The year has given me plenty to rant about in the cinema, but after such a rubbish year, what's the point of railing against the "why did you say that name?!" scene or blasting the bit where Tom Hanks forgot what coffee was, or completing my long-gestating essay on why the Dad's Army reboot is Brexit-made-cinema?*
* Not everyone who voted Leave liked the film, but everyone who liked it voted Leave.
Let's be positive instead. While the bad films generated the most discussion and made the most noise, as always, there were plenty of hidden gems in this year of movies and that's what I'd rather write about at the end of a terrible year. There'll be a couple of other overlooked good'uns in my top 10 (come back tomorrow!) but these aren't all best of the year material as much as films that deserve more kudos than they got for one reason or another.
While events of the last 12 months may well have hastened our route to oblivion, here's an alphabetical rundown of great and/or entertaining films you might have overlooked in 2016.
Adult Life Skills
Rachel Tunnard // 15 // 96 mins // UK
Its use of Whitesnake's endlessly versatile Here I Go Again (even in this film, it is soundtrack to both triumph and disaster) makes it a winner by itself, but the excellent star turns by the incredible Jodie Whittaker and BIFA award-winning Brett "SuperBob" Goldstein elevate it to the next level. Two thumbs up, both with smiley faces drawn on them.
Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders
Rick Morales // PG // 78 mins // USA
Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders is certainly an affectionate tribute to the cliffhanger-driven adventure show that was my first Batman, but it quickly transcends its own nostalgia kick and turns into a very funny and inventive satire of grim-dark superhero movies. It's so successful because it understands both how hilarious and how upsetting it is to see West's Batman don Bat knuckle-dusters or leave a room without saying goodbye. It didn't have to be great to best the rest of the Bat-dreck in cinemas this year, but it is anyway.
The Brand New Testament
Jaco Von Dormael // 15 // 101 mins // Belgium/France/Luxembourg
From beginning to end, the high concept heresy of this super-Belgian satire never fails to entertain, even though the weight of Ea's divine intervention leads to a couple of tonally difficult scenes that stick out like sore thumbs. Its surrealism is blended with a genuine life-affirming message, like the gospel according to Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michel Gondry and Douglas Adams.
The Edge Of Seventeen
Kelly Fremon Craig // 15 // 104 mins // USA
The result feels like a definitive coming-of-age movie for the 2010s, eluding the usual comparisons to last decade's Mean Girls. It's neither blasé nor downbeat, and it isn't faking by cobbling together a character from stereotypes and social media - for what feels like the first time in forever, it's a teen movie that doesn't have a viral video sub-plot in sight. Instead, it engages with the current generation of teens on their own level, with sharp wit and prickly honesty.
The Girl With All The Gifts
Colm McCarthy // 12 // 111 mins // UK/USA
Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine are reliably good as ideological counterpoints in a country overrun by zombies- a teacher and a soldier- who travel along with Melanie, the one "hungry" whose gifts might change things for the better. Sennia Nanua makes an enthralling breakthrough as Melanie, but never moreso than when she's opposite the terrifyingly good Glenn Close as an amoral scientist.
Paul Feig // 12 // 116 mins // USA/Australia
It starts with the impeccable casting, with Kristen Wiig as the comic foil that wraps up Melissa McCarthy's Stantz-like nerddom, Leslie Jones' incredulous everywoman and Kate McKinnon's star-making puckishness. It's thanks to their infectious enthusiasm that it's so much fun- it's a 3 star film that leaves you with a 4 star grin on your face. In the parallel reality where Ed Miliband is PM and Hillary is POTUS, my most anticipated movie might be a Ghostbusters II with all of these people, but here in the darkest timeline, 2016 gonna 2016.
David Lowery // PG // 103 mins // USA
Lowery's take is a moving and majestic hybrid of influences from Spielberg to Studio Ghibli, backed up by the performing power of Oakes Fegley as a fearless Pete, Robert Redford's twinkly eyed storyteller and Bryce Dallas Howard's warm and caring park ranger. The absolute sincerity on show here is a tonic for cynical times and your heart soars along with the adorable Elliott.
Popstar- Never Stop Never Stopping
Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone // 15 // 87 mins // USA
While Ricky Gervais has been slinging records since the summer, off the back of his David Brent revival, here is the (4Real) funniest original soundtrack of the year, with hilarious earworms like Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song), I'm So Humble and Mona Lisa, all naturally built into a cameo-packed comedy that actually feels like Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone actually sat down and wrote it, rather than tossing it off in a series of line-o-ramas. Aside from the musical brilliance, it gets one of the year's drop-dead funniest scenes out of a blank screen and some subtitles- that's got to be worth your time.
Queen Of Katwe
Mira Nair // PG // 124 mins // USA
For all of the talk of how unusual and radical it is, Queen Of Katwe is a Disney movie, right down to its bones. Where other chess-centric movies have failed to convince us of the game's stakes or cinematic qualities, this heartwarming true story is eight moves ahead of anything like it, boasting strong performances across the board and a hard-earned happy ending.
Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland // U // 87 mins // USA
On paper, it's Arthur Christmas meets Monsters Inc. But Stoller brings his Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Muppets calibre to bear on what turns out to be a weird and hyperactive family film, experimenting with the animated medium as he never has before and notably giving us the demented idea of a wolf pack that can transform themselves into all sorts while pursuing our heroes. While it lacks the thematic heft of a Zootropolis or a Kubo And The Two Strings, any comedy this funny and inventive deserves a look.
Swiss Army Man
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert // 15 // 97 mins // USA
On that note, all other woes aside, we live in the timeline in which you're unlikely to win an Oscar for playing a farting corpse whose boner acts as a compass, more's the pity. Radcliffe may be the third credited Daniel, but he's never been better than he is here. Despite playing a character who's unable to move of his own accord, he acts with his whole body and his haunting acapella rendition of the theme from Jurassic Park will bring a tear to your eye. There's really no other movie in which you could merely get away with this, let alone give one of the year's very best performances.
Tale Of Tales
Matteo Garrone // 15 // 133 mins // Italy/France/UK
It's gorgeously done too- from the costume design to the location work and sets, there's as much to excite the eye as to tickle your fairytale fancy. Irony drips off of it and it definitely gets nasty in places, but it has such conviction, backed up by peerless visuals and a game cast, that this is mostly part of its enveloping charm. Much like Queen Salma's seafood fertility snack, it's horrid, but delicious.
Tomorrow brings a couple of other underappreciated gems and a lot more of the year's best movies. I don't use this blog much any more, but if you can find more of my entertainment-related writings on Den of Geek and Vodzilla, or follow me on Letterboxd.
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.