BEST OF 2016: The “Unconventional” Citations of the Year Part 1

Lobster, WGA Awards

Taking in the full year in cinema is quite a task. Considering the very best and worst of film can often correlate to personal feelings at the time. Where were you when you were watching “X” film and could it have been received differently under different circumstances? Film is also subjective. Through and through. The Best of 2016 Series will focus on not just the conventional Oscar categories that we’re used to hearing about, but will also cite other narrative and character functions that don’t always get their proper due. Compare the “Specialty Categories” to the “MTV Movie Awards” in its heyday.

Let’s kick things off with the first wave of “Specials.” This in turn will be followed by a second wave on Wednesday before we get into my personal ballot on Thursday. Friday will cap things off with my personal winners, along with my official Top 10 Films of 2016 list.

On any given day, this could all be received differently. Today, however, this is where we stand.


Other People” (Vertical Entertainment)
dir. Chris Kelly

Big studios with big budgets can do just about anything to get their films seen. Chris Kelly’s beautifully intimate “Other People” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016 and mustered just about everything it could with its limited finances. In terms of story and film, the film stands tall next to any large studio effort from the past year. Molly Shannon garnered the lion’s share of praise for the movie, and rightfully so. Shannon’s work is up there with some of the year’s best. What’s been disappointing to see is how star Jesse Plemons, who leads the charge, went virtually unnoticed. He soars in his career best, angling his sensitivity and sadness of a man losing his mother to cancer. Finally, Chris Kelly’s sharp writing and even more witty direction brings “Other People” to a rich, engrossing place of delight. It’s the one film I would beg any AMPAS voter to watch before turning in their ballots.

RUNNERS-UP: You can bang the drum loud for documentaries and animated features getting cited outside of their conventional Oscar categories, but nothing is more frustrating than to see Laika’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” from Travis Knight and Netflix’s “13th” from Ava DuVernay fail in the Best Picture hunt. Next to that, the Cannes Film Festival came and went for Ken Loach’s richly dynamic “I, Daniel Blake” and we haven’t heard too much of a peep since. Shame. You can also take a swing to say that not enough people talked about how profoundly moving Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” is, and it’s once again disheartening that a film about four strong, intriguing female figures went unnoticed. I’ll make the swing.


Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train”
(Universal Pictures)

For much of the world, adoring the essence and existence of Emily Blunt is second nature. To see her stretch and expand her abilities in the way she chose to do so in Tate Taylor’s misguided and lifeless adaptation of the Paula Hawkins bestseller is an exercise in patience. Blunt taps into a woman suffering from depression, paranoia and rage to a wonderful resolve. Her self-destructive behavior holds a delicate yet aggressive prowess that we’ve never seen from her before. Though eyes and shrugs were in full force by her surprise SAG nomination, it’s good to see such a keen work get its highlight.

RUNNERS-UP: The near miss for the top spot in this category, Chris Messina‘s overweight partner in Ben Affleck’s mundane and trite “Live By Night” was the film’s largest takeaway. While all the failures were on full display with Paul Feig’s remake of “Ghostbusters,” Kate McKinnon was surely not one of them. Likely because of her secret life as a goddess, Julianne Moore was vibrant in the Woody Allen-wannabe “Maggie’s Plan.” This one is probably for the “overrated” list as well since the joy of “The Nice Guys” flew over my head, but Ryan Gosling hit me square in the heart.


Nick Kroll in “Loving”
(Focus Features)

Sometimes it’s hard to ding a performer for not being able to transcend what is out of his power. Comedian Nick Kroll had a decent enough year, voicing the hilarious “Douche” in the animated raunchy “Sausage Party.” When it came to him switching things up in the heartfelt drama “Loving,” Kroll failed to melt his comedy persona. Likely unable to take all the blame, it was an unfortunate event of miscasting. Kroll didn’t have the look, demeanor, or acting chops to transcend the “witty lawyer” character beyond its seemingly cheap trick of becoming the comic relief in this historical and moving drama. Just shake it off Nick.

RUNNERS-UP: I love Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker more than most, but it was two slight missteps for him this year: first, with a questionable accent in Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” and the second as the wise, heavy-breathing Vader-like, but good character in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The tears are in full force in “Lion” from Garth Davis but Rooney Mara‘s commitment to conveying those emotions doesn’t do much other than annoy. Laura Linney‘s “woman on the phone” character in “Sully” put me in serious contention for a gold medal in the “eye-rolling” event that is sure to become an Olympic sport someday. You can’t hide a bad performance behind the voice of a really big Orangutan as shown by Christopher Walken in “The Jungle Book.”


Love & Friendship” (Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions)
dir. Whit Stillman

We have to open this up with a disclaimer: I’m not really a good audience for British period dramas. There are few that can capture my attention and hold it. Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” has a decent enough set up before it’s immediately run into a humor train that passes right by at every turn. While so many praised its witty script, I found it dry and lifeless. The only saving grace at times is the work of Kate Beckinsale, who still hasn’t found the right vehicle yet that gets her to the Dolby Theatre.

RUNNERS-UP: While “Hell or High Water” remains a formidable contender across the board, the “No Country for Old Men” rip-off features decent enough performances (particularly Ben Foster), but nothing like the “second coming” that so many critics sang all season. Another comedy that failed to land was Marvel’s “Deadpool,” which in about 20 minutes flat, overstays its welcome with its over-the-top leading man and desperately wannabe “clever” filmmaking techniques. There was little for me to latch onto when it came to “Green Room” outside of Anton Yelchin. Dare I say it? Yep, I’m going to say it…”La La Land” is just fine. Not great, not revolutionary. Just fine. And that is all.


Colin Farrell & Rachel Weisz in “The Lobster” (A24)
as “David” and “Short Sighted Woman”

In a film where love is the main ingredient for its recipe, Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz’s instant connection in the woods of a dystopian future sang to many. “The Lobster” has so many moving parts, zip-tying the dark elements of comedy and drama. We meet the couple so late in the process yet believe their forbidden love as they travel, making out relentlessly on a couch, and losing their “sight” in more ways than one. Not to mention, it features some of their best performances of their already stunning careers.

RUNNERS-UP: The characters “Chiron” and “Kevin” were close to running away with this category. Naming both André Holland & Trevante Rhodes and Jharrel Jerome & Ashton Sanders would be simple. We could easily name all six actors that play them. But in the spirit of title, they’re never “officially” a couple in any sense, rather than distant loves over decades of time. They’re still worth citing, however. An unspoken love in “Moonlight” is the connection between Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monáe), and with so little words, they exemplify love and family as the two also seem to represent very different life choices. You also can’t talk about love without speaking about Richard and Mildred Loving, played exquisitely by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. The two trailblazed a precedent in American culture that speaks in volumes today.


Joe Alwyn & Makenzie Leigh in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Sony Pictures)
as “Billy” and “Faison”

A weird look from a football field, followed by an even stranger makeout session behind a curtain. There are many variables that equal Ang Lee’s war film’s ultimate failure. On prominent display is the misguided and falsely feeling love story, as constructed by screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli. Shoehorning a reason for “Billy” to stay behind and not return to war not only disrespects the driving force of our living, fighting soldiers, but plays like a faux sense of purpose, parading around 120 frames per second.

RUNNERS-UP: Ben Affleck managed a double header of love nonsense in his third directorial effort “Live By Night.” His “heartache” for love lost with Sienna Miller versus his future “heartache” for new love gained, then lost again with Zoe Saldana are both bogus. Don’t you love it when a movie sends the message “forget your kids for a while and fall in love with the single hot dad that will just accept you before you’re even divorced?” If not, then you’ll join me in passing on the phony and faulty chemistry between Mila Kunis and Jay Hernandez in “Bad Moms.” An easy target, but doesn’t mean it isn’t right. Superman and Lois Lane’s love story is getting worse by the movie as demonstrated in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” A bathtub with a naked Amy Adams and a clothed Henry Cavill should never feel so erroneous.

Check back on Wednesday for The “Unconventional” Citations of the Year Part 2!

Share your thoughts and distinctions in the comments below!


What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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