Sorry, True Believers. I meant to post two blogs for you this week to make up for missing last week, but real life has a way of getting in the way, so for now, you get this. Please enjoy!
For moviegoers, 2016 was an often scatterbrained year, particularly for blockbusters. From the heights of Marvel Studios and Star Wars to the controversial Ghostbusters remake, it vacillated from exciting to abysmal.
So, for your reading pleasure, here are my top five favorite films of 2016. It was hard to narrow the list down since there were many films I enjoyed (including a few others didn’t). (Disclaimer: There were a few films I wanted to see that I didn’t around to, like Hacksaw Ridge, which may have changed this list. I just thought you should know).
5. Kubo and the Two Strings
A one-eyed boy who earns money to care for his brain-damaged mother by working as a bard. He plays music, which magically brings origami figures to life to illustrate his stories. Now dark forces are after him because he’s more powerful than he realizes.
This was the most surprising movie of the year for me. While it looked somewhat interesting in previews, I saw it mostly because my artist brother, Jarod, who’s a huge animation aficionado, wanted to see it. I’ve seen Laika’s other films, and while I liked them well enough, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. This movie, though, spoke to me. Not only did I enjoy the Japanese backdrop, but with story/storytelling being a key theme, I couldn’t help but resound with it. The stop-motion animation remains unique and superb, especially in this age of CGI. Plus, it’s bold in that it has a melancholy ending, which is rare for a family film. Plus, the theme song is the lesser-known Beatles song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
4. Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla: Resurgence)
A nigh-invincible giant beast comes ashore and wreaks havoc in Japan, forcing its leaders to battle government bureaucracy to save the country.
As a fan of the Godzilla franchise (so much so I’m starting a podcast about it), I wasn’t sure I’d get a chance to see this at all, but Funimation surprised everyone by giving it a limited two-week release in October. This was easily one of the strangest and most unique Godzilla films in years, thanks in large part to director/co-screenwriter Hideaki Anno, who created the (in)famous anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. He brought several of his collaborators from that series to work on this film, and it shows. There were points I felt like I was watching a lost live-action episode of Eva. Shin Godzilla satirizes government bureaucracy, showing how it slows things down in a crisis, and even non-Japanese audiences can appreciate that. There’s clear influence from the 3-11 disasters and the Fukushima meltdown, as Japan is dealing with an ever-evolving crisis. A marked departure in this film is the use of CGI and a little puppetry to bring the title monster to life, which upset some fans, but it still became a huge hit. The climax is a slam-bang thrill ride that is sure to please.
3. Doctor Strange
An arrogant has his hands irreparably damaged in a car accident, and during his travels to find a cure, stumbles upon a commune of magicians led by a woman called the Ancient One. She teaches him how to harness magic and, eventually, to combat dark forces intent on destroying the world.
Both Marvel and DC were pumping out movies in 2016, but Marvel Studios (not 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies) came out on top for me. They took a risk with Doctor Strange, but they proved once again that they can make a compelling movie out of even their more obscure characters. Like their previous risky venture, Guardians of the Galaxy, it expands on the MCU and adds fascinating new facets to it. All the while, it remains entertaining, thought-provoking, and exciting. The director/co-screenwriter, Scott Derrickson, is, ironically, a devout Christian, and it shows. It explores deep themes of self-sacrifice, spiritual discovery, and self-denial in ways not typically seen in a Hollywood blockbuster (such as the secret to channeling magic being surrender). It’s also one of the most visually unique and engrossing films of the year (even if it does owe a little to Inception).
2. Captain America: Civil War
The Avengers are split when a U.N. sanction superheroes putting superheroes under government regulation is passed. Now Iron Man leads a team of heroes against Captain America and a rogue faction as they pursue a terrorist with a vendetta against Cap.
It was tough choosing between this and Doctor Strange, but in the end Civil War (aka Avengers 2.5) won out. Mostly because Cap is one of my favorite superheroes, but the film itself is remarkable. Like the comic that inspired it, the film examines a very real-world issue—government control—by playing “what if?” If superheroes existed, there would be attempts to control them. It begs the question: are superpowers any different than guns? Thankfully, it presents both sides of the argument, never vilifying either side even though this is technically a Captain America film and we’re meant to root for him. This is the darkest film in the MCU’s canon, with its climax being an emotional brawl not between both teams of superheroes (that was act two) but between Cap and Iron Man. Also, the villain, Zemo, is arguably successful. While he’s captured, he succeeds at turning the Avengers against each other and breaking up the team. With Infinity War just around the corner, who knows what will happen next.
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A ragtag team of criminals, soldiers, and defectors defies the Rebel Alliance and infiltrates an Imperial Empire stronghold to steal the plans to a secret superweapon called the Death Star.
It may seem a little strange that Star Wars edges out my favorite superhero as my favorite film, but out of every movie I saw this year, this struck the best balance of risk, quality, and experimentation. This was the first of the Disney-produced “anthology films” for Star Wars. Unlike the other ones that have been announced, this one has an entirely new set of characters while familiar characters are relegated to bit roles. However, it does focus on a story long-known to fans: the famous “dead Bothan spies” mentioned in the original 1977 classic. The film succeeds not only in telling that story but in retroactively adding another layer to the original film. The biggest reason I love this movie, though, is how daringly different it is. It still has enough franchise trappings to be called a Star Wars movie, but it doesn’t have stuff like an opening text crawl or Jedi. It’s also the first time Star Wars, at least on the big screen, has delved in moral gray (with the possible exception of Revenge of the Sith). Star Wars traditionally likes black and white—Dark Side and Light Side, if you will—while Rogue One presents audiences with heroes who’ve all made morally-questionable choices. I also love Chirrut (played by martial arts superstar Donny Yen), who, while not a Jedi, relates to the Force in a manner more like faith than mysticism, which is a big departure.
Okay, I think I need to stop before I rave about this for hundreds of words.
Do you agree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2016?