The 2016 Year in Review begins with a rundown of the year’s best trailers.
Film in 2016 was not half-bad, all things considered, which was especially nice given the utter horror show that went on outside of the medium. I’ll touch on that fact again throughout the next fortnight-ish of articles – although I will mention that at time of writing this piece, which is about 3 days before you’re reading it, I still have no idea what exactly most of my Top 20 even looks like – but I thought, before we got down into the nitty-gritty of the feature films themselves, that we could trail all that business with a look at the year’s best trailers.
Trailers often get a bad rap, particularly by me, and it’s not always unjustified, but the trailer does have an artistry to it that, when said artistry is actually invoked and harnessed instead of just cutting together the entire movie into 150 seconds, can create works that merit legitimate re-viewing even after seeing the finished film in full. They can provide excitement for a film that either was previously missing from somebody’s radar or for a franchise that normally inspires apathy or disdain, and sometimes they can just be the right trailer needed to push one’s prior anticipation for a film through the roof. Either way, these 10 trailers represent the best examples of the form that I saw this year. They’re not ranked, only listed alphabetically, but they’re the trailers I don’t mind seeing 4 times in one day once a week for about 5 months straight.
10 Cloverfield Lane – Reveal Trailer
The movie industry nowadays, particularly in the new age of The Superhero Franchise, is missing surprise. I don’t mean “surprises” like films that looked/sounded terrible or just didn’t show up on any radars being great, I mean “surprises” like not knowing everything about a film constantly for 10 straight months. For anybody unfortunate enough to sit down and watch 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi on its opening night in America, they didn’t know that Bad Robot was about to reveal the existence of a brand-new Cloverfield movie because, well, nobody did. Even the stars of the film didn’t find out until just before the trailer was put out.
Instead, everybody’s first glimpse of a new Cloverfield looked like a supremely well-cut trailer for a claustrophobic low-budget thriller, another film that big studios have been lacking in recent years, that builds its suspense magnificently. The veneer of domestic bliss quickly unravelling as Tommy James & The Shondells slowly starts breaking down in the background. Before, boom, “Cloverfield” followed by the addition of “10” and “Lane.” Being British, I didn’t get to experience this surprise for myself, most likely the same as most people given how social media worked, so I just had to get hyped on it purely on the basis of it being a fantastic trailer. Except that there was one surprise that everybody had forgotten to mention over the hubbub of the film’s existence, and I got to experience that one myself: “3-11-16.” 10 Cloverfield Lane existed, and it would be here in under 2 months. Surprise.
Cars 3 – Teaser Trailer
There is something to be said for arresting imagery. We all had a lot of fun in the wake of the reveal teaser for Cars 3 by mocking the hell out of it, since it’s so simple yet immediate that it makes ripe fodder for jokes (this one being my particular favourite), and the fact that it’s coming from Cars of all properties, the deserved redheaded stepchild of the Pixar canon. But even amidst all of the cracks about Pixar trying the radical idea of making an actually good Cars film this time, it cannot be denied that these 50 seconds suddenly made Cars more exciting, interesting, and attention-grabbing than 2 movies, a gagillion items of merchandise, and however many of those Mater Shorts they’ve made ever managed to do. And if it traumatises an entire generation of children? Well, that’s just a bonus!
Fences – Trailer #1
I have not read or seen August Wilson’s acclaimed and award-winning play, Fences, in any form, but I know enough about plays to know that dialogue, the delivery of, and the rhythm of said are everything to the stage. It’s why they’re so difficult to transpose to film, particularly wordy plays, because film often feels the false desire to blow the scale out and lose that flow in the process. But the condensed running time and rhythms of a trailer are actually quite ideal for selling stage-to-screen adaptations, since the two forms rely on similar pacings and rhythms to create their impact. The debut trailer for Fences understands this perfectly and so builds its backbone on nothing more than one searingly-strong monologue, delivered with spine-chilling intensity by Denzel Washington, before giving the blow-off moment to Viola Davis and then suddenly cutting to the title card with that intensity unresolved. After all, if you’re not hooked by then, then nothing else is going to do the job.
Free Fire – Red Band Trailer
Sometimes, a film pretty much sells itself. It comes to you with a simple and easy-to-grasp premise, a litany of talented/charming/good-looking actors and actresses, a director with a great sense of style, and enough choice little moments that the trailer practically makes itself. Free Fire is one of those films, and the Red Band Trailer that dropped just after the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival demonstrates that perfectly by selling exactly the kind of movie you’re going to get, with a cleverly-edited Ted Nugent backing and more than enough of its highlight scenes and lines (but crucially not all of them) to get butts in seats. In fact, it’s arguably better than the film that it’s attached to, if only by being 150 seconds rather than 90 minutes.
Hail, Caesar! – Trailer #2
“Would that it were so simple” is one of the absolute finest comic setpieces that The Coen Brothers have ever come up with, as we’ll discuss further in tomorrow’s list; an exquisite piece of verbal comic genius delivered with a fantastic rhythm that also, crucially, never tips over into being cruel. It’s a delightful farce and, even with the Coens being on their usual winning form, it’s by far the best part of the whole film. So, perhaps emboldened by the response to the first teaser for the pair’s A Serious Man back in 2009, Universal chose to base the entire second trailer for Hail, Caesar! around this one sequence. It has tangents and jokes that aren’t in the finished version, moves the punchline that arrives over half an hour later to the end of the sequence, and punctures the self-mythologizing grandeur of Golden Age Hollywood splendidly. One may wonder why all trailers can’t be this good, but would that it were so simple to make them so.
High-Rise – UK Teaser Trailer
Two Ben Wheatley films on one list. What can I say? The man has a knack for making films that lend themselves well to excellent trailers. Bookended either side by Cosgrove’s “What are you doing in there?” and predominately running on the opening passage of J.G. Ballard’s novel that almost always hooks everyone who reads it, it’s rather an amalgamation of many of the trailers we’ve previously touched on. The style of Free Fire, the dialogue rhythms of Fences, and the slow disintegration of any veneer of civility from 10 Cloverfield Lane, the trailer sells you on the gloss and glitz and allure of the High-Rise, before stripping itself away to reveal the ugly chaotic heart beating at its centre. It simultaneously sells the film perfectly and is totally unrepresentative of what the film itself is like which, considering exactly how difficult it is to reduce High-Rise in any capacity without misrepresenting or misunderstanding it, is the best everybody could have done. Excellent usage of Tangerine Dream, too.
John Wick: Chapter 2 – Teaser Trailer
It’s all well and good having trailers that come out of nowhere for films you otherwise wouldn’t have known or cared about, or having trailers that pivot around fancy arty-farty techniques of match-cuts and sound-synching and monologues. But, sometimes, a great trailer need only promise you more of the thing you love in an expertly arranged way to be great. So it is with the first glimpse the world got at John Wick: Chapter 2, the sequel to one of the best action movies of the decade. Fact is, I would have been salivating over this trailer regardless of its actual quality – all I need are promises of Keanu Reeves in stylish suits, murdering armies of dudes with balletically choreographed gun-fu, in gorgeously shot locations, backed up by a murderer’s row of character actors, and accompanied by an adorable dog and I am so there. That is what the trailer provides and then, just to push things over the top, it promises a reunion of Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne and GET THIS MOVIE INTO MY EYEBALLS RIGHT NOW!
Moonlight – Official Trailer
With some of the best trailers, it can be difficult to put into words just why they work so well. Cliché as it may be to say, but sometimes you really do just have to sit down and experience the trailer for yourself because, not only can words not do adequate justice to the trailer in question, but even after having seen it, it’s hard to describe exactly why the trailer is so powerful. Sure, you can point to the more tangible aspects like expertly-chosen match cuts or the haunting classical score or how every single image is just gorgeously composed, but none of them properly explain where that power comes from. It’s something more than just each of these aspects working in concerto with one another, and you just know as you’re watching it and when it’s over that the trailer is something special. That’s the trailer for Moonlight, handled by A24 who are just Gods at marketing by now, and you really do just need to watch the embed for yourself.
Rogue One – Trailer #2
Disney, by this point, have gotten marketing Star Wars down to a fine art, what with this being the third straight year in which a Star Wars-related trailer can be undisputedly called one of the best. Fact is, though I did enjoy me some Star Wars growing up, I’ve never really fallen in love with it all in the same way that everybody else has been able to, finding it a franchise I enjoy watching but never really thinking much of outside of that. Yet trailers for both The Force Awakens and Rogue One have managed to play right to a nostalgia that I didn’t know I had whilst also selling the films in their own right. This Rogue One trailer, in particular, never failed to genuinely excite me for the movie proper, especially since the tangible difference in tone and style – being more of a War Movie than a Sci-Fi Space Opera – is so immediately noticeable and instantly revitalised my hope in the already-tiring concept of Cinematic Universes. It was inspiring, exciting, different… all of the things that Star Wars needs to be going forward, and it was a vital step in my conversion to being a full-blown Star Wars Fan.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Teaser Trailer
I am one of those fools who genuinely and unironically enjoyed The Wachowski Sisters’ unfairly-maligned Jupiter Ascending because, surprise, I love me some wild and wacky Space Opera. I am also one of those, as part of a seemingly small minority from what I’ve been able to gather, who adored Lucy because, double surprise, I love Luc Besson’s unashamed and completely earnest full-blown dives into optimistic absurdity. So for the first trailer for Besson’s adaptation of French graphic novel Space Opera Valerian to look like the perfect intersection between those two prior reference points is pretty much Heaven to me. Hollywood Cinema is overrun with CGI-drenched loud blockbusters nowadays, but the trailer for Valerian – with its immediately arresting imagery, inspired choice of Beatles tuneage, and that one instantly iconic shot of Rihanna – is pretty much a 90 second reminder that those sorts of films don’t have to mean “inherently bad” as long as they have invention and passion coursing through them.
What are some of your favourite movie trailers from 2016? Let me know in the comments below! Tomorrow, we list the 20 best scenes from 2016.