The Grimm Reaper

Our movie guy tried to find good flicks during a dark and depressing year

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in <i>La La Land</i>, Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in <i>Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice</i>

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Column note

2016 Oh, what a vicious, celebrity-death-riddled year it was. The Grim Reaper was a merciless prick coming after our most beloved celebrities. He even took Abe Vigoda. Did you hear me? Abe Vigoda!

I was a few hours away from turning this story in when news came down that the great Carrie Fisher had died. Thankfully, I got an extension, which allows me to tell you about how much I truly loved her.

When I saw Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in a movie theater for the first time, I was an impressionable 9 years old. My female movie heroes at that point were Tatum O’Neal in The Bad News Bears, Adrian from Rocky and Mary Poppins. I instantly fell in love with the way Fisher’s Leia bossed everybody around and kept taking control over lumbering Luke and Han (“Into the garbage chute, Flyboy!”).

I loved Fisher in all of the Star Wars films, loved her as the psycho in The Blues Brothers, and I even loved her in The Burbs. It was so much fun to see Fisher revisiting her Star Wars past with the new films. I thought she had a couple of decades to go. I know she partied hard, but damn it, I thought she would outlive James Earl Jones for sure.

This year not only saw the death of some huge film—and music and TV—stars, but also the deaths of stars you thought were already dead, like George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn, Zsa Zsa Gabor and the beloved Vigoda. In short, a shit ton of notable famous folks died! What the hell? It feels like more than usual, doesn’t it?

Yes, that’s me crying in this issue’s cover illustration—drawn by my awesome bro, Michael … plug—and I’m crying over the sad year that was 2016. However, while the loss of stars such as Fisher, Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman and the way-too-young Anton Yelchin definitely stings, I am actually shedding copious tears over the fact that the new Ghostbusters was derivative crap. So much potential wasted!

There was a version of the cover drawing that didn’t include Fisher. I sincerely wish that first version, sans Leia with Fisher still alive, was the one that made it to press. Worst … fucking … year … ever, and not just for the celebrity deaths. Don’t get me started.

OK, let’s talk movies.

Many of the year’s big budget blockbuster offerings left a lot to be desired. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came along in the final month to right the blockbuster ship a bit. For the most part, movies that cost a bazillion dollars delivered supreme disappointment over escapist fun. For every Rogue One, there was a Passengers. Actually, there were more like three shit blockbuster films for every good one. Actually, I think it’s more, but I’m not going to do the math in some sort of grand cinematic mathematical experiment. I have a deadline to hit. And I suck at math.

Massive celebrity casualties aside, it was an “OK” movie year. Smaller, intimate films take the big prizes with a few exceptions. Here are the best and worst of 2016.

THE BEST: I LIKE IT … I LIKE IT A LOT.

1. La La Land

I’m a sucker for a good musical. I gave Les Miserables the top prize in 2012, and now I’m giving it to this original piece of work from writer-director Damien Chazelle (maker of the equally incredible Whiplash).

Not enough can be said about Ryan Gosling in this movie. His dancing and singing puts him in league with the great musical stars like Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Unlike those guys, he brings a superior level of acting chops, which bodes well for this film, because it isn’t all song and dance. The characters have major depth.

Emma Stone is equally amazing in this L.A story. The film is full of gigantic numbers (the traffic sequence) and more intimate ones (the planetarium dance) that make it such a rich visual experience. The songs are also tremendously good. It’s the best film of 2016.

2. Manchester By the Sea

This one is right on La La Land’s tail, mainly for a performance that can’t be denied as the year’s best. Casey Affleck will rip your heart out as Lee Chandler, a janitor who loses his older brother and is expected to raise his nephew (Lucas Hedges). Affleck delivers some of the harshest, most emotionally brutal scenes ever put to film. Michelle Williams will make you cry like a baby as his ex-wife. It’s not a fun movie to watch, although it does somehow manage to include one or two solid laughs. Considering what’s happening around those laughs, the fact that even a giggle can be achieved is some sort of miracle from director Kenneth Lonergan.

3. The Witch

There were some terrific directorial debuts this year, none better than Robert Eggers and his tale of baby-mulching witches, religious oppression, evil goats and living deliciously. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers the breakout performance of the year as Thomasin, banned from an American settlement with her family because her pops (Ralph Ineson) is taking things a little too far on the God front. She and her family are then taunted by a witch, and the devil himself, in the scary forest. It’s a masterpiece.

4. Loving

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are devastatingly good as real life couple Richard and Mildred Loving, subject of a landmark court case that wound up being a huge victory for civil rights. The Lovings were an interracial couple married in 1958 and trying to reside in Virginia, where interracial marriage was illegal. Edgerton and Negga play the most moving on-screen couple of the year. One of two exemplary films from director Jeff Nichols in 2016.

5. Hell or High Water

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play bank-robbing brothers being chased by lawman Jeff Bridges in this modern western that is the very definition of a smooth, well-oiled movie machine.

6. 20th Century Woman

Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup shine in Mike Mills’s ode to his unusual mother, who raised him in the late ’70s and tried to like punk music as much as she could. Bening is terrific as Dorothea, perhaps the best work of her career. I love the way this film uses music on its soundtrack, from Talking Heads to the Buzzcocks.

7. Moonlight

This sophomore feature effort from director Barry Jenkins is a thing of beauty. A young boy grows into a man in the film’s three parts, and Jenkins has cast the roles perfectly. Mahershala Ali gives one of the year’s most memorable performances as a drug dealer who winds up being a mentor to the young boy, the ultimate in conflicted characters.

8. Nocturnal Animals

Jilted husbands get their own fantasy film with this dark, two-story movie where Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a jilted husband and a character in a novel he’s sent to his ex-wife (Amy Adams) for her review. It’s a unique opportunity for two movies in one, and Gyllenhaal, Adams, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are all amazing.

9. Hail, Caesar!

Old reliable Joel and Ethan Coen deliver yet another solid comedy, this one spoofing old timey Hollywood and featuring the year’s funniest scene. That’s when director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) tries his darndest to get new actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to deliver his lines properly. Oh, and George Clooney seeing The Christ takes a close second.

10. Swiss Army Man

The best thing related to Harry Potter at the movies this year wasn’t Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was this nuttier-than-all-hell movie featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as his delusional friend.

As is the tradition in this annual article, we don’t stop at 10. This sucker goes to 20.

11. Midnight Special

This chase movie felt more like a Spielberg film than the actual movie Spielberg made this year. Director Jeff Nichols had himself a great year with this and Loving.

12. The Neon Demon

Elle Fanning had a banner year as well, especially with her work in this techno horror show from director Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn made a nice comeback with this one, a vicious satire about the fashion industry.

13. Edge of Seventeen

Hailee Steinfeld, who should already have an Oscar for the work she did in True Grit, epitomizes awkward teen angst in this very funny, very true treatment of high school in the new millennium. Woody Harrelson makes the experience all the more fun as her grouchy teacher.

14. Patriot’s Day

Director Peter Berg teamed with Mark Wahlberg twice in 2016, both times for historical drama/thrillers. Deepwater Horizon proved to be a solid piece of work, but it’s this account of the Boston Marathon bombing that stands as their best collaboration.

15. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) makes a different kind of Star Wars movie, and scores big. The final moment in this one really tugs at the heartstrings now, doesn’t it?

16. Krisha

Oh man, don’t watch this one during the holidays. Trey Edward Shults’s directorial debut is an emotional punch in the face as a woman in her 60s (Krisha Fairchild) battling chemical dependency tries to make nice with her family. Things don’t go well with the turkey.

17. American Honey

A nearly three-hour road trip with some sweaty teens selling magazine subscriptions led by Shia LaBeouf. Sounds like a recipe for hell, but it actually results in a really good movie.

18. Lion

There are a lot of bummer movies on this list. I’m going to go ahead and brand this one the “feel good” movie of the year. Dev Patel plays an Indian man who got lost when he was a kid and wound up in Australia with new parents. Nicole Kidman plays the new mom, and it’s her best role in years. Based on a true story.

19. Arrival

A very different sort of alien invasion movie starring Amy Adams and directed by Denis Villeneuve, a directing force to be reckoned with. (He’s currently putting together the new Blade Runner movie.)

20. Jackie

Natalie Portman nails Jackie Kennedy’s speaking voice in this powerful movie that deals with the assassination of her husband, its direct aftermath, and how it affected her and the children.

I had quite a few movies that ranked as “very good” that didn’t crack the top 20 (Deadpool, O.J.: Made in America and The Lobster to name a few). The following list was also overflowing, and I had a tough time whittling it down. I give you the very worst of 2016.

THE WORST: BLECCH!

1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Congratulations to Zack Snyder. His garbage dump of a movie was my pick for year’s worst at the halfway mark, and it managed to fight off some of the serious challengers you’ll see on this list to retain the title of Biggest StinkButt Letdown of 2016 as Far as Movies Go and All That. I really do have to work on my fake awards titles. They are lumbering, asinine messes … sort of like this movie.

2. Suicide Squad

Man, DC just had a bad old time at the movies this year. If it wasn’t Zack Snyder mucking up old school with two great superheroes, it was Jared Leto looking like a big dick as the Joker in this dishonorable showcase for the DC villains. Yeah, Margot Robbie was OK, but Margot Robbie is OK in everything.

3. Jason Bourne

For years and years, Matt Damon was a holdout on the Bourne franchise, saying he would only do it if Paul Greengrass came back. This year, Paul came back, and he must’ve been flying on Ouzo and bad pot, because this thing was super stale.

4. Ghostbusters

One of my friends (I won’t say his name, but his initials are B.B. and he can often be seen shirtless in Reno area clubs) insists that this movie isn’t all that bad. I digress. This thing played like a faded copy out of an aging, Purell-stinking copier machine where somebody forgot to shake the toner thing. Unoriginal, unfunny and hugely disappointing, the franchise goes back into the mothballs.

5. Independence Day: Resurgence

Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Not-Will Smith returned for this sequel that reminds us that very bad things can happen when aliens invade, such as inane dialogue and dated special effects.

6. Inferno

The only thing that improved in the latest installment for the Da Vinci Code franchise was Tom Hanks’s haircut.

7. Blair Witch

This movie was dumb. Dumber than a D-student seventh grader sucking nitrous out of three Reddi-wip cans and getting into a fist fight with somebody on the high school varsity football team. Sticks tied together and stones in piles ARE … NOT … SCARY!

8. Pete’s Dragon

A charmless, music-less remake of one of my favorite Disney movies. This one will make you miss Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters and Jeff Conaway. It also has a boy raised by wolves who howls when he’s sad, and a fuzzy, odd-looking Elliot the Dragon. Some things need to be left alone.

9. The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Kristen Stewart departed the franchise, so they made this movie about that character played by Thor instead. The manly actor who plays Thor can be really boring when he is playing somebody other than Thor. Emily Blunt cashed a big check, and Charlize Theron’s character came back from the dead. All were cinematically humiliated.

10. The BFG

I never thought I would see the day when I didn’t like three films in a row from Steven Spielberg, but it has happened. The apocalypse is nigh!

As we head into the New Year, let’s put a stop to all of these celebrity deaths please. Keep breathing, James Earl Jones! Please don’t die, Pete Townshend. Stay indoors for long periods of time, Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick. Don’t’ stand under any large studio lights, Bob Saget. Don’t climb a stepladder near a ceiling fan, Michael Douglas!

And—just before I press send on this here article—the news comes down that Debbie Reynolds, mother of Carrie Fisher and luminously beautiful star of Singin’ in the Rain, has died. The day after her daughter.

2016 … you were a super evil episode of The Twilight Zone on heroin. Go away, and never come back.

The Grimmy Awards

Best Actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea); Ryan Gosling (La La Land); Joel Edgerton (Loving); Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals); Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man)

Best Actress

Emma Stone (La La Land); Anya Taylor Joy (The Witch); Natalie Portman (Jackie); Annette Bening (20th Century Woman); Ruth Negga (Loving)

Best Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea); Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals); Ben Foster (Hell or High Water); Mahershala Ali (Moonlight); Woody Harrelson (Edge of Seventeen)

Best Supporting Actress

Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea); Naomie Harris (Moonlight); Nicole Kidman (Lion); Viola Davis (Fences); Greta Gerwig (20th Century Woman)

Best Director

Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special and Loving)

Worst Actor

Jesse Eisenberg (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Worst Actress

Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)

Best Actor In A Bad Movie

Tie: Ed Begley Jr. and Zach Woods (Ghostbusters)

Best Actress In A Bad Movie

Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad)

Worst Actor In A Good Movie

Mykelti Williamson (Fences)

Worst Actress In A Good Movie

Kim Basinger (The Nice Guys)

Best Movie Star To Make It Out Of The Year Alive

Jack Nicholson (Thanks for not dying, Jack!)

Worst Movie Star To Make It Out Of The Year Alive

Don Sullivan, star of The Giant Gila Monster … a helluva human being but a terrible, terrible actor.

Overrated

Ghostbusters, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Don’t Breathe

Underrated

The Accountant, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Underappreciated

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Thought It Would Suck/Actually Kind Of Awesome

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Best Animated Movies

Sausage Party, Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia

Best Foreign Films

The Handmaiden, A Man Called Ove, The Wailing

Best Documentary

O.J.: Made in America

Best Reason To Keep On Dancing

Cause the music’s got soul!