Categories: Entertainment

The year of films in review

Amy Adams played a communications specialist tasked with making contact with aliens in the brilliant Arrival.

Looking back, this was not what many would call a year of happiness and peace. With war and strife, protests, and environmental calamities, it might be hard to say that there was much good out of it except that we survived. At the end of the year, survival brings with it a renewed sense of vigour and hope.

Looking back at the movies of 2016 usually brings to me a sense of heightening despair at the changing times. How can one not lament how an industry based on creativity and art finds its greatest financial successes on safe, already proven material, predominantly in animated form or based on comic books or popular fiction series.

And that’s not even taking Rogue One: A Star Wars Story into consideration.

Disney was the studio with the biggest bank, bringing in five movies in the top ten, three of which have already made more than $1 billion each, bringing the production studio’s annual tally over $7 billion. When the final year-end accounting is done, I’m sure that Rogue One will help ameliorate that even more.

Yes, Star Wars is a Disney product, as are Marvel movies like Doctor Strange. That movie and Fox’s Deadpool were perhaps my favourites on this short list, although I must admit enjoying some, but not most, of Captain America: Civil War as well. The Marvel movies collectively have now earned more than $10 billion. When industries get that large, economies of scale are inevitable. Most of these characters have no character, no personality, the stories only exist to serve plot points of intense and dramatic action sequences, and there’s a certain reliance on less and less creativity and risk with more and more reliance on advertising that leaves a sick taste in my throat.

These are also reasons why I liked Deadpool, and also why it took the better part of a decade for that movie to come to fruition. It’s different: in budget, in style, in storytelling method, and in rating, among other respects. It bucked a gargantuan trend and rose victorious out of the fray. I have hopes that this bodes well for the very future of cinema.

That being said, there’s another issue here. Yes, Deadpool was rated 14A in Alberta. A big side note is that no theatrically released animated film was even rated G by the MPAA, the American ratings body, but Zootopia, Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets (all top ten blockbusters) were rated G here. If you pay attention to societal trends as I do, then this certainly indicates that family audiences are sitting in front of more mature material. I’ve always said that an animated movie is a great built-in way of doubling your ticket sales because you have to have Mom or Dad with you. Now, it seems like Mom and Dad are getting to enjoy those experiences more and more because the sensibility of those films is geared more and more toward adult audience members too.

Deadpool has been much on my thoughts, as it seems to have heralded an interesting and successful return to a maverick style of filmmaking with original, unique visions and substantial budgetary constraints to accommodate them.

In many ways, it’s an inverse relationship: if your film’s budget is $200 million, its originality quotient is -200 million OQ. There must be some kind of balance in there, between having a film that tells a decent story that means something, and one that also looks good and has some amount of mass appeal. Sometimes, you can come across a comparatively low budget movie that transcends its financing to achieve mass market appeal, but rarely do you find a big budget movie that transcends its largesse to appeal to cineastes and lovers of the performing arts.

In my humble opinion, there were two such movies this year that I still have ticket stubs for, and the first might surprise you.

The Finest Hours, by all accounts, is a Disney movie filled with recognizable faces and names and telling a story about good old-fashioned American heroism. A rugged but underequipped Coast Guard team tries to save dozens of souls from a much larger vessel slowly capsizing – and they do! There’s much to be said for the telling of true tales to further humanity and this film looms large for its only modestly schmaltzy yet faithful and unrelenting look at how one man worked through the system to get a team out on rough, choppy waters and save the day. I think that the casting here is what really saved the day, and that’s not just a fishing pun.

Arrival came much later in the year but included no less of an emotional punch, despite it being a work of fiction, really good fiction. In the story, alien ships have landed at various points around the planet but no one can figure out how to communicate. Enter a master linguist played by Amy Adams who works around her military supervisors in order to make first contact, determining whether they come in peace or otherwise. This time-bending story required precious little in the way of special effects but kept me on the edge of my seat with its thriller mentality. And a Canadian directed this film! Denis Villeneuve will certainly appear somehow on this list next year as his sequel to Blade Runner hits theatres sometime in October 2017.

Ah, a year is but 365 days plus a bonus day during leap years. There were many movies that I just couldn’t get to. In the end, I can only suggest that people visit Metro Cinema more often. There, in the splendour of that timeless theatre, films tend to feel better just because of their presentation. That alone is often worth the price of a ticket as far as I’m concerned.

Films that surprised me

• Deadpool
• The Finest Hours
• Into the Forest
• Hail, Caesar!
• My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
• Sully
• Doctor Strange
• Hacksaw Ridge
• Arrival
• Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Films that disappointed me

• The Shallows
• Zoolander 2
• Ghostbusters
• Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
• Inferno
• Captain America: Civil War
• Collateral Beauty
• Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.