2016 will likely reside in people’s memories as one of the worst. The political sphere embarrassed itself with numerous reactionary stances, and cultural icons became the latest endangered species.
Despite a pall of gloom falling over the world, there was plenty of opportunity for escapism through the silver screen. 2016 fielded a bumper crop of high quality cinema, and even the missteps were notable for being entertaining.
It would be wrong to write an article on how strong the year was without mentioning the Glasgow Film Festival, which hosted a great line-up including premieres of the Cohen brother’s raucous 50s send up Hail, Caesar!, and Charlie Kaufman’s introspective triumph Anomalisa, which made audiences cringe at its mix of relatable trauma and painstakingly animated stop-motion sex.
Over the pond, Marvel and Disney swung its monolithic franchise spanning form into first gear with Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange, a trio of films that dared to tamper with the tried and true formulas of previous more anodyne entries into their growing cannon. Where Deadpool bristled with irreverence and bawdy, Civil War and Doctor Strange felt like the truest adaptations of print to screen, the latter capturing Steve Ditko’s doors of perception fuelled dimension hopping with gleeful verve; thumbs up Marvel, there’s life in the old beast yet.
The big screen arthouse flicks were divisive, with newcomer Robert Eggers The VVitch scooping up bags of critical praise to go along with its mountains of placid dread and uncompromising observation of real biblical fear. Elsewhere, Nicolas Winding-Refn executed The Neon Demon in such a purposefully vacuous manner that its hard not to be impressed by its glossy sheen, even if it is as mentally nutritious as a bag of stale popcorn. Luckily, Lucile Hadžihalilović was on hand to present us with the devilishly subversive science fiction horror Evolution.
Fans of grittier cinema got to enjoy Jeremy Saulnier’s brutal dissection of a group of progressive punks at the hands of neo-nazis in Green Room. One of the secret best films of the year, it stands as an eerily precient piece of political cinema given the return of hard edge far right antagonists. Those more in tune with absurd comedy also got a dose of what was to come in the political sphere with Rachel Tsangari’s dressing down of the pitfalls of braggadocio and the male ego in Chevalier.
Whilst we’re on the topic of horrific things inflicted on unwitting audiences, DC decided to make Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, two of the most insipid and irredeemable pieces of cinema in recent memory. Essentially extended trailers, scattershot pieces of cynical content delivery without the good grace to end within 3 minutes, they tried to do everything that Marvel had spent the best part of 5 years to achieve in the space of 5 hours and ended up failing to make the grade.
Not every studio had forgotten how to execute tried and tested formulas. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival was an exhilarating return to the heady heights of the cerebral SciFi film, not frightened of tackling its weighty source material appropriately and without condescension that treated us to another in a long list of pitch perfect Amy Adams performances. Shane Black also continued his run of rapier sharp caper films with The Nice Guys, another film that is covertly one of the better releases of the year despite receiving minimal fanfare.
In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, Disney’s Zootopia became the first Disney animated release to rival the best of Pixar’s output, by being a witty, if slightly on the nose film about tolerance in a multicultural society which makes it seem like the writers knew something the rest of us didn’t about some political inclinations and political events. The only thing threatening Zootopia’s place in end of year line-ups is Studio Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings, a mind bendingly beautiful piece stop-motion animation with real heart and a more mature attitude to death than any number of ill-advised bleached out superhero films.
Finally, as Oscar Season looms, we find ourselves in the odd position of wondering what will clean the house: Damien Chazelle’s irrepressibly joyful La La Land, or Scorsese’s Silence, an uncompromising and exhausting examination of the dilemmas of faith? Either way, 2017 has its work cut out for it, and we’re probably going to need as big a dose of escapism as we can get.
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