Many years ago, before my reviews were ever published, I would send e-mails to my best friend discussing the films I had seen in the days or weeks prior. We’d exchange our thoughts on just about every movie, whether it was the latest blockbuster or something obscure on DVD, both of us united by our love of cinema. And at the end of every year, I would write a lengthy e-mail in which I hosted a make-believe awards ceremony honouring my favourite films in the past twelve months.
As time wore on, the ceremony was christened the Fish Called Wanda Awards – named so to honour my favourite film of all time, A Fish Called Wanda – and the reviews I previously saved for correspondence would be published on the internet, but I continued to keep the Wandas a secret. Now, I’ve finally built up the courage to reveal my inanely-named ceremony to the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 2016 Fish Called Wanda Awards!
Many commentators have already declared 2016 to be one of the worst years ever – which I don’t need to elaborate on here – and this year-of-disappointment carried over into the movies we saw. Most of the releases proved mediocre, and a handful downright awful, yet there was always something to find enjoyable. And while there will be space devoted to the year’s worst films, the majority of this post will focus on 2016’s best and brightest.
Please note that these awards are restricted to the films I actually viewed, so the likes of Sing Street, Deadpool and Suicide Squad will unfortunately (or fortunately, in the latter’s case) not be making appearances on this list.
At the end of 2015, there were a number of great dramas released in cinemas, but as with most years, Australia didn’t get to see these films until awards season was in full-swing. For this reviewer, the one which impressed most was the eventual winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. Thoughtful, respectful and well-acted, Spotlight told the story of the people who broke one of this century’s biggest news reports – the widespread abuse of children in the Catholic Church. It’s a narrative that needs to be told, and one that should continue to be in the years to come.
Best Action Film
A constant of the blockbuster schedule, there’s never any shortage of action flicks, but 2016 experienced a dearth of excitement in the genre. The year’s biggest thrills were reserved for the superhero movies, with the most thrilling of all being Captain America: Civil War. The airport scene alone would be enough for the film to “win” this Wanda, yet it’s hard not to be impressed by the opening ambush, or the car chase with Black Panther, or the climactic battle between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
Best Animated Film
As always, Disney impressed this past year with its computer-generated releases, and there was even decent competition from Blue Sky Studios in the form of The Peanuts Movie, but I don’t think anyone predicted that an anime film would usurp the accolade for 2016’s best feature-length animation. Your Name was a bolt-from-the-blue with beautiful, Ghibli-esque animation and endearing characters. No other animated movie felt quite like it.
Best Science-Fiction Film
Not too long ago, sci-fi blockbusters were a rare breed, and it was even rarer for them to achieve mainstream success. In 2016, they came thick and fast, each one carrying a unique tone, but none stood out more than a certain film from the Star Wars universe. Rogue One may not have the thought-provoking storyline of, say, Arrival, but it did have enjoyable throwbacks to films past and some of the greatest action scenes in the series.
There is a part of me that wants to give this Wanda to The Nice Guys, Shane Black’s under-appreciated blockbuster from mid-year. But my funny bone is stronger than my levels of sympathy, and though it pains me to say it, The Nice Guys must make do with being the second-funniest film of 2016. The movie which gave my lungs a proper workout was Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the heart-warming and hilarious tale from across the Ditch.
You’re probably thinking that the Golden Globe-winning La La Land would take out this Wanda, right? Well, it’s difficult not to admire what the film has achieved – and it certainly deserves all the recognition it has been receiving – but its soundtrack doesn’t bring a smile to the face quite like that of Moana. Its numbers are catchy, memorable and upbeat, worthy of the Disney name and reminiscent of their greatest musicals.
Most Pleasant Surprise
This is a Wanda which is awarded to a film for surpassing my expectations, and I’ll openly admit there is a part of me that wanted to dislike 2016’s recipient. It’s a superhero origin story starring an actor I’ve never particularly warmed to, but its existential themes and innovative action sequences made it one of the more unique stories in the Marvel franchise. Yet more proof that there’s life left in the superhero genre, Doctor Strange sets the bar for all comic-book adaptations which come after it.
Oh boy. It would be easier to list the films that weren’t a disappointment, because there were plenty of candidates for this honour in 2016. The most obvious contender would be Batman v Superman, but for every flaw it had, there was an enjoyable moment. Instead, the year’s most significant let-down is a gritty action reboot that failed to deliver on its hype. Congratulations go to Jason Bourne for being humourless, unoriginal and just plain dull *claps sarcastically*.
A Good Day to Die Hard Award for Worst Film
For every Fish Called Wanda, there is a movie which offers nought – no innovation, no originality, and nothing to redefine the medium. “Winners” of this category should be held as an example of what not to do when making a feature film, and in 2016 no film better exemplified this than Zoolander 2. It may not leave me in a fit of rage like a certain other movie does, but it’s hard not to be upset by a picture as lazily produced or lacking in substance as this one. If Zoolander 3 ever goes ahead, count me out.
The 2016 Fish Called Wanda
At long last, it’s time to reveal my overall favourite film from the previous twelve months, and the winner is quite the surprise. As 2016 began, this movie wasn’t even on my radar, and would barely have raised an eyebrow with most audiences. By the time it was released in Australia, it had been a hit in its home country, turned its director into an international celebrity and left critics spellbound. I too fell in love with the picture, awarding it a score of 4.5 stars – the only release of 2016 to do so.
This year’s winner of the Fish Called Wanda is… Your Name.
No other film felt as compelling nor as original as this one. It’s a reflection of what the anime industry is capable of, demonstrating that it can be just as enjoyable as any Western film, if not more so. In yet another year of endless sequels and reboots, it presented a welcome change from the clichés of Hollywood. Here’s hoping we see more films like it in 2017.