Let’s Talk Summer 2016

As far as movies go, I grew up in the perfect time to be an adolescent male. I was 10 years old when The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises started. I was 14 years old when Revenge of the Sith brought a temporary end to Star Wars (the prequels definitely needed some rewatching as I’ve gotten older). Most influential of all, I was 17 years old when The Dark Knight came out. That film combined with that age launched me into the fan I am today, The Dark Knight really is the Empire Strikes Back of my generation.

This upbringing lead me to truly love and anticipate the summer movie season every year. The biggest sequels and blockbusters get released in succession for three months? Count me in! While there have always been bright spots, it is well-known that Hollywood’s obsession with sequels and adaptations has stilted some creative opportunity. Summer isn’t what it used to be. While we used to get two or three big tentpole films a season, now every weekend sees the release of an “event” film. And when every movie is an “event,” none of them are.

With all that in mind, I can confidently say Summer 2016 was the worst summer I have experienced for movies (at least from 2010-2016). That doesn’t mean there weren’t some good movies, there were many great movies (see below)! But as far as blockbusters go, this summer was awful. Whether it be Independence Day: Resurgence or X-Men: Apocalypse or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows or Alice Through the Looking Glass or Jason Bourne or Secret Life of Pets or Suicide Squad or Warcraft, it seems like every weekend brought a bad movie (special shoutout to Sausage Party, which is, in my estimation, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen). Even getting away from the bad movies, releases like Star Trek Beyond and Ghostbusters, while enjoyable, did not live up to their full potential.

All is not lost, and Summer 2016 was not a total wash. As we look back on those four months, there were some really good movies released, and we need to recognize them. We’re going to take a look at five favorites, but there are also some honorable mentions we don’t want to let go unnoticed. Movies like Finding Dory, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Pete’s Dragon, and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping were all great, and helped ease the pain of the disappointing blockbusters listed above.

Below I will discuss my five favorite movies of Summer 2016, THEY WILL BE LISTED AlPHABETICALLY as to avoid the early temptation to start ranking movies. Enjoy!

Captain America: Civil War


Captain America: Civil War is a total triumph when it comes to comic-book movies, blockbusters, and shared universes. The 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War continues narrative threads left open by prior franchises while also successfully telling a great story of the conflict between two friends. Yes the spectacle and action is a lot of fun (I mean…we have a new Spider-Man everybody), but Civil War succeeds where others fail because it keeps a singular conflict the center of the story.

The MCU is a world I truly enjoy living in, but that doesn’t mean I love all of their films (looking at you Thor: The Dark World), Civil War is truly a great film and just might be the best Marvel has put out. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. truly embody their roles, and the conflict Civil War presents is really captivating. While other blockbusters kept upping the ante, Civil War resolves its conflict with a secluded fight between friends. It is emotional, you feel the stakes (sometimes a friendship matters more than “this character could die”), and it is just excellent filmmaking on behalf of Joe and Anthony Russo.

Hell or High Water


Again, these films are listed alphabetically, so it is a true coincidence that my two favorite films of the Summer are listed first. While Captain America: Civil War showed us the best of blockbusters, Hell or High Water shows us the best of film in general. A modern-day Western set in West Texas, Hell or High Water succeeds not only because it tells an interesting story about why a good man robs banks, but it gives some great commentary on America as a whole.

While The Big Short gave us an overview of the 2008 financial crisis, Hell or High Water brings the crisis home, showing us how Wall Street’s recklessness negatively affects real people where they live. That is pretty high and lofty, but a trio of performances from Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges just totally sell the movie. This thing is authentic, these characters feel real, and performances feel lived in, you believe the journey they go on. Whether it be the powerful family drama between Pine and Foster, or the bigger themes at play, Hell or High Water is a masterful film and should be sought out if possible.

Kubo and the Two Strings


Absolutely beautiful. While others are forced to do sequels and adaptations, animated studios can be given a little more creative freedom since there is (supposedly) a built in audience already (i.e. kids). Laika Entertainment (ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls) have taken that opportunity to create one of the most breathtaking films in recent memory. Kubo and the Two Strings is a true work of art, blending beautiful animation with great music to tell an entertaining action-adventure tale.

When we talk about music, yes the score is fantastic, but Kubo succeeds in that the music IN the film is amazing too. Not only is Kubo’s Shamisen (had to look it up) lead melody sound good, but it is integrated as part of the story, the music he plays is part of his development as a character. His crew of warriors is rounded out by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and the film is just delightful. Lest we think the movie is watered down for kids, Kubo and the Two Strings deals with real issues and (surprisingly) has some well choreographed, brutal action scenes. For both kids and adults a like, Kubo and the Two Strings is a big win.

The Nice Guys


As far as box office returns goes, there was no other film fans/critics were rooting more for than The Nice Guys. It is sad the film didn’t receive more than it got, as The Nice Guys is a genuinly entertaining movie, with great performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and airtight direction from Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). The Nice Guys is a type of movie that should be celebrated. Yes it is a throwback to movies from before, but its originality (i.e. not based on a preexisting property) is something sorely lacking in today’s marketplace.

It is great to see a film like this embrace its R rating. While it would have been easy to go for more box office with a PG-13, the sex and drugs filled world of the 1970’s is a lived in environment in The Nice Guys, and the movie succeeds for creating a real time and place. While there is a good mystery and some fun action, the movie succeeds on the backs of its performances and it’s comedy. This movie is really funny, this movie is really well made, and I highly encourage all of you to give it a shot.

War Dogs


Of all the films on this list, the one I was least expecting to love would be Todd Phillip’s follow up to The Hangover Part III. I couldn’t have been more surprised when War Dogs ended up being one of the more entertaining and smart movies I had seen this Summer. Telling the story of two 20-somethings who ended up becoming independent weapons contractors to the US government during the Iraq War, War Dogs is equal parts documentary and ridiculous comedy.

While all involved are great and Miles Teller plays a good solid character to introduce us to this wacky world, Jonah Hill is phenomenal in War Dogs. He makes or breaks the movie for you. Either he is the annoying jerk who reminds you of everything wrong with this country and you hate him. Or he is the annoying jerk who reminds you of everything wrong with this country and you enjoy War Dogs for telling this extremely interesting story. There is the real life story we learn about through the film, but really the relationship/chemistry between Hill and Teller makes War Dogs a great story.

So there you have it. Looking at that list I can see why this Summer was rough. Two of the films were in early May and the other three were in late August, that makes for a longer stretch without an enjoyable experience at the theater. Luckily we have crossed over Labor day and the Fall movie season has begun (you can read my weekly Oscar column here). And before I get too down in the dumps, I don’t want to forget about the five movies listed above. All five of those films are truly great. Even without more blockbuster offerings meeting expectations, 2016 is still shaping up to be a great year for movies.

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