So we’re now into the top half of the countdown for this. We’ve made it through films that, for the most part, I would never go out of my way to watch again. However, don’t assume that just because these films in this list are in the top half that they’re automatically good films. There were a lot of bad films out this year, especially in the latter half of 2016.
So for 50 to 41 we are looking at a variety of films from some very different genres. There are horror films, romantic comedies, stories within stories and arguably the most debated and talked about reboot in recent years.
So here we go.
Cast : Sennia Nanua, Paddy Considine, Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close
Plot : A zombie outbreak has decimated the population of the UK, leaving the majority of those that have survived in army bases. They have learnt however that the outbreak can be controlled and children at the key, not showing any signs of zombism unless they are exposed to flesh inches from their face. They are taught in a classroom by Helen (Arterton), who notices very early on that Melanie (Nanua) is her brightest student.
Zombies quickly break through the fence, leaving only a handful of survivors able to escape, and they soon realise that Melanie might their only hope of survival, but what will she make of the outside world, especially when an opportunity arises?
Why in this position? : If you took out the first fifteen and the final ten minutes then this would have been an excellent zombie flick, even though it had the distinct disadvantage of having the diabolically uncharismatic void of emotion that is Gemma Arterton in it.
The middle hour or so of the film is arguably as good as any other zombie film that I’ve seen set in the open world (as in not confined to a specific location, such as most of George A Romero’s films). That sixty or so minutes are full of tension and genuine threat, and not to forget well built characters. There was actually a time that I was considering this for a much higher place on the list.
However, as I’ve mentioned, the first fifteen and the final ten minutes are, for lack of a better word, just not very good. The central character of Melanie just isn’t that interesting, and is the equivalent of that kid in school that would bring the teacher an apple (well, we don’t really do that in England, but I imagine it’s still a thing in America). This isn’t helped by the aforementioned bland acting of Gemma Arterton.
Combine this with an ending that is a bit out of left field (another American saying), and I couldn’t really consider this movie to be anything more than average, at best.
Cast : Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth and Neil Casey
Plot : Abby (McCarthy) and Erin (Wiig) are both highly respected scientists, but when the latter objects to the re-release of a book about paranormal activity that they co-wrote several years ago. They do team up to investigate a reported case of paranormal activity with Abby’s colleague, Jillian (McKinnon). Their video of the incident sees all three fired.
They decide to continue to invest all of their time hunting evidence of paranormal activity, but they soon start getting into more than they bargained for.
Why in this position? I think it’s fair to say that there were no films released this year that divided opinion and caused as many arguments as “Ghostbusters”. My own personal concern was that it just didn’t look funny, or at least not compared to the previous films in the franchise, and I think there in lies the problem. Had this just been a film about ghost hunting that didn’t use the name “Ghostbusters” then I think this would have fared far more favourably than it did.
I didn’t mind “Ghostbusters”, it wasn’t a classic in any sense of the world, but it could be considerably worse to put it nicely. The acting from the four lead women is decent enough, which is something that I never thought I’d say about Melissa McCarthy, but it is most definitely Chris Hemsworth that steals the show as the charmingly stupid Kevin.
I actually quite liked the visuals, and despite looking very cartoony in places, I thought it was very vibrant, thus establishing a less serious tone that the original. It’s a technique that can be taken in either a good or bad way, but it helps in some ways separate it from the originals, whilst in many ways paying tribute.
The main problem with the Ghostbusters reboot, other than their attempts to cram in as many references and cameos from the original as possible, is that the antagonist is just so unengaging. The very fact that I had to look up on Google what the antagonist’s name was should tell you all about how unforgettable he is.
Cast : Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger and Benjamin Bratt
Plot : Special agent Robert Mazur (Cranston) has just successfully come out of his latest undercover role when he is placed under the alias of Bob Musella in order to break into the upper regions of the local drugs cartel, headed by Pablo Escobar. He is placed with the abrasive Emir Abreu (Leguizamo), who struggles to make Mazur believable.
Despite the struggle, Bob does successfully get into the higher reaches of the cartel. Bob’s story is so believable that Kathy Ertz (Kruger) is hired to pretend to be his wife, but its enough to convince many involved, but both feel guilty when they develop a strong personal relationship with Roberto Alcaino (Bratt), making it harder for him to get in.
Why in this position? : When I saw the trailer for this Bryan Cranston lead vice-style film, I got excited. It looked exciting, fresh and had a decent case, but much like several other films on this list, it is largely forgettable.
I went to watch “The Infiltrator” less than 48 hours ago (at the time of writing) and I couldn’t tell you a single character name other than Abreu (obviously I looked them up for the above plot when posting the article), who is played excellently by John Leguizamo. It’s just so forgettable and not really engaging. Leguizamo certainly isn’t the only person putting in a good portrayal, with Cranston doing very well too.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful film by any stretch of the imagination, and it does draw you in quite well, but the problem is that the central plot of the film is the central character climbing the drugs cartel ladder, but it all feels completely effortless. Not once did I feel during the film that the character wasn’t going to achieve that goal (for the record I didn’t know that this was a true story go in).
Not awful, but certainly not great.
Cast : Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts and Ben Whishaw
Plot : Einar (Redmayne) and Gerda (Vikander) are happily married in 1920s Denmark and they are both keen artists. Einar is considerably more successful that his wife, but is willing to help her and wears a dress for one of her portraits, but this reignites his secret desire to be female. Gerda encourages him to go to a party as his female alter-ego, Lili, but whilst there she witnesses her husband kissing another man, Henrik (Whishaw).
With both becoming distraught, Einar realises that he can no longer live as his old self and seeks surgical help, as well as starting to work in a perfume store and starting a relationship with Henrik, all to Gerda’s horror.
Why in this position? : The first film that I saw during 2016 was ultimately one of the most disappointing as it was quite clearly designed to be Oscar-bait. It had a great cast and being transgender myself, I was interested in the subject matter, but ultimately it’s just told in a way that whilst not awful (which is quite clear by the fact that there was 53 films below it in this countdown), just doesn’t get you emotionally invested at all.
Eddie Redmayne is reasonable as the main character, and Alicia Vikander is highly competent in her role, and with a strong supporting cast this should have been a much better film that it ultimately was. Visually the film is great as well and whilst I can’t claim to be an expert on 1920s Denmark, or indeed any point of Denmark’s history, it looks like what you’d expect from a Scandinavian country almost one hundred years ago.
I think the main problem with this is that it seemed to have an aura that it automatically expected to be considered a great film without really having to work overly hard for it. I wouldn’t even class this as a great film about transgenderism, and there are many better films about the subject matter out there that haven’t got the Oscar-bait machine behind it.
It’s not awful, but it’s not something that I’d actively try to see again.
Cast : Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dalls Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban and Oona Laurence
Plot : Pete (Fegley for the most part, Levi Alexander aged five) was involved in a car accident when he was five years old that killed his parents. Whilst walking away he is chased by wolves before being saved by a dragon. Over the next few years he adapts to life in the woods, living with his the dragon, whom he calls Elliott. One day he sees other humans though, more specially a girl named Natalie (Laurence), and all of her family eventually manage to find Pete.
He is taken to hospital and cared for by Grace (Howard) and Jack (Bentley), the parents of Natalie, but it’s Natalie’s uncle, Gavin (Urban) that everyone has to worry about as he saw the dragon and intends to use it for financial gain.
Why in this position? I’ve never seen the original animated film, it never really interested me, but one Saturday morning this was on at the cinema I was working at at the time and so I thought “why not?” Whilst it certainly wasn’t a classic, and did drag at times, it wasn’t actually that bad.
Oakes Fegley (what a name by the way) puts in one of the better child performances of the year as Pete, and to be fair the entire cast does a good job. It’s also good to see Karl Urban in the role of an antagonist, but what I especially liked it that he wasn’t an antagonist for the sake of being one, you understand where his character is coming from, and that’s rare for films.
The only problem with “Pete’s Dragon” really is that whilst it develops characters well, there isn’t that much going on for the majority, and I can see why a lot of kids didn’t like it. Even as a 32 year old adult I was getting somewhat bored at times waiting for something to happen. Don’t get me wrong, when it does start happening it’s really good, it just takes a while.
Cast : Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and Jared Harris
Plot : Max (Pitt) is sent to Morocco during World War Two to assassinate a high ranking German official, his partner is Marianne (Cotillard), a French spy. The two train relentlessly, with Max’s boss Frank (Harris) keeping a close eye on proceedings. The pair do eventually assassinate the German, as well as several others, and Max celebrates by asking Marianne to marry him.
Why in this position? After a year of marriage and one child later, Max is called into his local headquarters for meeting. He assumes that it is for a promotion, but when he arrives he is told that they believe his wife to be a German spy. They give Max instructions to answer a call and write down what is said on a piece of paper that Marianne can easily locate, and it would show up in a German transcript a few days later. Max complies, but defies orders by actively trying to prove his wife’s innocence, but that’s easier said than done due to conflicting reports.
Why in this position? If there was one type of film this year that was surprisingly absent compared to other years, it’s a war film. I could be wrong but I think this was the only mainstream one (the only other one I can think of wasn’t mainstream, but will appear on this countdown), or at least one that was set during the time of World War Two, and they decided to cast Brad Pitt for what is his fourth film set in the time period of the last few years (the others being Fury, Inglorious Basterds and some scenes in Benjamin Button). That being said, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a war film, it’s not.
“Allied” is a very interesting film in the sense that is basically a large puzzle piece and you’re never entirely sure about whether the character of Marianne’s allegiance until the very final scene, and I love films that keep you guessing to the end.
The only reason that this didn’t place higher is that I just find Marion Coutillard to be a very boring and lifeless actress. I can’t recall a single performance from her that I have been impressed by. She is very monotone in her delivery, and I don’t think that’s to do with English not being her first language as there are plenty who fit that description and are livelier than her.
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Armie Hammer
Plot : Susan (Adams) is an owner of an art gallery who one day receives a manuscript for a novel from her estranged husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal). He dedicates the book for her, causing her to rekindle her feelings and want to meet with him, especially as she is in a neglectful relationship current husband, Hutton (Hammer).
She sits down to read the novel and it tells the story of a man (also Gyllenhaal) who is ran off the road by a gang leader (Taylor-Johnson) and forced to watch as his wife and daughter are abducted, later found raped and murdered. He sets about getting revenge with the help of the local deputy (Shannon).
Why in this position? It’s a bit tricky to talk about this film because it’s effectively a story within a story. We’ll call the Amy Adams section “P1” (short for Part 1), and the Jake Gyllenhaal sub story “P2”.
Had this film just been released as P2, obviously extended otherwise it’d be a very small runtime, there would have actually been a chance that not only would this have featured much higher up, but also a potential top ten candidate. The section starring him, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is arguably one of the most emotionally investing parts of a film that I have seen this year.
P2 is expert film making at it’s finest, and I was drawn into it’s story, the look and feel, as well as the acting from the three main characters, especially ATJ, who plays something completely different from what he has done before.
However, as good as P2 is, P1 is the complete opposite and something that I just couldn’t get behind, no matter how hard I tried. It was just generic and any time they cut back from P2 to P1, it felt like someone had slammed the breaks on in an extremely hard manner. It kills any momentum that P2 has built, and one of the reasons for this is that it just isn’t that interesting.
Cast : The voices of Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes
Plot : Kubo (Parkinson) is an imaginative child that is told expressively by his mother that he must be home by sundown, or his evil family will be able to find and kill him. One day however he fails to do that and is quickly found by his evil aunts (both Mara), who promises that his grandfather (Fiennes) is coming. Kubo’s mother soon dies.
Distraught, Kubo realises that his only chance is to get his father’s ancient armour. He is soon joined on his journey by a talking monkey (Theron) and a giant cockroach (McConaughey), but whilst they aim to protect him, can the evil power of Kubo’s aunts and grandfather prove too much?
Why in this position? : On the face of it “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a charming look at a coming-of-age tale of a young man against a seemingly overwhelming evil, and it is easily the most visually unique film I saw this year, however, despite having some good jokes in there, two genuinely creepy antagonists (the witch sisters just to confirm) and a likeable main character, the problem with the aforementioned film is that is just completely forgettable.
At the time of writing this mini-review, I watched it less than 24 hours ago and I am already at the point where I can’t remember large parts of the plot, other than there are a LOT of ex-machina moments, and I largely found myself withdrawn from the story throughout.
That’s not to say that “Kubo and the Two Strings” is awful, far from it. It’s animation style is relatively unique and it is one that I never considered for the bottom 10, not even close, but if I was to describe it as anything other than forgettable then I wouldn’t be accurate.
Cast : Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, Eric Bana, Casey Affleck, John Magaro and Kyle Gallner
Plot : Bernie (Pine) is a Coast Guard in Massachusetts, and one day he meets Miriam (Grainger). The two fall in love and plan to get married, but as per regulations he has to ask permission from his commander (Bana). As he approaches him to ask, news comes through that an oil tanking has started sinking.
Due to everyone else being at other rescues, Bernie is sent to rescue the crew along with the largely reluctant Richard (Foster), as well as Richard (Gallner) and Ervin (Magaro).
With time against them, they soon realise that their boat simply won’t be big enough to rescue everyone safely.
Why in this position? : “The Finest Hours” is not a bad film, not by any stretch, but the problem is that it’s just not very interesting or exciting.
Let’s start with the romance section of the beginning of the film. I really liked that part and it’s nice to see a relatively fresh face in the role of the leading lady, something that only ever really happens in the horror genre. Holliday Grainger is arguably the best part about this otherwise generic film.
I love the look and feel of the film though. It feels very coastly, if that’s even a thing, and they take great care to make it at least seem authentic, but the problem is that it’s just kind of there. It’s not really overly interesting, and that’s a big shame as with the cast it should have been a lot better.
I think what lets this film down the most is that the consequences just don’t feel that vital. Whilst you know what’s going on, you never get a real sense of danger and that feeling that they’re not going to achieve rescuing the majority of people. When there are no stakes, there’s nothing driving you towards getting emotionally invested.
Cast : Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Sarah Solemani and Sally Phillips
Plot : Bridget (Zellweger) is firmly in her midlife crisis safe and has largely accepted that she’s never going to get with anyone, so one day she joins Miranda (Solemani) in going to a festival. There she meets the hugely successful romance expert, Jack (Dempsey) and the two quickly have sex before Bridget leaves in the morning.
The next day Bridget runs into old flame, Mark (Firth) and it again ends in her having sex. Several weeks later Bridget realises that she is pregnant, but she isn’t sure who the father is and therefore tells both of them that it is their child, but it isn’t long before they find out the truth and there is a rivalry between Mark and Jack.
Why in this position: “Bridget’s Back” bellowed the tag line for yet another trilogy completer, but the problem with any trilogy that you face is that realistically you need to have seen the first two to have any real sense of what is truly going on. I’d never seen either of the first two Bridget Jones films, so this meant that I was effectively going in blind.
Ignoring that I tried to get into the film and there were some bits that I genuinely enjoyed about it. It is a very feel-good comedy, and I do like the concept, afterall, it’s a fairly routine plot as one that has been done before.. The execution Is fine and overall there aren’t really any major complaints that I have with the film’s relatively long run time. The acting is competent and the telling of the story is relatively well structured, even if the ending is a little tooing and froing.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t like it. It’s not an awful film by any stretch, and I suppose being this high up on the list isn’t a bad thing when you see how many films I’ve watched this year, but is this something that I would actively watch again? No, probably not.
Maybe it’s one of those that you really have to watch with the first two to get in the swing of it.