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Behind on the Times: 2016 Edition

If you're new to these parts, let me explain my year-end tradition on this blog.  Virtually every movie fan with half a mind to put their opinions on the Internet ends the year with a Top Ten list, and I'm no exception.

The problem is, I have neither the time nor the money to go to theaters and see all the latest stuff.  Any "Top Ten of 2016" list I make is going to be an unfair representation of the year because it'll just be the best ten out of the fifteen or so movies releases this year that I was able to see.

So instead, my list addresses movies I watched for the first time in 2016, regardless of their release year.  It's probably not much help for you if you insist on keeping track of current events, but if you enjoy looking through the catalogs of yesteryear, there's good stuff in here worth your attention.

You can check out last year's recap here.

The Ten Movies I Most Enjoyed Watching in 2016

10. Parole Violators

Few good-bad movies have won me over as thoroughly as Parole Violators did.  It is not, by any means, a technically proficient or even competent film, but it does have excellent stunt work and plenty of unintentionally hilarious moments.  It's the first film in three years of my Hipster Holy Grail write-ups that I saw something worthy of the esteemed "Secret Comedy" rating, which is reserved only for the greatest bad movies to watch with friends.

After watching it for the blog, I watched it an additional three times with different groups, and virtually everybody enjoyed it.  But I did notice a recurring theme, and I might as well warn you about it here: if you plan to watch this with a bunch of buddies, be ready for some awkward silence for the first five or ten minutes.  Parole Violators has such a strange and slow opening that I think people aren't sure what to make of it, and it takes a bit to relax and say, "Oh, sure, I can just laugh at this."  If your group isn't starting to get into it by the time Miles has his sloppy date night, you're probably not in the right mood.

But assuming you do have the right mood... this movie is sublime.  It gets my highest recommendations for bad movie fans everywhere.

You can read my full write-up here.  (Be warned - I spoil most of the best moments.)

9. The Equalizer

This is my unapologetic guy movie choice for the year.  There's nothing subversive or brilliant about The Equalizer, nothing unusual or original, no spectacular cinematic qualities.  It's just a well-made movie about Denzel Washington kicking ass and taking names, and I really dug it.

8. Grave Encounters

I'll have a hard time justifying this one as "innovative" since it relies mainly on jump scares and traditionally creepy stuff, but Grave Encounters makes such excellent use of horror tropes and is full of so much infectious energy that it wound up being the scariest movie I saw all year.  It's exactly what you want out of going through a haunted house and is a must watch at your next Halloween lineup, if you haven't already seen it.

Read my full review here.

7. A Walk Among the Tombstones

I meant to give this movie a full review back when I saw it in early 2016 and I never got around to it.  A Walk Among the Tombstones is a surprisingly great movie that defies a lot of your initial expectations.  It's a dark, dour drama about Liam Neeson hunting serial killers who target the families of crime lords - you can probably finish the rest of that in your head, right?

While Tombstones has no shortage of guy movie tropes - butchered women become motivation for revenge killings and men have to prove themselves with badass dialogue time and time again - it's a much smarter movie than the premise deserves.  Neeson isn't the same kind of highly skilled badass he is in all his other movies; he's a legitimate underdog and he manages to bring - wait for it - humor to an otherwise bleak picture.

I really enjoyed this movie in spite of its well-trod subject matter.  It easily stands up next to The Grey as one of Neeson's best two movies of the last decade.

6. The Invitation

Methodical, almost plodding pacing is rarely my jam, but it worked really well in The Invitation.  This is a movie that plants a few seeds of doubt in your brain early on and lets you do all the hard work at making yourself uncomfortable while the characters dance around any direct conversations or resolutions.  The end result is one of the best thrillers I've seen in recent years.

You can read my full review here.

5. Green Room

Green Room is intense, disturbing, and profoundly terrifying.  It's not really a gory movie, but it does have some extreme, shocking violence that hits hard and fast.  It's not really a political movie, but it taps into some very pertinent issues plaguing our country right now.  It's not really a horror movie, but goddamn if it won't keep you up at night.  It is a visceral and harrowing experience.

So, maybe not a "good time at the movies," but definitely a great movie.

You can read my full review here.

4. The Thin Man

I don't need to explain why this is a good movie.  People have already had almost a hundred years to do that.  I just happened to see it in 2016 and really liked it.

3. Inside Out

It would be a sin for me to do an annual recap without at least one Pixar movie, so here it is.  Inside Out is one of the best-made depictions of the day-to-day drama that comes with growing up, dreams, and parenthood.  It perfectly balances itself on that tightrope above schmaltz and ends up being a genuinely moving experience from start to finish.

It might actually be too good, in fact.  Not only were Stephanie and I bawling uncontrollably while watching it, but I have a hard time keeping my eyes dry just thinking about it.  I'd love to watch this movie again some day, but I need to go in prepared.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Yup, everybody's favorite movie from 2015 was one of my top two favorite movies of 2016.  I'd tell you why, but you don't need to hear another recap, do you?  Surely you've been pestered to watch this a dozen times by now.

Just in case: it's not only the best Mad Max movie, it is not only one of the best action movies, but it is also one of the best overall movies ever made.  Its exploration of themes, female empowerment, and technical qualities all cement it as a prime example of brilliant cinema.  This will be one of those movies people go back to time and time again as a benchmark.  You owe it to yourself to see it if you haven't already.

1. 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane had a lot of the same great stuff as Fury Road - good female characterization, suspense, excellent use of visual details to fill in the story, etc.  And in terms of technical quality, it is probably a step down; Fury Road was an incredible visual spectacle whereas 10 Cloverfield Lane is a muted, low-key thriller with a handful of special effects shoved in at the very end.

But there's two reasons I gave it the edge on my list: first, it actually did come out in 2016, so it's a little more appropriate for the list.  And secondly, it's more directly / personally inspirational.  Fury Road ramps you up when you watch it because you think, "Wow, look at those people take on the world.  Awesome!"  10 Cloverfield Lane makes you think, "Wow, now I'm ready to take on the world!"  This movie gets you in a frame of mind to dive into the worst and give it your best, and that kind of empowerment doesn't come by often.

You can read my full review here.

The Three Movies I Most Hated Watching in 2016

In my last few year-in-review posts, I only listed one movie as the "worst of the year."  Partly that's because I try to stay as positive as I can and partly that's because I can genuinely find things to respect in most movies, so I normally don't feel the need to fume on the Internet.

But 2016 was a crappy year in general, so it's fitting that I can't whittle this down to just one choice.  Each of the following movies annoyed me enough that I thought, at the time, that it was going to be the worst movie I would see all year... and then it got worse.

3. Insurgent

In retrospect, I almost feel bad including Insurgent on this list.  Almost.

If I'm being fair, it's not a gut-wrenchingly bad movie that makes me angry the way the others below did.  It's just a really frustrating one.  Worse, the social undercurrent of it rubs me the wrong way.  Insurgent - and possibly the greater Divergent universe - speaks to all the worst cliches and stereotypes that people have about young people, and more specifically about my generation, which makes it actively harmful when we try to bridge the gaps between us.

On the plus side, I think my complaints about this one led to - in my opinion - one of my funnier reviews.  You may disagree.  Go check out my full review on my side blog and let me know.

2. The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin

Let's talk about politics.  Later.  I think we're all sick of it right now.  But when you are ready to talk about politics, do not see The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin, a propaganda / misinformation piece masquerading as a documentary.

This is the exact opposite kind of think piece that libertarians should be trying to push onto the rest of us.  I say that sincerely, because I'd actually really love for a libertarian to make something compelling.  I would describe myself as fiscally center/left, which means I might be convinced by the right on monetary issues once in awhile if you can make a good argument - and I know those good arguments exist.  I've changed my mind before and I'm happy to do it again with good information.  (For example: I think it would be fantastic if new businesses were exempt from income taxes for the first couple years of their existence so they could establish a successful presence.  Know who convinced me of that?  Republicans.  We can agree sometimes, guys.)

Unfortunately, Bitcoin completely fails at any compelling arguments.  I was so aggravated by this movie that I shut down on the discussion entirely, and that's not how political discourse is supposed to work.

If you need a little more bile in your day, you can read my full review here.

1. Hell and Back

You know how I know 2016 was a bad year, moreso than global bigotry, genocide, Putin trying to start World War III, and Li'l Donny's nationwide con?  Because it's the year I watched Hell and Back, my new go-to choice when I need to tell somebody what the worst movie I've ever seen is.  Not just the worst movie I saw all year - the worst movie ever.

Let's be honest.  Hell and Back is technically better than a lot of the stuff I watch.  It's got an excellent cast that actually does a pretty good job.  It has decent production value.  The animation looks good and the aesthetic is really wonderful.

But the bad outweighs the good so much that none of that matters.  The simple fact is that I've never seen something so unpleasant, so miserable, so committed to finding the worst, lamest, most mean-spirited jokes.  I hated every minute I watched this movie.  It is an hour and a half of crappy bro stand-up and you pretty much have to be a hateful asshole to take any joy out of it.  I think I'm past that part of my life, guy.  I don't need to push other people to make myself feel big anymore.

You can read my full diatribe over here if you really need it.

And Now Some Other Nonsense....

(Possibly the?) Most Obscure Movie I Watched in 2016: Commander / The Last American Soldier

Commander had less than 100 IMDb ratings when I reviewed it for the Hipster Holy Grail, but the feed of it I found on Youtube had 2,500,000 views.  That has been bothering my brain ever since it happened and I'm still not sure what to make of it.  Fun movie, though.

Worst Ending: Dark Skies

I didn't intend to have a pick like this each year, but it seems like there's always one movie with a truly rotten ending that deserves special criticism.  Unlike past years, however, Dark Skies's ending isn't bad because it fails to resolve anything; it's bad because it reminds you of the crappy ending that already happened and treats it like a twist.  It's what happens when you lose a race and then take a victory lap, anyway.

Best Movie to Watch To End 2016: The Little Prince

I know most people are ready to get 2016 over with.  Before you do, though, take a minute to stop and count your blessings, and then go watch The Little Prince.  It's a little bit inspirational, a little bit sentimental (in the good way), and a fantastic reminder that you're never too old to dream.  Maybe not the most subtle way to go out, but this is the kind of attitude you need to have to get a new year under way.