Friday, December 30, 2016

The Movies of 2016

I saw 70 movies this year. As usual, the majority of them were from the comfort of my couch, but I’m pleased to note I did get out to see 25 of those on the big screen, down from 30 last year. As with previous years, movies I saw in the cinema are marked with an asterisk (*).

Also in keeping with previous years, if I saw a movie from 2016 that I know I would not have been able to see in 2015, I include it in my estimation of my favourite films of the year. Movies from 2014 and before do not receive that consideration, although I still list them here. Obviously, the only movies listed are ones I saw for the first time. Just because I’m happy to go back to the well with, say, Casablanca or Last of the Mohicans, doesn’t mean I need to mention them here.

There were lots of outstanding television shows this year, which also cut into my movie watching time. But I did see more this year than last, which is a good thing. It’s unfortunate that American films were so prevalent for me this year, but part of that was just availability as well as timing. Here’s the breakdown for that:


Canada - 2
China - 3
Hungary - 1
Indonesia - 1
Ireland - 2
New Zealand - 2
South Korea - 2
Thailand - 1
Turkey - 1
UK - 8
USA - 47

Eleven countries. This is not a good trend. Last year I also saw films from 11 countries, and in 2014 from 16 countries. There were no Iranian films this year, none from Japan, from any South American countries, from Australia, from France, or Spain, or Germany, or Russia, or anywhere in Scandinavia. This is a shame, and I will have to make an effort to fix this. Some from these countries are already on my horizon, so I’m hopeful for 2017.

Anyhow, on to what I saw this year, accompanied by a brief note about the film. Keep in mind I’m not engaging in film criticism here; I already have enough writing on my plate without getting into more than the already overload of extra time involved in just putting together this list.

*The Revenant (2015) USA - Better, again, than a lot of my friends thought (looking back to last year and Hateful Eight). I appreciated it a lot more for the quieter scenes, though, rather than things like the bear attack.

Band of Robbers (2015) USA - A fine bit of fan fiction about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as adults in the here and now. Clever and funny and loopy.

Sicario (2015) USA - Would have been on my top ten from last year if I’d seen it then. Outstanding look at the ethical dilemmas of the war on drugs.

*Hail, Caesar (2016) USA - Funny and rousing and dark, not the light Coen Brothers movie so many people thought it was.

Room (2015) Canada - Powerful, and one of the few times in my life I’ve felt a movie lived up to every aspect of the book.

*The Lady in the Van (2015) UK - This could have gone so wrong, been one of those clever movies with a goofy character, but no, instead it was a smart meditation on how we treat others, how you don’t have to actually like someone to give them respect.

Finders Keepers (2015) USA - Bonkers documentary populated with people who should not be in real life, should instead be in a Coen Brothers movie.

*10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) USA - A pretty decent thriller that nicely ramps up the tension until a rather ridiculous ending. John Goodman is outstanding.

Brooklyn (2015) UK - A nice love story and period piece, quiet and thoughtful.

*Eye in the Sky (2015) UK - Terrific movie about the moral quandaries of war and the use of drones. Not loud and obnoxious, but rather filled with quiet, dread-filled moments.

Hush (2016) USA - A terrific thriller/horror about a deaf and mute woman living in the woods and having to fight off a very nasty stranger.

*The Jungle Book (2016) USA - Wonderful, and a rare movie that’s worth seeing in 3D. Some tremendous voice casting, the kid who plays Mowgli is outstanding, and Favreau does a fine job telling the story. Also, the CF effects are eye popping.

Beeba Boys (2015) Canada - A decent gangster movie about IndoCanadian gangs and crime. Not perfect acting, but enjoyable. And the primary colours at the start were stupendous.

*Everybody Wants Some (2016) USA - Hilarious, and a wave of nostalgia that hit me like a tsunami. Even better, as much as this movie is about young and horny men, we did not detect misogyny, nor anything rapey. This was a movie involving mutual consent, a fine line to walk.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) China - Doesn’t hold a patch to the first movie. The stunts and wire work are frenetic, not graceful, there is too much CGI, the bad guy over the top.

The Irish Pub (2013) Ireland - A quite lovely documentary about, well, Irish pubs. The characters who run the pubs make this well worth seeing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) Thailand - Uncle Boonmee is dying and spending his last days with family, and is visited by the ghost of his dead wife and his long lost son, who is now in the form of something similar to Bigfoot. With glowing eyes. Not an easy movie to explain, and probably not easy to digest for people used to a steady diet of Hollywood storytelling. But still, a wonder.

White God (2014) Hungary - A marvelous and disturbing film, a strange fantasy about what goes wrong when we turn on our best friend.

*Captain America: Civil War (2016) USA - Probably the best Marvel movie, especially in the quiet spy movie moments, rather than the action-adventure spy movie moments.

The Witch (2015) USA - Man, did this movie ever freak me out. A fine horror film with a whole lot of veracity in its historical detail.

*The Nice Guys (2016) USA - Very funny movie, a slightly more sour (and yet sweet) Rockford Files for grown-ups.

The Champions (2016) USA - A moving doc about Michael Vick’s fighting dogs and what happened to them after.

Mustang (2015) Turkey - This is a beautiful film, the story of the irrepressibility of a group of sisters and how society and family contrive to beat them down, steal their independence and strength, and how while some can be taken, never all.

The Good Dinosaur (2015) USA - Perhaps a trifle from Pixar, but still an excellent trifle.

The Mermaid (Mei ren yu) (2016) China - Another Stephen Chow film, who I believe is one of the funniest filmmakers working today. But this film takes his bizarre non-linear thinking and storytelling to lengths his previous films have not. And yet I still was in tears time and again, laughing harder than I have since, well, since Chow’s last film.

*Finding Dory (2016) USA - Fun, and while a little superfluous at the beginning, the new characters who come in partway through make it special.

Blackhat (2015) USA - Michael Mann may not always make a good movie, but he will always make a good looking movie.

Midnight Special (2016) USA - By the same director who made the excellent Mud, this was the second-best SF movie of the year, with an as-usual great performance from Michael Shannon and another from Joel Edgerton as a friend who has committed himself as deeply as possible.

The Look of Silence (2014) Indonesia - I can’t believe it took me this long to see this disturbing, deeply unhappy documentary about the killings in the Communist purge in 1965 Indonesia. And of course, I’m doing it backwards, since I now need to see The Act of Killing, done by the same people and about the same topic, two years earlier.

*Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016) USA - I read the book when it came out and was so pleased they turned this into a movie. Three boys, sometimes two, did a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark over the space of many years, a labour of love that saw them grow into adults before it was finished. Such a great story, and a very enjoyable film.

*Ghostbusters (2016) USA - I had fun, and was pleased with the decision to remake this with female leads, but wish they had taken the time to do something a little more original, something with a fresher storyline.

People Places Things (2016) USA - A romance that doesn’t pander, a lead with a fun and fine sense of humour, appreciated by his (gorgeous, delightful, delighted) twin daughters, and relationships that are real, complicated, worth delving into.

*Hunt For the Wilderpeople (2016) NZ - One of my favourite movies of the year, deep and sad and happy and funny and silly. Taika Waititi just keeps getting better and better, and this film made me happy in so many ways.

The Finest Hours (2016) USA - A fairly decent movie, based on a true story, of lives saved by undermanned Coast Guard in the 1950s.. It hits all the beats, is a feel-good film, but of course feels formulaic.

*Star Trek Beyond (2016) USA - I enjoyed some of this, which is a huge step up over the last Trek movie. So it’s good news I’m not getting angry just thinking about it right now.

In the Heart of the Sea (2015) USA - Another fairly decent movie, based on a true story, that hits all the beats and has good performances. But as with all Ron Howard movies, it has a basic stodginess to it, Hollywood at its most Hollywood-like.

Jurassic World (2015) USA - Blah. I had such high hopes, seeing how the raptors were trained, but it didn’t work out so well. So-so.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) USA - I thought this series started off fairly well, but, while I thought the last book was a mediocre mishmash, this is more of a disaster. Ick.

*Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) UK -  Like many biopics, this takes liberties with some of the story, changes things up, narrows the story to make it flow a bit better. But it’s great fun, Streep is incredible as the title character, High Grant is better than I’ve seen him in many years, and there is a moving, if unconventional, love story here.

The Lobster (2016) UK - The coldness and distance the characters can be a bit off-putting, but this is a remarkable movie, with a bizarre conceit that says a lot about individuality, about love and about relationships.

Sing Street (2016) Ireland - Delightful, from the director of Once. The story of a boy in ‘80s Ireland who gets sent to a rough and tough religious boys’ school, meets a girl, and decides to impress her by starting a band. Even though he’s not a musician. I would say one of my favourite things about this is the trip the viewer takes through different fashions and styles related to the music of the era, but that would give short shrift to the brilliant characters.

*Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) USA - My favourite animated film of the year. This was glorious and absolutely beautiful.

*Hell or High Water (2016) USA - There’s a lot of beauty in the aching destruction of a livelihood and the loss that inhabits this film. Couple that with intelligent directing and some magnificent performances and you have one of the best films of the year.

Boy (2010) New Zealand - Taika Waititi is fast becoming one of my favourite directors, and I’m so pleased I was finally able to see this, the movie where he really started to make him name as a feature film director.

Life, Animated (2016) USA - A tremendous and moving documentary about a young man with autism who learns to connect and communicate with the world via Disney animated films.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) USA - All I can say is I’m glad I saw this while on a flight. Man, what a dog.

*Dr. Strange (2016) USA - An enjoyable MCU movie, as most of them have been. I will note that it rises above most strictly based on the fight going forwards in time while the world goes backwards around them. Very well done, very smart.

London Has Fallen (2016) USA - We only watched this because a high school classmate of my wife plays the Canadian Prime Minister. He dies early, which doesn’t explain why we watched all the way through. I guess because even a mediocre movie is hard to shut off.

*Arrival (2016) USA - One of the two best SF movies of this century (the other being Children of Men, natch), and a moving story about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love. In this case, even when we know where those sacrifices will lead.

Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro (2016) USA - An excellent little documentary about a WW2 soldier who brought a camera with him to war, and was given permission to use it, and the access non-military photographers were not afforded.

Anthropoid (2016) (UK) - Equal parts every day war thriller and thrilling assassination plot film. The final sequence is as tense as anything you will see.

Sea Fog (2014) South Korea - As with pretty much all South Korean films, you’re bound to be fooled if you think this is going somewhere conventional. An outstanding and, unsurprisingly, upsetting thriller.

*Fantastic Beasts and Where to FInd Them (2016) UK - Meh. I enjoyed some aspects, but never felt the magic of even the most mediocre Harry Potter film.

FInding Vivian Maier (2013) USA - Another excellent documentary, of finding 100,000 or more photographs taken by an insular nanny who had shot amazing street photography her whole life.

*Moonlight (2016) USA - The best film of the year is also one of the quietest. A wonderful meditation on sexuality and identity, on family and friendship, and such a beautiful film, too.

Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015) USA - A good documentary about the TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. An intriguing glance back at a time many of us forget about.

Sour Grapes (2016) USA - Interesting documentary about a scam involving high-priced wines going for auction, sometimes for millions of dollars.

A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman (2015) UK - A decent documentary about Aardman Animation, home of Wallace and Grommet.

The Wailing (2016) South Korea - A sprawling, strange film that starts as one thing and becomes something else, with plenty of stops in between. But in the end, a very satisfying and thrilling horror movie. As with pretty much all excellent Korean films, you’re never completely sure where you’re at.

Spectral (2016) USA - Famously shelved by the studio and picked up by Netflix, this Aliens ripoff/homage is actually not too bad, although the character development of the grunts is just about nonexistent. But still tense and exciting and enjoyable.

Ip Man (2008) China - I don’t know why it took me so long to watch this martial arts biopic, but I do know I will soon watch the sequels.

For the Love of Spock (2016) USA - A decent documentary about the life of Leonard Nimoy, by his son.

*Rogue One (2016) USA - A better Star Wars films than any we’ve seen in many years. And I appreciated the unremitting bleakness of things, even with the frequent leavening of humour. I did not, however, appreciate the two CGI characters; frankly, it would have been better to see them as different actors.

*Loving (2016) USA - The best of the two Jeff Nichols films of the year. There is a quiet moment, one line spoken by Joel Edgerton’s character in response to a question by his lawyer, that is the most emotional and most devastating line spoken in movies this year. The sequence that follows, images laid over top of the presentation to the Supreme Court, include a remarkable moment involving a rope being tossed over a tree branch that made me gasp in fear, and then smile with delight.

Magnificent Seven (2016) USA - A decent remake. The think I liked the best was the fact it was all people of colour (plus the woman) who survived at the end. I also liked that this wasn’t a gore fest, even though there were a lot of deaths.

Money Monster (2016) USA - An okay film that tries to be more than it really is, I think. A message movie with a conventional plot and predictable twist, plus a George Clooney performance that was dissatisfying.

*Fences (2016) USA - Tremendous performances, and very moving. My only qualm was that this felt stagey, given to us not far off from is origins as a stage production. There is a verbosity to the type of character populating a movie like this, and that eventually serves to distance me, at least when watching it on the screen.

Don’t Breathe (2016) USA - Tense and thrilling, and I enjoyed all the telegraphing, the camera swooping in constantly and showing us something that we therefore know will be used later in the film. And Stephen Lang, as the blind vet with the dark secret, is as always a marvel. But the films sometimes gets too caught up in itself, and also goes to the well too often.

*La La Land (2016) USA - My gripes? Ryan Gosling is not a very good singer, and I wish we had a Gene Kelly equivalent in a movie like this to give us the muscular dancing a film like this deserves. That said, I loved it nonetheless. Much about this movie felt right, and the looks given at the end packed almost as much emotional punch as anything I saw this year.

Run All Night (2015) USA - Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bruce McGill and Nick Nolte (uncredited) all play roles you've seen them in a thousand times before. Watched it on cable early morning of December 31 after the dog had woken me up. You'll note I don't list any of the female stars of this movie. There's a reason for that.

Top Ten

1. Moonlight
2. Hell or High Water
3. Arrival
4. Sing Street
5. La La Land
6. The Witch
7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople
8. Loving
9. Mustang
10. The Lobster

Honourable Mentions

These were all movies I liked enough to at least consider adding to the top ten. The likelihood of all of them fitting at one time or another on that list, depending on the vagaries of my mood, is small of course. Sicario would have been on my top ten for the year before, but I made an illogical and arbitrary decision to not include it on this year’s list, in spite of what I said earlier. Kubo and the Two Strings, Eye in the Sky, Everybody Wants Some, Midnight Special, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Wailing, and Hush all received closer consideration for inclusion.

The Revenant; Band of Robbers; Sicario; Room; The Lady in the Van; Finders Keepers (my favourite documentary of the year); 10 Cloverfield Lane; Brooklyn; Eye in the Sky; Hush; People Places Things; The Jungle Book; Captain America: Civil War; The Nice Guys; Everybody Wants Some; The Mermaid (Mei ren yu); Midnight Special; Finding Dory; Florence Foster Jenkins; Life, Animated; The Wailing; Fences; Don’t Breathe

Addendum: Edited because not only did I miss a movie, but that movie was an easy choice for my top ten.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

My Worst Flight Story

Rather than clog up a friend's Facebook wall, I thought I would share this here, in this (more than) fallow space.

When the boys were little Jo was flown to Windsor, ON, for a job interview. Deciding I wanted to tag along, I booked a flight via Air Miles (the boys would stay with their grandparents for what was a long weekend). Because U of W booked Jo's flight, I wasn't able to book on the same one. Instead, I was able to book so we arrived close to the same time, in Detroit. From there we were renting a car to drive South to Canada (yes, really).

We flew together to Minneapolis, then connected on two different planes, which departed 10 minutes apart. My seat partners were an elderly couple flying to Pennsylvania, me on the aisle, she in the middle, he at the window. The husband needed oxygen to get through the day, but couldn't fly with the bottles, so he had a rental waiting for him on the other end. In the meantime, we played crib and chatted a whole lot. We being the wife and I, since the longer he went without oxygen the more difficult he was finding his day.

But then, a giant storm blew in over Detroit, and we spent time going in circles, or what the pilot called "punching holes in the air." This kept on for 4 or 5 hours until he announced we were going to be forced to land.

In Saginaw.

When we got on the runway we were the 4th or 5th large plane on the tarmac, waiting for a small airport to get the staff and equipment in to be able to handle the thousands of people that might be getting off there. This was pre-9/11, but there were still security requirements, which meant we couldn't leave the plane. There was no more food, no more water, a couple on the plane had were coming home from China where they had adopted a toddler who, I am always happy to remember, the people on the plane were happy to chip in and entertain.

These were also the days before ubiquitous cell phones. I managed to get up to the cockpit to talk with the pilot and co-pilot to ask if they knew where Jo's flight was. They didn't know, of course, but said they would find out. An hour or so later, the co-pilot made an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, if Derryl Murphy is still on this plane... what am I saying? Of course he's on the plane. Anyways, can he come up to the cockpit?" Everyone laughed, I went up front, and when I got there he dialed a number with his own cell phone. When someone on the other end answered, he handed me the phone. It was Jo, using a phone that belonged to a guy on her plane.

Yes, she was still on the tarmac, but we couldn't figure out who's plane belonged to whom. We were pleased to be able to talk with each other, that we weren't both off somewhere even more distant. We hung up, sure we'd get together soon.

But then I watched two planes take off, and then it was announced that our own flight crew was over hours, and we would have to get off. When the airport crew got around to us. Over a thousand people, and our plane was almost the last, I think. By the time we got in, all the pizzas they had brought in to feed us were gone (I've never seen so many pizza boxes in my life), but I did score a bottle of water and two lousy cookies. Everyone I asked was no help about Jo, couldn't tell me anything about her flight number, and she was nowhere in the horde of people. And so I resolved to stay there until I could figure out where she was. I called her parents, asking if they'd heard from her, which was a sure way to get them worrying, as of course they had not.

There was a bus going to Detroit, but I chose not to take it, in case Jo was still going to arrive. After the bus, there were still hundreds of us, and it was like Dunkirk. Cabs and private vehicles of all types (I remember an old rusty Chevy Suburban, for instance). I insisted I would stay at the airport all night if need be, but they were shutting down at midnight, and so I was a part of the last crew of 9 who left. In a stretch limo, of all things. A glorious ride.

They sent us to a hotel they'd assured us was ready to take us, but that wasn't the case. There was a dentist convention in Saginaw, and there were not a lot of rooms to be had.

Now, I don't know if you've been to Saginaw, so if you haven't, let me tell you there is no There there. Everything seemed far away from everything else, freeways and stores and hotels and whatever, all spread out. And when we got to the hotel, as noted, they had to rooms. But they were hard on the phones, calling around, trying to find us places to stay.

In the meantime, word had gotten around that Jo and I had lost each other. As I sat in the lobby, people would walk by at 2 or 3 minute intervals, each one of them saying the same thing:

"Find your wife?"


"Find your wife?"


"Find your wife?"


And on and on.

I made another call to Jo's parents, and they still hadn't heard from her. I told them what was happening up until then, then went back to sit. As I was sitting, one of the desk phones, in between an out-going call, rang, and the clerk who answered said "Who? No, I'm afraid we don't have anyone here by that name."

I jumped and took the phone from his hands, knowing absolutely it was for me, and sure enough, it was Jo. She was in Windsor, had caught a ride with three women who had rented the last car at the airport, she had thought I had flown out, and they had let her ride even though she only had a few bucks Canadian on her (the cab ride from Detroit airport to Windsor was also a challenge, but she managed it). She said she would tell the hotel about me arriving the next day, I wished her luck for her interview (without a change of clothes, without most of her toiletries), and that was that.

A few minutes later they hustled us out to a bus to take us to another hotel. When it was full, the driver tried to shut the door, but a woman forced her way on, said her husband was already on the bus, and she wasn't "going to end up like him." Pointing at me. We all laughed.

The next hotel had a brand new desk clerk and a late night security guard. She booked us in slowly, nervously, but she managed, while he wrote down wake-up call times. I think I managed about 5 hours sleep that night, and shared a cab back to the airport with a couple of other refugees the next morning.

At the airport all of our luggage was piled in a small mountain, and I picked through and found mine and Jo's. Then I stood in line and quickly got on an empty flight to Detroit, had Jo's bags retagged for me (really different before 9/11).

What worked for me didn't work for others, though. One person was flying to Europe, but the domino effect of this storm meant the only flights available for her to get to London were via Seattle and Asia. And then I met the older couple. He had spent the night feeling like he was drowning, they were going to miss their granddaughter's wedding, but they were carrying on. I think it was going to take three connections to get to Philadelphia. He certainly looked awful.

Added fun: The rest of the day. My rental car was there for me, but when I got to Canada Customs I discovered they didn't like Canadians renting cars in the US and bringing them to Canada. I almost lost my shit at the agent, he called his supervisor, and I was allowed in but advised to not do this again. Then I got to the hotel and they had no idea who I was, and of course I couldn't get a hold of Jo. I showed them my driver's license, which had the same home address as was listed on the booking, and eventually they let me in. Where I fell asleep, but forgot to put up the Do Not Disturb sign, and was awakened by housekeeping, because I didn't hear them knock.

We don't book flights like that anymore.

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