Media Matters: The Good, the Bad, and the UnWatchable: The Best and Worst Movies I Saw (or Couldn’t Finish) in 2016
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec 16, PG-13)
It was all worth it…the pain of the Special Editions, the shame of the prequels…the blasphemy of midichlorians…for years I held onto the movies I loved growing up, hoping against all odds that someday Star Wars would recapture greatness. Rogue One is my faith’s reward, a masterpiece that bends the franchise in just the right ways and yet, full of grit and heart, it looks and feels like it was woven into the very fabric of this galaxy far, far away. Perhaps no one element illustrates this dichotomy better than Michael Giacchino’s musical score. Some have complained that it strayed too far from John Williams’ themes. Perhaps that’s true, but after seeing the movie four times now, I think that while it definitely breaks new ground, this is Star Wars music through and through. Touching, rousing, and harrowing by turns, it sways and pulses beneath a surprisingly touching tale of desperation, morality, sacrifice, and heroism. Director Gareth Edwards and his talented cast are more than up to the task. They bring endearing characters to life and render them in colorful, breathtaking cinematography without equal in the saga. Rogue One is not only the best picture I saw all year, it is now my favorite Star Wars movie, and it may even be my favorite film of all time.
2. Captain America: Civil War (May 8, PG-13)
Steve Rogers’ and Tony Stark’s epic smackdown is everything Batman v Superman should have been. It would seem the magic isn’t so much in the formula – since both films follow the same path and even share similar plot points – but in the execution. These characters crossing paths brought them to cross purposes, and to the movie’s credit, it’s easy to see where both men are both right and both wrong. It’s these kind of moral dilemmasthat give the fantastical a ring of truth and grace the greatest comic book movies, elevating them from entertaining diversions to, if not exactly important works of art, at least ones that should not be relegated to the funny pages.
3. Star Trek Beyond (July 22, PG-13)
I’ve always been more of a Star Wars guy, but I can’t deny that there is something about the optimism and contemporary allegory of Star Trek that appeals to me. The script by Simon Pegg borrows some of the best bits from its predecessors to great effect. Like The Voyage Home, it mines both drama and comedy from teaming up unlikely members of the crew and, like First Contact, it keeps you engaged and on the edge of your captain’s chair by setting up serious stakes and compounding obstacles. Overall, Star Trek Beyond may be my favorite Star Trek film since The Wrath of Khan.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane (March 11, PG-13)
Mary Elizabeth Winstead was the one redeemable element in The Thing, 2011’s quasi-remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, and though she’s equally good in this sleeper hit, her two co-stars (and affable everyman in John Gallagher Jr. and John Goodman in a chilling, Oscar-worthy performance) arguably steal the show. The plot keeps you guessing, but Goodman unpredictability makes every scenario seem plausible. Lean and suspenseful, 10 Cloverfield Lane (which is only tangentially related to its monster movie predecessor if it is at all) draws you in and then kicks you into the stratosphere in the final act. Some might find that last reel jarring, but bought for the cathartic release it was.
5. Arrival (November 11, PG-13)
In an effort to showcase Arrival’s gorgeous cinematography, up-and-coming director Denis Vileneuve does indulgence in some slow cinematic preening. It’s a fault that the unsubtle musical score only makes worse in scenes that are meant to awe the audience. Nevertheless solid performances, smart dialogue, an intellectually challenging script, and surprisingly deep and adult emotion ultimately win the day. Arrival isn’t a movie I’m dying to watch again, but everyone should see it at least once.
1. Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24, PG-13)
Independence Day: Resurgence has absolutely none of the sublime summer spectacle that defined the first installment back in 1996. In a year when pitch perfect nostalgia propelled some properties to critical and commercial success (case in point, Netflix’s enthralling but wholly unoriginal series, Stranger Things) Resurgence will have uninitiated audiences wondering what all the fuss was about.
Like most ill-advised sequels, this one follows the same narrative structure as the first, but more time is spent at the wrong places and with the wrong people. There is nothing like the long build up to the impending alien attack to fill us with dread. When the attack comes, it happens far too suddenly, wreaking havoc and destruction that feels empty, hollow, and devoid of emotion. It’s destruction porn…digitally rendered images of a second Armageddon that mean absolutely nothing to us and seemingly very little to the characters.
2. Ghostbusters (July 15, PG-13)
Everything about Paul Feig’s all-female reboot of the 1984 comedy classic should have worked. Take an accomplished writer/director, team him with his Melissa McCarthy muse and add three of the most appealing comediennes in a generation and, well, you get this flailing, unfunny monstrosity. I think we have the internet to thank for its mutation. In this time of political polarization, social justice activism, and anonymous online flame wars, sometimes a film becomes a cause. Intent on proving the trolls wrong, somewhere along the way, the script soaked up all that negative energy directed its way onthe internet like a giant city-destroying marshmallow man filled with pink slime and grew far too self-aware for its own good. I’m convinced that there is a funny movie hiding in its core, but what debuted on cinema screens was a navel-gazing disaster shockingly short on laughs.
3. Bad Comic Book Movies
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25, PG-13) is plagued with choppy editing, filled with clunky dialogue, cursed with an unrelentingly dour disposition, and hobbled by a narrative that sets up an intelligent reason for its central conflict before it promptly throws it all away…but, I’m having trouble finding a compelling enough reason to care. Man of Steel, wasn’t much better, so I can’t say I’m saddened or surprised. My feelings fall somewhere between “ugh”, “grr”, and “meh”. I think I’ll just settle with, “sigh”.
DC’s second release of the summer, on the other hand, is too vile a thing to be ignored. A crude, discombobulated snare of scenes and characters, Suicide Squad (August 5, PG-13) is more than just a bad movie. It is truly repulsive. Never mind the fact that the half the women in the cast walk around in their underwear while the men wear trench coats. It’s in a comic book movie. We’ve been fighting that battle for a dozen years, and we’re losing. Never mind the horrific abuse Harley suffers at the hands of the Joker. Repugnant as it is, that’s central to her character. What really bothered me were the notable and numerous incidents or threats of violence against women who dare to open their mouth, speak their mind, or even be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Suicide Squad seemed to be saying it is not only acceptable to hit a woman – it’s cool too.
4. The Secret Life of Pets (July 8, PG)
The Secret Life of Pets is as subtle as a kick to the face. Everything is dialed up to 11. There are no simple pratfalls. Instead, there are flashy close-ups of cats juggling a dog through an alley on clotheslines. There are car chases… let that sink-in. No one talks (or barks, as it were). Everyone yells. Assaults, both verbal and of the beat-down variety, are on constant display. Kevin Hart’s cute little killer bunny, Snowball, is the worst offender. He’s a radical who wants to bring down the corrupt system, who lauds fellow revolutionaries who have killed their masters, and who relishes the gory details of their owners’ deaths. Given the powder keg of a nation we stand on, who in their right mind thought a violent social revolutionary should be played for laughs in a movie clearly aimed at kids?
5. Blair Witch (September 16, R)
Had Blair Witch been released in 1999 (instead of The Blair Witch Project) with the same bait-and-switch marketing campaign that made magic in the moment, I have no doubt it would be as lauded as the original. Arguably, it might even be a better film. It gets to the action much faster and manages to sustain a greater level of intensity than its slow-burn sister ever achieved. But I’m not sure that intensity was a good trade for the sinister suspense that drove the original through a long forest of bickering and vertigo inducing camerawork. Regardless, and despite these tweaks, Blair Witch ends up feel like a shallow, silly, boring rehash and a waste of a property with potential.
Dishonorable Mention – Movies I Didn’t Finish in 2016
I couldn’t even make it past the ultra-violent opening credits of Hardcore Henry (April 8, R), full of extreme close-ups lovingly depicting bullets and knives rending flesh and bone. Keanu (April 22, R) had one good line and it was in the trailer, (“We’re in the market for a gangster pet.”). The Huntsman: Winter’s War (April 22, PG-13) had the dubious distinction of featuring abysmal performances by two award-winning actresses. I literallyfell asleep during the first half of The Legend of Tarzan (July 1, PG-13). Finally, Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates (July 8, R) was a crass and vulgar attempt to stumble upon the formula for a successful R-rated comedy without the laughs or heart that could have made the experiment bearable.
By Will Morgan