When the world gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When the world gives you brown bananas, you make banana bread. When the world gives you fermented lactose, you make yogurt. These are phrases you’ve most likely heard ad nauseam.
But what about when the world gives you a horrendous year of film? What then? Well, you make a list of the best and worst of them and share with a world that could care less that you even exist, let alone spend inordinate amounts of time sitting in a dark move theater like a creepy pale-skinned loser.
So, here it is. The annual Stink Whispers list of best* and worst films of the year (mixed in with the first-ever Whispy Awards).
Best of the Lot
1) Green Room (trailer) – It’s hard to say why this one stuck with me, but it did. Maybe it’s because the plot comes off like both a tale as old as time AND a song as old as rhyme. Punk rockers desperate for a paying gig rattle off a couple of sets for a group of violent backwoods skinheads and end up trapped in the shady club’s green room fighting for their lives. If Bing Crosby were still around, casting agents would’ve thrown obscene amounts of money at him to star. This film is not so much scary as it is grimy, thrilling, shadowy, violent and oddly fun. Patrick Stewart is genius as the head skinhead honcho. Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots are perfectly frantic as quasi-protagonists. You can feel the cold, fear and hopeless claustrophobia throughout. A perfect swan song for Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond doesn’t count). Nevermind the film made about $100 at the box office. It opened at the same time as “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” No film could compete with the brilliance of a third Barbershop film.
2) Lion (trailer) – This late-year entry was the most emotionally draining film of the year. That says a lot coming from a guy who some women have claimed is emotionless. Bitches. Dev Patel plays Saroo, a Indian boy adopted by an Australian couple after being separated from his family at a young age. Shaken from his privileged life as an adult by a small trigger, he wrestles with the conflict between his new life and the life (and people) he left behind. It’s slightly predictable, has tinges of “Slumdog Millionaire,” but is an absolutely beautiful, moving film. If Nicole Kidman and Patel don’t receive award consideration, something is wrong with the world in which we inhabit. Oh, and if you see this and don’t shed at least one salty little tear, you deserve each and every punishment Satan throws your way once you enter the gates of Hell. Just sayin’.
3) Hell or High Water (trailer) – This one has the grimy feel of a western, but the smarts and tone of “Heat” or “The Town.” Ben Foster puts on an Oscar-worthy performance and Chris Pine is only a slight notch below that. It’s a complicated flick — one where you’re not quite sure who to root for right up until the end. The only knock on this one is that Jeff Bridges sounds like he’s having about a dozen strokes all at once. If mumbling dialogue was an Olympic sport, Bridges would easily win the gold medal, then be immediately disqualified for using of mumble-enhancing drugs. He is slowly becoming the worst threat to our way of life and he needs to be stopped. Will you stop him? If so, wait until after you’ve seen this film.
4) Don’t Breathe (trailer) – Fair warning, if you own a turkey baster, I will never eat Thanksgiving at your house. Never. That’s just one message I took from “Don’t Breathe.” More importantly, though, I learned not to sneak into a blind man’s house to rob him of his goods, for you never know the myriad ways he may attempt to trap, torture and/or kill you. And that’s only if he keeps the aforementioned turkey baster in the kitchen drawer where it belongs. This film truly is an edge-of-your-seater, both in its frantic moments and its quiet, unnerving moments. Fede Alvarez is quickly becoming a genius horror director (go see his “Evil Dead” reboot NOW). The stripped-down cast is wonderful, especially Stephen Lang. And the barren city of Detroit may be one of the better supporting cast members you never thought of. White or dark turkey meat? I’ll just have sweet potatoes, thanks.
5) Rogue One (trailer) – Like many men my age, I grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s immersed in all things Star Wars. Like many men my age, I also had to experience George Lucas’ mental breakdown a couple of decades later when he made three prequels that are about as enjoyable to watch as hidden camera footage of me sitting on a toilet after eating leftover strip mall Indian food. When Disney acquired the rights to the franchise, things changed. Sure, “The Force Awakens” was a shameless rip-off, but it was still a lot of fun. Now, “Rogue One” comes along and blows us all away. Action packed, more mature, a bit dark, and most importantly, imaginative and original-ish. Long story short, this one made me feel like a kid again. Considering I’m losing tons of hair every day and go to bed around 9:30 on work nights, I’ll take whatever I can get on the youthful front.
6) La La Land (trailer) – I hate musicals. If they make one more version of “Hairspray” starring some lame pop singer, I may go on a cutting binge. Luckily, “La La Land” isn’t your standard musical. Aside from an opening number that had me zipping up my coat and preparing to leave, the rest of film is just a great little love story with a handful of catchy song-and-dance numbers. Emma stone is captivating. Yes, I said captivating. Ryan Gosling is his charming, funny self. The story may be a bit paint-by-numbers, but the performances and chemistry of the leads render that fact harmless. Add in the fact that it often has the feel of a 50’s classic, and I was sold through the end credits. I should’ve hated this one with the heat of 2,000 exploding suns, but I left the theater optimistic that Hollywood might not have completely sold its soul just yet.
7) Manchester by the Sea (trailer) – Having a good day? Feel peppy and ready to take on the world in all her glory? Might want to steer clear of “Manchester by the Sea.”Amazing film. Raw and real film. Super duper depressing film. Casey Affleck plays a tortured man given guardianship of his nephew after his brother dies. There’s more to what sounds like a mundane story, with multiple scars and scarred people rising to the surface. Affleck is his mumbly self (not quite Jeff Bridges mumbly), but he’s never been better and deserves serious Oscar consideration. Newcomer Lucas Hedges is wonderful too as Affleck’s nephew. There are bits of well-played humor mixed in with all of the tragedy and heartache –mostly revolving around the Lothario skills of Hedges (or at least what he perceives as “skills”). I didn’t leave the theater skipping and whistling a happy tune, but in a world filled with Madea films, there’s something to said for a film as authentic and human as this one.
8) 10 Cloverfield Lane (trailer) – Take one part original sci-fi and mix in 62 parts “What the Fuck?” thriller, and you’ve got the recipe to “10 Cloverfield Lane” down perfectly. Mary Elizabeth Winstead wakes up in a doomsday bunker with two strange men, one of whom won’t allow here to leave because of what he believes to be an apocalyptic event outside (he might be a bit paranoid…or is he). What follows is a guessing game, mystery, thriller and horror movie wrapped into one. John Goodman is SO good as the creepy bunker owner. I have to admit I still see Dan from “Roseanne” every time he’s on screen, but since DJ, Becky and Darlene aren’t in the bunker too, I was able to move past it. I’ll never love the last 15 minutes (just felt too out of place), but every single preceding minute made up for the ending in spades.
9) 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (trailer) – Remember how I said I hate musicals? Well, I hate Michael Bay even more. His use of slow motion, the American flag, and slow motion shots of the American flag typically have me ready to puke. That said, his stab at the story of the Benghazi embassy attacks was one of the more thoroughly intense and entertaining films of the year. I won’t bore you with the story, because if you don’t already know the nuts and bolts of it, you probably won’t care to see this one. Sure, it had the usual casting misfires (John Krasinski from “The Office” has no place as a combat/security operative), but the action is well-paced and the visuals are not that overdone (a feather in the cap for Bay). I fully realize that the historical accuracy of a Michael Bay film rivals only my retelling of my love-making skills in terms of factual veracity. That said, if you’re able to set aside your political persuasions and just take the film for what it is, you may just enjoy it nearly as much as I did.
10) Deepwater Horizon (trailer) – Okay, “Deepwater Horizon” wasn’t a stellar movie. I needed a #10, though, and this one was at least edge-of-your-seat thrilling. That may seem like the participation trophy of movie praise, but don’t let that detract from the film’s positives. The frenetic action started from the get-go and didn’t let up until the end. Like “13 Hours,” unless you completely avoid any and all news coverage, you know the story. Oil rig workers + greedy company men = drilling disaster that puts lives at risk. So, don’t trust company men when it comes to oil drilling. Just don’t. Peter Berg is a great director who knows how to make this type of film. His only problem is that he casts Mark Wahlberg in every…single…film. Even so, while Wahlberg is hardly a great actor (“The Departed” aside), he can carry a movie as well as anyone. Again, it’s not a life-changer of a movie, but it is a fun, riveting watch.
*”Moonlight” and “The Lobster” either never made it to my regularly attended theaters or were gone before I could see them. From all accounts, they would’ve earned plenty of consideration for this list.
The Dirty (Downright Stanky) Half-Dozen
As mentioned above, this year truly was distinguished more by the sheer volume of shit, garbage and otherwise mind-numbingly bad films. Yes, I’m a cynic and a bit of a crab-ass, but I still challenge you to produce any evidence to the contrary.
So, let’s dive right in. Here are my selections for the six most gut-wrenchingly bad films of 2016 (in no particular order, because you shouldn’t rank the things you hate):
The Purge: Election Year
Loved “The Purge.” Didn’t hate “The Purge: Anarchy.” Unfortunately, the third film in the series kept the downward trend going. The great and evil white elite responsible for the annual Purge plot to stop a rebellious legislator intent on putting an end to the barbaric tradition. Violence and action ensue, I guess. Then it ends, and we’re all supposed to feel like we learned something about society, equity and the dangers of allowing the murder of low-income folks. Appreciate the condescending lesson? This film thought it was super important and timely. It was actually boring, exaggerated, boring and super boring. Acting stunk. Writing stunk. Acting stunk some more. Then, the directing stunk. This movie is dumber than the Packers fan who think he owns actual stock in the team.
Some days I wonder if God hates that he spent the time and effort to create humans. Then I watch movies like “Warcraft” and realize that the answer is a resounding “YES!” A pointless, imbecilic film for fans of the pointless, imbecilic video game, this one had me praying that a rogue piece of popcorn would find its way into my windpipe and kill me. Alas, the popcorn behaved and I had to sit through this CGI-laden pile of donkey shit. The plot had something to do with the world of man fighting clans of big, brooding tusk-faced cartoons. If that doesn’t sell you on it, you’re already smarter than me. They got my $8 and won’t give it back. Thanks, Obama.
Captain America: Civil War
Want to watch a movie that has zero plot, is cursed with unfunny jokes and false drama, and is basically a toy commercial for every Marvel character that has touched the big screen lately? Check this turd of a movie out, you buffoon. Want to behave like a grown adult who doesn’t believe a movie should be made for no other reason than it’s been three months since the last entry in the franchise was made? Welcome to the world of sanity. I’m fairly positive I would’ve enjoyed taking part in the real Civil War more than I did watching this travesty.
A lot of wonderful actors wasted with terrible roles, a stupid plot and bad directing. That’s “Criminal” for you. Costner does a fine job of looking out of breath and confused, but not much else. He plays Jericho Stewart, a convict whose body is used as a vessel for Ryan Reynold’s brain (seems backwards, doesn’t it?). He’s supposed to stop a techno-terrorist from doing something or other. He succeeds, but nobody cares because everything about the film is just so horrendous. Seems like the word around Hollywood regarding Costner these days is “If you write a shitty movie, he will come.”
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
As much as I hate the Scientology-worshiping fool, Tom Cruise rarely makes a bad flick. His films may sometimes be simplistic and/or self-indulgent, but they still tend to entertain those of us dumb enough to put money into his L. Ron Hubbard-worshipping pockets. The first “Jack Reacher” did just that — entertained. This one fails in every way the first succeeded. All you’re left with is two hours of UGH. Casting the annoying actress from “How I Met Your Mother” and “Avengers” fame (I use “fame” sarcastically) didn’t help.
Did you ever get stuck behind an old woman going 32 mph below the speed limit on a two-lane highway with no passing lanes? If you could bottle that feeling and pour it out onto a big movie screen in Oakdale, MN, you’d know how I felt while watching “X-Men: Apocalypse.” The first comic book flick that had me pining for the excitement and action of actually paging through a comic book, this film had something to do with an old Egyptian mutant and his plans to take over the world. A rag-tag collection of X-men and X-women decide that…oh, who gives a fuck? This movie was slow, unimaginative and slowly unimaginative. I tend to hate-watch the X-men and Marvel movies knowing ahead of time that I’m going to rip them afterward, but this one set a new standard. How bad was it? I had to watch “The Purge: Election Year” again just to get the images out of my head.
The 2016 Whispy Awards
Kick Assiest Actor – It is a coin toss in this category, folks. Casey Affleck absolutely floors you in “Manchester by the Sea.” That said, Ben Foster knocks his role as a psychotic bank robber with a partial heart of gold out of the park. We’ll give it to Affleck, though, as he absolutely nails every last bit of his role and carries the film. That said, kudos to Foster for his stellar performance (and what should be an on-the-rise career). Honorable mention: Ryan Gosling in “La La Land” and Michael Shannon in “Nocturnal Animals” and “Midnight Special.”
Downright Shittiest Actor – So many to choose from in a year of terrible films, but the outright winner/loser of this award goes to Jesse Eisenberg for his “holy shit, this is embarassing” performance as Lex Luthor in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” He wasn’t much better in “Now You See Me 2”, but we’ll cut him some slack since that film should’ve never been made. Dishonorable mention: Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” and every single actor in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Most Glorious Actress – I must admit, I have a soft spot for Emma Stone. She’s just so damn cute and perky — which is why I was tempted to tab her here for her performance in “La La Land.” At the end of the day, though, I just couldn’t overlook Marion Cotillard’s complex performance in “Allied.” She completely offsets Brad Pitt’s stiff, lifeless performance in what turned out to be an underrated film. I specifically avoided the horribly reviewed “Assassin’s Creed” so that it wouldn’t taint my image of Ms. Cotillard. Honorable mention: Amy Adams in “The Arrival.”
Most Putrid Actress – No contest. Elizabeth Mitchell in “The Purge: Election Year” takes the prize. Granted, the writers gave her terrible dialogue and an inane plot with which to work, but she took it to a new level of bad. I feel bad for her parents. In fact, I feel bad for her godparents too. Nobody should have to look after her should her parents pass away. Dishonorable mention: Kate McKinnon in “Ghostbusters” and Scarlett Johansson in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Best Action Sequence – “Hacksaw Ridge” had some of the most intense (if not over-the-top) combat sequences I’ve seen in years. This year’s winner, though, goes to the final 30 minutes of “Anthropoid,” the story of the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect of the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” The sequence is not done with big-name actors, expansive sets or big-dollar effects, but it is absolutely unnerving and riveting, all the same. Honorable mention: “Hacksaw Ridge,””13 Hours,” and nearly all of “Rogue One.”
Sexiest Actress in a Bikini Being Stalked by a Shark – It wasn’t as crowded a field as I’d hoped for, but Blake Lively won this one by a landslide. Let me be clear, this film was pretty stupid. Let me be even clearer, Blakers (I call her that) didn’t so much act as she did pose. What was my point here? I forget. Bikini.
Film that Forced the Most Salty Discharge from the Eyes – For someone who regularly tears up at sappy movies, this was actually a pretty good year. Competition aside, I have to award “Lion” as the tear-jerkiest film of the year. Just such a happy, sad, and happy-sad film. And a true story that adds in footage of the real-life people in the end credits — always a bonus! Honorable mention: “Me Before You” and “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”
Most Laughs – This was not a great year for comedies, in my humble opinion. That said, there were a few laughs to be had. For me, most of them came from the incredibly stupid (in a wonderful way) “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” The boys from The Lonely Island knocked nearly every joke and song out of the park. Juvenile and crude from start to finish. Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg, and Akiva Shaffer are simply brilliant in every way. Honorable mention: “Office Christmas Party” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent in “Doctor Strange.”
Best Film You Never Seen…or Even Heard Of – It’s simple: “Our Kind of Traitor.” Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, and Stellan Skarsgård are all wonderful and the story, writing and directing are all equally great. Not a world changer, but this one deserved far more push that it received.