2016 in Review

So I thought I might do a little “Best of 2016,” which began, as usual, with pulling up a complete list of every film released this year. Now, I had thought that 2016 was a particularly weak year for movies, and seeing the list of all films released this year only confirmed that. There is not one single movie this year I would say was great, although there were a few that are good to quite good. And all of those are foreign [Elle, A Bigger Splash].

I’d like to say something pithy about the state of the movie industry, but I think we’re seeing the continuing evolution toward nothing but blockbusters [or tentpoles], all of which have been created to appeal equally to the United States, China and India, which means primarily action-focused movies with basic good-and-evil storylines [Fast and Furious being the best example] that translate well across cultures. The other thing is, since so much money is spent on these films [and there’s so much competition], there is little room to risk any element that might not sell, making the films themselves bland and basically all the same. Thus we have to pretend that something like Star Trek Beyond is “pretty good,” for trying to shoehorn in some character work and thoughtfulness amongst the required fistfights, laser fights, space fights, motorcycle chases, foot chases, explosions, martial arts sequences, etc.

So that’s kind of where we are; having to admit that movies as a whole pretty much suck nowadays, and if you love movies, that now means sorting out what has a few good qualities among the dreck, and what’s just unredeemable dreck. In this model, Marvel movies are notable positives for using their market might to at least insert some personality into their films, although at the end of the day, we’re still talking about comic books with their same basic arcs, same fistfight requirements, and action showpiece requirements, etc. Given how expensive tentpoles are and how much is riding on them, what’s amazing is that wildly misguided things like Batman v Superman [let alone Gods of Egypt] get as far as they do while not pleasing anyone and being steadfastly unlikable.

The other thing that strikes me this year is that even the “good” year-end movies aren’t that good. Manchester by the Sea, Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, are quite mediocre, and several people have told me that Moonlight and La La Land [neither of which I’ve seen] are simply not that great. We need to have a certain amount of movies we can say are “good” and give awards to at the end of the year in order to convince ourselves that movies are still viable as an art form. I’m not saying they aren’t; just that the circumstances are increasingly against them, and can we just be honest and admit that 2016 kind of sucked?

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9 thoughts on “2016 in Review

  1. If you do end up seeing Moonlight and La La Land I would be curious to read your thoughts — I saw them both and they were my two favorite things I saw this year. Found them much more subversive and interesting than the other Oscar-bait.

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  2. Hope my undisclosed issue with Moonlight isn’t part of the “not all that” group. Agree with Lysis that Moonlight and La La Land are at or near the top of 2016. But some of my other favorites haven’t been yours, so … you know … disclaimer.

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    • A few people have told me that Moonlight has a non-ending, which struck them as a cop-out and made them mad. I watched the trailer this morning and it looks good, but… it’s hard to get excited over a movie when you know it has a non-ending! I will probably get to this movie sometime… but I’m having motivation troubles.

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  3. I haven’t seen it–this is just based on trailers and initial reaction–but I seriously wonder whether “Hidden Figures” might be a surprise sleeper hit–the kind of critical AND popular success Hollywood used to do so well. As you point out, everything else is either standardized or niche-marketed to death..

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  4. Warning this post is basically a long endless rant but I am a long time reader. I only expect anyone to skim this but for some reason this post triggered a lot of angst within me so I really need to pour out my heart and soul.

    In 2015, I became aware of Youtube critics and by then I was pretty hungry for a new Siskel & Ebert and curious to see what the new generation was up too I learned to enjoy a few. However, I was always distressed at their Top Ten lists. I was shocked to see so many blockbusters, in fact the most famous guy Stuckmann had his #1 as The Force Awakens which blew my mind. After reading this though, are things really that hopeless now? I began to realize after reading your blog… maybe many of our best movies ARE indeed blockbusters. Maybe the top MOTY is…Rogue One or Star Trek Beyond and that scares me for the future.

    Regarding your La La Land review, its really just enough for low standards viewers to be a vibrant and cute looking musical, it doesn’t have to have excellent songs or dancing elements it just has to look good and be a BIT outside the norm of ‘Splosions and people will clamor for it to win Oscar? I am hoping this is just a cycle and we are just living in a watered down version of the 1980’s which will bring us next decades 2020’s renaissance post-superhero? Hopefully so.

    I also notice how, no offense but it seems like you are a middle aged Gen X’r and your grief at how watered down things are stems from a lot of knowing the history of movies and sick of the disrespect shown by youth, especially again your example of kids who hated Singing in the Rain and loved La La Land. That isn’t trying to mock you I just mean to say I remember too. I mean every character in Star Wars movies for crissakes was better than any of the new ones and the characters in say, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank, the Three Colours Trilogy in the 90s of my teenage formative years were ridiculously better than characters we get in ‘Oscar Films’ today. Its funny how Seinfeld mocked The English Patient but it would probably easily be up for 8 Oscars today.

    I worry that The Internet killed movies though I realize that’s a really vapid observation but it still makes me wonder how much the technical aspects have been glorified and how much that is affecting studios. Its like Prequels vs. New Trilogy and how Disney has been lauded for keeping the new movies virtually the same as the old ones but with more refined special effects, “acceptable” plotlines and new diverse characters (still sexless and straight as a board though!) and how much people hated and loathed all the new planets, characters and aliens of the prequels.

    This entire way of seeing movies as commercial products mass engineered for fleeting pleasure in my opinion has corrupted the minds of youth who can no longer handle slow scenes of beautiful dialogue and hell even the popcorn chewing 30 year olds who love to tweet and snapchat about “movie was hella shit brah” have caused people to abhor character development and nitpick “plot holes” so that they can appear smart and cool. Disney has streamlined movie scripts so they can never been nitpicked to death, they are too generic, and characters who service the plot very well but are again “blandly acceptable” for the mass audiences.

    I guess my theory is that the internet goons who make it their life to endlessly pick apart characters and scripts have made it okay to make bland and uninteresting characters and samey action checklists so nobody leaves the theater complaining “dude, what the F we got no sweet Sherlock Holmes Kung Fu, we got hella jipped brah”. Now its like okay put it ALL in the movie or the natives will get restless.

    People don’t see movies as their individual precious snowflakes that each are good and bad in their own way anymore but need all blockbusters to fulfill EACH of their childhood fantasies or they grumble and in my opinion and this even is catching on to indie, as in La La Land where every musical trope was covered obsessively but the actual music and characters mattered not. Also its OKAY if a movie has “cheesy” elements. Hell, 90% of the movies when I was a little kid were cheesy but I wouldn’t drop a Gremlins or Goonies or Willow for anything. I believe that is also the point of your old site.

    So, in conclusion I can understand your frustration about current movies wholeheartedly. However, I think perhaps you are underestimating some of the movies out and could probably make a top 10 if you tried. Maybe see Hacksaw Ridge or Silence both powerful films. I’d love to read it but if not I can understand why you might consider just giving up and not caring about movies because, 2017 looks like Blockbuster: The Year so I’d write this one off already if I didn’t have faith in movies.

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    • No problem for the long, and interesting post, but I will respond to most of it later. I am indeed a Gen-Xer, 48yo, so I grew up on 70s and 80s films. Let me think about some of what you’ve said, formulate some thoughts and get back to you. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Everything cycles back around. Because so mant of our movies are bland commercial dreck, the return of a standard genre is celebrated more than it would be in a more fertile era. I loved “La La Land” but part of its power lies in the fact that musicals have all but vanished today; in the movie-musical heyday, it would have been laughed off the screen. “Manchester by the Sea” is a standard character-based drama in a similarly depleted field. People celebrate it not because it is great, but because they haven’t seen anything like it for so long.

    Incidentally, I had the same complaint about “Moonlight”, but it didn’t spoil the movie for me–it just brought me up short a little. For my money, “Manchester by the Sea” had a LOT MORE of a non-ending (as in complete lack of resolution) which completely spoiled the movie in retrospect…

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  6. Pingback: Moonlight – CdM II: The Quickening

  7. The non-ending complaint is bothersome to me. Movies like Moonlight and Manchester feature characters with lives that don’t necessarily “wrap up” in a neat bow all of a sudden. I am fan of ambiguity in general and felt both films finished up satisfyingly.
    As for the current state of filmdom, I agree 100%. The overall culture seems to be in decline, and film is no different. And don’t even get me started on film criticism – those YouTube folks like Stuckman are mostly just fanboys with slightly elevated taste levels.

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