Without further ado... here's the year's movies! In my humble opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary - I'm the only human I know who didn't like Love Actually, so don't throw anything at me.
Best Films of the Year
• Moana. Disney’s upswell continues with a terrific adventure through the Polynesian islands, a heroine worthy of Disney and more, and a hilarious character in Dwayne Johnson as the demigod Maui. See full review here.
• Rogue One. I was not as bowled over as the rest of the universe, but I enjoyed this one more than Force Awakens, which is still to say quite a lot. At least one member of my party was disenchanted with the ending, but I felt it was far more realistic an outcome, bringing a little grit to what has been mostly a pew-pew-pew fantasy. Bonus for throwbacks and tying in so very nicely to Episode IV, and for the giant retcon of all retcons: why it was so easy to blow up the Death Star.
• Captain America: Civil War. Even though this film is basically Avengers III instead of a true Cap film. Even though I am allergic to the fanboy-service trend of making heroes fight each other just because we wanna see who wins instead of developing logical, plot-oriented reasons why the heroes would commit violence against each other (I’m looking at you, Batman vs. Superman and Avengers.) Even though it’s really rather squicky for Cap to take up with Peggy Carter’s grand-niece days after her death. Even though I am growing allergic to Tony Stark and feel the urge to slap him most of the time he’s moralizing, and there’s good reason for the fan theory that Tony is pretty much responsible for every mess that consumes the Avengers. T’Challa rocks, Spider-man amuses, I could watch Chris Evans read the phone book, and more importantly, the film explores some of the moral ambiguities of our vigilante heroes’ actions and the political complexities of their shenanigans. Even though Tony is a moralistic moron. Yeah, I liked it.
Would Watch Again
• Ghostbusters. Suffering only by comparison to one of the top ten comedies of the last 30 years, the new take on the ‘busters is a worthy successor with a lot of potential. See full review here.
• Star Trek: Beyond. At least they’re trying. It took three films for one of the Trek 2.0 movies to rise above “ugh” in my estimation - I tried to like the first one, tried really really hard, but after the second I was ready to write off the whole thing as a misbegotten money grab. Characterization is still strong with silly-stupid plots and no continuity, with villains who make no sense and the ongoing obsession with the Beastie Boys in the 24th century. (What?) Bonus points for the interplanetary civilization Yorktown, the coolest concept we’ve seen in many moons, and for a stumbling attempt at social relevance, which has been sorely lacking from Trek 2.0. Minus points for blowing up the Enterprise yet again - guys, it’s old. We stopped crying about it after Generations - oh, that was just me, everyone else stopped crying after Search for Spock. The deepest emotion I felt at Beyond was the death of Spock (SNIFF) and dedication to both Leonard Nimoy and far-too-young Anton Yelchin. Still, I’ll show up for the next one; now that J.J. Abrams is off playing with Star Wars, maybe we can finally see some actual Trek happening in Star Trek.
• Finding Dory. Pixar always entertains, and this one is no exception. If you liked Finding Nemo - and I did - you’ll like Finding Dory, because it’s pretty much the same film. I liked that Dory’s inability to remember things from moment to moment was actually a plot point and taken a little more seriously, since I was increasingly uncomfortable with mental disability as running gag in Nemo. Dory is unique in that there really isn’t a villain per se, and the struggles are against circumstances and life itself. It’s cute and charming, entertaining and fun. That’s all it really has to be.
• Doctor Strange was problematic. On one hand, it was an origin story with redemption arc that we’ve seen before, but acted exceptionally well and with a touch more realism than, say, Tony Stark. On the other hand, the whitewashing of one of the lead characters (and the production’s subsequent blindness in doubling down on it) really spoiled the taste for me. I went to see it in the hopes that there was a real, story-driven reason for it, and there simply wasn’t. I would put this one under “skip it,” except that it will likely tie in to just about every other Marvel movie, so you’d need to catch it on Netflix to understand what’s going on. This “Crisis of Infinite Crossovers,” by the way, is why I stopped buying comics…
• X-Men: Apocalypse. I wanted to love it. I’ve loved every outing of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence as the X-Men crew. But a lame villain, downshifting Kurt Wagner to something far more mundane than the fascinating character of X-2, and the brain-numbingly inappropriate choice of setting a scene in Auschwitz dragged down what could have been a terrific film. That last was particularly awful; visiting Auschwitz was bad enough, but if it had simply been so that we could see Erik’s emotional response, that would have been fine, and a good opportunity for Fassbender. A CGI-created destruction of Auschwitz felt like capitalizing on one of the great tragedies of human history - a depiction of the Holocaust with Day-Glo paint. On the up side, (spoilers!) Xavier finally undoes his despicable mind-fuck of Moira, and while she forgives him pretty quickly, I’m hopeful that this reminds the writers of speculative fiction that erasing women’s minds to remove unpleasant or inconvenient memories from them is offensive and never an acceptable solution to painting yourself into a plot corner, especially when it comes without consequences. I’m looking at you, Superman II.
• Independence Day: Resurgence. All this time we waited, they could have come up with a better script. Somewhere Roland Emmerich forgot that what made ID4 a blockbuster wasn’t amazing CGI destruction of the planet over and over again (been done) but fun characters put in extreme situations. You actually cared about who lived and died (mostly died) in ID4. I’d be hard-pressed to remember any of the characters from Resurgence. Perhaps we’re weary of the end of the world, or maybe we just need it to be more interesting than this.
• The Darkness. Despite Kevin Bacon’s continued likability and some impressively creepy visuals, this movie overall was so forgettable that when I saw it in my Stubs lineup, I had to look it up to remember that I’d actually seen it. And then read Wikipedia to recall the plot. Diverting enough at the time, but ultimately forgettable.
• Batman v. Superman. What a mess. I could go into detail about how much I hated this film, or I could simply paraphrase the far more eloquent Keith R.A. DeCandido: This was a film written and directed by people who hate Superman and don’t understand him at all. I don’t blame Henry Cavill for the dour pseudo-Superman series in which he’s enmeshed; he seems to be doing the best he can with what he’s given. It doesn’t surprise me, either, that director Zack Snyder wants to do Ayn Rand next; his Clark Kent raised by selfish, “let ‘em die” Kents fits perfectly with Randian philosophy, only that’s not Clark Kent. Surprisingly, Batfleck is pretty good as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, but then, I never hated him as Daredevil, either. It is also not his fault that the plot of this film makes no sense and there is no freaking reason for these two to be fighting each other. As with most comic book serieses, they pull the pin on the Big Story way too soon - it is too quick for Doomsday, and we feel absolutely nothing because we know what happens after. On the plus side, Wonder Woman is basically there to be awesome and set up her own movie. I would gladly rewatch her trailer a dozen times before I would watch this abomination again. For more about this mess, check out this roundup from The Guardian.
Is this all the cinema of 2016? Of course not, but I’m only a poor working writer and cannot afford to go see everything in the theater. I heard very good things about Arrival, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Sully; and mostly positive things about Don’t Breathe, Deadpool, and Suicide Squad.
CultureGeek Jr. saw 10 Cloverfield Lane without me. He thought it was an “amazing” movie, far better than the first shakycam film of idiots running for 90 minutes. But he put the latest version of The Jungle Book as “eh.” The discussion of Zootopia ranged from “better than Frozen” to “as good as Cars” from those in my household who get to see more movies than I do. It also holds the highest rating for the year on Rotten Tomatoes.
Overall, not the worst movie year we’ve had, but hardly the best, either. I’ll catch up with the Oscar-bait in January as usual, and I’m sure we’ll be revisiting the rankings before they start handing out little golden statues. In the meantime, I think I’ll go watch the Wonder Woman trailer again. (#pleasedontsuck pleasedontsuck pleasedontsuck) Happy New Year!