Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Captain America: Civil War
The Little Prince
10 Cloverfield Lane
Every year, I struggle to write one of these Top Ten lists. I’m certain that in a few months I’ll look back at this list and think “Why wasn’t X movie on it?” and “That one shouldn’t have been.” But regardless, I will now attempt to put together my ten favorite films of the year. Judging by my taste in movies, it should be an interesting selection. So, let’s get started.
Also, Honorable Mentions:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Captain America: Civil War
The Little Prince
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 - Sausage Party
Okay- I am aware of the fact that in terms of film-making quality Sausage Party is far inferior to anything else on this list. And yet, it’s still on the list because, of all the movies I saw over the year, this one made me laugh the most (and considering how many of the movies on this list are comedies, that’s no small feat). A horror comedy about talking food that realize they will soon be eaten, this is a movie that has everything from stupid food puns to highly offensive ethnic stereotypes to extremely graphic violence. Oh, and did I mention the giant food orgy at the end? I know, it’s incredibly dumb- but I dare you to watch and not have a damn good time.
9 - Moana
The Third Disney Golden Age (or Second Disney Renaissance) is still going strong. In contrast to Disney’s other release this year (I’ll get to that soon), Moana is a classic Disney fantasy story, but updated for the 21st century. This includes both animation technology (the film is absolutely gorgeous), the music (I hate how Lin Manuel Miranda is more talented than I ever will be) and content wise (it’s always good to see more women and people of color as protagonists). Plus, it has Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson singing. What more could you ask?
8 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I struggled with the placement of Rogue One on this list, since last year I placed The Force Awakens in slot number four and later regretted it. Now the opposite will probably happen and I’ll regret not placing it lower. But regardless, Rogue One is the movie that shows that the Star Wars franchise has room for lots of different kinds of movies. Whereas the other entries are epic space operas, this is a dark, gritty war movie. I had always wondered what a darker Star Wars movie would be like, and know I have my answer: it is awesome.
7 - Green Room
New studio A24 (who have released three of the films on this list) and director Jeremy Saulnier (creator of Blue Ruin) both continue to impress with Green Room. The way I see it, there’s two good kinds of horror movie- compelling psychological horror and edge-of-your-seat thriller films, and Green Room is an excellent example of the latter. I can’t remember the last film I saw that created tension and suspense as well as this movie. Plus, whoever would have thought that Patrick Stewart would play such a good Nazi? Although it was unfortunately one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles, Green Room will go down as one of the best horror-thrillers of the decade.
6 - Arrival
After already proving himself with the excellent Prisoners and Sicario, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve continues to distinguish himself as one of Hollywood’s new great directors with Arrival. The story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial life, Arrival is certainly the most intelligent movie of the year, which is especially refreshing considering how rare smart sci-fi movies are. This, in combination with Bradford Young’s impeccable cinematography and a tour de force by Amy Adams (the fact that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar this year but Meryl Streep was for the fiftieth time appalls me) creates one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century so far. Now we just wait and see how Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is like.
5 - Zootopia
For a long time I struggled with which of Disney’s two movies I should put on this list, until eventually I came to the realization of: “Why not both?” Like I said above, Zootopia is very different from Moana, being a buddy cop movie (or bunny-cop movie) with talking animals. It’s clever, funny, and incredibly entertaining. But what really bumps this movie up so high is its message regarding tolerance, prejudice, and pre-judging someone because of who they are. Although some complained the movie’s message is heavy-handed, judging by recent events I don’t think this is at all a bad thing (some anvils need to be dropped after all).
4 - Deadpool
Hey everyone! It’s me again: Deadpool! I know you’ve all been missing me, so I thought I’d stop in and say hi! So it turns out, people like me. I know, shocker, right? In fact, judging by the giant checks I keep getting in the mail, people like me almost as much as they like Jesus! I am pissed off that the Academy didn’t just mail me all the Oscars though- I mean, they nominated Meryl Streep for fucking Florence Foster Jenkins and I get nothing?! Fuck that shit, who needs em’- I’ve got a sequel to make!
3 - The Lobster
Almost certainly the least-known movie on this list, The Lobster is a masterfully dark, cynical comedy. It has no clear message- it starts by satirizing our compulsive need to be a part of relationships, then turns around and makes fun of people who aren’t in relationships. Its equal opportunity humor and just sort of hates everything, demonstrated by the film’s ability to make you laugh at some really awful subjects. Although the bizarre premise (people who can’t find love are turned into animals) and grim tone will ensure that it remains a highly niche film, I think The Lobster is one of the funniest films released in quite some time.
2 - Swiss Army Man
Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking: “Why is the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie on your top ten of the year list?” Well, as you have surely figured out from the list already, I love bizarre, absurdist humor, and in a year chock-full of this type of comedy, Swiss Army Man stands at the top of the pack. Weird, crass, yet oddly poignant, Swiss Amy Man will make you laugh by using Daniel Radcliffe’s fart-filled body as a speedboat and yet still make you smile at the budding friendship between him and Paul Dano and the life lessons they learn as they travel back to civilization. It is a wholly unique film, and I doubt that I’ll anything as weird and wonderful for some time (excepting, of course, the last entry on this list).
1 - The Neon Demon
I still can’t believe I saw advance screenings of Swiss Army Man and The Neon Demon on the same day- by the time the credits rolled for Refn’s latest film I was sure I was in some sort of fever dream. I’m really not sure what it says about my mental state that this is my favorite film of the year, but it’s just so bizarre and horrible and incredibly beautiful. A cynical look at the nature of beauty, desire, envy, and power, Refn looks at the world of high fashion and sees a world filled with monsters. It is certain to shock and appall you, but sometimes that is what the best cinema does. It is a movie that, if nothing else, you will never forget.
I have titled this “My Most Hated Films of 2016” rather than “Worst of 2016” for a reason. These are the movies that I believe to be the ten worst out of the selection of films I saw in which were released in 2016. Thus, it is highly possible that more atrocious piles of garbage oozed out of the drudgerous orifices which festered off the decaying, decrepit mass that was the year 2016, but I didn’t have the misfortune of seeing those dumpster-fires. I didn’t see Norm of the North. Or Dirty Grandpa. Or Collateral Beauty. Or Mother’s Day.
So keep that in mind when you read this list and think “Psh, he could have seen worse.” Trust me, I know. But that didn’t make these ten any less painful to sit through. Welcome to my annual vent session. Let’s begin.
10 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
If you had shown me a list of the ten movies that appear in this article at the beginning of 2016, told me they were the worst films I was going to see that year and asked me to rank them on how shitty I assumed they would be, I probably would have put this movie a hell of a lot higher than this. Considering the movie to which it is a sequel, the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was my most hated movie of that year, I assumed that a sequel would only compound upon the problems of the original. However, to be perfectly honest, this movie is leagues better than the original. The turtles themselves are far less annoying, more characters from the original cartoon appear and an action sequence involving a tank and a waterfall happens that is actually pretty entertaining.
However, being better than the first movie is not enough to save this one from being a tired, poorly put-together action flop. Though the four protagonist brothers managed to be significantly less irksome in this film, the villainous henchman Bebop and Rocksteady filled that void almost immediately. They reminded me of a slightly less racist Skids and Mudflap from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which is a comparison that I do not give lightly. On top of that, the movie is bogged down with Stephen Amell’s terribly boring performance as the iconic TMNT character Casey Jones, the fact that the camera in Michael Bay-produced movies still seems to think Megan Fox is a sex object and the same pointless in-fighting between the turtles that all of these movies have. In the end, we were left with a poor attempt to cash in on the 80’s nostalgia wave and an example of what happens when you do what the fans want, but do it wrong.
9 - Warcraft
Let me preface this by saying that though I am an avid gamer, I have virtually no experience with the Warcraft universe. I never played the original games or the highly popular World of Warcraft, so my experience with this movie was likely far different than that of someone who has spent the past decade enjoying the stories and characters of the expansive fictional universe. That being said, I find it hard to believe I would have enjoyed this movie even if I was a fan of the games. A generic fantasy spectacle film with little in the way of interesting characters or narrative probably wouldn’t have been enough to make this list, but I certainly don’t think I would have enjoyed it either.
There are problems, however, that I feel like stem inherently from the fact that I have no knowledge of the Warcraft universe outside this movie, which made me as a viewer feel as though the movie was not made with anyone like me in mind. The first half of the film cuts between locations, characters and plot points with little regard for those in the theatre who don’t know what the fuck is going on. I felt like the 80 year olds that you expect to see confused throughout a Lord of the Rings movie, as I was constantly looking at a friend of mine and asking “Who’s that guy?” or “Where are they?”. As he had also never played Warcraft, he had no idea either.
Eventually, this issue bottoms out when the film gives way to its very generic story, but this merely shifts the issue over to the film’s characters. Perhaps these characters, all of whom fit generic fantasy archetypes without any level of innovation or creativity, would be more interesting to me if I knew their backstory or personality from playing the games. Or perhaps these characters are equally dull and lifeless in the games. Either way, the final product we are left with is a movie that seems to have little regard for anyone in the audience who isn’t familiar with the source material and does nothing to make up for this fact.
8 - X-Men: Apocalypse
Have you ever seen a movie that was so over-the-top with its dramatic elements that you found yourself laughing out loud during sections that were obviously meant to be pivotal and emotional moments in the film? Have you ever, upon seeing one of the main character's wife and young daughter killed in what is meant to be a heart-breaking scene, actually had to stifle a snort of laughter in order to not seem like a horrible asshole? Or perhaps guffawed when the main villain is trying to be intimidating by cutting off someone's head with sand (yes, you read that correctly) because the CGI is so appallingly bad that it looks like an effect from the late 90’s?
If you answered yes to these questions, than you have seen X-Men: Apocalypse. This movie takes everything interesting about the good X-Men films, throws it out the window and tries to go for the spectacle, mind-numbing action angle. It never tries to talk about the deeper implications of being a mutant in the real world (something all the good X-Men movies do), but instead throws a series of increasingly ridiculous scenarios at the wall hoping something will stick. The terrible special effects quality mixed with lackluster villain characters make the action segments a chore. The performances by the newest members of the team are just as sloppy as the writing of the film itself, with even X-Men veterans like James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult falling prey to the poor script. Worst of all may be the films portrayal of Magneto, whose allegiance seems to be as easily changed as Batman (I’ll get to that later). This is easily the worst Magneto performance we’ve ever seen, which is a shame seeing as Michael Fassbender portrayed him so well in his other two films.
In one scene, some of the younger X-Men are seen walking out of a screening of Return of the Jedi. As they exit, they are debating whether or not the movie was better than the original Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back. As they argue, one of them snidely remarks that the “third film in the series is always the worst”. I couldn’t agree more.
7 - Gods of Egypt
Whitewashing in Hollywood is a big problem, and it’s one that continues to surface as studios continue to be reluctant to cast minority actors in lead roles. And while I could go on for pages about the politics behind whitewashing, I’ll spare you and merely focus on one of 2016’s worst examples of it. Gods of Egypt, seemingly a knock-off of the already abysmal Clash of the Titans series, is about a young Egyptian man trying to help a once-powerful god get his eye back so he can defeat another, far more sinister god. I want you to guess how many of those three main characters are Egyptian. Or even Middle-eastern. Or even non-white.
Of course they aren’t. One is Australian, another Danish and another Scottish. And maybe this wouldn’t be an issue that I’d care so much about if the movie wasn’t a goddamn mess, but it is. The action is sloppy and the special effects are borderline intolerable, which is pretty unforgivable for a movie whose sole purpose is to have flashy action sequences. I wish I could talk about the plot of the movie, but I can’t remember a single thing that happened in the film, as every action set piece was so jarring that I didn’t even really know what was going on while I was watching.
And then, as if the film wants to remind you that they don’t give a shit about hiring even vaguely region accurate actors, Gerard Butler’s performance hits you over the head like an anvil from a fucking Tom and Jerry cartoon. His performance is laughably ridiculous, not even trying to mask his Scottish accent as he screams at the top of his lungs. If not for the genuinely charming banter between the film’s two protagonists, this film may have easily been in my bottom three.
6 - Risen
There are two types of religious movies: the historic religious epic and the modern Christian drama, the latter of which I have no experience with. The former category has produced some excellent films, with movies like the classic The Ten Commandments and the animated The Prince of Egypt just two great examples. However, Risen completely fails to be anything other than one of the most boring movies I have seen over the last few years. The story of the Roman man tasked with finding the body of Jesus Christ may seem like an interesting idea for a story, but lackluster performances and terrible pacing makes the movie feel like it's trying to trudge through three feet of mud.
The movie is filled to the brim with expository dialogue, delivered from the mouths of actors who seem almost as bored on set as we were in the theatre. And the lack of emotional weight from any of the actors makes anything that may have been exciting in the movie fall insanely flat. I wish I had more to say about the film, but the only word that even comes to mind when I think about it is boring. It’s a total drag to sit through, and I implore that you avoid the monotony that it offers.
5 - Suicide Squad
Poor, poor DC comics. You tried so hard to be Marvel, but you just couldn’t do it. You saw Guardians of the Galaxy and thought you’d try your hand at a similar concept, throwing in that darker spin that people love (in theory) about you. Unfortunately, you apparently didn’t understand anything about why people liked Guardians of the Galaxy and are still completely ignorant to the fact that dark doesn't work unless it's well written.
Supposedly edited together by the same people that put together the film’s trailer, Suicide Squad doesn’t ever seem to stop and give you a moment to breathe. With its over-saturated color palate and constant cacophony of sound and effects, the film feels like a headache that refuses to go away, pounding at the inside of your skull with no relief in sight besides just leaving the fucking theatre. The rapidity of the cuts between shots doesn’t make things any better, and merely stands to remind the audience of how many times it appears this film was reworked to try and make it into something palatable.
On the off chance that the film does give you a goddamn second to think, you start to realize that the sensory overload of the majority of the film is probably there to distract you from the horrible writing and completely detestable characters. The movie tries to pass off its characters as charming villains, bad guys who you can root for because they are fun to watch and share this inseparable connection. What the movie gives us is a bunch of unlikeable assholes, each with fewer positive qualities than the last who seem to just loudly clamor for the spotlight. And while all of the performances are bad in their own right, the most egregious by far is Jared Leto as what is probably the worst Joker in the history of Batman films. In the end, Suicide Squad's biggest fault is that it has completely turned me off the DC cinematic universe, extinguishing the last bit of hope that Marvel would have some kind of competition.
4 - Nine Lives
Movies like this make me wonder whether or not actors got in trouble for doing some really illegal or immoral shit. Like maybe Kevin Spacy really is Frank Underwood and he pushed a young reporter in front of a train, and the only person who saw him do it was Barry Sonnenfeld. And then Sonnenfeld promised Spacey he wouldn’t tell anybody so long as he agreed to star in Nine Lives, a film that looks and feels like a cheaper, worse version of The Shaggy Dog. That would explain why Spacey looks so pained every time he is on screen in this film, and why the majority of the movie is him saying unfunny, snarky crap while a CGI cat jumps around.
This movie feels like you dug up the worst time capsule from the 90’s about 300 years too early. Every element of this movie is a copy-and-paste trope of two-decade old family films, and these tropes have aged less like a fine wine and more like rotten meat. Before the movie even begins, you will have already figured out every intricacy of the plot, as the filmmakers have not even attempted to deviate from the kind of drivel this film seeks to mimic. The characters are shallow, dialogue unbearable, and the set design ghastly. I’d dare you to try and find a single shot in the movie that doesn’t have abrasively bright red in it, but that would mean you’d have to watch the movie and I don’t want you to have to do that.
On top of all of that, the film has some of the worst, most uncomfortable CGI I have seen in recent years. For shots where the filmmakers needed the cat to do something wacky or a stunt that would probably severely injure it, a CG effect that looks eerily like the dog from Son of the Mask plops onto screen and burns itself deep into both your retinas and your nightmares. During a scene towards the end of the movie, where a character jumps off the roof of a building and the cat follows, I actually started to think I was having some kind of fever dream. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
3 - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
I don’t like Zack Synder movies. I don’t like how they're written, directed, stylized, shot or edited. His film’s colors are always overly washed-out and macabre, dialogue lifelessly dismal and cynical, and action (while at first interesting) overblown. And, when he decides that his movies are going to say something about society or the human condition, he never stops to take a second and wonder “Did what I just write make literally any fucking sense, or am I just speaking poetically out my ass?”.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice epitomises the Zack Synder filmmaking code: all style, no substance. The film pits Batman and Superman against each other for reasons so sloppily cobbled together that I expect the writers assumed nobody would give a shit so long as the two heroes beat the fuck out of each other. The movie spends two grueling hours building up this unbelievable hatred between the two heroes, only to have it all fall apart when Batman realizes that their mothers share the same name (I’m not kidding). This movie features the dumbest Batman in the history of film, the least charismatic and most boring Superman in the history of film and a Lex Luthor that acts more like a hand-me-down Joker than the cocky businessman that he is supposed to be.
All of the movie’s stupidity and poor writing culminates when Batman and Superman eventually team up with Wonder Woman against Doomsday, a creation made by Lex Luthor to destroy Earth. Why does Luthor want to destroy Earth? Why does he even hate Superman in the first place? Why was it so easy for him to create Doomsday? What even is Doomsday? None of these questions are even remotely answered. The movie ends with the death of Superman, completely wasted on a film in which no one in the audience even remotely gave a shit about Superman, followed by the implication that Superman isn't actually dead, because God forbid they take a single risk in this dumpster-fire of a script. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse than Man of Steel, Snyder one upped himself with this detritus. I’m almost impressed.
2 - The Choice
Did you know there are twelve movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels? Twelve?!? That means if you wanted to spend 21.95 hours (I did the math) watching boring characters attempt to pull at your heartstrings by talking about the power of love and revel in how pretty they are, you can. After watching The Choice, I feel like making that decision is almost certifiable, but that’s your decision to make. I am but a humble critic, and this is but a souless trash-heap of a film.
These kind of movies aren’t my cup of tea to begin with, but I feel like I could have slightly more appreciation for the movie if the characters felt like people and not cardboard cut-outs of GQ and Victoria’s Secret models. The two leads have virtually no personality to speak of, which means that their chemistry in non-existent. And in a movie which hinges on the audience caring about the relationship between these two (seeing as nothing of note happens until the last 15 minutes of the movie), this makes the film preposterously boring. Imagine the ‘staring at each other’ segments from Drive, accept the characters aren’t developed, the director has no stylistic vision and the dialogue feels like it came off a goddamn throw pillow.
Once something finally does happen, prompting one of the lead characters to make the titular ‘choice’, it feels like it comes completely out of left field. Essentially, the female lead (I honestly don’t care enough to look up her character's name) gets hit by a car and the male lead has to choose whether or not to pull the plug. She has an expressly written will that says, if put in this situation, she wants to be taken off the life support, but the male lead selfishly can’t do it. When the female lead eventually recovers, it frames this as a triumph of the love of the male lead, as if it is somehow wrong to do the thing that your significant other wanted in that situation rather than leaving them in a state that they specifically said they didn’t want to be in. And that’s the tone of the whole film. Idealism with a hint of naivety and a side of bullshit. No thanks.
1 - Masterminds
The bad comedy is the worst kind of movie. Most of the bad films above have some, albeit minute, redeeming qualities that keep the film from being categorized with the worst of the worst. However, these qualities are usually either a good score, action sequences or use of cinematography. These are not generally the focuses of a comedy film, and thus a comedy that isn’t funny has none of these traits to potentially fall back on. Comedy films tend to rely solely on the jokes that they make, which make the great ones amazing and the bad ones nigh unwatchable. Masterminds falls firmly into the latter category, as a film that is so out of touch with what is actually funny that it manages to be one of the least funny films I have ever seen.
The movie feels like it was written by a bunch of twelve years olds, or by the kinds of people that think uncreative toilet humor is hilarious. And where 2016’s Deadpool was clever along with being crude, this film decides that all it needs to do is show something raunchy or say something ridiculous to get a laugh. It feels like watching a problem child cry out for attention every few seconds by loudly farting or saying something about poop. The film seems like it is desperately vying for the attention of the audience without having a fucking clue as to what an audience actually wants out of a film.
Here are some of the film’s highlight moments of comedy. Zach Galifianakis and Kate McKinnon, an unhappily married couple, take awkward photos on a swingset. Full stop. Galifianakis puts talcum powder on his taint. Full stop. Galifianakis gets Montezuma's Revenge and poops in a pool. Full fucking stop. The entire movie is like this: an unfunny piece of comedy that has no set-up or punch-line to speak of. Scenes abruptly start and end with no purpose, with nothing to distract you from the fact that genuinely funny people like Galifianakis, McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson are dying brutal deaths right in front of you. It is a horrible, unpleasant, festering waste-heap of a film. I squirmed in my seat uncomfortably for its 96 minute runtime, which felt as if an eternity would be shorter. To quote the excellent 90’s comedy television show The Critic, “It stinks”.
AJ Martin's Top Ten Films of 2016
I just wanted to quickly mention a few other films from 2016 that I really liked, but didn’t make the list. Captain America: Civil War was quite possibly the first time a Marvel film did drama really well, bringing some of the MCU’s best action, story and character interaction. American Honey was one of the most genuine and human films I saw last year, with excellent performances by Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf and beautiful cinematography. The Neon Demon oozed with Nicolas Winding Refn’s style and visual genius, with some stellar performances to boot. Zootopia was a creative and fun Disney experience, with some deeper themes that will probably resonate for years to come.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to my favorite films of 2016!
10 - Silence
Martin Scorsese’s passion-project/ period piece about Jesuit priests trying to find their old mentor in 17th century Japan is a breathtakingly beautiful film, both in terms of its visual style and its performances. Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are all incredible as priests struggling to spread their religion in a land in which it is forbidden, and their performances are only enhanced by the gorgeous natural landscapes upon which the film is shot. The story tackles issues of religious persecution and faith in a dynamic, interesting and seamless way, creating a story that is as intriguing as it is morbid. I highly recommend Silence to any fan of Scorsese's work, or just about anybody in the mood for an excellent, heavy drama.
9 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first of probably many spin-off stories to take place in the Star Wars universe, Rouge One adds a touch of originality to the canon that The Force Awakens seemed to lack. This film is a war movie first and a Star Wars movie second, soaking in the darker tone and deeper themes of a team of rebels tasked with what is essentially a suicide mission. With a cast of mostly really interesting characters (I personally feel Jyn Erso is boring), the movie manages to break from the potential pit of monotony that this series easily could have fallen into to deliver an intriguing look at a familiar universe. Plus, the last 30 minutes feature some of the best action in any movie from 2016, which a scene involving Darth Vader that actually left me speechless. This is a Star Wars film that I would easily recommend to anyone, even if the other films in the series aren’t your favorites. A fresh take on an old classic, this is.
8 - Deadpool
In a year with some truly abysmal superhero fodder, Deadpool breaches the monotony of an overworked genre and manages to deliver something truly original and hilarious. Ryan Reynolds’ performance as the merc with a mouth creates one of the stand-out characters of the year, who flings hilariously creative jabs at previous superhero works, pop culture icons and even his own film. The movie also effortlessly turns its own budget issues into pieces of comedy, flowing with the punches like few films I have ever seen. After 10 years of trying to get the film made, Reynolds and director Tim Miller one of the best action movies and one of the best comedies of the year. Definitely worth a watch for some truly original superhero content!
7 - The Nice Guys
One of my most anticipated movies of 2016, The Nice Guys practically drips with style. The film revels in its 1970’s setting, with probably my favorite aesthetic of any film from the year. The excellent atmosphere is enhanced by stellar chemistry between Ryan Gosling’s bumbling private investigator and Russell Crowe’s stoic muscle-for-hire, plus an excellent performance by Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter. This movie continues to prove that Gosling can perform as virtually any character, moving seamlessly from being a cool, quiet driver in Drive to his buffoon of a character in this film. It is an excellent, joyous romp that pays homage to a decade that was, if anything, a little more vibrant.
6 - Green Room
I am not a horror movie guy, especially the kind of stuff that is over reliant on jump-scares or cheap horror elements to get a few screams out of the tweens in the audience. Luckily, Green Room avoids all of the lazy conventions of bad horror and creates one of the most tense and nail-biting experiences of 2016. The cliche of being on the edge of your seat was created for movies like this, where the intensity is dialed up to 11 and stays there for practically the entire runtime. The performances are captivating (Patrick Stewart plays a Neo-Nazi), the story gripping and the violence so gritty and real that you will find yourself jumping at the sight of it. It’s a high-octane experience that you won’t be able to forget, even if you try.
5 - Manchester By the Sea
Having grown up just an hour’s drive away from Boston, I am always looking out for films about the area that capture the essence of Massachusetts people. Most of the time, movie’s interpretations of Bostonians are far too over-the-top, and they just end up feelinging like a slightly reworked version of a stereotypical New-Yorker. Manchester By the Sea avoids this problem better than any Boston film I have ever seen, managing to capture the tone of the area without exploiting it. The characters, masterfully crafted by Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and the rest of the cast, feel like real New England people. The overwhelmingly genuine nature of the performances and writing, along with a heartbreakingly tragic story, make Manchester By the Sea a spectacular viewing experience. If you watch it, prepare to be blown away. And cry. A lot.
4 - Moana
I loved this movie like most people seemed to love Frozen. I thought Frozen was a decent film, but nothing near as good as this. Moana is a beautifully animated, excellently written masterwork by Disney, a film that encompasses everything lovely about the classic Disney story. The film’s Polynesian setting and culture, enhanced by excellently written characters and wonderfully colorful music (lyrics by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda), make for one of the most charming movies of the recent Disney wave. It has everything a Disney fan could possibly ask for, including Dwayne Johnson rapping. How could you ask for any more than that?
3 - Moonlight
When I saw Moonlight, I made the mistake of seeing Doctor Strange in 3D beforehand. Needless to say, I walking into Moonlight with a massive headache and expected to have my experience somewhat tarnished. Fortunately for me, Barry Jenkins created a film so captivating and emotionally powerful that it was impossible for my experience to be ruined by something so trivial as physical pain. The story of a young African-American from Miami learning to come to terms with both his life and his sexuality is enthralling, effortlessly created by some of the best performances and cinematography of the year. Moonlight was probably the most profound film I saw in 2016, a movie that speaks deeply to what life in America can be like. It was an amazing experience to behold.
2 - La La Land
This was a movie tailor-made for lovers of film; a brilliant homage to classic 1950’s musicals with all the vibrancy and energy that you would expect. Damien Chazelle combines his brilliant writing and visual style with a love for music that feels unparalleled, creating a masterful musical that manages to perfectly capture the essence of classic cinema. With stunning performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, fantastic musical numbers and a heartwarming yet bittersweet story about following your dream, La La Land was everything that I could have hoped it would be. Most people seem to be assuming that this is a shoo-in for Best Picture, and I find it hard to challenge that. Honestly, I think it is well deserved.
1 - Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika is one of the most innovative and imaginative film studios around, creating some of the best films one could possibly hope to find. Coraline and Paranorman are two of my favorite films of the past decade, so I was incredibly excited to see how they would tackle Kubo and the Two Strings, a film which from its mere announcement excited me (probably because it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, Samurai Jack). Not only was I not disappointed by the film we got, but I was once again blown away by the artistry and talent of the Laika team. Kubo and the Two Strings is breathtakingly beautiful, capturing the setting with grace and precision using Laika’s trademark stop-motion style. The opening of the film, which involves a young boy named Kubo taking care of his sick mother, is some of the most subtle, expertly crafted storytelling of recent film, taking its time and not pandering to its potentially young audience. From there, the film continues to tackle difficult themes effortlessly, using its brilliant character writing and screenplay to captivate the audience. I can't think of a single moment watching Kubo where I wasn’t amazed by almost every aspect of the film. It disappoints me that I live in a world where this movie was a commercial bomb and Batman v. Superman makes $870 million. So, please, support this movie by checking it out. You won’t regret it, I promise.
2016 was a terrible year for everything except for film. Amidst this horror show of a year, some really incredible filmmakers put out some really incredible works of art. After much agony, I have compiled my definitive top ten films of the year (along with a few honorable mentions, because why not).
Editor's note: It is once again time for our yearly movie round-up- the rest of this week we will be publishing lists of our writer's favorites films. Note that these are not the movies that we think are the objectively best, merely our personal favorites. So, please enjoy.
Hell or High Water
10 - 20th Century Women
The first of five A24 releases featured in my 2016 movie roundup, 20th Century Women is a funny and poignant story about three women in the 1970s who band together to raise a boy. These women are all in the boy’s life in incredibly different capacities: Julie, seventeen, is his friend; Abbie, mid-twenties, is renting the spare room in his house; Dorothea, mid-fifties, is his mother. While trying to sort out the best way to raise a good man without a man to raise him, these three Twentieth Century women explore love, sex, and their own personal happiness. The casting of this film is flawless: Annette Bening is AMAZING as always, Elle Fanning is lovely, and Greta Gerwig is truly at her best. Its concern with feminism is a powerful and important message that easily spans from the 1970s setting to modern day.
9 - American Honey
As the rest of this list will continue to prove, I am a huge fan of A24. In their four short years of existence, they have truly done no wrong in my eyes. Their release American Honey is no exception. A road movie about a “mag crew” (a traveling magazine sales group), the film is a candid look at Middle America and has a kickass soundtrack. One of the film’s greatest assets is the chemistry between Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Sasha Lane, who was discovered while on spring break in Florida. The way Jake (Shia) charms Star (Sasha) makes him incredibly charismatic, despite his disgusting rat tail hairdo. At a whopping two hours and forty-three minutes, American Honey is a long but engaging road trip with an ensemble cast made up entirely of first-time actors, aside from Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough. This cast assists director Andrea Arnold in telling a raw story about young adults with no one to turn to but each other.
8 - Swiss Army Man
If Daniel Radcliffe hadn’t already broken free from the Harry Potter pigeonhole, he certainly has now. Another A24 release, Swiss Army Man features Radcliffe as a farting corpse whose boner is a compass, along with Paul Dano as his lost and depressed companion. Critically, this film has received mixed reception, and I think that is due to how goddamn weird it is. To me, however, that is what makes it so endearing. I had never seen anything like this before and, in today’s film industry of franchises and reboots, that is something I cannot often say. Despite all its hilarious crassness, Swiss Army Man is a lovely and surprisingly touching story about friendship. To the critics who were shocked by its weirdness: the one sheet features Paul Dano riding on the back of Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse. Come on, what did you really expect?
7 - Everybody Wants Some!!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention by complete obsession with Richard Linklater. I truly think he’s a cinematic genius and I love basically everything he’s ever done. So when I heard that a so-called spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused was to be released, I was over the moon and could not wait to see it. Luckily, my expectations were generously met. Everybody Wants Some!! is basically an 80s college version of Dazed. It depicts a few days in the lives of college baseball players in the short time between move-in and the start of classes. Packed with drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll, the film is a non-stop good time. The cast is an all-star ensemble whose bromantic chemistry is apparent throughout. Though Everybody Wants Some!! comes in at number seven on my list, it comfortably rests as the film that I saw in theaters the most times this year (four).
6 - Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Going off just its title, I expected Hunt For the Wilderpeople to be some dramatic film about searching for a group of nomads in the wilderness. I was maybe one-third correct. This latest film from Kiwi director Taika Waititi follows a curmudgeon and his foster son as they become targets of a manhunt after running off into the New Zealand bush. Ricky Baker, the son, is played by Julian Dennison who is a hilarious spitfire of a performer. He’s only fourteen years old, but he held his own alongside Sam Neill, a veteran actor with decades of experience. As a director, Waititi is a comic wizard. He’s directed a few episodes of Flight of the Conchords (he’s close friends with Bret and Jemaine), as well as co-directed a mockumentary with Jemaine about four vampires cohabitating in a flat. Hunt For the Wilderpeople showcases the talents of its entire cast and crew, who made one of the most genuinely “feel good” films of the year.
5 - La La Land
When I first heard about La La Land, I’m fairly certain that I rolled my eyes and audibly groaned. Yes, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have chemistry, but enough is enough. I was incredibly skeptical, but what got me to see it was boy genius Damien Chazelle (I truly love that man). I’ve never been happier to say that I was wrong to roll my eyes. This movie was a work of art through and through. Every little detail harkened back to the days of MGM movie musicals, including the film’s title card. Every single frame was stunning to look at. Gosling and Stone played off each other well, as always (she says, begrudgingly). Justin Hurwitz’s soundtrack and score are phenomenal, combining jazz and showtunes effortlessly. It is a perfect escapist film that is being released exactly when it is needed. La La Land was pretty, moving, and blew my expectations completely out of the water.
4 - Green Room
No movie this year has packed a punch quite like Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. A punk band, helmed by Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat, witnesses a crime at a small club in the middle-of-nowhere in Oregon. This club just happens to be run by a group of neo-nazis who push drugs and happen to be led by a mean and scary Patrick Stewart. So clearly, this band is not going anywhere after what they just witnessed. The film is absolutely relentless from the start. Fast paced and violent, this film is almost difficult to watch but so engaging that you can’t look away from the screen. Yelchin’s performance is one of his usual high caliber, and is one of his last roles before his tragic passing this summer. Green Room is an hour-and-a-half long adrenaline rush, filled with brutal violence and impressive performances.
3 - The Edge of Seventeen
My top ten list this year is full of films I never imagined myself loving so much. The Edge of Seventeen epitomizes this unexpectedness. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, this film is a coming-of-age high school movie about a painfully awkward teen named Nadine fumbling her way through junior year. I consider myself just over the brink of this film’s assumed target demographic, but it turns out that it appeals to viewers of all ages. Nadine’s insecurities and existential dread transcend teenagehood, making her character relatable to more than just fellow high schoolers. Steinfeld’s performance is one of the film’s strengths, packed with wit and keen comedic timing. She’s already been nominated for an Oscar, but this role cemented her as one of the greats of our generation. On the whole, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply written film for teens and adults alike, allowed to be raw by its R-rating. Its themes of friendship and insecurity are everlasting and make it sure to stand the test of time.
2 - Don't Think Twice
I am obsessed with the art of comedy, so obviously Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite people. Everything he does is so smartly written and poignantly raw. This year, he released his second feature film, Don’t Think Twice. It tells the story of a New York improv troupe, the members of which are grappling with their ideas of fame, success, and failure. Although it is a film about comedy and features several fantastic comedians, this film is incredibly sad and deals with the tough questions that performers are faced with as they get older: When should you give up? What is success, really? What defines you as a failure? Now, there are certainly no concrete answers to these questions, but Birbiglia and the rest of the cast try to answer them on an individual level. Birbiglia’s bleak honesty shines through as always, making this film feel almost like a personal journal entry. The questions posed by Don’t Think Twice are ones applicable to anyone, not just comedians, making it a relatable film for anyone “coming-of-age” in any stage of life.
1 - Manchester by the Sea
Finally, we reach number one, which happens to be the one I have seen most recently. With an immense amount of Oscar buzz surrounding it, Manchester By the Sea had my expectations set unreasonably high. Despite this, my expectations were met and then some. Featuring strong performances by Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges, the film is a meditation on the different manifestations of grief and how to continue to live after tragedy strikes. How this family copes with the hand they’ve been dealt unfolds before your eyes in a nuanced way, with no facet of the story ever over explained. Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan crafted a perfect film and each member of the cast rose to the occasion. Moving and deeply funny, Manchester By the Sea is a beautiful way to finish off my top ten list and finish off the year.
To many people, science is a very mysterious thing. Those who know little about the scientific world and what advancements science makes may be easily coerced into believing that many things which are physically impossible are. This is where film comes in, making the impossible seem probable enough for a film to be built around it. But, where impossible science is involved, there will also be the flaws and disasters that force conflict upon the movie’s characters. Movies where scientific studies or technologies go wrong and terrorize the main characters have existed for a long time, before film was even invented, and basically pioneered the science fiction genre with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. And with Morgan, a movie where a bioengineered child starts to reveal and use her special powers, coming out this Friday, I thought I’d take a look at some other “science gone wrong” films.
Back to the Future
One means of doing the science gone wrong genre is throwing someone who doesn’t know a lot about science into the middle of an experiment, leaving them lost and confused in a world they don’t understand. Back to the Future is one of the best examples of this type, combining its witty humor and great characters to make one of the greatest movies of the 1980’s. The film follows Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a teenager in the 1980’s whose best friend, Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), has invented a time machine. Built inside a DMC DeLorean, the time machine is Doc’s crowning achievement, having poured all of his family’s fortune and years of his live into its design. One circumstance leads to another, however, and Marty accidentally ends up in the year 1955, with no way to return home. Thus, he must convince a thirty-years younger Doc Brown to help him, all while making sure his parents fall in love, so he doesn’t end up phasing out of existence.
Like many movies that involve time travel, Back to the Future may seem a bit hard to follow at a first glance. However, the movie is written extremely well, making sure that at no point is the audience left scratching their heads in confusion. The screenplay is very tight, making sure that few plot-holes and inconsistencies slip through. The script also manages to sneak in little references and slight changes based on the date Marty has traveled to, which may not be noticed by viewers upon a first watch. These details make the movie feel more believable and give the film more depth. It makes you feel like you are there with Marty, traveling through time and trying to return home.
The movie also makes the situations Marty are thrown in more palatable by making its characters relatable and fun to follow/root for. Marty is an extremely relatable character, feeling like the quintessential teenager without adhering to any specific stereotype. He’s not a nerd and not a jock; he’s not a stoner and he’s not a straight-laced goody-two-shoes type. He manages to simply be a teenager, a person who can easily be related to given his charisma and situation. Doc is a crazy and fun scientist type character, more of a stereotype than Marty but still a fun character. The rest of the characters are also quite stereotypical, with Marty’s mom being the secretly rebellious and infatuated teen, his dad being a science fiction loving nerd and Biff being the generic bully, but they work well off Marty’s less stereotypical nature. His dynamic with each of the other characters is what makes the movie so great, with his relatability leading the charge for what is one of the best movies of its decade.
One of the most terrifying movies of late, Ex Machina follows the trope of “technology gone awry” to perfection, showing the true horror that could come when artificial intelligence becomes too self-aware. The movie begins with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer who is selected by his company to be part of a groundbreaking experiment in artificial intelligence. Caleb’s boss Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) has cracked the science behind perfect AI, having created a robotic woman named Ava (Alicia Vikander), who is so realistic that she would seem human without her robotic servos showing. As Caleb begins testing Ava with Nathan, he slowly begins to realize how unhinged Nathan is, beginning to sympathize with Ava and helping her plot an escape.
The movie, like many other great films about artificial intelligence, manages to be terrifying, using the claustrophobia of Caleb’s setting to make him, and the audience, more unnerved. While Caleb is at first excited by the prospects of getting to test the world’s most perfect AI, he slowly begins to go stir crazy in a house that is completely isolated from the rest of the world. His claustrophobia translates to the audience through the movie's excellent lighting and camera work, where every frame of the movie helps make you feel as trapped as Caleb feels. His feeling of isolation, along with his slow realization about his boss’s insanity, also leads him into his sympathy for Ava, who has been trapped in the house for the entirety of her existence.
The terror builds even more rapidly through the amazing performances in the film, especially that of Oscar Isaac. As Caleb begins to find out just how crazy Nathan is, Isaac’s performance quickly becomes more sinister and chilling. This adds to the claustrophobic nature of the film, making the audience feel more sympathetic for the situation that both Caleb and Ava are in. However, like in most AI films, things are not always as they seem with Ava. I won’t give anything away here, but Vikander’s performance perfectly keeps the audience guessing as to what her actual intentions are. This makes us feel even more afraid for Caleb, as we are unsure of whether or not his only ally in this situation is actually on his side. All of these factors contribute to the audience remaining on edge the entire film, creating a tone that is hard to find in many other movies.
This is the final installment of This Week in Movies (for now!)
Last week covered boxing films in preparation for Hands of Stone.
Many of the best movies out there are not about what they seem to be at first glance. By that, I mean that many great films have underlying themes and ideas that aren’t always discernable by just reading the movie’s description or catching a passing glance at a certain scene. One of the genres that this idea seems to be the most prominent in is the sports genre, especially movies that focus on boxing. Boxing movies are never really about the boxing itself, but use boxing as a means to study the main character. The medium of boxing presents an immediate challenge that the protagonist must face, usually an opponent of great strength or the yearning to become the best, giving the film time to build the character and push them to their limits. So, with the release of the newest film related to boxing Hands of Stone coming this week, I thought I’d look at some other movies about boxers to see how the genre has fared.
One of Martin Scorsese’s best works, Raging Bull is the perfect example of boxing being used as a medium to explore a character, as we watch the life of a 1940’s boxer fall apart on-screen. The movie follows the life of boxer Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro), an ill-tempered New Yorker working his way to the top of the middleweight division in the 1940’s and 1950’s. As the years go by, La Motta’s relationships with those who he is closest to, his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and wife Vicky (Cathy Moriarty), become more and more strained, with tensions running high from Jake’s ever-growing anger. And though his tough and angry demeanor helped him thrive in the ring, it’s what eventually tore the rest of his life apart.
It’s difficult to quickly summarize everything that Scorsese did right with the movie, as I don’t think a single element of this film is any less than brilliant and worth talking about for pages on end. But, the most captivating elements that make this film so amazing (in my opinion) boil down to two key factors: cinematography and dialogue. Starting with the cinematography, Scorsese’s choice to make the film black and white adds a layer of depth to the film that color may have taken away. The lighting choices that Scorsese is allowed to make because of the film’s lack of color is spectacular, and this movie is one of the best example of storytelling without having to say a word, in certain scenes. The boxing matches are also some of the most realistic, tonally, that I’ve ever seen on film, with the camera angles adding layer upon layer of depth.
Though many of the scenes succeed in telling the story with little or no dialogue at all, the scenes that do have dialogue manage to be some of the most genuine feeling scenes in any movie. Jake’s interactions with both his brother and his wife are genuine and heartbreaking, as we in the audience know what Jake doesn’t seem to realize: that he is tearing his life apart, as he constantly harasses those he is close to. As the years go by, Jake’s relationships become more and more tense, thanks in part to the performances by De Niro, Pesci and Moriarty, but also to the stellar writing by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin. One scene toward the beginning of the film, where Jake tries to get his brother to punch him in the face, is mesmerizing, though it seems to contain a lot of repetitive dialogue. Though the dialogue in this scene does seem to repeat itself, it is the realistic and genuine nature of the dialogue that makes the scene so perfect. The dialogue does truly represent how I think the film is in general: real. There is no aspect of this movie that feels hokey or fake, no moment that feels like it couldn’t have happened exactly as it does on screen. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and proves more than anything that Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers still alive today.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
'Rocky Balboa, the sixth film in the Rocky series, is the true sequel to the original film, maintaining the heart and hopeful tone that the original movie so masterfully created. Thirty years after the events of the original Rocky, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) finds himself stuck in a life that has somewhat lost its meaning. With his wife Adrian dead, his best friend Paulie (Burt Young) constantly drinking and beligerant and his son Rob (Milo Ventimiglia) wanting nothing to do with the Balboa name, Rocky turns back to the one thing he knows how to do: boxing. Though Rocky is now in his late fifties, he lands an exhibition fight with the heavyweight champion of the world, once again proving that he can go the distance.
Now, upon writing a quick synopsis for this movie, I have been struck with how ridiculous and stupid the premise for this movie sounds. A late-fifties Stallone getting in the ring with the real heavyweight champion? How could this movie possibly feel realistic if that glaring issue is the premise of the film? Well, like many other movies about boxing, this film is not really about the fight between Balboa and heavyweight champion Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon (Antonio Tarver), but about Rocky’s relationship with the people around him and his fears about whether or not his life still has meaning. All he has ever known is boxing and his family, and the loss of both of those things has caused his life to feel meaningless. Like how this movie has little to do with the actual boxing match, Rocky’s decision to box has little to do with wanting to punch people. He yearns to feel what he once felt, to go back to a better time, and the only way he knows how to do that is to get back in the ring.
The focus on Rocky as a character is really what keeps this movie grounded, and Stallone does an excellent job at portraying the older and wiser version of the original character. Balboa is no longer as bumbling and buffoonish as he once was, as age has certainly allowed him to become a bit more well-spoken and contemplative. He's certainly no genius, but he has a much better way with words than he did in the original film. This is most apparent in a scene where he argues with his son, who constantly shies away from his family name in order to make a life for himself. Rocky argues that his son, in his attempts to run from Rocky’s legacy, has lost who he was and what he wants, forgetting how to pick himself back up from a fall and learn to move on. Not only is the writing here a great parallel to what Rocky is going through in the film, but it also serves to prove that the character has matured and changed since the first film. Stallone, who wrote, directed and starred in the film, proves that he has a full understanding of the character. Thus, this movie proves to be a more perfect sequel to the original film than any of the others. This film proves that the character Rocky Balboa is one that can change and grow in a way that Stallone probably never envisioned when he wrote the original. Is it as good as the first one? No, sequels usually never are. But, it is one of the best continuations of a character you could possibly hope for, and a great chance to see Balboa in the ring one last time.
Check back every Wednesday for another installment of This Week in Movies!
Last week reviews Laika films in preparation for the release of Kubo and the Two Strings.
As I mentioned earlier this summer, there are a ton of animated movies coming to theatres this year. All of the biggest players in the animation world have a movie coming out this year, with some studios releasing multiple films, and it got me hoping early on in the year that we would get a new movie from one of my favorite studios. Luckily, I got my wish. This Friday, the newest film by Laika Entertainment, Kubo and the Two Strings, is being released. The studio, who solely make stop-motion animation movies, creates some of the most unique and visually enticing animated films I’ve ever seen. So, let’s take a look at some of their previous works to see just how wonderful and interesting Laika Entertainment can be.
Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, Laika’s first solo feature Coraline is beautiful and enchanting, creating a tone and atmosphere unrivaled by any other animated film. The movie follows a young girl named Coraline (Dakota Fanning), who has just moved in to a small apartment in the middle of nowhere. Her parents, forced to move out there to complete a writing project, consistently ignore and neglect her, and the somewhat wacky inhabitants of the other apartments aren’t much more attentive. Eventually, Coraline finds a secret door in the house, which leads to an alternate world with “other” parents, whose eyes are buttons and attentions are completely focused on Coraline’s every whim. And while at first Coraline loves the alternate home, she slowly begins to realize its more sinister natures and understand that she has to choose between one world or the other.
Coraline is one of the most visually stunning animated films I have ever seen, capturing the whimsical tone with wonderful visuals. The film masterfully uses its stop-motion style to capture the emotions of the main character on-screen, without anyone having to say anything. Unlike many other children’s animated films, which likely fear that young kids will lose interest unless there is always a character talking, Coraline knows when to keep quiet and let the visuals speak for themselves. The visual differences between the real world and Coraline’s ideal world are striking, showing the audience exactly what Coraline thinks her world lacks without her having to explain that to us.
The excellent visuals and general lack of dialogue creates a tone unlike many other animated films. The movie really isn’t a comedy, as it doesn’t have nearly as many jokes as other children’s films, and acts more like a drama than anything else. The movie is directed by Henry Selick, director of the classic stop-motion feature The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the tone of Coraline is quite similar to the tone of that film. The slightly macabre but mostly inquisitive feel of the movie makes it easily distinguishable from any other animation on the market, leaving its audience feeling more fulfilled than if they had seen an average animated movie.
Taking a more comedic and satirical route than Coraline, Paranorman is an excellent parody of horror films, adding comedy and fun to the visual appeal that Laika is known for. The movie follows a young boy living in the town of Blithe Hollow, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has the ability to see and talk to ghosts that no one else in the town believes in. His parents and sister don’t seem to understand him, he has no living friends and is constantly berated by his classmates for his strange mannerisms. Norman quickly realizes, however, that he has his powers for a reason, and has to use them to stop a witch’s curse from destroying the town.
Where Coraline’s tone is far darker and more macabre in moments, Paranorman almost constantly uses its horror atmosphere to parody classic scary movies, throwing jokes at a mile a minute. All of the most famous and ridiculous comedy tropes are addressed and parodied in this movie, starting from minute one where Norman is watching a horror movie with the ghost of his grandma. In that first few minutes, Paranorman manages to be a satire of so many elements of classic horror that it seems almost outstanding. And, from that moment, the movie never relents in its parody. However, the movie is smart enough to not fall into the pit of cliché itself, with a twist toward the end of the movie that makes the film seem more than just parody, but a fresh take on the horror and animation genres.
Like in Coraline, Paranorman uses its great visual style to forward its parody and tone. The movie skillfully makes itself look like a classic horror film, using the stop-motion and visual talent that Coraline proved they had mastered to generate the feeling and tone. The movie is beautiful, and the excellence of the animation and visual style helps feed into the comedy. Norman’s occasional passages into the paranormal world are stunningly beautiful, as is the evil witch character once she reveals herself. Thus, not only is Paranorman one of the best parodies of horror movies in animated form, but it is another example of Laika proving that it is one of the best animated studios in the business.
Check back every Wednesday for another installment of This Week in Movies!
Last week covered movies by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in preparation for Sausage Party.
When it comes to modern comedies, it seems like writers and directors have been, more often than not, opting for the “raunchier means better” mentality. And while there are always outliers in the wake of passing trends, it does feel as though the majority of big-budget modern comedies revolve around characters saying and doing obscene things to get an audience to laugh. To an extent, I feel as though this is the adult equivalent of jangling keys in front of a baby’s face, doing something ridiculous and flashy to get giggles out of immature audience members. However, raunchy comedies are not intrinsically bad, so long as they are more than just crude and gross. The crudeness and grossness has to be paired with clever comedy and fun characters in a way that makes the experience feel more like a movie and less like two middle schoolers trying to out-do each other in the lunchroom. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who have been writing together since 2007, seem to have found a good formula for this genre, combining raunchiness with good characterization. And, with their newest film Sausage Party about to be released, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at some of their previous films.
The first of the full-length features written by the Goldberg and Rogen team, Superbad is a great example of a raunchy comedy that focuses on its characters as much as its comedy. The movie follows two high-school seniors, Evan and Seth, on their last weeks of school. Seth is convinced that he and Evan need to get girlfriends over the summer, getting in some practice with all things sexual before they go to college. He is also convinced that the only way he can get with his crush Jules, and Evan with his crush Becca, is by going to a party they are at, providing the alcohol and getting them hammered. Thus, the two partake on an adventure with their nerdy companion Fogell to get the alcohol for a party Jules is throwing.
This movie, in a way that few others seem to do, does an excellent job at capturing the feeling of both being in, and preparing to leave, high school. Superbad captures the combined exhilaration and anxiety of leaving high school through its two main characters. Seth, played by Jonah Hill, can’t wait to get out of high school and try his hand at college life. Evan, played by Michael Cera, is more tentative about both Seth’s plans for the party and the coming future. These characters are written with such accuracy and realism, feeling just like high schoolers struggling with moving on, that it makes me wonder how close these portrayals are to the lives of the writers themselves (as the characters seem to be named after them).
Along with being a pretty accurate portrayal of the world the film inhabits, Superbad also manages to have excellently funny performances all around. Cera and Hill have an amazing chemistry as Evan and Seth, with Cera’s awkwardness and Hill’s brash speech. Seth Rogen and Bill Hader play police officers who end up with Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s Fogell, and the three of them have an excellent dynamic as well. Martha MacIssac and Emma Stone also have great performances as Becca and Jules, with an especially hilarious scene happening between Cera and MacIssac that involves quite a lot of alcohol. Overall, Superbad is a great example of raunchy comedy done right, combining the brash humor with wit and character that makes the film shine.
This is the End
Based on Goldburg and Rogen’s earliest colaberation, a short film called Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, This is the End uses its interesting and creative concept to drive its characters and elevate its humor. The movie follows Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, played by themselves, who have been friends since they were kids but unfortunately drifted apart once they became celebrities. During one of their regular get-togethers involving weed and video games, Rogen convinces Baruchel to attend a party at James Franco’s house, where a number of other celebrities will be in attendance. Baruchel reluctantly agrees, but the two end up finding themselves trapped in the house with a few of the attending celebrities after an apocalyptic event occurs.
What makes This is the End so clever and interesting is the way it creates its characters, having actors essentially play parodies of themselves and working from there. Every actor in the film plays themselves during the apocalyptic events, which leads to some great moments between actors. The movie escalates stereotypes about certain actors, like James Franco’s eccentricity, which makes for fun parody comedy. It is odd to see a movie that is almost entirely self-parody, which helps keep This is the End from feeling like every other parody on the market. Chemistry between characters is also helped by having characters play themselves, especially when it comes to the relationship between Rogen and Baruchel, who actually were good friends pre-fame.
The great and satirical interpretations of these actors/characters creates excellent comedy, especially through some of the cameos that happen before the apocalypse. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig T. Robinson all do a great job as the six main survivors, but my favorite performance comes from Michael Cera. Before the apocalypse occurs, Cera plays a completely wasted and insane version of himself, which had me in stitches the few times he was mentioned or seen on screen. The other celebrity cameos, like those from Emma Watson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari are fun as well, emphasizing the stereotypes of each. In the end (pun intended), the movie is another hilarious outing by Goldberg and Rogen.
Check back every Wednesday for another installment of This Week in Movies!
Last week examined Ensemble Superhero Movies in preparation for Suicide Squad.
As I have previously stated in other articles in this series, I feel as though we live in the age of superhero films. And while I find the argument that this is not a good thing fully justifiable, as the abundance of superhero movies which have dominated the big-budget action movie have potentially pigeonholed the genre and become quite stale, I don’t necessarily agree with it. While I think that superhero movies could begin to become stale if studios get lazy, I believe there has been enough variety among superhero movies to keep the genre running. Sub-genres of superhero films have begun to surface, and I assume many have begun to choose their favorites. My personal favorite is likely the ensemble superhero genre, superhero movies which do not focus on one hero, but a team of them. These movies tend to lend themselves to characters working off each other more than other superhero films, exchanging one hero who calls all the shots for a number of heroes whom are forced to work together. So, in preparation for the newest ensemble superhero movie Suicide Squad, which comes out this Friday, I thought I’d take a look at two other ensemble superhero movies that have helped keep the genre fresh.
While Iron Man was the film that kick-started the now monstrous Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers is the most financially successful of the MCU’s films, bringing together superheroes who had, up until that point, never been seen together on-screen. The movie follows the newly-formed Avengers, comprised of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, forced to work together to stop the evil Loki. Loki, Thor’s Asgardian brother, plans on using a super-weapon called the Tesseract to bring an army of aliens to Earth, effectively enslaving the entire human race.
It’s difficult to talk about this movie without at least mentioning the way that it was crafted. With many other ensemble superhero films, audiences may be completely unfamiliar with the majority of the characters before going to see the movie, having had no reference material to understand the characters' motivations and general behavior. The Avengers, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, did a very good job at introducing you to the characters in the film before it even came out, familiarizing audiences and skipping over the need for slow exposition. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk all had stand-alone movies before the releases of The Avengers, which fleshed-out the backstories of the characters and clued audiences in to their character traits. Though some may consider this homework, having to watch four other films before they can see this one, I feel as though it’s a clever way of making an ensemble movie with character depth without having to bog the movie down with tons of expository dialogue.
That’s not to say that The Avengers is difficult to follow if you haven’t seen other MCU movies. The plot is a fairly standard “bad guy wants a powerful thing to destroy the world” kind of deal, with a lot of flashy and fun action. But the chemistry between the superhero characters, who spend much of their time exchanging witty banter, makes much more sense and feels more organic to those who have seen the other movies in the canon. That depth is what makes a pretty standard superhero action movie feel more interesting. The characters work off of each other very well, thanks in part to the audience not having to learn about how they act before it gets to the fun stuff. Overall, The Avengers is a good superhero movie that was propelled to greatness through the excellent way that Marvel handled its build-up.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Unlike The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have any build-up and character set-up to get audiences invested, lacking even the name recognition of some of The Avengers characters. Fortunately, Guardians manages to overcome that by being one of the funniest and most entertaining superhero movies I’ve seen, and probably the best movie the MCU has ever made. The movie follows a group of ragtag criminals, none of whom would consider themselves heroes, who have to band together to stop a tyrannical warlord named Ronan. They are Peter Quill, a human who scavenges to keep alive; Gamora, one of Ronan’s minions turned traitor; Drax, whose family was murdered by Ronan; Rocket, an anthropomorphic raccoon who works as a bounty hunter; and Groot, a giant tree who works with Rocket. Ronan plans on using (shock! gasp!) a superweapon to destroy the universe, with only this newfound team to stop him.
What makes Guardians such a great film is that it doesn’t really feel like a superhero movie, but more along the lines of a science-fiction comedy. The movie seems to address the biggest issue that many have had with films in the MCU, feeling tonally different than other movies made by Marvel. Guardians is a hilarious film, using its great cast to keep the jokes flying at a mile a minute. The five leads all do an excellent job with their characters, whose personalities create some of the best on-screen charisma that I’ve seen in a superhero film. My personal favorite performance comes from Dave Bautista’s Drax, whose dry and stoic nature creates amazing chemistry with the witty Quill or the crass Rocket.
My only issue with the movie is one that many other Marvel movies seem to suffer from: a poor villain. Ronan is one note and humorless, with scenes that grind to a halt in comparison to the fun energy of the rest of the movie. There isn’t a single Marvel movie with a compelling villain, many of whom have great actors playing bland characters. Guardians is no exception, but that is the film’s only issue. The rest of the movie is exciting and full of heart, capturing the essence of a great comedy within a superhero movie. The characters are wonderful, the universe that the film sets up is diverse and the action sequences are excellent. What results is one of the best superhero movies ever made, a witty and clever ride all around.
Check back every Wednesday for another installment of This Week in Movies!
Last time covered Star Trek films in preparation for Star Trek Beyond.
We live in an age where what was once considered geek culture is now considered part of popular culture. Superheroes, video games, fantasy and science fiction are no longer only enjoyed by the kind of people who got wedgies on the elementary school playground. Nowadays, what used to be considered uncool is now considered part of culture itself, and everybody loves to watch and read what only those who were once considered nerds took part in. But back before elements of geekdom were integrated into the popular culture, there were a few franchises that helped define how this culture was shaped. Star Trek is quite possibly the oldest instance of a piece of media generating what I would consider to be geek culture, a piece of science fiction that has spanned generations and created one of the original fandoms. Over the fifty years since the original series aired, Star Trek has seen many iterations, with the newest film in its most recent run, Star Trek Beyond, set to release this Friday. So, I thought it would be best to take a look at two of the better film adaptations of the beloved series.
Star Trek: First Contact
My personal favorite Star Trek film, First Contact is like the perfect episode of The Next Generation, with everything that’s great about the series being enhanced on the big screen. The movie follows the crew of the newly commissioned Enterprise-E, who are forced to travel back in time to stop the Borg from destroying the Earth. The Borg, a hive-mind collective who assimilate their enemies, plan to stop the human race from making first contact with the Vulcans and therefore preventing the formation of the United Federation of Planets which opposes them. Thus, the members of the crew must stop the Borg from taking over the Earth and help scientist Zefram Cochrane use the first piece of warp drive technology to meet the Vulcans.
First Contact perfectly captures everything that I love about Star Trek: TNG, keeping the tone and energy of a great episode in the series. Though the film lacks much of the philosophy and questions about the human condition that many episodes of the show featured, it replaces this with both great action and excellent performances from the cast. All of the original cast members from the show bring the performances that made the show so great, with Patrick Stewart’s performance as Jean-Luc Picard especially riveting. Picard has a personal vendetta against the Borg, as he once was forced into their collective, and the tension and anger he feels toward them makes him the most interesting of the characters.
The rest of the actors are great as well, bringing the quirks of their characters from the small screen to the big. The characters are all as charming and interesting as they have ever been, which might be the perfect way to describe this movie. It is the best reminder of the quality of The Next Generation that I can think of, a movie that perfectly expresses and characterizes everything that made the show great. It’s one of the best ways that I can think of to experience Star Trek’s excellent atmosphere and charm.
Star Trek (2009)
While the 2009 remake of the classic crew may not be the favorite film of the show’s fans, losing some of the original series’ feel, Star Trek is still a pretty fun ride with a new interpretation the original Enterprise crew. The movie follows the first expedition of the original Enterprise crew, as Captain Kirk attempts to fend off the attacks of the Romulan commander Nero. Nero, who is from a future where his planet is destroyed by a black-hole, blames Spock for the death of his planet, destroying Vulcan and planning on destroying Earth for revenge.
Most of what makes Star Trek’s best iterations so great are the characters, and this film does an overall good job at creating interpretations of the original characters that are both similar and different from the originals. The majority of the films performances are quite good, with Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto all doing a great job. Each actor captures the tone of the original characters, but adds different layers of depth that weren’t present in the original. The only performance that lacks much depth is that of Eric Bana, who plays the very one-note villain Nero. While Nero has a very powerful motivation, which one would think might lead to a very tortured and deep villain, he basically fills the film’s need for a bad guy without adding much to the movie.
However, unlike most Trek films and shows, the movie is much flashier and more action filled. This is where fans of the original series may take umbrage with the movie, feeling as though it is much more “summer blockbuster” than classic Star Trek. Because I didn’t grow up with Star Trek, and this film was the first Trek product I saw, I didn’t have a problem with the action. Director J.J. Abrams creates a more active and less diplomatic Star Trek world, feeling more like Star Wars than Star Trek. The action and special effects are very well done, but turning Star Trek into an action movie might still turn many audiences off of the film. I, however, don’t mind the more action-packed Trek adventure.
Check back every Wednesday for another installment of This Week in Movies!
Last week's article covered the Ghostbusters franchise in preparation for this year's remake.
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