For a year which will surely go down in history for its polarisation, as far as movies went there was a concerted effort to stay centred in an unremarkable consensus of mediocrity, with the average score of the 95 films I watched in the cinema a paltry 6.5/10. 2016 saw 409 movies watched (and rewatched) and 146 blog posts, it brought Superhero smack downs – and Superhero let-downs; high drama and low comedy and a whole bunch of titles which failed to make much of a lasting impact at all.
Once again, it’s Oscars Eve here in the UK, so it’s time once again for the Annual Craggus Movie Awards. For this, the awards’ 4th year, the rules have – for the first time ever – remained unchanged from past ceremonies. All nominees and winners are chosen from films which had their UK theatrical release in the relevant year and only titles Mertmas and/ or I have seen are eligible. Weirdly this means I’ll still be talking about movies like “Room” and “The Big Short” but will be ignoring films like “Spotlight” – which I still haven’t seen – and 2017 UK releases such as “A Monster Calls” or “Hacksaw Ridge”; well, at least until next year! The other thing that hasn’t changed is that exactly like the Oscars, the nominees and winners have been chosen on the basis of personal preference and may bear no similarity to technical or artistic achievement, real or imagined.
So, without further ado…on with the show! And what would a show be without an opening musical number?
2016 wasn’t blessed with many a memorable movie song and by and large, it’s a two-horse race between “Moana” and “Trolls”. “Kubo And The Two Strings” gets a nod for Regina Spektor’s haunting cover version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Rihanna’s unexpectedly geek-friendly music video for “Sledgehammer” also merits a look. Eschewing the Oscar’s pick of Auli’i Cravalho’s “How Far I’ll Go” in favour of the show-stopping razzamatazz of Dwayne Johnson as Maui crooning “You’re Welcome”, the final two nomination slots go to “Trolls” with Justin Timberlake’s irresistible “Can’t Stop The Feeling” kept company by Anna Kendrick’s peppy and hilariously frantic “Get Back Up Again”.
WINNER: “Get Back Up Again”
Both “Moana” and “Trolls” also feature in the Soundtrack category, as you’d expect. They’re joined by Dario Marianelli’s masterful score for “Kubo And The Two Strings” and Ennio Morricone’s “The Hateful Eight”. The final nomination falls to Michael Giacchino, for his “Trek” efforts rather than his “Wars”. The Craggus Award, though – decided by sheer frequency of being played – goes to “Trolls”.
Best Visual Effects
With the singing and dancing out of the way, it’s time to bring on the old razzle dazzle. Ahem. Movies in 2016 may have lacked many things but spectacle wasn’t one of them. Although it missed out on a nomination, there’s no denying that one of the things Zack Snyder got very right in his otherwise moribund and dismal “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” was in bringing iconic comic book imagery to slavishly accurate life. From the emotionally unearned but nonetheless spectacular destruction of the USS Enterprise in “Star Trek: Beyond” to the Ikea poster aesthetic of “Arrival”, visual effects mastery was everywhere to be seen. Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” pick up the baton from “Inception” and twisted it through all five dimensions to trippy and transcendental effect while “Passengers” made up for its narrative ethical shortfalls with some breathtakingly beautiful astrophysical phenomena. But in the end, the award goes to a film which sought not to recreate the futuristic or fantastical but the natural and historic. “The Jungle Book” defied all scepticism in presenting a thrilling, old-fashioned adventure which channelled the spirit of the 1960s Disney animation while making it fresh, vibrant and alive, despite the near total use of digital effects.
WINNER: “The Jungle Book”
Best Supporting Actress
An eclectic quintet of roles makes up the Craggus Awards 2016’s Best Supporting Actress nominees. I’m sure Aubrey Plaza’s inclusion will raise an eyebrow or two, as will an awards feature outside The Razzies even deigning to mention “Dirty Grandpa” but they’re my awards and I’ll do what I like. I enjoyed “Dirty Grandpa” for what it was but it’s hard to look past Plaza’s subversive, sleepy-eyed oddball performance when it comes from preventing the whole thing collapsing under the weight of its own desperation to disgust. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s acknowledgement for her role in “The Hateful Eight” is a more orthodox nomination, given the depth of character she brings to the role and the film as a whole. A relative newcomer, Angourie Rice deserves her place here thanks to her winning performance in “The Nice Guys”, not least of all for holding her own as Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling skilfully ham it up for yuks. Morena Baccarin’s quintessential ‘tart with a heart’ gives “Deadpool” a sincere emotional core which amplifies the freewheeling nonsense and lets Ryan Reynolds’ merc with a mouth really fly and in Sarita Choudhury, “A Hologram For The King” benefits from an unshowy but almost mesmerically sensual performance, both respectful and revelatory in its realisation of a Muslim woman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The film itself may have left audiences unimpressed but it’s Choudhury who picks up the Best Supporting Actress award this year.
WINNER: Sarita Choudhury (“A Hologram For The King”)
Best Supporting Actor
If you were taken aback by the Best Supporting Actress nominations, then brace yourself for the first of my Best Supporting Actor nominations: Mark Strong for “Grimsby”. Strong delivers an incredibly committed – you might even say seminal – performance as a suave super spy despite the increasingly grotesque and puerile demands of the script. Alan Tudyk, on the other hand, gets his nomination without ever really appearing on screen. His K-2SO managed to be the standout character of a film written with the seeming intent to only involve stand-out characters and I’ve never believed that motion capture should act as a barrier to performances being recognised. Sylvester Stallone, on the other hand, manages to give a powerful and emotional performance of an iconic role without becoming the stand-out character of next generation boxing movie “Creed”, a more difficult balancing act than it may first sound. Sam Neill’s curmudgeonly woodsman earns him a nomination too, providing the perfect foil for the cynical city kid in the delightful “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” and Alexander Black’s role as Yousef in “A Hologram For The King” playfully tweaks some more of the cultural assumptions the movie’s location provokes. In the end, though, there’s only one veteran performer who can take this trophy this year.
WINNER: Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”)
When it comes to lead performances of 2016, it goes right back to the beginning and “The Danish Girl” where Alicia Vikander was unfairly overlooked thanks in large part to a trite and affected performance by her co-star Eddie Redmayne which is only a degree or so shy of David Walliams’ “Little Britain” ‘I’m a Lady’ sketches. Vikander’s performance is by far the best of the film and I’ve no hesitation in giving her a nomination here. Likewise, both Brie Larson and Anya-Taylor Joy deliver powerhouse performances in their respective roles at the heart of “Room” and “The Witch”, carrying the emotional weight of the story to two very different conclusions. Amy Adams’ more reflective turn in “Arrival” dials down the emotionalism in favour of a cool sentimentality but is no less effective for it and rounding out our group of nominees is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who does a fantastic job in really selling the claustrophobic fear of her character’s stay at “10 Cloverfield Lane”. But good things come to those who wait, so the Best Actress Craggus Award for 2016 goes to Alicia Vikander.
WINNER: Alicia Vikander
Another motion capture performance kicks off the run down of Best Actor nominees. Mark Rylance manages to infuse the Big Friendly Giant with such warmth and mischievous wit that he’s often the most human and authentic thing on the screen. Daniel Radcliffe brings the exact opposite to the screen in “Swiss Army Man”, turning in a cadaverous performance of extraordinary physicality. Ryan Reynolds may have found his artistic soulmate in the role of Wade Wilson/ Deadpool and John Goodman might have been the terrifying antithesis of his cuddly TV sitcom dad in “10 Cloverfield Lane” but this category was only ever heading in one direction, and that was to young Jacob Tremblay whose performance in “Room” is nothing short of phenomenal.
WINNER: Jacob Tremblay (“Room”)
Best Animated Movie
Lighter fare now and, away from Illumination Studio’s output, it was an impressive year for animated movies. “Kung Fu Panda 3” continued the franchise’s ability to avoid the diminishing quality of sequels which tend to plague other franchises *cough* “Ice Age” *cough* and Dreamworks had another hit with far-better-than-it-could-have-been animated musical “Trolls”. Disney also had a great year with both “Zootropolis” and “Moana” and while Illumination studios may have put profitability ahead of artistic merit, it’s Laika studios which fully deserves this award for the spellbindingly original “Kubo And The Two Strings”.
WINNER: “Kubo And The Two Strings”
‘There were script problems from day one’ may be a familiar refrain in the DCEU but it’s not a problem which affected any of the nominees in this category. “Kubo And The Two Strings”, “Swiss Army Man”, “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” and “Deadpool” all demonstrate innovative and slyly witty and unorthodox approaches to storytelling while “The BFG” is simply a masterpiece of adapting a beloved children’s book into a feature film but only one of these so perfectly captures the tone, irreverence and metatextual soul of its source material to a degree that until you’ve seen it done scarcely seems possible.
So we’re into the final stretch, with the two big Craggus awards up for grabs. The five names in the frame for Best Director are distinctly different and yet each one is a master storyteller in their own way. Dennis Villeneuve continues to impress and after “Sicario” and “Arrival” all eyes will be on his venture into the dystopian future of “Blade Runner 2049”. Jon Favreau continues to cement his reputation as one of Disney’s best directors and at this point, Quentin Tarantino has no need of hagiography to justify his presence on this list. Tim Miller’s triumphant use of the modest “Deadpool” budget is an achievement worthy of recognition but its Taika Waititi and his unique filmmaking voice which enables him to walk away with the Best Director award of 2016 for the quirky and heart-warming “Hunt For The Wilderpeople”.
WINNER: Taika Waititi
A Venn diagram of ‘Best Director’ nominations and ‘Best Film’ nominations would show a substantial but not complete overlap this year. But the winner was a film I saw quite late in the year but as soon as I saw it, I knew the benchmark had been set and that it would be very hard for any other movie to topple it from its perch. I could happily give “Deadpool”, “Room”, “The Jungle Book” or even “Arrival” the nod as my best picture of 2016 were it not for the enchanting, delightful and offbeat wonder that is “Hunt For The Wilderpeople”. Its whimsical yet deceptively incisive sassiness may not be to everybody’s taste but for me, it eclipsed everything I’ve seen in 2016. Congratulations, then, to “Hunt For The Wilderpeople”, the 2016 Craggus Movie of the Year.
WINNER: “Hunt For The Wilderpeople”
The final movie award of the night – as far as The Craggus is concerned, I believe the Academy have a few tokens to hand out later – is The Mertie Award for Best Film of 2016. I asked Mertmas to make a list of his five favourite movies of the year and after a lot of deliberation he narrowed it down to:
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“Swallows And Amazons”
He was much quicker to narrow the five down to the eventual winner, though, and that was “Goosebumps”. Jack Black’s family friendly effects-laden adventure managed to mix just the right amount of spooky shenanigans and colourful antics to snag the 2016 Mertie.
So, there we have it. The 2016 Craggus Movie Awards. Good decisions? Travesties? Who did I snub? Who did I over-praise? Let me know in the comments! And enjoy the Oscars!