So UBC won't have me in their film studies MA program, and no local papers want to pay me to write about film at present, but fuckit, here's my top five list of 2016 movies.
Disclaimer: there's a bunch I have yet to see. Bear in mind that I have limited access, since I don't make this my living, have limited time, etc. My impression is that it's been a pretty good year for movies - where Hell Or High Water counts as one of the disappointments, you know the bar is pretty high. There's plenty I'm interested in that I haven't gotten to as of yet, that maybe would belong on this list, from The Interior - tapped by Mack in his list - to the Korean thriller The Wailing. Or The Handmaiden, for that matter.
Also, I'm highly tempted to cheat a little, because a couple of my favourite film experiences of the year were films I only caught up with on home video. They're technically from 2015, but since they saw no theatrical distribution here - since there was no other way to see them in Vancouver, at least by legit means, until they showed up on DVD - it seems almost fair to include them; those being Bone Tomahawk and He Never Died. The first is about as old fashioned a western as can accomodate scenes of graphic disembowelment and cannibalism, the kinda film that will inevitably get called "The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes," but it's not altogether an unreasonable description. It is the sort of film you kind of want to protect from a political analysis, because it is essentially, inherently, at its fundaments a "whiteman versus the savages" film, which it (rather slyly) tries to excuse by having one good (token) First Nations character on hand to disown said savages' savagery and differentiate himself and his people from them. It's kin to having the "one good Japanese" signaling the kids from the cockpit to run and hide as his Zero closes in, in Pearl Harbor, or giving Schwarzenegger a "good" sidekick of Middle Eastern descent in True Lies; it's an obvious "see we're not racist" ploy. But it's skillful enough as a ploy that it sort of shimmies by your bullshit detectors on first viewing.
But to heck with it. Most thrillers are reactionary, politically problematic things, across the field - from the inherent racism of King Kong to the subtext of Die Hard that women should not have careers, thrillers, because they tap into common social anxieties, tend not to be the most progressive things. (Don't even get me started on The Dark Knight). You can either disown such films or admit that you like them, noting the problematic aspects, perhaps allowing yourself to be colonized just a little in the process. Sometimes I am offended enough (as with The Dark Knight) that politics trump pleasure, but in the case of Bone Tomahawk, so much of what is fresh and enjoyable about the film is NOT dependent on its inherent racism - especially Richard Jenkins, and the relationship between his character and Kurt Russell's - that I was inclined to give it a pass. Plus the best late career use of Sid Haig this side of Captain Spaulding.
Anyhow, I liked Bone Tomahawk a lot. He Never Died, meanwhile, is a funny, strange, gory little tour de force for Henry Rollins - also, coincidentally, involving cannibalism - who demonstrates that the key to his being good in a movie is apparently for the movie to be built entirely around him. He's been crap in any support roles I've seen him in (Johnny Mnemonic, Morgan's Ferry, The Devil's Tomb), but he's so great in this I actually tried to interview him about it. He turned me down, but I'm glad Hank is enjoying a sort of career high these days, regardless of what billboards he agrees to appear on. (I missed his manic rant the other day at the Vogue, am told it was pretty great).
But anyhow, those are really 2015 movies, so let's no cheat. Here are my top five films from 2016:
The Lobster. I keep describing it to people as Bunuelian, but all this is doing is demonstrating to me that most folks have no idea who Bunuel was, anymore, which makes me a bit sad. But people who like the idea of a darkly-humoured, surreal exploration of the dating scene - the curious totalitarianism of relationships - should see it; I've given away seven copies now as Christmas gifts, as befits my role of Lobster Claus (see previous). Colin Farrell used to irritate me, but he generally chooses film roles quite well, such that I've come to like him a lot; he's been in too many films I've admired - The New World, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths - for me not to (and will also be in Yorgos Lanthimos' next film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer). I like Rachel Weisz a lot, too (Constantine, Agora, The Whistleblower, Denial, and, hey, whattaya know, she's in an upcoming fictionalization of the Donald Crowhurst story, which is kind of fascinating; see the doc Deep Water if you can, or, for another fictional treatment, read Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach).
I have seen a bunch of films beyond that that I liked - Hell or High Water, The Arrival, Midnight Special, The Witch, Don't Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, De Palma, Denial - but not enough to go "top five" with them (maybe The Arrival). I would actually consider Ti West's In a Valley of Violence above any of those, but it's better to enter it expecing a small but enjoyable film than some best-of masterwork. It's a somewhat uneven homage to spaghetti westerns and classic westerns, with a generous helping of Unforgiven laid in. I would have liked it better if it had upped the spaghetti quotient, because it seems to me that you can't really make obvious nods to the subgenre (in the title sequence, say) while getting other elements wrong (the music is almost completely unspaghettilike). But Ethan Hawke is good (gets better as he gets into it), John Travolta has his moments, and the story is engaging, and people who like westerns will like it. Beats the snot out of that Magnificent Seven remake, anyhow (except for Vincent D'Onofrio, who contributes the only great element to that latter).
But definitely Green Room gets on my list, for getting so much right, and for having at least one brilliant moment (involving a loyal dog, which I think is wins the prize for "most unexpectedly touching moment in a movie this year").
Also, I loved The Neon Demon, which is the most purely cinematic, "scopophile heaven" film expereince, trumping Only God Forgives (which I also really liked).
Train to Busan was fairly linear, and fairly conservative, but I loved it, best zombie feature I've seen in awhile, and the angle sheds an interesting light on Korean culture.
Tickled was pretty great, too - a documentary dealing with "endurance tickling" and, apparently, an unusual, bullying fetishist. It's a small but strange little film that kind of lingers in the mind.
I guess The Arrival trumps it, though. Okay, there:
Al's Top Five Movies for 2016, in order:
1. The Lobster
2. The Neon Demon
3. Green Room
4. Train to Busan.
5. The Arrival
Still want to see: Elle, Swiss Army Man, Sausage Party, The Greasy Strangler, The Interior, The Love Witch, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Red Turtle
Don't get the fuss: The Nice Guys
Disappointed by: Blair Witch
Don't care: Birth of a Nation, La La Land, Kubo and the Two Strings (am I wrong on that?).