2016 at the movies may not go down as a vintage year in the annals of cinema but that isn’t to say it was devoid of notable releases and perhaps one or two future classics. So we’ve deliberated and debated to produce what we believe were the finest genre offerings in theaters this year. We begin our countdown going from 10 to 6, tune in tomorrow to see our picks for the five best movies of 2016.
10. DON’T BREATHE
This horror/thriller was a surprise Fall hit for Sony after a miserable summer for the studio. Don’t Breathe‘s no-nonsense approach is exactly what you want from the simple yet ingenious concept about some cocksure kids robbing a blind bereaved veteran. Of course, Stephen Lang’s visually-impaired soldier is anything but an innocent victim and literally gives the would-be burglars a run for his money around his dilapidated house that has more than just 300 grand locked up in it.
It could have possibly benefitted from a little more characterization for the motley crew and it unnecessarily strays into perverse territory at one point, which feels like a superfluous attempt to give an already well-honed thriller some shock value. But in a solid year for horror movies both at the box office and critical reception, Don’t Breathe was as indicative of this trend as any.
It’s almost poetically apt that the production of a movie about an anti-hero who relishes being the underdog, was in itself an underdog’s tale. In the crowded comic book arena this year, Deadpool was supposed to be the runt of litter. 20th Century Fox certainly thought so anyway as they imposed hefty budget cuts on this origin tale of the Merc with a Mouth presumably believing it would be unable to compete with the now insurmountable appeal of Marvel Studios’ output or the marketing muscle of the DC Extended Universe. But the former Wade Wilson defied the odds to not only become one of the year’s most successful films but also delivered a timely jab in the ribs for a genre that has been taking itself a little too seriously lately, in spite of its faults.
In terms of plot and action, Deadpool was so basic it bordered on being anachronistic at times, with its well-worn origin story and late-90’s aesthetic. However, this only offered Deadpool himself even more material to work with in his fourth-wall breaking quips and barbs that regularly swung between mocking and critiquing comic book tropes but were always delivered with a knowing wink to let the fans know he loved them really. As a snide roast to deflate the increasing pomposity of the genre, it succeeded admirably, but as an actual comic book movie, we can only ponder what Deadpool could have been had it been given the chance it deserved. Knowing Wade, though, he probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
8. BLAIR WITCH
Now, this is bound to be a contentious entry on the list as it is probably one the few you will see it on from multitudes doing the rounds currently, but please bear with us. This sequel to the phenomenal hit, The Blair Witch Project, was always going to be a difficult sell following on some 15 years later since the last entry in the franchise, the godawful Book of Shadows. Not only that, it also had to contend with a considerable amount of pent up disdain that had been building in those who thought the original was a lot of fuss over nothing. Likewise, those that did get on with its predecessor were starved of the zeitgeist and mystique which served to make the 1999 found-footage catalyst such a monster at the box office. It was greeted as a failure by audiences and most critics and slipped out of theaters with nary a whimper. But taking Blair Witch in isolation, it definitely had its merits which are worth advocating.
Director Alex Wingard ostensibly did with Blair Witch what James Cameron’s Aliens did with Alien: took the original’s mythology, expanded upon it, and turned it up to a near-deafening volume. Whereas the first film was a slow burn full of dread and unseen terrors, Blair Witch was a rollercoaster ride where the titular witch was far more willing to show off her methods and even herself. It’s actually one of the best-paced movies this year with a ruthlessly efficient approach that may not have left much room for characterization or huge revelations, but it certainly delivered plenty of thrills and tricks for fans of the original and the found-footage genre alike.
7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The phrase “Just another Marvel movie” is just as damning with faint praise as it is an ineffective criticism. The MCU is the undisputed king of the comic genre currently, and with good reason, but some are starting to confuse its consistency with repetition. Even the most ardent fan of the studio, though, would have to concede that they’re working with a pretty rigid formula for the Avenger characters but it’s so damn effective, it’s also hard to argue against it.
Captain America: Civil War was basically an Avengers movie in all but name as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark finally put their cards on the table, couldn’t agree to disagree and decided to step outside to settle their difference of opinion. It was a rather blunt treatise on the ideological conflicts of superheroes but at least it set their terms and sides clearly enough (which was a lot more than a certain other superheroes movie could manage with the same premise this year). And as with virtually all of the Marvel Studios’ canon, it was eminently entertaining and engaging and kept things ticking along nicely until the Infinity Wars begin in a couple of years.
6. THE JUNGLE BOOK
As beloved as the original animation is (and rightly so as it was Walt Disney’s last film as producer) it hasn’t exactly dated all that well. The style used in 1967’s The Jungle Book became an over-used template for Disney animation for the next 2 decades during which the studio came close to ruin thanks to mediocre output. So, out of all the classic animations Disney seem to be set on updating for modern audiences, The Jungle Book was always one of the more viable and Jon Favreau’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s books succeeded with aplomb.
Pitch-perfect voice casting, a sweeping score, and arguably the best and most startling CGI on theater screens this year combined to create a remake that was difficult to begrudge. Favreau maybe a jack-of-all-trades as a director but he managed to summon a genuinely epic feel to Mowgli’s journey that transcended his workman-like reputation here. There were a few minor complaints (Scarlett Johansson’s superbly seductive Kaa only had one, fleeting scene and the reworked songs lacked a little of the Joie de Vivre of the originals) but in a year where audiences largely rebuked remakes, this was one of the few they warmed to and created a beast of hit for Disney with nearly a billion dollars taken worldwide.
Five down, five to go. If any of your favorites are missing then be sure to check back tomorrow as we reveal our hallowed final five best movies of the year.