Ah, December. We tolerate you only because of the holidays, but you otherwise suck. Gray clouds drop piles of snow as the temperature plummets. Malls are full of last-minute shoppers unwilling to shop online weeks earlier, and a constant stream of mediocre Christmas song covers mingle with the obnoxious ringing bells from people hoping that you’re separate with a dollar.
The one positive of December is the influx of Game of the Year discussions, the one moment where most of the industry stops looking towards the horizon and instead peers back at the past eleven months. Often times those discussions are frustrating as the media manages to miss plenty of enjoyable, niche games, but that’s a great problem to have. So many games that critics stand zero chance of talking about everyone? That’s hardly a complaint we should dwell on.
Expect that I will join the discussion on December 29, granting me the most time to continue playing everything I can. In the meantime, this blog will cover every film and album of 2016, good and bad, that I watched and listened to. Movies this week, so without further delay…
Resurgence is a disjointed, joyless slog as interested in setting up sequels as it is at throwing out CG destruction we’ve grown so apathetic to. The plot is idiotic (everything with Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner is unnecessary), and the new cast is bland. And, unsurprisingly, the film ends with the promise of an intergalactic war for a supposed third ID that, frankly, I hope never comes. Everyone should watch the first Independence Day instead.
Stunning from a cinematic perspective, but Batman v Superman just isn’t a good movie. Motivations are flimsy, and the central conflict could’ve ended much sooner if the two superheroes talked. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is a chattering dork who only exists to give our heroes someone to unite against. At least Wonder Woman was cool, for however long she was in the film, and Batman had a few enjoyable scenes, but the film suffers from too many problems.
What everyone hoped would become DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy and put the DC Extended Universe back on track instead revealed that Warner Bros. has no idea what they’re doing. Hastily developed and the victim of corporate meddling, Suicide Squad features too many characters muddling through with vague goals and a horrible antagonist. The only reason it’s higher than Batman v Superman is because Will Smith is, as expected, a highlight, and Margot Robbie makes for a fun Harley Quinn.
There’s nothing wrong with Fantastic Beasts. It’s an inoffensive film that’s sometimes boring, sometimes entertaining, leaving me without any strong feelings as I left the theater. The problem might be, in part, that I am not a Harry Potter fan. This world of wizards and magic holds little appeal to me, so watching people wave around wands in 1920s New York City isn’t alluring. The film is okay, and that’s the best that I will say about it.
What is it about Pixar sequels? It always feels like something is lacking. Finding Dory, for instance, offers plenty of laughs and a few heartwarming moments, but I’d be hard pressed to recommend the film over Finding Nemo, and that’s from someone who’s not crazy for that film. Finding Dory is delightful and entertaining, but nothing you’ll remember years from now. Well, you’ll probably remember baby Dory. That little fish is adorable.
How much do I wish this movie included less low-brow humor? A lot, because there’s plenty to enjoy about Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds perfectly embodies the character, and I’m a sucker for fourth wall-breaking humor. That short scene at the, er, X-Mansion (is that really the name?) is great! The low-brow drags the film down for me. Consequently, Deadpool was never going to reach a high placement on this list, although it did get bumped up a few spots later on.
Technically a 1991 film, but 2016 marks the first time that Only Yesterday was released outside Japan. It’s a slow-paced character drama focusing on Taeko (Daisy Ridley), a 27-year-old woman who travels to the country. Along the way, the film cuts to scenes featuring Taeko as a little girl (Alison Fernandez), including trying pineapple for the first time and interacting with schoolboys. They’re mundane events, and will likely bore a good chunk of its audience, but they’re easily relatable.
There’s something that drags Jason Bourne down, and I don’t believe it’s that weird social media subplot. It’s too easy to forget why the character Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is involved in this story, and we’re not given enough reminders. I mean, someone Bourne is familiar with dies early on, yet I don’t recall the film referencing it against past the halfway point. Another story draft could’ve made the difference, but instead we’re left with a decent action film that’s inferior to every other Damon-starring Bourne.
Don’t lead by saying that the guy directing Star Trek Beyond also worked on a handful of The Fast and the Furious films. Instead, mention how he worked on the television comedy Community. Regardless, Beyond is a fun science-fiction action film that tends a get a little silly, and the climactic fight stretches a hair too long. Still, this is a clear improvement over 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
You know the ending going in. Sully, the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, who safely landed his plane in the Hudson River, deviates little from the real-life event. The film does spend time on the possibility of Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) losing his pilot license, necessary for establishing dramatic stakes, but spends focuses more on the character drama following the traumatic landing and how, not if, Sullenberger proves that ending up in the Hudson was necessary.
In many aspects, Doctor Strange is a standard Marvel film. It contains the obligatory action and humor, but deviates from Iron Man and Thor with the addition of sorcery, something mostly new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It allows the film to travel into unusual sequences where skyscrapers curve and ghost-like apparitions impact the “real” world while fighting. That’s all fine and good, but the best part is the finale, which uses a solution that’s smarter than the usual punching someone until they’re down.
Who expected anything good out of Zootopia? We laughed at the DMV scene, but how many CGI movies has Disney created that we remember? A handful. Disney purchasing Pixar was an admission that they couldn’t internally create anything on the same level as Toy Story, WALL-E, or Up. And now we have Zootopia, a Disney film with strong symbolism to racism. Talk about topical.
It’s a deceptively original film, surprising given that the character designs aren’t particularly inventive. The characters themselves are wonderful, thanks in part to the fun back-and-forth between Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick (Jason Bateman). The jokes work and the story is surprising, making Zootopia one of the rarer times that Walt Disney Animation Studios surpasses Pixar. Of course, both studios are playing on the same team, so I doubt Disney is complaining.
It’s rather impressive how Civil Wars puts into focus how Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) changed since their original film introductions. Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who previously blew off the United States government, now argues for putting the Avengers onto the United Nation’s payroll. Meanwhile, war hero Rogers (Chris Evans) wants nothing to do with the UN, or any oversight. That’s character development formed across seven films, and it’s completely logical to their core values.
As others have mentioned, Civil War isn’t possible without the many films building the relationships and motivations that fuel this movie. Try prematurely and you get Batman v Superman. Antagonist Helmut Vemo (Daniel Brühl) succeeds because he recognizes that nothing nobody is as successful at pulling these heroes apart like themselves, as witnessed in the first two Avengers films. Remove those films and Civil War has to work harder to convince us that Iron Man and Captain America could come to blows for the provided reasons.
It doesn’t hurt that the movie is fun. The script features plenty of light moments, per for the course with Marvel film, and exciting action to keep viewers unfamiliar with these characters and their long histories entertained. Not unlike comics, actually. Newcomers will enjoy themselves, but it’s the longtime audience who’ll appreciate the events more.
Mamoru Hosoda is perhaps my favorite animation director working now. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was a surprise discovery, and everything from him since is wonderful. Wolf Children felt more comparable to a Studio Ghibli film, but The Boy and the Beast has clear analogues to his 2009 film Summer Wars. Both contain fantastical world alongside modern Japan, and features family at the heart of their stories.
The Boy and the Beast is the story of Kyuta, a young human boy who wanders into the world of anthropomorphised beasts and becomes the apprentice to Kumatetsu, one of two candidates to succeed the lord of the kingdom. Although the two fight constantly as Kyuta struggles under his master’s incompetent teaching, the two develop a father/son dynamic that’s tested by Kumatetsu’s lazy, arrogant behavior and the boy’s connection to Japan.
As is the case with his previous three films, Hosoda takes a fantastical element and crafts an excellent, grounded story. The Boy and the Beast dives deeper into fantasy more than before, and succeeds in creating an entertaining, human cast despite consisting almost entirely of beasts. The film contains plenty of fighting, but speaks of accepting ourselves and controlling our anger instead of allowing it to swallow us and lead to destruction. You don’t need to recognize any of the themes to enjoy the film, thankfully.
The initial poster for The Boy and the Beast, which showed a young boy standing next to an anthropomorphized bear, didn’t inspire confidence in me, but I came away with a similar doubt after hearing about Wolf Children. I loved them both, but The Boy and the Beast is the more approachable film. And I love it. Honestly, making this my favorite film of 2016 was the easiest call on this list.