare room in his house; Dorothea, mid-fifties, is his mother. While trying to sort out the best way to raise a good man without a man to raise him, these three Twentieth Century women explore love, sex, and their own personal happiness. The casting of this film is flawless: Annette Bening is AMAZING as always, Elle Fanning is lovely, and Greta Gerwig is truly at her best. Its concern with feminism is a powerful and important message that easily spans from the 1970s setting to modern day.
9 - American Honey
As the rest of this list will continue to prove, I am a huge fan of A24. In their four short years of existence, they have truly done no wrong in my eyes. Their release American Honey is no exception. A road movie about a “mag crew” (a traveling magazine sales group), the film is a candid look at Middle America and has a kickass soundtrack. One of the film’s greatest assets is the chemistry between Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Sasha Lane, who was discovered while on spring break in Florida. The way Jake (Shia) charms Star (Sasha) makes him incredibly charismatic, despite his disgusting rat tail hairdo. At a whopping two hours and forty-three minutes, American Honey is a long but engaging road trip with an ensemble cast made up entirely of first-time actors, aside from Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough. This cast assists director Andrea Arnold in telling a raw story about young adults with no one to turn to but each other.
8 - Swiss Army Man
If Daniel Radcliffe hadn’t already broken free from the Harry Potter pigeonhole, he certainly has now. Another A24 release, Swiss Army Man features Radcliffe as a farting corpse whose boner is a compass, along with Paul Dano as his lost and depressed companion. Critically, this film has received mixed reception, and I think that is due to how goddamn weird it is. To me, however, that is what makes it so endearing. I had never seen anything like this before and, in today’s film industry of franchises and reboots, that is something I cannot often say. Despite all its hilarious crassness, Swiss Army Man is a lovely and surprisingly touching story about friendship. To the critics who were shocked by its weirdness: the one sheet features Paul Dano riding on the back of Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse. Come on, what did you really expect?
7 - Everybody Wants Some!!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention by complete obsession with Richard Linklater. I truly think he’s a cinematic genius and I love basically everything he’s ever done. So when I heard that a so-called spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused was to be released, I was over the moon and could not wait to see it. Luckily, my expectations were generously met. Everybody Wants Some!! is basically an 80s college version of Dazed. It depicts a few days in the lives of college baseball players in the short time between move-in and the start of classes. Packed with drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll, the film is a non-stop good time. The cast is an all-star ensemble whose bromantic chemistry is apparent throughout. Though Everybody Wants Some!! comes in at number seven on my list, it comfortably rests as the film that I saw in theaters the most times this year (four).
6 - Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Going off just its title, I expected Hunt For the Wilderpeople to be some dramatic film about searching for a group of nomads in the wilderness. I was maybe one-third correct. This latest film from Kiwi director Taika Waititi follows a curmudgeon and his foster son as they become targets of a manhunt after running off into the New Zealand bush. Ricky Baker, the son, is played by Julian Dennison who is a hilarious spitfire of a performer. He’s only fourteen years old, but he held his own alongside Sam Neill, a veteran actor with decades of experience. As a director, Waititi is a comic wizard. He’s directed a few episodes of Flight of the Conchords (he’s close friends with Bret and Jemaine), as well as co-directed a mockumentary with Jemaine about four vampires cohabitating in a flat. Hunt For the Wilderpeople showcases the talents of its entire cast and crew, who made one of the most genuinely “feel good” films of the year.
5 - La La Land
When I first heard about La La Land, I’m fairly certain that I rolled my eyes and audibly groaned. Yes, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have chemistry, but enough is enough. I was incredibly skeptical, but what got me to see it was boy genius Damien Chazelle (I truly love that man). I’ve never been happier to say that I was wrong to roll my eyes. This movie was a work of art through and through. Every little detail harkened back to the days of MGM movie musicals, including the film’s title card. Every single frame was stunning to look at. Gosling and Stone played off each other well, as always (she says, begrudgingly). Justin Hurwitz’s soundtrack and score are phenomenal, combining jazz and showtunes effortlessly. It is a perfect escapist film that is being released exactly when it is needed. La La Land was pretty, moving, and blew my expectations completely out of the water.
4 - Green Room
No movie this year has packed a punch quite like Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. A punk band, helmed by Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat, witnesses a crime at a small club in the middle-of-nowhere in Oregon. This club just happens to be run by a group of neo-nazis who push drugs and happen to be led by a mean and scary Patrick Stewart. So clearly, this band is not going anywhere after what they just witnessed. The film is absolutely relentless from the start. Fast paced and violent, this film is almost difficult to watch but so engaging that you can’t look away from the screen. Yelchin’s performance is one of his usual high caliber, and is one of his last roles before his tragic passing this summer. Green Room is an hour-and-a-half long adrenaline rush, filled with brutal violence and impressive performances.
3 - The Edge of Seventeen
My top ten list this year is full of films I never imagined myself loving so much. The Edge of Seventeen epitomizes this unexpectedness. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, this film is a coming-of-age high school movie about a painfully awkward teen named Nadine fumbling her way through junior year. I consider myself just over the brink of this film’s assumed target demographic, but it turns out that it appeals to viewers of all ages. Nadine’s insecurities and existential dread transcend teenagehood, making her character relatable to more than just fellow high schoolers. Steinfeld’s performance is one of the film’s strengths, packed with wit and keen comedic timing. She’s already been nominated for an Oscar, but this role cemented her as one of the greats of our generation. On the whole, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply written film for teens and adults alike, allowed to be raw by its R-rating. Its themes of friendship and insecurity are everlasting and make it sure to stand the test of time.
2 - Don't Think Twice
I am obsessed with the art of comedy, so obviously Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite people. Everything he does is so smartly written and poignantly raw. This year, he released his second feature film, Don’t Think Twice. It tells the story of a New York improv troupe, the members of which are grappling with their ideas of fame, success, and failure. Although it is a film about comedy and features several fantastic comedians, this film is incredibly sad and deals with the tough questions that performers are faced with as they get older: When should you give up? What is success, really? What defines you as a failure? Now, there are certainly no concrete answers to these questions, but Birbiglia and the rest of the cast try to answer them on an individual level. Birbiglia’s bleak honesty shines through as always, making this film feel almost like a personal journal entry. The questions posed by Don’t Think Twice are ones applicable to anyone, not just comedians, making it a relatable film for anyone “coming-of-age” in any stage of life.
1 - Manchester by the Sea
Finally, we reach number one, which happens to be the one I have seen most recently. With an immense amount of Oscar buzz surrounding it, Manchester By the Sea had my expectations set unreasonably high. Despite this, my expectations were met and then some. Featuring strong performances by Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges, the film is a meditation on the different manifestations of grief and how to continue to live after tragedy strikes. How this family copes with the hand they’ve been dealt unfolds before your eyes in a nuanced way, with no facet of the story ever over explained. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan crafted a perfect film and each member of the cast rose to the occasion. Moving and deeply funny, Manchester By the Sea is a beautiful way to finish off my top ten list and finish off the year.
Carter Sigl on The Red Turtle
There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing a really unique film. After over a century of cinema history, and thousands of years of literary history, essentially every story has been told before. But what keeps us coming back to them is how these stories are told. Most films, all stories really, are told in a very similar way. But once in a while, we find a familiar story told in a unique way. The Red Turtle is one such film.
The Red Turtle is the story of a nameless sailor who is shipwrecked on a remote, uninhabited island. Although the island is full of fruit to eat and fresh water to drink, the man decides to leave the island. He chops down the island’s bamboo trees and lashes them together into a raft. But when he tries to sail away from the island, he encounters an enormous red turtle which sinks the raft. Still determined to leave the island, the man makes another, larger raft. But once again the red turtle destroys his vessel. Yet the red turtle never harms the man.
That is really all I can say about the plot of the film without getting into spoiler territory. The Red Turtle is an exceedingly simple film- it has very few characters and is barely 90 minutes long. But most importantly: it has no dialogue whatsoever. The entire story is told without any more than a few grunts and some yelling in frustration or fear. It is almost unheard for anyone to make a silent film in the twenty-first century, and I applaud both the director (Michaël Dudok de Wit) and the production companies (Japan’s Studio Ghibli and the French/German Wild Bunch) for taking such a risk with the film.
And that risk pays off wildly. The Red Turtle is an enchanting film not only despite of its simplicity, but because of it. Without any spoken dialogue, all of our attention is focused on the remaining sounds and visuals of the film, all of which are fantastic. The film’s art director is Ghibli’s Takahata Isao, known for such films as Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and his influence on the art style is considerable. It looks much like Princess Kaguya, possessing a similar watercolor-like animation style on par with some of Ghibli’s greatest works. Although the film lacks dialogue, it is certainly not silent. The film has a simple and understated yet beautiful score, which is used sparingly to highlight specific emotional scenes. Much of the rest of the film has no sound save for the crashing of the waves on the beach and the wind blowing through the bamboo trees.
And although we’ve all seen survival stories before, I’ve never seen one pack the emotional punch that The Red Turtle does. Again, this is where its simplicity serves it well, as the near-complete stripping of any human voices from the film really hammers home the isolation of our unnamed protagonist, which is only enhanced by the gorgeous visuals and the stirring score. Plus, a few other things that I won’t spoil for you.
The Red Turtle is a rare gem of a film. With only a barebones story, a few characters and no words, it provides a more emotional journey than most normal films twice its length. In many ways it is cinema at its essence, with all extraneous details stripped away to leave only a core of imagery, sounds, and an elementary narrative. And it goes to show that, sometimes, simplicity is best.
But you're not well, yet...
Gore Verbinski leaves his viewers with an overwhelming sense of sickness in his latest feature, A Cure for Wellness. He, along with writer Justin Haythe, pull us into this world where wellness is a lie, but everyone is sick, and they manage to deeply unsettle viewers in the process with an end that rattles the bones.
We are introduced to the stunningly visual world of the film as it opens, looking up at the shadowy towers of New York City: the city is dark and murky, almost taking on a grayish-green sickly hue, with an ominously slow-moving and steady camera. We see an overworked businessman suffer from a heart attack, which immediately sets the tone for the film: something is off about this dense and depressing world.
Soon thereafter, we meet Lockhart (Dane Dehaan), a 20-something yopro with a healthy amount of ambition and an ego to match. The company (some Wall Street money tyrant) that he works for is about to undergo a merger, but there are some irregularities in the books and they need a scapegoat; therefore, they send Lockhart to the Swiss Alps to retrieve Pembroke, the company's CEO, from a “wellness center” that he went to after suffering a mental breakdown. After arriving in Switzerland, bringing Pembroke back proves more difficult than he thought, and Lockhart becomes trapped in the uncannily too tranquil center.
The film is a slow burn, very gradually building up. You seem suspended in most of the second act, floating around (not unlike the septuagenarians of the center), knowing there is some direction that you're supposed to be going in somewhere, but not quite sure what that direction is or how you're going to get there. Verbinski builds upon the psychological aspect of this thriller well: he plants little moments and signs in that suspense of the second act where the audience grips the edges of their seats. We know Lockhart needs to leave, and we know that he knows it, too. We can feel the actual time passing, creeping by as we lose a sense of time in the story, just as the patients do. We feel that ever-desired-yet-maligned sense of dread, but it’s so subtle and expertly done.
The actors do incredibly well in enriching this ominous world. Mia Goth steals scenes away as Hannah; she is completely believable as a prepubescent teen and plays the uncanny innocence of the only child at the wellness center excellently. Jason Isaacs gives Volmer a quietly mysterious elegance. Dehaan somehow makes an entitled prick likeable. Lockhart is, after all, the character with which we're positioned; we have little else to root for, but like him, we know something is wrong and sinister behind the idyllic scenery of the center. We begin to lose trust in our window into the story, just as he begins to waver in trust of his own mind, as well. He’s determined to finish his task, and his entitlement leads him to believe that he'll get exactly what he wants. A bit of sad backstory and past trauma give him just enough motivation to pique his interests and suspend his fears for just a second and agree to treatment after he is interestingly diagnosed with the same disease as the rest of the center’s patients, a move that later proves to be fateful.
Even our antagonist is potentially just as interesting as any other main character. We just aren’t ever awarded the privilege of exploring this character deeply, or much at all, which is disappointing. We are mostly limited to Lockhart’s point of view, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just ends up feeling like a missed opportunity to add dimension to a character that could do wonders with it. He’s like Colonel Hans Landa or Hannibal Lector: if Verbinski gave him a little more to work with, the character could just sing. It almost feels like a few hard cuts had to be made in the edit that ultimately subtracted from the gradual build and intricacy of the story. Adding to this point: Hannah’s plotline is somewhat underdeveloped. It needs a little more time and attention in order for the story to really gel at the end.
Of course, it all eventually comes to that inevitable head, and it’s just so right; it’s definitely psychological, yet incorporates just enough violence and shock-factor to provoke a truly earned visceral reaction in viewers. We get the sensation for which we’re looking, and then we’re left questioning our values, our trust, everyone. You walk out of the theater not sure of what you just saw, still suspended in the wading tank of the movie, and seeing the world as a little darker, a little more unwell.
AJ Martin on The Great Wall
When I first heard about this film, I was more conflicted about a movie than I think I’ve been in a long time. On one hand, I was pretty excited to finally see something that wasn’t Hollywood attempting to break into the action/fantasy market in America. The most expensive Chinese movie ever made, directed by the visionary Zhang Yimou, sounded like it had the potential to bridge the gap between American and Chinese cinema. However, then I saw the cast and the trailer and was overcome with a sense of dread and fear. A flashy monster movie starring Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal was not exactly what I expected or wanted out of the film that would supposedly connect the Chinese and American film industries. However, I still walked into the theatre with the hope that the movie would ‘wow’ me into eating my words about the mediocrity of its trailer. Unfortunately, my hope was not well founded.
The film opens with a group of traveling merchants/mercenaries from the West, led by William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal). The mercenaries are in search of the black power, an unknown but powerful substance which they have heard the Chinese have mastered and weaponized. During their travels, they come across the Great Wall, a structure the likes of which they have never seen, and are questioned by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang), Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jang) and the rest of the Chinese army about their purpose in China and their encounter with a strange beast on their travels. The beasts, known as Taotie, are creatures who have been terrorizing China for centuries, causing the army to build the wall and defend it forever. Thus, William and Tovar must decide whether to help the Chinese defend their lands (and, potentially, the world) or break out with the black powder they initially sought.
The Great Wall is the most average and generic of spectacle action films, offering little in the way of innovation or originality in most aspects. It’s story is something that everyone has seen in some way, shape or form before, be it in a good film like The Last Samurai or a bad film like Warcraft. The characters are cardboard cutouts of characters we have seen done better in a hundred different films, which is especially apparent in every scene with Matt Damon’s William. Through his vaguely Scottish (I think) accent, Damon tries to put on the roguishness of Han Solo, but the film’s dialogue lacks any of the charm that made Solo work in Star Wars. Occasionally, Damon and Pascal’s sheer charm burst through the generic, dull writing, but moments of genuine character interaction are few and far between.
Because of the lack of character depth and meaningful interaction, scenes of the film that are supposed to carry emotional weight fall flat. A character of major importance dies at about the halfway point in the film, and there are about four minutes of ceremony and mourning after they die, but there was so little in the way of setting up that character or interacting with them in any way other than spouting exposition that the scenes felt shallow and underwhelming. The special effects are pretty bad as well, which is unfortunate considering the only real positive I can pull from the film is that is has a very interesting visual style. A few times I found myself saying “This movie isn’t very good, but I have to admit, that was pretty cool.” The design of the armor for the Chinese soldiers is captivating, and I honestly think a documentary about the armor itself would have been more interesting than this dry, sameish waste of potential.
Part of me actually wishes this film were worse, so I would at least feel like I had some sort of emotional reaction to it. But every aspect (other than the interesting visual style) is so blasé that I left the theatre feeling almost nothing toward the film. In the end, I found myself thinking like a parent who had just caught their child doing something naughty. I wasn’t angry, just disappointed.
Best known for his writing/acting/general tomfoolery on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie Day is taking on a new role: star of a high-budget studio film. He plays English teacher Andy Campbell in Warner Brothers’s new release Fist Fight, directed by veteran Always Sunny director Richie Keen. Although Fist Fight is Keen’s first feature film, he was more than willing to take on the challenge. “In television, as a director your job usually is to support the showrunner,” Keen explained, “But in making a movie, especially a movie of this size, I had a take on everything. The lighting is very specific, the casting is very nontraditional, the way we did the fight… So every little thing was something I had thought about, decided on, and executed.”
Although Fist Fight is undeniably a comedy, Keen and Day made it a priority to make the film feel grounded and high-stakes. “If Will Ferrell’s the school’s principal, then you don’t feel the stakes of getting fired in the same way you feel them when it’s Dean Norris,” Day said. The serious players allowed the comedic ones to stand out more. As director, Keen kept this same principle in mind when working behind the camera. “The cinematographer I hired was a dramatic cinematographer… But then we also had fun, where we’d do things like snap zooms and, you know, weird pullbacks,” Keen explained, “We wanted to keep it grounded so we allowed ourselves, when we wanted to go for it, the opportunity to go a little crazy.”
Having already worked together several times, Keen and Day’s working dynamic was a huge asset to the film. “When you have a partner like Charlie tell you something’s good, you go forward,” Keen said of working with Day. Keen consulted Day on things from script edits to music choices. The two were able to closely collaborate on most aspects of the production. “For me, it was great to work with Richie because I got to make this movie a lot more closely to the way I make It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Day commented, “And just the amount of input that we shared, before we even started rolling the cameras, helped me feel as though we really got every scene, every sequence, every piece of casting to a place where I felt comfortable to then just step back and watch Richie take over and really become the great director that he became over the course of this movie.”
Fist Fight flaunts a cast of diversely talented actors, ranging from stars of Mad Men and Breaking Bad to regulars on Workaholics and Silicon Valley. A comic actor himself, Day recognized how to play off his fellow comedians, as well as the more dramatically experienced actors. “Even Jillian [Bell], Tracy [Morgan], and Kumail [Nanjiani] all have very different styles of comedy. So with each person, you kind of dealt with their style,” Day mentioned, “You react differently to what each person brings.” Keen went on to say that casting actors with such a wide variety of styles was important to the final product. “My goal as the director was to find the funniest people on the planet and put them next to the people you didn’t know were the funniest people on the planet, to have this very surprising mix of people,” he explained. Keen clearly reached his goal, with the film’s cast boasting stars like Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Christina Hendricks, Dean Norris, Jillian Bell, and Kumail Nanjiani. This unexpected combination of actors works together to make comedy magic in Fist Fight, so catch it in theatres now.
You can read Elizabeth Johnson-Wilson's review of Fist Fight here.
Are you familiar with the quadratic formula (or any formula, quite frankly)? You know how it’s always the same? And how it never changes? And yeah, a, b, and c can be different each time, but the formula is still used for the same thing. And it always does the same thing. You pop new numbers in the same spots, but it still looks the same. You still recognize it as the quadratic formula and always will. This movie feels like that: like the filmmakers entered new values for a, b, and c in the same formula and cranked out yet another solution for x, that while not being an identical solution, is still pretty much the same thing. It’s still x equals some zero, or in this case, some run of the mill standard R-rated Hollywood comedy.
Richie Keen’s Fist Fight depicts mild-mannered high school English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) attempting to just make it through an outrageously chaotic senior prank day on the last day of the school year. Amidst budget cuts and a bevy of genitalia-themed pranks, Campbell manages to get fellow teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), who happens to be the most feared person at the school, fired. Strickland then challenges Campbell to a fist fight after school, a piece of news that spreads through the school and town like wildfire. At that point, Campbell has to decide whether to keep being nice or to nut up and fight Strickland.
So, it was funny. And the fight was pretty epic…
Ah, it’s just that we've all seen something like this before: it feels the same, formulaic, unsurprising, unchallenging, uninspiring, inoffensive (even despite all the genitalia humor). It wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or do much with said wheel at all.
Within all that formulaic stuff, the filmmakers did manage to include some good jokes that did incite genuine laughter in the audience. I mean, when you cast Tracy Morgan (in his first role after his tragic car accident, btw), you’re bound to have at least a few funny moments on hand. In fact, all of the cast was good (I mean, when are any of these guys not?!). I love seeing Charlie Day let loose (well, and yell and be emotional and generally picked on and walked all over, ya know, all those things that make him lovable), and Jillian Bell as guidance counselor Holly was a riot (and quite disturbing…). Still, the characters were all one-dimensional, with even Campbell’s arc feeling under-realized and under-thought. And Strickland as super self-serious borderline bully was painfully uninteresting.
So, with its too tidy ending and all, Fist Fight will leave warmish fuzzies in your heart and give you a few laughs, but it can’t do anything more for you than that. You could see every plot point and story moment from a mile away, but I guess that doesn't mean that moments like that haven't worked before. And if that's all the filmmakers were trying to do, then they were successful. So here we have it: it’s not fresh, it’s not horrendous. It’s using all that has come before it, that has passed for passable comedy before. It’s x= Fist Fight.
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