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2016 Movie List

January 1, 2017

In 2016, I watched 27 movies. 10 I saw in theaters, and re-watched 6. 12 were animated, two were documentaries, and 10 were international (counting a bunch of Miyazaki). It was an okay year for movies, it got stronger at the end.

The Hateful Eight

Staehli and I saw this in 70mm as part of a special roadshow, on New Year’s Day. This version had an overture, and an intermission. We had very conflicted feelings about this movie in part because we saw it with an audience. Tarantino is making a point with the grotesque amount of violence in this movie as a commentary about Westerns and the myth making around them by shoving many gross things together: confederate generals, a black bounty hunter who torturers his victims, and just all around bad types of folks. But the audience we saw this with responded to some of these things with laughter, specifically when terrible things happen to the sole female and black character. They seemed to find the violence genuinely funny versus more as a commentary about how white men oppress and abuse both women. Tarantino is a smart filmmaker, these things are intentional, but at the same time, I don’t think the audience was watching for the same reasons Staehli and I were. This movie kind of gave Staehli and I a hangover. Also, no reason to see it in 70mm when all Tarantino does is use it to shoot super wide interiors.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Jake had a series of showings of Lord of the Rings on the enormous screen in my (now former) apartment. People came over, we talked over/watched this. Although the commentary about the films from ardent book readers seems more poignant now about the cost of war, and how Peter Jackson didn’t seem to understand the ending, which is why there are like five of them.

Attack the Block

Staehli has a small (read: large) crush on John Boyega, especially after The Force Awakens. His other major movie appearance was in Attack the Block, which I saw on my birthday a few years ago. Knowing what kind of movie you’re getting helps enormously (this was getting a ton of hype as a cool monster movie, but that’s not all it is). I liked it a lot more the second time around. It builds characters well, the action is well shot, the monster design is pretty cool, and it actually has some interesting things to say about teenage masculinity and poverty.

Deadpool

Staehli and I saw this on a date night, and it was both fun, and more conventional than I was expecting. Ryan Reynolds does an excellent job with Deadpool (and apparently got the job by simply just never going away). It is more stylized and cruder than other Marvel Movies, which in some way is a benefit, because I remember more of this movie than the second Thor movie.

The Master

I really enjoy the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, I think he’s one of the major American filmmaking talents working today, his films always have ambition. I had always heard good things about The Master, which outlines the beginnings of Scientology (or a cult much like it). This movie is intense, and I was surprised at how well Joaquin Phoenix’s character and acting stood up to Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was expecting his character to simply bow to the charismatic force of will that was Lancaster Dodd, but this much more of a sparring match between the two characters, about one who has the indomitable will, and one who is just plain wild. This movie is mesmerizing with its camera and editing. I think this would reward re-watching.

A Cat in Paris

Both The Master and this movie had sat lounging in my Netflix “to watch” list for some time (literal years). Staehli and I both share a love of animation, so we sat down to watch this short (~1 hour) long french film. It’s a cute story about a cat who accompanies a cat burglar on his rounds, and then returns to his normal life as a pet to a family. All sorts of hijinks ensue when a young girl follows the cat to figure out where he goes at night. We liked it, and the animation, while pretty different than most American animation, is quite good and stylized, very good night scenes to set the mood.

April and the Extraordinary World

One of my favorite film critics is Tasha Robinson. I discovered her while she was at the A.V. Club, followed her to the sadly defunct The Dissolve, and then over to The Verge. She’s a big animation buff as well, and she recommended this. It had a special one-weekend exclusive at SIFF, so Staehli and I got tickets. This was a totally unexpected silly and great animated feature. French, but drawn in more of a French-Belgian Tin Tin style, this tells the story of a time when the Industrial Revolution never really got going, so everything is still steam powered, leading to intense deforestation. The world’s great minds are disappearing, including the parents of a young girl. She is left to attempt to solve the scientific puzzle they were working on, while also eluding the police. This movie is funny, full of excitement, and a surprisingly great message for family. The grandfather in this movie is amazing, and the clockwork gadgets are all great. Totally recommend.

My Neighbor Totoro

My friend Aaron has hosted a few movie nights this year, nearly always featuring something from Studio Ghibli. I got to see Totoro again, which was sweeter than I remembered from last year, and still absolutely gorgeous. I think there’s just enough spice of the unreal here to help the story move along.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind

I think I’ve seen Nausicaa more than any other Miyazaki film now. This viewing felt longer, and the Ohm still freak me out a bit, mostly because I have a fear of enormous bugs from watching Them at too young of an age. How can she be so calm?! The movie came across darker this time, especially when compared to Totoro, but still quality.

The Road to El Dorado

Staehli and I had never seen this, and again, we like animated movies. This vocal pairing, of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh is actually brilliant. This movie was also supposed to be fabulously gay, but there was a little subtext, and even there, it was very sub, not much text. Thought this was 15 years ago in a Disney film. This is the one of early DreamWorks animation films, and it show.The production design is lavish, but the plot and character design is all a bit thin. Missing the Disney powerhouses they left.

Best of Enemies

This was a documentary about a series of debates featuring Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. I was sick, in a weird mood, and this was not terribly captivating. Also, apparently this took nearly a decade to make apparently, so some of the people who were interviewed like Christopher Hitchens, were dead by the time this came out. Basically their debates introduced the concept of the talking head in part because ABC couldn’t afford to pay people to cover the electoral convention like CBS and NBC could, so they offered counter programming. The history is sort of interesting, but at the same time, this isn’t a very good documentary.

Dope

I remember wanting to see this, and Staehli was game. This is actually a charming, funny, broader-than-expected take on black youth in LA. I thought it was going to be “all-in-one-day” type films, but it actually takes place over the course of a year. And it resists moralizing or being a movie deliberately making a statement about black youth. Our protagonist Malcolm is a nerd, trying to make his way to college, and this presents his struggle to get there. It’s a good slice of life portrayal that you should see.

How to Train Your Dragon

Saw this at Nick and Megan’s when they switched over to movie nights for the summer instead of TV nights. Still gorgeous animation and still quite funny. One of Jay Baruchel’s best roles.

Ghostbusters (new)

New lady Ghostbusters! This movie was pretty funny, and the obvious standout is Kate McKinnon. All sorts of ladies discovered they had enormous crushes on her character, which is fair, she’s pretty badass. There are some interesting set pieces, but at the same time, some of the editing, especially at the end, is really off, as it seems they cut a bunch of stuff that could have been meaningful? The villain is a but underdeveloped, but at the same, perfect for the kind of response the movie got. There are some smart things happening here, it just doesn’t cohere as well as one might hope.

Kubo and the Two Strings

I really like the work of Laika Animation studios, they’re more offbeat than Pixar, willing to take some chances with a traditional format of stop motion that no one else does. This movie is fantastically inventive and I had to keep reminding myself that they basically hand-built (with the aid of some neat 3D printing technology apparently) everything in this movie. Staehli got all sorts of references to Japanese culture that she kindly explained to be afterward. She had a profound emotional reaction to it, whereas I had a more muted reaction to it. It was still very good though. It’s a story about stories.

The Secret Life of Arrieitty

Aaron had another movie night, this one featuring two more Miyazaki movies. I had forgotten this one existed, and saw it for the first time. Most people describe it as “basically, the Borrowers.” This is true, but it also a weirder twist in that the big person who discovers them is basically really sick, and can’t do much to help them. The animation is very well done, and does some fun things with scope, size, and picturing the terrifying world that these small people must inhabit that seems perfectly normal to us. There’s very little dramatic tension here, more of an exploration about two different worlds.

Porco Rosso

I remember this as being the weirder and most-nonsensical of the Miyazaki movies I saw while doped up on pain medication from my wisdom tooth removal in late August. Not being doped up on meds, I think this is probably the funniest and most adult of the Miyazaki movies. It’s silly, but it also features dating, a young female engineer, pirates, and a man and a pig fighting for her future. It’s rollicking good fun, and I could what I missed before.

Zootopia

This movie was great! It was funny, had a believable twist, excellent characterization, and man it have some discourse! All sorts of things about race are coded into this movie in a way that is respectful, and a great primer for children. This is more than simply “all people are equal” or “don’t judge people by their appearances,” this movie gets into actual shades of gray in ways that I think kids could relate to. This movie was inventive and interesting, and I loved all the little references. A great film.

The Big Short

Sick over a long weekend when Staehli was away, I spent some more time with my Netflix queue. The Big Short caught all sorts of Oscar heat that I wasn’t expecting, so I decided to check it out. This movie was sort of funny, but mostly made me very angry, which is what Adam McKay was going for. This was an engaging blow-by-blow for how the 2008 economic crash came to be. It was very informative, and fact checking later, was pretty spot on for how everything happened. It’s weird to see how Adam McKay has evolved as a filmmaker. This was a little rough, but compared his comedies of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, this is pretty different in style. It works well though.

The Hunter

I remember seeing a trailer for this several years ago and thinking it looked moody and tense, a different kind of thriller. This is both true and not true. Willem Defoe is a professional hunter hired to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger, which is believed to be extinct. This no easy feat, as this beast has eluded capture for the past seventy years, and it’s in a very, very remote part of Tasmania. Defoe is magnetic and portrays someone who is pretty independent, though he grows to care for the family that he is staying with between two week-long trips out into the wilderness. This proves to be the big push-and-pull, with some various political overlay about the logging industry. This is a small little movie that I enjoyed quite a bit. Not life changing, but interesting and good.

City of Gold

Jonathan Gold was the first (and only) food critic to earn a Pulitzer prize in criticism. He operates entirely in LA, and has become the pre-eminent food critic there in part because he does not disdain the many ethnic cuisines that exist there in less-than-fancy digs. He’s reviewed taco trucks, pop-ups, and fancy restaurants. This documentary explores his life and the restaurants he’s helped keep open or bring awareness too. This documentary was less comprehensive than I was hoping for, in part because I think Jonathan was not terribly forthcoming about elements of her personal life.

Shin Godzilla

Staehli was incredibly excited about the new Godzilla movie, in part because it was directed by the main creative mind behind Neon Genesis Evangalion. She arranged the tickets, and I agreed to show up. I didn’t even see a trailer. I was delightfully surprised at the depth and nuance in this Godzilla movie. I haven’t seen the original Godzilla, only the late series where he did battle with a variety of other giant monsters, and the bad 1998 remakes with Jean Reno doing a cowboy accent. Big monster movies are fun, but this was something else. Imagine that giant monster does attack, but also fades off. What is the government response? How do those decisions get made? How does that affect the response of the normal people, or other parts of the government? This movie asks those questions, which I’ve never seen asked before in a giant monster movie. It’s about efficiency across government, but also the government actually doing something, attempting to address what is effectively an environmental disaster gone terribly, terribly awry. There is wry humor, funny special effects, and not only that, but I felt Godzilla’s menace here like I hadn’t ever before. I actually believed that maybe Tokyo just wouldn’t exist any more, and that humans had shuffled themselves off the mortal coil. But the movie takes a different tack, which is probably for the better.

The Handmaiden

Earlier this year, I showed Staehli an article about a lesbian Korean drama directed by the same person as Oldboy. She was very excited about it, and kept more tabs on it than I did. Again, I don’t think I saw a trailer for this movie, I only knew that Staehli was excited about it. I’ve taken to watching fewer trailers, just because they tend to give so much away these days, and that really helped me with this film. This is one of the best movies I watched this year. It’s twisty, it’s turny, it’s sensual, it thrills, it chills, it empowers. Go see this movie.

The Cat Returns

Aaron strikes again with a Studio Ghibli movie that sounds like it was written by a committee of 8-year olds. A girl saves a cat, who it turns out was the Prince of all Cats. To thank her, the cats decide she should be turned into a cat, and marry the Prince. She seeks help from a cat statue come to life, a rebellious fat cat, and a crow. Hijinks ensue. The voice actors only sort of make sense. Elliot Gould does a voice! I don’t know why! It makes like no sense. This is a kid’s movie, with kid logic, and could have benefitted from some wine.

Arrival

Staehli and I saw the trailer for this movie before the Handmaiden, and were sold. We caught it a few weeks later, and couldn’t be more pleased. This science fiction movie was dreamy, circular, and perplexing. Amy Adams does a wonderful job selling a linguistics professor who is struggling through a problem unlike anyone has ever faced.

Rogue One

New Star Wars movie! That isn’t officially labeled a Star Wars movie! This movie has a lot going for it. It has an amazing cast, a clearly defined concept, good special effects, and a great use of camera to create spectacle. The plot is a little muddy, especially at the beginning, and a few of the characters don’t…really…have motivations, but despite this, the movie makes you care about them in the final act, when they risk it all. This movie makes you understand why Darth Vader is feared across the galaxy, and the stakes everyone is playing for in A New Hope. A good movie.

Moana

Apparently this was the year of the animated film, and Staehli and I capped it off with a final animated movie. Moana is Disney’s latest film, and follows in the fine traditions of musical princess movies. This was a very worthy entry into that genre, one of Disney’s best in years. It helps that the music was written by phenom Lin-Manuel Miranda. The animation here is stunning, gorgeous, the story is a hero’s journey, but filled with doubt, and emotion. I liked it a lot. The songs are also very catchy.

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