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?