Ranking the Year’s Movies from Best to Worst (2016 Academy Awards)
Today would normally be a self-absorbed exhibition of passion for the annual Academy Awards presentation, taking place this evening in Hollywood.
However, for the first time in a very long while, I haven’t seen enough of the movies and performances which were nominated in each of the major categories to provide a truly fair assessment. So this year, I’m doing something different.
I went back and looked over all the films released in 2015 and made my own list from top to bottom of those movies I viewed on the big screen. For those interested, here’s the complete catalog of every major film released last year: CLICK HERE.
What follows are the movies I saw in theaters (I’m biased toward the theatrical experience — giving little or no merit to watching on later on video), ranked best to worst, along with my brief comments about each film. I also included a list of movies which were purposely avoided, in addition to those I either missed or chose not to see for other reasons. That way, readers will know I didn’t forget some films, only that I didn’t have time to see them all:
THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR (MUST SEE MOVIES)
The Big Short — Entertaining, funny, insightful, and highly-pertinent film stacked with excellent performances about the true events leading up to the severe banking crisis and economic collapse of late 2008. Best movie of the year by a small margin, because I thought the subject matter was more challenging to portray in a manner that would be entertaining and understood by viewing audiences which probably don’t understand much about the intricacies of high finance. A film about the most important event of the last ten years, and a ticking time-bomb warning us all that it could happen again, next time with even more dire consequences. MY REVIEW: “THE BIG SHORT IS BRILLIANT”
Spotlight — A very close second in my rankings, in the same spirit of one of my favorite films ever, the 1976 classic “All the President’s Men.” No argument from me if this wins Best Picture (it’s the betting favorite). Riveting drama about The Boston’s Globe’s magnificent press coverage and extraordinary courage in the face of numerous obstacles, going after and ultimately uncovering the detestable sex scandals involving priests, and institutionalized cover up by the Catholic Church. “Spotlight” is a remarkable edge-of-your-seat ride where good ultimately triumphs over evil. This is s film for our times, particularly given the near abdication of responsibility of corporate-owned mass media, once proud bearers of the spotlight which illuminated society’s darkest corners. MY REVIEW: “STANDING TALL IN THE DARKNESS”
Bridge of Spies — You can’t go wrong with Steven Spielberg directing a historical re-enactment starring Tom Hanks. Well-done espionage caper about the 1962 spy exchange between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union that gets all the historical facts correct down to the slightest detail. Beautifully filmed, as is always the case with Spielberg’s work. MY REVIEW: “BRIDGE OF SPIES”
He Named Me Malala — Lesser-known documentary about the remarkable story of a courageous young girl who was shot in the head by Taliban forces in Pakistan, who not only lived to tell about that horror, but became a global champion of girls’ rights during the healing process, and afterward. This is a tear-jerking and fist-raising film that deserves far more attention, given so little empathy of the rights of women in many societies. Curiously, this film wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, continuing the inexplicable bias against documentaries when we supposedly recognize achievement in film. Maybe if the little girl had been white instead, who knows? (could not resist) MY REVIEW: “THE POWER OF ONE VOICE”
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (ROUNDING OUT THE BEST DOZEN)
Brooklyn — Moving coming of age story about an Irish immigrant who comes to America and has to make some difficult decisions in life and love. Interesting cultural insights about the old world versus new, and the uniqueness of each and every immigrant experience. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better eye-opener as to what millions of women had to endure when they sailed in ships across the ocean to start new lives in America. Breakout performance by actress Saoirse Rogan alone makes this worth seeing.
The Age of Adaline — Interesting drama about a beautiful woman of around 30 who doesn’t age, which creates considerable heartache over many decades as she attaches and then gradually detaches from everyone she meets, as a necessity for moving on. Vastly underrated film with relative newcomer-actress Blake Lively deserving more accolades for this empathetic role.
Amy — Well-done documentary portrait about the complex life and tragedy that was Amy Winehouse, the electrifying British soul singer who died a few years ago. Overly long and somewhat overwrought in parts, the movie nonetheless captures the natural energy and undeniable charisma of Winehouse as a stage performer very much in the Billie Holiday mold, who’s life offstage became kindling for the tabloids and ended up being her demise. I’ll also admit some bias with this movie selection, because I’m a big fan of Winehouse.
Black Mass — Far better film than I expected, in the same vein as one of Johnny Depp’s very best films, “Donnie Brasco” made some 20 years earlier. Typical gangster film stands out because it tells the lesser-known story of Whitey Bulger and Irish thugs in Boston (we’ve seen more than enough New York Italian mob movies, by now). Satisfying film for those who like this genre. MY REVIEW: “FASCINATED BY THE DARK SIDE”
Steve Jobs — Complex portrait of one of the most innovative and controversial figures of our time, this film highlights the formative years when Jobs transformed Apple, Inc. into a global business empire and a bell weather of cultural revolution. Excellent performances throughout, particularly the supporting actors, and especially by Michael Fassbender as the title character. MY REVIEW: “STEVE JOBS PEELED DOWN TO HIS CORE”
Where to Invade Next? — Michael Moore is certainly a divisive filmmaker and controversial activist. His latest film release is certain to polarize moviegoers into two distinct camps….those who see the movie and love every minute of it, versus those who would never, ever go to a Michael Moore movie unless they were marched into the cinema at the point of a bayonet. Well-done expose about the stark, sometimes painful differences in politics, economy, and culture between the United States and the rest of the world. Sadly, many of the people who desperately need to understand our world better and come to grips with America’s diminishing role within the global theater will never expose themselves to this bold insight, which ended up making this film’s legacy more reinforcement than conversion.
Trumbo — Film and true story of the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was once accused of being a Communist during the 1950’s and was shunned in Hollywood. Bryan Cranston as the lead character carries this film from start to finish. MY REVIEW: “TRUMBO”
Truth — Mostly ignored and now pretty much forgotten film about the Dan Rather controversy at CBS News which ultimately led to his downfall after nearly a half century as one of the nation’s premier journalists. Cate Blanchett is outstanding in the role as Rather’s executive producer. Rather is played by Robert Redford, which might seem like an odd choice, but he actually becomes convincing after just a few scenes. Clearly, there’s a liberal bias to this film throughout, which makes the CBS team sympathetic to audiences. Nonetheless, the movie gets the facts straight and reveals what happens when things go very badly in journalism. If “Spotlight” was the story of what’s good about media, here’s the darker, far murkier and fraught with excruciating disappointment.
MILD THUMBS UP (RECOMMENDED WITH SOME RESERVATIONS)
The Martian — Critically-acclaimed box-office smash hit directed by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon which seemingly had all the right ingredients to win Best Picture, but upon closer examination seems blemished by far too many unnecessary flaws, including a lackluster ending. Good movie, but nowhere as great as many others suggest, this concocted space adventure about as fulfilling intellectually and emotionally as a small bag of unbuttered popcorn — tasty and then pretty forgetable. A horrific thought: This movie could win Best Picture if the more serious films end up canceling each other out in the Oscar voting. MY REVIEW: “THE MARTIAN”
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — Usually, these tired remakes of old television shows are awful, and some are downright embarrassing — but this was the year’s surprising exception. Fun spy caper set during the swinging 1960’s with some witty dialogue and well-done action sequences filmed in exotic locales.
HIT AND MISS (TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — Destined to disappoint audiences in the wake of the surprise hit that was the first “Marigold” adventure, with an English all-star cast seasoned with non-threatening Indian actors. There’s enough here to bring about a few smiles, and become polite tea conversation, but the film lacks the crisp writing and emotional subplots of the far more successful predecessor.
Chappie — This thriller appeared destined to become a science fiction classic when I initially saw the trailer preview. It’s the story of a robot (Chappie) with whom we develop a strong sentimental attachment. Yet, the filmmakers missed the target badly and ended up making a mildly interesting movie with unfulfilled promises weighed down by far too much action, muddling the larger far more intriguing messages which might have otherwise been explored. I was terribly disappointed by this movie, because there were some interesting themes with enormous potential. Perhaps another movie will come along which could explore this far better.
Trainwreck — Amy Shumer’s self-serving cinematic vehicle has several laughs, a number of gross-out scenes, and is pretty much what you’d expect if you’re familiar with the comic. One admirable quality of Schumer — she’s willing to bare all in this movie without the phoniness of body doubles and crafty editing. It’s refreshing to see a woman with a less than perfect body feel comfortable about herself, particularly onscreen.
Furious 7 — Not a fan of this genre, in fact, I usually hate it — but the action sequences are compelling. About as mindless as a Donald Trump rally, but equally as entertaining in a guilty-pleasure sort of way.
The 33 — Mostly true story, this is a film about the coal miners’ rescue in Chile. Compelling thriller. Decent late-night filler for television, but not worthy of an $11.50 movie ticket. An enjoyable matinee, perhaps and an even better rental or cable offering.
The Hateful Eight — Ultra-violent redux western of pretty much Quentin Tarantino’s entire movie catalog which is all beginning to seem like one film that never ends. Certainly well-made, brilliantly filmed, with several top-notch performances. But the subject matter and gratuitous gore have become way too tiresome for my tastes. It’s like eating a dozen hot fudge sundaes in a row — no matter how good one of them is, we’re sick of staring at the same old thing. MY REVIEW: “WHERE DOES THE HATEFUL EIGHT RANK AMONG QUENTIN TARANTINO FILMS?”
Pawn Sacrifice — Intriguing subject matter, “Pawn Sacrifice” is a historical account of chess madman Bobby Fischer’s epic 1972 match in Iceland against Boris Spassky, played beautifully by Liev Schreiber. I’ve read considerable narratives on the intense political canopy over this mind sport with far reaching ramifications for those who play the game and others mesmerized by it over the centuries, and this film very much captures the spirit of the times and empowers the art of concentration. However, Fischer seems way too sanitized here for my admittedly cynical tastes, due to lead actor Tobey Maguire’s way too-WASPish ways (I’ve never seen anything in Maguire that suggested any acting talent). I wanted to rank this much higher, but in the end we’re pretty much left afterward with nothing we couldn’t otherwise pick up from a PBS documentary.
MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENTS (WHY DID I WASTE TWO HOURS OF MY LIFE?)
A Walk in the Woods — Embarrassing geriatric version of last years hit movie “Wild,” where an oddball senior duo played by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. As painful as it probably was for two old geezers to march hundreds of miles over mountain passes and through thick woods, watching this pointless journey marred by distractions was considerably more painful.
Danny Collins — A WTF moment on Al Pacino’s movie career where be plays the most unconvincing rock icon imaginable. “Danny Collins” locks himself inside a suburban New Jersey Marriott and then tries to write some new songs. If that sounds interesting, and it could be perhaps, the film fails to deliver even a single note of authenticity. A blemish on the resume of anyone whose name is attached to this painfully awful film.
Avengers: Age of Ultron — Several months after seeing this movie, now I can’t remember a single thing about it, other than I did somehow pay for a ticket somewhere. That tells me everything about a movie that left no lingering impression whatsoever. I would Google search the title so I could write something that could be of mild interest, but why bother?
Youth — Probably the year’s most disappointing movie in so many ways, given the vast potential of subject matter. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel reminisce about life and lost love in this sleeper with buoyed by gorgeous scenery, a marvelous film score, and some nice moments which get lost in a rudderless story with no apparent point, nor closure.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation — The MI series has become about as tiresome as the worn-out James Bond franchise, yet another stale platter of mindless action sequences occasionally interrupted by third-rate dialogue, stretched out into a wristwatch-gazing, “is it over yet?” duration where the movie’s most satisfying scene is the final credits. I’m also to the point where Tom Cruise’s affection for the ruinous con-job that is Scientology bothers me so much, that I no longer respect him nor his film projects.
The Lady in the Van — I don’t want to call this movie slow and boring, but the broken down van which become the unlikely home for an elderly lady played by Maggie Smith moves faster than this instantly forgettable (albeit true) story of the burden of guilt and unreciprocated compassion. Wasted potential.
Stonewall — This movie is something of a miracle. Somehow the filmmakers managed to make one of the landmark events in civil rights history, which was the 1970 raid by New York City police on a gay nightclub in Greenwich Village which triggered protests and eventually helped to facilitate a much wider movement, into a meandering bore. That’s as much a miracle, as a travesty.
Burnt — Bradly Cooper now is apparently signing his name to any movie project before he reads the script. What could have and should have been this year’s “Chef” instead turned into an over-baked excuse for the half-shaven Cooper to gaze into the camera and woo hearts with his baby-blue eyes. If that’s your idea of a movie, then enjoy!
Spectre — I can’t put it more clearly than this, from my review posted last year: “Spectre” is yet another money-grubbing conglomeration prioritizing profits and slick product placement over any auspicious of creative originality. The Bond movies don’t even attempt to pretend they’re imaginative anymore. The fault lies entirely with Barbara Broccoli, who inherited the lucrative global franchise from her late father, the real brains, who now must be spinning in his grave and begging for his offspring to stop the recycling. Long ago, she ruined the final vestiges of Bond’s endearing legacy by pumping out new Bond movies every two years — script or no script — much to the concupiscent chorus of multi-national sponsors willing to stick a big fat check in her pocket. One gets the impression that everything in this movie is for sale and the Bond marketing team would go to any lengths to squeeze as much as they can to keep the doe flowing in — film critics be damned. Why make a decent movie, if the suckers will stand in line and buy the tickets anyway.” If that’s way too long to digest, then here’s my one word description: Garbage. MY REVIEW: “HOMICIDAL LONER AND SERIAL ADULTERER IDOLIZED BY AUDIENCES
BOMBS (WALK OUTS — I WANT MY MONEY BACK!)
The Peanuts Movie — How did a movie about one of the most beloved casts in popular culture, the Charlie Brown and friends gang, become so utterly uninteresting and uninspiring? Watching this from start to finish was about as enjoyable as cleaning up a warm pile of Snoopy’s dog shit.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens — For however many hundreds of millions of wasted dollars was blown up on this mind-boggling mess that predictably became a box-office smash for no other reason than it fellated the cravings of a legion of lackeys begging for yet another spaceship movie, mass audiences would have been far better off had the corporate money grubbers spent a few bucks on a script (Google it please — S-C-R-I-P-T), which perhaps might have even professed some kind of thoughtful point about our universal existence. Instead, the movie’s end product amounts to little more than the clutter of space debris surrounded by unidentified gases. War games, outlandish monster-characters, and advanced high-tech imagery isn’t used merely as an accompaniment, but has become the crutch. Indeed, “Star Wars” has become an indictment of everything wrong with today’s movie industry. My pain will only worsen as Disney has bought the rights and is destined to fuck the franchise like the lone hooker parked next to a Navy base. It’s not that “Star Wars” is necessarily the worst film of the year, only that it’s a monumentally unsatisfying waste of creative resources. MY REVIEW: “WHY I’M BOYCOTTING STAR WARS”
Hail Caesar — Cringe worthy “comedy” loaded with an all-star cast, which becomes a monumental test of patience to endure to a pointless conclusion. Half-witted plot with disjoined scenes that don’t add up result in what’s perhaps the worst Coen Brothers movie made yet. MY REVIEW: “FAIL CAESAR! (COEN BROTHERS DROP ANOTHER BOMB)”
MOVIES I WOULD NOT GO SEE (FOR LESS THAN $100 IN COMPENSATION)
The Boy Next Door — Yet another stink bomb starring would-be singer and faux-actress Jennifer Lopez. Seriously, has she been in a movie that was worth a shit since her debut in “Selena” in which all that was required was she play herself? Reviews mentioned this film was unintentionally hysterical, which now makes me wish I’d seen it and written a review.
Mortdecai — Johnny Depp outdoes himself yet again with another quirky character appealing to absolutely no one.
Fifty Shades of Grey — There are some interesting mainstream movies about sexual awakening and risque behavior, as “9 and 1/2 Weeks” comes to mind. Then, there’s this soft core porn that’s about as interesting and exciting as reading the instructions on a blow up doll, not that I have any experience with that sort of thing. MY REVIEW: “50 SHADES OF JOHN C. REILLY”
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 — Some future MBA student will be doing a thesis on how a major movie studio green-lighted this fecal matter masquerading as a “comedy.”
Ted 2 — A movie made about a profanity-spewing doll with a thick New York accent sounds about as interesting as a two-hour conversation with Mark Wahlberg, which appears to pretty much be the same thing for a pointless remake of an earlier movie that was depressingly unfunny.
Pixels — Adam Sandler stars. Enough said. Box office robbery. There should be a class-action lawsuit.
Rock the Casbah — Fresh off some great roles and something of a comeback as lead actor, Bill Murray decided to go dumb and stupid again, inexplicably starring in this xenophobic rubbish that was yanked from theaters before the critics had a chance to trash it.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Another milk-the-movie-cow 2% low-fat fix for mindless simpletons, a cinematic crowbar designed to crack open the wallets of the 16-24 movie demographic. This amounts to a lazy substitute for one of those trashy futuristic paperbacks for people who cannot read.
Sisters — The contemporary female’s deconstruction of Laurel and Hardy and/or Abbott and Costello lacks one fundamental difference from their legendary comedic predecessors. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey
rip off the public once again star in yet another instantly forgettable film that looks like it was written over a drunken weekend in a frat house and filmed in a single take. The anti-thesis of movie comedy.
POPULAR MOVIES I DID NOT SEE (NO OPINION)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Son of Saul
Straight Outta’ Compton
The Danish Girl
Our Brand is Crisis