Best of the Decade: 2016

With the decade having drawn to a close, One Large Popcorn, Please! is continuing to honour the greatest films of the past ten years. This week, the year 2016 is in focus.

It was labelled by many as the worst year in living memory. A swathe of celebrities dying too soon; Brexit playing havoc with the world’s economy; the uncertainty brought about by Donald Trump’s election win. Sporting victories proved to be the only relief, with the Western Bulldogs – the Australian Football League’s perennial also-ran – winning their first premiership in six decades, much to the delight of many.

2016 is also a significant for being the year One Large Popcorn, Please! was conceived, with the very first review being Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters. Having gained a tertiary qualification and been given too much spare time, this author spent countless hours either in his local cinema or seated at home, certain that his dreams of being a critic would come true, yet continuing to be hampered by his regional location.

In terms of films, Warner Brothers’ attempt to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe was nearly brought undone by the scathing critical reviews for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but the popularity of 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool was proof that people weren’t sick of superhero movies just yet. It was also a strong year for animation, with Zootopia, Finding Dory and Kubo and the Two Strings all receiving critical acclaim.

At the end of 2016, many critics and commentators spoke unfavourably about the quality of films released that year, yours truly included. But upon writing this week’s post, it was realised just how many brilliant movies were released in that period. As of such this author has chosen, for the second week in a row, to discuss five films instead of four.

 

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water poster

The popularity of the Western movie may have waned, but the quality of the genre only seems to get better with every new release. This example is set in contemporary Texas and sees two siblings (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) commit a series of bank-robberies to pay their debts, while an aged Sheriff (Jeff Bridges) and his colleague (Gil Birmingham) pursue the pair across county lines.

As with most modern Westerns, Hell or High Water relies on increasing tension rather than high-stakes action to keep viewers enticed, and does so impeccably. Also making the film a delight are the well-written, morally ambiguous characters; the acting of the entire cast; and the haunting blues soundtrack, penned by Australian musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Hell or High Water had its premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where it was immediately and unanimously praised. Jeff Bridges was particularly lauded, earning a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the 89th Academy Awards; the film also received nominations for Best Editing, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 98% of critics have given the feature a positive review.

 

Your Name

your-name

Often viewed as a novelty or niche artform, anime seldom finds a mainstream audience – it’s only the high-calibre releases that manage to do so. Such an offering comes courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, the writer and director of a charming, delightful tale focused on two star-crossed lovers: introverted country girl Mitsuha, and city-slicking boy Taki.

It’s not just the beautiful illustrations, catchy pop soundtrack and relatable protagonists of Your Name that won the affections of critics and cinemagoers worldwide; what particularly garnered their adoration (and mine) was an unexpected twist in the screenplay, one which saw the movie seamlessly transform from a straightforward fantasy-drama into a tense race-against-time.

Your Name first conquered Japan, becoming the country’s highest-grossing release of the year, before being granted a limited release in the West. Once that happened, the film was met with overwhelming praise – it currently sits at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. In its home-country, the Nippon Academy Association (Japan’s equivalent of the American Academy) nominated Your Name for an Animation of the Year Award, which it lost to In This Corner of the World.

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

wilderpeople-poster-hand-drawn

Prior to becoming the darling of Hollywood that he is today, Taika Waititi was a humble New Zealander who made indie films in his homeland. This particular film, based on the novel Wild Pigs and Watercress, sees a juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison) traverse the bush with his grumpy foster-father (Sam Neill) while being pursued by an ever-increasing number of the police officers.

The always-delightful Sam Neill may well receive top-billing in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but it’s Julian Dennison who steals the show with his warm, cheeky and convincing performance Ricky Baker. Comedy is offered liberally, ranging from slapstick to absurdity to quirkiness, while the climax of the story provides greater thrills than most action blockbusters.

Being an independent release, there weren’t many accolades received by Hunt for the Wilderpeople during Awards Season, but was bestowed a “Film of the Year” award by the venerable Empire magazine. It also received a Golden Tomato Award for the best-reviewed “Limited Release” by Rotten Tomatoes, where it currently holds a rating of 97%. As for Taika Waititi, he went on to direct the successful Thor: Ragnarok the very next year.

 

Moonlight

Poster courtesy of A24 Pictures.

Gracious, Beautiful and Dignified are adjectives not commonly associated with stories about criminals; a rarer occurrence still is for such a story to have a homosexual lead character. Told in three parts, Moonlight follows the journey of a gangster from his impoverished childhood, through to his formulative years in high school, before an emotional final chapter that deserves not to be spoilt.

The majesty of Moonlight cannot be understated. What could have been a gritty, unpleasant experience or even a melodramatic one is instead a mature and quite moving story. Though it never shies away from confronting issues, there is a soothing atmosphere throughout – aided by the pacing, cinematography and soundtrack – which allows the viewer to feel at ease with proceedings.

Moonlight made history at the 89th Academy Awards by becoming the first queer film to win Best Picture, while also taking home prizes for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor – the latter awarded to Mahershala Ali for his role as Juan, Chiron’s mentor. Additionally, the film took out the major prize in the Drama category at the 74th Golden Globe Awards.

 

Moana

moana-poster-cropped

The only wide-release featured in this post, Moana is yet another example of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ ability to evolve with the times. The title refers to the film’s central protagonist (Auli’i Cravalho) whose island home is fast becoming uninhabitable; to eradicate this problem, she sails across the Pacific Ocean in search of Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a fabled demigod who is rumoured to possess a stone of rejuvenation.

Releasing the same year as Zootopia, there was a lot riding on Moana to succeed, and while it didn’t out-gross its contemporary, critically-speaking it is the better film. The screenplay finds the perfect balance of tradition and progression, retaining the best elements of Disney movies past while also adding fresh elements, such as a female lead whose authority and legitimacy is respected by her male counterparts.

Moana was nominated in the Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Annie Awards, losing at every ceremony to Zootopia. Even so, the film was widely praised and particularly celebrated in Oceania for its depiction of Polynesian and Maori culture. At the international box-office, it earned a total sum of $690 million in ticket sales.

 

Other notable releases: Irish musical Sing Street charmed the world with its coming-of-age story; Marvel Studios had yet more success with two releases, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange; Shane Black’s action-comedy The Nice Guys got nowhere near the recognition it deserved; La La Land won the hearts of an adoring public and nearly walked home with an Oscar; and interest in Star Wars grew once again with the release of a feature-length spin-off, Rogue One.

 

Do you agree with this list? What films have been missed? Be sure to comment below with your thoughts!

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