Happy New Year!
2016 was a very interesting year in a lot of ways. Certainly it was a year of surprises. It was especially interesting in the realm of cinema. I enjoyed many films this past year, and making this top 10 list was a little difficult. There were a few I really had to think about leaving off the list.
Despite being a banner year for movies, I didn’t have a problem finding movies I didn’t care for. To start with, here’s my bottom five worst films of 2016. Most were sequels gone horribly, horrible wrong. Others were botched experiments with beloved material.
5. Batman: The Killing Joke
Warner Bros. Animation
Written by Brian Azzarello
Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Directed by Sam Liu
I hesitated putting this in my bottom 5. It was great to finally see an adaptation of this seminal Batman story. Most of the animation was great. And it was so good to hear the definitive animated voices of Batman and the Joker (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively) take on this celebrated material.
What made this film a severe disappointment is the lack of respect for the story on the part of a production team lead by the great Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series). I expected so much more. Things were added that were not necessary, making the whole affair bloated and severely awkward in places. I think that the idea of adapting The Killing Joke was intimidating, and Timm and his crew felt like they had to overcompensate.
To read more about what I thought, check out my extended review.
4. X-Men: Apocalypse
20th Century Fox
Written by Simon Kinberg
Based on characters appearing in Marvel Comics
Directed by Bryan Singer
The X-Men franchise has been through a real roller coaster of quality. After Days of Future Past, I thought the franchise was back on track. It was a fun and interesting movie, and it was clear that Bryan Singer was working very hard to get the franchise back on the right footing by rectifying the disparate timelines.
However, Apocalypse was a great, big nosedive back into the valley of mediocrity. Parts were enjoyable, but the whole thing just didn’t gel. Most of the characters didn’t age, despite there being a difference of two decades between this film and First Class. The titular villain was not as imposing or intimidating as he could have been. The comic version of Apocalypse (even the version from the animated series) was so much more threatening.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec
Based on characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Directed by Dave Green
The reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise had a somewhat promising start. In spite of some peculiar story choices, the creative direction was intriguing. I enjoyed the real-world direction, as well as making the turtles all different in terms of stature and build. And the Shredder was given his best cinematic interpretation to date.
Out of the Shadows took everything that was promising as sucked the life out of it. It had fun moments, especially the introduction of series villains Bebop and Rocksteady, but the film eventually spun out of control. The turtles didn’t really fight that much. Shredder was neutered of all his intrigue. But the worst aspect was Krang; it’s a little too fantastical for the real-world tone they were presumably trying to achieve (I never really liked that portion of the TMNT mythos anyway).
2. Independence Day: Resurgence
20th Century Fox
Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt
Based on a story by Devlin, Emmerich, Wright and Woods
and characters created by Devlin and Emmerich
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Independence Day had a lot going for it in 1996. The film evoked that War of the Worlds type of epic scope and wonderment (ironically better that Steven Spielberg actually did), and put a new spin on it. The destruction seemed real and genuinely terrifying, because it was done practically and with a tiny degree of restraint.
Fast-forward 20 years and director Roland Emmerich hasn’t really had a decent film since (with the exception of The Patriot). The film’s have either been mindless destruction to the nth degree (2012) or stupid, insulting actioners (White House Down). And unfortunately, he’s now come full-circle and infected his only winning franchise with his modern sensibilities.
I suppose there’s a threshold of wanton destruction that my suspension of disbelief cannot take. The aliens bringing a ship 3,000 miles long is just too much for me to comprehend and made it seem laughable at times. I just didn’t find myself caring about any of the city destruction scenes, or the characters for that matter. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Sela Ward was directed to play the president as Hillary Clinton. That annoying, condescending tone of voice was a dead giveaway.
Written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig
Based on the 1984 film written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
Directed by Paul Feig
This film takes the cake on awfulness for 2016. It’s an odd reboot that should have been a sequel. It’s like Paul Feig wanted it both ways: do his own thing but still rely heavily on what has come before, even to the point of bringing back the logo and typeface). It doesn’t work that way.
While the idea of an all-female ghostbusting team is interesting, this was a blatant pander to modern feminism – which cheapens the film and the characters. All the men in this film were stupid, weak, evil, inept, or all of the above. It’s annoying and silly – more like revenge against a perceived portrayal of women in cinema. Never mind that there have been strong female characters throughout movie history that never had to act like men to be respected.
For more reasons why this film is the worst of 2016, check out my detailed review.
Now that the disappointments are out of the way, here are my top 10 favorite movies of 2016.
10. The Hollars
Sony Pictures Classics
Written by James C. Strouse
Directed by John Krasinski
The Hollars has been unfortunately glossed over by many critics and audiences, which is a shame because it was such a great film. The Office‘s John Krasinski not only starred but also directed, and proved himself to be just as capable a director as he is an actor. The comedy was good (very Office-esque awkwardness), but it was the emotion that kept me involved. It felt real between characters and in quiet moments, courtesy of a strong ensemble cast.
The Hollar family brought up a lot of issues that many families go through: guilt, resentment, regret. But the film touches on how, despite all this, families stick together and support one another. It’s also a reflection on how everyone looks to their closest relationships for assurance about life.
For more details about this great family dramedy, take a look at my review.
Paramount Pictures / MGM
Written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley
Based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
It’s not really fair to say whether or not this version of Ben-Hur is better than the 1959 film. They are very different films made at different times for different tastes.
I loved the grittier, dirtier (and at times bloodier) approach to the material in this film. It seemed like a lived-in world. The dirt and sand were as much characters as the people. The chariot race was exciting, with some amazing camera angles and breathtaking visuals. Most importantly, the spiritual backbone of the narrative had been retained. It is a tale of revenge and forgiveness literally set in the midst of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Take a look at my review of this epic retelling of this classic tale.
Walt Disney Animation Studios
Written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston
Based on a story by Bush, Johnston, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon and Jennifer Lee
Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first film of 2016 was fun and clever, and had a lot to to say thematically, though they might have been a bit too on-the-muzzle sometimes. The film definitely spoke about judging people based on stereotypes, and for the most part, it’s an interesting analogy.
The animation and production design are gorgeous! The animals have little animal quirks that add to the realism, such as Judy Hopps’ quivering nose. And the city of Zootopia itself is quite a place – with its different sectors to accommodate the environmental preferences of the residents. It would be a fun place to explore, and I hope Disney builds it in one of their theme parks.
Check out my detailed review for more thoughts.
Written by Kevin Reynolds and Peter Aiello
Based on a story by Aiello
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Risen was one of the most inspired retellings of the Crucifixion and Resurrection in years. The brilliant conceit is instantly engaging: the story is told from the perspective of a Roman Tribune who is charged with investigating the missing body of Christ.
This movie shows that given quality showmanship and experienced actors and director, Christian-themed films can be not only poignant but entertaining. The production value alone makes it better in style and substance than any of the most recent, “feel good” Christian fare.
For more details about this brilliant film, take a look at my detailed review.
6. Floyd Norman: An Animated Life
Michael Fiore Films
Based on the book by Floyd Norman
Directed by Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey
The film business is a rough life, particularly animation. And Floyd Norman has seen his share of the ups and downs. This documentary was a thoroughly enjoyable look at one of the unsung heroes of animation. I like documentaries quite a bit, but rarely do they ever appear in my Top 10 lists.
The film does what a great documentary should: reflect the personality of the subject matter in clever and engaging ways. With animated interstitials and clever gags, An Animated Life does just that. It’s also an honest portrayal – another hallmark of great documentary filmmaking. Norman’s charm lies in his easygoing nature and good humor. He’s a humble, affable guy that you would love to have conversations with.
5. Doctor Strange
Written by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
Based on characters appearing in Marvel Comics
Directed by Scott Derrickson
I like when the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes chances. It’s what makes coming to every filmic outing enjoyable. This film, based on a relatively unknown Marvel character, is visually and thematically very different from anything Marvel has done so far.
Mysticism has been introduced into the MCU with great care. Just like Thor’s world, director Scott Derrickson gave Doctor Strange a logic that makes it fit within the reality-based world they’ve created over many films. What surprised me most was how spiritual the movie was – dealing with real ethical dilemmas, the nature of evil, messing with the natural law, even knowing when to fight and what is worth fighting for.
Walt Disney Animation Studios
Written by Jared Bush
Based on a story by John Musker, Ron Clements, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon and Aaron & Jordan Kandell
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements
If I had to describe Moana in one word, it would have to be “beautiful” – one of the most beautiful animated features I have seen in a long time. Directed by Disney Animation vets John Musker and Ron Clements, Moana is a love letter to the natural beauty and exotic cultures of the South Pacific – filled with amazing visuals and stunning animation.
As with many other Disney features, there are a few memorable, catchy songs. I especially loved the ones that mixed the native languages of the island cultures. It gave the film an air of authenticity. Dwayne Johnson once again pours on the charisma as Maui, reluctantly helping out young Moana on her journey. As for Moana herself, newcomer Auli’i Cravalho fills the character with a sweet strength that is endearing.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy
Based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta
and characters created by George Lucas
Directed by Gareth Edwards
One of the best Star Wars films to date. I enjoyed this one slightly more than The Force Awakens, but not by much. What edges it out is that it’s an original story that builds on what has come before, rather than a rehashing. It was the real-world cost of obtaining the Death Star plans. These weren’t powerful Force-wielders, but regular grunts on the ground fighting the Empire.
I enjoyed this film’s connection to A New Hope, which is meticulous and airtight. It also explained one of my biggest beefs with Episode IV (though it’s still one of my top films of all time): why would the designers of the Death Star create this weapon with such a fatal flaw? It was an inspired choice.
However, as an avid fan of the Star Wars franchise, I must say that I missed the opening crawl. The entire opening, titles and all, was awkwardly handled. I understand that they were trying to do something different, but they still kept to tradition in the end credits, as well as keeping “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” I hope that future “Star Wars Stories” retain the crawl. It’s one of the tropes that makes the franchise.
2. Captain America: Civil War
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Based on characters appearing in Marvel Comics
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Captain America: Civil War is an awesome experience, jam-packed with what seems to be every Marvel geek’s fantasy. Cap, Black Widow, Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man (SPIDER-MAN!!) – they’re all here. My mind constantly went back to my ten-year-old self, playing with superhero action figures and pitting them against each other.
Did it have the same dramatic weight and action polish as the perennially brilliant Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which Civil War directors Anthony and Joe Russo also helmed)? No. But it is still very powerful and entertaining, and now holds the number two spot for 2016, as well as my number three spot on my top Marvel movie list.
Some wonder why this wasn’t considered just another Avengers movie. The Captain America title is definitely apt, though. Cap is the central character, and the film’s scope lacks the epic quality of the two previous Avengers films directed by Joss Whedon – and that is no doubt by design. It is the emotional payoff of a rift that has been felt between Captain America and Iron Man since they first met in The Avengers.
What makes Civil War one of 2016’s best is that it’s one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most ideologically and thematically heavy films. It doesn’t have a James Spader-voiced robot waxing philosophically; it’s definitely more subtle. There were two very big ideas at play. The first was a question of government regulation, and its effectiveness at preventing collateral damage. The larger idea, however, is a spiritual one, and it drove almost all the central combatants in this story.
Take a look at my in-depth review of Civil War for more insights.
1. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Written by Chuck Hogan
Based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff
Directed by Michael Bay
When given a good script that utilizes his strengths, Michael Bay is a very talented and competent filmmaker. He has influenced modern filmmaking in ways most of us aren’t even aware. I know that might be blasphemous for some film fans to even consider, but this movie proves it.
13 Hours is one of the best war movies I’ve seen, and it’s Bay’s best film by far. It had grit, heart, likable characters and a harrowing story that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. The best thing about 13 Hours is that it’s fair. Bay just tells the story – no bias. He makes no bones that the whole situation was a tragedy, even going so far as showing the aftermath for the other side.
More than anything else, 13 Hours was a frustrating reminder of how those in power refuse to do the right thing for the sake of “optics” – political mumbo-jumbo for “how things look.” The Obama Administration underestimated the belligerent force in Libya and refused to help when things went terribly wrong because they didn’t want to admit that a coordinated terrorist attack was happening on their watch. The bureaucracy crippled the real heroes from doing the right thing and it cost lives. But the most frustrating thing is that the civilian leadership will never have to answer for what happened, and they will still blame it all on a silly video.
13 Hours gives the honor to those six men who fought a modern-day Alamo that most of the American populace will probably forget about in the years to come. Bay deserves all the credit in the world for making a spectacular re-creation of this event -and keep intact all the emotion, dramatic irony and righteous anger involved.
So what do you think of my list? Are there any you felt should have been on (or taken off)? And what movies are you looking forward to in 2017?