How much should politics and entertainment intersect? The people who voted a talentless celebrity into the most powerful political office in the world say it shouldn’t at all, and they’ll no doubt foam at the mouth if any of those Hollywood elitists at the Little Gold Statue Awards the Sunday after next suggest that compassion for other human beings is a good thing. So, to be respectful of all those delicate Twitter egg avatars, we present the Fourth Annual Esseffies, guaranteed to be devoid of any political content whatsoever. (If anyone tells you they found politics in this article, just shout, “Fake news!”)
Best Musical Moment to Die For: “All Night,” Lemonade
Not just a collection of songs from Beyoncé’s album of the same name, 2016’s best movie has more indelible imagery in its first five minutes than in any blockbuster this year you could care to name. The best song is “Daddy Lessons,” and the political climax is the closer “Formation,” but the emotional climax is the penultimate “All Night,” which achieves apotheosis with the horn line in the chorus. Music critic Jim Connelly —of my venerable Connelly family of pop-culture obsessives —describes it like so: “The whole back half of that first chorus after the drums kick in is like the perfect mash-up of a dozen genres, and that horn line is a joyous celebration of that mash-up.” A year of seemingly unrelenting darkness also created a moment of pure transcendence.
Bestest Elvis Bestie: Jerry Schilling, Evidently
The second-best movie about the famous meeting between a king and a president, Elvis & Nixon is not-so-stealthily about how executive producer Jerry Schilling was Elvis’ one and only real friend. To be fair, Schilling was in the room where it happened, but he also makes the movie (and the extras on the Blu-ray) spend far too much time on the least interesting person in that room.
Most Unintentionally Optimistic Film: The Purge: Election Year
Speaking of presidents, when the blond lady candidate tells the White supremacist male candidate, “I am gonna beat the shit out of you on Election Day”— and shedoes —it’s like a peek into a universe where things make a little sense.
Best Pwnage of Dumb Boys, Episode II: The Failed Boycott of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
In these uncertain times, there are only two things we can count on: new Star Wars movies every year, and (mostly) straight White men finding reasons to get upset about those movies, sight unseen. In 2015, it was men’s rights activists boycotting The Force Awakens because its new heroes, Rey and Finn, were female and Black, respectively. This time around, White supremacists decided the as-yet-unseen Rogue One was “too politicized,” and more specifically “anti-Trump,” so they started the #DumpStarWars hashtag. Hey, maybe that’s why Rogue One only grossed half as much as The Force Awakens! (It’s really not.)
Worst Poster for a Good Movie: Embers
Claire Carré’s thoughtful science-fiction film about the aftermath of a virus that destroys humanity’s ability to create or retain memories was always going to be a hard sell, but that doesn’t excuse the poster: The top half is gray sky with burnt roof shingles jutting into the frame, and the bottom half is a closeup of the bottom half of actress Greta Fernández’s face. The overall design kinda sorta ties into themes of identity — if you squint and use your imagination — but Embers deserved better than “Lookit this sexy girl’s disembodied lips!”
Scariest Reminder That We’re Even Closer to Annihilation Than You Think: Command and Control
Robert Kenner’s gripping documentary based on Eric Schlosser’s nonfiction book about the numerous times nuclear weapons almost detonated was troubling enough before the Predator-in-Chief put blithering nincompoop Rick Perry in charge of our 70,000-warhead arsenal, and then swore to expand that arsenal. It’s dumb luck that none of them went off before, and soon all that will be left is the dumb.
Best Action Film of the Year by the Best Action Director of the Year: Justin Lin, Help
Lin’s Star Trek Beyond may have been the first real Trek film since 2002, and the first truly good once since 1996, but Lin’s true achievement was his five-minute Help. Produced for the free Google Spotlight Stories virtual reality app, the $15 you’ll spend on its reusable cardboard viewer in order to watch this thrilling, immersive story of an alien invasion properly on your phone will be your best entertainment value.
The One-And-Done-Club of 2016
Human languages are capable of amazing, poetic combinations of words, and yet the trend continues for single-word titles that tell you nothing about the film. 2016’s list of often-witless brevity includes but is not limited to Admiral, Aferim!, Allied, AmeriGeddon, Anesthesia, Anonymous, Anthropoid, Aquarius, Argentina, Arrival, Anthropoid, Believe, Blackway, Cameraperson, Chevalier, Christine, Clown, Compadres, Creepy, Dancer, Dangal, Deadpool, Demolition, Demon, Denial, Desierto, Dheepan, Dough, Elle, Embers, Equals, Equity, Evolution, Fences, Flowers, Francofonia, Genius, Ghostbusters, Gleason, Goat, Greater, Gurukulam, Help, Hockney, Honeyglue, Incarnate, Indignation, Inferno, Ixcanul, Jackie, Julieta, Keanu, Kicks, Krisha, Lamb, Lion (together at last!), Lolo, Loving, Magnus, Marguerite, Master, Masterminds, Moana, Mojave, Moonlight, Morgan, Neruda, Nerve, Never, Newtown, Nuts!, Ovation!, Passengers (not Passengers!, sadly), Paterson, Pearl, Pet, Piper, Race, Rams, Regression, Reparation, reVISIONS, Risen, Rustom, Satanic, Seasons, Sing (feature film), Sing (short film), Sky, Slash, Snowden, Sold, Southbound, Storks, Sully, Summertime, Tanna, Tallulah, Te3n, Temps, Three, Tickled, Tikkun, 31, Tower, Trapped, Trolls, Tunnel, Undrafted, Unsullied, Victor (not to be confused with the 2014 Viktor), Viktoria (not to be confused with either the 2015 movie Victoria or the 2016 television series Victoria), Viva, Voiceless, Weiner, Yosemite, and Zootopia.
This year’s special mention for No Fucks Given is once again a Bollywood import, Trivikram Srinivas’s A Aa.
The One-And-Done-Club of 2016, Definite Article Branch
Some movies wanted you to know that they were not just about the thing, but about a specific instance of that thing, such as The Accountant, The Ardennes, The BFG, The Boss, The Boy (not to be confused with either 2015’s The Boy nor 2016’s The Boyand the Beast) The Bronze, The Choice, The Club, The Congressman, Les Cowboys (close enough), The Darkness, The Dressmaker, The Duelist, The Fits, The Forest, The Handmaiden, The Hollars, The Hollow, The Idol, The Incident, The Infiltrator, The Innocents, The Intervention, The Invitation, The Land, The Lobster, The Meddler, The Mermaid, The Monster, The Romans, The President, The Similars, The Shallows, The Take, The Treasure, The Uncondemned, The Unknowns, The Wailing, The Wave, The Witch, and The Witness.
Special commendation to A War for going the indefinite route.
The “Why the Do You Even Still Have a Career?”Award: Mel Gibson
There’s a school of thought that the director of the Best Picture-nominated Hacksaw Ridge should be forgiven for the horrible things he’s said and done — the virulent racism, or the domestic violence against the mother of his child, whom he told “fucking deserved it” after he broke her teeth — because he was drinking.
Producer Dean Devlin also recently said this charming man will say anything just to be shocking “whether he believes it or not, and that “nothing makes him happier than seeing your jaw drop.” Aww, he’s just a lil stinker! Put another way, Mel Gibson is an abusive, anti-Semitic drunkard who can commit heinous acts and say fucked-up shit just to get a rise out of people without suffering any lasting consequences because he’s a powerful White man. To hell with him and his stupid bearded face.