In the afterglow of the turning of a new year we look back at what came and to the future at what will be, but any more than that then you get a three ghost situation and that’s Christmas’s thing, and it doesn’t like people encroaching on it. So we continue the end of year listing of thing which we started yesterday with the list of our Most Disappointing/Worse films of 2016 which you can see by clicking HERE. However, today what we are looking at are those films that were good, or interesting, but that were just held back from getting into the coveted Top 10 List. These are all interesting films but they are also are all slightly flawed films and that is generally why they missed out. Now just a warning I will be discussing these films, and some of them are still in cinemas, so be careful because spoilers are incoming.
Doctor Strange is a great film, from a visual perspective it is Marvel’s most impressive film to date, from buildings bending during fight scenes, to Doctor Strange’s visual acid trip through the many different dimensions which may just be the best visual depiction of an acid trip Hollywood has ever pulled off. Benedict Cumberbatch is really well cast here (which does not always happen) and he is believable as the snooty self-absorbed doctor but also throughout his transformation, even if he is out staged a little by his cape. I also give the film props for navigating the issue of adapting what is today some very problematic source material, it was not perfect, but I think they did it as best as they could have given the circumstances. However, it does not make it onto our list because, at its heart, it’s just too safe. Bar how the big bad is defeated, everything else feels like a paint by numbers story, which was elevated by its casting and effects, but that does not change the fact that it is still a paint by numbers story. Sure when it comes to it the Marvel films, even the not great films like Thor, are still pretty solid, and their competition DC have been floundering narratively recently, see Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad for evidence of that, but if they don’t take risks they may end up like Pixar and finding them outclassed by others.
Eddie the Eagle is a solid little film with Taron Egerton & Hugh Jackman at the helm that tells the ‘true story’ of Eddie Edwards a British Ski Jumper trying to get into the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Sure it takes some liberties with the true story, or at least presents only one side of that story that makes Eddie look the best, and it could be very easy just to get cynical about the whole thing, but it is just so wonderfully acted by the two leads you can’t help but go along for the ride with a smile on your face. That being said it does not make it onto our main list because while it is a great little film it doesn’t do anything else, as well as this the CGI feels really off at times and some of the plot elements feel a bit forced. But all of this being said you will still have a great time with it if only for the banter between Taron Egerton & Hugh Jackman.
Kung Fu Panda is such a ridiculous premise, I mean even for a kid’s film it is just silly almost beyond reproach, and I can’t help but love it. This is because everything in the movie is done with heart, from the animations, to the script, to the vocal performances it is just a joy to watch. In many respects, the standout has to be the final battle in the spirit realm, the animation here alone is something that you have to experience. The actors also put their all into it, it could be so easy for them just to phone in their performances, but that extra commitment shows. It just misses out being in our top list because of a couple odd moments, the character of Mei Mei feels off somehow, I think something did not quite translate between the changing of voice actors, also it is starting to feel a bit weird that all the Kung Fu masters are their own animals but the townsfolk are only ducks, pigs and rabbits. Look I could mention some of its other issues but I really do love this film, and of all of the highly commended films on this list, if I had made a top 11, Kung Fu Panda 3 would have been there.
Ah, La La Land what a refreshing delight of a film you are, from that opening number on the overpass, to the brilliantly filmed Epilogue, you were just a joy to watch. What makes La La Land work is first the chemistry between the leads Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone, but also the callbacks to the golden age of cinema, with both the film techniques on show and also with the simple joy of an old-fashioned musical. Indeed I could recommend La La land on the strength of the musical numbers alone, and it is clear to see why it will be on many peoples top 10 lists, and is a real shoe-in for an Oscar or maybe even a couple. Where it falls down for me is once you strip away the musical numbers the underlying story is unfortunately completely predictable to the point that it took me out of the film a bit at times and you could feel the course the film was going to take from the first 10 minutes. But all that being true, that Epilogue, oh my, that Epilogue, what a wonderful piece of cinema you were, and of the two films this year reaching back into the nostalgia of that time, you left Hail, Caesar! in your dust.
Rogue One what a fascinating film you were, indeed one of the most popular things we wrote about this year was how Rogue One dealt with the notion of death (See Here for the Article). Straight off the bat, the reason Rogue One is not in our Top 10 list comes down to the structural issues with the first two acts of the film. Act 1 jumps around so much, and was desperately in need of trimming down, as it takes us far too long for the story to go from the prelude in Lah’mu to the main action in Jedha. However, more problematically is Act 2, which was completely superfluous, you could have gone straight from Jedha to Yarvin and skipped all of Eadu and the story would not have been affected at all. However, it is the strength of the casting, the locations, the set design, and the power of a truly phenomenal Act 3 that pushes Rogue One to almost make it onto our list. Seriously Act 3 of Rogue One might be the best Act 3 of any Star Wars film, and yes I mean Empire as well. Rogue One, finally a Star Wars prequel that does not suck.
Spotlight, if ever a story needed to be told it was this one on the systematic abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Boston, but worse is how everyone through apathy and self-interest, from the police to the Church officials and more, covered it all up. Spotlight tells the story of the team at the Boston Globe that discovered the abuse and exposed it. Spotlight won the best picture Oscar so why is it not on our top 10 list?, well, unfortunately, this comes down to the stylistic choices with regards to the cinematography. For at least the first half of the film, it feels like it was a made-for-TV movie that somehow got a theatrical release, it just does not come together. Now there is thankfully a turning point about half way through the movie that fixes most of these issues, but it just held it back for us. But none of those issues takes away from how important this film is or how important it was to tell the story of the Spotlight team and the power of investigative journalism to expose the abuse of those in power.
Oh The BFG, I am so sorry you didn’t do that well in the cinemas and have the dubious position of ending up on multiple lists of the biggest flops of 2016. Unlike many of the films on those lists like Ben-Hur (Review) your position here had nothing to do with the quality of your film. A lot of what works for The BFG comes down to the wonderful performance of Mark Rylance as the titular BFG, he brings warmth and heart to his performance. As well as this, the integration between the CGI and the live action was some of the best we have seen so far. Look how many films have the Queen of England explosively farting across the room, and still be charming rather than crass.
This was the year Hollywood started in earnest to go full tilt with remaking beloved classics, from the mess of Ben-Hur to the generally ok Jungle Book to pretty great Magnificent Seven. The Magnificent Seven, which is a remake of a reinterpretation of the Seven Samurai, has one of the best ensemble casts of 2016. It is also a fantastic example of how you can have a diverse cast without losing any impact both in terms of the quality of the film and people’s engagement with it. It also has one of the best action sequences this year, with the first skirmish in the town being full of tension and great character moments. However, when you break it down, some of the character arcs are so predictable that you will see them coming a mile away, for example oh wow there is one Native American on the bad guys side as well, I wonder if he will end up in a duel with the only other Native American in the film, oh wow I did not see that coming. In the end, the Magnificent Seven has great action, interesting characters, and a solid plot, and should be used a good guide of how to make remakes that are not a mess.
Last but not least is the fascinating Whisky Tango Foxtrot an interesting insight into the motivations for a journalist covering the War in Afghanistan. WTF was the first major dramatic film for Tina Fey and her performance was really absorbing especially how she played off Martin Freeman. It was also the first movie to really show off the amazing talent of Margot Robbie. Unfortunately, the plot is bloated at times, characters appear and disappear without warning, and the pacing of the film is all over the place. Also at times the film is quite lazy with a really sloppy use of in medias res, also the use of happy music which is juxtaposed to the carnage on film, which of course is something we have never seen before at all. However, these issues aside there is a really great story here about how the threat of danger can become a drug, and how that can affect how we report on wars.
So there we have it our list of the Highly Commended films of 2016, and I think it speaks to the quality of films in 2016 that so many great films didn’t make it into the Top 10. Both this and the Top 10 were hard to put together because of this quality, and indeed it was one of the few high points of 2016. Tomorrow we finish our series with the best of the best, the Top 10 movies of 2016, so we look forward to seeing you then.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
What were your highly commended films of 2016?, let us know in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.