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The Year In Film: Jim Schembri looks back at the movies of 2016

MML

THE YEAR IN FILM – 2016 Let’s take a look back over a year’s worth of movies – the good, the bad, the unwanted and the unwatchable.

All things considered, 2016 turned out to be a topsy-turvy year for everything. Across the board, expectations were defied and the weird became normal as over-confident predictions from over-paid  pundits turned out to be as accurate as a election-eve poll.

Who’d have thought that billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump would become the President of the United States?  Or that the Western Bulldogs would finally win a premiership after a 62-year drought? Or that the United Kingdom would vote overwhelmingly to leave the European Union? Or that anybody would be interested in seeing another attempt at comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen?

As crazy as it was, the year at the movies gave us some blessed signs of consistency: Clint Eastwood showed he was still at the top of his game with Sully; Tom Cruise proved he could still run for the entire length of a movie in Jack Reacher: Never Look Back; and Disney gave us something to set our clocks to by delivering another Star Wars film bang on a year after the last one.

As expected, the stumblebum spectacle made a motza – $600 million in 10 days – so you can take it as gospel that Disney will keep extending the 40-year old franchise until the asteroid hits.

As usual, ‘franchise’ was the defining feature of big films but this year we got a lot more crud than usual.

On the upside there was: Deadpool, the playful semi-send up of superhero films; Warcraft, the solid game-to-film adaptation; Captain America: Civil War (AKA Avengers 3 – you really can’t tell these films apart these days, can you?); X-Men: Apocalypse, the best in the series since First Class; even Dr Strange offered us a new Marvel super-being nobody was exactly hankering for. Star Trek Beyond was the best of the rebooted Trek films so far; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was straight-out fun.

But we also got a lot of dreck.

Gods of Egypt was an Australian co-production that offered a big-screen fantasy joyride nobody was interested in.

In the execrable Batman vs Superman we learnt the extent of Hollywood’s contempt for audiences by having Superman fly while holding a sceptre of kryptonite, the one substance in the Universe capable – until half-way through this film anyway – of destroying him. (Note to DC: Thanks heaps for screwing with the sacredness of superhero folklore, you bastards. As if we didn’t have little enough to believe in.)

While Matt Damon’s fouth stab at Jason Bourne was a tad more desperate and stale than Renee Zellweger’s surprisingly spright third stab at Bridget Jones with Bridget Jones’s Baby, the hands-down winner for most far-fetched franchise extender has got to go to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The film isn’t based on a Harry Potter book, but on the passing mention of that fictitious book in one of the JK Rowling novels, which she then turned into a novelette for charity. Not much to go on, sure, but a multi-billion dollar franchise is a multi-billion dollar franchise and Hollywood is Hollywood, so a film was going to get made, however slight the premise and despite the naysayers. Total earning so far after five weeks? $750 million. Five more are planned. Heaven help us.

As if to insult us with a film that was actually stupider than the first, we were given Indepenence Day Resurgence, in which the aliens from the 1996 film return for a second go at conquering earth, only to discover that they can still be sucker punched by an ageing Jeff Goldblum.

Thanks to Bridesmaids we now have a new sub-genre of girls-behaving-badly comedies, just to prove how women can be every bit as obnoxious as men.

This year gave us the goofball duo of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Sisters; Mila Kunis leading the charge in Bad Moms; Rebel Wilson being Rebel Wilson in How to Be Single; Chloe Grace Moretz giving her ‘bad girl’ schtick an unconvincing go in Bad Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising; while Emily Blunt blew several fuses Gone Girl-style in The Girl on the Train.

Now, technically that last one isn’t really a comedy – not unless you start thinking about the plot, in which case you’ll laugh so hard you’ll remember just how much screenwriters get paid for churning out this glossed-up trash. Then you’ll stop.

Count in the female version of Ghostbusters if you like, though that film is more an example of a film we could have happily lived the rest of our lives without seeing.

Here are some others: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2; Ride Along 2; Bad Santa 2; Zoolander 2; Kung Fu Panda 3; The 5th Wave; and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which should have been a lot more fun than it was.

Horror-wise we bought into old-school scares with as Blake Lively went mano-a-mano with a shark in The Shallows, we revisited the woods in the worthwhile reboot of Blair Witch and jumped when we were supposed to in The Conjuring 2 and Don’t Breathe.

Australian films were a mess in 2016. Nothing to do with their quality – most were very fine works – they just had trouble letting people know they were out.

There were a few titles people knew about: The Daughter; Hacksaw Ridge, The Space Between Oceans and Red Dog: True Blue.

But virtually nobody knew about A Month of Sundays; Looking for Grace; Is This The Real World; Red Billabong; Boys in the Trees; Girl Asleep; Down Under; Pawno; or The Legend of Ben Hall.

These were good films that got a wisp of the audiences they deserved, mainly because they hit the foyers with way too little warning, thanks to way too little marketing.

That said, the Aussie Outback/ute comedy Spin Out had the almighty might of Sony behind it, and push it they did. Just one snag: the film was crap. It died.

So, too, did the 2016 AACTA awards ceremony, which was held in early December to a negligible TV audience (it ranked 16th on the night, just behind Ten’s 5pm news).

The event’s uncertain sense of self continue. The affair used to air during the traditional film awards season in the new year, so the new timing two months earlier puts it out of step. A lot of people don’t even know they’re on. The clumsy re-naming – what was wrong with the AFI Awards? – doesn’t help. Combining the TV and film awards also lengthens the event and divides audience interest.

Though the jokes were still poorly rehearsed and often stale, the presentation this year wasn’t the mess it has been, though some of those speeches went on forever, with Oscar winner (in 2008 for Taxi to the Dark Side) Eva Orner, collecting for her doco Chasing Asylum, pressing on for minutes on end because her issue was just too important. May her next triumph be blessed with the power of concision. 

The awards largely went where they deserved to go, with Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge picking up the main ones (film; director; screenplay; actor; supporting actor; cinematography; editing; sound) and Odessa Young getting a richly deserved doorstop for The Daughter.

Nobody could complain about comedy icon Paul Hogan getting the Longford Lyell Award as tribute for his cultural contribution. But as for Isla Fisher getting the special, clumsily titled Trailblazer Award? She’s funny and all, but what trails did she blaze, exactly? And what was the slapdash Goldstone doing amidst the nominees for best film, director and – gulp – screenplay?

With its odd timing, rebranding struggles and low ratings the AACTA shebang suffers from the same lack of profile that still afflicts the wider film industry.

If this lack of public connection continues – and, God, what a contrast to the glorious banner year of 2015 – Australia will become know for having an invisible film industry, pumping out well-made movies to barely-there audiences who have likely wandered into the cinema by accident. Please, we’ve been there. We don’t want to go back.

The satire Down Under stands as the one Aussie film that should have made more noise and drawn bigger crowds (or, indeed, a crowd). Set the day after the 2005 Cronulla riots, its caustic view of what went on should have been sparking debates and discussions. The film was so admired, one Sydney outfit donated powerful images to help market the film. So what happened? Alas, explained director Abe Forsythe, there was no money to follow through.

In terms of filmmaking talent, Australia punches way above its weight – a point Mel Gibson made while making his war movie Hacksaw Ridge here – so this scenario simply can’t be the future. History has proved repeatedly, and recently, that Aussies love Aussie films. All you gotta do is let them know.

And with that grandiose, oft-laboured point out of the way, here’s a quick list of 2016’s best and worst.

 

THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2016

The Revenant: Leonardo diCaprio vs the Wild Frontier. Leo wins, but only just. 

Zootopia: Despite much quality competition, Disney asserts its new-century dominance of an old-century artform. 

Eye in the Sky: Helen Mirren heads a tech-heavy film about the ironic intimacy of 21st century warfare. 

The Founder: Compelling dramedy about the real story behind the origin of  McDonald’s.

The Lady in the Van: Maggie Smith shines as a vagabond living in Alan Bennett’s driveway.

Sully: A perfect storm of talent as Tom Hanks and director Clint Eastwood tell the remarkable story of the 2009 Hudson River plane ditching. It’s pro-hero, anti-bureacrat values can be read as a reflection of Trump’s America.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Fabulously distinctive Kiwi comedy from Taika Waititi; the $10m it took is more than all other Australian films combined – excluding Hacksaw Ridge but including Gods of Egypt.

War Dogs: Jonah Hill & Miles Teller hit it off as two over-ambitious gun runners.

Trumbo: Near-perfect portrait of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, as channelled by Bryan Cranston, who used his Breaking Bad muscle to get the film made.

Florence Foster Jenkins: Never mind her dramatic cred; Meryl Streep’s under-used gift for comedy comes to the fore in this bizarre true story about a deluded, talentless singer.

 

…AND THE 5 WORST

The Magnificent Seven: A politically corrected version of the 1960 John Sturges classic? Every bit as bad as it sounds.

Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely crapulous.

Grimsby: Why does Sacha Baron Cohen think his anal fixation is of any interest to us?

Arrival: An assemblage of sci-fi cliches cleverly dressed up as something new and important.

Batman vs Superman: Cynical to its core, it might just be the very worst blockbuster film of all time.

 

MOST OVERRATED:

Goldstone: Ivan Sen’s sloppy, poorly plotted follow-up to Mystery Road had more holes in it than most bad American cop films, yet many local reviews didn’t seem to pick up on them.

 

MOST UNDERRATED:

Where to Invade Next: Michael Moore’s most entertaining documentary uses present-day practices in other countries to remind people how his once-great America can get back on the horse.

 

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