Thursday, December 22, 2016

Best and Worst of 2016

Well, another year has come and (nearly) gone. My erstwhile co-hosts will no doubt be promulgating their best and worst lists of 2016 back at A Review Too Far. I just thought I would beat them to the punch. I saw seventeen new release films this year. (Most of my movie watching this year was taken up watching the Best of the 2000s). What follows is a list of the eight best and worst films I saw this year, with a special shout out to the one movie that fell dead in the middle.

The Eight Worst Films I watched in 2016 (From the Best to the Worst)

8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: 3 Stars. I'm going to give Rogue One a cautious recommendation even though it's on the worst list. It isn't a bad movie, so much as it is a wildly uneven one. It is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite film in the Star Wars franchise. Rogue One succeeded in making me care deeply about it's protagonist, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), but it was so interconnected to the film formerly known as Star Wars (and lately known as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope) that it ended up feeling like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead of the Star Wars universe.

7. X-Men: Apocalypse: 3 Stars. Another movie that I'm going to give a cautious recommendation to. Apocalypse was like a clip show from a long running TV series. Apocalypse relived many of the most dramatic moments from the previous entries in the franchise, except that this time it re-staged those scenes with younger actors. As result, it never really felt necessary or even exciting. It was unintentionally experimental. Maybe you should see it ...

6. Independence Day: Resurgence: 2.5 Stars. A lot of people hated this movie. I agree that it wasn't any good, but in my opinion, it wasn't really worth hating. Also, who could have predicted twenty-years ago that the lynch-pin of the Independence Day franchise would turn out to be the random scientist played by Brent Spiner. This movie didn't work, but it was harmlessly awful and not terribly boring.

5. Jane Got a Gun: 2 Stars. I vaguely remember seeing this Natalie Portman Western vehicle. This was one of the two most boring films that I watched this year. It just never got off the ground. In the final analysis, the most entertaining part of this film was Ewan McGregor's infinitely vacillating accent.

4. The Magnificent Seven: 2 Stars. More like the mediocre seven. This remake never found a reason to justify its existence. I was never more bored in the theater this year than while watching The Magnificent Seven. It squandered a fairly terrific cast and a first class pedigree.

3. The 5th Wave: 1.5 Stars. If there's any justice at the movies in 2016, it was the complete failure of movies that attempted to copy the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games. The Divergent Series collapsed and this alien apocalypse teen drama never got off the ground. It never deserved to. It had an over-complicated backstory, and it just didn't work.

2. The Purge: Election Year: 1 Star. The Purge franchise is awful. It simultaneously lectures viewers on the evils of violence while profiteering from extreme violence. It is downright insulting to religious people, and it has an equally terrible view of the poor and the downtrodden - as if poor people are brutes whose yearning for a good life can be assuaged by twelve hours' of uninhibited violence. There's almost certainly no film from the early part of 2016 that looks worse at the end of it than The Purge: Election Year. Worst of all, it wasn't even any fun.

1. Hardcore Henry: 0 Stars. I hated, hated, hated, hated, hated, hated, hated, hated Hardcore Henry. Filmed from the first person perspective of the titular Henry, Hardcore Henry wasn't really a movie. It was more like a first person shooter. Except, I wasn't playing the video game. Watching Hardcore Henry reminded me of when I would go to my friend's house in middle school, and I'd have to wait my turn to play Duke Nukem. Worst of all, Harcore Henry starts from the assumption that the only reason a man does anything is so that a woman will have sex with him. Women in this universe are only good for sex and betraying men. It was such a terrible, awful, no good, misogynistic, mind numbing, insulting movie that I hope people lost their jobs over it and get blacklisted.

Before I get to the best films of the year, I wanted to make mention of the film that fell dead in the middle: Hello, My Name is Doris. Doris was a weird, charming, and sweet romantic comedy about an aging woman (Sally Field) who gave up her youth to care for her aging mother and a young man (Max Greenfield) who works with her. I liked it, but I just happened to have seen eight films that I preferred.

The eight best films I saw this year (from Worst to Best).

8. Moana: 3.5 Stars. Another entry in Disney's new renaissance, Moana was good, easy to recommend, but far from perfect. There was a character who dropped completely out of the film. The music wasn't terribly memorable. There was a scene that seemed like a footnote from a gender studies class. But, it continued Disney's recent tradition of eschewing climaxes featuring redemptive violence in favor of - actual redemption. The protagonist was fun and spunky, and The Rock makes a great sidekick. Moana was a solid film and a great time at the theater.

7. Arrival: 3.5 Stars. Billed as the thinking man's science-fiction film of 2016, Arrival isn't quite as good as its partisans have suggested. Its science seems a little out of date; it was a bit slow moving, but it was a fascinating meditation on the power of language. In a year when the world seemed to be at war with smart people, Arrival was an argument for their importance and for the importance of taking the time to understand other people whether they are from China, Montana, or an egg-shaped spacecraft. Oh, and it featured top flight acting from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (and Forest Whitaker's second worst accent of 2016).

6. The Witch: 4 Stars. The Witch probably wins the award for "movie that exceeded my expectations the most" in 2016. The Witch was a shockingly specific and authentic look at Colonial America. It was a horror movie in an older sense, where the world around the characters seemed to be frightening and hostile - even the livestock. No film haunted my dreams or made me think more in 2016.

5. The Jungle Book: 4 Stars. Mixing the best elements of Kipling's original stories and the animated Disney film, and adding a stronger narrative structure missing from both sources, The Jungle Book was a tour de force in computer animation and burrowed deep into my forgotten childhood memories of these stories. It also featured 2016's strongest cast.

4. Doctor Strange: 4 Stars. Doctor Strange should not have worked. It had a confusing plot with dark creatures, alternate dimensions, strange artifacts, and sorcerer supremes. Yet, somehow, I was never confused. Doctor Strange plays the same beats as Iron Man and Ant-Man, but Benedict Cumberbatch plays a hero who is all sharp tongues and ragged pain, more reluctant to enter the fray than any film hero since Casablanca's Rick. It works. I also appreciated that the movie resolves itself in a clever trap rather than a giant battle against a faceless horde of villains/sky beam.

3. Deadpool: 4 Stars. Somewhere in the last 15 years, action movies, particularly comic book movies, have lost their sense of romance. Who would have figured that Deadpool would feature the most intimate and well-drawn romance in an action movie while simultaneously lambasting comic book movies in general and the X-Men franchise in particular. It was funny. The action was good. There was no faceless army and no giant skybeam. It was very nearly the best action film of 2016.

2. Captain America: Civil War: 4 Stars. Civil War is high on my list despite it's very deep flaw - namely that one of the film's two primary motivating incidents makes no sense whatsoever and could have been airlifted from the movie. But Civil War was wise enough to craft a movie about three men, all good, all honorable, all trying to do the right thing, who simply reached an impasse and found themselves forced into a series of battles they didn't really want to be fighting. Despite the film's size and unwieldy structure, Civil War managed to be that rare popcorn movie going experience that also felt personal.

1. Everybody Wants Some!!: 5 Stars. This was the only movie I saw in 2016 that I truly loved, and boy did I. Set over the weekend before classes begin at a college town in Texas, Everybody Wants Some!! did a great job of portraying college life. Directed by Richard Linklater, Everybody Wants Some!! had parties, sex, drinking, and smoking, but it also featured the rest of college life: the beginnings of a new romance, the bonding with new friends, even the minor annoyances of having to share a bedroom. It was fun, raunchy, romantic, and deeply personal for Linklater. I'm glad he shared it with us.

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