Disclaimer: the following post is physically and mentally challenging, and should under no circumstances be attempted if you have not read Parts One and Two first. Think of it like the end of the TV show Raven, where the kid has to walk along the path and dodge all the swinging axes and shit. Got that? I’ll be waiting here with the axes. You have been warned.
DON’T BREATHE, 13/09/2016
Following Green Room earlier in the year, Don’t Breathe is another thriller that cranks up the tension so much that I was in physical discomfort throughout. In the film, a trio of house burglars break into the home of a blind, old man, hoping for an easy haul. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and they get more than they bargained for when said blind, old man turns out to be a hardened war veteran. Harbouring a dark secret, the certified badass proceeds to seal the intruders within the house and methodically hunt them down through hearing alone.
Long shots and painful usage of silence keep you at the edge of your seat with unrelenting suspense, and when that suspense is broken by intense panic and visceral violence, it’s like being jolted awake from one nightmare and into another. It’s intentionally hard work and unpleasant, but its craft is rather masterful, and if you want something to shake up your cold, dead heart, Don’t Breathe is one to watch. Just beware of the doggo – it’s no friendly little pupper, that’s for damn sure.
YADOSAGASHI (‘LOOKING FOR A HOME’), 21/09/2016
This review is mostly a shameless opportunity to boast, as genius animator Hayao Miyazaki’s short film Yadosagashi (やどさがし) can only be viewed in one place on the planet: the Saturn Theater at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. As I wrote in my earlier review of When Marnie Was There, my undying passion for the work of Studio Ghibli has in a way defined my year, and when a few friends and I decided to finally follow through with our long-discussed plans to visit Japan, there was only one place at the top of my list.
And so, in September of 2016, we hopped on a plane and flew across half the world to the Land of the Rising Sun, and spent a week eating ramen, relaxing in hot springs, and browsing hentai mags in Akihabara. The highlight of my holiday was travelling to the surprisingly green area of Mitaka, on the outskirts of Tokyo, to make pilgrimage to my own personal Mecca. There, hidden away from sight in the middle of a vast park, lies the gorgeous Ghibli Museum, an architectural Marvel built from plans drawn by Miyazaki himself.
I could talk all day about my time in that incredible place – of gazing upon thousands of original watercolours of films like Grave of the Fireflies and Howl’s Moving Castle; of sinking into the luxurious softness of a life size Cat Bus; of witnessing the magic of animation through lovingly-created exhibits that took my breath away. In fact, it was such a powerful and wondrous experience, that I genuinely cried. I’m here to talk about films though, and in the kawaii little Saturn Theater nestled within the museum, I became one of only a small percentage of people to have watched Studio Ghibli’s 2005 short Yadosagashi.
Realising that countless people were travelling to his museum from all over the world, Miyazaki set out to create something that could be understood and adored by all, regardless of the language they spoke. In doing so, Yadosagashi, or ‘Looking for a Home’ was born, an adorable and vibrant 12-minute tale which features only one word of dialogue, and one that many of you will know – arigatou (thank you). Like many of the director’s seminal works, it’s a film about nature, but told in an ingenious way – through sound.
The film begins with our protagonist Fuki fleeing the ceaseless din of the big city to find a new home in the countryside, humming to herself in a playful tone that’s irresistibly infectious. As she journeys, every single sound emanated by the world around her is represented on screen by a Japanese character, and performed through voice by the actor Tamori. The surreal plip-plop of a river-dwelling creature, the mighty roar of a dense forest, and the cacophonous pitter-patter of a hoard of insects who attempt to steal Fuki’s lunch are all represented brilliantly, bringing the natural world to life as a character in itself.
The artwork is unsurprisingly fantastic from Miyazaki’s hand, and its simple, innocent humour had the whole room smiling and laughing, regardless of nationality. It’s a classic, albeit one that’s very difficult to see, not least because the Saturn Theater shows a different short every month. If you can make the trip however, I urge you to do it. It’s a place unlike anywhere else on Earth.
Contrary to the opinions of most critics, I liked Angels and Demons, and to a slightly lesser extent The Da Vinci Code, so I was excited to see this latest offering from the Howard/Brown/Hanks team. The idea of symbologist Robert Langdon tackling riddles based on the writings of Dante Alighieri appealed to me and, to be honest, it was one of my most anticipated films of the year.
Disappointingly then, despite flashes of ingenuity (including a pretty nasty vision of Dante’s hell), I feel that Inferno is by far the weakest of the trilogy. I quite enjoyed the clue hunting, and Tom Hanks is always greatly watchable, but the script is stilted, the plot messy, and the mid-point twist frustratingly terrible.
As for Hans Zimmer’s score, well, it’s a downright travesty. I love his work on the previous two films, and the ‘Chevaliers de Sangreal’ theme that plays in variations throughout is probably my favourite piece of film music ever. In appropriating the theme for Inferno’s more contemporary themes, Zimmer decided to turn it into a pumping electronic action soundtrack, and it’s horrible. Just. Horrible.
Come on guys, you can all do better than this. Maybe next time, eh?
BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS, 17/10/2016
In a continuation of the much-loved 1960s television show, Adam West and Burt Ward return to voice Batman and Robin in this properly hilarious animated adventure. Its comedy mainly comes from how serious it takes its camp absurdity, and West’s deadpan delivery of lines such as “Robin, to the Bat-rocket!” had me in stitches. Highlights include the use of ‘Bat-anti-antidote’ (to reverse the effects of Bat-antidote, naturally), and Batman and Robin being tied to a giant dinner, but my favourite part has to be when Batman uses the philosophical principle of Occam’s Razor to determine the location of Joker’s gang. When two explanations exist, the simpler of the two is usually correct. Hence, the villains must be in space. IN SPACE. That’s all you need to know, really.
DOCTOR STRANGE, 25/10/2016
Starring little-known actor Benedict Cumberbatch (radio drama Cabin Pressure’s Captain Martin Crieff) and helmed by Scott Derrickson, director of the worst Hellraiser movie I’ve seen, comes Doctor Strange, the latest in Marvel’s hero pantheon to hit the big screen like a giant, corporate cannonball. In a welcome departure from Disnarvel/Marsney’s previous missions to ground their characters in some sort of realism or science, Doc’s protagonist is a full-on, goatee-‘n’-all, spellslingin’ wizard, and it’s fucking cool.
While structurally it’s quite unoriginal, hitting many of the plot points present in the studio’s other character debuts, Doctor Strange is thematically and visually one of Marvel’s most captivating films in a good long while. The mystical, monastic sorcerers are a far cry from the gung-ho smashy-bashy action of The Avengers and Civil War, twisting space and time in a manner that boggles both eyes and mind. It’s also moderately funny (past the lame Beyoncé jokes), and has a villain that isn’t shit, so there’s two more areas in which it stands out from its brethren.
Said villain is Mads Mikkelsen’s reprehensible magician Kaecilius, who wants to submit the world to the Dark Dimension in order to attain immortality – the sort of evil motive which, if you’ve read my earlier reviews, you’ll know I like very much. Joining Menacing Mads, and Cumberbatch’s sarcy, self-important surgeon, is a host of top-class, mostly-British actors. With the likes of Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong –
Side note, I can imagine a scenario which may, or at least should, have happened while filming, in which Benedict Wong turns up on set in Doctor Strange’s costume, to which the director would inevitably reply, “Wong Benedict”
– the acting talent on show is spectacular, especially so for a comic book film. There are a few blunders, notably Rachel McAdams being squandered on a character that’s a romantic interest and nothing else, and an extended fight sequence in which Doc battles a random, generic baddie who’s given zero characterisation and might as well be cardboard, but ultimately it’s a damn solid superhero flick, and I came away impressed.
Will Marvel win me back? I can’t be too optimistic, but that goatee sure gives me hope.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, 09/11/2016
Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and an unrecognisable Aaron Taylor-Johnson all act their chops off in the immaculate and stylish psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals. When rich and jaded gallery owner Susan (Adams) gets sent a manuscript by her novelist ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal), she begins to read and become affected by the story within the pages, which is dramatised on screen.
Its narrative-within-narrative format is fascinatingly inventive, and seeing Edward’s intentions become clear through Susan’s reactions to the novel is enthralling. With flashbacks too added into the mix, a multitude of thoughts and themes flit around to keep you guessing at the film’s meaning; all the while it jolts and twists its way to a proper “oh shit son” finale. To say any more would be to ruin its greatest pleasures, so stay away from IMDB and go see it yourself. It’s a wild ride.
As a devout atheist, Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction drama Arrival could well be the closest I’ve come to having a religious experience. It moved me so much that I was left shaking, and unable to find the words in our modest language to do justice to its majesty. Watching the film is like having your mind opened to the wonders and mysteries of the universe – truly unbelievable and life-affirming possibilities that change the way we see both the cosmos and our place within it. While our human minds are unable to fully comprehend such alien concepts, we embrace our childlike ignorance and are utterly awestruck as we face Arrival‘s overwhelming yet humbling sensory assault.
It’s an alien invasion picture with a difference, so if you want an Independence Day-style war film, look somewhere else. Arrival is instead a slow-paced, progressive exploration of what the discovery of seemingly non-aggressive alien arrivals might entail in our present society. It’s about communication, emotion, and working together as a species, and it triumphantly joins 2015’s The Martian as one of the surprisingly few optimistic sci-fis.
They say the greatest science fiction is really about humanity, and Arrival does this by using its extra-terrestrials to deal with issues much closer to home. It’s glorious; without a doubt one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and the most important of its genre since 2001: A Space Odyssey.
YOUR NAME, 19/11/2016
Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) is special. Taking the Japanese box office by storm, it soon became the second highest home-grown film there of all time, behind Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. In jumping from that little cluster of islands, it then turned into something of a worldwide hit, even being put forth for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (a bit of a rarity for anime films outside of the prestigious Studio Ghibli).
It’s success is of course well deserved, as Your Name is a perfect film in every sense.
Mitsuha is a high school girl living in a rural town, fed up with helping out at the family shrine and dreaming of a life in the city. Meanwhile, Tokyo boy Taki is in his own predicament, being content enough studying architecture and working at an Italian restaurant, but longing for something more.
Heralded by an unusual comet soaring across the stars, Taki and Mitsuha begin to experience something odd: despite having never met, they appear to swap bodies every time they go to sleep. It results in some sublime moments of comedy, as the two teenagers investigate every inch of each other’s lives, but also sets in motion a soaring, magical romantic epic that’s as deep and reflective as it is joyful.
Shinkai’s art is achingly beautiful, portraying the rolling countryside and bustling cityscapes with baffling, almost photographic realism. It’s so stunning in fact that I hardly wanted to blink, and wished I had a pause button handy just so I could spend minutes or even hours surveying every inch of the meticulously-painted canvas. Even though it’s a 2D animation, it’s so amazingly realised that I really felt immersed in the streets of Tokyo and the winding roads of Itomori. It probably also helped that I recognised so much of it from my trip to the country, and everything from the train announcements to the sight of Tokyo Tower gave me pangs of nostalgia.
Making Your Name even more iconic is its staggering soundtrack by the rock band RADWIMPS. At moments tinged with mournful regret, at others invigorated with stirring jubilation, it cemented the film in my memory to such an extent that whenever I hear a snippet of it, it conjures up emotive images and memories, and I remember how much of an impact the film had on me both times I watched it.
If you’re one of those weird people who are put off by animation, or films with subtitles, don’t be. Your Name is filmmaking at its absolute best.
Soundtrack Pick: ‘Sparkle’ by RADWIMPS, from Your Name
(Even listening to this now, I am tearing up and longing to watch the film again…)
KINGSGLAIVE: FINAL FANTASY XV, 22/11/2016
I saw Kingsglaive as part of a live-streamed press event prior to the release of the video game Final Fantasy XV, and certainly the only reason you’d be interested in the film is if you’re interested in that. Previous FF movie outing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was an almost impenetrable but overall thrilling and engaging piece of cinema, and I loved it despite having not played its software precursor. In comparison, Kingsglaive felt more like the first act of a story that will be continued in the game, setting up a number of new threads at its end rather than resolving existing ones.
Say you decided you were never going to play Final Fantasy XV – is there anything at all in the film that makes it worth watching? Well, yes. It’s usual for these kind of fictional worlds to rely on established tropes, but the setting presented in Kingsglaive is inspired, merging aspects of fantasy, science-fiction and modern day society to create a really intriguing backdrop to the story (which is sadly much less inspired).
The CGI graphics and animation are flawless too, being stylised enough to avoid stumbling into the horrors of the Uncanny Valley, while striking enough that I was constantly wowed. The action is kinetic and furious, employing interesting and original fighting techniques enhanced by the world’s weird magic. The final battle is a nerd’s dream, the literal scale of which knocked me for six.
It’s not an animation classic, but Kingsglaive is totally worth seeking out if you intend to play the shit out of Square Enix’s new RPG. If you don’t, well, don’t.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, 10/12/2016
If I had to sum up Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts in two words, it would be ‘enjoyable mess’. There’s an awful lot of delight to be had as Eddie Redmayne’s magizoologist Newt Scamander scours 1920s New York in search of a handful of fantastical fauna, but the plot just has no logic to it. Once completed, the beast-collection arc has hardly any connection to the overarching narrative at all, and when the climax comes, our protagonist plays almost no part in it whatsoever. The discombobulated jumble isn’t made any easier to digest when the most random and perplexing twist of the year comes out of nowhere (I understand die-hard Potter fans saw some foreshadowing, but I sure as hell didn’t), and is followed by the most terribly contrived ending of the year.
As well as its cast of surreal critters, Beasts’ human characters are wonderful to watch, and go a long way in making up for the film’s shortcomings. Redmayne is likeable enough as the socially awkward Scamander, but the real heart of the film is in the performances of Dan Fogler and Katherine Waterston. Fogler’s ‘no-maj’ (the American word for ‘muggle’) Kowalski represents the eyes and ears of the viewer as he accidentally stumbles into the Wizarding World, responding to the insanity around him with a mixture of enchantment and sheer, hilarious bemusement. As a counter to this, Waterston shines as the well-meaning but loveably inelegant witch Tina Goldstein, who leads our heroes through the secret side of the Big Apple.
If nothing else, see it for the small, platypus-mole thing that has a penchant for shiny things. Kowalski might want to be a wizard, but I want a pet niffler.
2016 has been an amazing year for animation, with Marnie, Kubo and Your Name all blowing me away. Those would have been enough, but the year managed to squeeze one more in at the end, and we were blessed with Disney’s Moana.
Taking inspiration from Polynesian myths and culture, Moana is the voyage of a chief’s daughter who, chosen by the sea at an early age, is destined to find the demigod Maui and restore the heart of the creation goddess Te Fiti. It’s an ocean-spanning adventure about respecting the past while looking to the future, brought to life with some of the most astonishing and lusciously artistic CG animation you’ll see.
The music is where Moana really sparkles though. The score by Mark Mancina and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i are sensational, lending a sweeping, emotional power to Moana’s expedition, and giving you earworms you won’t be able to get rid of for ages. Moana is Disney on their finest form, and it’s ace.
Soundtrack Pick: ‘We Know The Way’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i, from Moana.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, 19/12/2016
And so we come to the big hitter of the year – the new Star Wars. Taking place chronologically before the original 1977 film, Rogue One is Star Wars’ first standalone story, telling of the rebel team who stole the blueprints for the newly-constructed Death Star. Disney and LucasFilm want you to believe the film was made to flesh out their universe, but we all know the real reason was to finally address the question people have been asking for nearly 40 years: “so what was up with that exhaust port?”
Directed by Monsters/Godzilla 2014 director Gareth Edwards (a fellow Welshman no less), Rogue One is a refreshing and gritty new angle on the space opera saga. Following a group of rag-tag soldiers and pilots, we see the universe at a ground level, getting a closer look into its cities and civilians, as well as its wider politics. It’s a visual feast too, and the space battles in particular are jaw-dropping.
It’s all very exciting, but I never found a way in with the film’s characters, many of whom came off as throwaway devices to advance the plot. I suppose it might be something to do with its standalone status, but I never felt a connection with its cast in the way I did with The Force Awakens’ Rey and Finn. While spaceships zoomed, blasters pewed, and witty droid K-2SO delivered a slew of killer one-liners, I was very aware that I was looking at a screen on which cool things were happening, rather than being involved in its world. That can be good in its own way, but I expect more from a series of this calibre, especially after we were all spoiled by last year’s entry.
All this said, the bold and ballsy ending alone is more than worth the price of admission, and seeing how it runs into A New Hope will likely enhance future viewings of that film. I’ve seen some claim that Rogue One sits at the top of the Star Wars pile, but I’d have to disagree. The Force is strong with this one, but its been stronger.
And so the task is complete. It’s taken an awfully long time, but I’d like to think it’s been worth it. If you are reading this, particularly if you also read Parts One and Two, I can’t thank you enough. That’s over 10,000 words of my wittering, and it means the world to me that you chose to spend your time reading them. I hope you enjoyed it!
Now, on to arguably the most important/unimportant part – ranking the best and worst films I saw in 2016. My Top 5 Best has been expanded to six this year, simply because it was too hard to choose five and I’m an indecisive bastard at the best of times. As for Worst, I feel that I didn’t see enough turkeys for a Top 6, so it’s kind of a Top 4 with a fifth I put in just to trigger some of you. Don’t judge how I get my laughs.
Rounding it all off is a series of completely meaningless awards, which definitely aren’t prestigious and definitely don’t mean anything, so they’re actually quite pointless and don’t serve any purpose. At all.
Without further adieu, here are the results:
The Top 6 Best Films of 2016
1. Your Name
3. Kubo and the Two Strings
4. When Marnie Was There
5. The Witch
6. The Hateful Eight
The Top 5 Worst Films of 2016
1. Hail, Caesar!
2. The Big Short
3. Lights Out
5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
THE WORD OF TOM ANNUAL FILM AWARDS 2016
Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival & Nocturnal Animals
Best Actor: Mark Rylance, The BFG
Best Animal: Black Phillip, The Witch
Best Supporting Actress: (tie) Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch / Katherine Waterston, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best Supporting Actor: Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Best Supporting Animal: The Niffler, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best Music: (tie) Your Name / Moana
Funniest Film: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
The Nintendo 64 Award for Best Surprise: Ghostbusters
The Story of My Life Award for Most Crushing Disappointment: Inferno
The Transformers 4 Award for Biggest Critical Misunderstanding: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The Andrex Award for Scariest Doggos: (tie) Green Room / Don’t Breathe
The Call of Duty: Black Ops Award For Shooty Shooty Bang Bang: Hardcore Henry
The …? Award for ¯\_(ツ)_/¯: Hail, Caesar!
With the apparently nefarious year of 2016 on its last legs, the future looks bright. 2017 sees the UK release of Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s tantalising awards-bait La La Land, the heartfelt and seemingly unconventional superhero film Logan, the pulse-pounding final part in the current Planet of the Apes saga, and many others I can’t wait to experience. Hell, I’m super hyped to see Transformers: The Last Knight, but people would, and indeed do, tell me I’m off my rocker.
I also want next year to be the victorious return of this blog, so I’m going to try my hardest to kick motivation in the bumhole and get back to writing cool stuff that upwards of three people will read maybe half of. Pretty good New Year’s resolution, eh? Much better than 1080p, and maybe even 4K.
And thus endeth the Word of Tom.
Be sure to check out my reviews of 2014 and 2015 if you liked this – hopefully you’ll like those too! Also, please consider sharing and following my blog. The reward? Delicious words! I plan to work on a lot of new stuff in 2017, and it would be ‘hella sick’ to have you lot along for the ride. Feel free to comment or message me any of your opinions, perhaps even onions, but please no Minions. I can’t be dealing with those. Safe!