5. Captain America: Civil War
Yup. Civil War ranks this high for me. I know Marvel movies tend to get the stink-eye whenever they rank highly on a list round here, but when it comes to entries like this, I will defend them all the way. Because when Marvel gets it right, they goddamn get it right. And I honestly think, first Avengers aside, this is the best movie they’ve ever done. I was a bit iffy on some aspects when I first watched it, but the more time I’ve given to let it settle and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realised just how much this movie works on every single level. Characterisation, storytelling, structure, as part of a large universe, as part of its own story, there is so goddamn much to appreciate and analyse.
See, this movie demonstrates that it’s not about how big you make the stakes that matters, but how personal you make them. I’ve always been of the opinion that the reason the first Avengers worked so well is because, ultimately, the main emotional conflict of the movie wasn’t Loki threatening the world. It was the Avengers trying to overcome their differences and become a team. That’s why the catharsis of the circle shot and the final battle works so well. In AOU, the main conflict was the world was threatened by an evil outside force and it wasn’t as good for numerous reasons. But in Civil War, it’s the team that’s threatened by its own internal struggles and, as a result, it’s all the more compelling. Sure there’s an outside bad guy force there as well, but he doesn’t manufacture every disagreement and grudge to an unbelievable point (*cough* BvS *cough*). He just gives a push and lets the characters destroy themselves through their own pre-established grudges and personal views and incompatible philosophies. Hell, if you really think about it, the main antagonist of this movie isn’t Zemo, it’s Tony Stark. And despite being dismissively claiming there are ‘no stakes or consequences’ to these movies, that’s simply not true. This movie ends with the possibility of reconciliation, yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that gaping holes have been torn between the character dynamics and it’s clear that the letter is merely the first step in what may be a difficult reunion (unless they screw it up in Infinity War).
Speaking of, I’ve also always been of the opinion that the reason so many of Marvel’s movies work so well is because, while they may be admittedly lacklustre with their villains (although Zemo is one of the rare exceptions (even if he seemed fairly generic for most of the film)), Marvel is excellent at characterising their heroes and Civil War takes full advantage of that. Rather than rehashing old character arcs (an issue I’ve been increasingly having with Tony Stark in these movies), it builds off them to new and interesting places and conflicts. It takes full advantage of its status as part of a Cinematic Universe and uses character threads from previous films and uses them to great potential. Seriously, when other franchises talk about setting up Cinematic Universes, they shouldn’t be aiming for producing a movie like the Avengers, they should be aiming to produce something like this movie. Fact of the matter is, Marvel is miles ahead of its competitors in testing the boundaries and worth of the Cinematic Universe and Civil War a sign that they’re really starting to take advantage of it with storytelling that builds off the layers already provided and using them to reach to new heights. And, Thor Ragnarok seems to be continuing that considering the Hulk’s apparent role.
Honestly, I could gush and gush about this movie all day, and I haven’t even gotten into stuff like the Airport fight. I’ll just say that Civil War is the sort of movie that really proves the worth of the Cinematic Universe and that Marvel continues to set a standard of inventiveness and risk taking that other franchises should aspire to (even if they continue to get called formulaic for it). I may not absolutely adore everything they do but, again, when they get it right, they goddamn get it right.
4. The Nice Guys
A Shane Black written/directed detective movie? I was sold on this before I even saw the trailer. Quite frankly, I was completely expecting this to become one of my favourites of the year. And did it live up that expectation? Yes. 100% yes. This is every bit as good as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and I goddamn loved the hell out of that movie. Gosling and Crowe were amazing together, almost every joke seemed to land, the story was compelling and I think Angourie Rice certainly surprised us all.
I honestly don’t feel I need to talk much about this movie because if you’ve seen it, you understand why it’s so damn good. It was everything I wanted from a Shane Black movie and delivered on every level. Nice.
3. Train to Busan
Fun Fact: I first saw this a few hours after I watched Rogue One. And you know how fantastic the final third of that movie was? How it had you constantly on the edge of your seat, eagerly awaiting every minute? Well, that’s how I felt while watching the entirety of this movie. Seriously, I mentioned getting tired of zombie movies when talking about I am a Hero? Well, people who are getting sick of zombie films would not be feeling the same if every zombie movie was this well made.
Effectively a zombie movie set entirely on a train, this movie takes a few minutes to set up our main characters, start the zombie outbreak and then it grips you around the throat and does not let up until the credits start rolling. It is ferocious in its action and intensity. In particular, I have to compliment the pacing. It’s difficult to watch a movie that feels like 80/90% action without eventually getting burnt out, but the movie balances the slower moments perfectly, giving you just enough time to catch your breath before throwing you right back into the zombie pit, refreshed and ready for more.
Hell, the movie even manages to avoid the common horror pitfalls and honestly does a excellent job of getting you to sympathise with the main cast of survivors and root for them against the odds. (Well, minus Asian Donald Trump who everyone justifiably hates). And while it does do the whole ‘maybe humans are the real monsters’ thing that I decried I am a Hero for, it does it in a way that feels realistic and makes the offenders genuinely look like people just trying survive rather than asshole and monsters (again, minus Asian Donald Trump who is easily one of the most punchable characters in moviedom this year). It also did an excellent of taking a rather unlikeable protagonist and slowly, fiercely making you root for him as the movie goes along. One moment at the very end honestly pulled my heartstrings more than any other zombie movie I’ve ever watched.
Seriously, whether you’re fond of zombie movies or tired of them I would entirely recommend this film as one of the classic of the genre. It’s pulse-pounding, beautifully paced, never felt like it was dragging on too long, with excellent effects, action choreography, the whole works. Quite frankly, it’s not only the best horror, but also the best action movie I’ve seen all year. Definitely one to recommend.
2. A Monster Calls
I don’t know what it is about movies that blend fantasy and reality like this but they almost always manage to get me directly in the feels. Probably the reason I love Mamoru Hosoda so much. Anyway A Monster Calls follows Connor, a young boy dealing with hardship of his mother’s illness. He is visited by a Monster, voiced to perfection by Liam Neeson, who balances caring yet dangerous perfectly with the effects work. Said Monster tells him three stories, each with messages and relevance to Connor’s own life. Now you’d normally expect these messages to be straightforward and blatant morals for the protagonist to learn. However, that’s not really the case and part of why I love this movie so much. The messages in the Monster’s tales are not only not always straightforward and clear at first glance but also not always the most clearly moral and deal heavily in shades of grey and levels of maturity you don’t usually expect from movies like this.
Seriously, I really loved this movie. The writing was intelligent and meaningful, the acting fantastic (special notes to Lucy Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell) and the movie went off in directions I wasn’t expecting, yet found made the movie work all the better for it. There’s one scene, right after the second story, that probably hit me harder than any other movie scene I’ve seen this year. A without a single word being exchanged. Just the grandmother, Connor, both taking the scene in utter, complete silence. And it hit me harder than a goddamn freight truck. And, of course, since is the year of animation, I’ve can’t go without mentioning the beautiful watercolour animation used to tell the Monster’s Stories. Seriously, that some is really gorgeous art there which helps elevate and bring the stories alive combined with Neeson’s smooth storyteller voice.
Seriously, it was very very tempting to put this movie at No 1 for the year. And it came damn close. It’s a fantastic tale, a perfect blend of fantasy and reality into a greater whole, with complex human characters and moralities. I know it kinda flopped in the US, but they really do need to make more movies like this one. Something willing to blend adult themes so masterfully in what seems like a children’s story. It just works so well.
As for my real No 1 however…
1. Long Way North
Yup. And, like I said, at Number One comes a film most of you have probably never even heard of. Surprise!
I’ll be honest, I ran into this movie more or less by accident. I remember seeing it on a list of nominated animated films for some award or another and since a) I was looking to catch up on missed 2016 movies and b ) I’d already seen every other entry on the list, I decided to check it out. And it surpassed my every expectation. I was engrossed from start to finish and while there weren’t many moments that openly blew me away like a lot of movies this year had, the more I thought about it, the more I looked back on it, the more compared it to other films I’d seen this year, the more I realised just how goddamn much I loved this movie.
The story, about a young Russian girl searching for her grandfather’s lost ship, is pretty simple. But it’s told so earnestly and so well that it’s hard not to fall in love. The animation style and storytelling has this timelessness feel to it that I so rarely see in animated films these days or, well, animated films period. There was never a moment I felt spoken down to or that an out of place pop-culture thing/character was shoved in to appeal to a certain dynamic (*cough* Moana twitter joke *cough*). There’s no glim or polish or shiny keys thrown in your face. It just took a story and told it really really well. It honestly kinda reminded me of Disney’s Renaissance movies at their best, if you took out the annoying and out-of-place comic relief those movies often had.
Everything about this movie just works. The characters, their arcs, the pacing, the journey, the utterly gorgeous yet simple animation that captured my attention in the way The Red Turtle could only dream of. It’s like the anti-Up. Rather than just having one scene that was noticeably outstanding and the rest of the movie being okay, this entire movie is outstanding in a delightful, low key way. By the end of the movie I wanted to see more, not because of any kind of sequel hook, but because I wanted to keep following these characters and this story, even knowing that there’s not much more they can tell. And that’s the sort of thing few stories can ever accomplish.
So yeah, Long Way North is my No 1 pick of 2016 and I hope more people go and check it out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a long drink to celebrate finally finishing this damn list. Ruk out.