Well crap, I did not get to see many films this year, owing to authorial and familial commitments, and so this is of a necessity a bit of a shotgun review.
I did get to see a couple of Marvel films, about which I’ve been positive, and positive I remain. I speak of course of Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange.
I agree wholeheartedly with the common comment that CA:CW was really Avengers 3, and in fact made a better Avengers sequel than Age of Ultron. In fact, CW pulled off a neat piece of juggling because while AoU felt (to me) cluttered with too many characters and too many plot turns, leaving a film that charged blindly about without having much of a shape, CW pulled out a larger cast and yet gave everyone their moment, allowed a new character (the superb Black Panther) a good share of the spotlight and an arc of his own, and managed to tell a generally coherent story with it. Marvel films have suffered from weak villains in the past, but here the weakness of the villain was built into the logic of the film. The midway set piece Big Fight was absolutely bloody marvellous, and they managed to get a very likeable Spiderman in without him seeming overly shoehorned.
Doctor Strange I think suffered in comparison to other recent Marvel films by being an origin piece. When the main plot is sharing precious screen time with the hero’s journey, it tends to get a bit elbowed out, and the overall macro-plot of Dr S came out as very by the numbers. However the details were superb, and most especially the denouement, which was an extremely intelligent take on “How do we deal with the villain of ultimate power” not involving a magic mcguffin of villain-depowerment. Of the debate over the casting of Tilda Swinton in a traditionally Asian role, I don’t feel qualified to comment, but it’s definitely an unfortunate addition to a whole lot of that sort of thing going on in films this year.
I also caught Zootopia with son, which was a well-written, very funny film about prejudice and stereotyping that put in some fairly solid punches. It also had a shot at how twisted media representation goes a long way towards creating hate, which is a hell of a thing for a kids cartoon to take on. Made me think back to Inside Out, which at least has a go at a model for depression and dealing with (embodied) emotions. You can do this heavyweight stuff with cartoons without preaching. I’m reminded of something I saw on FB recently and now maddeningly can’t pin down, about artists being in a position to, and having a responsibility to, put out a message even (/especially) when the rest of the world is going to crap. If bigotry can be discussed in a cartoon about talking animals, then good for that.
And I saw The Lobster. I… do not know what it was necessarily about. It was very funny, in that socially awkward pause way many comedies are, set in a world where, if you end up out of a relationship for to long, you get (surgically and implicitly horribly) turned into an animal. The lead character ends up at a sort of last chance resort where people are encouraged to find their one true soulmate, meaning someone who has some characteristic similar to you. It’s all a metaphor, and yet at the same time the guy is going to get turned into a lobster (his choice) if he doesn’t find The One. Except of course there isn’t A One, there never is. It’s a weird film, but very good.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is next up, Potterverse without the Potter. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, but I enjoyed it immensely. Well cast and acted with a complex storyline that – again – went deliberately to some uncomfortable places. The magical world of the 21st century is actually a pretty nasty place when you get down to it, the magical world of the 20s-30s is worse, and that nastiness is showcased and then emphatically not solved by the plot’s resolution. The wizarding world mirrors the NoMaj’s world in intolerance and segregation, just on different grounds. There’s a decent amount of complexity in what’s going on, the characters are well presented (Eddie Redmayne’s Scamander is weirdly like Matt Smith’s Dr Who, down to the magical box he travels around with, which threw me somewhat) and the effects are top notch.
Finally (and no, haven’t seen Rogue One yet, eagerly awaited) I saw Arrival. It is hard to say much about this without spoiling it, but this is my Film Of The Year, hands down. I almost didn’t go see it because the posters seemed very underwhelming (not the poster to the right, but the one with someone wearing a space helmet, which seemed a bit generic but was all over the busses over my way), but by God am I glad I did. It’s an alien first contact film, it’s very intelligent SF and it’s based on a short story by Ted Chiang, one of the absolute masters of short SF prose. If you can catch this on the big screen, you should – both for the visuals and the use of sound. And the aliens themselves are fantastic.
Coming up: not only Rogue One, for which I have high hopes, but having seen the trailer for Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, that looks like it’s going to be amazing and also utterly heart-rending, just like the book.