2016 IN REVIEW – The Films I Didn’t See (November – December)
Alright, the last of the films I didn’t see this year! From here on out, it’s nothing but films I’ve seen. These are the last two months, when studios try to cram in every Oscar contender and pretender, even up until the final days of the year. There aren’t many of these that I actually feel compelled to see, now that I think about it. Perhaps 2016 seemed like such a crappy year because it was a lot more spread out? Or perhaps it was just the fact that it ended with Collateral Beauty? Regardless, there are some films here that look alright, but I think I saw at least most of the good ones, with some room for obvious outliers.
The Ivory Game 11/04/2016 84%
Over the span of 16 months, directors Keif Davidson and Richard Ladkani went undercover to investigate the poaching of wild elephants for their ivory. Meanwhile, in China, whistleblower Andrea Costa and investigative journalist Hongxiang Huang go undercover within the world’s biggest market for ivory, both legally and illegally. While the Netflix-produced documentary has been noted to do not much actual investigation of the root causes behind these issues, it has been acknowledged that it’s effective enough to hopefully inspire action that could help curtail the slaughter of these endangered animals.
Almost Christmas 11/11/2016 48%
From the producer of This Christmas comes Almost Christmas, another film about another family coming together around Christmastime and attempting to get along. Naturally, this simple plot device also has a number of threads for the various characters, too. Almost Christmas looks like a funnier, harder edged comedy than This Christmas, and comes with a solid cast, with Omar Epps, Danny Glover, Mo’Nique, and Gabrielle Union all featuring. The film received middling reviews, however, with the film being criticized for its predictability and broad characterizations. Perhaps worth a rental.
Elle 11/11/2016 87%
Michèle is a successful CEO at a video game company, both revered, hated, and feared by those within the company. However, when Michèle is raped within her own home, she becomes suspicious of the men around her and sets herself on tracking down the man who assaulted her, a mission that may find her going over the edge. Paul Verhoeven’s first French-language feature is based on the Philippe Djian novel Oh… and features an Oscar-nominated performance from Isabelle Huppert as Michèle and features Verhoeven’s trademark visceral edge in its examination of sex and violence.
Shut In 11/11/2016 3%
The Oscar curse kicks in early for Jacob Tremblay, who features as a little boy who goes missing in the middle of a blizzard while under the care of his psychologist, played by Naomi Watts, who is also taking care of her teenage stepson (Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton), who was paralyzed in an accident. Isolated in the storm, she soon starts to believe that a strange presence is in her house and believes it to be the angry ghost of the young boy. The film has only earned $8.4 million worldwide on a $10 million budget and was widely panned by critics, with Naomi Watts being nominated for a Golden Razzie, though in a film that looks as flaccid as this one, it’d be hard to salvage anything with even the best actors – and I think Watts has proven to be a pretty great actress. I’ve already read multiple spoilers for this film, and if you think you’ve figured out the twist to this movie, then – surprise! – you’re probably right.
The True Memoirs of an International Assassin 11/11/2016 0%
As if all the Adam Sandler films weren’t enough, here’s a film where Kevin James features as Sam Larsno, an accountant who spends his free time writing a novel about his assassin alter ego. His publisher, realizing the book needs an angle, decides to release the book with a few alterations – ones that make it seem as though Larson is an actual assassin. He then finds himself caught up in an actual espionage thriller and hijinks ensue. The film proves that Netflix may dominate streaming TV series and documentaries, but it’s got a long way to go before it can match Amazon’s film production in terms of quality.
A Street Cat Named Bob 11/18/2016 76%
A frequently-homeless, junkie busker named James Bowen finds himself befriending a stray cat he names Bob, and the two form a life-affirming bond that helps push James towards becoming a more stable, clean man, and Bob, in return, gets a loving companion, as well. The film is based on the real James Bowen’s book of the same name, itself a true story that became famous thanks to video uploads to the charming combo featuring in numerous YouTube videos of Bowen’s performances. The film is apparently too heartwarming and loveable to be criticized too much for its simplistic sweetness, and fans of the real life duo will also be happy to know that Bob features as himself in many of the film’s scenes.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk 11/18/2016 45%
This film had a stirring first trailer, no doubt, and an impressive and diverse cast that includes Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, and Garrett Hedlund. Unfortunately, Ang Lee’s film about a young soldier returning home after a tour in Iraq and having to reconcile the horrors of what he saw over there and the celebration of his service back home, as exemplified by his featured alongside fellow soldiers in a football halftime show, was noted for its halfbaked attempts to tug at the heartstrings and tone-deaf attempts to match the visual splendor of his previous films.
Bleed for This 11/18/2016 71%
I know I noted this before in my commentary on War Dogs, but I really don’t dislike Miles Teller, and I’m glad the guy’s getting some attention for his good work, so the fact that Bleed For This got decent reviews is encouraging. That being said, it wasn’t universal acclaim, and I don’t think this story, based on the life of world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, really intrigued me all that much.
Nocturnal Animals 11/18/2016 72%
Earning Aaron Taylor-Johnson a Golden Globe and Michael Shannon an Oscar nomination, Nocturnal Animals is probably the most acclaimed film on this list that managed to go under my radar. Based on the 1993 Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal play an estranged, divorced former couple, Susan and Edward, whose worlds collide again when Susan receives a manuscript for a novel, Nocturnal Animals, which was authored by Edward and dedicated to her. The film features scenes both within the real world and within the shocking and violent world of Edward’s novel, which unsettles Susan. The film looks highly engaging, so I do look forward to seeing this one.
Mercy 11/22/2016 N/A
Ugh, another home invasion movie? Here, four brothers return home to say their last goodbyes to their dying mother, but a conflict arises regarding their inheritance. They don’t seem to have long to think about it, though, because apparently the real threat is the band of masked intruders break in and… well, I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the inheritance storyline, that’s for sure. I don’t know how good or bad this is, but I recommend the film You’re Next for something similar that I can guarantee that many enjoyed.
Allied 11/23/2016 61%
An intelligence officer, Max Vatan, and French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour, meet behind enemy lines in North Africa during World War II and fall in love. The two meet again later on in England and begin a life together, but it soon comes to light that Marianne may actually be a fraud working for the Nazis. Torn between his two devotions, Max must now face making a decision whether to turn a blind eye to the evidence and risk his life and national security or turn his wife in and, while potentially saving lives, most assuredly ruining their relationship forever, regardless. I thought this looked rather good, but much like The Accountant and Girl on the Train, its tepid reviews bumped it off my list of films I had to see.
Bad Santa 2 11/23/2016 23%
Unwanted. Unneeded. Underwhelming. But, sadly, cannot be undone. Bad Santa 2 was a bad idea, regardless of whatever cast members they would have been able to add in or bring back from the cult classic first, let alone the actor who played Thurman or Kathy Bates as the mother of the first film’s lead, Willie T. Soke. This sequel reportedly thought that it was funny simply to mock characters for their problems and say a bunch of dirty stuff, ignoring the fact that a lot of craft goes into making a film like the first Bad Santa work so well beyond constructs of foul and offensive words and actions. That this only brought back the cast members and not the creative team behind the original does not surprise me, nor does the film’s terrible reception by critics and fans of the original alike.
Rules Don’t Apply 11/23/2016 55%
Warren Beatty’s rules don’t apply looks like something out of the 1990s, if it weren’t for the casting of Alden Ehrenreich and Lilly Collins as two of the leads alongside Beatty as Howard Hughes. The plot concerns a young assistant to Hughes, Frank, falling in love with an aspiring actress, Marla Mabrey, who also becomes romantically linked to Hughes, forming a lopsidedly gross love triangle between the three. The film looks to be pretty satisfied with itself, but it went on to achieve the lowest box office take for a wide Thanksgiving release and ended its theatrical run a month later with a mere $3.7 million gross on a $25 million budget. It’d be one thing if the film at least got positive reviews, but at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, film critics were decidedly pretty mixed about the whole thing. I, personally, just found the trailer off-putting.
Miss Sloane 11/25/2016 70%
If anything, you watch this film for Jessica Chastain’s performance. That’s the general consensus for this film about a powerful and notorious Washington lobbyist who finds herself growing a conscience when she takes on the gun industry. I’m not a “gun nut” nor a foe of gun rights, but I do think that lobbyists as a whole to be kind of a scummy group, though I do also understand there is some reasonable arguments for them, too. Miss Sloane attempts to put a fairly human face on one in particular, one who is by far not a perfect person but who finds a particular cause to fight for without necessarily being apologetic for her actions. The film bombed at the box office, but not for lack of praise in this portrayal – I just think most people don’t wanted to see a political thriller about lobbyists this year, particularly around Thanksgiving.
Incarnate 12/02/2016 17%
A single mother fears that her young son is possessed by a demon when he exhibits such telling signs as bloodshot eyes, telepathy, and that unnatural and otherworldly voice that she’s seen so many times in movies about possession. When the Vatican’s priests can’t exorcise the powerful demon from the boy’s body, they call upon someone unexpected to try performing the ritual: a wheelchair-bound scientist who is known for literally putting himself into the mind of the possessed, Inception-style, and chasing the demons down within the person’s subconscious and forcing them out, with the help of his team of quirky, unorthodox, and punk-light-clad assistance (you’ll know them from their cutoff sleeves, tattoos, and the perpetual presence of headphones hanging from one’s neck). The film comes from the producers of Insidious and The Purge, which pretty much means absolutely nothing, except maybe that you’ve probably seen this one before.
Jackie 12/02/2016 87%
I still want to see this film and hopefully will get a chance in my schedule to go out and see it. Natalie Portman has earned herself an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, attempting to maintain her usual composure in the public spotlight, even while dealing with her profound grief over the public loss of her husband. Right when I saw the first trailer for this movie, I knew it was going to get quite a lot of attention and likely some awards, and as buzz for the film grew, I even kind of expected a Best Picture nomination, too.
Man Down 12/02/2016 11%
A suffering veteran returning from Afghanistan after an incident that took down the men in his squad finds that his wife and son aren’t there waiting for him, setting him on yet another mission to find out what has happened and where they went. Over the course of the film, audiences also get flashbacks to the time before he went overseas, piecing the puzzle together as to where they may have gone. This looks like a pretty hokey film, quite honestly, and the 11% rating doesn’t help dispel that perception.
The Comedian 12/02/2016 17%
An aging comedian who assaults an audience member is sentenced to 100 hours of community service and winds up meeting a younger woman in the process. Naturally his old-fashioned ways and quick wit charm her, and… What’s with the uptick in these Woody Allen-esque movies? Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann look like they’re doing alright here, at least, but… no. Not interested. The jazzy trumpet playing in the trailer didn’t help, either.
Nerdland 12/06/2016 27%
Two nearly-30-year-olds living in Hollywood realize that their aspirations of stardom have pretty much escaped them after all these years. Desperate to make a name for themselves, they set out on multiple quests to go viral and gain some fame before their birthdays, even if it means achieving infamy. Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd voice the two leads in this bizarre-looking animated film that also features the voices of Hannibal Burress, Mike Judge, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, and a number of other notable comedians. Despite the talent behind it and the distinctive look, however, critics felt as though the film could’ve used more likable leads and a fresher angle on its dated humor.
Office Christmas Party 12/09/2016 41%
I’m really not digging the style of comedy that’s becoming popular lately, particularly with comedians I generally have liked elsewhere. Office Christmas Party is a film with a lot of potential in its premise, and yet it looks to go back to the well of “AWK-ward” R-rated, drug-and-alcohol-fueled, pop-culture-referential humor that tanked Sisters for me. It’s neither original nor clever and certainly not inherently funny, and I can’t imagine it will age well, either. #NotMyChristmasVacation
Spectral 12/09/2016 80%
A war-torn Moldovan city begins to experience supernatural events, leading to a U.S. special ops team, equipped with spectral imaging equipment, being sent in to investigate and, of course, eventually engage. The movie looks like pure sci-fi action, probably better fit for a video game, but reportedly pulls it all off admirably. Probably a solid weekend flick to watch whenever the mood strikes.
The Bounce Back 12/09/2016 60%
A self-made relationship expert who has just released his latest book, The Bounce Back, receives some public criticism from a beautiful, actual therapist. But, wouldn’t you know it? The two end up falling in love with one another, though they’re not willing to fully admit their attractions due to their disagreements over each other’s methods. Naturally, we – along with his teenage daughter – are left wondering why these two supposed relationship experts can’t get it together and make their relationship work, as well. The film has a 60% rating, but notably only has 5 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s hard to really get a general consensus on this, but it looks like it could be okay.
Barry 12/16/2016 79%
Netflix’s Barack Obama-centered film, and the second film overall this year after Southside With You, examines an earlier time in the future Presidents life: his formative time as a student at Columbia University in 1981, depicting his struggles with identity within both the black and white communities. The film has been fairly well-received, with Devon Terrell and Ashley Judd being singled out for their performances as Barack and his mother, respectively. I can’t see why this wouldn’t be something anyone would watch, honestly, regardless of political affiliations, though, again, if you’re tired of politics, I understand that, as well.
Collateral Beauty 12/16/2016 12%
This ensemble film has now become infamous for its ad campaign misleading audiences into believing it was a heartwarming holiday flick about three spirits that come to visit and console a man in agony over the death of his beloved daughter and the friends and coworkers around him who are growing ever more concerned about his wellbeing after witnessing him apparently speak to nobody when, in fact, there were angels or something there the whole time, if only they would embrace the collateral beauty around them or some bullshit like that. The movie would have been completely insufferable if that were the actual plot of the film, but at least the marketing would’ve been truthful and the tone of the film understandable. Instead, however, the premise of the film has the concerned coworkers actually hire actors to play the spirits and frame their friend, who is still grieving over the loss of his daughter, and make him look insane so he loses the company he founded and is forced to turn it over to them. No lie! That’s the real premise of Collateral Beauty, which went from seeming like the most eyeroll-inducing piece of trash ever to the most hateful and wrongheaded piece of trash ever. Yeah, uh… pass.
Neruda 12/16/2016 96%
A chase film about Chilean poet and Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda going on the run for his Communist-leaning political beliefs and the investigator sent to track him down, Neruda was widely praised for its performances, pacing, and overall design, and has gotten director Pablo Larraín nearly as much attention as his other biopic released this year, Jackie.
Solace 12/16/2016 23%
An aging psychic and former physician is called into action by an FBI colleague who is having some trouble locating a serial killer. Despite personal demons and misgivings regarding the case, he decides to join the investigation and, piecing the evidence together, realizes that the killer is also a psychic like him, only much more powerful. It’s an interesting premise, no doubt, but the film reportedly sticks to tired clichés and tricks to pad itself out, and the trailer even features some literal spinning-camera bullet time effects for dramatic purpose. Pass.
Why Him? 12/23/2016 40%
My question regarding this film is more like, “Why did this seemingly take so long to come out?” Seriously, I feel like I kept seeing ads for this movie since the year before, and yet it didn’t even start production until February 2016, so that’s impossible. Perhaps I just got sick of seeing the trailers before seemingly every movie? This movie didn’t look like it was going to be up my alley from the very beginning, so that’s likely why it seemed to take forever, as I pined for it to just be over with and release. There’s a good chance this could’ve been good, mind you, as the father meeting a daughter’s awkward boyfriend is a universal fear for all involved, but they just had to take it several steps too far by, for example, making James Franco’s older boyfriend character also be a Silicon Valley billionaire for no other reason than to seemingly have an explanation for all the crazy stuff the characters will do. There’s also a drone joke in there, which… yeah, and how about those newfangled smartphones, too, guys? Hilarious!…
Live by Night 12/25/2016 32%
Woops. As if Ben Affleck weren’t having a bad enough 2016, his latest directorial effort is also his first critical flop. Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, Live by Night follows Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police captain who falls in love with the mistress of an Irish crime boss. The affair is found out and leads to Coughlin’s blackmail and subsequent entanglement with a conflict between the Irish and Italian mafias. The film was criticized for bland characters and plotting, which really is a shame because now this is the last thing he directed, and people are going to unfairly point to this as a failing for him as a filmmaker, despite all the goodwill he’s earned since Gone Baby Gone.
Toni Erdmann 12/25/2016 91%
An estranged father, Winfried, and his workaholic daughter, Ines, reconnect after a long period of time and seemingly go back to their old ways, with Winfried having fun playing practical jokes on his serious daughter. This begins to grate on Ines, however, and he agrees to go back to Germany to relieve her of the stress… only to return as his alter ego, “Toni Erdmann,” an outgoing eccentric with long hair and messed up teeth who proves to be an even bigger nuisance in Ines’ life than her father, though she begins to wonder if all this isn’t a sign of her father’s need to be in her life. The film was the first directed by a woman, Maren Ade, to win the Best Film award at the European Film Awards and also won for Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Actor, and Best Actress and has also been nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards, so undoubtedly worth a look.
20th Century Women 12/28/2016 93%
Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film about his life with his single mother in the 1970s has earned itself a Best Original Screenplay nomination and a fair bit of widespread acclaim. Here, Annette Bening plays the mother, who begins to feel inadequate for her son and enlists her apartment building tenants to help serve as role models to her increasingly independent son. The film looks good and boasts a good cast, so I’ll probably go see this.
Paterson 12/28/2016 96%
Paterson, a bus driver who happens to live in Paterson, NJ, lives a pleasant, uneventful life of routine, writing poetry, and going home to his wife, Laura, whose ever-changing life is nearly the complete opposite of his. The film, directed by Jim Jarmusch, examines their lives together over the course of its 115 minutes, and there’s not much else to it than that. The beauty, critics say, lies in the simplicity of this depiction of everyday life, as well as Adam Driver’s extraordinary performance in the lead role of such an average guy.
Gold 12/30/2016 43% 55%
Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez star in this film about an out of luck businessman and a geologist who partner up and locate a literal gold mine within Indonesia. The rest of the movie follows them as they deal with their newfound wealth and all those that come rushing into their lives to get a piece of the pie. The film features McConaughey in a role that looks somehow both humbling, with that bald head of his, and yet somehow incredibly indulgent. It’s as if someone looked at Christian Bale in American Hustle and told McConaughey to do the same thing and pray for an Oscar that we all know now never will come. That’s not to say he’s been criticized in the role – if anything, critics say he’s the best part of the movie – but, yeah, this movie does look like it’s trying way too hard and ends up not doing enough.