What a strange first half of the year it’s been for movies. Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve seen and some superlative awards. Keep in mind this year is backloaded more than most.
Everything I’ve seen this year one way or the other.
The Lobster (A+): My favorite film in a minute, The Lobster finds humor and tragedy through a great premise. Even when its story veers from that premise it still resonates due to the outstanding performances and photography.
Zootopia (A-): As a message movie it trumps Pixar’s recent offerings (yes, even Inside Out) due to its “work your butt off” approach and wholly realized world-building. As an escapist animated romp it has jokes for days, great music, and some outstanding voice work. Hard to do better than this.
Green Room (A-): The late Anton Yelchin gives a powerhouse turn in this gorgeously shot thriller that is truly a thinking man’s genre film, if such thing exists. Director Jeremy Saulnier is a rising star.
The Jungle Book (B+): A testament to how amazing the right 3D CGI can be. The actual jungle is layered, the animals all jump off the screen. In spirit it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be but still manages to pull off emotional gut punches at the right times.
Midnight Special (B+): The last ten minutes will frustrate those who demand concrete answers but the road there is spectacular. A Spielbergian chase movie filled with great performances and a sense of wonder via its camera work you rarely see in movies anymore. Jeff Nichols scores again.
Born to be Blue (B+): Ethan Hawke gives a powerhouse performances as Chet Baker. He’s so good that the films questionable handling of the Jazz legend doesn’t distract.
Demolition (B): It’s Gyllenhaal who lifts what’s otherwise a TV movie. He transcends everything at this point, as we saw last year with Southpaw.
Captain America: Civil War (B): It falls victim to its franchise obligations down the stretch but it’s a fast-moving movie that includes the best action sequence Marvel has done yet, also successfully introduces Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.
Triple 9 (B): A tight thriller that utilizes a great cast to overcome some genre clichés. Anthony Mackie in specific is outstanding.
Knight of Cups (B): Terrence Malick’s nonchalance when it comes to narrative as a whole proves frustrating but the film includes the beauty you expect of Malick and is a little smarter than it gets credit for.
The Finest Hours (B-): Throwback to those sort of cheesy heroism movies. It doesn’t have the guts to be anything more but the great cast always keeps it watchable. Powerful, even.
Deadpool (C+): Its wit runs dry around the midway point and then you’re left wondering why the hell you care. A funny, refreshing movie but one that’ll have to find more within its characters to prove a successful franchise.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (C+): It struggles to get over Michael Bay’s worst tendencies (messy noise, indecipherable action) but it’s a more mature movie than you expect. It will give you feels.
Hail, Caesar! (C): My problem with this film from the Coen Bros is that its main character (Josh Brolin) is by far the least interesting person in the damn thing. It has some great individual scenes and the design elements are fun but it never reels you in.
The Witch (C): Am I missing something? Do I misunderstand what makes a good horror film? I found this dreadfully boring despite my appreciation for its aesthetic merits on such on a small budget.
Finding Dory (C-): It takes way too many liberties with its story. Its supporting characters fail to provide consistent laughs or feels. This is a straight-up bad movie hidden behind Pixar’s animation skills and Ellen DeGeneres’ vocal charm.
X-Men: Apocalypse (C-): The new faces provide life and there a few specific moments that are spectacular but the film is a messy smorgasbord of questionable visuals with so little at stake despite having “Apocalypse” in its title.
Free State of Jones (D+): Too reliant on speeches as opposed to images or any actual character work. A potentially fascinating story is butchered by a writer/director (Gary Ross) scared to dive into it. A TV movie.
The Shallows (D+): Blake Lively does the best she can but the shooting style doesn’t allow the film to ever really look good despite its gorgeous star and setting. Cut together in a way that gives you a headache and it never delivers the tension it promises.
Independence Day: Resurgence (D-): Fails even as a self-parody. Nothing new is good, and the old overestimates the quality of the scenes it references. An unwanted sequel completely bereft of any life, even Jeff Goldblum is boring here.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (D-): It’s horrible, and not just because it’s self-serious. The lighting and digital coloring make many key action scenes indecipherable. The performance from Henry Cavill as Supes is so flat that every scene he’s in is ruined by his mere presence. The film whips through potentially interesting franchise setups, instead preferring to wallow in its own misery. It’s only not an “F” because Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot seem like good casting choices.
MVP of the First Half: Idris Elba’s deep and extremely British voice, which he lent to Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Finding Dory.
LVP of the First Half: Zack Snyder. It has always been Zack Snyder.
Male Scene-Stealer: Tom Holland as a Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. He’s a good kid and he has homework to do.
Female Scene-Stealer: The great Kate Winslet as the wife of mob boss in Triple 9.
Gender Neutral Scene-Stealer: The seagull from The Shallows, easily one of best avian performances in cinematic history.
Best Meta Moment: “What? The studio couldn’t afford another X-Man?” – quips Wade Wilson/Deadpool as he visits a certain mansion in Deadpool.
Worst Meta Moment: Young Jean Grey saying “The third one is always the worst” after seeing The Return of the Jedi in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Best Shot: This gem from The Lobster with pudgy Colin Farrell sitting alone. The framing and reflections emphasize the beauty of the hotel setting but also the loneliness that drives the whole film.
Worst Shot: From Batman v Superman. It has always been Zack Snyder.
Best Action Sequence: The whole airport battle from Captain America: Civil War. Every character had something to do, it was emotionally gripping, and Giant-Man looked incredible. The type of scene a kid would dream up. Awesome.
Worst Action Sequence: The telepathic battle at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse, which I still don’t understand and was a very anticlimactic way to end a movie.
Best Internet Argument: The rankings of Coen Bros movies practically every film critic did when Hail, Caesar! came out. They have such a prolific and diverse filmography. My top five, subject to change when I want it to-
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- Miller’s Crossing
- Barton Fink
- The Big Lebowski
Worst Internet Argument: EVERYTHING involving the new Ghostbusters. It’s everyone’s fault. The “they’re ruining my childhood!” people need to reevaluate some thing if they’re being genuine. But also, the journalists labeling everyone who thinks it looks like crap as bigots or misogynists are unbearably self-important. Fuck all of you.
On that note, looking forward to more movies!
“Does anyone have any orange slices?”