[BEST OF 2016] FIVE POLARIZING FILMS FROM A POLARIZING YEAR

 

 

 

Since the dawn of the new millennium, moviegoers have seen a rise in forums and websites that give them a pulpit from which to sermonize about every new release, both big and small. They pound away at their keyboards and build golden idols of their favorite films, swiftly condemning any heretics who dare shun their holy treasures. Conversely, woe be to the poor soul who lets slip a bit of appreciation for a movie that the congregation has deemed unworthy. Occasionally a film will come along that causes a rift in the flock, and brother will fight against sister over plot holes, cliched dialogue, and intent vs. execution. 2016 was a year with a fair amount of such provocative films. Skipping the films that were widely panned by critics and the common man alike, like SUICIDE SQUAD, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and Rob Zombie’s 31, there were still enough movies that caused enough hubbub to fill out a short list.

 

THE NEON DEMON

Ask any moviegoer who has seen THE NEON DEMON and it’s either a pedantic piece of pretentious drivel, or an unapologetic work of art that doesn’t care if you’re too shallow to “get it”. The film makes a bold statement on the dehumanization of women in the fashion industry, as seen through the eyes of a young model. At Cannes, audiences responded with everything from booing and walkouts to 5-star reviews. Director Nicholas Winding Refn indicated that the polarizing effect of THE NEON DEMON was no accident. Refn said his intention was to make a film that hit viewers at a primal level, which could provoke different reactions from those who watched it. “It’s instinct as a film is to penetrate your mind and let it absorb whatever you think it is,” he said, “which is the essence of creativity.”

 

GHOSTBUSTERS

Hoo, boy. When director Paul Feig announced that he would be making an all-female reboot of the beloved 1984 comedy classic, there was some backlash. That was expected; rebooting any movie that didn’t necessarily need a touch-up will elicit groans from even the mildest of fans. What wasn’t expected, however, was the collective tantrum that arose from an increasingly vocal element of thin-skinned man-babies angered by the fact that they are no longer the default, that modern remakes might star not only women, but women of color. The venom was directed mostly at actress Leslie Jones, in the form of racist/sexist harassment that was so vicious that she had to take a brief hiatus from social media. In the end, GHOSTBUSTERS opened to moderate success and would’ve came and went as another bit of harmless summer fun, had it not been for the Fragile Male Snowflake Brigade making mountains out of molehills.

 

THE WITCH 

THE WITCH is a stark genre film following a 17th century puritanical family and their encounters with evil on the outskirts of their New England farm. For some, the film’s beautiful cinematography and low-simmering atmosphere wasn’t enough to leave a good impression. When the film was released nationwide following a hype-filled reception at Cannes, the horror community became sharply divided between those who praised the film’s authentic exploration of primal horror, and those who trashed the film as “not real horror” due to its lack of jump scares and the missing cheap plot devices that we’ve come to expect from the genre. Daily Grindhouse’s own Jason Coffman penned an apt summary of the film’s double-edged reception, with a sharp rebuke of the genre gate-keepers who insist upon maintaining horror’s status as a lowbrow genre with nothing cinematic to offer.

 

DOCTOR STRANGE

The lovers and haters of Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE have fallen into two camps: those who saw it and loved it, and those who refuse to watch it, on principle. In an effort to avoid what he felt was a racist Asian stereotype in various versions of the script, director Scott Derrickson cast British actress Tilda Swinton in the role of the Ancient One, to the ire of many. In the source material, The Ancient One was an Asian man and could have easily been cast as such, but Derrickson decided that casting a white woman in a previously Asian man’s role was diverse enough. Asian visibility groups spoke out against the decision, citing previous whitewashing of Asian characters in superhero films such as IRON MAN 3 (The Mandarin) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Talia al Ghul). Tempers flared in fan forums nationwide as filmgoers’ praises for the visually stunning final product fell upon the deaf ears of those who panned the film without ever having seen it. Rich Maier bought a ticket; here’s what he had to say.

 

ARRIVAL 

The latest sci-fi work from Christopher Nolan was, depending on who you spoke to, a beautiful ode to language and human communication or a stuffy, inaccessible imitation of greater genre works of the past. Though the critics sang praises for the story following a linguistics professor in a race against time to talk to alien invaders, the reception among average folks was far more mixed. For every person that referred to ARRIVAL as “the thinking person’s sci-fi”, there was another for whom the movie was a mere attempt at being smart. The most common complaint from detractors was that the movie did not explain enough, which was the very quality that supporters of the film enjoyed. ARRIVAL seemed to be one of those movies that one would either “get” or loathe. Patrick Smith miraculously got a chance to see it at Fantastic Fest; it looks like he “got it”.

-ANYA NOVAK

@BookishPlinko

Anya Novak

Anya Novak

A.M. Novak is a California-based freelance writer, columnist, and staunch Halloween 6 apologist. Her horror film analyses have appeared on Birth Movies Death, Vague Visages, F This Movie!, and wherever they'll let her talk about scary movies. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter @BookishPlinko
Anya Novak

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