Sandy’s 2016 Film Year in Review

Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I don’t see a lot of new films. As a matter of fact, of the 143 films that I saw in 2016, only four were new, and 139 were old. Thus, my annual Top 10 Best and Worst lists are necessarily different than most. With me, any film that I saw for the first time in 2016 was eligible for either list. If the film made me laugh, or think, or tear up, or sit suspensefully on the edge of my seat, or amazed me with something that I had not seen before, it had a good shot at being considered. On the other hand, for me, boredom is the worst thing that any film can be guilty of; I don’t care if a film is cheaply made, but please do not torture me with tedium. Anyway, with no further ado, my Top 10 Best and Worst Lists of 2016. The films are listed in the order that I saw them…

TOP 10 BEST:

1) Our Relations (1936): One of Laurel & Hardy’s most hilarious films, in which the boys meet their long-lost twins. I do believe this is a comedy masterpiece, plain and simple.

2) Snowpiercer (2013): A supertrain endlessly circles the devastated, ice-covered Earth, its passengers divided by class into various sections. One of the most imaginative sci-fi films I’ve seen in years, with spectacular set design and a performance by Tilda Swinton that must be seen to be believed.

3) A Patch of Blue (1965): As warm and touching a film as you could hope to find, in which a decent black man (Sidney Poitier) falls in love with an abused, blind white woman (Elizabeth Hartman). Shelley Winters won a deserved Oscar here, portraying the blind gal’s truly nasty piece-of-work mother.

4) Block-heads (1938): Another hilarious Laurel & Hardy feature. Nowhere near as intricately plotted as Our Relations but just as hilarious, with one laff-out-loud set piece after another. Another comedy masterpiece, sez me.

5) The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945): Jack Benny, a second-rate trumpet player, dreams that he goes to Heaven and is tasked with destroying Earth with a blast from his mighty horn. Another first-rate comedy, with many terrific supporting players, an amazing display of special FX, and impressive art direction.

6) The Catered Affair (1956): Ernest Borgnine’s follow-up of sorts to Marty, and in some ways just as good, with Ernie, wife (Bette Davis) and daughter (the late Debbie Reynolds) all giving terrific performances. The film features any number of dramatic scenes and, in all, is quite the moving experience.

7) I Never Sang for My Father (1970): Perhaps it was because I lost my own father in the last few years, but I found this story of a middle-aged man (Gene Hackman) and his sister (Estelle Parsons) dealing with their widower father (Melvyn Douglas) to be extremely affecting. Three superb performances are to be had in this one.

8) Ballad of a Soldier (1959): A beautiful Russian classic, filmed in B&W, in which a young soldier on leave during WW2 falls in love with a kooky country girl. Just as effective a romance as it is an antiwar piece, the film culminates with a killer of a finale.

9) The Stepford Wives (1975): It took me over 40 years, but I finally caught up with this one. Featuring an increasingly tense and paranoia-steeped story line and some very fine performances by Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss and Tina Louise, this one really had me on the edge of my seat… or rather, sofa.

10) The Cranes Are Flying (1957): The last film I saw in 2016, and one of the best. Another Russian classic (the only Russian film to ever win the Grand Prize at Cannes) filmed in B&W and dealing with doomed love during WW2, this one features a superb performance by lead actress Tatyana Samoilova and incredibly beautiful cinematography from Sergei Urusevsky. A most impressive piece of art.

And, from the sublime to the ridiculous…

TOP 10 WORST:

1) What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. (1964): Nobody loves the Fab 4 more than I do, but this documentary from the Maysles brothers is, shockingly, a bore, with much overlapping and incomprehensible chatter, and interminable scenes of the boys sitting around and doing… nothing. I was stunned and disappointed.

2) Rock, Rock, Rock! (1956): In which young Tuesday Weld goes to any length to raise money for her prom dress. Tuesday is adorable, but many of the musical acts showcased are boring and lame, and the film itself is very slapdash. An entertaining piffle.

3) Because They’re Young (1960): Another Tuesday film, in which the young Dick Clark stars as an understanding high school teacher. I hated adding this film to my “Worst List” as it really isn’t too bad, but to be completely honest, it really isn’t too good, either.

4) Sex Kittens Go to College (1960): Still another Tuesday film, and she’s just about the only good thing in it. A truly terrible and unfunny “comedy,” in which ex-stripper Mamie Van Doren goes to work as a college science professor. There’s nothing harder to sit through than a stinker “comedy,” and this one surely does reek.

5) The Beast with a Million Eyes (1956): Another one that I hated adding to this list, as it is actually a fairly imaginative little film, with decent thesping from star Paul Birch and eerie atmosphere to spare. Still, the subpar direction by David Kramarsky (I know… who?), lame FX, and weak denouement do this one in.

6) Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914): I love Charlie Chaplin films… usually. In this one, he plays not the beloved Little Tramp, but rather a sleazy womanizer after a wealthy but naive country girl, a gargoyle-esque Marie Dressler. Historically important as the first full-length comedy feature, but almost painfully unfunny.

7) Beast from Haunted Cave (1960): A cheaply made (to put it mildly) and only intermittently interesting horror quickie from the Roger Corman stable, this one fails to deliver, with a head-scratcher of a monster who is waaaaay too easily dispatched during a too-abrupt ending. Corman & Co. have done much better.

8) Marihuana (1936): An antidrug scare film that makes the laughable Reefer Madness look like high art. Good as an exercise in camp and not much else, with a deplorable central message.

9) The Cocaine Fiends (1936): Another antidrug scare film from 1936, and like Marihuana, another film featuring terrible acting and production values. I would certainly never advocate the use of cocaine to anyone, but this is surely not the film that would dissuade anybody from using it.

10) Dick Tracey Meets Gruesome (1947): Still another film that I didn’t want to place on this list, as it was actually kinda fun to watch, and Boris Karloff (here playing the villainous Gruesome) is always entertaining. Still, the film IS ever-so silly and shabbily put together, and the central plot device (a gas that freezes people) could certainly have been more imaginatively handled.

Wishing everyone here on FanLit many wonderful film experiences in 2017!


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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2 comments

  1. I have not seen a single one of these movies, Sandy. I’m definitely putting “A Patch of Blue” on my list and “The Stepford Wives” is one I’ve been meaning to watch for years.

    • sandy ferber /

      Well, Kat, as I said, up until last year, I had not seen a single one of these films, either. If you haven’t seen “Snowpiercer,” please do put that one on your list, too. As a sci-fi buff, you’re sure to enjoy that one!

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