Best films of 2016: my picks

To be fair I shouldn’t even write this post, I’ve seen a woefully low number of films this past year. So what I’ve done is split it (like last year) into favourites I’ve seen, those on my ‘to watch’ list and proper turkeys.

Enjoy.

FAVOURITES I’VE SEEN

Captain America: Civil War
Famed for their back and forth dialogue, the Russo brothers stepped up from TV to film effortlessly. It also bucked the trend of a smashy ending, which was welcome.
Deadpool
Despite the trailer ruining a lot of the jokes and the positive reviews threatening to put me off, it was still a fun blast and a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre.
Sing Street
As far as coming of age films go, this one is a treat. If you grew up in the ’80s, have been in any way part of a band or creative, this will resonate.
Rogue One
Gareth Edwards has come a long way since his debut Monsters. Here he expands the Star Wars universe in a satisfying way, giving us the familiar but twists and nice new touches.
Doctor Strange
Is it silly to doubt that Cumberbatch would be anything but good for Marvel? His performance was nigh on perfect and helped expand the MCU into new and exciting areas.
Creed
Seems young blood gives old a new lease of life from time to time. In this instance Stallone plays an aged Balboa, training Apollo Creed’s son in this surprisingly engaging story.
The Revenant
The making of this film has become almost as famous as the movie itself. With stories claiming DiCaprio went through utter hell and back to make it. It’s gruelling, but worth watching.
Spotlight
As this came right at the start of 2016 it almost slipped off my list. Not flashy nor showy, but a well-told tale making archive researching seem as engaging as it can.
High-Rise
I’m starting to think I can only take Ben Wheatley films in small doses. They’re way too stylised and I just don’t get them. That said, this film is insanity in a good way. And it’s Hiddleston as you’ve never seen him before. 

TO WATCH LIST

Everybody Wants Some!!
Hell or High Water
Hail, Ceasar!
American Honey
Paterson
The Nice Guys
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Kubo and the Two Strings
Midnight Special
Sausage Party
Green Room
The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
The Girl With All The Gifts
Victoria
Arrival

PROPER TURKEYS
Maybe it’s mean calling these turkeys, but they failed to deliver on many levels, so they get what they deserve.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Hey guys, shall we have any humour in this film? No, let’s keep it as po-faced as possible. Shall we have a plot that makes sense? Nah, there’s no time. Shall we get the audience caring about the characters? Why bother, just smash stuff in the third act. Audiences like smashy, look at Transformers. ‘Nuff said.
Suicide Squad
Ok, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. This film could have been as edgy as Deadpool. Instead it’s got a dull as ditchwater plot where almost nothing happens. It’s got too many characters that serve almost no purpose (including the Joker) and I didn’t care about a single one of them. Not even the delectable Harley Quinn, there I said it.
Magnificent Seven
Now I didn’t see the original, but many people I know did. And most said this remake failed to get us caring about any of the characters whatsoever. Embarrassing, given the quality of the cast. For me, I went in cold as a newbie and thought much the same. Magnificent? Not by a long way.

Magnificent Seven: all glory no guts

Ok, I fess up. I’ve not seen the original. There, I’ve said it. Yet another classic Western that’s passed me by. And yes, maybe one day I’ll get round to it, but for now at least, I have to make do with the modern version.

And I say make do because it’s OK.

Not bad, just not that great either. Which, let’s face it, is a darn tootin’ shame given the cast and director. I mean you’ve got Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Antoine Fuqua – the dream team, reunited after their success on Training Day. Plus Chris Pratt, everyone’s favourite leading man these days. And Peter Sarsgaard as the bad guy, complete with suitably evil moustache.

Slam dunk, surely? Sadly not. I’ll explain why, but first, the story.

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Should you be unfamiliar with the plot, it centres on sauve man in black, a bounty hunter called Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington); who gets recruited by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and other townsfolk as they’re being bullied and oppressed by evil industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), because he wants their gold mine all for his greedy self. So Chisolm – initially after the bounty but his motivation evolves as things go on – recruits six sharp shooters/brave idiots to help protect the town and the whole thing builds to one almighty dust-up come the finish.

Simple right? As we know, simple stories are the best. Now all the filmmakers need to do is add character and they’ll be on to a winner. Make us care about the whole gang, make us see things from the bad guy’s point of view, and perhaps even sympathise with him. Surprise us. Do something unexpected. Take risks.

Unfortunately we don’t really get any of this. Granted, the film treads the path you expect it to, ticking the Western boxes, it looks good enough and is shot well. And yes, people like Denzel can do charismatic with his eyes closed. Yet you need more.

Ensemble films are tough when it comes to building character and, whilst I feel like a broken record here (after saying much the same thing for Suicide Squad), it can be done. Marvel, for example, are great at it. And so are Disney, with J.J. Abrams having a crack at Star Wars. Oh, and the modern Star Trek franchise (Abrams again)

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My point is you can make audiences care about numerous characters in a short space of time, but you can’t rely on gunfights and beautifully framed shots to achieve it alone. Or if you do take that route, you’ve got to pepper the action with character beats. Otherwise it’s just a Western we’ve seen a hundred times before… or a battle scene from Gladiator or Braveheart or Lord of the Rings. Take your pick.

The problem I had is that I kept thinking of relatively modern Westerns I’ve preferred (Tombstone, Open Range and 3:10 to Yuma all sprang to mind), ones where I was hooked on the fate of the characters almost from the off, which is never a good sign in this case, because it just didn’t grab me the same way. I suppose there’s one thing going for this film, in that it’ll never be a franchise as (spoiler!) not all the seven make it through to the end. It is what it is, but it’s a stand-alone story.

Maybe I’m being harsh.

Maybe there was a lot of subtle character development buried deep within scenes that I simply missed. Stuff that really made you care about their fate, you know? Maybe it gets better on repeat viewings. Some films do. Or maybe Antoine Fuqua will just have to chalk this down as a swing and a miss. Or a misfire, wahey.

Either way, it’s worth a watch if you spot it on TV, or fancy a fairly mindless night at the cinema where thinking caps are not required. But no more than that. Sorry Antoine, the wait for you, Denzel and Ethan to strike gold again continues.