Well we are little over half way through 2016 so it’s a perfect time to look back at the year so far in movies. Overall I was pretty satisfied with what I saw so far this year. Yes the good probably outweighed the bad and there were a fair share of disappointments. Despite that I finished this half of the year with a Top 10 I am pretty happy about, which is not always the case. In fact I would be surprised if my number one currently does not remain my number one for the remainder of the year. So let’s start by look at a few honorable mentions:
Every year I have a film or two I tend to love more than anyone. Movies like Starred Up and The Selfish Giant that topped my top ten lists for their given year. I would not put Kill Your Friends on their level but given its 25% Rotten Tomatoes Score you probably won’t find it on many other half year lists—well at least best of the year so far lists. Perhaps my sense of humor is more sadistic than others but I enjoyed the hell out of this. Nicholas Hoult continues to be the unsung hero of Hollywood. He has the movie star presence that so many others crave. Kill Your Friends is basically The Wolf of Wall Street set in the music industry. If that at all interests you I implore you to give it a shot despite its critical reception.
So can we now all agree John Goodman is the best current living actor to never win an Oscar? I do not see this working nearly as well without his performance. The mystery of the film hinges on the believability of his character, and luckily with Goodman’s range that was not a problem. It also helps that costars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. also give great performances in their own right. Dan Trachtenberg immediately announces his presence as a director to look out for with his ability to build tension and properly use limited space. Many had issues with the way that it ended, but personally I had no issue. For me it was a natural progression for what was slowly being establish in the film’s background. Sure the labeling of it as a ’Cloverfield’ film is a nasty marketing ploy, but if it got more people to see a good movie I personally think it is a smart move.
While I was not a huge fan of Jason Bateman’s directorial debut Bad Words I did see potential there that told me he was not just an average actor meagerly trying to get behind the camera for a simple change of pace. That potential has nearly been fully realized with his second feature The Family Fang. At the surface it does appear to be an overly quirky film crafted for the self-aware Sundance audience. I was concerned this would just be another story attempting to determine what is truly ‘art’, however it is going after much more than that and ends up being a rather potent emotional journey. Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman are solid as usual and have great deal of sibling chemistry. Most surprising was the performance given by Christopher Walken. The man who has become a walking parody of himself for the last decade reminds us of the talent that has made him such an icon. A lot is lost in an ending that gets caught up in its own complexity, but overall a rather satisfying narrative.
The merc with the mouth finally got his movie. After years of false starts, internet rumors, and ‘leaked’ video clips the movie many thought would never actually get made finally hit theaters. Ultimately Deadpool finds its success in its unyielding focus on being as entertaining as possible. There is a shameless quality about the way it never tries to make Deadpool something that he is not. It celebrates his juvenile sense of humor and violent tendencies. Ryan Reynolds is so perfect for this role it is easy to overlook how great he is because you have to remind yourself he is not actually the title character. He is playing a role. The role he was born to play. Here is hoping he gets to play that role again and again.
This really worked for me. Sure it has its cliches and its narrative can barely hold the wait of the character tragedies it creates, but by the end it hit me like a ton of emotional bricks. At one point this road trip movie basically becomes a van of rejected Maury Povich guests. However, I found myself not bothered by any of that due to its sardonic sense of humor and the chemistry of its cast. Paul Rudd is as fantastic as always. His charm and relationship with Craig Roberts is a big reason why this works at all. That along with an adequate amount of sincerity gives it quite the punch. Last year Netflix broke ground by distributing Beasts of No Nation, an award worthy film that was criminally underrepresented when it came to award season. ‘Caring’ is not on its level, however it shows that Netflix is building itself quite the catalog of quality independent cinema. Just ignore the fact they also released The Do-Over and Ridiculous Six.
This was a haunting experience. One that uses horror to do much more than simply scare. I am rather amazed that this is the first feature film done by Robert Eggers. The sheer attention to period detail alone would make me assume this is coming from a cinematic veteran. The effectiveness of slow burn horror is all about proper pacing with this surely has. Through Eggers powerful imagery and Mark Korven’s striking score there is a consistent feeling of uneasiness that kept me glued. Also this has some of the most brilliant child performances in some time. Both Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw act well beyond their years. Horror has had a lot of great entries in recent years like It Follows and The Babadook. This might be the richest one.
This was a joy of a film that takes a familiar formula and fills it with lively characters to make it more than another coming of age romantic comedy. Surely director John Carney designed it to make you feel good but is not lacking in emotional moments. Not since John Hughes have we seen someone use music this well in the way it defines this youthful generation. You know a film is working for you when it takes music you normally do not listen to and makes you want to immediately go out and buy the soundtrack. Again, just like Hughes Sing Street feels larger than life but still heavily relateable.
If you were to list the qualities an animated film needs to be successful you would find them all in Zootopia—Likable multi-dimensional characters that are finely developed, a narrative that is more than just window dressing, visually striking animation, humor for all levels, a voice cast that’s big names actually fit with the characters they are playing, and within its overt message of acceptance a refreshing level of elegant complexity. Of all the movies in this second Disney renaissance this is by far the best one. One of the few recent animated films that is as effective for adults as it is children. This year has a lot of animated features but I would highly doubt any will turn out better than Zootopia.
Civil War made me as giddy like a child watching Saturday morning cartoons in his footy pajamas. As someone who remembers debating on Stone Age internet message boards about who would win in a fight Black Panther or Captain America I still cannot believe I live in a world where I get to see that play out so brilliantly on a gigantic iMax screen. While movies like The Dark Knight transcend the genre, Civil War shows why superhero fans love superheroes. Yes there is plenty of fun to be had, yes there timely quips and jokes made in the heat of battle, and yes it is full of next level computer graphics, but at its core it’s still a story built upon the backs of finely tuned characters that have supernatural powers and human faults. No matter what side you may choose at the end we all win in this battle.
While this is being marketed as the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused it feels more like the grown up version of The Sandlot. Both focus on a group of characters their love of baseball and their unique way of expressing their friendship. There is less emphasis on a structured narrative and more importance on creating an atmosphere that makes you feel like you are both part of their distinct time period and colorful group of friends. For films that are so focused on the game of baseball neither bother having the cliché’ game with everything on the line, because in reality neither is interested in simple competition. They are this adolescent search for identity while determining their place among peers. They can be appreciated for their service level good time or fully appreciated for their deeper thematic journey of what makes us who we are.
Blue Ruin was one of my favorite films of 2014. It was this somewhat hidden gem at the time that I saw it so I went in not expecting much of anything. Within the first twenty minutes I realized I was in for something great. With that in mind my expectations for Green Room where quite high. I did have some worries that writer/director Jeremy Saulnier would falter with a proverbial sophomore slump. As evident by its placement on this list Saulnier showed me there is nothing to worry about. With Green Room Saulnier used his knowledge of film to create a high tension thriller that consistently subverted expectations. I am most impressed with the matter of fact way he uses violence. A specific scene involving a hand and a door rocked me to my core. Despite the fact he did not overtly focus on it like many directors would. Patrick Stewart gave such an intriguing and unassuming performance that I wish there was more of for us to see. Tragically it is difficult to talk about this film now and not mention the untimely passing of Anton Yelchin, who also gives another stellar performance. His passing is further proof that this year has a vendetta against highly talented people for some reason.
The Coens are some of the best minds working Hollywood today. They have an understanding of both the history and art of film that most can only dream of having. Both were on display with Hail, Caesar!—a throwback large scale comedy full of old school movie techniques and a new school sense of humor. I am not surprised it failed at the box office and had a rather mixed reaction. As a huge fan of classic Hollywood I was fascinated with what they were doing. There are scenes in this that I would put as some of the Coen’s best. When you consider their stellar filmography that automatically makes it one of the year’s standout films. I highly doubt I will watch a funnier scene this year than the Jesus representation scene that took place in this. A lot of Coen films grow in appreciation as years go on and I see that being the case for this one. For me I love it now.
My number one choice was quite easy this year. No film has hit me on all levels quite like The Lobster since I saw Her a few years ago. (Considering Her is my choice for the best movie of the decade so far that is saying a great deal) They are two very different films but are both full of timely comedy, sharp social commentary, and a stellar cast that all give great performance. Colin Farrell gives what I see has one of the best performances of his career. He along with the entire cast were able to buy into a universal tone that was key in making the humor work. Obviously this film has a lot to say regarding the way our current culture treats marriage, but for me what makes it work on another level is the second half of the film that expands on that idea. The Lobster is more than just a movie about the industry of marriage, it comments on the ridiculous regulations subcultures place upon themselves and the way they make others outside the culture into the enemy. Considering the world’s current climate I could not think of a more timely and potent message.
Have Not Seen Year: Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Neon Demon, Swiss Army Man, OJ: Made in America
Other Honorable Mentions: Hello, My Name is Doris, Nice Guys, Band of Robbers, Eye in the Sky
Disappointments of the Year: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Midnight Special
Worst Films of the Year So Far: The Do-Over, Interdependence Day: Resurgence, London Has Fallen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Enter the Battlefield: Life on the Magic – The Gathering Pro Tour