My favorite Films of 2016

2016 was a wild ride of a year, with lots of memorable stories and big happenings, much of it very very very terrible and some of it inexplicably bizarre (vigils are still held in honor of a gorilla who became the meme-sensation of the year). With so much going on it feels like a lifetime ago that we were standing in line to see Deadpool. It doesn’t seem like Captain America: Civil War and Dr. Strange happened in the same year, but they did and so did many other notable films.

Here is YOUR official, verified, certified and notarized ranking of all the big movies of the year (good, great and terrible)…

THE HONORABLE MENTIONS

FINDING DORY

{8/10 review here} Pixar’s deal with Disney is that they will be allowed to make and release two new original properties, with minimal studio input, for every one sequel or “franchise” film they produce. Thus, coming on the heels of Inside-Out (yay) and The Good Dinosaur (meh), we have a sequel to the most enduring, non-Toy Story film in the company’s library. Finding Dory was not able to match the magic that 2003’s Finding Nemo reached, but it was a solid return to the underwater world and proved the studio could make a non-Toy Story sequel that felt worthy of its existence.

STAR TREK BEYOND

{8/10 review here} Paramount expected more from Star Trek Beyond (the movie only grossed about 350 million, compared to Into Darkness’ 450mm and the 2009 reboot’s 385mm), especially since it was released in conjunction with the franchise’s 50th anniversary. A lot of the problems with Beyond can be blamed on the lack of enthusiasm for the film, from casual moviegoers (who made 2016 one of the worst for ticket sales) and hardcore fans too (who largely rejected Into Darkness). Few of the problems can be blamed on the movie itself, which is quite good. It was promised to be more of a return to form for the series, after the more action-oriented plots of the first two JJ Abrams’ films. In many ways it was, and hopefully the sequel will continue the trend and find a bigger audience.

DEADPOOL

{8/10 review here} The success of Deadpool is shared by many suits in and around the Fox offices, but if only one man could be credited, the praise would have to go to Ryan Reynolds. The actor and producer in the film pushed and pushed for the anti-hero, foul-mouthed B-roll X-Men spinoff character to get a big screen feature, despite the character being nearly ruined in his cameo appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Reynolds managed to get his movie made, and basically made his way (it was a hard-R film) and the result was one of the most financially successful comic book movies ever (800 million on a 50 million budget). It wasn’t a bad movie either.

DR. STRANGE

{8/10 review here} Marvel Studios knows it’s not going to have Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans forever, but with Dr. Strange the studio showed they were more than up for the challenge of (eventually) replacing their A-listers. Benedict Cumberbatch proved to be sublime casting as he brought the right blend of humor and depth to the role of the Sorcerer of multiple dimensions. The character is not an easy one to translate to film, but Marvel made a talking racoon into an action star, so who were we to doubt them? Dr. Strange wasn’t cinematic brilliance, but it was great fun.

ZOOTOPIA

{8/10 review here} This Walt Disney animated film will probably top many best-of lists this year, and while it is really good, it wasn’t perfect: The plot takes a little too long to get going and the pace occasionally stalls out. Nevertheless, there’s a great message to the movie as it tackles a few dangerous “isms” that still exist in our world today. Disney’s latest animated movies aren’t quite at the caliber of their early 90’s output, but they’ve come a long way from the slump of downright-bad movies they were pumping out at the beginning of the 2000’s.

THE REALLY GOOD ONES

10 – PEE WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY

{9/10 review here} Here’s a purely subjective pick (one that could also have been swapped out for TMNT 2: Out of the Shadows) that not everyone is going to agree with, but as someone whose childhood was partially-defined by Paul Reubens (from his Saturday morning show, to his late night comedy bits, and his team-ups with Tim Burton), seeing Pee Wee back and as good as he ever was justifies its place in the ranking. Big Holiday is not up to the quality of Big Adventure (it lacks a lot of the “original to the point of bizarre” quirks that Burton brought to the 1985 film) but it’s faithful and fun and its Netflix release was an unexpected treat. That’s enough for me.

09 – LIGHTS OUT

{9/10 review here} 2016 had quite a few big horror movies hit theaters (Conjuring 2 and Blair Witch are a couple major releases that missed this list) but the two that made this ranking did so because they were the two best of the year and because each did something different with the genre. Lights Out took the kind of horror movie that is en vogue these days and really nailed the presentation and style. It did the “Conjuring/Blumhouse” kind of horror better than the genuine articles. With awesome scares and a clever plot, Lights Out was the rare kind of horror movie that was not just a good “horror movie;” it was a good movie, period.

08 – FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

{9/10 review here} After five years away, Warner Bros. teamed up with JK Rowling to bring the Wizarding World back to theaters. The result is a joyous and exciting prequel/side-story that focuses on wizard Newt Scamander and his journey around 1920’s New York. The setting, characters and plot were all-new, which meant there were no well-read moviegoers who knew the next twist and turn in the story, which is good because all the hallmarks of a JKR story are here (fun side-characters, seemingly unrelated plots that become important later, red herring villains, etc). Rowling penned the film herself, as she will the next four installments. Based on the quality of this one, it looks like the new series will make a worthy addition to the Harry Potter universe.

THE GREAT ONES

07 – ARRIVAL

{9/10 review here} This wasn’t a sci-fi movie that could have survived a June release. It wasn’t action-oriented, pulse-pounding, or adrenaline-inducing. It was a thinking-man’s science-fiction, which Hollywood could use more of. Based on a cleverly-written short story from almost twenty years ago—about alien visitors and the linguists sent to study them and learn how to decipher their language in order to communicate with them—it’s a concept that should have been untranslatable (no pun intended) to film. Concessions were made, but all for the better; the end-result is a small-scale film that proves that there’s still a place for quiet reflection in a genre movie.

06 – KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

{9/10 review here} The heavy-hitters all scored big box office success with their animated outputs this year: Finding Dory, Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets are sitting in the top-five for 2016’s worldwide grosses. Kung Fu Panda 3 reached #13 on the worldwide chart, while Ice Age Collision Course peaked at #16. Even The Angry Birds Movie snuck into the top 20. poor Kubo is stuck at number #79, somewhere in between A Madea Halloween and Zoolander 2. That’s a real shame because, for my money, it was the best animated movie of the year. The hand-crafted style was beautiful, the story was fresh, the acting was subtle and funny. Here’s hoping it finds a second life as a home-video cult favorite, because it deserves to be seen a million times more than The Angry Birds Movie.

05 – 10. CLOVERFIELD LN.

{9/10 review here} JJ Abrams and company dropped this gem of a picture on the world with barely any warning. Originally it was to be a low-budget thriller about a conspiracy theorist who “rescues” a passer-by from the end of the world by keeping her locked (with him) in his underground bunker. Abrams’ Bad Robot company discovered the script and fell in love with it, bought the rights, and tweaked it just slightly in order to make it exist as a spiritual successor to the 2008 sci-fi horror film. Forget all that, though. It doesn’t matter that the film was co-opted, or that Cloverfield will now be going forward as an anthology series of loosely-connected films. What matters is that this movie was one of the best-acted, sharpest-written, most genuinely surprising films of the year. John Goodman gives one of the best performances of his career, dancing between comically unnerving and downright terrifying.

04 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

{9/10 review here} Rogue One represents the real beginning of the new era of Star Wars. Last year we had The Force Awakens, and though that was the first film made without George Lucas’ involvement, it was still a straight-forward continuation of the saga that had already been told. With this, we have a movie set in the Star Wars universe that is wholly different in tone, story and style to the “core” films in the series. From now until it becomes unprofitable, Disney will be releasing these spin-off movies—one every other year, it seems—but if you were worried these would be naked cash grabs, worry not: Rogue One is first and foremost a great movie; the action, acting and marvelous final act make it worthy of being a summer tentpole. Instead Disney has turned the weekend before Christmas into the new Memorial Day weekend. It’s not perfect (it’s a bit slow at first and flabby in the middle), but the final stretch will leave you breathless.

THE EXCELLENT ONES

03 – THE JUNGLE BOOK

{10/10 review here} Disney has already released a live action remake of Cinderella and a quasi-remake of Sleeping Beauty (Maleficent) but with The Jungle Book they hit their stride. Cinderella was a little stale. Maleficent was too different. The Jungle Book, however, was faithful, fun and gorgeous to behold. The live-action and computer-animation are perfectly blended and the voice-acting is top notch. It also offers one of the finest 3D experiences put to film, with great depth and just enough “pop” without becoming obnoxious. Next year Disney is applying the same formula to Beauty and the Beast and if it’s even close to being as good as The Jungle Book, it will find its way on the 2017 Best Of list too.

02 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

{10/10 review here} As the date of Civil War’s release neared, there was a little nervousness on the part of hardcore fans. Some worried that the hype had gotten too big and that the film would not be able to live up to the excitement it had generated (promising, among many other things Spider-Man) as well as the head of steam the whole MCU had built up for itself. When we all finally got a chance to see it, all fears were alleviated. Civil War did exactly what Kevin Feige promised it would do: It upset the apple cart of the universe and created enough instability and uncertainty to make things very interesting when Thanos decides to visit earth. That it was also a perfect mix of adventure and emotion, with great character moments and a powerful climax, was just cream on top.

THE DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

SUICIDE SQUAD

{6/10 review here} Warner Brothers is three movies into their DC cinematic universe, and though all three have been “hits” none of them have really stuck the landing. Suicide Squad ended up being the most profitable movie of the three (it made 750 million on a sub-200 million budget) but its reviews were just as mixed as those given to Man of Steel and this year’s Batman v Superman. In many ways it’s the weakest of the three, with any bits of “fun” the advertisements promised often offset by a bad line reading or some terribly choppy editing. As with the previous two DCEU movies, fans are left saying “this just laid the groundwork for the future!” At some point, however, Warners has to actually build on all the groundwork they’ve laid, and release a movie that is both popular and good. Hopefully next year’s Wonder Woman and Justice League will be the step forward that the franchise needs.

GHOSTBUSTERS

{6/10 review here} After being the talk of the town last summer, this movie has been flicked into the ashbin of irrelevance. Its creators prematurely cried “sexist!” against anyone who might walk out of the theater disappointed. After the hysteria died down and people were actually able to take a look at the movie, what was there to see? Mediocrity. It wasn’t the worst movie ever made, but to my knowledge, no one actually (seriously) suggested it would be. Those involved in its making got defensive, then aggressive and then…disappeared. Ghostbusters was not a good movie. It’s biggest sin was not that women were the stars; it’s that it simply wasn’t funny or otherwise entertaining. Who cares anymore?

BEN-HUR

{5/10 review here} Dear Hollywood, not everything needs to be remade. There was a time when Hollywood produced far fewer movies and instead re-released their hits every few years. This is how Gone With The Wind became the biggest ticket-seller of all time. They showed that sucker in theaters for decades. But, instead of saying “hey maybe let’s re-release Heston’s Ben-Hur on a four-week engagement this Easter. It won’t cost but maybe twenty million dollars for advertising and so forth” now they say “Let’s drop 100 million dollars on a remake no one asked for!” That said, Ben-Hur’s biggest problem isn’t that it was remade (the 1959 movie was itself a remake) it’s that it was boring, bland, lacking in original ideas or any legitimate reason for being.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

{5/10 review here} Speaking of movies no one asked for, here’s the sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie. The 2010 film was…okay, but it was nothing spectacular. Yet, thanks to the emergent 3D market, the film managed to gross over a billion dollars. A sequel should have been commissioned immediately thereafter but instead Disney sat on the property and waited until no one cared anymore to bring it back. They brought it back this year and…no one cared. It didn’t help that the movie was far worse than the first one.

HARDCORE HENRY

{1/10 review here} Hands down, my most hated movie this year was this Russian experimental film that felt (as I said in my review) like I was watching someone play a bad Sega CD game more than an actual movie. Its hook was that the entire film was shot from the first-person perspective of the protagonist, but while that works in a video game and in very limited film sequences, it simply doesn’t work in any extended way. Beyond the gimmick, the movie was cheap, loud, dumb, insulting and crude. May it forever be forgotten.

MY FAVORITE FILM OF 2016

DON’T BREATHE

{10/10 review here} I was prepared to like this movie. I found the premise clever and I liked the striped-down take on the horror genre in a time when Hollywood seems scared to shakeup a successful formula (in this case, horror movies these days are all about either supernatural monsters or ghosts and demons). I thought I’d like the movie but I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did. Thinking back on all the movies I saw this year, while some where big and epic, it was this small, almost-indie, horror movie that I kept coming back to. It exceeded my expectations by delivering a movie that was tightly edited, smartly written and packed with shocking twists and turns. Any movie that makes you want to immediately call your friends and invite them to see it is a movie that did its job. Don’t Breathe is my favorite movie of 2016 and one I will revisit with friends for years to come.

That’s my list. Comment below what your favorite movie of 2016 was!

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