EVERYONE LOVES A list; and as we head into Oscar season, I too would like to throw in my top ten movie faves that I’d love to see short listed for 2016 movie accolades. Alas. Compared with those movie-mad capitols of the world, London remains resolutely parochial. Two of the year’s best: the brilliant, “I, Daniel Blake” and “Julieta”, which were only recently launched in New York, were aired here as far back as August. But we’re yet to get “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea”(mid January); “Jacky” isn't due out until the end of the month; and “Fences” doesn't show up until mid February (a tinge of racial invisibility here?). So it makes no sense to offer up a Top Ten list with these glaring omissions.
Instead I’ll suggest those movies which made me regret I’d lost two or more hours, when I could have been doing so many more interesting things…like sleeping or sharing a dry Martini.
Here’s my 2016 Low Water Mark
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
This one promised well, with respected critic, Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian giving it four stars. And the premise was interesting: after an Avengers’ assault on some bad guys, the World has had enough of all the destruction that accompanies the battles of these super heroes. Is collateral damage just a small price to pay in the battle against terrorism? Or is collateral damage a manifestation of uncaring recklessness? What a premise! What thought-provoking questions! What a story waiting to be told!
It was all a sucker punch.
Having gotten the heavy philosophical lifting out of the way in the first fifteen minutes, the next six hours (what it felt like) mashed up multiple silly plot lines about Tony Stark’s murdered parents etc as an excuse for what was essentially a slug-fest between an invincible Iron Man and an unstoppable Captain America. They bash, smash, crash and make an unsightly hash of each other as they destroy an entire airport and fleets of aircraft. Pretty much the same plot actually as that other super-hero dud, “Batman v Superman”
Exhausting. Give me back my time!
This had all the fingerprints of a movie shaped by focus group research and a squadron of script-writers. In it, two separate and not very interesting or funny characters (Russell Crowe hoping to redeem his reputation through the appearance of humor and Ryan Gosling showing that he can take a joke) happen share a story. Said story’s no more than a series of brain-storm vignettes in search of an idea and patched together by an accountant. Bad guys arrive and shoot people from time to time; we trail through a boobs-dense Playboy type pool party (this replaces the usual boobs-dense stripper joint); bodies turn up in unexpected places and Kim Bassinger steps in as a crooked Head of the Department of Justice.
Sigh. Time was not on my side.
Another comedy without a funny bone!
The cast certainly tried hard enough. They ground away with exaggerated enthusiasm through all the set-piece scenes as they battled against both an uprising of the dead and the refusal of a terrified government (hammily personified by Amy Garcia as the Mayor) to acknowledge the existence of whispy, malignant, slime-vomiting ghouls. SNL’s Leslie Jones, the token Black Person, exuding Black Folksiness seemed to be the only one who felt comfortable in her role. But the inventiveness of four women taking on the living and the dead (not to mention all that SNL talent) was never unleashed. The exuberant Melissa McCarthy remained strait-jacketed and unsure whether to go for the big gesture or contain herself; Kristen Wiig (SNL) was the mousy scientist with a lust for more than science who was transformed into... a mousy scientist with a lust for more than science (funny?). And fellow SNL alumni, Kate McKinnon, tried to channel the eye-popping zaniness of Christopher Lloyd from Back to The Future. Poorly.
I’d have the original again. Please
Not a trace of humour here in this flavorless (money-grubbing?) reboot of a leaden-scripted version of the Bourne franchise. Director Paul Greengrass’ decision to go for a revisited Bourne that was bigger, louder and more effects laden than past Bourne’s resulted in something fast and furious without a trace of finesse.
Gone was Jason’s simpático angst and the movies’ clever plot lines. This new Bourne was simply a blunt instrument, a mere action hero; one who you never felt was ever in danger.
We fans deserved a lot better. I intend to return to a time before this farrago was made and fondly keep to my memories of the first three
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Director Antoine Fuqua managed to transform the joyful excitement of the original The Magnificent Seven into a dull, leaden, sourpuss movie. Unlike the exciting original, with its glittering cast of characters, Fuqua's ... Magnificent Seven offered up a mainly charm-free bunch of heroes (less characters in their own right, more symbols of American history) that go through the motions, energized only by the studio’s payroll and by no discernible sparks of motivation. Only Chris Platt managed to add much needed swagger and roguish dynamism into this shoot ‘em up by numbers (and there are thousands of them) gang.
Fuqua's one level The Magnificent Seven was all dehumanized metaphor without insight, fun or freshness, energized by an idea of leaden triteness.
Like Ghostbusters, or Jason Bourne, or Captain America, it was just another dud remake
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Tom Cruise at his most robotic. Now that’s saying a lot. The plot centered around Jack's attempt to date someone he’d never met but whose voice he liked (aural sex?). But said voice turned out to be someone who “knew too much” and needed Jack’s lean, mean fighting machine skills; all running, jumping, shooting and kicking. Once Jack's neurons had been activated, there was no turning them off until all perceived threat has been terminated.
Someone should terminate Cruise’s legal hold on future Jack Reacher stories
The premise of the movie centered around an autistic Maths genius (Ben Affleck); a CPA working for the underworld, and also a lethal weapon thanks to his dad’s vigilance against childhood bullies. He was your typical autistic Maths genius hit man (who only killed bad guys, because he was a softie at heart). Very little made any sense in this tedious tale. He may have been a brilliant accountant, but in “The Accountant”, nothing really added up
THE NEON DEMON
I saved the worst for last.
The highly stylized movie (every scene precisely and numbingly art directed) about our obsession over appearances, over the ideal of perfection and the predatory lusts they engender followed the life of Jesse (Elle Fanning) newly arrived in LA in search of a job as a model.
We met her initially as a corpse, blood gushing from her throat…all in the duty of art or photography or something. The story progressed via cannibalism, an eye being vomited up, Sapphic necrophilia, a snarling mountain lion trapped in a motel room, and as if that weren’t bad enough, Keanu Reeves.
Neon Demon had more symbols in the movie than a Robert Langdon symbology hunt…but without the silliness.
That’s my walk of shame. And there are sooo many I avoided, like Will Smith’s latest (I am told) schmaltz-fest, “Collateral Beauty”. At least I managed to hang on to my two hours there