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Matt's Top 10 Films Of 2016

Another year is complete and as I've done in the past, the time is perfect to publish my top 10 and bottom 10 films of 2016.  You can look at previous lists over the past 20 years by clicking here.

We covered the list on 612ABC Breakfast several weeks ago and took talk back calls from listeners.  You can hear the full podcast here.

Starting with the bottom of the barrel, honourable mentions go to Dirty Grandpa, Nerve, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Sunset Song, The Wait, Bad Santa 2, The Boss, Ice Age: Collision Course and Ride Along 2.

But my worst 10 of 2016 in reverse order are…

10. Up for Love (out Dec 1) is an odd French film about a woman who falls in love with a man but has conflicting thoughts about his short stature. It struggles to mix goofy comedy with heartfelt drama and ends up being a disappointment.

9. Blair Witch (out Sep 15) is a dull sequel to the 1999 original. The lead up is too long, you won't care about the characters, and the "scary" finale gets tired quickly.

8. Office Christmas Party (out Dec 8) has a small number of laughs but for the most part, it's a limp comedy. It focuses too much on a dull story about "saving the company" and less on the outrageous Christmas party that features prominently in the advertising.

7. Zoolander 2 (out Feb 11) is dreadful. It's a shame because the original was so entertaining. The characters are trying far too hard to make these jokes work. Even the surprise cameos feel uninspired.

6. Mother's Day (out Apr 28) is a ridiculously simplistic comedy about a group of women dealing with problems. These cliché-laden films have become tiring and despite best intentions, there's nothing remotely uplifting about them.

5. A Hologram For The King (out Jul 28) is a strange, unfulfilling drama about a struggling IT salesman (Tom Hanks) to travels to Saudi Arabia to complete a career-saving business deal. We're given brief glimpses into his past to help build a necessary backstory but they don't offer much.

4. Now You See Me 2 (out Jun 2) is an elaborate trick. Audiences will be duped into paying money to see a film that makes no sense.

3. Point Break (out Jan 1) is a poorly conceived remake of the 1991 original. An extreme sport loving FBI agent tries to take down a mysterious group of "Robin Hood" style criminals. Some subplots go nowhere (e.g. the love interest) while others make little sense. Very disappointing.

2. The Choice (out Feb 4) is a dreary romantic drama based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. It's hard to say too much without giving away plot details but it's about two unlikely people who fall in love and have to overcome adversity. It's the kind of movie where everything feels forced.

1. David Brent: Life of the Road (out Aug 25) will not revitalize the career of Ricky Gervais. I wanted to walk out of the cinema after 10 minutes but stuck with it to see if the repetitive jokes actually got any better. They did not. Every scene feels the same.


Now let’s focus on something more positive – the best films of the year.  Honourable mentions go to The Big Short, Carol, Deadpool, The Nice Guys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Conjuring 2, Julietta, Elle, Bad Moms, Don’t Breathe, American Honey, Snowden, The Jungle Book and Zootopia.

But my top 10 films of 2016 in reverse order are…

10. I, Daniel Blake (out Nov 17) is the story of a 59-year-old from the UK who finds himself unemployed and ineligible for welfare after suffering a major heart attack. Cinema has the power to open our eyes to the world’s issues and offer a path forward if we’re willing to take it. This film is a great example.

9. Embrace of the Serpent (out Jul 28) is the first film from Colombia to be nominated at the Academy Awards for best foreign language film. It's a beautifully shot drama inspired by the travels of two explorers who befriended a group of Amazonian tribes during the early 20th Century. Providing a voice to a group of people seldom seen on the big screen, this is a must-see.

8. Truman (out Aug 11) is one of the best films I've seen that covers the subject of death. It follows a man dying of terminal cancer who spends 4 days catching up with an old friend. Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara and it's easy to see why this emotional piece won the Goya Award (the Spanish Oscars) for best picture.

7. Hunt For The Wilderpeople (out May 26) is the best film yet from director Taika Waititi. It follows a troubled boy and his disgruntled foster father who go on a hike across remote New Zealand for unusual reasons. Every character has a splash of quirkiness that makes them distinctive and memorable.

6. The First Monday In May (out May 12) is a superb documentary that follows the creation of a fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the organisation of a gala ball in support of it. Director Andrew Rossi has shot some fascinating "behind the scenes" footage that makes this a compelling view from start to finish.

5. Nocturnal Animals (out Nov 10) is from director Tom Ford and is a beautifully told tale of revenge and the struggle to escape one's past. The performances are superb (Michael Shannon is tipped as an awards season contender) and the film is also to be admired for its colours, lighting and imagery.

4. Anomalisa (out Feb 4) is a rarity - a stop-motion animated feature pitched at adults. It's no surprise that it's come from the creative mind of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich). The film follows a depressed writer travelling to Cincinnati for a public speaking event. It's a great conversation generator and I’m still reflecting on its style and themes.

3. Sing Street (out Jul 14) is set in 1985 and follows a high school student from a poor neighbourhood in Dublin who forms a band to win the affection of a girl. This is a simple, funny, sweet, beautiful film. Directed by John Carney (Once), it's filled with great 1980s music and a bunch of new songs that I'm still humming. A movie for anyone and everyone.

2. Spotlight (out Jan 28) is based on a true story and follows a team of investigative journalists as they dig deeper into the Catholic Church's cover up of child abuse in Boston. The script highlights the tough challenges that journalists face and the performances of the cast cannot be faulted. This is one of the best films I've seen in many years.

1. Brooklyn (out Feb 11) is set in 1952 and follows a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates to the United States. Battling homesickness, she meets an Italian guy determined to win her affections. This is a sweet, moving, gorgeously-shot tale that has the perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality. The characters are honest and genuine too.

 

Interview - Australian Director Garth Davis Talks 'Lion'

Lion

It’s been nominated for 4 Golden Globes and I recently spoke with director Garth Davis about his feature film debut, Lion.

Matt:  It’s nice to see another Australian director making a name for himself on the world’s stage.  Can you tell me a little about where you grew up and developed a love for filmmaking?

Garth:  I grew up in a very artistic family.  My mum was a painter and my dad was in advertising.  I went to college and studied fine art and design.  My father bought me a film camera when I was 21 years old.  I filmed a few things with it, cut it together and I felt emotion looking at what I made.  I just fell in love with film.

Matt:  So what part of Australia are you from?

Garth:  I was born in Brisbane and spent my teenage years on the Gold Coast.  I moved to Melbourne to attend university and I’ve been there ever since.

Matt:  You’ve done a bit of TV and a lot of commercials but this marks your feature film debut.  Were you hoping to transition into feature filmmaking sooner than this?

Garth:  I got caught up directing commercials and I was very grateful for that. I did want to get into movies earlier but the time and the project has to be just right. 

Matt:  Well let’s talk about the film.  The screenplay is by another Aussie, Luke Davies.  How did it come across your radar?

Garth:  The producers, Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, had worked with Luke before and serendipitously, I was lurking around another project and had come across Luke’s work as well.  We engaged him on the project and never looked back really.

Matt:  Were you familiar with the story of Saroo Brierley beforehand?

Garth:  I was at Sundance with Top of the Lake which had the same producers.  They had just read an article about Saroo in the press because he’d just found his mother at the time.  They said “Garth, you’ve got to read this article as it could be a great movie.”  I thought it was amazing and really wanted to get the rights so as to make the movie.

Matt:  In Hollywood there are true stories and then there are “true stories”.  How faithful is this to Saroo’s life or were a few changes made it make it more cinematic (for use of a better word)?

Garth:  It’s a good question.  I said to the Brierleys that this wasn’t intended to be a documentary but rather, I hoped it would be an emotional and spiritual portrait of their life.  That said, the story is true to fact as best we could.  We did have to amalgamate a few characters for to help the efficiency of the film.

Matt:  Did you get to speak to the real Saroo prior to and throughout the filmmaking process?

Garth:  The family were very engaged with the film.  We all had access to the family and we all had our own conversations and exchanges with them.  I actually spent a lot of time in India and Hobart to get insight into their worlds.

Matt:  I was interested in how vivid the memories of his childhood were given he lost his mother when just 5 years of age?

Garth:  It’s a good question which a lot of people have asked me about.  There are a couple of differences.  Firstly, Saroo remembers everything.  He has a photographic memory.  I was with him in India and we were walking around a random part of the village and he could remember where he played as a kid and where he’d get dropped off to be babysat. 

My memories as a child are most vivid when I lived in the country.  I think India is an amazing place for a child to grow up – the nature, the animals, it’s all so visual.  If that was your world and you never travelled outside of it for 5 years, I think you would remember it.

Matt:  I’m curious about the way the story is told.  I can think of other filmmakers that may overlap the two timelines throughout the film but you keep them distinct into two separate halves.  Did a lot of thought go into that?

Garth:  Yes, we wrestled that idea for a while but it became clear that the linear structure was the way to go.  It seemed to be the most powerful way for audiences to experience the story.  Also, it wasn’t a story about a guy trying to remember something.  He remembers everything.  What’s interesting is how this guy is sitting on this big secret in his contemporary life. 

Matt:  In the second half of the movie, Saroo spends quite of bit of time sitting at a computer using Google Earth to help find where he came from.  It might sound kind of boring but you actually make these scenes quite suspenseful.  Were they tricky to put together?

Garth:  It’s kind of amazing to think how he’s using the software.  He’s not using it the way the rest of us use it.  He’s got so much emotional luggage that he’s carrying when viewing those images.  Those blurry Google Earth images then become powerful and haunting.  It’s his only hope to find his home.   

Matt:  It’s a question I’m sure you’ve answered a 1,000 times already but how did you come across Sunny Pawar who plays the younger version of Saroo.  He is incredible?

Garth:  It was just one of those things.  There’s no rhyme or reason to it.  We had a team working extensively for 5 months looking at thousands of children and we eventually came across him in Mumbai.

Matt:  And you get to work with some terrific actors here like Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham.  It’s not a bad group for your first feature outing?

Garth:  It’s fantastic to get the support from these wonderful actors.  I’d worked with David Wenham before on Top of the Lake and we’ve become very good mates.  The most special thing to me is that all of these actors, despite their fame, were so passionate about making the film and I think that made the difference.

Matt:  What was it like showing the film to some of the real people like Saroo and his real family?

Garth:  Terrifying.  We did show the family in Sydney a while back and they had the whole cinema to themselves.  I went into the projection booth as the end credits started to roll and I saw the three of them embracing each other so it was clear the film had an impact.

Matt:  You took the film to the Toronto Film Festival where it was runner-up behind La La Land for the prestigious Audience Award.  Did you have such expectations and think it would be received so positively, especially by North American audiences?

Garth:  I was involved with a lot of research screenings where you get real, honest responses from audiences.  I knew we had an “audience film”.  It didn’t matter if you were a teenager or an elderly person – people were loving this movie.  I didn’t know what critics would think but I was confident that broader audiences would like it.  They went crazy for it in Toronto and we won a few other audience awards in America which was great.

Matt:  And since then it’s now been caught up in the crazy awards season in America where it’s been nominated for 4 Golden Globe Awards including best picture drama.  What are your thoughts on all of that?

Garth:  I don’t know, I’m just going along for the ride.  I was just trying to make the best film that would touch audiences and get them talking after the movie.  Everything else is icing on the cake.  It’s a wonderful tribute to everyone’s hard work and I’m really excited to see what happens.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking what are we going to see from you next?

Garth:   Two weeks ago, I finished shooting another film called Mary Magdalene.  I’m taking a short break from that to do publicity for Lion and then I’ll go back to the editing process early in the new year.

Interview - Director Garth Jennings Lets Us 'Sing'

Sing

Sing is one of this year’s big Boxing Day releases in Australia and I recently spoke to writer-director Garth Jennings about his project…

Matt:  It wasn’t until I did my homework this morning that I realised you directed the film clip for “Imitation of Life” which is my favourite REM song.  That was incredibly creative for its time back in 2001.

Garth:  It was an insane thing to do because it was so complicated.  I love and worship R.E.M.  They always made fabulous videos and so when they asked us to come with an idea for that song, you can’t say no.  When it was finished, it was one of the most rewarding final results that I’ve had for a music video. 

Matt:  You’ve directed live action shorts and features before.  Is this your first foray into the animated world?  Was it a long time to go from script to screen?

Garth:  Yeah, I’m completely new to this way of working.  It took a lot longer than I expected as it’s been 5 years since it all began. 

Matt:  What was it like writing the script?  There’s so much more you can do with an animated film as you don’t have to worry about settings and such.

Garth:  You can, that’s true.  I tried to write it like a live action film that just happened to have animals starring in it.  I wasn’t going out of my way to make it nuts.  However, there are points in the movie where we you couldn’t have done in a live action movie unless you had a Jerry Bruckheimer budget.

The writing process with an animated feature is ongoing.  You’re continually re-writing as you’re building the scenes in story reel and getting the first voices in from the actors.  The process never ends… until now which is why I’m so happy to be speaking with you.

Matt:  It feels like there are parts of this film where there’s a different song every 20 seconds.  Do you know how many songs are actually in the movie?

Garth:  That’s a good question.  I don’t know exactly how many but it’s a lot.  They’re not used in their entirety because it’d be a 9 hour films so some you only hear for a few seconds.  Some songs are arranged exactly as the original and some are completely different.  We open with The Beatles song “Golden Slumbers” that has been done as an orchestral song with Jennifer Hudson.   

Matt:  What’s the process for getting all the rights to the music?  I’m guessing it’s something you have to do early on given the characters have to be signing them (as opposed to using them as a backing soundtrack)?

Garth:  Yeah.  Many of the songs were decided upon and recorded almost two years ago.  We needed to do that because so much work had to then go into creating the animation.  It helps in a way because you’re not trying to choose songs that are popular in the moment because you’re never going to be in the moment.  You choose songs that are right for the story and that can show these characters and their evolution. 

Matt:  Were there songs you really wanted but couldn’t get the rights to?

Garth:  We got them all which was incredible.  I’m the worst person to ask because I’m the guy who says “can we please have ‘Golden Slumbers’?” and I’m not the guy who has to go and make that happen.  That’s a world of pain and I was lucky to have a team who was gracious and patient and was able to pull it all together.   

Matt:  One thing that’s interesting is that there are a mix of songs from the current day but also from well in the past.  I’m guessing that was a conscious decision to appeal to audiences of all ages.

Garth:  It wasn’t so much trying to appeal to audiences of all ages.  It was trying to get as broad a range of music as we could.  When we first say down and chatted about the film, one of the biggest draws was that we could have a piece of Frank Sinatra, Pavarotti and punk rock all in one film.  It wasn’t in a gratuitous way but hopefully in a way that felt exciting.

Matt:  How does one go about casting an animated feature?  Do you have auditions in the traditional way?

Garth:  In this case, no.  For most of these characters, we knew exactly who would work and so we approached the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon directly.  There were also people like Taron Edgerton who we knew was a fantastic actor but we’d never head him sing.  He did an audition but only for the singing part.  The opposite went for Tori Kelly who we knew could sing but we wanted to see how natural she was as an actor. 

Matt:  You’re also the writer of the film and I’m curious to know how you settled on these particular animals.  As an Australian, it’s a nice touch to see a koala in the leading role.

Garth:  None of the animals are really based on their country of origin.  They all started as human caricatures.   For example, Taron is the son of a gangster that you might see in a Guy Ritchie film so it made sense to portray them as big, goofy gorillas.  With someone like Ash – she’s a goth rocker who has got a lot of attitude and a rubbish relationship with her passive aggressive boyfriend.  Making her a porcupine made sense.  She’s spikey and when she got angry, quills would come flying out from her body.

Matt:  I think my favourite character in the film was Miss Crawly – the green iguana who serves as Buster’s assistant.  I was going through the credits afterwards and realised that she was voiced by you too!  How did that come about?

Garth:  Before you do an animated film, you get the actors in and you do a rough version with just people in the office providing voices.  I did several of the voices myself just to get it done.  One of them was Miss Crawley and I just loved being this elderly lizard.

Matt:  Take me through the animation process.  How many people have you got working and pulling it all together?  I can imagine it’s a massive undertaking.

Garth:  Yeah, it’s a big number.  At the film’s peak we had about 300 people working for us – and that was just in the animation studio.  We had a head office in Los Angeles and we had another studio in Paris. 

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  What are you going to do next?

Garth:  I genuinely do not know yet.  We only finished this film a little while ago and I’m so relieved. 

Dunes 2016: Dinner with Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker!

It was one of the best golf trips I've been on so I had to post a few photos on my blog to preserve the memories. There have been no movies viewed over the past week as I've spent time on the Mornington Peninsula competing in the 2016 Dunes Medal.

2016 Dunes Medal
Considering his Snapchats are viewed by roughly 250,000 people, it was nice to make Rickie Fowler's public feed.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
The trip began with a game at The National Old Course which is currently ranked 10th in the country as per Australian Golf Digest.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
The super 3-man fourball team who managed to go around The National Old Course with a score of 10 under par. The highlight was Jed Morgan's hole-out from 80m on the 12th.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
There aren't many golf holes in the country more stunning than this. The tee shot on the 7th at The National Old Course. I flubbed an 8-iron to 20 feet.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
With Louis Dobbelaar at the The National Old Course. He recently won the 2016 New Zealand Men's Amateur which included a win over Luke Toomey in the semi-finals. No one has more experience at beating Toomeys than Louis!

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
A great group teeing it up at The National.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Our accommodation for the week at St Andrew's Beach.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Teed it up in the Dunes Medal but putted worse than a one-armed monkey to finish with 81-83-164. Was great to see Louis, Jed and Lochie make the cut.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Recovery session at St Andrews Beach. Not pictured: Me because it was too bloody cold!

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Catching up with Charlie Dann & Shae Wools-Cobb for dinner at the beautiful Portsea Hotel.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
If it's not the longest course in Australia, I'd like to know what is. Had a crack at Moonah Links Open Course off the back tees which measures over 6,800m.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
No trip to the Mornington Peninsula is complete without a visit to the Peninsula Hot Springs.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Walking with Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker at the Crown Casino. Kudos to my super 15-year-old contact for teeing up the experience of a lifetime.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Just chilling in Rickie Fowler's penthouse apartment which waiting for him to get changed for dinner.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
It's not often you get to have dinner with two golfers ranked in the top 20 in the world. Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker had plenty of words to offer when it came to golf, cars and women.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Rickie Fowler has more than $26 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. Jed Morgan wasn't after swing tips though. He needed Rickie to teach him about chopsticks.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Closing the evening with a group photo outside the Spice Temple. Thanks to Jimmy for picking up the tab for dinner (my wallet wasn't quite deep enough).

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
I was already a fan of Rickie Fowler but you can add 2016 US PGA Champion Jimmy Walker to the list. Both amazing guys with a great sense of humour.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Probably my favourite photo for the week. Introducing the new One Direction...

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Competing in the 1st annual Victorian Sand Greens Links Championship. Was a tough track with plenty of water in play!

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
They say that the 18th tee at Pebble Beach is picturesque. I'd argue this one is even better.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
The final day of the trip was spent at the World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath and after dinner two nights earlier, we spent a bit of time following Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
Jimmy Walker somehow found the green out of this lie on the tricky 16th hole at Kingston Heath.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
I guess it's true. A picture does say a 1,000 words.

 

 
2016 Dunes Medal
In the car and heading to the airport at the end of the trip. Still not sure how we packed the luggage so perfectly.