What a year! I have already repeatedly mentioned how 2016 was a rough one to get through at many times, but fortunately we had many opportunities to breakaway from the harshness of reality for a few hours with a trip to the movies! This past year was not as chock full of films that I was eagerly anticipating as was the case with 2015, but that gave way for more hidden gems and under-the-radar hits that were and should have been. Make no mistake though, the blockbuster still reigns supreme during the American movie year, and there were aplenty that I saw. Not to mention, the current and foreseeable future system of backloading the year with the hopeful heavy hitters of award shows makes it difficult for the casual moviegoer to see all that he or she wishes to, but I think that I did all right this year with what I was looking forward to seeing. So, as I did with 2015’s releases, I have made another list of films from 2016 that I watched with the intent to add to the ringing choir of praise for the worthy, while hopefully steering you away from the ones you’re better off without. Primarily though, I hope to shine an extra light on that movie that you were thinking about seeing but just never got around to because reasons. I don’t care what kept you from the theaters, I just want to give further perspective of those that I did see in the megaplex or on my basement TV.
Once again, I will start with the list of movies that I have yet to get around to seeing because hey I do have a life you know!
La La Land – This movie has so much buzz it can be mistaken for an apiary. In spite of all the praise and recent Golden Globe wins, this one had me at musical made by Damien Chazelle, the man behind Whiplash which was not only one of 2014’s best movies, but one of the best movies of the millennium.
Manchester by the Sea – Casey Affleck has made a quiet career of great performances that are often overlooked due to his older brother’s work making the headlines more often, but Ben isn’t getting an Oscar for playing Batman (to be fair he wasn’t bad as Batman; more on this later) like Casey probably will for this movie.
Silence – After nine years of education in Jesuit schools I’m a fan of films about the most interesting and adventurous of all the Catholic orders. The men of the cloth from the Society of Jesus have major roles in classic films like On the Waterfront, The Exorcist, The Mission, so I’m sure future men and women for others in Ignatian institutions will be enjoying this film or not having a traditional lecture class for about three or four days while they watch in school. I aim to enjoy it sooner,
The Lobster – This is the only one on my list that is not currently in theaters. A bizarre love story with some top notch people in front an d behind the camera that gained a lot of critical acclaim, but not much of a wide commercial release.
Now for stuff I’ve seen, starting with the stinkers.
Movies that didn’t sit well with me, much like a poorly prepared meal at a restaurant that you later find out had multiple major health code violations on the local news’ investigative journalism segment every Thursday – why didn’t I watch on Thursday!?!
The Secret Life of Pets – On the one hand, this is a kids movie, so you should expect a little bit of wiggle room where the plot and number of fart jokes are concerned. Then again, Pixar and Disney have shown what new territories you can push into and how adult concepts can be explored successfully in material aimed at children. Dreamworks hasn’t quite caught onto this yet. Short of their debut film Shrek, and 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, they haven’t had a great animated film. Despicable Me is okay, but like Shrek before it, its extraneous continuations have not added to the story as much as it has to the pockets of Dreamworks’ producers. While it’s refreshing to not see a mass of minions in the movie itself (they’re still prevalent in the opening titles and short before the movie), Pets doesn’t give us much more than a bunch of noise and bright colors, which parents can offer to their kids in the form of many superior movies.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Oh boy, this one had a lot stacked against it as soon as the title was revealed, however, the biggest preemptive complaint we heard was that Ben Affleck was a horrible casting call for Batman. It seemed so heinous, that similar complaints to Zack Snyder getting to continue chairing the DC movie universe (I’m not calling it whatever they call it) got lost under the ocean of Batfleck worries. Turns out that Snyder’s overly dark take was too gray for our liking, the story and characters were thinner than a standard Oreo seems after a pack of Double Stuf Oreos, and Ben Affleck was actually really good at being Bruce Wayne and Batman and did a lot to save to save this movie from a worse fate, which is more than you can say from any of the many other skilled actors in the movie. Wonder Woman was cool too, but shoehorning her and the content from what felt like three other movies in made this an overly long, overly long-titled, overly violent, and utterly disappointing movie. And I liked it more than I thought I would! Which is more than I can say for the next film. Remember that “worse fate” I mentioned?…
Suicide Squad – Ughhhhhhh. This was hard to watch at times. Again, DC’s movieverse got too dark (Batman is the only one who broods!) and jampacked too much in all at once. This time they threw in a bevy of B-side villains to make a sort of anti-Avengers group -sorry, I guess it’s an anti-Justice League, but I guess we don’t fully know what that is yet because DC is trying too hard to catch up to the Avengers by throwing their entire comic cast at us without establishing who they are. As with the aforementioned DC film, there are some bright spots, namely Will Smith’s turn as Deadshot, which I honestly think is one of his best performances and certainly his best in a long time, as well as Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. They are the only characters on the eponymous squad who get any decent backstory time though, which may factor in to why they shine a little more. Jared Leto’s take on the Joker is about as welcome as one of his used condoms. This movie looked so much better than it was, which may have something to do with scenes from the trailers that weren’t in the final cut, but I don’t know that much could have saved this flaming garbage.
Good movies that were okie-dokie, but were missing something, or were routine
Jason Bourne – I was pretty stoked about Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass reuniting for another Bourne movie, but while this was entertaining, it was formulaic and never ventured out of its comfort zone, opting to stick with what had worked in the past.
The Magnificent Seven – In many ways this was actually better than the original 1960 version (yet both pale in comparison to Seven Samurai, the film they are based on), with more intense action and a greater involvement from the female lead. Nevertheless, it was just about what you would expect from the trailers, which is not bad, but not excellent either.
The Accountant – This did offer more than I expected, and the second trailer for this got me fairly excited for it. It also contained more acting talent than I anticipated, which is good because Ben Affleck is okay in it. Thankfully, the story is interesting and the action exciting enough that he doesn’t have to save the movie.
Star Trek Beyond – I previously listed this film in a post I released just after it where I rated the Star Trek films. In that post, I ranked this film as the fifth best in the long-running franchise, and I think I can stand by that. Granted, a major reason why is due to the faults of the other films I set below it, but this one has a lot going for it, including a fresh look at this newer, shinier Star Trek universe, a story reminiscent of the original series, a cool new character, and some nice tributes to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. The villain leaves a bit to be desired, and despite my love for the Beastie Boys, I’m not crazy about the crew of the Enterprise literally defeating the bad guys with the power of rock and roll, yet I will give it credit for originality.
Allied – I went to see this with a friend who really wanted to watch it, and I did not enjoy it as much as him, but I did enjoy it. It seems like a film that could have just as easily been pushed back a month in the hopes of nabbing some Oscars, but somebody made the right call of releasing it between the end of summer and beginning of awards season because this movie is not action-packed enough to be a blockbuster, nor intense enough to be a serious awards contender, but it is good enough to merit a viewing.
Now we’re talking! Movies that offered something new and/or gave me what I wanted and then some
The Bronze – This was a quiet one, except for the segments in its trailer that feature its lead shouting. Such is indicative of what’s in store for you as she frequently freaks out on anyone between her and her free Sbarro and Mountain Dew. Melissa Rauch is clearly better than The Big Bang Theory as Hope, a washed-up gymnast who is the hero of Amherst, Ohio after winning a bronze medal in the Olympic games as a teenager. Hope suffered an injury in her win that kept her from gold, and has since served as her excuse to skate by on the lone success of her past. Her short temper is amusing, but what endears us to her is her reluctant training of another budding gymnast talent who adores Hope in spite of her childishness and manipulations, which granted, she is unaware of. As Hope and her protegee prepare for major competition, people from Hope’s past return wondering if she has what it takes to be a great coach, while we are curious if Hope is capable of being a decent person. It wobbles a bit along the way, but this one sticks the landing. Bonus points for the most acrobatic sex scene I think has ever been filmed.
Doctor Strange – When it comes to origin stories, Marvel keeps churning ’em out, and they have a tendency to rely on the same tropes, but they also continue to be highly entertaining. This is no exception, and Benedict Cumberbatch is as marvelous as his character thinks he is. Tilda Swinton is really great as the Ancient One, the titular doctor’s teacher in the mystical arts, and I always love me some Mads (Mikkelson). The climactic battle is unique and displays the Doc’s cleverness as he tussles with a villain who will probably fill in for Galactus unless some comic rights are relinquished to Marvel Studios (the Mouse always gets what he wants in the end!) The true star of this movie though are the incredible effects that are visually arresting.
Finding Dory – Like fellow Disney-buddy Marvel, Pixar keeps churning their own style of film out, and we keep watching them in enjoyment, especially this one which became the highest-grossing animated film ever made. I’m sure Disney and Pixar will shatter this mark again someday, but for the time being we’ll just keep swimming with Dory and the gang. Ellen DeGeneres lobbied for over a decade for this film to be made, and while it isn’t quite as magical as Finding Nemo, it is still worth the watch. Kudos to Pixar’s peeps for intentionally shifting gears to swim this story out of the familiar and move the location out of the big blue into a contained but connected aquarium setting. Furthermore, this movie does a terrific job of expanding on Dory’s character, while highlighting the frustration that dealing with a disability can bring onto all those affected by it. Simultaneously, this shows that contending with a physical or mental setback does not make you less capable, and in fact can be what helps you to succeed.
Arrival – I feel like I was one of the few people who walked out of this and didn’t declare it to be a masterful achievement that everyone must see. Watch it if you want to. Make no mistake, I liked this movie. I liked this movie a lot, actually. The visuals are fantastic, the acting is better, and it looks at the response to a sudden, ahem, arrival of intelligent extraterrestrials in a new and probably accurate way. Obviously, we do not know how the world would react to such a situation. If and when our first contact comes, it’ll probably be more similar to Contact‘s radio signal reception than an armada of ships landing, but that’s not my complaint. My issue is that the ending undercuts the global message of the story. Even still, this is not as big of a deal as Amy Adams’ Louise Banks is the set of eyes we see this situation unfold through, and boy, I mean, girl, she is a terrific female lead that I am glad was kept female and in the lead despite Hollywood’s urging for anything else.
The Nice Guys – Shane Black is back to his roots with a LA based comedy crime noir that has a surprisingly good tandem in Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Throw in a great performance from young Angourie Rice, and a dash of Xmas cheer and you’ve got a movie that more people should have seen.
Zootopia – Speaking about crime noir, this was a surprisingly deep animated movie that featured a lot of well placed social commentary that made the movie better than I could have imagined it would ever be. This was the movie that I enjoyed a lot more than I anticipated I would, and I thought that I would enjoy it! Good stuff for kids and their parents.
Deadpool – Good stuff for the parents only, and then, only some parents. The most original yet standard comic book film fare we’ve seen yet comes from the most grotesquely hilarious self-aware superhero to exist. Fortunately for fans of the comics, and for people like me who haven’t read them, Deadpool actually featured a true to the text Deadpool, which is thanks to Ryan Reynolds being born for the role. He also contributes to one of the best Honest Trailers yet made:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The standard setter for all the stand-alone Star Wars films to follow (try saying that five times fast), Rogue One is the most war filled Star Wars yet; this movie is intense. Like The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One gets bogged down some by its reliance on hitting the nostalgia button, but it does well to offer us new likable characters, new beautiful worlds, and new magnificent special effects. And I already said I love me some Mads. I really liked Ben Mendelsohn’s villain, Orson Krinnic, but the emphasis of the presence of previously established villains downplays his role a bit too much. Still, those Darth Vader scenes were dope!
Captain America: Civil War – Just as Rogue One is the Star Wars prequel we deserved, this clash of superheroes was the Avengers 2 we deserved. The exploration of the question, how do we save people from superheroes? provided a fantastic film that delved deeper than its exterior would have you think. Still, that airport battle was dope.
Sing Street – My favorite (and most recently seen) movie of 2016 is a highly enjoyable coming-of-age tale that beautifully blends wonderful original music, the awkwardness of young romance, an appreciation for the blossoming future of music (and one’s self), and being creative in a harshly stifled environment. Sing Street is about a boy in a poor and crumbling family in 1985 Dublin, Ireland. He has to downgrade from his expensive private school to a less than ideal school along Synge Street. He becomes infatuated with the mysterious girl across the street from his new school, and aims to woo her by forming a band and having her star in their music videos.
While nothing like it in terms of tone or context, Sing Street bears a critical similarity to the Netflix series Stranger Things that is much beloved by many including myself. Both do a great job of presenting us with a varied cast of excellent young actors while showcasing their growing pains among a tumultuous environment during a tumultuous time. Neither mentions the global concerns of communism versus capitalism or epidemic concerns with the breakout of diseases like AIDS, although both contain allegorical connections to the era in the form of youth in revolt of adults who are shown to behave more closed-minded and childish than the children they are charged with nurturing. Divorce, unreliable authority figures, and people simply trying to put an end to the young protagonists’ actions are prevalent pieces in each. The key to overcoming the hardships of your hometown are not necessarily skills in writing and playing music or monster slaying (although those help); rather the most important thing is to have a close-knit group of good friends, and the support of your siblings (a good big brother seems to go a long way), who will help you to pursue your dreams. The innocence and honesty of youth helps too.
Thanks for reading! I hope that you enjoy the films that I enjoyed as much as I did. If you know of any good ones from last year that I didn’t mention then please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what a doofus I am for not including it. Feel free to leave any questions, comments, or suggestions while you’re railing into me.
Drive it like you stole it,