DISCLAIMER: I am a big lover of movies, less so of films. Movies have explosions, kung-fu, gun-fu, any and all manner of action set pieces, as well as superfluous profanity, nekkid people left and right and world building that is often mind blowing. Films are about the sad clown of life and our bleak existence on this God forsaken planet. In other words, blockbuster kick butt movies = good. Depressing pretentious art-house clap-trap = bad.
2016 was yet another great year for movies. There were so many good ones that I had a tougher time than usual winnowing them down to a mere top ten. Keep in mind that I don't get out too often and that I only venture into the theater or plop my butt down on my couch for a movie that I'm already enthusiastic about. I don't waste my time on movies or films that have subjects or flavors that I'm not interested in in the first place, which means I don't see a ton of movies during the year. Here first are the honorable mentions in no particular order.
Just saw this yesterday and enjoyed it very much. I watched a screener under less than ideal conditions, a brightly lit room with people talking and no subtitles - but still really dug what was going on. I can see how this movie (which is also very much a film) has polarized people. Some think it is the second coming, others are befuddled by all the hype. I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards a pretty big thumbs up for this very bittersweet and heartfelt tribute to older movies, Los Angeles (my home for 20 years) and grown up romance without the vulgar trappings that typically accompany the romantic genre today. Emma Stone is remarkable and luminescent in this movie; a bona fide star and a triple threat. Gosling has never been one of my favorites, but he is perfectly cast in this role, and unless there are mind blowing special effects at play - he sure knows how to play piano!
STAR TREK: BEYOND
A lot of fun. A big action romp with some really nice set pieces that actually holds up to repeat viewings. I bought this movie out of habit on Amazon video and I'm surprised that I've watched it four times already. It's not as strong as the last two modern Trek offerings, but there's a lot to like about it. So sad every time the young Checkov kid is on screen.
Lots of hate out there for this one, and all DC movies for that matter (but that's a whole other blog post). I for one let go of trying to compare it to the almighty MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and just enjoyed myself in this often incoherent but also often pretty cool romp through the dark underbelly of baddies and their world. Loved Margot Robbie and am intrigued by Leto's Joker. Viola Davis for me makes this movie - talk about a bad ass! The extended cut adds next to nothing, but I'm still glad I bought it.
The best kind of remake in that it isn't a remake at all - but rather follows the barest storyline of the original. It's not a musical, it doesn't take place is Passamashloddy and is in fact very unlike it's predecessor which is a lovely but flawed and frothy musical. Instead it is a lovely, non-musical number laden and emotional story set in today's times in a town just outside of the wilderness. Sometimes it's eco preaching is a little clumsy, but there's so much heart from the characters that it's easy to overlook.
Disappointed that my favorite director didn't make it automatically into my top ten as he always does, but still I enjoyed Zemeckis' foray into World War II melodrama. The action sequences were crackling good, especially the assassination sequence and the editing tight. I for sure got choked up towards the end at the heartbreaking conclusion - despite the heavy amounts of extreme drama slathered and caked onto every frame. It very much reminded me of a Ron Howard movie like Backdraft - where the dialogue isn't quite good enough to overcome the cheese, but it still mostly works.
One of three tremendous animated films this year. I didn't think I wanted or needed to see a movie focused on Dori, but I'm glad to admit I was wrong. This one is very endearing and heart warming and at times a bit heart wrenching. Some great Pixar-esque sequences and solid production value in every frame, bolstered by the usual stellar R&D, make this one a winner.
This one is not one of the three tremendous animated films, but it's still a hoot. Much of it is uneven and a lot of the time the vulgarity seems forced and a bit mean, but it's still mostly enjoyable - albeit on a very lowbrow level. The opening Saving Private Ryan sequence and the 'climax' sequence at the end of the film are definite high points. Looking forward to seeing this again.
This one would be in my top ten were it not for a bit of dramatic license taken by the filmmakers. In every way this movie is top notch, - acting, script, production value and effects. Tom Hanks is superb yet again and the story line is gripping. Unfortunately I found out after reading up on the incident a bit that the storyline is somewhat of a fabrication. The FAA in real life were not the mustache twirling villains that director Clint Eastwood made them out to be in the movie. I wish they had adhered closer to the truth, which is that the FAA were basically just doing their jobs and didn't have an agenda beyond that. The end of the movie does soften this falsehood a bit, but not enough in my opinion. But I can set this aside and still enjoy the movie because there is so much good stuff to chew on. Especially uplifting is the actual sequence of the crash itself. Eastwood does a masterful job of showcasing not just Sully and his crew, but all of the first responders that helped turn what could've been a deadly disaster into an inspiring story with a happy ending.
FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM
Liked an awful lot about this very dense and beautifully made film. I didn't care for the fact that the lead mumbled all of his lines - but I did love the two supporting characters of Queenie and the Baker dude. And the creatures of course were fantastic. I really hope they do keep making these, it was very much a journey worth taking, especially the bittersweet ending - so good!
Again, another near top ten miss. Very hard this year to pick only ten! This one is delightful in it's execution - the world building is phenomenal and the sequences are all chosen and cut expertly. Disney does it again, again by putting story first. I love the rabbit's train ride into the city oh so much, Shakira's music works surprisingly well in this sequence and it all works together to bring the goosebumps. The rest of the story works well, though very derivative of all those cop buddy movies that we've seen many times. Also, while I do appreciate and agree the message of the film of tolerance and setting aside old prejudices, it does come dangerously close to being a bit too on the nose and preachy. Thankfully it doesn't cross the line, as there is enough humor and entertainment to keep us free from the feeling of being lectured and instead fully invested with the characters. Well done Disney!
A very important story that I am so grateful made it to the silver screen. Michael Bay is in his element here and does an expert job of bringing the events of Benghazi to life. It's a shame that many liberals will avoid this one, thinking it to be a jingoistic treatise on bashing Hilary Clinton - it's really not that. Well, maybe a little, but they don't mention her or the Obama administration at all. Bay really goes out of his way to keep politics out of it, for the most part. To a stalwart conservative like me it's sometimes hard to step back and see this story for what it is - a very human one that doesn't shy away from showing all that is wrong with radical Islamists. The action sequences are superb and intense, the performances are great - grounded and understated the way real military people are. Loved this. It just misses my top ten because it does suffer a tiny bit from the same thing that most war movies do - it's tough to identify who is who in many of the action sequences. I'm sure it will get better upon repeated viewing, which is something I intend to do for sure.
And so onto the top ten...
10 - PATRIOT'S DAY
Yes, this one is a film, and it's also very important historically - but what propels this one past the above movies is the incredible story telling and editing; turning what could potentially be a Lifetime Channel flick of the week into an engrossing cinematic experience. Peter Berg is the master of bringing real life into the movie realm with seamless and powerful fluidity. As with Deepwater Horizon, you really feel that you are at the event as it unfolds. But far more than just a disaster movie, this story embodies what makes America great - among the very worst of humanity, which took years of diabolical planning, the very best of humanity materializes instantly. The entire spectrum of first responders are given tribute here, led by Mark Wahlberg as a composite character of very real law enforcement officers that helped at the scene and also brought the animals that perpetrated such horror to justice.
9 - HACKSAW RIDGE
Mel Gibson may be a bat-shit crazy Jew hating bastard, but man the guy knows how to direct a movie! This one is great - an inspiring and often brutal portrayal of war alongside a young man who refuses to touch a gun. Telling true stories can be a tough job for movies, there's a great risk of simply making a Lifetime television drama, but everything in this story works and still feels very cinematic. Eager to see this one again.
8 - JUNGLE BOOK
Eye popping special effects that work because they are grounded with heart and Disney's full commitment to the commandment of putting story first. Incredible that this entire movie was shot entirely in a big metal warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. It entirely deserves it's VFX Oscar, even up against some very stiff competition - but as I said, it's a great movie because we are invested in the story and especially the lead character, and pretty much the only human in the entire movie. The young boy who plays Mowgli is mesmerizing and perfectly cast. Can't wait to see what he does next as he grows up.
7 - X-MEN APOCALYPSE
I am a bit mystified at the critics response to this one and I am absolutely perplexed at my nerd peers online who bashed it as well. I LOVE this superhero movie very much and it is my favorite of the modern X-Men trilogy which also includes First Class and Days of Future Past. It has tons of emotion, I found my eyes welling up more than a few times. I 'rolled a tear' as the manly men say because the relentless action was all grounded in these characters that we've grown to love - even the characters that are being played by new actors for the very first time. Sophia Turner and her young cohorts all brought urgency and depth to their roles, rooted in the previous movies and the source material as well. Bravo everyone involved. I could watch this one again and again, and I kind of already have.
6 - DEADPOOL
Where to begin with how much I love this movie? Yeah, it's nasty at times and crude and all that - but it's also genuinely hilarious and absolutely righteous in it's commitment to telling a story of vengeance and love in peril. Despite all the fourth wall breaking and snark, Deadpool still manages to drill down on truth and outshine every single other comic book movie outside of the MCU with the exception of Nolan's Dark Knight. It has heart, it has passion and pathos - and some truly great action set pieces. I wish there had been one or two more - the middle of the film slows down a little bit too much for my tastes, but the journey overall is more than well worth it. Plus it's funny as fuck, if I may borrow some of the movie's vernacular.
5 - CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
For sure this has the single greatest superhero action sequence on film to date. 20+ minutes of pure comic book nerd-gasmic bliss. This sequence alone would be enough to land this movie a spot on my top ten, but even better than that (as crazy good as it is with Spider-Man, Giant-Man et al kicking butt in every which way) is that this movie at it's heart has a fantastic story with a gut wrenching reveal at the end that finds our heroes NOT patching everything up and fighting the bad guy at the end. I told my 11 year old daughter, who didn't want to see it because it has Cap and Iron Man fighting, not to worry - that they would "Join up together at the end". Boy was I wrong and boy was she annoyed with me. But I have to say, it is super great and powerful for defying expectations. DC and Warner Brothers take note, this is how super heroes fighting each other is done.
4 - DOCTOR STRANGE
I go back and forth between which MCU masterpiece I like more this year - Civil War or this one. Right now I just bought Dr. Strange on digital and watched it the other night, so I am still giddy in love with it enough to push it just a notch above Avengers 2.5, aka Civil War. If you had told my 13 year old self that someday they would make a Dr. Strange movie that was fun but not cheesy in a bad way and yet still managed to bring Steve Ditko's panels to life in front of me in an incredibly faithful way - I never would've believed you. This one taps right into the core of my comic book nerd being. For about 4 years I was a voracious reader of six comic books, actually a lot more thanks to my friend Dan, but these are the ones I bought myself and never missed - Frank Miller's Daredevil, John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Chris Claremont's X-Men, The Hulk, The Avengers and The Defenders. The last one on the list was a unique super hero team that occasionally included Daredevil, so that's why I bought it, but the leader was Dr. Strange. And there was always stuff that looked like the final confrontation in the film - the intergalactic/cosmic/magic-infused/psychedelic world of the good Doctor was always a place I was happy to go. And now I get to see it in the flesh, created by the real wizards at Marvel and Disney. I am in awe of how great this movie is, again - story at Disney is KING and it shows, Not one film frame nor one line of dialogue is wasted, it's all in service of the story, and we as grown up nerds are all the better for it.
3 - ROGUE ONE
So pleased that I can heartily recommend this movie, I was pretty scared that they were going to drop the ball on this, a story that we didn't necessarily need. Click here for my complete review of this outstanding entry into the Star Wars canon.
2 - ARRIVAL
I could write at length about how magnificent this one is - and maybe I will in the future, but for now let me just say that you are best served by going into this movie cold without any knowledge of what it's about beyond simply Aliens arriving on earth. That's how I saw it and I'm very grateful I did. I was horrified that the clips they showed during the Oscars gave so much away about the aliens themselves, how crummy for people who haven't seen the movie. There is a great takeaway from this film - and without getting into details, it's this: In our lives we sometimes have great tragedies, if we were given a chance to foresee these tragedies, would we choose a different path? The answer is at once incredibly moving and gratifying and will bring you to tears. Seriously bro, if you don't 'roll a tear' on this one, you are dead inside.
1 - MOANA
Speaking of 'rolling a tear' - I did that the most this year watching an animated movie about a tropical princess. The music, the sights, the sounds, the emotion of Moana is for me rather overwhelming. As a huge fan of musicals I was simply blown away at how good the music and the musicianship was in this movie. I found out later that it was written in large part by the dude responsible for Hamilton, the $2000 a seat musical on broadway that you can't get tickets for anyway because everyone is so in love with it. Well now I get the hype for this Lin-Manuel dude - he is an incredible talent, because the songs here propel an already emotional story into the stratosphere of greatness. I, like most parents these days, am pretty worn out on animated films - as good as most of them are, it's tough to sit through half a dozen or more every year. Now that my kid is a bit older we don't rush out and see each and every one, but we did for a time.
I was mildly intrigued to see this one, but in no great rush. My 12 year old daughter actually cajoled me into seeing it with her even though she had already seen it once. She said "I think you'll really like it dad, it's really good, better than I thought it would be." Okay, I'm sold. So we went, and I was very very moved. So much so that I was embarrassed to be crying so much in front of my kid. They were manly tears yes, but still there was quite a lot of them.
I've been wondering why I am so moved by this movie, I've come up with a couple of reasons. One, it taps right into the culture of the tropics, in this case the Pacific Island culture; and as a kid I grew up for the first ten years of my life in Key West Florida where I saw the world through a westernized version of this culture. My dad owned a Polynesian restaurant, so the imagery, music, sounds and smells of the islands are very much seared into my consciousness. So when it came to life in such a vibrant manner on the screen, the animation is cutting edge and hyper real - expertly capturing all the iconography, textures and flavors of Polynesia - it was a bit of a sensory overload for me. Memories, both conscious and subconscious came flooding back. And because the story (reason number 2) is framed with a dead grandmother as one of the main catalysts for our heroes journey - for me it's a double whammy of emotion, as my grandmother passed away only a few years back and she was very much in love with Key West and all of it's best trappings; the tropical breezes, palm trees, the water and so on. When Moana is able to reconnect with her grandmother's spirit it made me think how much I would want to be able to do that with my grandmom, and my dad for that matter.
The third reason I think that I love this movie so much is that the heroine is a super strong female and very much a role model for my kid - I would hope that she could be strong and brave like Moana and yet still have the feminine characteristics of empathy and nurturing that are also on display in the movie. Moana is for sure my favorite 'princess' character in that she specifically rejects the label and yet still embodies all the best traits of a young woman and a royal leader. She also finds a great mentor in 'Maui' who is actually The Rock and hilarious and talented and very much a father figure who still has to learn from his progeny and find redemption.
The story, and I know I sound like a broken record here, is given the top priority and it shows. This, in tandem with the correct deference and adherence to the genuine Pacific Island culture, creates a potent and powerful 90 minutes, suitable for the entire family and yet meaningful on a very adult level, especially to this white boy who grew up in the sub-tropics. I am very grateful that Disney made this film, took the time to travel to Samoa and the surrounding islands and created something that will last for generations and bring the beautiful Pacific Island culture to the world. And I can't wait to watch it again and again and again.
And so that's it for what I loved - now here as always, a short list of disappointments.
BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN
When I see a movie that is total crap, I don't worry about it, I forget about it and move on with my life. Unfortunately, this movie is not total crap - it has just enough good stuff (and occasionally great stuff) in it to be upsetting, because the bulk of it is simply mediocre and the story choices are all wrong. Martha! Warner Brothers just doesn't get it; guys, you have to do the work! The reason the MCU is so powerful is because they have invested the TIME in these characters. You don't start off with a movie like the Avengers - you have to have half a dozen or so solo movies before the spectacular team up. The MCU has been percolating since 2008! When the next Avengers movie comes out that means it will have been around for a decade! A freaking decade! That means the characters have earned our love and respect. You don't just plop Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in front of us and expect us to be in love with them, especially when it's the first time we're even seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman! Yo! WB! Do the work! Maybe pay attention to your television division that is doing a FAR better job at bringing DC characters to life.
Again, I have no interest in dumping all over a movie for being crap. This movie was not crap, a lot of it was fun and worked - but it was wholly unnecessary because it is preceded by a beloved film that really shouldn't be remade. If they were going to do it, they should've made it a sequel and paid correct respect to the original guys - rather than casting them in bit gimmick parts. Killing off Bill Murray? Really? Nope. Not good enough. A lot of odd story choices as well, Chris Hemsworth gets all the possessed people all set up to do a dance number, and then... doesn't do a dance number. (They do show it in the credits). Strange and awkward. And honestly, I can't even really remember the plot, other than it being derivative of the original movie. Sorry, but this is ultimately a forgettable fail. If you're going to make a movie with a message - that girls can be Ghostbusters too - that's fine, but you have to do the work and make it a GOOD movie FIRST, not the other way around. Look at Moana if you want an example of a strong positive role model for girls, because it wasn't conceived with that as the primary goal; it was conceived out of the desire to make GREAT entertainment, that it had a strong female protagonist was a great component - NOT the central reason for making the movie in the first place. Remember - story good FIRST. Entertaining FIRST. All the other stuff that you want to get across, no matter how noble it may be - SECOND.
Had zero interest in seeing this anyways but we found ourselves Netflixing it the other night. Such a shame to see all that creativity mired down in a story that is so piss poor by today's standards. I love fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings, this one is just weak sauce without the time and work that needs to be done on projects like this. Too much lip service to World of Warcraft fans, not enough focus on good story telling for general audiences. Sad.
How could they mess this up? The other Bourne movies are pretty great, this one, not so much. Too much long lens hand held shaky work. Shoot a spectacular chase down the strip in Las Vegas and then cut it together so rapid fire that you can't follow it. Weak. The first half of the movie works, but then it goes off the rails after they kill off a main protagonist and then don't pay it off. Do the work guys! We are invested in these characters - if you're going to kill one of them, it better be damn well worth it in some way, not seemingly random as it was.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGANCE
I have a soft spot in my heart for the original, for even as I am able to recognize that it does have problems, it is an iconic part of movie blockbuster history. Plus my wife has a big old close up in it. It was her first job in LA, an extra in Independence Day, and she got picked for a close up that not only made it into the film but the official trailer as well. See if you can spot her, she's in LA just before the bad shit goes down, getting out of her car with her kid and looking up in awe. Anyways, this sequel is pretty out of touch with what made the original enjoyable - it's set in a futuristic world that is supposed to be today and yet is pretty much unrecognizable. Thor's brother plays the lead and I'm sorry, but he's bland and forgettable. The other lead is a black guy who I guess is Will Smith's son though he looks nothing like him and even worse he doesn't really do anything in the movie - somehow Thor's brother is the main protagonist. What? Why? Pointless.
And so that's it - I laughed, I cried (especially in Moana) I kissed my $14.50 goodbye. All in all I am very grateful that I got to see so many great movies, and even the ones I was 'disappointed in' had flashes of brilliance. I love movies, and I want to love movies - so I'm pretty easy to please, not really a critic at all - but that's okay. Already very much in love with the first movie I saw in a theater this year - Lego Batman is extraordinarily good! Run don't walk, especially if you liked the first Lego movie. It's pretty frickin' awesome!