Here we are with the final mini-list of the week: my Top Five Favorite Films of the first half of 2016. (Don’t miss Part 1, 2, 3, or 4!) Keep in mind that there’s a distinction between “favorite” and “best”. These are my favorites. I guess you can think of these as the ones I’m likely to re-watch more than the others. They aren’t necessarily the five “best” of the year but they would likely at least be among the best, in most cases.
I make no apologies. I enjoyed the crap out of Dawn of Justice. There are things I would have done differently. But those things didn’t bother me that much. I loved Superman. I loved Wonder Woman. I tolerated Batman and liked him better by the end. But this was a comic book come to life and I saw things play out in front of my eyes that I never imagined would be possible. Kevin Smith was right; more people need to just appreciate that we’re getting to see this stuff at the level at which we are. Acknowledge the mistakes, but revel in the triumphs. Now, I have three weeks to decide if I’ll be reveling in 3D or in 4K.
From the opening frame of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I vanished from our plane of existence. I was transported into an underground bunker full of mystery, excitement, magic, and a jukebox. I was gripped by the story. I was gripped by the cast. I was gripped by the world-building. I was gripped by the atmosphere. I was gripped by an excellent film. When the film once again released me back into our world, I realized that being an omniscient observer to the events that I had just witnessed was as much fun as I’d had in quite a while and I anxiously awaited the opportunity to do it, again. I have since taken advantage of that opportunity and will do so many more times in the future.
Civil War did everything right. Perfect characterization. Perfect story. Perfect Spider-Man. There were reveals and revelations that impacted the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe and storyline developments that kept the overall narrative moving forward. The action, effects, character work, and dialogue were all flawless. It would have been higher had it surpassed my expectations, rather than simply met them. That’s not a condemnation, though, as my expectations for this one were high and Civil War in no way disappointed.
I knew The Conjuring 2 would be good, but I didn’t know it would be as good as it ended up being. This one almost made it onto my Top Five Pleasant Surprises list, but it didn’t because it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The film was delayed so that James Wan could return to the director’s chair, so that meant that Warner Brothers was taking the quality of the film seriously. Bringing back Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson to reprise their roles as Lorraine and Ed Warren should have been enough to assure me. But I was skeptical because horror sequels tend to underwhelm, if not outright disappoint. But what we got was yet another top-notch, high quality film that also just happened to fall within the horror genre. One minute, I was being scared out of my chair and the next, I was feeling empathy for one of the many relatable, sympathetic characters. My expectations were far exceeded and I’m itching to catch it, again, as soon as I can.
1. The Shallows
If you’ve been reading these columns all week, you should have seen this coming. It’s kind of like when the Academy Awards nominations are being announced and one movie pops up in eight different categories. You just know it’s going to be up for Best Picture at the end of it all. Well, I’m not foolish enough to expect that The Shallows will be nominated for Best Picture, but it is my favorite movie of 2016, so far. I didn’t just watch The Shallows, I experienced it. Forget being an omniscient observer; I was an active participant. Beyond that, the movie was just a gorgeous piece of work, with innovative camera shots and beautiful scenery. Even when the sun sets and the picture goes visually dark, the exquisiteness is never diminished and the film feels like director Jaume Collet-Serra appreciates an artistic approach but lacks the pretentiousness that often joins in tandem. We’re still months away from Oscar season, so it will be difficult for The Shallows to hold this spot on my list for the remainder of the year. But I feel safe in declaring that it will remain in my Top Ten (probably Top Five) and, going into its second weekend, I urge you all to hit the theater over the next few days, and check it out.