The 2016 Non-Oscar Season Top 10

September 25, 2016
A thought by James Berardinelli


Has the first 3/4 of 2016 represented the worst 9-month period in (at least) the last 40 years of motion pictures? I suppose that’s up to individual interpretation. I can say, however, that I have been more disappointed with this year’s fare than with that of any recent year. It’s as if Hollywood has become so obsessed with spectacle that they have forgotten about everything else. The glut of remakes and sequels has become so extreme that it’s squeezed out smaller, original movies. The devil in the details is that most of the year’s biggest blockbusters have failed to meet studio expectations (with the exception of animated movies). But I’ll wait until late December to do a more thorough analysis of the whys and wherefores of 2016’s box office performance. After all, there are still some heavy hitters lying in wait.

It’s easy enough to divide a year into two movie seasons: “Oscar contention” and “Everything Else.” The former contains anything the studios view as prestigious. The latter contains most of the titles that are expected to make boatloads of money domestically and internationally. This column is about “Everything Else.” It’s about finding the few flakes of gold in the dross. It’s about needles in a haystack. Yes, despite all the griping, there are still good movies to be found even in the wilderness months. These often get forgotten by December 31 because, although they’re good, they’re not that good. How many of these titles will make the final Top 10 cut? It depends on how strong this year’s “Oscar contention” crop is. At a guess, I’d say three. Based on past years, that's how it would break down. If October-December disappoints, it could be more. If those are strong months, I could see a scenario in which only one would make it through.

Eligible titles are movies released between January 1 and September 30, 2016. (A little fudging goes on for January with the December limited releases. There’s one of them on this list. Some of the others ended up on my 2015 end-of-the-year Top 10. Don’t nitpick too much about those.)

Presented in reverse order…

#10: Sully: Clint Eastwood’s latest, based on a recent headline-capturing news story, contains some riveting sequences alongside some unspectacular biographical details. A mixed bag but, with its focus on character and drama over special effects and action, it's well worthwhile in the current cinematic landscape.



#9: The Legend of Tarzan: My favorite remake of the year. An entertaining new take on a very old legend with enough excitement and action to keep viewers entertained. The two good-looking leads, a ripped Alexander Skarsgard and the gorgeous Margot Robbie, provide some nice eye candy for those who don’t find the story compelling.


#8: The Nice Guys: Somehow, this darkly funny detective story was overlooked by audiences when it was released in May. Maybe that’s because it was too smart and adult for the release date. Or maybe it just got lost in the early summer haze. It wasn’t heavily marketed which is surprising considering that it featured a known director and two "name" stars. Well worth checking out on video.


#7: Jason Bourne: A lot of critics were annoyed that Jason Bourne offered “more of the same.” I’m not sure what they expected. It's a franchise entry and franchise entries don't deviate from successful formulas. I was more engaged by this than any of the original Bourne movies and found Greengrass’ penchant for shaky shots to be less prevalent and annoying here than in his two previous installments for the franchise. This would be a good way to end the series.  I enjoyed this but no more, please.


#6: The Conjuring 2: Probably not quite as good as the original The Conjuring but close. Easily the best horror movie of the year. James Wan remains the king of the genre.


#5: Kubo and the Two Strings: Forget Dory and Pets. Forget stopping off in Zootopia. Those movies may have made huge impacts at the box office but none was close to Kubo and the Two Strings when it comes to cinematic magic. The film didn’t find much of an audience in theaters; hopefully, that will be rectified when it arrives on home video.


#4: Son of Saul: A 2015 holdover and the winner of the 2016 Foreign Language Film Oscar. Although I saw this in December, I didn’t publish the review until January so it makes this year’s list. The Holocaust drama is powerful and uncompromising but the subject matter makes it difficult to watch. There are some films I’m glad I watched once but never want to see again. This is one of those.


#3: Hell or High Water: Best film of the summer. Period. No questions. Nothing close. Despite fantastic word of mouth and universal critical acclaim, poor marketing and too few theaters kept the movie from “popping.” Hopefully, it will get some love at Oscar time. It deserves it.


#2: Deadpool: The only superhero movie of 2016 I’m enthusiastic about. Maybe Doctor Strange will change that. I was disappointed by everything from D.C. and gave grudging “thumbs-ups” to Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s not hard to get behind the brash, unfiltered Deadpool, which is easily the funniest and most original superhero movie in years, if not ever. (I don’t really want a sequel, though. The alchemy discovered by the filmmakers for this installment will be impossible to replicate and it’s likely to result in a huge letdown.)


#1: Eye in the Sky: A legitimate contender for the #1 spot of the year. It’s that good. With a powerful story that asks tough questions, a blistering satirical commentary on how decisions get made at the highest levels, and some of the best acting of 2016, this falls squarely into the “don’t miss” category. And it’s already on home video so there’s no excuse not to rush out and get a copy.


And, for those interested in the undisputed worst film of the first 9 months of 2016 (and I hope to God of the whole year), it’s The Neon Demon by several lengths over The Brothers Grimsby.