The Ten Best Comic Book Movie Castings

There was a time, long ago, when a movie based on a comic book couldn’t even get a greenlight.  Then, slight progress was made so that they could get the go-ahead, but nobody with any name value wanted anywhere near them.  Now, comic books are recognized as the complex pieces of art that they are, with wide-ranging, four-quadrant appeal that has long passed having mere potential and has instead taken over big-budget filmmaking.  As a result, very few talents don’t want to be involved as they can now earn a gigantic paycheck without feeling like they need to compromise themselves and their art to do so.

As a result, there have been many amazing casting choices for comic book films over the decades – and especially in recent years.  I’m delegating to myself the near-impossible task of choosing the ten best.  If your favorite didn’t make this list, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like them.  Save your breath.  Many of my own favorites aren’t making this list.  In fact, I could do a Top Twenty without breaking a sweat, but I’m going to restrain myself, here.

Also, these are not ranked.  That would be painstakingly difficult.  I could probably choose a number one, but after that – no way.  Also, I’m not counting TV.  Only film.  Had I counted TV, only Krysten Ritter, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Melissa Benoist would have likely made the list, anyway.  So, in no particular order, here are . . .

The Ten Best Comic Book Movie Casting Choices in Film History

 

Heath Ledger – The Joker

Joker

Let’s get this one out of the way.  Not that I mean to be dismissive, but I know this is the one that everyone was waiting to see.  So, yes, here he is.  And with good reason.  Ledger’s casting met huge backlash from the omniscient, all-knowing Internet geek world, who claimed he was a pretty boy cheesecake who could never pull off the role.  It wasn’t the first, last, or even millionth time that these people have exposed their ignorance as Ledger threw himself into the part with reckless abandon, perfectly encapsulating the Joker’s more contemporary traits of menace and lunacy, winning an Academy Award (sadly, posthumously) for his efforts.  I personally liked Jack Nicholson’s Joker about as much, as different as it was, but Ledger gets the nod due to his impact and achievement.

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill/Star-Lord

Star-Lord

Chris Pratt’s casting also met with some backlash, though not with the same vehemence as that of Ledger.  Most who had an issue with him pigeonholed him as the chubby guy from “Parks and Rec”, seemingly not understanding that 1) exercise is a thing and 2) the performance is what matters the most.  And Pratt nailed the performance.  Simultaneously smarmy and endearing, Pratt gives us a Star-Lord that wants to get close to people, but has no idea how.  Funny, confident, and relatable, Pratt’s demeanor and delivery are unmatched.  Groot gets all the press, but Pratt is the true on-screen force behind the success of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Hugh Jackman – Logan/James Howlett/Wolverine

Wolverine

You know what?  Let’s just go through all the complaints the “fans” had regarding each of these casting choices.  “He’s a stage actor who does musicals!  How can he be Wolverine?!”  “Nobody’s ever heard of him!  Wolverine should be a star!”  “He’s too tall!”  Yes, folks.  “He’s too tall” was actually a complaint.  Well, we all know how this turned out.  Jackman took the character of Wolverine to a whole new level, making him a true household name and pop culture icon.  Jackman could flip a switch and immediately shift from protective and caring father figure to rampaging, uncontrollable animal.  Complex and layered, Jackman crafted a Wolverine that was far more interesting than his comic book counterpart and will live forever in the annals of pop culture.

Christopher Reeve – Clark Kent/Superman

Superman

Sorry, I can’t do the complaints, here.  There are two reasons: 1) there was no Internet when this film was released and 2) though I was alive at that time, I wasn’t actually old enough to even be aware of my own existence, yet, much less this movie.  But, looking back on Christopher Reeve’s Superman, there is no questioning his performance or his impact.  Reeve was an unknown, which is exactly who Superman needed to be.  He injected the part with heart, sincerity, and depth and his performance had such resonance that fans still see him as the benchmark to this day – almost forty years later.  Reeve helped put comic books on the map as something that wasn’t just child’s play and we might not be where we are today without him.

Robert Downey, Jr. – Tony Stark/Iron Man

Iron Man

Here’s a twist: the majority of the complaints upon Robert Downey, Jr.’s, casting as Iron Man came not from the geek world but from the general audience.  “Robert Downey, Jr. doesn’t look like a superhero!  He doesn’t have muscles and he’s not exactly young, anymore!”  Well, comic book fans knew better in this case and were pretty united (for a change) in their support for this casting decision.  Tony Stark has never been a muscle-bound physical specimen.  He’s a fast-talking, wise-cracking, a-hole businessman with addiction problems.  Downey barely even had to act, at all, perfectly capturing the essence of Tony Stark and charming audiences for over nine years, now.  Thanks to Downey, Iron Man was a massive hit, Marvel Studios was properly launched, Marvel permanently dug themselves out of bankruptcy, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.  For Marvel, Robert Downey, Jr. was a real-life hero.

Anne Hathaway – Selina Kyle/Catwoman

Catwoman

Sadly often overlooked, Anne Hathaway was everything that the comic book Catwoman had ever been and more.  Most complaints were not about her look or her ability but simply because some people out there believe that they’re supposed to hate Anne Hathaway on principle, so they do.  But that’s absurd.  With Hathaway playing Selina Kyle as confident, powerful, selfish without getting to the point of being completely uncaring, enticing, intelligent, and downright seductive, Christopher Nolan struck pure gold for the second time in his Batman career when he selected her as Catwoman.  I even got chills as she fought on a rooftop, back-to-back with Christian Bale’s Batman, bringing to life the Catwoman that I had always envisioned.  There’s a small but vocal pocket of people directing a lot of irrational hate towards The Dark Knight Rises, but none of it is towards Hathaway.

Margot Robbie – Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn

There were really no complaints upon the announcement that Margot Robbie would be playing Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.  Honestly, most people didn’t even know who she was, so that made it hard to complain.  Film lovers knew her from her scene-stealing turn in The Wolf of Wall Street and she quickly became famous for her good looks above all else.  Luckily for the extremely talented Ms. Robbie, that all turned around when Suicide Squad hit theaters all over the world.  Harley Quinn is the only reason that movie happened, so there was a lot of weight on Robbie’s shoulders, but she carried it with ease, once again stealing scene after scene as the cult favorite Harley and solidifying herself as almost the only aspect of the film worth watching.  We’ll see where Harley pops up next (Warner Brothers has said they’re producing a Gotham City Sirens film with Harley, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy.  I’ll believe it when it starts filming.) but both Harley and Robbie are too valuable to the DC Extended Universe to remain on the sidelines for too long.

Henry Cavill – Clark Kent/Superman

Superman Cavill

Yep!  Two Superman choices!  People are actually still complaining about this one.  “This Superman is whiny.”  “He doesn’t save people.”  “He’s hopeless.”  In spite of the facts that the DCEU Superman has never whined, saved the world twice (at great personal expense), and did so because he still believed in the people who turned against him, those complaining about these non-existent issues clearly don’t understand the difference between writing and acting.  Even assuming these things are true, blaming Cavill is laughable, especially when, from his first on-screen appearance as the character, he has exuded the poise, power, chiseled good looks, and demeanor of Superman.  Reeve was perfect as the traditional, classic version of the character.  But Cavill is indispensable as a modern-day hero surrounded by a world of ungrateful cynics – both on- and off-screen.

Ryan Reynolds – Wade Wilson/Deadpool

Deadpool

Reynolds is another rare case where the fans were all onboard from the outset.  Since his days on “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place”, Reynolds has been a master of the cheeky humor that Deadpool has become known for.  The writing wasn’t an exact duplicate of the Deadpool that comic fans have come to love, but it was close enough that most didn’t notice.  Reynolds went to bat for the character after an extremely ill-conceived approach went wrong in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and convinced Fox to give him and Deadpool another chance.  It took a while (a long while), but it worked out exorbitantly well for all.  Deadpool has become yet another household name from the world of comics and his profile is only going to continue to rise, and it’s all thanks to Reynolds.

Gal Gadot – Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman 2

Remember at the beginning of this column when I said that I could probably choose a number one pick?  This would be it.  Gal Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life in a way that makes one almost forget that she’s fictional.  Gadot reeks of honor, wisdom, love, charm, beauty, strength and everything else that makes Diana the hero that she is.  I was so moved by the character and Gadot’s presentation of her that I wrote an emotional analysis addressing why the character is so important in modern society.  With anybody else in the role, that impact would likely be significantly diminished, if not outright lost altogether.  Gadot will possibly now find herself as the face of the DC Extended Universe and one of the most recognizable stars on the planet.  To many people for many generations to come, she will be the definitive Wonder Woman.  And to think, people whined that she “wasn’t big enough”.  (As though Diana’s strength comes from her physique.)

There you have my choices for the ten best casting choices in comic book film history.  There are many more that could have (and almost) made the list, but I chose those with the greatest impact, resonance, and pop-culture footprint.  Much goes into casting choices, and some have not translated well, but for the most part, the professionals should be trusted to do what they do, while we lay back and wait with anticipation to see the results.  I personally can hardly wait to see what’s next!

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The Ten Best Comic Book Movie Castings

Why WONDER WOMAN Matters

Wonder Woman

I just got home from a second viewing of Warner Brothers’s Wonder Woman and I felt compelled to write, again.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  “No, come on, you can take today off.  You’ve already done your next four #ThrowbackThursdays ahead of time.  You stayed up an hour later than you should have, earlier this week, to write a column on America’s increasing lack of box office influence.  And you already wrote about Wonder Woman, just two night ago.  You gave it a great review.  You’ve done your part.  You’ve done enough for the week.”

But I wouldn’t listen to . . . uh . . . me.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t listen because I was more relaxed when watching the movie the second time around.  I wasn’t worried that something horrible was going to happen to ruin my enjoyment of the film.  I knew it was all good.  So, I got to take it in and simply enjoy.  And it was a different experience.  Yes, I already wrote about the film.  But that was with my head.  And this movie deserves more.  Diana deserves more.  Gal Gadot, Warner Brothers, and DC all deserve more.  I had to write about it with my heart.  No film criticism, no self-imposed deadline, and no aiming for a certain word count.  I had to write to get it out and then stop whenever I was done.

Wonder Woman, after seeing it for the second time, has become my third-favorite comic book movie of all-time.  It’s behind only The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you’re keeping track, that makes Wonder Woman my favorite solo comic book movie ever.  And that’s because it plays as more than just an entertaining movie, though it is very much that, as well.  But this film is different because it’s important and because we all needed it, right at this very moment.  And Diana, director Patty Jenkins, and writers Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs knew it.  And they had something they wanted to tell us.

Diana is the greatest single hero in film.  Not just the greatest female hero.  That discussion has been had.  It’s valid, but it’s not what I’m here to discuss.  Not just the greatest comic book hero.  And certainly not just the greatest female comic book hero.  She’s the greatest hero.  Period.

“But Batman!”  No.  I love Batman.  But Diana is a better hero.  Batman doesn’t care what he does to the villains.  He cares for the innocent, but that’s where his caring ends.  Diana genuinely, truly cares for all life.  If she has to hurt – or even kill – someone, she will.  If she absolutely has to.  But it hurts her.  She feels it.  She doesn’t have even the slightest desire to do it.  She cares enough about everyone to want to help them, but she also cares enough about herself to refuse to become them.  She sees the good in herself and in everyone else, too.  Everyone.  Like all of us should.

“But Superman!”  No.  I also love Superman.  I love Superman more than I love Batman.  Superman’s ideology is far more in line with that of a true hero.  But Superman loses faith.  He loses faith in himself.  He loses faith in his beliefs.  He even occasionally loses faith in humanity.  He always comes back around, and he always will, because he’s Superman.  But Diana doesn’t “come around”.  She doesn’t need to, because she never loses faith.  She knows her convictions are true and right.  She knows others can rise to meet them, too.  She knows right from wrong and she never allows anyone to convince her otherwise.  Diana never permits herself to be corrupted and remains steadfast, even against those with the best of intentions.  Like all of us should.

“But Spider-Man!”  No.  I truly, truly love Spider-Man.  I grew up on Spider-Man.  He, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four will always be closer to my heart on a personal level than any other fictional characters, anywhere.  They helped me form my moral center and I will always be grateful to them and the writers and artists who told those stories to me during my formative years.  But Spider-Man gets distracted.  He lets his own personal battles and issues inform his decision-making.  He sometimes becomes reactive, rather than proactive.  As a character, that makes him interesting.  It makes him human and relatable.  But it makes Diana a greater hero.  She has personal relationships.  They mean a lot to her.  But they play second-fiddle to her real mission: to stop suffering and spread peace and love to all corners of existence.  Technically, she makes what we mere mortals would consider personal sacrifices in her ongoing efforts to meet this seemingly impossible goal.  But she’s such a hero that prioritizing her personal issues over the larger, global issues at hand would actually be the personal sacrifice from her perspective.  Diana remains focused on the greater good above all else, at all times.  Like all of us should.

“But Captain America!”  This is the closest one.  In his heart, yes, Captain America is as great and true a hero as Diana.  But he doesn’t have the ability to single-handedly effect change the way that Diana does.  He’s more physically and mentally vulnerable to attack and, despite his best efforts and great abilities, he can’t do what Diana do.  And he will sometimes place those he cares for above the mission at hand.  All other things being even, Diana is the greater hero.

“But the Punisher!”  You shut your filthy face, right now.

We – each and every one of us – are living in a frightening world, where we are completely uncertain of what the next day – or even the next hour – may bring.  More and more often, in more and more places, tyrants are somehow rising to power.  They make decisions for the good people of their respective countries.  Many corrupted citizens support them and thereby grant them even more power.  It often feels insurmountable, as if the world is slipping down into an unknown pit of blackness too quickly for us to grab it by the hand the pull it back to its feet.  And it often seems to many of us as though we are alone.

But we are not alone.  Now we have Diana.  Not in the physical sense, of course.  As amazing as it would be for her (or someone like her) to exist and be able to help us get ourselves and our multinational societies to a place of love and coexistence – to help us depose the despots who are seemingly destroying us from the inside out, a little more each day – we don’t.  We don’t have that.  And we won’t have that.  Diana doesn’t exist in the physical world.  But she exists in another way.  She exists in our minds and our hearts.  She exists in the mind and heart of Patty Jenkins.  And she exists in the mind and heart of Zack Snyder.  And Allan Heinberg.  And Jason Fuchs.  And that means that we are not alone.  They are with us.  And now she also exists in my mind and my heart.  And in the minds and hearts of people around the world who have already paid over $80 million to meet her and to see her story and to be inspired by her worldview.

I know I was.  For all the talk of Diana being an excellent role model for young girls (and she unquestionably is), she inspired the living hell out of the 39-year-old dude typing this column.  She serves as a reminder that there is more good in this world than there is bad.  The bad have a lot of power, right now.  But in order to overcome it, we need to see the good in everyone and cling tightly to the good in ourselves.  It will drain the bad of their power.  We need to remain steadfast in our convictions.  There is strength in numbers.  And we need to remain focused on helping everyone around us.  In helping others, we receive help ourselves.  And in completing that cycle, we put good back out into the world.

Warner Brothers released a series of three official teaser posters prior to the film that each featured a single word that is epitomized by Diana.  Here’s one of them.

Wonder

Here’s another.

Courage

And here’s the third.  (My favorite.  I’ve actually ordered one to frame and hang in my living area/TV room.)

Power

These are all very apt and appropriate, but there’s an important one missing.  There’s one more word that Diana truly embodies.  She embodies this word for all of us at a time when we’ve never needed an avatar for it more.  It’s what she reminds us of.  It’s what she brings us.  It’s why this movie and this character are so important.  It’s why Wonder Woman is the movie and Diana is the hero that we all so desperately need.  In experiencing this film, we are all reminded that there will forever be . . .

. . . hope.

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Why WONDER WOMAN Matters

The Movie March Oscar Preview!

oscar-preview

It’s about that time!  The 2017 Academy Awards are almost upon us!  It’s the biggest night of the year in the industry, when the best of the art form from the previous year is celebrated, and it takes place this Sunday night, February 26!  It’s an opportunity to acknowledge those who have mastered their art and to encourage others to raise their game.

Here’s how this is going to work.  It will be more involved than my Golden Globes Preview, which I put together rather quickly.  In this particular preview, I will choose the ten highest-profile categories and score each nominee using my own personal scoring system.  The ratings reflect my own personal opinion.  After choosing my favorite, I will also choose the nominee that I expect to win, regardless of who I’m rooting for.

SCORING SYSTEM:
The scoring system will range from zero Emilia Clarkes (the lowest possible) to ten Emilia Clarkes (the highest possible).  Even one Emilia Clarke is fantastic, because any Emilia Clarke is better than no Emilia Clarke.  Finally, an “N/A” means I didn’t get a chance to see the film.  Away we go!

The 2017 Movie March Oscar Preview!

Animated Feature Film

animated-feature

The Nominees:

  • Kubo and the Two Strings10-emilias

  • Moana

    8-emilias

  • My Life as a Zucchini

    N/A

  • The Red Turtle

    N/A

  • Zootopia

    7-emilias

Want to win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Analysis: Kubo was one of the absolute best movies of the year, but not enough people saw it.  That includes the voters in the Academy.  Had they seen it, they’d vote for it, but nobody is going to vote for something they haven’t seen.  With the current social climate, voters will reward the message of fair-mindedness and inclusion put forth by Zootopia.  I hope Pixar feels the sting of not being nominated and comes firing back on all cylinders, soon.

Prediction: Zootopia

ZOOTOPIA

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Visual Effects

visual-effects

The Nominees:

  • Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington, and Burt Dalton –

    N/A

  • Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, and Paul Corbould –

    7-emilias

  • The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon –

    8-emilias

  • Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean, and Brad Schiff –

    9-emilias

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould –

    8-emilias

Want to win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Analysis: The special effects team for Kubo and the Two Strings went above and beyond with their stop-motion animation to the degree that I don’t even understand how they did much of what they did.  I’ve never been so awed, baffled, and astounded by what I was looking at.  But, again, the Academy didn’t see the film.  And they have a history of ignoring the actual visual effects in this category and simply voting for the most serious, least-fun film that’s nominated.  I would love to be wrong, here, but that leads me to one final conclusion.

Prediction: Deepwater Horizon

deepwater-horizon

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Original Screenplay

original-screenplay

The Nominees:

  • Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan –
    8-emilias

  • Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan –
    9-emilias

  • La La Land, Damien Chazelle –
    10-emilias

  • 20th Century Women, Mike Mills –
    9-emilias

  • The Lobster, Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos –
    7-emilias

Want to win: La La Land

Analysis: This one is actually a little tough.  It’s a race between Manchester by the Sea and La La Land.  The latter is the better-written film, but the former has gotten a lot of praise and awards.  But Manchester has also gotten some negative publicity, lately, due to Casey Affleck’s past and, fair or not, the entire production’s chances may be affected – even in categories where Affleck isn’t specifically nominated.  Even without that, though, La La Land may be an unstoppable juggernaut.

Prediction: La La Land

la-la-land-still

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Adapted Screenplay

 adapted-screenplay

The Nominees:

  • Lion, Luke Davis –
    10-emilias

  • Arrival, Eric Heisserer –
    10-emilias

  • Moonlight, Barry Jenkins –
    8-emilias

  • Hidden Figures, Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder –
    5-emilias

  • Fences, August Wilson –
    7-emilias

Want to win: Arrival

Analysis: For my personal pick, this is a close race between Lion and ArrivalLion was a moving and near-transformational experience whereas Arrival was a brilliant and thought-provoking mind-bender – the very epitome of thinking-person’s science-fiction.  The thought put into Arrival, complete with the trickiness of adapting that story, puts it on top of my personal list.  Hidden Figures was as paint-by-numbers as it possibly could have been and truly underserved that story.  Moonlight and Fences both offered powerful perspectives on varying relationships and the struggle of minorities to find their place in the world.  The darling of the bunch, however, is Moonlight.

Prediction: Moonlight

moonlight

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Actress in a Supporting Role

supporting-actress

The Nominees:

  • Viola Davis, Fences
    10-emilias

  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
    7-emilias

  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
    7-emilias

  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
    6-emilias

  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
    8-emilias

Want to win: Viola Davis

Analysis: This one seems like an easy pick, on the surface.  Octavia Spencer is the wrong nominee from Hidden Figures (it should have been Taraji P. Henson).  Nicole Kidman and Naomie Harris both gave strong performances but not strong enough to stand out amongst the rest of the brilliance of the films around them.  Michelle Williams was memorable.  But all of them were outperformed by the powerful Viola Davis in Fences.  I doubt this one is even close.  Stranger things have happened, but I feel comfortable saying . . .

Prediction: Viola Davis

viola-davis-fences

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Actor in a Supporting Role

supporting-actor

The Nominees:

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
    10-emilias

  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
    8-emilias

  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
    5-emilias

  • Dev Patel, Lion
    10-emilias

  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
    6-emilias

Want to win: Dev Patel

Analysis:  As tough as it is for me to choose who I want to win this one, I think the choice of who will win is a little easier.  Lucas Hedges did fine, but his role essentially amounted to a lot of moping and whining.  Michael Shannon – much like Octavia Spencer in the previous category – was the wrong choice to be nominated, here.  It should have been Aaron Taylor-Johnson, instead.  Jeff Bridges was fantastic, as always, but that particular role did very little to push his abilities.  So, it comes down to Mahershala Ali and Dev Patel.  I had trouble picking a personal favorite between the two as Ali gave a subtle, commanding performance, but Patel really moved me during the conclusion of Lion.  Because of that, I personally would like to see Patel take it home, but I’m pretty sure the Academy will reward Ali for his efforts, which is fine with me.

Prediction: Mahershala Ali

mahershala-ali-moonlight

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Actor in a Leading Role

lead-actor

The Nominees:

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
    7-emilias

  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
    8-emilias

  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
    8-emilias

  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
    6-emilias

  • Denzel Washington, Fences
    10-emilias

Want to win: Denzel Washington

Analysis: This is a tough one.  It’s certainly tougher than it would have been, a month ago.  Mortensen was fine but not challenged.  Gosling and Garfield were tremendous but their roles weren’t quite as dynamic or subtle as others.  Washington absolutely blew me away with a very powerful and complex performance in Fences.  I thought Casey Affleck did a good job in Manchester by the Sea, but I found his part to be a rather restrictive showcase consisting mostly of sadness and melancholy .  Nonetheless, he’s been the favorite of other awards shows.  However, recently some allegations involving Affleck have gained a higher profile.  Regardless of anyone’s opinion regarding whether they’re true or, if so, whether the art should be separated from the artist, I’m going to go way out on a limb and predict (especially after the results of the Screen Actors Guild awards) that enough voters will be swayed away from Affleck to give Washington the much-deserved accolade.

Prediction: Denzel Washington

denzel-washington-fences

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Actress in a Leading Role

 lead-actress

The Nominees:

  • Emma Stone, La La Land
    8-emilias

  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
    8-emilias

  • Ruth Negga, Loving
    7-emilias

  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
    4-emilias

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle – N/A

Want to win: Emma Stone

Analysis: This one is a little frustrating for me.  First of all, I failed at every turn to see Elle.  It’s the only film up for a major nomination that I could never manage to catch, and I hate that.  It sounds great and I’m anxious to eventually watch it.  Huppert might actually be a favorite in this category after winning the Golden Globe, but the fact that Elle is shockingly not nominated for Best Foreign Language Film makes me think that her chances are slim.  Secondly, Meryl Streep should absolutely not be nominated in this – or any other – category, this year.  Florence Foster Jenkins was a mediocre, mean-spirited movie and Streep’s character required very little of her.  She basically just acts silly throughout the whole thing and gets a free pass to an Oscar nomination because she’s Meryl Streep.  Meanwhile, truly deserving actresses such as Amy Adams for Arrival and Hailee Steinfeld for The Edge of Seventeen (which I just re-watched.  And, yes, it holds up.) are left sitting on the sidelines.  I would actually rate both of those performances above all four of the nominees that I’ve seen.  Regardless, we have three very solid performances, here.  Stone and Portman are neck-and-neck, but it seems to be the year of La La Land.

Prediction: Emma Stone

emma-stone-la-la-land

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Directing

 directing

The Nominees:

  • Denis Villanueve, Arrival
    9-emilias

  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
    8-emilias

  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
    10-emilias

  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
    8-emilias

  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
    8-emilias

Want to win: Damien Chazelle

Analysis: This category is stacked.  My personal favorites are Chazelle, for his ingenious presentation methods in La La Land – especially towards the end – and Villanueve for his sleight of hand and skillful misdirection in Arrival.  Villanueve won’t win, though, because his picture is science-fiction.  Gibson won’t win because . . . well, you know.  The other three will be a tight race, but Chazelle takes it home.

Prediction: Damien Chazelle

la-la-land-still-2

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Best Picture

 best-picture

The Nominees:

  • Arrival
    10-emilias

  • Fences
    7-emilias

  • Hacksaw Ridge
    8-emilias

  • Hell or High Water
    9-emilias

  • Hidden Figures
    6-emilias

  • La La Land
    10-emilias

  • Lion
    10-emilias

  • Manchester by the Sea
    8-emilias

  • Moonlight
    8-emilias

Want to win: Lion

Analysis: Best Picture.  The nominees in this category each year are the films that push and challenge us.  They challenge our emotions.  They challenge our minds.  They challenge our perspectives.  They challenge our worldviews.  How to choose the best of these?  Methodically, that’s how.  If a film’s director isn’t nominated for Best Directing, then the film isn’t winning Best Picture.  So, we’re down to five.  Arrival is astounding, but it’s also sci-fi.  Down to four.  Hacksaw Ridge and Manchester by the Sea are plagued by potential political controversy.  Down to two.  And one of those two is a movie about Hollywood.  Sorry, Moonlight.  In any other year, you’d take home the trophy.  But this year, it’s all about . . .

Prediction: La La Land

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And that’s it!  Thank you for reading!  I hope you all enjoy the show and that all of my favorites win!   And if they don’t, then I hope my predictions win!  And if they don’t, I hope your favorites win, as long as you aren’t pulling for Meryl Streep.

And thank you to Emilia Clarke for her help, which she obviously totally knew about, you guys.  How could you even question.  How.  And, on that note, it’s once again time to say goodbye, for now.  Emilia, one more time?  Bye!

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2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #5-1

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This is it!  The end of the 2016 Year-in-Review!  In case you missed the rest of the countdown, here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!  Did your favorite make it onto my list?  If not, don’t fret.  It’s only because it wasn’t good enough!  (Or maybe I just missed it?)  You know which films were good enough?  These!  The Top Five of . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

5. Arrival

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It’s hard to single out one single strength when it comes to Arrival.  A science-fiction film aimed at the sophisticated, deep-thinking adult, the film approaches the idea of extra-terrestrial life not as an excuse to justify war and guns, but as an opportunity to connect with other sentient beings, learn from each other, and grow.  Of course, humans are humans, so the film accurately represents the way society would react, as a whole.  But the message to the film is clear and it’s for you to discover (unless you’re fortunate enough to have seen the film, already, in which case you’ve discovered it).  On top of all of that, the film poses the most thought-provoking question I’ve encountered in a film in quite some time.  Anytime a movie gets me to think about myself on a level I had never thought, before, it’s a win.  Arrival was just nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and it’s much-deserved.  It’s also back in theaters, so go check this one out if you love intelligent film.  Think of it as 2016’s Ex Machina.  (Original post.)

4. The Edge of Seventeen

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The Edge of Seventeen was marketed as a coming-of-age story and, on the surface, that’s exactly what it is.  But there’s so much more to it than that.  Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig delivers an immensely quick and witty script with clever dialogue and believable characters.  Everyone felt like people I know or have known throughout my life.  This adds an element of empathy for each one of them that most movies unfortunately lack.  But even a fantastic script is not sufficient on its own.  As great as the entire cast is (including Woody Harrelson, who owns the Mr. Bruner role), it’s Hailee Steinfeld who elevates the film above others of its ilk.  She doesn’t simply act; she becomes.  Her feeling, her mannerisms, her facial expressions, her delivery . . . it’s all natural, perfect, memorable, and impactful.  She’s one of the single best talents in Hollywood, today, and The Edge of Seventeen was precisely the showcase that she needed.  (Original post.)

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

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I really thought that Kubo and the Two Strings was going to finish the year as my top film.  And it came so close.  I still wouldn’t argue with anyone who placed this film on the top of their list.  And I’d dismiss any list that didn’t have this film somewhere near the top.  Because this film is just that good.  It’s that good on both the creative and technical (which, in essence, is just a different form of creativity) levels.  Creatively, Kubo presents a story about love, loss, growth, friends, and family that the world simply needs to listen to, right now.  And it does so with intelligence, humor, atmosphere, action, and originality.  Technically, Laika Studios takes stop-motion animation to a previously-unimaginable level.  It’s so amazing that it’s nominated for Best Special Effects at the Academy Awards.  And you know what?  It deserves to win.  Truthfully, it deserves so much more than that.  It deserves a Best Picture nomination (rather than just the Best Animated Feature nomination that it did attain).  It deserves hundreds of millions of dollars at the worldwide box office (it certainly deserves more than The Secret Life of Pets).  It deserves to be a go-to classic for families and film-lovers, anywhere.  It’s too late for a couple of those things.  But for that last one, there’s still a chance.  You owe it to yourself to give the gift of Kubo and the Two Strings.  (Original post.)

2. La La Land

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La La Land is one of those films that I expected to be good, but was even better than I could have imagined.  Yes, it’s great in all of the typical ways that a great movie is great: performances, story, characters, dialogue, musical numbers (in this case), pacing, entertainment value, and so on.  But where this film really surprised me was in its presentation.  Damien Chazelle masters the art of the most basic foundation of storytelling through film: show, don’t tell.  If there’s a unique and inventive way to get an idea across through sight or sound without relying on expositional dialogue, Chazelle will find it, every time.  And then, he’ll find a better way and that is the one he’ll go with.  Following this film and his almost-equally-incredible Whiplash (featuring J.K. Simmons in one of my favorite performances in the history of film), Chazelle has officially arrived.  And seeing the commercial success of La La Land ($182 million worldwide and counting on a $30 million budget), we can safely assume he’ll have carte blanche, moving forward, which is something for film lovers, everywhere, to be supremely excited about.  (Original post.)

And finally . . .

1. Lion

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I don’t know what more I can say beyond the fact that Lion moved me more than any other film I’ve seen in my entire life.  Seriously.  I don’t even want to watch it with another person because it’s going to make me cry.  Probably a lot.  And that’s the point of art: to move.  This film reminded me of everything that’s truly important in life.  And it reminded me of why.  It made me feel love for the people who are important to me.  It made me feel love for the people that I’ve lost.  It made me feel love for the good people of the world that I’ve never even met.  And it reminded me that other people feel that love, too, because they made this movie.  And that gave me hope for our world, even as others in that world try to take that hope away from all of us on a daily basis.  There is more love than there is hate.  And love can accomplish amazing things.  Love can accomplish the impossible.  But sometimes, love needs a vessel.  In 2016, love’s theatrical vessel was Lion.  With six Academy Award and four Golden Globe nominations – including Best Picture at both – it’s clear that I’m not the only one who felt this film.  Lion is without question, my top movie of the year.  But it’s more than just a movie.  It’s a source of hope, support, and inspiration.  (Original post.)

And – other than a likely Oscar preview column – that’s a wrap for 2016!  If you haven’t seen any of these films, get right on that.  And keep my comments in mind as you watch them.  Look for the good.  Let the story tell itself, don’t make demands of the story.  These aren’t our stories to tell; they’re our stories to listen to.  Enjoy.  See you, soon.

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2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #5-1

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #10-6

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Welcome to Part 3 of The Top 25 Films of 2016!  We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty, with only one more Year-in-Review column remaining after today!  In case you missed them, here are part one and part two!  Has your favorite shown up, yet?  If not, maybe it will, today, as we carry on with . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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We’re really getting into the best of the best, now, and 10 Cloverfield Lane is certainly in that conversation.  The fact that this film came out in March and stayed in the Top Ten all year is remarkable.  So, why is it here?  Well, why wouldn’t it be?  It’s suspenseful.  It’s sharp.  It’s fast-paced.  It’s unpredictable.  It builds logically.  The dialogue is gripping, with subtle undertones.  The characters are mysterious, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing the empathetic protagonist to perfection.  And it never gets too complicated.  Simple.  Immeasurably effective.  (Original post.)

9. Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange wasn’t the 2016 Marvel Cinematic Universe film that I expected to be this high on my year-end list.  Yet, here it sits.  It was the perfect concoction of humor, action, ingenuity, urgency, visuals, performances, storyline advancement, and those ever-important watercooler moments.  The movie was a reminder of why Marvel’s vast library of characters resonates so strongly with all audiences and also that they know how to brilliantly straddle the line between appealing to hardcore fans and to the uninitiated.  Doctor Strange surpassed all expectations and has made yet another Marvel character into a household name.  (Original post.)

8. The Conjuring 2

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Have I complimented The Conjuring 2 too much?  Don’t be silly.  When it comes to the greatest horror sequel of all time, one can’t possibly compliment enough.  I’m going to repeat myself, here, but this film isn’t only a great horror film, but a great film, period.  The characters and story take precedence over all else and the horror elements work around them.  And they are scary in part because we love the characters so much.  We feel for them.  They’re presented as real, genuine, complex people just like the rest of us.  Those horror elements are also masterfully staged, being more impactful than any I can remember since . . . well . . . The Conjuring.  This franchise isn’t the “gold” standard in horror, but the platinum standard.  Here’s to hoping that the quality remains this high for future installments.  (Original post.)

7. The Shallows

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There was no film in 2016 that was more intense, thrilling, or beautiful than The Shallows.  Unique by its very nature, this is a mass-appealing horror-thriller filmed with art school sensibilities.  Some of the shots are seemingly simple and elegant, while also being hair-raising and blood-pumping.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra knows exactly how to get the desired reactions from his audience and Blake Lively shoulders most of the load in the process.  Anyone who can’t admit that she’s an outstanding actress after seeing this movie is just deluding themselves.  I hope to see much more of both Lively and Collet-Serra in the months and years to come.  (Original post.)

6. Nocturnal Animals

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Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is like a dance between filmmaker and viewer where the filmmaker knows the steps and the viewer is blindfolded but follows along while hoping for the best, but gets to watch a video of the whole thing, the next day.  That’s a compliment, trust me.  Ford, Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Isla Fisher grab the audience by the hand . . ..  No, they don’t.  That’s not accurate.  They grab the audience by the hair and drag them through a deeply moving, impactful, passionate story and then leave them to their own devices to determine exactly what it was all supposed to mean.  People who don’t like (or want) to think won’t appreciate that.  For the rest of us, it’s a thrill that will possibly haunt us forever.  (Original post.)

Okay, we’re almost there!  Only one column remains in the Movie March’s 2016 Year-in-Review!  What’s at the top of the heap?  What’s number one?  Follow us on Facebook and don’t miss it!

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #10-6

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #15-11

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Okay, we’re picking up where we left off.  If you missed it, here’s Part 1 with numbers 25 through 16!  Moving on with . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

15. 20th Century Women

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If not for its well-deserved Golden Globe nominations, I might have missed out on 20th Century Women.  What a shame that would have been.  This film, by writer/director Mike Mills, works on multiple levels and excels on all of them.  A little bit of a comedy and a little bit of a drama, the film comes at the audience by daring them to look at life from the perspectives of the people around them, rather than just their own.  There’s not an adult on the planet that wouldn’t pick up a little bit of wisdom from this film, and – despite being a quiet and lowkey experience – it’s also entertaining along the way.  (Original post.)

14. Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the Sea is a tough but rewarding experience.  It has a reputation for being unrelentingly depressing, but if that had been the case, it would have come in lower on my list.  The film is ultimately about the importance of family.  Yes, sad things happen.  But the characters also learn and grow and change in inspiring ways.  At its heart, the themes of hope and love reverberate throughout the film.  Throw some impressive performances and directing into the mix and Manchester by the Sea is a film that should resonate with anyone who has someone in their life that matters to them.  (Original post.)

13. Hell or High Water

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In what can most efficiently be described as a modern western, Hell or High Water tells the story of a pair of charismatic bank-robbing brothers who are trying to take the shortcut to a better life while being pursued by a pair of equally-charismatic law officers who are determined to catch them and hold them responsible for their crimes.  The standout in this film is Jeff Bridges who, as Officer Marcus Hamilton, steals the show with his sly jabs at his partner and his raw skills in enforcing the law.  The fact that a man can say such inappropriate things to a friend and still come off as undeniably likable is a testament to Bridges.  The rest of the film is a quick-witted, fast-moving caper that’s always one step ahead of the audience.  (Original post.)

12. Moana

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“Break the conventions and act like it’s no big thing.”  That must have been Disney’s mantra when crafting the masterpiece that is Moana.  For the first time that I can recall offhand, Disney released an animated feature film with a female lead that didn’t even hint at or mention the possibility of a romantic interest.  Pixar released Brave in 2012 which was similar in that regard.  But, in that film, while Merida had no desire for a relationship, the very idea of a relationship was a large part of the story and directly led to the film’s primary conflict.  In Moana, nobody even has love on the mind and Moana, herself, is allowed to exist as an independent character who just happens to also be a woman.  And Disney never feels the need to call attention to it, which would just dilute the impact.  It’s refreshing.  Amidst all this is peerless animation, powerful music (not Frozen-powerful, but good, regardless), and excellent voicework.  The story is fast and fun, while also sending a great message to kids and adults alike.  (Original post.)

11. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Ohhhhhh, so close to making my Top Ten of 2016!  Sorry, Star Wars, this year it’s the bridesmaid instead of the bride (or the groomsman instead of the groom.  It works both ways, you know.).  That’s not in any way a slam on the film, though.  Rogue One delivered in all of the expected ways and then in plenty of unexpected ways, too.  People whining about the digital versions of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia notwithstanding (people complain about anything that’s new or different.  They’ll get over themselves.), the film thrilled audiences with old-school Star Wars action that harkened back to the original trilogy.  And then it surprised audiences with its explanation as to why these characters were nowhere to be found in those classic films.  There were plenty of potential reasons for that, and the filmmakers picked a difficult one to pull off in a barn-burning blockbuster.  I salute them for not going easy on themselves.  What wasn’t surprising was Felicity Jones delivering an outstanding, layered performance as Jyn Erso.  All of this adds up to a superior film that left audiences wanting more.  (Original post.)

And you’ll get more in Part 3 of my Top 25 Films of 2016!  Until then, make sure you don’t miss it and follow us on Facebook!

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #15-11

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #25-16

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Here we go.  I’ve been trying to see as many straggling 2016 films that I can before compiling this list.  Truth be told, there are still a few that I need to see, but it doesn’t look like I have any way of seeing them for at least two weeks, and I don’t want to put this list off, any longer.  I honestly believe that any of those three (A Monster Calls, Elle, and Loving) have a shot at cracking this list, which bothers me.  But, once I see them, I’ll give them their proper due, if they deserve it.  All together, counting the films that I watched at home, I saw 114 2016 films.

So, the question is this: What determines if a film is one of 2016’s “top” films for this list?  What is a “top” film?  A film that I liked on a subjective level?  A film more objectively determined to be of high-quality, regardless of how much I personally did or didn’t enjoy it?  Well . . . it’s both.  The higher the combination of the two, the higher it places on this list.  If these were my 25 “favorite” films, it would be a different list.  If these were what I saw as 2016’s 25 “best” films, it would also be a different list.  These are the films that I’m most likely to both recommend and revisit.  So, here are the 25 films from 2016 that I felt had the strongest mix of quality and entertainment value.  And it’s my list, so just deal.

Regardless, nothing is on here without good reason, and I’ll give brief explanations for each inclusion and, sometimes, for its position.  So, let’s get started!  Here – in my opinion – are . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

25. Zootopia

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I loved this movie.  The fact that it ranks so “low” on this list just speaks to the strength of the other films.  It lacked some of the wit and cleverness that I expect from Disney, which is why it isn’t higher.  But the themes and messages are bold for an animated feature coming out of Buena Vista Entertainment, the characters are memorable and lovable (looking at you, Flash!), and the animation is brilliant.  Zootopia is an amazing film.  (Original post.)

24. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Yep.  I make no apologies.  In a Best-Of list, this one doesn’t make it.  But throw in the entertainment value, and it’s enough for this particular list.  I don’t care what anybody else thinks, the last 45-60 minutes of this film is everything I always dreamed of seeing in comic book movies when I was a kid.  There were characterization problems.  There were logic issues.  But there was also the Trinity vs Doomsday in the battle to end all battles.  And it was spectacular.  And there was Wonder Woman.  She couldn’t have been more amazing.  You don’t have to love the film.  But you can’t say with any degree of credibility that it didn’t have its strong points, either.  (Original post.)

23. Moonlight

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I can hear the whining, now.  “Moonlight is only one spot above Batman v Superman?!  Wah wah wah!”  If that’s what you’re thinking or planning to type, just stop.  You’ll just expose the fact that you didn’t read the introduction and don’t understand what the list is.  In a Best-of list, Moonlight would be significantly higher than number 23.  But, combining quality with entertainment value, it drops.  There is little-to-no entertainment value in this film.  That isn’t a criticism; it’s simply an observation.  Moonlight isn’t about entertainment and it’s not trying to entertain.  From A24 Studios, Moonlight is a vessel to communicate a story and a message.  It does so beautifully.  Its immense quality is enough to get it on this list even without the entertainment aspect, and that should be enough to count as a wholehearted endorsement of this film.  (Original post.)

22. The Witch

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“Art-house horror” is the phrase that was bandied about when trying to succinctly sum up The Witch.  Combining horrific ideas and visuals, sociopolitical commentary, an immersive atmosphere, and performances that transport the viewer to another time (with the help of some amazing set and costume designers), the film at once delivers a thought-provoking narrative for the more-discerning audiences and an unnerving horror film for those seeking a more traditional experience without thinking too much about the subtext (as long as they can get past the fact that it’s a period piece).  A24 Studios is one of the three best, most consistent production studios in the industry and The Witch is another fine example of their work.  (Original post.)

21. Shin Gojira

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Shin Gojira was my single favorite movie-going experience in all of 2016.  It was a sold-out screening, packed full of immensely enthusiastic Gojira lovers who understand the property.  The film maintains the franchise’s tradition of doubling as a political metaphor as it presents itself as an action film on the surface.  After hilariously mocking the inefficiency of governmental operations in a given scene, Shin Gojira will often then shift tones and slam the viewer with an impressively epic battle scene.  And what about the creature’s first form in the film?  There were audible gasps from the audience (and I might have been one of them).  It was bizarre and par for the course for a film that surprised at every turn.  (Original post.)

20. Captain America: Civil War

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Captain America: Civil War did everything right.  The characters were spot on.  The action was on a grand scale.  It delivered Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It featured a level of complexity rarely seen in films of this genre.  The only reason it isn’t higher is because I felt it lacked surprise “moments”, so to speak.  Not storyline twists.  We got those.  I mean the little watercooler moments that other MCU films such as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier provided (though some of Ant-Man’s lines came pretty close).  But that’s minor.  The film delivered in all of the most important ways.  (Original post.)

19. Café Society

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I have said many, many times, over the course of my life, that Woody Allen’s films are better when he sticks to writing and directing and leaves the acting to the professionals.  Café Society is yet another fine example of that.  Allen is such a talented director that he actually gets a charismatic performance out of Kristen Stewart.  The rest of his casting is perfect, as well, with Jesse Eisenberg and Blake Lively, in particular, bringing their A-games.  A whimsical look at old Hollywood, Café Society is all at once charming, heartbreaking, enlightening, and entertaining.  (Original post.)

18. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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If I had decided to do a “2016’s Top Five Films That Were Most Unfairly Overlooked by Audiences and Critics, Alike” list (and maybe I should have), Hunt for the Wilderpeople would have absolutely been number one.  This movie has everything that everyone says they look for in movies.  And I mean everyone.  General audiences would love it, if they would just watch it.  Critics did love it, but it’s gone entirely overlooked during awards season, anyway.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be getting Best Picture nominations at every awards show.  Every single one.  But, we’ll have to settle for allowing it to reign in our hearts.  Which it forever will.  (Original post.)

17. The Nice Guys

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The Nice Guys was probably the movie that surprised me the most in 2016.  I saw it because of the reviews, but expected to dislike it, anyway.  I haven’t often been impressed by director Shane Black, I’m not crazy about the seventies decade, and the trailers didn’t showcase the best material from the film.  Thankfully, I trust the professionals who know what they’re talking about, and the critics got me into the theater.  I had a blast watching Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe stumble their way through their investigation and will happily revisit this film throughout the years.  (Original post.)

16. Swiss Army Man

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I’m starting to repeat myself, here, but coming from – yet again – A24 Studios, Swiss Army Man is the most inventive, outside-the-box movie of 2016.  There’s never been anything like it and there will never be anything like it, again.  If you want to be taken off guard, constantly surprised, consistently laughing, and endlessly entertained, turn this one on, get comfortable, and let Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano blow you away.  I promise you that you’ll never forget it.  (Original post.)

I’ll be back with the next installment in the next day or two!  In the meantime, make sure you don’t miss it and follow us on Facebook!

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #25-16