Let’s face it, 2016 was a tough year. Despair, hopelessness and rancour were all around us, and those feelings simply spiralled downward as the year wore on. Thankfully, we had the movies to allow us a couple of hours escape from the madness and to (hopefully) introduce a little grace note into our lives. All things considered, 2016 was a pretty good year for the movies. With more than 200 movies were commercially released in Australia in 2015 (between 216 and 267, depending on how you count) there was no shortage of options, and plenty of variety.
The 2015 Oscars provided both surprises and predictability in equal measure in February. While the small, story-driven Spotlight took out the top gong, beating out some much bigger budgeted and more storied contenders, the whole event was overshadowed by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. It reached so deep that the Academy introduced changes to its membership and voting policies in an attempt to ensure there was no repeat. Whether these changes will make a real difference remains to be seen. There were breakthrough wins for Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) and Brie Larson (Room) in the acting categories; but in the directing field, it was same-again as Alejandro G. Iñárritu took home the statuette (also for The Revenant).
We barely had time to draw breath before the so-called “summer movie” season began on – believe it or not – 24 March with the release of Zack Snyder’s ill-starred Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. That pretty much set a tone for the year, in which highly-anticipated (perhaps too highly) action-adventure movies (particularly sequels ) turned out to be busts. The arguable exception was Captain America: Civil War, which got some love from both critics and audiences; even though it was only fourth on the box office takings list, raking in just over $25 mil). It was – perhaps bizarrely – beaten out of third spot by the widely-panned Suicide Squad, which bested it by nearly $1 mil.
Another superhero flick (albeit a subversive one), Deadpool took second spot with over $33 mil; but the undisputed box office champ of 2016 in Australia was Finding Dory with over $36 mil in takings, thus once more proving that recycling can be good for you. In fact, there were three animated movies aimed at kids in the top 10, with The Secret Life of Pets and Zootopia joining Finding Dory, so it’s reasonable to conclude pester-power is still a potent force in Australians’ movie-going habits. And in case you were wondering, the least successful release of 2016 was Mechanic: Resurrection, with just over $10 k in takings.
Among the plethora of sequels, prequels, alternative versions and “expanded universe” installments from already-successful franchises,original stories still managed to cling on. Some of the best reviewed movies of the year featured no explosions, lycra or cute animated animals. Among these were the little New Zealand movie that could, Hunt for the Wilderpeople; a highlight in a strong year for movies from across the Ditch. David Macknezie’s modern noir-Western Hell or High Water was a critics’ darling, and there were also strong showings from the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar and Shane Black’s comic gangster flick The Nice Guys.
One big story in movies this year was the rise of the “anti-review”, in which people use social media to either talk up or (mainly) talk down movies they haven’t seen due to perceived political or social messages in said movies. Brought into focus by the so-called movie-bros who sought to trash Paul Feig’s female-focussed Ghostbusters remake sight-unseen, this is really an extension of the real-world phenomenon of “fake news” (which is frankly just a cutesy term for lying). Ghostbusters wasn’t the only film to suffer this fate in 2016 (hell, some loons were even griping about supposedly “coded” messaging in Finding Dory), but it was the most prominent.
So far as Australian film, it was another underwhelming year I’m afraid. The war movie Hacksaw Ridge scooped the AACTA awards; although one might quibble whether a film directed by an American, starring American actors and about an American hero really qualifies as an Australian film. Ivan Sen’s Goldstone at least brought some style and excitement, while Kriv Stenders’ Red Dog True Blue seeks to do what the Americans have been doing by making a prequel to his wildly successful Red Dog. But for all the good, there was plenty of bad; with the likes of Red Billabong, Down Under and Spin Out hardly inspiring confidence.
That’s a very potted summary of the year in film that was 2016. Before we get to the lists however, we’d like to urge everyone who enjoys movies to seek out the ones that interest you – and please, go to the cinema. Take the time to be with other humans and enjoy a shared experience. Don’t coop yourself up at home in front of the TV or a computer. Get out, fight traffic, enjoy a choc-top or a beverage and revel in the artistry. With that said, here are our critics’ top 10 movies of 2016:
- La La Land
- The Witch
- Nocturnal Animals
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- Hail, Caesar!
- The Nice Guys
- Café Society
- Son of Saul
- La La Land
- The Big Short
- Hell or High Water
- Café Society
- The Handmaiden
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television