2016 may have been an armpit of a year, but at least I kept one of my resolutions: maintaining a film diary. Below is every movie I watched this year, with some thoughts. Mostly based off this year’s wide release calendar, there are several likely awards contenders I haven’t gotten to yet. 2016 theatrical releases are in bold.
*new release, streaming platform
01 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
04 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
07 – STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS – a tough sit. for like a week i thought i was going to be a completist and watch all of the clone wars, including the movie. this convinced me not to go down that path and instead i’ll now cherrypick episodes relevant to my interests (like the stuff with yoda’s vision quest, onderon, etc). maybe someday.
09 – KILL BILL: VOL. 1
10 – KILL BILL: VOL. 2 – i haven’t seen the super-duper four-hour mashed-together cut, but in my experience it’s just as interesting putting a little distance between watching the two films instead of a double feature. they really are very different, vol. 1 all blood and fury and mise-en-scene and vol. 2 being enough movie to make up for it.
11 – CAROL, THEY CAME TOGETHER – there’s a lot of things to love about CAROL, especially the glorious 16mm cinematography and one of the best scores of 2015.
17 – THE REVENANT – i lost sleep last year worrying about whether i liked BIRDMAN OR: THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE or not, and what kind of person that made me. well, not this year. fuck this movie.
20 – THE BIG SHORT
21 – BROOKLYN – i found this movie to be a delightful little surprise, and judging by their reactions the other two people in the theater did too.
28 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – ok, so maybe i should explain myself a little here. this movie was a big deal, and i am a star wars nerd. i made it my goal to see this movie in every format i could, and i managed to see it in 2d, 3d (w/ and w/o dolby atmos, w/ d-box), liemax (sorry, imax digital), and 70mm 2d imax dome. did not get to see this in a standard full-size imax theater, which i regret.
04- HAIL, CAESAR! – too bad this got passed by so quickly. as much as i love THE LADYKILLERS, this is a lot better.
07 – ANOMALISA
09 – LOVE, THE SIGNAL – william eubank double feature. i like this guy’s style and want to see what he’s up to next, even if neither of these films are actually all that successful. LOVE is very odd.
11 – DEADPOOL – i was a little disappointed in this.
15 – DEADPOOL – i went back to check and make sure i didn’t miss anything. maybe the gonzo subversive deconstructionist movie i really wanted was in there somewhere? not really.
22- THE WITCH, THE WITCH – i don’t know what it was (i don’t even like horror movies usually), but this movie fucking spoke to me. the whole thing is spectacularly disquieting and viciously confident, especially for a first-time filmmaker. maybe still my #1 film of the year?
02 – GODS OF EGYPT – if you have hbo, you should go and watch like the first 10 minutes of this movie. insane and profoundly misguided on basically every level, but you have to give it points for managing to exist in spite of itself.
03 – ZOOTOPIA, BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN, TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE – commentary on modern american society triple feature.
08 – ZOOTOPIA – it’s no secret that the process of creating a modern disney animated movie is the polar opposite of what you’d call the standard auteur-based mode of filmmaking; every conceivable thing from the overall plot to the way an elephant’s tail, poking out from a little hole near the bottom of a modest floral-print dress, jiggles as the elephant shifts its weight from foot to foot, standing upright as an elephant is typically not wont to do, is taken into meticulous account. this relentless collective workshopping has the potential to snuff the soul out of a film, but in this case disney has wrought a near-immaculate construction that zips forward with tireless efficiency and bursts at the seams with catch-it-on-your-third-or-fourth-viewing-level detail.
11 – ZOOTOPIA
15 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE – quite effective, and promising as a working example of how to make a quality product like this in the studio system for not a ton of money. a little chamber piece that almost convinces you it’s something bigger.
20 – SHAOLIN SOCCER
24 – 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
25 – BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – everything that was not good about this movie compounded itself even further in SUICIDE SQUAD. dc needs to cut it with the macho bullshit and really examine why all of disney’s various franchises are not only printing money but inspiring devotion in snobs like me while dc is left trying to manhandle its way in while shouting nonsense and wondering why nobody wants to be its friend. dare i say, trumpist?
29 – ELECTION – every time i watch this, i always forget just how vicious it is. has also proved spookily relevant to our current political situation.
30 – BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – tried it again to make sure i didn’t miss something. nope, this movie is not good.
06- HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS – awkward indie comedies about sad loners make me uncomfortable. sally field was great. i wanted to run away screaming.
07- HARDCORE HENRY – more interesting for what it symbolizes perhaps than what it is. it’s been a long time coming, but artifacts of video gaming are starting to imprint themselves in other forms of pop culture, in particular tv and movies. there hasn’t been a good movie based on a video game yet (maybe have j. c. chandor tackle half-life?), but there have been some interesting projects that have mined some tropes very familiar to video gamers. EDGE OF TOMORROW (or perhaps more relevant in this discussion, LIVE/DIE/REPEAT) replicates the experience of playing an action game probably more explicitly than any other movie, and to fantastic ends. WESTWORLD is largely a fetch quest, complete with npc’s. in terms of cinematic merit, HARDCORE HENRY sort of feels like a duke nukem 3d to WESTWORLD’s bioshock with crazy visual ideas up the wazoo but not much of a movie to hang them on.
08 – MIDNIGHT SPECIAL – bold in the ways it allows big things to go unexplained, and lets some of the most memorable moments also be the quietest ones. the kid telling joel edgerton to sit down is the best moment in any movie this year.
11 – MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
14 – THE JUNGLE BOOK – looks terrifically expensive, but that’s sort of the problem. more a fancy tech-demo than a movie and plods alog in jon favreau’s blithely auteur-ish way. in some ways i like the original better for not even attempting to hold itself together cohesively, this one has a fiery third act because i guess they felt they had to. there’s only one practical element in the film, the kid, and the digital rotoscoping (or whatever you call it) of the kid in with all the digital elements, the effect around which the entire film revolves- still looks like it’s in beta. sort of a waste. cool in imax, not much point watching it at home. i did like that all of the animals on the savannah were apparently jewish curmudgeons.
03 – EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! – in retrospect relatively minor linklater, pleasant and fleeting and out of time in more ways than one.
04 – MINIONS
05 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – the perfect capstone to the mcu if you’ve been playing along, sort of impenetrable if this isn’t your type of party. i dug it quite a bit.
06 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
15- AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL
23 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
24 – THE NICE GUYS – a wonderful little caper that got lost in the shuffle. surprising amount of iron man 3 dna evident.
25 – NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING
27- X-MEN: APOCALYPSE – the x-men movies have always had a sort of plot-soup element to them that made it hard for me to get into, and this is the same. something about pyramids, and that thing at auschwitz, and wolverine shows up for 30 seconds, it’s all sort of foggy. truly comic book-y in its intense pathos and convulsive plot structure, but with nothing to ground it.
31 – AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD
02 – A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE
03 – THE LOBSTER – i’m still bitter at this movie for mining comedy from my personal wells of pain.
07 – POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING – i’ve been delighted to see this showing up on some end-of-year lists, this movie is occasionally really funny and is more knowing than it looks. very inside baseball.
11 – WARCRAFT – did well in china, so we’re probably getting more. cinematic mush.
14 – NOW YOU SEE ME 2 – a pointless sequel to a movie that was frivolous in the first place. daniel radcliffe shows up, though, and he’s good.
15 – SING STREET – a peppy little new film from the guy that brought you ONCE, pertaining to a genre of music i really don’t care about. perfectly good little quasi-musical that you’ll probably like more than me.
17 – FINDING DORY – competent fare from pixar that i liked while i was watching, but i just can’t get over how it treats poor gerald. kind of goes against the entire message of the movie, when you think about it. if disney cares so much about being inclusive, what about the geralds of the world? i’m getting ahead of my skis here.
21 – HOPSCOTCH – i go back to this one almost every year. an impish little espionage comedy with a globehopping walter matthau being lanky but still weirdly magnetic and causing trouble while sam waterston half-heartedly chases him around with kind of an ‘aw-shucks’ attitude. fun for the whole family, especially if you’re the youngest.
22 – WEINER – boy, this has managed to stay relevant. the laptop definitely makes a cameo. really though, this is one of the best movies of the year (documentary or not) and is a fascinating look not only at new york politics and a deeply flawed man but also the toxic and potentially self-destructive consequences of a particular strain of american masculinity. unexpectedly intimate portrait of an almost impossibly frustrating person.
23 – ZOOTOPIA
27 – INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE – brief flashes of brilliant ideas half-realized amid an otherwise powerfully smelly turd of a film. i want a spin-off that’s only about the african commandos.
29 – THE NEON DEMON – if you’re tuned into nicolas winding refn’s frequency, this will resonate very pleasurably. had me completely from the opening credits. the artifice is the whole point.
02 – SWISS ARMY MAN – the daniel radcliffe farting corpse movie is more than just the daniel radcliffe farting corpse movie. does a pretty good job of walking the twee tightrope, and notable for its sheer nerve.
07 – THE NICE GUYS
09 – THE BFG – notable for spending most of its runtime building up to a very well-executed fart joke. is that enough? maybe if you have kids.
10 – JURASSIC PARK
11 – THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS – watchable knockoff of toy story, but as is typical of illumination, seems to exist more to market itself that actually make anyone happy.
14 – GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) – the story around this movie was a much bigger deal than the movie itself. surprisingly good imax version.
15 – GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) – i didn’t grow up with this movie, which makes its unabashed consumerism, iffy gender politics and plot holes harder to look past.
23 – STAR TREK BEYOND – many of this year’s blockbusters were watchable and pleasant but somewhat unmemorable, and this film may be the best example of this. proves the franchise can manage just fine without all the j.j. abrams whooshiness.
29 – JASON BOURNE – bourne-lite. passed the time, but really why did they bother.
30 – IN THE LOOP – searing satire of bush-era foreign policy, sort of british veep. dense, wicked and thoroughly rewarding if you put in the effort. they’re probably speaking english, but best turn the subtitles on for this one anyway.
04- SUICIDE SQUAD – not good. this scream of being released purely because it was on the schedule. dour, doesn’t earn any of its character moments, tacky overuse of basic pop songs, cobbled together haphazardly. sometimes just showing up to work isn’t enough.
06 – THE LITTLE PRINCE* – originally slated for a theatrical release before being scooped up by netflix, this great little family movie cleverly sidesteps a straightforward adaptation of the book and instead uses it as a framing device to tell a somewhat more modern story. it couldn’t be easier to watch this film, you really have no excuse.
11 – SAUSAGE PARTY – we now live in a world where under the right circumstances some truly wild stuff can end up in wide release. that the two romantic leads are a hot dog and a bun tells you a lot. the bun’s character design tells you the rest. the future of stoner comedy?
13 – HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
14 – PETE’S DRAGON – lovely little modern american pastoral that also happens to be a remake of an obscure disney movie whose only notoriety came from a parade float.
18 – KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
20 – HELL OR HIGH WATER, THE LICKERISH QUARTET
30 – THE JUNGLE BOOK, CAFE SOCIETY – this year’s woody allen effort is skippable.
10 – DON’T THINK TWICE
11 – SULLY – i feel like they keep letting clint eastwood make movies mostly because he comes in on-time and under-budget. this story was not begging to become a film, and it’s telling how much it has to stretch just to reach 90 minutes. it still holds itself together in my memory based on some very effective individual beats, but at times this doesn’t feel like a real movie.
18 – DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB – given the circumstances, more terrifying than ever.
19 – SNOWDEN
23 – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) – an antoine fuqua joint that didn’t have me retching halfway through, so that’s something. benefits from the automatic sideways novelty that comes with being a modern western. chris pratt is miscast.
25 – NINE LIVES – by all appearances, a straight-up paycheck movie for those involved. little to no cinematic merit, even for cat people. veers wildly back and forth between more pedestrian blandness and some truly appalling decision-making both in front of and behind the camera. i thought for maybe a second i did, but i do not want to see a cg cat get black-out shit-faced. made for a weird night at the dollar theater.
05 – STORKS – we’ve quietly entered an exciting new time for mainstream animation, with several studios all sort of fashioning their own distinctive (or not-so-distinctive) takes on the form. the most apt adjective to describe the work fromthe relative upstart warner animation group (WAG) would seem to be “manic,” as evidenced by this one and THE LEGO MOVIE. “wolves! form wolf submarine!”
08 – THE BIRTH OF A NATION – this movie’s ‘fuck-you’ attitude isn’t necessarily its downfall, but it makes its plethora of sins less forgivable. angry and sloppy, aimlessly confrontational. not a strong enough movie to shoulder its agressive racial politics.
13 – VOYAGE OF TIME: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE – terrence malick makes an imax short, what’s not to like?
23 – THE ACCOUNTANT – i was willing to give this movie’s admittedly shaky premise (autistic assassin!) a shot, but was not really rewarded. this movie is a nothing burger. not aggressively bad enough to distinguish itself either.
25 – STORKS
28 – INFERNO – it stuns me that not only was this movie released released in its current state, but in imax to boot. there was no reason for this film to be this inept, considering who was involved. this movie actually ends with a bunch of people splashing around in waist-deep water fighting over a box. it’s as sad as you’re picturing.
30 – MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND – it’s gonna hurt to go back and watch this in a few years, watching michael moore try (and apparently fail) to get a roomful of trump supporters in michigan to do the right thing.
02 – MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN – watchable but way too busy, predictably. and who is this for, exactly?
04 – DOCTOR STRANGE – all of this film’s novel ideas are visual, but you can only expect a marvel movie to break so many molds at once. thoroughly fun, and a nice little break from what the avengers are up to.
10 – ARRIVAL – one of the best movies of the year, a must-watch if you’re even marginally interested in hard sci-fi. great work from amy adams, probably this year’s most arresting score and filled with fascinating concepts about time and language, as well as an examination of human behavior when confronted with the unknown. denis villeneuve has become a filmmaker it’s important to keep an eye on. demands a rewatch.
13 – ARRIVAL, DOCTOR STRANGE
20 – QUEEN OF KATWE – is anyone else making this type of movie but disney right now? great little family movie about an underprivileged but ferocious ugandan girl who kicks everyone’s ass at chess. a refreshingly uncynical little project that disney gets a lot of props for greenlighting.
22 – MOANA – i liked it, but apparently not as much as everyone else. felt a little sparse maybe? i don’t examine my feelings too much when i’m not in love with a musical. plus there’s something i’ve always found annoyingly precious about lin manuel miranda’s songwriting.
01 – ARRIVAL
09 – SPIRITED AWAY
11 – MOONLIGHT – i need to see this one again. i spent much of this film feeling like i was watching something great that was just beyond my grasp.
15 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
16 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
18 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – you can probably tell i liked it. this one is more prickly and interesting than i thought it would be. coming at it from the angle of a star wars nerd, it has everything i thought i would never see in a star wars movie, in a star wars movie. you can argue that it breezes through some iffy plotting mostly on momentum, but seeing things like an x-wing crashing into a shield or a star destroyer decapitating another star destroyer or darth vader slaughtering a room full of redshirts make up for pretty much any faults this movie otherwise might have. it might still be a little too early for me to be objective about this film, but it’s hard to deny that ROGUE ONE is very successful in what it sets out to do.
20 – ASSASSIN’S CREED – i’m not opposed to the idea of making movies out of video games, but this won’t be the first good one. i was hoping the levels of sheer insanity and my near-constant boner for michael fassbender would be enough to pull this one through, but alas. as someone who played an hour of assassin’s creed 2 one time i think five years ago, i had absolutely no clue what was going on. why is everyone jumping off buildings all the time? apparently in the game you land in bales of hay? that’s not what happens in the movie. admirable for its bizarre commitment to an unfilmable premise, but not enough to save it.
22 – PASSENGERS – the underlying moral conflict of this movie was kept out of the marketing, probably wisely. i have no objection to a film hanging its hat on a morally dubious premise, but why this supposedly mainstream sci-fi blockbuster? i was cringing in discomfort for much of this film.
25 – LA LA LAND – i’ve been jonesing for this all year and maybe that was the problem: i don’t know exactly what i wanted out of this movie, but it was not what i got. i like musicals very selectively but i like damien chazelle so i went in with an open mind. what i got was the thing i privately dreaded most: a BIRDMAN-like self-reflexive artifice most concerned with its own greatness. halfway-deconstructing the golden-age hollywood musical template into something simultaneously more and less. very smart kids playing with things they don’t fully understand. the whole affair is a little off. emma stone is typically enigmatic while ryan gosling makes it transparently clear that he practiced, a lot. overall, i was never quite sure what this movie wanted to be.
28 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
30 – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – this is a fantastic family drama, but so overwhelmingly tragic that i think it could be a potentially tough sell. realistic, humanistic, pleasantly shaggy around the edges. one of the year’s best. also, i’m a sucker for pretty much any movie that gets new england right (see: SPOTLIGHT).