The Best & Worst in Film: 2016

What I’ll remember most about 2016 is just how wide the gap between blockbuster films and award movies there was this year.  In the past, my favorite films always comprised a mix of both.  Last year, my two favorite movies were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road.  While Whiplash was the best film of 2014, I had X-Men: Days of Future Past right behind it.  That’s not the case this year.  It was a bad year for big market movies.  While there were a few gems, most of these films got lost in a sea of CGI explosions, forced shared universe building and making decisions based on what people demanded off a message board.

On the other side of the aisle, we had powerful, visceral films like Moonlight juxtaposed with the elation and grandeur that is La La Land.  The blockbusters on the other hand were all the same – movies that marketed other movies.  Even in the ones I enjoyed like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we still had Wonder Woman literally watching trailers for upcoming DCEU films.  Don’t think I’m going to let Marvel off the hook either.  Black Panther.  Spider-Man.  Those characters could have easily been cut from Captain America: Civil War, as they don’t serve the primary story.

I could go on all day, but we have a crap load to get through.  While I’ll spend the next few months breaking down Oscar races and who will win what, this is the one day a year I get to sit back and reflect on what I loved most about this year in film.  It won’t be all sunshine and roses, as I also revisit old wounds (I hate Suicide Squad).

Without further ado, break out the sausages and CGI Tarkins!

IT’S THE BEST & WORST IN FILM 2016!

BEST MOVIE

Arrival

It’s fitting that the best movie of the year be Arrival.  In a year filled with dumb and repetitive blockbusters, here comes a movie old school film fans yearn for every year.  It’s The Abyss.  It’s Blade Runner.  It’s Arrival.  It’s that film we can hold up high and shout “THIS IS INTELLIGENT SCIENCE FICTION, BABY!  WE DID IT!”  In a script infused with brilliant and thought-provoking ideas, it never forgets what makes a movie important – character.  If I don’t care about the characters, I won’t care about your film.  It’s that simple.  You care about Louise Banks.  Amy Adams could not have been more perfect for this role.  She personifies that emotional connection.  Padded with great supporting roles by Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg, Arrival delivered the perfect cast.

Much kudos needs to go to screenwriter Eric Heisserer, but it’s director Denis Villeneuve who should be commended most of all.  Not many directors could have delivered such an efficient and tightly told tale with material that is highly complex, but he nails it.  I said it in my review, and I’ll say it again: He could be the next Christopher Nolan.  While a Blade Runner sequel has every reason to fail, I actually have faith with this guy at the helm.

Honorable Mentions:

2. La La Land

3. Manchester by the Sea

4. Sausage Party

5. Hacksaw Ridge

BEST ACTRESS

Natalie Portman (Jackie)

This was a tough call between Portman and Emma Stone (La La Land).  Within the first ten seconds of Jackie, you can already feel Natalie Portman winning the Oscar.  That’s why she gets the nudge.  You are completely enraptured by Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in what can only be described as one of the worst days of her life.  The voice inflections are incredible.  It’s amazing to think this is the same actress who was so bland and dry in those Star Wars prequels, but those feel like a lifetime ago.  This performance could have gone horribly wrong.  The degree of difficulty in playing Jackie Kennedy was high, but Portman scored perfect tens.  She’s winning her second Oscar.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Emma Stone (La La Land)

3. Amy Adams (Arrival)

4. Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon)

5. Ruth Negga (Loving)

BEST ACTOR

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

As great as guys like Denzel Washington (Fences) and Ryan Gosling (La La Land) were in their respective films, we’ve seen those performances before.  Casey Affleck delivers something truly original.  It’s a performance that really affects you.  I’ve certainly never experienced the tragedies and turmoil that Affleck’s character does in Manchester by the Sea, but for those 2+ hours, it almost feels like I did.  That’s why I have to give it to Affleck here.  He really draws you into his sad, volatile world.  It’s not easy to watch, but it’s riveting nonetheless.  Despite his demons, you root like hell for the guy, and that’s part of what makes a truly memorable protagonist.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Andrew Garfield (Silence)

3. Miles Teller (Bleed for This)

4. Denzel Washington (Fences)

5. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Going right back to the Manchester well.  It’s no wonder this is one of the best films of the year.  Michelle Williams has been to the dance before, and this could be the year she closes the deal.  While Williams isn’t in the film a ton, it’s one scene in particular that absolutely floors you.  If you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about.  They even made it the damn movie poster!  In that pivotal moment, Williams is absolutely gut-wrenching.  We see a character completely and utterly break apart, and that’s why Williams should win her first Oscar.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Viola Davis (Fences)

3. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

4. Nicole Kidman (Lion)

5. Katey Sagal (Bleed for This)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Aaron Eckhart (Bleed for This)

Even though I love the film, I can understand why it’s not resonating.  It’s definitely very “Been there, done that.”  What I don’t understand is how Aaron Eckhart is completely being ignored.  If you didn’t tell me Aaron Eckhart was playing this role, I may not have guessed it.  He’s transcendent from the very first scene where he’s completely hung over in his car with his gut hanging out.  I’m always a sucker for boxing movies, in particular the boxing manager.  Hell, I picked a boxing manager in this category last year (Sylvester Stallone, Creed).  Bottom-line: the character is funny, sad, intense, and a genius all at the same time.  It’s a shame Eckhart is being pushed aside.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

3. Hugo Weaving (Hacksaw Ridge)

4. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

5. Vince Vaughn (Hacksaw Ridge)

BEST DIRECTOR

Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

While Arrival may have won Best Movie, I can’t deny Chazelle here.  I’m already indebted to Damien for Whiplash, but to follow it up with this masterpiece is just silly.  When people ask me to recommend movies, I often have to think about the person I’m recommending them to.  I may push Manchester by the Sea to certain friends, but not others.  The same can be said for Arrival or Sausage Party.  I would recommend La La Land to anybody.  While the musical numbers are all A+ insane, Chazelle isn’t satisfied with just making a fun as hell musical.  Just as character isn’t ignored in Arrival, Chazelle doesn’t sit back on spectacle.  He creates two real people in a sea of music and fantasy.  Aside from that, everything that is important when it comes to filmmaking is executed flawlessly.  Editing.  Cinematography.  Production Design.  That’s why Chazelle is my pick for Best Director.  This will be the film to win all those Mad Max awards, but unlike that movie, La La Land may close the deal.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)

3. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

4. Martin Scorsese (Silence)

5. Peter Berg (Patriots Day)

BEST SCREENPLAY

Eric Heisserer (Arrival)

While Manchester by the Sea is emotionally gripping with powerful dialogue at every corner, the brilliance of Arrival can’t be denied.  With Best Screenplay, I’m usually going to gravitate towards originality.  The fact that Arrival is able to take the most overused plot of all time (aliens come to Earth) and make it wholly original seals the deal.  I was really tempted to give this to Sausage Party, but couldn’t pull the trigger.  This was a tough category all around.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

3. Kyle Hunter/Ariel Shaffir/Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg (Sausage Party)

4. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

5. Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster)

SCENE OF THE YEAR

*Spoilers for La La Land

Mia and Sebastian’s Dinner Argument (La La Land)

As I mentioned before, Damien Chazelle isn’t satisfied with just making a spectacular musical.  He digs deeper into the personal anguish of his main characters.  It’s ironic that the best scene in a musical is the dialogue heavy argument.  What’s brilliant about this sequence is that it starts out so positively, as Sebastian surprises Mia by coming home after weeks of being on the road, but it dissolves into something quite nasty.  This is Screenwriting 101, and Chazelle takes us to school.  I identify with this stuff to a tee, as I’m sure many people who’ve tried to make it in a creative field can attest to as well.  It’s eerie.  Aside from that, it’s just a damn good scene that is executed perfectly.

*Spoilers below for Silence, Moonlight, The Lobster and Sausage Party

2. Father Rodrigues Steps on the Plaque (Silence)

3. The Chair Hit (Moonlight)

4. The Final Scene/Cutting the Eyeball? (The Lobster)

5. “The Great Beyond” Musical Opening (Sausage Party)

MOST OVERRATED FILM

Captain America: Civil War

I should just rename this the Marvel Cinematic Universe award, although Rogue One gave it a run for its money.  Look, I get it.  That hanger scene is very entertaining.  What I don’t appreciate is the boring first half and forced franchised building diversions.  You can feel Kevin Feige checking boxes as you watch the film.  “Okay, let’s make sure Black Panther has this amount of screen time.  Spider-Man needs this much.  Black Widow has to throw a punch here.”  Whatever.  I’ve made my points clear about the MCU before.  It is what it is.  But when I hear this compared to The Dark Knight, I’m obligated to give Civil War Most Overrated Film of 2016.  Go enjoy it, but please…leave me in peace.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

3. The Jungle Book

4. Doctor Strange

5. The Nice Guys

MOST UNDERRATED FILM

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Everybody I’ve recommended this to has come back and told me they thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s interesting how average moviegoers who don’t follow film blogs on a daily basis enjoy the film.  Although, the joke’s on me, because it was also reviewed poorly.  People made up their minds before they saw this film.  Maybe I can’t think rationally about it anymore, but I’ll never be convinced otherwise.  I don’t know how many other ways I can say it.  Try and remove yourself from what you know about the characters and give it another chance.  I know Justice League will be directed by Zack Snyder in name only, and that the studio will control more than we probably know.  I’m thankful for the film Zack Snyder made, even if I’m the only one.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Bleed for This

3. Patriots Day

4. Snowden

5. X-Men: Apocalypse

MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM

Suicide Squad

I may retire the category after this.  I really hate this movie.  I was in Target the other day, and the new Extended Blu-Ray was sitting on the shelf.  Just looking at this film fills me with rage and anger.  They screwed up the Joker.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  Go listen to the podcast or read my review.  I can’t do this anymore.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Suicide Squad

3. Suicide Squad

4. Suicide Squad

5. Suicide Squad

THE CRITICISM THAT IRKED ME THE MOST

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

More BvS fallout.  While it irritates me, I can understand why so many people disliked this film due to tone and characterization.  What really irked me though was the slamming of Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor.  This is a great performance, alright!  Forget about what you wanted out of the character, and recognize that as a pure acting job, it’s one of a kind.  Nobody else could have played this role.  While Marvel delivered the most generic and vanilla villains in Zemo (Captain America: Civil War) and Kaecilius (Doctor Strange), Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay created an actual character.  Whether he’s over thinking his benefit speech, or the famous jar of Granny’s Peach Tea, that’s what digging deep into a character is all about.  Lex Luthor is a layered villain, and I can’t wait to see him in future films.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Warcraft’s Story is too Hard to Follow
–I mentioned this in my review, but this is lazy criticism.  I think many critics chose not to pay attention.  As someone who’s never played the game, I picked it up just fine.  Sometimes you need to pay attention to movies.

3. The use of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” (Star Trek Beyond)
–GET OVER IT!

4. The Overall Bashing of Independence Day: Resurgence
–I’m not saying this is To Kill a Mockingbird, but what were people expecting with this one?

THE “MOVIE I THOUGHT WAS GOING TO BE THE END OF ME, BUT TURNED OUT OKAY”

The Brothers Grimsby

I’m still in a state of shock.  I think I’ve predicted this movie as my Worst Film of the Year two years in a row as it was delayed about 900 times.  Let me be clear – this is not a master work of comedic genius.  I’m just saying it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  Where I give Sacha Baron Cohen credit is that an effort was clearly made here.  He’s trying hard to make you laugh.  I can respect that.  I think of The Brothers Grimsby as a C-level Austin Powers.  There are worse things in the world.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Dirty Grandpa

3. War Dogs

4. Warcraft

5. 13 Hours

BREAKOUT STAR OF THE YEAR

Tom Holland (Captain America: Civil War)

Even though I’m not a big fan of this movie, and think Spider-Man’s role was completely unnecessary, I very much enjoyed Tom Holland’s take on the character.  He’s the definition of a Scene Stealer.  This was pretty damn good casting.  Even before he gets in the suit, Holland delivered more emotional resonance and personality in his first scene as Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire’s entire three movie run.  While I have concerns about Spider-Man: Homecoming, the main star isn’t one of them.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

3. Barry Jenkins (director of Moonlight)

4. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

5. Ruth Negga (Loving)

THE “PLEASE GO AWAY” AWARD

The Star Wars Spin-Off Films

I’ve seen enough.  You can read my review on all the movie reasons why I disliked Rogue One, but now it’s time to get into the Star Wars of it all.  I’ve been against this idea from the beginning because I feared it would pad the Star Wars story in ways that were completely unnecessary.  (Rogue One Spoilers) The fact that I now know the hole in the Death Star was intentionally put there by some random scientist really angers me.  I liked the idea of a random design flaw, or putting my imagination to it.  Rogue One ripped that away from me.  I can only imagine what horrors lie in store with the Han Solo film.

Honorable Mentions:

2. The Fantastic Beasts Spin-Off Series
–Four more movies of this?  Oy vey.

3. Fan Service (Ghostbusters/Rogue One)

4. Awful Comedy Sequels Made Years Later (Bad Santa 2/Zoolander 2)

5. Getting a Massive Cast with Big Names for No Reason at All (Hail, Caesar!)
–WHY WAS JONAH HILL IN THIS MOVIE?!

THE BEST LINE OF THE YEAR

*Sausage Party spoilers

“F**king crackers.  I’m gonna f**k them crackers right in the crack of their cracker asses.  Cracker ass crackers.” (Grits, Sausage Party)

When I first heard this line in the theater, the person next to me probably thought I needed medical attention.  It’s a character called Mr. Grits yelling about actual crackers.  That right there sums up Sausage Party in a nut shell.

Honorable Mentions:

*Spoilers for Silence, Arrival, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Lobster

2. “I pray, but I am lost.  Am I just praying to silence?” (Rodrigues, Silence)

3. “You can understand communication and still end up single” (Louise Banks, Arrival)

4. “I bet your parents taught you that you mean something.  That you’re here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in the gutter for no reason at all.  They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.” (Batman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

5. Loner Leader: Can you imagine why I brought you to this quiet place today?
David: No.
   Loner Leader: Because I think it’s the perfect spot for your grave. (The Lobster)

BEST LINE FROM DEADPOOL

“I had another Liam Neeson nightmare.  I kidnapped his daughter and he just wasn’t having it.  They made three of those movies.  At some point you just have to wonder if he’s just a bad parent.”

Out of all the categories on this list, I imagine this will be the most contested.  Why did I go with this one?  It made me laugh the hardest.

Honorable Mentions:

2. “If I ever decide to become a crime-fighting shit swizzler, who rooms with a bunch of other little whiners at Neverland Mansion with some creepy, old, bald, Heaven’s Gate-looking mother**ker…on that day, I’ll send your shiny, happy ass a friend request!”

3. “That’s right! You’re about to be killed by a zamboni!”

4. “This is confusing.  Is it sexist to hit you?  Is it more sexist to not hit you?  I mean, the line gets real blurry!”

5. “Sure, I may be stuck looking like pepperoni flatbread, but at least f**k face won’t heal from that.”

FUNNIEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR

Deadpool

This was a tough call between Deadpool and Sausage Party.  While Sausage Party is the better movie, Deadpool made me laugh harder, which is the spirit of this award.  The fact I had to create a separate category for “Best Line in Deadpool” tells you everything you need to know.

Yet again, it’s another awful year for pure comedies.  I say this every year, but what’s become of this genre is just depressing.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Sausage Party

3. The Lobster

4. La La Land

5. Dirty Grandpa
–I don’t even think this movie is that great, but it’s the best I can do in this sad sack of a category.

BEST SCORE

Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

The Wonder Woman theme.  Argue that, BvS haters.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Cliff Martinez (The Neon Demon)

3. Johann Johannsson (Arrival)

4. Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross (Patriots Day)

5. Johnnie Burn (The Lobster)

THE BIGGEST DEBACLE OF THE YEAR

Ghostbusters

Whether you love or hate it, this was just a complete and utter poop show from all angles.  First of all, the movie bombed.  So, there’s that.  Aside from that, this movie pissed off just about everybody.  It pissed off Ghostbuster fans.  It pissed off feminists.  It pissed off ass bag sexists.  The actors got attacked.  The actors fought back.  The director fought back.  The trailer broke records for “dislikes.”  Articles were written.  It caused a social media war for the ages, but when it was all said and done, the movie just wasn’t very good.  If this isn’t the definition of a debacle, I don’t know what is.  In the words of Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters “has gone bye bye” for a long time.

Honorable Mentions:

2. The Joker (Suicide Squad)

3. CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

4. The Birth of a Nation’s Oscar Chances

THE BEST TRAILER FOR A 2017 FILM

Logan

This was the easiest decision I’ve had to make yet.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Wonder Woman (The Comic-Con Trailer)

3. Dunkirk

4. Blade Runner 2049

5. Justice League

THE WORST MOVIE OF 2016

Knight of Cups

First of all, I have to throw out my annual caveat.  I can’t see everything, and when it comes to horrible movies, I try to avoid them the best I can.  For example, I haven’t seen Nine Lives.  Having said that, I can promise you that nothing was going to beat Knight of Cups for one simple reason: it’s not a movie.  Knight of Cups is a series of images and voiceovers glued together by an obnoxious filmmaker who’s obsessed with entertaining himself.  To be fair, I don’t know what goes on in Terrence Malick’s head.  Maybe he truly believed his film would appeal to all audiences.  I can only go by my own opinion, and my opinion is that this is the worst movie I’ve ever reviewed during my time at Pop Break.

There’s no way in hell I can reach back into the bowels of my mind and recreate the anger and rage that fueled me on that fateful March morning when I saw the film.  If you want the full brunt, here it is.

As much as I detest Suicide Squad and the laziness that is Central Intelligence or Masterminds, they are at least motion pictures.  I guess that’s something.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Masterminds

3. Central Intelligence

4. Suicide Squad

5. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.