Not necessarily the best movies of the past 12 months, the following list of flicks are the ones that kept me most entertained. The list is roughly in order.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – the Touring Years
My introduction to the Beatles’ music was through hearing them on radio on family car trips in the 1970s and later through compilation tapes. Even as I grew to love the tunes, I don’t think I ever really understood the phenomenon of Beatlemania – 200,000 fans turned out to see the band in Adelaide in the early 1960s – or even the impact of the music itself until this clever (admittedly somewhat hagiographic) documentary. Assembled from concert footage, still photographs and a combination of archival and new interviews, here is a film that enthrals and informs. Good job Ron Howard.
A sad-sack mummy’s boy hairdresser, a hard-smoking middle-aged grocery store owner, her drop-out niece and a slew of fringe-dweller associates doesn’t sound like the most encouraging cast of characters. Yet it all comes together in this cleverly crafted and beautifully executed small-town French dramedy.
This surprising shoot-’em-up could be described as “John Wick meets Rainman“, or as my buddy Derek Agnew puts it, “autistic Batman”. As strange as that sounds, it absolutely works.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The best film of the long-running franchise hands down. Highlights were Ben Mendelsohn’s turn as an ambitious Imperial higher-up, the toughest blind swordsman since Zatoichi, and the most fearsome Darth Vader yet (even if James Earl Jones’ voice sounds a little off in a young villain).
Our Kind of Traitor
Adaptations of John Le Carre can get bogged down in the characters’ internal struggles and torments, expressed through interminable periods of waiting and anguish (for the audience). Yet this lively intrigue is expertly paced, and buoyed by great turns from Stellan Skarsgard as a whistleblower Russian mobster, and Damien Lewis as an MI6 operative bent on revenge.
The old maestro Clint Eastwood does it again in this telling of the day an airliner made an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City. It’s way more moving than that sounds. (Idea: I’d love to see directors sneak in a shot of Wilson the volleyball from Castaway into all future Tom Hanks movies, just for old times’ sake).
There is a small sub-genre of films (Music Box, High Crimes) where a character is made to look so guilty the audience thinks they can’t possibly be the culprit. Is the lovely Marion Cottilard really working for the Germans?
The Sweeney Paris
Gee it’s good to see the hangdog yet charismatic Jean Reno back on screen in this French (of course) police procedural, which features the best street gunfight since Heat. Zut alors!
The Secret Life of Pets
For this animated treat I found myself being that idiot who laughs loudest in the cinema. Enough said.
David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive 3D
Part of the attraction was no doubt the free ticket and choctop, but my first trip to the Imax cinema was a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Explanations and extras
Looking through this list, what stands out is the lack of depth, nuance and variety. I definitely was drawn to the escapist flick in 2016. And for this I do not apologise. Surely since the moment the Lumiere brothers showed footage of steam trains coming and going, the point of cinema is transport (no pun intended) rather than edification?
I have no doubt a good part of the enjoyment of the Beatles docco and Rosalie Blum was pleasant surprise – the sense of low expectations being easily exceeded.
The decision to see both movies resulted from sessions for other preferences being sold out, filled by the organised and well mobilised silver foxes of Cinema Como and Palace Balwyn, respectively.
After reading a glowing review on The Onion AV Club, I felt pretty let down by Midnight Special and its very silly cop-out ending. But the whole thing, really. Just dumb.
I had problems with Arrival too, the main ones being understanding how giant squid could build spaceships, and the deus ex machina of the aliens’ “gift”. What a come-down from Sicario for director Denis Villeneuve!
La La Land was quite good, but after it received a record number of Oscar nominations, I’m wondering if I missed something. Many of its tunes sounded like the forgettable filler in an Andrew Lloyd Webber production. And like the director’s previous film Whiplash, the conclusion was astonishingly discordant with what came before.
I walked out on the creepy, exploitative The Witch.
Hell or High Water was a film I wanted to like more, but couldn’t (and didn’t).
Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea were two films I didn’t get around to seeing before the Australia Day deadline.
I also heard Korean zombie epic Train to Busan was worth a look, too. The trailer makes it look like Snowpiercer meets World War Z. I probably won’t see that one. In 2017 I am going to be more discerning, I swear.