Movies are struggling to stay relevant these days, what with the quality of TV and with so many other things grabbing the headlines this year. Here’s a list of films that got noticed by the Penna Powers staff. As you’ll see, many got the attention they deserved and some quietly came and went:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – JK Rowling keeps the checks coming with this first installment of a planned five-film series. Of course, we would be breaking our pattern of picking the movie that inspires our annual holiday card if we didn’t include this one. This was a worthy first film, although it certainly coasts on its Harry Potter credentials for a bit. Once things start moving along, this film becomes something entirely different than what the trailers would have you believe. And considerably darker as well. Oh Colin Farrel, you’re so creepy.
Deadpool – The fan boys finally get the Deadpool movie they’ve been drooling for. Ryan Reynolds actually stars as the titular anti-hero for the second time (anyone remember the much reviled first attempt of the same character in X Men Origins: Wolverine?). Noted for being Marvel’s first major R-rated film and also noted for Stan Lee’s cameo as a dirty old man in a strip club, the movie proved that comic-book films no longer need to stay in the safe PG-13 realm and still make money. Funny, irreverent and self-referential (Deadpool often breaks the fourth-wall with snarky comments, making fun of X-Men movies and Hugh Jackman), it was an unexpected box office sensation, especially for one released on Valentine’s Day weekend.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The first stand-alone Star Wars film without the likes of Han, Luke, Leia or even Lando, the installment explains how the Rebels acquired and relayed knowledge of the Death Star’s fatal flaw. If you didn’t care about that little plot point, the film still works, introducing new characters that you do care about and makes Star Wars: A New Hope so much better in context. Plus, there’s a Vader sighting, and he’s not a happy camper. Plus plus, the movie actually delivers on the potent power of the original teaser trailer, despite not including many of those scenes.
Zootopia – The spot for best animated feature usually goes to the annual Pixar offering, but darn it if Disney Animation isn’t giving them a run for their money. Currently suffering from sequelitis, Pixar dropped Finding Dory and not one of our staffers listed it as a favorite (although Moana didn’t get any either). Last year’s outstanding Inside Out was sandwiched between uninspired outings like The Good Dinosaur and a sequel no one asked for, Monsters University. Incredibly but not surprisingly, three of the next four Pixar releases will be sequels. So that leaves room for this little original gem that no one saw coming. Everyone loves an unexpected hit with a theme that challenges our own temptation to buy into stereotypes. And it has the best ever comedic use of sloths.
Dr. Strange – Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially launched in 2016 with this and another film we’ll talk about later. Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect choice for the egotistical surgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme of New York. What could have been completely hokey was actually a smart, fun and visually arresting spectacle. And a bald Tilda Swinton is never a bad thing, right?
Captain America: Civil War – This was basically The Avengers 3, but I guess it can’t be if we’re missing Hulk and Thor? Doesn’t quite make sense. The other part of Marvel’s Phase 3 was this release. It was expected to be a big hit and it delivered. With the Russo brothers at the helm (they did the last Captain America film), the movie aptly juggled all of the characters and their struggles, introduced new ones and culminated in a bruising battle between the good guys. That darn Bucky is causing so many problems.
Eddie the Eagle – Our official inspirational sports movie of the year award went to Eddie the Eagle, about the unlikely popularity of the frumpy British ski jumper who managed to steal the hearts of the 1988 Olympics fans despite not actually being very good at ski jumping. It hit all of the usual sports movie cliches but was so charming and fun, we were even okay with Hugh Jackman as the grizzled, reluctant coach with a complicated past. And Christopher Walken also stops by to pick up his paycheck.
OJ: Made in America – Officially a movie and not a TV show, so we’re putting it on this list. This five-part ESPN-produced masterpiece on the OJ story revealed how his story is also the story of contemporary American society and its complicated race relations. If you think you know enough because you saw The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story on FX, you don’t know the half of it.
Various Horror Movies – Following 2015’s hypnotic It Follows, this year turned out to be quite a good one for the horror genre. Are you looking for a horror movie that is so scary that it’s rated R not for language, nudity or violence, but for just being plain creepy? Check out The Conjuring 2, continuing an impressive run for the Catholic Horror genre. The Puritan Horror genre got its first installment this year with The Witch, which will make you afraid of goats and people who speak Old English. And finally, there’s the Skinhead Horror genre, which gave us The Green Room, a tense little film featuring an outstanding, creepy and subdued performance by Patrick Stewart, chief executive skinhead of a dingy punk rock club in rural Oregon.
La La Land – We still go to the movies to have fun, right? Well, La La Land burns fun right into the celluloid and doesn’t apologize for it. If 2016 has proved too unsettling to spend it watching depressing, serious, mean, ironic and provocative films, then this movie musical is your antidote to all that. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling light up the screen with their chemistry and unbridled exuberance. If you saw director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, this film is as joyful as that movie was intense.
Honorable Mentions: Moonlight, Arrival, The Nice Guys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hunt for Wilderpeople, Sing Street, The Accountant, Suicide Squad, Collateral Beauty, The Magnificent Seven, Kubo & the Two Strings, Race, Weiner
What do you think we missed? Let us know what you liked in 2016 in the comments below. And be sure to check out the Penna Powers Picks: Best Movies of 2015.