The first thing to note is that I watched an unprecedented number of movies in 2016. That is, unprecedented for me, in my own life, not unprecedented in the history of the world, obviously, because, movie critics. It was a good year for personal entertainment, escapism, and empathy, and a bad year for my wallet, which now has burn marks from the hole that Hollywood put in it.
So why so many movies? What's with the obsession? When did it start?
I'm not sure when exactly it started, but the why it started is easy. There's a quote from a piece by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker from a couple of years ago called "The History of Loving to Read," which I really liked—mostly because of how much it talked about Jane Austen—that about sums it up. "The rise of TV and movie fandom—with its generous affection turning, when it’s betrayed, into lavish scorn—seems to be an extension of our love affair with books. It’s a way of loving a canon in the present tense." In short, I came to love movies because I've always loved books. I've always loved books because I've always loved stories. It was a natural, inevitable progression from an obsession with one medium of storytelling to another.
As for why so many movies in 2016, well, the easy explanation is that 2016 was such a spectacularly crap-on-a-cracker year that the movie theatre and all that it offered in terms of escape became more appealing than ever. And that's partly true, but also I think it was, very simply, that I realized last year that I have a good amount of free time outside of work and ministry, and that there are few ways of spending this free time that I enjoy more than watching movies, whether with friends or by myself.
Where my "what I watched" list differs from my "what I read" list is in the fact that it doesn't reflect who I was and what I was thinking in 2016 so much as it reflects who society was and what society was thinking in 2016. The former list is dictated (mostly) by whatever comes out in theatres in a given year, the latter by my more deliberate choices of which books, from a span of centuries, I am curious to read. So while my annual books-read lists will maybe paint a picture of who I was in a given year, it will be interesting to see how my yearly movies-watched lists will maybe paint a picture of the backdrop against which I found myself in that year (Zootopia and Moonlight, together, might just sum up 2016 for America).
So. Favourites from 2016. Zootopia, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Captain Fantastic, Sing Street from the spring/summer. Miss Stevens, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land from the fall/winter. And Moonlight, Lion, 20th Century Women, and Hidden Figures—though since I actually watched all of these in 2017, I haven't included them on the bulleted list below.
Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures all had plenty of noise around them during awards season (and rightly so). I loved them all, but everyone on the planet has already said every good thing that can be said of them, and then some. So here are some thoughts on a few of the others that I loved from last year.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: So damn funny. It probably elicited the most laughs out of all the movies on this list. But it was also heartfelt and sincere. I loved it because I loved its hero: Ricky Baker, an overweight juvenile delinquent who writes haikus as a way of dealing with his anger issues. (My favourite haiku: "Kingi you wanker / You arsehole, I hate you heaps / Please die soon, in pain.") I loved him and I believed in him and in his relationship with his crusty foster "uncle" Hec (Sam Neill), and I somehow also believed in their shared run from the police through the New Zealand bush, absurd as it all was. Wilderpeople was smart, hilarious, warm and unassuming, and thinking about it eight months later still makes me smile. (Side note: the director, Taika Waititi, is next going to helm Marvel's Thor: Raganarok, which is a jump that makes me think of Colin Trevorrow's leap from Safety Not Guaranteed—one of my favourite movies of 2012—to Jurassic World. Are we going to keep losing all the good indie people to impersonal franchises?! Don't answer that.)
Captain Fantastic: I'm still upset that Viggo Mortensen didn't win the Oscar for his role in this movie (and angry that Casey Affleck won instead, but that's a whole separate issue), even though I knew it was probably the least likely outcome and that I should celebrate the fact that he was even recognized with a nomination at all. But Viggo Mortensen was really, truly fantastic in this movie, playing a progressive, countercultural father raising his six kids completely off the grid in the Pacific Northwest and also raising questions about parenting. Watching him and his interactions with his kids and with other characters made me feel as if I were watching a real person, with very real emotions and flaws, not just a tidily crafted character. And I appreciated that while the film's sympathies were obviously for Viggo's character, it also highlighted the many questionable aspects of his parenting. Other good things: the kids (all of them!), the humour, the emphasis on thinking for yourself and talking about your ideas, the costumes, the colours, the lack of fear of being sentimental, the story itself—all wonderful. But really this movie is all about Viggo. Viggo, I love you. Please be my adoptive father.
Sing Street: Here's the thing. La La Land was amazing. But my one gripe with it will forever be that its splendor completely drowned out the other great movie musical of 2016, which was Sing Street. To describe Sing Street is basically to create a word bank of all the words that describe the type of movies I like best: sincere, feel-good, triumphant coming-of-age. With great music (tributes to 1980s pop/rock). And lovely accents (Irish). And so much sympathy for its young protagonists and their dreams that you feel heartened by their every small victory and plunged into the depths of heartbreak with their every pitfall. Everything about this movie was so lovely. I'm going to go and listen my way through the soundtrack again and soak in the "happy-sad"-ness of it all. And then be amazed all over again that none of the songs were nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. But oh well. I am just happy this movie exists (and now on Netflix!).
I think I'm done now. Here's the full list of movies I watched in 2016, and again, most memorable in bold:
- Hail, Caesar (2016)
- Zootopia (2016)
- Love and Friendship (2016)
- The History Boys (2006)
- The Jungle Book (2016)
- The Departed (2006)
- The Lobster (2016)
- Finding Dory (2016)
- The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
- Captain Fantastic (2016)
- Star Trek Beyond (2016)
- Seoul Searching (2016)
- Indignation (2016)
- When Harry Met Sally (1989)
- Whiplash (2014)
- Sing Street (2016)
- Eye in the Sky (2016)
- 13th (2016)
- Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
- Breach (2007)
- Arrival (2016)
- Moana (2016)
- Manchester by the Sea (2016)
- La La Land (2016)
- Don't Think Twice (2016)
- Nerve (2016)
- Miss Stevens (2016)
- Howards End (1992)
- Cafe Society (2016)
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)