What a bizarre year 2016 was. From a truly upsetting end to a grueling election cycle here in the US, to the multitude of celebrity deaths, it felt as though we might not make it to the finish line. And yet, here we are, on the second day of 2017, and we’ve made it so far.
Before we completely close and set fire to the book on 2016, let me take a look back at the new-to-me films watched during this hellscape of a year. Overall, I managed to watch about 207 total films, down from previous years. I plan to watch even less in 2017, focusing my attention more on books and visiting the art museum. However, I have a stack of Criterions that I have yet to see, and a Coen brothers blogathon to organize for later this year.
With that said, here are the 53 first time views I saw in 2016, haphazardly piled and ranked for your perusal:
The “don’t bother watching again” pile:
The Other Guys; Don’t Torture a Duckling
The “might watch again if it came on cable TV and had nothing better to do” pile:
Deadpool; Final Destination 2; Atari: Game Over; Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff; Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy
The “would probably watch again on Netflix during a binge” pile:
Red 2; Final Destination; Team Foxcatcher; 30 for 30: The Prince of Pennsylvania; Ghostbusters (2016); World War Z; My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2; Office Christmas Party
The “need to watch it again to formulate a proper/better opinion” pile:
We Need To Talk About Kevin; Purple Rain; Hail, Caesar!; Don’t Breathe; The X From Outer Space; The Ghost of Frankenstein; Coffy; Brides of Dracula
The “pleasant surprise” pile:
World of Tomorrow; This is 40; Bad Grandpa; The Wizard of Speed and Time (short); Color Me Blood Red; The Revenge of Frankenstein; Horror Express; Are You Being Served: The Movie; 22 Jump Street; Blood and Black Lace; The Living Skeleton
The “I hated this film and will make sure everyone knows it” pile:
The Lovely Bones. I have never seen a film quite as offensive as this. I don’t remember the book being this terrible; in fact, I thought the book was fascinating, a mix of YA fiction and family drama that offered no joy in Susie Salmon’s death and afterlife. The film version makes Susie’s afterlife look candy-colored and beautiful, which disturbed me deeply. Perhaps part of my discomfort comes from the fact that Saoirse Ronan in this film looks so much like my friend’s daughter. Netflix had a lot of trouble playing this film for me; maybe I should have taken that as a sign.
The “disappointing sequels” pile:
Captain America: Civil War; The Conjuring 2
The Top 15 FTVs for 2016:
15 (tie). Shin Godzilla (2016) and Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)
I wrote longform about Shin Godzilla here, and briefly about Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell here. Both films were true highlights of the year, absolute products of their home country, and have a very high probability of being annual favorites for me.
14. Alice, Sweet Alice (a.k.a. Communion, 1976)
A twisty, creepy slasher film inspired by Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), this film features several memorable kills and a mean anti-Catholic streak a mile wide. Horror trivia: special effects and assistant camerawork for Alice, Sweet Alice were done by William Lustig, who would later direct the classic exploitation film Maniac (1980).
13. Rogue One (2016)
I dislike most prequels that exist merely to explain a particular thing, especially when particular thing doesn’t require explanation. I find it annoying at best, a complete waste of time that adds nothing to the original film at worst. However, Rogue One is the rare prequel (though not exactly officially labeled as one) that enriches the overall Star Wars universe, by telling the tale of how the Death Star plans were stolen. It’s a war film by design, in which a ragtag team finds themselves tasked with breaking into an enemy stronghold to get the McGuffin. We the audience get to see more of the Rebellion against the Empire, gaining a broader perspective on the motivations for characters like Leia Organa and Han Solo.
12. Grey Gardens (1975), b/w Documentary Now’s “Sandy Passage” episode (2015)
I wish I had watched these in the right order. As it stands, Grey Gardens was a strangely delightful experience, although maybe a bit uncomfortable at times, and “Sandy Passage” just proves that Bill Hader is a complete genius.
11. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
The first nu-Trek to feel like a REAL Star Trek film. Finally. Sadly, we’ve lost Ensign Chekhov.
10. Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains (1982)
Punk film about punk girls and the punks who love them. A big fuck you to men everywhere.
09. Our Mother’s House (1967)
Knowing nothing about this film going into it, I thought it was going to be a black comedy about a family of children forced to evade notice from neighbors and authorities alike when their mother dies. While that is indeed the crux of the plot, it plays out as drama that evolves into a horror as the children’s long-gone father (Dirk Bogarde) comes back into the picture. Creepy, disturbing, and with one hell of an ending, Our Mother’s House won’t be soon forgotten.
08. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
A dreamlike fairy tale that’s strong on imagery and short on coherence, this is a stark reminder that at its core, film is a visual medium. More here.
07. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
The incredible debut from Dario Argento shows that giallo was always his strong suit, at least in the 70s and early 80s. A perfect set up to later films like Deep Red (1975) and Tenebre (1982).
06. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Another fortuitous debut film, this from John Huston, and the first notable American film noir. Add this to the collection of films in which the thing everyone is after is just dust in the wind.
05. Elvis & Nixon (2016)
A truly bizarre film that documents the iconic meeting between Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) and then-President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey), this has to be seen to be believed and even then, I’m almost not sure I believe it. Shannon embodies the role of Elvis, as opposed to playing Elvis impersonator, making us believe in the reasons he would want to meet with Nixon, whether we agree or not.
04. The Uninvited (1944)
Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey buy a haunted house in Cornwall and while there are plenty of ghostly frights, there’s a healthy dose of romance and comedy as well. Charming, with crisp cinematography and the perfect cast. As I’ve said before, Ray Milland could get it.
03. Shock Corridor (1963)
Mental breakdown for the sake of a Pulitzer is no way to operate, but that doesn’t stop Peter Breck from having himself committed to research a murder at a mental hospital. Writer/director Samuel Fuller deftly weaves a story that moves from thriller to drama to outright horror, leaving us shaken to our core.
02. All That Jazz (1979)
A pure piece of phantasmagorical horror presented as a musical autobiography of Bob Fosse. Don’t let the trailer fool you – this film is profoundly upsetting, hilarious, and beyond anything I’ve experienced in years. Fosse casts Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon, a hard-living, sex-fueled, chain-smoking workaholic theater director whose life is on the brink of ending. He sends himself off in spectacular fashion, with the biggest musical number of all, in an eerily prescient and stunningly abrupt conclusion (Fosse himself died of a heart attack in 1987).
01. The Witch (2015)
Equal parts horror and historical fiction, The Witch doesn’t hide its endgame at all, making us feel completely powerless as we watch the family unit dissolve and self-destruct right in front of our eyes. It is truly wonderful being in the hands of a controlled madman, and director Robert Eggers indeed has this power; he draws the film out to its inevitable conclusion, in which young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) finally makes her way into the woods, without ever dragging us or the story too slowly along. I’m genuinely curious to see what his next feature will be, and hope that it will be just as brilliant as The Witch.