Hey y’all, Ryan here! This time each year, I surrender the space in Cutting Room to offer an alternative take on the best and worst films of 2016. Mason Shumaker has been an indispensable part of the film section since joining, and his 2016 list is proof why. Eclectic, insightful and vastly different than most I’ve seen, enjoy reading his take on the year that was.
It seems like everybody just wants to get 2016 over and done with. In that spirit, and since you’ve already read Ryan’s list, I won’t drag this out. Before we get to even the slightest glimmer of cinematic hope, here’s a reminder that 2016 was sort of a horrifically terrible year for films.
The Worst Films of 2016
Honorable mention: Just out of principle, I’m putting La La Land and Manchester by the Sea on this list. Neither deserves any of the praise they’re getting, and it’s wrong (like, stupidly wrong) to shower them with awards. After you read this, just ignore them.
5.) The Purge: Election Year
The only film on this list ranked lovingly is The Purge: Election Year, a GOP-bashing romp made “so bad it’s actually good” by my favorite film character of 2016: Candy Bar Girl. Who is Candy Bar Girl, you ask? She’s just a garden-variety anarchist who really likes candy bars. Like, a lot… She’ll even murder her parents and unload a gold AK-47 into a convenience store just get a candy bar, and I love her for it.
4.) The Forest
For “white-washy” reasons, this was just one of the two 2016 films about pigmentally challenged Americans wandering Japan’s infamous “suicide forest.” The Forest was the first new film I saw in 2016, and it pretty much set the tone for worst film-going year of my life. I remember thinking The Forest was already a shoe-in for Worst Film of the Year when it was released on the first weekend in January. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.
3.) Gods of Egypt
I mean, who doesn’t picture Geoffery Rush when they think of an ancient Egyptian sun God? Right? Just because Gods of Egypt is a film so whitewashed that the studio and director apologized for it months before release, don’t forget it’s also even more creepily sexist than Passengers. Believe or not, watching Gerard Butler flirt with a woman by saying how much he likes to “force” himself on her is actually super gross!
2) The First Monday in May
Fashion and film are two industries that like to tout themselves as progressive, although their practices are anything but. It makes total sense these tone-deaf industries find perfect merriment in The First Monday in May, an unapologetic celebration of a racist fashion show. I still feel terrible for the people in this documentary whose criticisms were repeatedly dismissed, and I hate this documentary for lauding their dismissals. This film is evil.
1.) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad
If Batman v Superman seemed like an understandably atrocious start for a new cinematic universe making a boneheaded decision to launch an entire superhero team with a single film, Suicide Squad was indeed confirmation that, nope, it wasn’t a fluke. This is what we’re getting from DC superhero movies. It’s hard for me to think about these films separately because they felt like a two-part introduction to DC’s new franchise, so they share the title of Worst Film of 2016. The only difference between the films is Batman v Superman had one moment I liked. Just one. Suicide Squad was unbearable from the get-go, and it’s my least favorite film I’ve ever seen.
The Best Films of 2016
Honorable mention: Since it actually had a small release in 2015 but wasn’t available internationally until late-2016, Hoon-jung Park’s The Tiger is my honorable mention. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to see a giant tiger wipe out a small army (it’s one of the best action sequences ever), then The Tiger is for you.
10.) 10 Cloverfield Lane
Sort of a sequel to the 2009 “found footage” film about a giant monster rampaging through Manhattan, 10 Cloverfield Lane drops the “found footage” and giant monster to focus on the weird stuff happening in John Goodman’s basement. I won’t spoil any of this genuinely surprising mystery, but you can assume John Goodman’s basement is not the place where you want to be.
9.) Under the Sun
Few documentaries I’ve ever seen had as much guts as Under the Sun. The premise is simple: a director is asked to produce a North Korean propaganda film, except he secretly leaves the camera rolling between takes. Seeing government officials “rewrite” backstories of actual people is disturbing enough, but I still can’t get over the scene when we follow a worker through one of North Korea’s “most prestigious” factories, and we slowly realize it’s actually an abandoned building.
8.) The Edge of Seventeen
This film isn’t nearly as lighthearted as the trailers tried to sell you, and that’s for the better. It’s a hilarious dark-comedy that takes a serious look at grief and anxiety. So many coming-of-age films fail to make us care for boring, whiny brats. Finally, Hailee Steinfeld is a whiny, bratty protagonist that we can actually sympathize with! The coming-of-age genre needs to stop taking notes from “A Catcher in the Rye,” and start paying attention to films like this one.
7.) Certain Women
Certain Women is a film about 3 exhausted women being supernaturally empathetic to the people exhausting them. I’ve heard a lot of criticism this film is “pointless,” (it isn’t) but who even needs a point? Certain Women’s themes are far down the list of great things about the film. I just enjoyed spending time with these characters and getting to know them. Pacing warning: even glaciers might get antsy watching this film, but it’s worth the wait.
6.) Star Trek Beyond
I enjoyed the previous two Star Trek films enough, but Star Trek Beyond is the first film in the rebooted franchise to get it absolutely, 100% right. Although there’s plenty of explosions and shaky-cam fisticuffs, Beyond plays up classic swashbuckling adventure and a genuine sense of exploration that I sorely missed during the last two installments. I was sad to see Beyond underperform at the box office, since it probably means another long hiatus just as the franchise was finally meeting its potential.
5.) The Innocents
Every year, I see one film that’s such an emotional wrecking ball that I have no desire to ever see it again, despite it’s greatness. This year, it’s The Innocents. Director Anne Fontaine’s film is a brutally honest look at the consequences of rape, and it’s hard to say if there’s even a slightly uplifting moment throughout the entire film. How could there be? Please don’t let me scare you away. The Innocents is tough viewing, but it’s a masterful film that needs to be seen.
4.) Captain America: Civil War
It feels like the entire comic book movie genre was really just build-up to the moment we finally got to see two armies of superheroes beat the holy crap out of each other. Captain America: Civil War was the first film of 2016 that I watched with a big, goofy grin on my face the whole time. While I’m sure some folks are feeling a bit of crossover fatigue, I’m no longer satisfied unless there are at least 15 superheroes crammed into any given frame. Civil War is pure nerdy bliss.
What else is there to say? Everybody in the world fell head over heels in love with Moonlight, and so did I. You almost certainly will, too. If major film awards want to prove they really matter, they’ll ignore the usual “Oscar bait” and boost the amazing creative voices behind Moonlight. Give director Barry Jenkins and actors Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, and Andre Holland the awards. All of them.
2.) The Fits
You kind of just have to watch The Fits. It’s one of those films that I don’t really know who to recommend to because it’s so damn odd. I loved The Fits. You might love it, too. You could hate it. It’s anyone’s guess. Just make sure to check it out. Sorry, I don’t have much to say about The Fits. You’ll see why.
1.) Hunt for the Wilderpeople
We get Ryan Coogler directing the best ensemble of actors I’ve ever seen in Black Panther, and a Brie Larson Captain Marvel movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Phase Three,” but somehow I’m just as excited for the third Thor movie. The only Avenger slightly less forgettable than Hawkeye, I’m one of the few who’ve wildly enjoyed Thor’s goofy corner of the MCU. Now that Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi is helming Thor 3, I’m Thor-stier than ever. Just like Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, Wilderpeople isn’t just hilarious but also amazingly good. It’s hard to tell if we even deserve a film this funny and powerful. To even suggest the buddy chemistry of Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in Wilderpeople carrying over to the God of Thunder and the mother-effing Hulk in Thor 3 gives me too much of a nerdgasm to even handle. After the shitshow of 2016, please just sit back and enjoy this wonderful film.
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