The Ten Most Interesting Stories About Cinema in 2016 – Viola Davis, Spider-Man, Ghostbusters (2016) and More!


2016 is over and we begin 2017 in wild circumstances. If you told me at this time last year that Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher and George Michael would be dead and that Donald Trump was about to become President of the United States of America I’d have asked you what drugs you were on. 2017 can’t possibly get as crazy as 2016 … right?

This year kept me busy with a number of thing, as well as some generic burnout. Last year I wound writing a half dozen columns in one mass writing sessions because I didn’t want to write for a while as I prepped “Confessions of a Superhero” … and wound up taking off a large portion of the year off from writing because of that project. I didn’t see as many films as I have in the past; downside of a massive commute and a burgeoning social life is that spending tons of time watching movies every weekend was more difficult than normal.

As such a proper Top Ten list wouldn’t be something I’d be comfortable putting out there. Instead I’ve assembled Ten Interesting Thoughts about 2016, cinematically, for discussion.

10. La La Land is my pick for Best Picture at the Academy Awards

I saw it on Christmas Day and didn’t think it was anything special; it was good, really good at times, but Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have been better together in better pictures before. It was a solid three-star film, I think, as I obviously won’t be writing a full review of it anytime soon. The film has all the sorts of things Academy voters generally tend to go for.

The biggest is that it panders to old time Hollywood throughout; there’s nothing that Hollywood rewards more than films about Hollywood. It’s how The Artist won an Oscar for Best Picture; it was the best of those nominated but it didn’t hurt that this was also about old time Hollywood as well. Is it the best film of 2016? No. But it has the feel of “Oscar winner that wasn’t the best, or most memorable, film of the year” like Crash, Forrest Gump and the like.

9. Birth of a Nation is the most screwed over film of 2016

It’s interesting that Nate Parker’s arrest history was one of the reasons that film went from being the overwhelming favorite to carry every meaningful Oscar this spring to an afterthought as 2016 ends. Parker was arrested and tried, and found not guilty of sexual assault in college. It’s something that haunts him to this day and what should be the film that carries so many to Oscar wins won’t because of it. It also seemed to infect reviews of it; many of the same people who were raving about it at the end of 2015 wound up giving it tepid reviews after the controversy.

Compare it to Casey Affleck, and Manchester by the Sea, which had similar allegations from its star. Casey did some horrific stuff to a handful of women while filming his fake documentary with Joaquim Phoenix. He settled out of court many years ago, and for an undisclosed amount of money. The end result was that it hasn’t held him back in the same way the acquittal of Parker has. No one has seemed to care as he’s the favorite to win for Best Actor right now, either, as there hasn’t been a massive outcry like there was for the former decorated collegiate wrestler, either.

8. Hollywood’s influence was greatly diminished, politically

One of the more interesting things about the election wasn’t that Trump won; Donald Trump coming out of nowhere and winning the highest office in the land with the craziest, unconventional campaign ever is going to be studied by political scientists, statisticians and the like for a generation. The interesting thing to me was how much Hollywood used its celebrity and its credibility to campaign for Hillary Clinton and seemingly no one cared.

You can discuss the death of the movie star via box office numbers, DVD sales, et al, but the biggest one is that Hollywood came out en masse like it never has before and the people they tried to influence didn’t care at all. They were another in the chorus of voices, no more, and after a while it got tuned out.

7. Fox now has the chance of relaunching X-Men fresh and new

After X-Men: Apocalypse something curious happened. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hault all finished their current contracts with Fox. Hugh Jackman has said he’ll be walking away from comic books with Logan. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have to be close to, or completed, their contracts as well. Stewart has appeared in six films so far, with Logan marking the seventh,and McKellen has five to his credit as well. Halle Berry and James Marsden have been afterthoughts since First Class essentially soft rebooted the franchise.

Fox now has a chance of relaunching the franchise with an entirely new cast, which is wild.

The only holdover between the old X-Men era and this potential new one will be the Deadpool franchise, which is seemingly disconnected from it all to begin with. It’s why the latest X-Men film hasn’t had any real announcements, rumors or any news of significance to it so far. No one is under contract, talent wise, and now Fox can restart it any way they see fit.

6. China now matters more than any other market besides the US … and that gap is closing

Ghostbusters winds up being profitable if China lets the film in. Warcraft nearly broke even because of the massive box office numbers of the Communist nation. When you look at the numbers China is now the single most important foreign box office Hollywood has …. And it is getting even bigger.

At some point the bubble will collapse, of course, but seeing how much box offices matter in China gives one perspective on the international nature of so many blockbusters, et al.

5. Comic book films in the past ten years are what action films were in the 1980s

It used to be that being an action movie star just required a gym membership, some steroids and a handful of cheesy one-liners. Some legit sporting background didn’t hurt, either. Arnold rode that to a fairly legendary career, as did a number of actors, but right now we’re in the middle of a genre renaissance that’s going to end.

Comic book films are the biggest drawing card besides animation at the box office right now. But eventually audience will tire of it, like they did with one man army films oh so many years ago. I’m calling it now, that Doctor Strange is about the peak of it and everything from is the beginning of the down slope. Audiences eventually tire and with the sheer volume of superhero properties on the big screen now eventually people will want something different.

4. Controversy doesn’t mean ticket sales

The most discussed film of the year before its release, by far, was Ghostbusters. I wrote a number of columns on it, as did many others, and the sheer volume of words discussing the franchise from YouTube comments to genuine commentary about that film was staggering. The sheer size of the conversation meant that it was on the public’s purview for far longer than many other films. It was in every major newspaper, on every significant website and was discussed more in more arenas than any other film of the year by a large quantity.

It also lost nearly $100 million when all is said and done. It was about $75 million, according to reports, and Tom Rothman cutting $15 million from the budget before production saved it from the nine-figure mark of a loss.

For as much as this film was discussed it didn’t find any sort of audience. It’s strange to me on a certain level because the film’s awareness was staggering but its box office was anything but. Usually a film that’s been discussed this much finds a way to get asses into seats … but it didn’t. Wild.

3. Viola Davis may have had one of the best years ever

If she doesn’t win an Oscar for Fences, the Denzel Washington headlined adaptation of a massively successful stage play they both had starred in, it’ll be a genuine travesty. Davis had the best performance of anyone in 2016 in that one film. When she didn’t win for The Help it wasn’t shocking; it wasn’t the sort of powerhouse performance one usually expects from an Oscar winning role.

Fences was … it’s very difficult to be in a prestige picture with arguably the best actor of a generation and outshine them but Viola Davis did just that. She carried that film in spectacular ways. Winning an Oscar sometimes has that “right role, right time” sort of feel for many. DiCaprio won his a year ago and it felt right for so many reasons. This has that same feel.

She also took on a tough role, of Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad, and gave us a genuinely intriguing villain in an otherwise bland film. Throw in a hit TV show, How to Get Away With Murder, and Davis is in the midst of one of the most intriguing career stretches of any actor working right now.

2. TV has officially lost any stigma for actors

If anything, television shows are where so many are going to find interesting roles. Acting in film isn’t quite what it used to be at the highest level; with so many masters to serve, the best roles in film are now in much smaller films more than ever. Hollywood tends to make films for either all of the money or none of the money; that midmarket film is disappearing everywhere but on the indie scene, where it’s being made for much less than it used to be.

Cable television is where the most interesting roles are starting to come out. Tom Hardy has headlined films and now is toplining Taboo on FX, with no one thinking that it’s a step down. It’s “this could be very interesting to see what got him to do a series for FX” instead, which is awesome. I’m all for actors taking parts that stretch their creative capabilities and now we’re seeing the beginning of something terrific. No longer is the dilemma to abandon a hit show for movie success what it once was; actors can have it both.

George Clooney on a show like E.R right now doesn’t have to essentially walk away for a film career right now. It allows for such a diversity of roles that I think is terrific.

1. If you’re not stoked for Spider-Man: Homecoming … check your pulse

Marvel Studios is on the ball when it comes to appealing to its hardcore comic book fanbase as well as the casual filmgoer. And right now the third attempt at a franchise about the web-slinger looks like it’s going to be terrific … and every time Marvel gets their hands on a character who’s rights they sold off years ago the more they seem to do just that.

Daredevil on Netflix is easily the best of the series that have found their way there … but Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are fairly strong shows as well.

Everything they are touching is turning into gold … and for fans of cinema and television it’s a good time to be a viewer.

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Scott Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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