Sunday, February 5, 2017


2016 was not one of the cinema's better years. Not by a long shot.

As with 2015, it was a strange movie year during which there were so many films released that I chose to not even see, where big budgeted features were disappointments to varying degrees and even some of the most celebrated films of the year were ones that I was quite soft on. 2016 was a cinematic year that felt to be largely uninspired and therefore, a year where there were barely, if any, real surprises. Films that made one sit up and lean into the silver screen with anticipation and excitement. It was a year where, frankly, mediocrity ruled, and while these sorts of things tend to flow in waves, I am hoping that this does remain to be true with 2017 possibly being a much ore exciting and innovative movie year and not the contrary, a year where movies are so terribly pre-packaged and ultimately, disposable.

My overall disenchantment with the 2016 movie year has flowed all the way to my Savage Scorecard series, which has typically been featured in four distinct postings but this year, due to a lack of titles worthy of mention, the series has been truncated to just three. For this first section, I am, however, so happy to give one more hearty pat on the back to a few films that have made my personal Honor Roll as well as "Number 11," the films that just missed making it to the Top Ten Favorites of the year.

And so, with that...

SAVAGE CINEMA'S 2016 HONOR ROLL (in alphabetical order) 

1. "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR"  Directed by Annthony & Joe Russo
While I will still contend to my continuing fatigue with the sheer amount of comic book movies being released, I will also more than happily express my excitement for whenever I see a good one and Director Anthony and Joe Russo's "Captain America: Civil War" was far and away the best comic book themed film of 2016. Eschewing with origin stories and undercooked villains, the Russo's valiantly extended and expanded the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe grandly by turning itself relatively inwards, exploring the nature of our collective of heroes through their motivations and demons, thus providing their showdown against each other with palpable gravitas, urgency and narry a mention of anyone's Mother. 

Showing a light-footed dexterity and agility, the Russo's seem to be gleefully relishing the challenge of incorporating a plethora of storylines, new characters, the unexpectedly terrific return of Spider-Man (now played by Tom Holland) into the main Marvel narrative and their central figure of the increasingly independent super soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), whose own"brother-against-brother" conflict between himself and Tony Stark (the irreplaceable Robert Downey Jr.) some honest emotional power to augment the rock 'em, sock' em battles. Strong performances and seamless special effects throughout, the Russo's have guided adventure, excitement, pathos and increasingly strong shades of gray thematics of this next installment...ahem...heroically.
(Originally reviewed May 2016) 

Tim Burton's creative resurgence continued strongly with his striking, complex and even nightmarish adaptation of author Ransom Riggs's best selling novels so effectively that the proceedings felt as if they sprung from his own brain rather than from an outside source. In many ways, "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" felt to be of a piece with past Burton films from "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), to "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street" (2007) to even the adult fables of the glorious "Big Fish" (2003) as we were treated to a story filled with fractured family dramas and teenage romances to a collective of bizarre, differently-abled children pursued through time holes by vengeful monsters designed to kill them and triumphantly eat their eyeballs in order to gain eternal life.  

Burton's visuals and atmospherics remain as top flight as ever but this time conveying a dark bedtime story quality that will have you looking over your shoulders at the shadows dancing on your walls. And while the performances of the younger cast members were a bit wooden, they were splendidly anchored by the sultry protectiveness of Eva Green's titular heroine, the graceful empathy of Terrence Stamp's Grandfather character and the horrific, maniacal fury of Samuel L. Jackson's eyeball eating menace.
(Originally reviewed October 2016)

3. "STAR TREK BEYOND"  Directed by Justin Lin
This third installment in the re-booted "Star Trek" franchise from Director Justin Lin, taking over for J.J. Abrams, delivered the goods in another rare sequel that was more than worthy of your attention in 2016. In addition to all of the wildly accelerated whiz-bang actions sequences, Lin's "Star Trek Beyond" feels more like an extended episode of the television series in all of the best ways as the film focuses sharply upon the characters and the smaller, quieter moments between them to illustrate a vision of humanity, solidarity and combined problem solving to create a greater future which is then contrasted with the film's villain's single minded and drone aided onslaught. I do think that it was not a mistake to have had the film released right in the middle of the real world Republican and Democratic national conventions, and seeing as to how our election turned out, I think the messages weaved into the narrative of "Star Trek Beyond" resonate that much stronger.
(Originally reviewed July 2016)

SAVAGE CINEMA'S NUMBER 11 (in alphabetical order)

1. "EAT THAT QUESTION: FRANK ZAPPA IN HIS OWN WORDS" Directed by Thorsten Schuette
To gain a perfect primer into the superior mind of the late composer/satirist/provocateur Frank Zappa, look no further than Director Thorsten Schuette's meticulously researched and edited plus briskly paced documentary. Affectionate and reverential for longtime fans and more than a formidable challenge for those unfamiliar with the man and who may house pre-conceived notions about him, "Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words" is as advertised, a non-linear exploration of Zappa's viewpoints throughout his career and nearly up to his passing in 1993, a worldview that remains several steps ahead of many even 23 years after his death. To have the ability to engage with one of our collective history's most idiosyncratic minds, all one would have to do is to spend time with Schuette's excellent film.
(Originally reviewed August 2016) 

2. "EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!"  Directed by Richard Linklater
Writer/Director Richard Linklater's "spiritual sequel" to his classic 1970's set classic "Dazed And Confused" (1993), is a raunchy, rambling, raucous ode to young manhood during one epic weekend at the beginning of the 1980 college school year for the members of the university's baseball team.

As with many of the films in Linklater's filmography, "Everybody Wants Some!!" is a "slice of life" film that functions without a plot or storyline but serves as a deeply perceptive and acutely observed study of male behavior, and the overall effect is profoundly authentic to the point that you may feel as if you are watching a documentary. To that end, and just as with "Dazed And Confused," Linklater's meticulous attention to details serve to make the period design of 1980 feel so authentic as you may be fooled into thinking that this film is actually from that year instead of a newly created release.

Richard Linklater is truly one of our finest cinematic time travelers and not solely through visual details and impeccable soundtracks. He is purely an emotional storyteller and time traveler as he finds the pitch perfect connective tissues that exist between generations, therefore making the 1980 set "Everybody Wants Some!!" also serve as a brilliant quasi-sequel to the present day "Boyhood" (2014) and also as a quasi-prequel to the post-college "Before Sunrise" (1995)
(Originally reviewed April 2016)

3. "JACKIE" Directed by Pablo Larrain
Director Pablo Larrain's ambitious, audacious, compelling, often riveting and even disturbing gaze into the life of Jackie Kennedy a tad before and shortly after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy was one of 2016's most exquisitely gripping films.

With Natalie Portman's complex and even unnerving portrayal of the titular figure, Larrain utilizes a non-linear structure with a politely contentious interview between Jackie Kennedy and an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup) as connective tissue, to explore the psychologically complex themes of public and private personas, the layers of self-preservation, the process and undertaking of myth making and legacy building as well as media manipulation as a means of controlling the story of your own life before others create it for you.
(Originally reviewed January 2017)

4. "MANCHESTER BY THE SEA" Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
A quiet storm of a film with a quiet storm of a leading performance at the center, Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester By The Sea" is searing adult drama that feels as true and as honest as life itself as the film eschews with any and all contrivances in favor of a grounded realism that has no need or place for any prefabricated histrionics.

This story of a reticent Massachusetts janitor (Casey Affleck in his finest, fullest performance to date) who is entrusted with being the guardian of his teenage nephew after a family tragedy is a poignantly devastating exploration of one man's limitations, anguish and failings in a completely non-judgmental fashion, a tactic which therefore asks of us to explore our own limitations and failings. "Manchester By The Sea" is a powerful, sobering, somber adult drama that speaks directly to the strains and struggles of the human condition with supreme humanity and gravity.
(Originally reviewed January 2017)

5. "MIDNIGHT SPECIAL" Directed by Jeff Nichols
This instantly captivating thriller from Writer/Director Jeff Nichols was one of 2016's finest surprises as it merges a Father/son drama, a Southern based chase film, and science fiction mystery all into a sumptuously executed whole that is gripping, perplexing, and filled with an honest imagination that is of a rare quality in 2016. To say much more than that would reveal more than I would wish so just go see this film!
(Originally reviewed December 2016)

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