Film of the Year 2016

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There’s a lot of pressure — that I’ve heaped upon myself — to get any article entitled “Film of the Year” in the right context, the right perspective and to the right standard.

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I mean, when I sit back and read what I’ve written, does the article say what I want it to say? My Film of the Year isn’t just a well-constructed box office darling that I can wax lyrical about and move onto the next thing – this is The Onslaught. This is me.

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That’s a (mild) exaggeration, but the point stands – when a film means a lot to you, writing about it objectively can be difficult and writing about it subjectively can be even harder. When there’s such significant impact upon your very person, it’s tough to find the right way to harp on about it.

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That didn’t work. I had no interest in reviewing the film when that’s been done so well elsewhere, many months before this post. I have a lot of interest in dusting off my Film Studies hat and essentially writing an essay that will never be marked, but how do you make that appealing to other people and where do you stop writing? I have so much to say on a film I’ve seen six times at the cinema and twice on Blu-Ray in the week of its release, that Kill Your Darlings would become an unacceptable massacre.

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I didn’t get far with that at all. A mate of mine referred to trying to write about media that means a lot to you as cutting through the “flail” and that, essentially, is what I found very difficult. Everything shifts out of focus and it becomes a loosely connected series of paragraphs that are the blog equivalent of sitting down with a mate for coffee and hurling quotes at one another and starting each sentence with “Oh my GOD and this bit—! Or what about when—? And I totally LOVED the bit—”

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But that same mate watched my Film of the Year yesterday afternoon and text me about it afterwards. I was ridiculously excited that she had decided to watch it and deliriously happy that she hands down loved it when it had finished. Talking about it and sharing the same level of love and enthusiasm for it made my brain come back to this article.

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Even when you go to the cinema on your own — as I often do — you share the experience with the other people in the room. When they have the same reaction that you do, it moves the film to another level; it moves your enjoyment of it to another level. Part of the experience is, afterwards, talking to people who felt the same about it.

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That’s why we discuss these things with one another, in person and on the internet; that’s why we put opinions on social media, to reach out and share that experience. That comes with the unfortunate flip side of trolls and bullying and the insular risk of building yourself a social media bubble where your feed becomes an echo chamber of others who share your opinions, but it enhances the experience. It’s part of our society.

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Part of the problem with this article has been that I find it hard to put into words what this film meant to me on first or second viewing and what it continued to mean on sixth, seventh, eighth viewing and what it will still mean when into double figures.

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I get stupidly nervous before I show it to people for the first time, because I’ll undoubtedly have gone on and on about how awesome it is; but everyone’s loved it so far when they’ve seen it (how much of that is my enthusiasm being infectious, I don’t know). When I sit down to watch it, when I know it’s about to start, I get ridiculously happy and excited – it’s a high. Watching Ghostbusters is, for me, an actual high. An adrenaline rush, a release of positivity and happiness, an excitement to be spending two hours in the company of four amazing characters I’ve grown to love.

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Comedically, it’s organic and superb. No one tries to outdo anyone else; the cast works in perfect, natural sync with one another. The mix of improv and scripting is sublime, the staging and physical humour working in perfect time; the juxtaposition of the Ghostbusters themselves and Chris Hemsworth’s inspired blank-faced Kevin might have been a clowning mistake in less assured directorial and acting hands, but it works brilliantly. The sheer gale force hit ratio of gag after gag firing and landing so rapidly amid homages to the 1984 original is such that you will need several viewings to catch them all.

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The 2016 Ghostbusters honours 1984 wonderfully and reverently. But it is funnier.

It’s laugh out loud funny, constantly. I adore the 1984 original and it helped define my childhood, but it isn’t a masterpiece – lightning in a bottle, for sure, but not an untouchable classic. I stop short of calling it a comedy or an action movie. Its genre is hard to place, probably most comfortable under the heading of “blockbuster”. But its writing isn’t as strong; its characters aren’t as good, on paper – emboldened one-hundred-fold by performance, but not so much on the page. The fourth Ghostbuster, Winston, is played with laid back, natural ease by Ernie Hudson, but he serves no narrative purpose. He’s there to make up the numbers for the finale and, in the light of 2016, to satisfy 1980s tokenism. The almighty Leslie Jones’ Patty in 2016 suffers none of that two-dimensional writing – she has a purpose in the film, on the team and in her own character.

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The design is outstanding; the colour palette is vivid and unique, embracing genre tropes and subtle changes to add depth, darkness made not out of pure black but from purples and browns. It looks unlike any other film before it, dark and creepy but alive with electric primary colours and adjusting to the mood; Abby’s possession takes on a more muted hue and claustrophobic atmosphere, akin to a horror movie, whereas the finale opens out into an electric, searing action panorama. My own personal filmmaking hero, Paul Feig, directs and constructs with a recognisably experienced and assured hand, deftly moving between comedy and action, drama and pathos, maintaining an enviable, seemingly effortless pace.

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I love that they went somewhere entirely different, narratively and tonally; I love that this isn’t the original film or the original characters or the original franchise. This is something new and carefully worked out, for a new audience, a new generation with something new to say. I didn’t want to see the same again; why would you? It’s been done, well loved, but shouldn’t be the end of the story. I get so excited about the characters, about how perfectly rounded they are, about how unapologetically human and flawed and their very own thing they all are, not only written as such but elevated by such perfect, layered performances from the main cast.

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Katie Dippold and Paul Feig haven’t written four strong female characters. They’ve just written four strong characters who happen to be female. They haven’t written a feminist vehicle; they’ve written a fantastic action comedy that is feminist by the shameful fact that it is still, currently, against the norm of Hollywood output. They wrote a strong, intelligent, grounded character who is, arguably, the only character confident and assured enough in herself and who she is, with none of the neuroses of her Ghostbuster compatriots…and she just happens to be played by the actress of colour. The dudes are all, to varying degrees, arrogant or stupid, blundering or bullying, in undeserving positions of power or striving for them…but that’s just how it’s written.

The socio-politics of it are only in comparison. On the outside, it’s just a bloody well made action comedy as you would hope for from any action comedy.

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Despite what its early internet badmouthing falsely proclaimed.

That’s been one of the hideously unfair tenets that has dogged the production since it was announced as a Paul Feig project; it isn’t a gender inversion for the sake of gender inversion, but the fact that it’s perceived as one speaks volumes about the world we live in. It lampoons the basement dwellers who have attacked it, whether through abhorrent misogyny or pathetically misplaced fears for something they have no ownership of nor claim to, but it didn’t set out to do so. It’s a product of re-invention that has become a product of its time, simply in relation to everything that it is not.

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When the credits roll on Ghostbusters, every single time, I want to watch it again. That’s not because of its inherent gender politics or the statements it organically makes; that’s because I want to experience that story again, those people again, that feeling again. My heart grows to bursting point when I think about the movie; I’ve read so much about the impact it’s had on people, on women especially, and I can entirely understand it.

I see how important Holtzmann’s pistol-wielding in The Battle of Times Square is to little girls and to the 30-something women I hold dear as my friends; it’s important to me, as well. Because, without laying it on thick, it celebrates and champions and validates a difference; it gives those who feel different, who are or feel they are a minority, who feel misunderstood and less important or ridiculed, a hero.

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Ghostbusters is my Film of the Year. And I could argue for endless column inches why it’s a good film — and it is a good film, objectively and subjectively — but that wouldn’t be the end of the story. That wouldn’t be the only reason I saw it six times at the cinema.

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3 thoughts on “Film of the Year 2016

  1. I’m going to comment. Oh yes I am. Because that’s how the internet works. And also I’d forgotten that I had a wordpress account.

    Thank you for putting all these thoughts into a coherent format. Because my thoughts on Ghostbusters are STILL STUCK IN PERMANENT ENTHUSIASTIC CAPSLOCK.

    Like

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