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2016 in Film.

Queso, usually I’d put a bunch of excuses in this opening paragraph about why this is going up so late, when the real question is: nearly ten months into 2017, why even do this Best of 2016 movie list at all? (Answer: I’m a completionist and it was bugging me.) But really the bigger issue here is: I missed a LOT of movies last year.

I missed Oscar contenders (Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge) and Oscar bait (Allied, Florence Foster Jenkins). I missed promising indies (Captain Fantastic, American Pastoral) and movies with cult-cachet (Swiss Army Man, High-Rise, Elle, Kubo and the Two Strings). I missed the big winter dogs (Passengers, Assassin’s Creed), the summer dogs (Independence Day: Resurgence, The Legend of Tarzan), and the just plain dogs (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Deepwater Horizon).

I missed some big tentpole remakes (Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, The Magnificent Seven, Pete’s Dragon.) I missed a bunch of unnecessary sequels (Now You See Me 2, Ride Along 2, London Has Fallen). I missed the maybe-better-than-you-expect B-movies (The Shallows), the high-rated Disney outings (Moana). I even missed a few movies I still really want to see (Silence, Toni Erdmann).

But of the ones I did see, I suppose these are my…

Top 25 Films of 2016
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/
2008/2009/2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015/The Oughts]

1. Moonlight: Damien Chazelle’s meet-cute May-December musical romance featured Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone at their…wait, one second. Er…Yeah, I know, a little late for that joke — Anyway, we’ll get to La La Land later on.

For now Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was a perfectly-contained short story about a young boy forced to toughen up in a harsh and uncaring world, and a man trying to be brave enough to shed that lifetime’s worth of armor. I have some quibbles with the movie — the classical score can be occasionally cloying, and some of the characters — Naomie Harris’s junkie mom, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae’s saintly neighbors — occasionally felt too broadly drawn. But at a time when too many films feel swallowed by their own ambition, Moonlight told a powerful, personal, memorable, and resoundingly human story on a small and colorful canvas.

2. The Nice Guys: Not to bag on La La Land in every entry, but if you saw Ryan Gosling in one burgeoning (b)romance in the City of Angels in 2016, I hope it was this one. Harkening back to other LA neo-noirs like The Long Goodbye, Inherent Vice, and maybe even a smattering of Lebowski, Shane Black’s throwback buddy-cop misadventure was one of the smartest, funniest, and most purely enjoyable movie experiences of the year (even if I saw it on a plane.)

3. Captain America: Civil War: In his last installment, our hero took on the military-industrial complex that had made his beloved country more like Hydra than the New Deal America of his youth. In Civil War, Cap makes the case for free-thinking dissent as the proper form of democratic consent, and punches that billionaire war profiteering egomaniac Tony Stark a few times in the face to boot. (#TeamCap4life).

Clearly Cap is the hero we need right now, even if, in these Hail Hydra times, he’s not the one we deserve. Throw in that ripped-from-the-comics airline melee, Spidey-done-right, and Daniel Bruhl as the best and most nuanced Marvel villain to-date (until the 2017 list, at least), and you have another jewel in Marvel’s gauntlet. Go get ’em, Cap.

4. Green Room: Antifa, meet the Ain’t Rights. Like his first film Blue Ruin — do we have a KieĊ›lowski color trilogy going here? — Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room portrays in naturalistic fashion a bad situation growing increasingly worse. It also provides a final stage for the late Anton Yelchin (meshing well with an ensemble that includes Alia Shawkat and Imogen Poots) and a rich opportunity for Patrick Stewart to play it real dark for once. Sadly, Green Room feels even more realistic now than it did last year, what with the return of Nazis marching in the streets. Tiki torch this, you rat bastids.

5. The Lobster: Since La La Land has been the Rosetta Stone of this list so far, let’s just say The Lobster is the meet-cute rom-com that movie is farthest from. I liked the first third-to-half of this movie, as sad-sack Colin Ferrell navigates the hotel of last opportunities with folks like Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly, more than I did the back-half, where he finds himself caught up in an anti-romantic resistance of sorts, living in the woods with Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, and a bunch of aloof ravers. (There’s also a section in the middle involving Farrell’s brother-turned-dog which I’d like to never think about again, thanks much.) Nonetheless, this weirdo, pitch-black satire about human coupling has moments that will stick in your craw, and makes the uncomfortable, misanthropic squirm-humor that propels (great) shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm seem positively Up-With-People.

6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople: In its own way, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is also the anti-Lobster — a funny, sweet, good-natured foray into the deep New Zealand woods with a gruff Sam Neill, getting ever less gruff as he lets orphan Julian Dennison under his skin. Throw in Rhys Darby for a touch of Conchords zaniness and you have a thoroughly pleasant afternoon hike.

7. Hell or High Water: It’s a credit to the overall experience of David McKenzie’s Hell or High Water that it’s this high on the list, even though there’s some seriously ham-fisted writing in this movie. The most obvious offender is the racist-sheriff-with-a-heart-of-gold, a character that might not have worked at all if it weren’t Jeff Bridges playing him. But the heavy-handedness starts in the very first shot of the movie, with the wall reading “3 TOURS IN IRAQ BUT NO BAILOUT FOR PEOPLE LIKE US.” Ok, ok, I get it.) Still, even if it’s occasionally just No Country for Old Men by way of The Dukes of Hazzard, it’s a crowd-pleasing movie alright, and its heart was in the right place.

8. Doctor Strange: Another quality Marvel outing that’s all the more impressive given how badly it could have turned out. Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t the most inspired choice to play Dr. Stephen Strange — he’s basically just doing his Sherlock with an American accent — but it’s great fun to have Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Tilda Swinton(!) along for the ride, as well as Mads Mikkelsen playing the heavy. (Obvious highlight: “Mister Doctor?” “It’s Strange.” “Maybe, who am I to judge?”) Now maybe they can find something for Rachel McAdams to do in the next one — she’s as wasted here as Natalie Portman in the first Thor.

9. The VVitch: “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” And now we’re back to the woods being terrifying again. While the most memorable part of Robert Eggers’ The VVitch is its (kinda problematic) ending, I was also impressed with the way this movie puts you square in the 17th century, conveying the strangeness, isolation, and religious panic that must have come from living alone along the unexplored frontier. (Kinda what The Village aspired to do, but really, really didn’t.) Sure, it’s a slow-moving affair, but that’s likely how it would be, until Black Philip comes-a-callin’.

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: I thoroughly hated the original Cloverfield, but watched this on the strength of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman. Pretty good choice! To be fair, this is basically the War of the Worlds reel in Tim Robbins’ basement drawn out to feature length. Still, 1010 Cloverfield makes for a reasonably taut chamber piece for most of its run, as alliances shift among the three main characters who may or may not be waiting out the end of the world in Goodman’s well-stocked bunker. Can you guess how it ends? Probably, but at least you got to see some of old Walter Sobchak along the way.

11. Rogue One: A Star War Story: To be honest, if I’d only seen this movie once, it’d have been much higher on the list. At that opening night show, Rogue One felt like it delivered the visceral thrill of the original films in a much purer way than the prequels or The Force Awakens. Finally, Vader — a character who’s been bogged down by New Age-y family matters for close to 25 years now — was an unstoppable malevolent force again, like he was when I was a kid. Finally, the world of Star Wars developed more much-needed diversity, even as Ben Mendelsohn gets to be the sneering Imperial aristocrat he was born to play.

Speaking of Imperial aristocrats, he gets a lot of grief, but I really liked CGI-Peter Cushing, and, while I get the icky implications for the future, I still thought it was an appropriate homage to a guy who hunted the undead for so long. And, of course, the Death Star’s exhaust port got a brilliant retcon.

But then I watched Rogue One again a few months ago on DVD. And, exposed to the light of day, it’s hard to ignore the movie’s serious pacing and writing problems. Almost all of Felicity Jones’ suicide squad are one-note at best — Alan Tudyk’s quippy droid comes off the best by a large margin. It’s hard to tell what they were going with with Forest Whitaker’s character, but it feels like more than half of his arc got cut somewhere. And, while we’re not at Starkiller Base, doing-violence-to-basic-physics bad, so much of what happens doesn’t make any sense. (If they desperately want to stop the transmission of the plans, why don’t the Imperials just blow up their own radar tower?)

So, in short, Rogue One was a great nostalgia delivery device, but it doesn’t really hold up. Here’s hoping some of the other one-off installments have more intrinsic quality.

12. Arrival: I haven’t read Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” so can’t attest to how Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival holds up to the source material. As for the movie, it’s a heady First Contact story that shows a great deal of promise in its first half, before getting derailed by a silly bomb subplot involving Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mark O’Brien — how were these aliens meant to be surprised by a bomb? — and then spending the rest of the movie explaining what you’ve probably already figured out. Still, a good run up to that point.

Much was made of this being the blue state science-fiction movie we all needed after Election 2016. But given that Arrival ends up being more cerebral than smart, and that the basic message ends up being “acquiesce to the inevitable preordained tragedy in your future,” I don’t think that holds up in the way suggested.

13. Louder than Bombs: Joachim Trier’s Louder than Bombs very much has that indie-arthouse Squid and the Whale, broken family/coming-of-age-drama, I’m-watching-this-on-a-Saturday-on-the-IFC-channel feel about it, and not just ’cause Jesse Eisenberg is back for another round. But this story about a father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons (Eisenberg, Devin Druid) coming to terms with the untimely death of their photojournalist matriarch (Isabelle Huppert) has a natural, melancholy, lived-in feel and some well-observed moments (and, let’s face it, it’s always great to see Tom Reagan again, with or without his hat.) Definitely comes by its Smiths B-sides title honestly.

14. Hail Caesar: With The Ladykillers being the exception that proves the rule, there are two types of Coen movies: the instantly great ones (most of them) and the ones that’ll grow on you if/when you see them again. For me, Hail Caesar was among the latter.

Set around a decade after Barton Fink burned down the Hotel Earle and disappeared from Hollywood, Caesar continues Fink‘s initial inquiries into the mid-century studio system, fellow-traveling screenwriters, and movies as the spiritual iconography of our time. Also has Channing Tatum dancing, Tilda Swinton playing twins, George Clooney mugging, and Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich doing their “Would that it were so simple” routine. Like I said, my initial reaction to it was around the level of The Man Who Wasn’t There — eh, ok — and like that one, I probably need to see it again.

15. The Birth of a Nation: Both the problem and the potential are right there in the name. The Birth of a Nation is wildly over-the-top and full-of-itself at times. It’s also too self-consciously designed as a star vehicle for its writer-director Nate Parker (who, it has to be said, must go alongside Polanski and Woody in the probable rapist scumbag in real life department.)

At the same time, I appreciated the scale of ambition here — the blatant eff-you to the racist-as-hell D.W. Griffith standard and the attempt to overturn a cultural legacy that’s treated Nat Turner (or Denmark Vesey or John Brown) as criminals rather than survivors who rose up against an American hellscape that we sanctioned here for far too long. If all the turning Nat Turner into a vengeful Christ figure here is laying it on extra-thick, maybe we needed an extreme corrective to get the message out. In that regard, Nation is striking the same vein as QT’s Django Unchained, with a better grip on history to boot.

16. Knight of Cups: So we’re getting to the part of the list where I’ll freely admit that some of these probably played better on my TV than they would’ve in the theater. I grew a bit bored by Tree of Life in its second hour and absolutely loathed To the Wonder from start-to-finish, perhaps because I was trapped in. (Loved The New World, tho.) But, watching Terence Malick’s equally languorous Knight of Cups at home felt like less of an imposition on my time, and I could just roll with its impressionistic beauty. Christian Bale takes long walks on the beach and wrestles with deep spiritual malaise about the meaning of life, his many romantic escapades, and (Malick, natch) the wisdom once bestowed to him by his father (Brian Dennehy)? Go with it, my man. It helps that, like its milieu, Knight of Cups looks like a million bucks, with a captivating, sensual sheen (provided by Emmanuel Lubezki) throughout.

17. The Neon Demon: Here, again, if I’d seen Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon at the multiplex, I think I’d just be waiting for this hyperbolic, cut-rate-Aronofsky madness to end. (Then again, I saw Only God Forgives on the small screen and lordy it did not help.) But for whatever reason, at home I could take Refn’s ludicrous, pulsing disco-club beautiful-people-are-vampires story for what it’s worth, and just enjoy the trippy visual stylings without being unduly burdened by plot, character, or the usual elements that make, y’know, a decent movie. Bronson and even Drive are far better, but this one’s oddly entertaining in its weirdo midnight movie Cat People sorta way.

18. Midnight Special: Speaking of midnight, Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special is another movie with great promise that kinda falls apart in the final act. In its opening moments, as Michael Shannon (also in Nichols’ Take Shelter) and Joel Edgerton cruise along at high speed with night-vision goggles on, the film immediately feels like an lost and underrated Stephen King short story, a sensation helped along by Sam Shepard and Bill Camp showing up as conflicted cult leaders and Adam Driver playing against type as a nerdy government agent. But as the Very Special Kid (Jaeden Lieberher) moves to the fore and we get to the Very Special Ending, Special loses its punch, and begins to feel less like an original sci-fi story and more like one of the many so-so ’80s Spielberg knockoffs these days, a la Super 8 or Stranger Things.

19. Lion: Lion is a true story about Saroo Brierly, a young Indian boy who accidentally left his village as a child and spends his days haunted by what he left behind. It is also well-made and perfectly cromulent Oscar bait, with solid performances all around, especially Dev Patel as the young man in question, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham as his supportive, if not totally understanding adoptive parents, and Divian Ladwa as his resentful adoptive brother.

Still, even if they’ve added a mid-movie romance with Rooney Mara to pad the running time (and which doesn’t contribute much to the film), we’re talking about a two hour movie here that basically builds up to a Google search. Lion was…fine, I suppose, and would probably appeal more to more sentimental types.

20. A Bigger Splash: A remake of La Piscine (which I haven’t seen), updated for modern times to incorporate the European refugee crisis and accommodate folks’ desire to hang out with Tilda Swinton, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash‘s main asset is Ralph Fiennes’ manic turn as an extroverted, cocaine-fueled record producer on Italian holiday. Fiennes has played against his usual clipped-and-distant type before, most notably in In Bruges, but he’s still a jolt of delirious energy throughout A Bigger Splash, which feels a bit like the first third of Sexy Beast before taking a turn — as I now know, like the original movie — in the late going. (It gets a bit long in the tooth after that.)

21. La La Land: City of Stars, why do you have to be so white? Alright, so La La Land — or, as Amy and I began calling it as soon as it was over, “white people shit.” To be fair to the film, I thought it got better as it went along — I was on the verge of walking out during the big frenetic “let’s put on a show!!” traffic jam-boree at the start — and Ryan Gosling and especially Emma Stone are both appealing enough, even if Gosling can’t dance without looking at his feet.

But the real issue here is: Why should I care? Stone wants to be a megastar? Gosling wants to open a jazz club (presumably so he can keep whitesplaining it to anyone who walks in)? Gosling is worried his fusion breakthrough with John Legend might make him a sellout? Honestly, who gives a shit? C’mon, people, it is — sorry, was — the year of our Lord 2016. This is like the poor King of England having a stutter all over again. Please come at me with real problems.

22. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: I never read the books (I know, I know, we’re a long way from The Leaky Cauldron days), and I’m not sure we need an all-new multiple-film foray into the expanded Potter universe. But a Harry Potter prequel spinoff set in 1920’s America? Now you’re speaking my language! (Also, not to give the ending away, but I think I’d prefer Colin Farrell as the multiple-movie nemesis rather than He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named-On-Account-Of-Spoilers.)

23. Don’t Breathe: Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe was one of those horror movies getting It Follows, Babadook, and VVitch-level hype in some corners, and I saw it after it had been rather intensely hyped. Given that, the second act twist didn’t particularly impress me, and I was expecting more memorable all around than just a reverse-Wait Until Dark. Still, it’s always good to see Stephen Lang getting his due — unless you’re watching Gods and Generals, in which case dear god why?

24. Star Trek Beyond: a.k.a. the one where Kirk’s big contribution to the endgame is popping wheelies on a motorcycle. Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella are both wasted behind the extensive make-up, but at least this third installment of nu-Trek sidestepped the stupid remix brain of Into Darkness and focused on telling a fun, small-bore TNG-ish adventure. Beyond isn’t classic Trek or anything, but it does lend credence to the theory that, in the reboot universe, it’s the odd ones that don’t suck.

25. Deadpool: Like I said for a few years now, I like to give the last spot to a genre movie that knows what it is and does it well. This year, that was Deadpool. I have no connection to the character and frankly find him kinda irritating — he’s a sophomoric Liefeldian (re: many pouches) knockoff of the DC’s funnier, more-meta Ambush Bug. And much like Ryan Reynold’s very similar comic hero in Blade: Trinity, he also “appears to have learned English from reading AICN talkbacks” (or Reddit, for the kids out there).

Still, Reynolds, director Tim Miller, and co. embraced the guy, pouches and all, and gave him a movie that suited the character. Besides, it was fun to actually have Colossus running around a X-Men movie for once — but not sure this will get me in the theater for Josh Brolin’s Cable.

MOST DISAPPOINTING:

Warcraft: Look, I know that you probably weren’t disappointed by Warcraft. But I sure was. Duncan Jones of Moon and Source Code bringing the game I’ve literally spent a year in to life? This could’ve been pretty good!

Except — and here was the big issue — Jones didn’t make a World of Warcraft movie, which would probably involve a bunch of D&D-like classes on a quest to level up and gain loot or somesuch. Instead, he made a movie of the original Warcraft, a.k.a. the RTS game from twenty years ago, which means…orcs bashing things for two hours. (And I don’t even recall a single “ready to serve!”) The story of the entire movie should’ve been a LotR-like prologue.

It also doesn’t help that, with the exception of Paula Patton and Team Preacher (Ruth Negga, Dominic Cooper), most of the human actors — I’m looking at you, Travis Fimmel and Ben Schnetzer — are 110-level charisma voids. By contrast, there are some good, fun actors among the orcs — Toby Kebbell, Clancy Brown — but they’ve been literally turned into cartoons. And Ben Foster, who can be fine in other things (Hell or High Water, for example) is operating on his own mad level of terrible here, like he method-trained for this by watching Jeremy Irons in D&D or Brando in Dr. Moreau. Just an all-around missed opportunity.

WHAT IS THIS I CAN’T EVEN:

Suicide Squad: Remember how I said Rogue One seemed like a disjointed mess the second time I saw it? That’s Suicide Squad right from jump street. The whole movie has that Tranktastic Four, “we rewrote this in the editing room” and “eh they’ll see it anyway” haphazardness to it. Margot Robbie acquits herself fine as Harley Quinn, I suppose, and this may be the most likable Jai Courtney has been in anything. But Will Smith is bored, Viola Davis seems ashamed to be there, Joel Kinnaman, as the-absence-of-Tom-Hardy, just plays his cop from The Killing, and Jared Leto is a completely egregious misfire as The Joker.

On top of everything else, the film is just ugly — everything looks like it got storyboarded by Ed Hardy, not the least the Clown Prince of Crime, who we know is damaged because…it says “Damaged” on his forehead. Trust me, this movie isn’t even fun bad — it’s just an amateurish disaster. In other words, exactly the type of movie you’d expect from executive producer Steve Mnuchin.

THE REST:

Worth On Demand-ing::

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: MARTHA!! Why am I (barely) recommending this deeply flawed sequel to (the even worse) Man of Steel? Well, mainly because of Batfleck and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred. Zack Snyder can’t seem to understand that Superman should not be a tortured, emo character — he’s more like Chris Evans’ Cap, boy-scout to the bone. But, yeah, Batman sure is — maybe they should write “damaged” on his head — and that stuff here works pretty well.

Don’t get me started on Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor — rein it in, Jesse — or Snyder’s absurd love for slow-motion bullet casings, or the truly awful ways Diane Lane is employed here. (I’m not just talking about the Stepbrothers-esque “Did we just become best friends?” part — Zack, get Martha Kent away from your creepy-ass Polaroids.) But still, y’know, Batman, Wonder Woman, there’s some stuff to like here.

Keanu: Keanu, about Key & Peele trying to get their cat back from some stone-cold gangsters (including Method Man) is…ok. To be honest, given its creative team, I expected something much funnier, but then again I saw it well after the hype machine had kicked in. A nice send-off to George Michael, if nothing else.

Loving: Jeff Nichols’ Loving tells an important story in a rather drab and by-the-numbers fashion — there was considerably more energy in his Midnight Special. Joel Edgerton basically mumbles his way through the movie and even Ruth Negga, such a spitfire in Preacher, is rendered inert here. But, y’know, it’s fine for what it is, no harm no foul.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: Did you like the first Neighbors? Well, here’s more of the same, now with Chloe Grace Moretz, Selena Gomez, and Kiersey Clemons in the mix as well. Rose Byrne is the secret weapon of these movies, but give Zac Efron credit: he’s surprisingly game for anything.

Manchester by the Sea: Hey ma, look heah: we gawt moah white people praw-blems. I had this in the “don’t bother” section for awhile but eh, it’s competently made, I guess. The main problem here is Casey Affleck’s bitter janitor (an Oscar-winning performance?!) is so emotionally recessed that he doesn’t register — he just mopes his way through scene after scene. (Lucas Hedges gave us a more layered character here, I thought.) I really like Kenneth Lonergan’s other movies, but this one, like Inarritu’s 21 Grams (which is more fun, because it’s so much more pretentious), just assumes that misery is a substitute for character.

Don’t Bother:

Fences: My wife and I saw Dave Chappelle here in DC this past week, and his opening act was Donnell Rawlings, who you may remember from Chappelle Show or as Clay Davis’s chauffeur in the The Wire. Anyway, he basically summed up the problem with this movie in his act: “Denzel, it’s been two and a half hours! Get out of your backyard! Stop looking at the fence!” In other words, this is not really a movie of any kind. It’s a filmed play — which is fine, if it had any sort of energy. It does not — just go see the play.

Ghostbusters: I’m bummed about this one because every MRA asshole on the planet has been whining about an all-female reboot of Ghostbusters somehow ruins his childhood. (To which I say: First, obviously, grow the fuck up. Second, the original Ghostbusters is wildly overrated and wasn’t even one of the ten best fanboy movies of 1984, so develop some taste.) All of which is to say that I was rooting for Paul Feig’s reboot — but, alas, it’s just not very good. Kate McKinnon gets in a few zingers, and they make solid use of Chris Hemsworth, but Kristen Wiig is wasted as the straight woman, and too much of the movie feels like it’s being improvised on the fly, like one of those interminable 11:45am trial-run SNL sketches. I’m glad this Ghostbusters is out there so future fangirls have some role models to look up to, and because this movie’s sheer existence deeply angers many of the worst people in the world. But in the end, sadly, it’s just not all that funny.

Jackie: Yeah, sorry, I don’t understand the love for this one at all. I was bored, as was our entire party. JFK getting shot is not new information, so please find something more to say about it than “then Jackie came up with Camelot.” And maybe Natalie Portman nailed the accent to some extent — moah white people praw-blems — but you can see the Herculean striving throughout her performance, and it makes her Jackie seem weirdly graceless. This was just a ponderous film throughout, tho’ it was nice to see John Hurt give one final, brief curtain call.

Jason Bourne: Have you seen any of the other Bournes? Yeah, you’re good, then. This is basically a Gus Van Sant Psycho remake.

Money Monster: The ubiquitous, beat-for-beat trailer spoiled this movie several times over well before I saw it. And despite the impressive pedigree here — Jodie Foster, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Giancarlo Esposito, Dominic West — here’s no other part to the movie that you’re missing.

Snowden: I’m very sympathetic to Edward Snowden and his predicament. This dull, hagiographic Oliver Stone outing still misses the mark by a country mile. That being said, Rhys Ifans does a pretty good CIA sinister, Nicolas Cage is here as NICOLAS CAGE!, and it’s kind of a funny kick to see Zachary Quinto playing Glenn Greenwald. Still, you’re better off watching CitizenFour.

X-Men: Apocalypse: Weirdly lifeless for a number of reasons. First, this movie makes the Willem Dafoe-as-Green-Goblin mistake of casting a fun, engaging actor (Oscar Isaac) as the Big Bad, but then burying him so deep in make-up that his personality disappears. Second, a lot of the new X-Men here, like Sophie Turner/Sansa as Jean Grey and Tye Sheridan/Ready Player One as Cyclops, are more than a little on the stiff side, while some of the better actors from the last outing — Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters — aren’t given enough to do. (That’s especially true for Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who gets one scene from a much better movie involving an attack on his family, and then just delivers exposition the rest of the time.) Third, maybe standards have changed, but this film looks really cheap for some reason. Bryan Singer delivered one of the best X-outings with X2, but this one’s only for completists.

Unseen: The 5th Wave, 13 Hours, Absolutely Fabulous, The Accountant, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Allegiant, Allied, American Pastoral, Assassin’s Creed, Bad Moms, Bad Santa 2, Barbershop: The Next Cut, Beauty and the Beast, Ben Hur, The BFG, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Blair Witch, Bridget Jones’s Baby, The Brothers Grimsby, Captain Fantastic, Central Intelligence, Collateral Beauty, The Conjuring 2, Criminal, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Deepwater Horizon, Demolition, Dirty Grandpa, Eddie the Eagle, The Edge of Seventeen, Elvis and Nixon, Eye in the Sky, Fifty Shades of Black, Finding Dory, Florence Foster Jenkins, Free State of Jones, The Girl on the Train, Gods of Egypt, Hacksaw Ridge, The Handmaiden, Hardcore Henry, Hidden Figures, High-Rise, A Hologram for the King, How to Be Single, The Huntsman Winter’s War, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Invitation, I Saw the Light, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Jane Got a Gun, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Legend of Tarzan, Live By Night, London Has Fallen, Love and Friendship, The Love Witch, The Magnificent Seven, Me Before You, Miss Sloane, Moana, A Monster Calls, Nocturnal Animals, Now You See Me 2, Office Christmas Party, Passengers, Paterson, Pete’s Dragon, Popstar, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Race, Ride Along 2, Sausage Party, The Shallows, Silence, Swiss Army Man, Sully, TNMT: Out of the Shadows, Toni Erdmann, War Dogs, Where to Invade Next, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Why Him?, Zoolander 2, Zootopia, pretty much anything else you can think of.

(The Rest of) 2017: It’s September, y’all already know what’s coming out over the next few months. And while if I’d done this list nine months ago The Last Jedi or Blade Runner 2049 would probably get the pole position here at the end, I have to say at this point I’m most excited about…


The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde, sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming…

Fruits of the Hallows.

With young Master Potter set to commence his crying jags through the wilderness at midnight, the Deathly Hallows crop of trailers has sprung…

Robots, Morlocks, Coffee Table Iguanas.

“And, worst of all, they’re eating all of our sand.” A whole lot of B-movie crazy in the most recent trailer bin: Astronauts Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid awaken from hibernation to fight off what would appear to be Morlocks in the final trailer for Christian Alvart’s Pandorum. (I originally thought this was going to be more of a “madness in deep space” psychological thriller. Now, it just looks bad.) Speaking of madness, Nicholas Cage returns to full-Vampires’ Kiss mode — and tries to out-Keitel Keitel — in the trailer for Werner Herzog(!)’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, also with Eva Mendes, Xzibit, and Val Kilmer. And hope of mankind John Conner (Christian Bale) tries to protect us all from a sinister invasion of robot toys in the clever mash-up trailer for Transforminators. It’s funny because it’s true.

The Future isn’t Bright.

In the trailer bin, those confounded, robotic death merchants of the Skynet corporation have the temerity to wander into John Connor’s eyeline in the Sam Worthington-centric teaser for McG’s Terminator: Salvation. (I’ll probably see this come May, but I’m still not really seeing the point — Well, I guess the ten bucks accompanying my fanboy due diligence probably is the point.) And Six Feet Under‘s Ben Foster awakens to a very Event Horizon-ish situation in the far reaches of space in the new trailer for Christian Alvart’s Pandorum (I can’t say the words “from the producers of Resident Evil” instill much in the way of confidence, but Dennis Quaid used to have a pretty good eye for appealing, low-budge genre projects — Enemy Mine, Dreamscape — so here’s hoping.)

Slow Train Coming | How the West was Won (and where it got us).


Although the last act strains credulity quite a bit, James Mangold’s moody, memorable 3:10 to Yuma is nonetheless a worthy foray into the unforgiving territory of the Old West. I’ve never been much for oaters, to be honest, but if they keep making ’em like David Milch’s Deadwood and 3:10 (and, hopefully, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in two weeks), I’m all for a full-fledged return of the cowboy pic. Then again, I guess it’d probably have been hard for 3:10 to falter in any event, with talented actors like Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, and others in the respective saddles. Mangold (showing more skill here than he did in Walk the Line) displays an authoritative sense of the genre here, and he doesn’t stint on the fireworks. But, for all the breathtaking “Big Sky Country” vistas and well-executed gunplay on display, the most exciting parts of 3:10 occur in the quiet moments between its two stars, as we watch Crowe (the Black Hat) attempt to wend and worm his way into what remains of (White Hat) Bale’s haunted psyche. With their dark interplay driving 3:10, not even the high suspension of disbelief required by the end, nor an overwrought father-son subplot, manage to derail this train. Come on aboard.

On the outskirts of Bisbee, in the years after the Civil War, an honest life is hard, as attested by the sad fate of one Dan Evans (Bale). Having lost his leg in the service of Abe Lincoln, Evans transplanted his wife (Gretchen Mol, dusty yet luminous) and two sons to the Arizona plains in search of renewal, only to find himself deeply in debt and on the verge of starvation. Dan’s boys, particularly his older son William (Logan Lerman), are humiliated by his failure and seeming weakness…and the rains just ain’t comin’. Meanwhile, the regal, courtly Ben Wade (Crowe), a part-time illustrator and full-time desperado, is living high on the hog, along with his gang of thieves, murderers, and bad, bad men — most notably his adoring #2 Charlie Prince (a.k.a. Ben Foster of Six Feet Under and Freaks & Geeks, strangely eerie and excellent here.) But, after a stagecoach job near Evans’ land, this Jack of Hearts lingers too long back in Bisbee, and is summarily captured by a mishmash of local law enforcement, bounty hunters on the Pinkerton payroll (i.e. a solid Peter Fonda, looking haggard and reminiscent of his dad), and Evans himself, in town to settle a debt one way or another. And, when the local railroad suit (Dallas Roberts) offers a $200 fee that might turn around his struggling fortunes, Evans enlists in the company assembled to take Ben Wade to Yuma Prison, by way of the 3:10 train in Contention. But — and it’s a big but — Wade’s gang is still at large, the forces of Law & Order are amateurish at best (note Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk as a well-meaning veterinarian conscripted into the group) and easily corruptible at worst, and Wade himself is no slouch in the survivability department. By means fair or foul, whether by quoting Scripture with a serpent’s tongue, bashing in a sleeping man’s head with a rock, or tempting Evans (and his son) with all the lucre and pleasurable squalor the ignoble life affords. Ben Wade will do what he must to restore his freedom…

…Or will he? My biggest problem with 3:10 to Yuma, and perhaps it’s also an issue in the Glenn Ford version of 1957 (I haven’t seen it), is that Ben Wade’s motivations grow increasingly confused as the film progresses. Given how easily he subdues certain people at certain times, one begins to wonder what’s keeping Crowe along for this ride, other than a general sense of bemusement about the whole proceedings. By the third act, which devolves into a town-wide shootout at the railroad crossing of Contention, it’s hard to figure exactly why Wade is behaving as he does (or, for that matter, why Evans’ missing leg isn’t a problem as he engages in the cowtown equivalent of Ninja Warrior.) Crowe is given a few lines at various points, and the final shot in the movie, to help explain his reasoning…and I guess it makes a certain amount of sense, from a dramatic perspective. But I’m not sure if I bought it, given all that’s come before.

Still, 3:10 to Yuma is another solid and welcome entrant in the burgeoning ranks of the revisionist western. (Indeed, the film reflects more of the New Western History than it does John Wayne country — For example, there’s a sequence involving evil Luke Wilson overseeing a Chinese railroad camp which is really kinda unnecessary, but I for one just liked seeing a Chinese railroad camp included in the proceedings.) And, as with The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven, and several other superlative entries in the genre, 3:10 frontlines the question of what code should — and actually does — govern a man’s actions when he is unconstrained by larger society.

Indeed, if you’ll permit me a digression, that was the beauty of Deadwood, a classic show still unsullied by Milch’s later, more confused attempt to fashion a Gospel of Surfing: Watching the varied, colorful residents of the town attempt to create a tentative order out of anarchic disorder: What rules must we live by if we are to live together? What should we do when the plague breaks out? How and when should the municipal government gather, who should attend, and what roles should it take on (and, for that matter, should there be canned peaches or cinnamon served at the meetings?) And, for the coup de grace, Milch offered a wry commentary on the iron fist within the velvet glove of the existing Gilded Age social order (and the ugly commercial realities that drove much of westward expansion.) When the fledgling entity of Deadwood finally ran up against the established authorities, it was not the government of these United States it faced, but rather the ruthless and mighty arm of unchecked Capital. By the end of Season 3, everyone — even the wily, formidable, and take-no-prisoners saloon proprietor Al Swearingen — was eventually forced to bow and succumb before the whims of the Great (and Monied) Man, George Hearst. (As Al put it, “Leviathan f**king smiles.”)

3:10 to Yuma doesn’t cover exactly the same ground as Deadwood, of course (and it has much less time to ruminate in any case.) But, at its heart, in the churning psychological tension between Crowe’s Wade and Bale’s Evans — as well as the omnipresent lure and power afforded by the almighty dollar therein — 3:10 ponders similar western verities. In the absence of external fetters, what drives a man to do the right thing, even to the point of ignoring his own self-preservation? In a world of complicated loyalties and compromising shades of grey, where the law is irrevocably bound up with the interests of the railroads and a struggling farmer and a smirking murderer can draw disparate conclusions from the same Bible, what, even, is the “right” thing in the first place? As today, different men come to different answers amid the open country of the Wild West. What probably matters most, 3:10 seems to suggest by the end, is that a man has some answer he’s ready to live — and die — by. As the cowboy troubador Alias once put it, “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” So you’d better do or find something to make your short time in Contention count…’cause no matter how you live your life, that slow train is coming up around the bend, and it ultimately waits for no one.

Black Hats and Texas Tea.

Two recent trailers of note: Good guy Christian Bale chases down bad guy Russell Crowe to ensure a timely train trip in the new trailer for James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma (also with Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, and Gretchen Mol.) And Daniel Day-Lewis gets his hands dirty in the petroleum trade of the Twenties in this early look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil!.

Eccch, Man.

Mutie alert: Despite a few all-too-brief glimpses of a better (or at least more enjoyable) movie scattered therein, Brett Ratner’s X3: The Last Stand is, as the fanboy nation suspected, a truly terrible film. In fact, with the possible exception of Ian McKellen hamming his way through Magneto, it’s hard to think of anyone who brought above their C-game to this woeful project — the directing is workmanlike, the effects look cheap, the shots have that Canadian backlot look to them, the score is hamhanded and distracting, the actors seem bored, and, worst of all, the script is flat-out embarrassing. What’s more, if you harbor any affection for the comic (and particularly the Dark Phoenix arc ostensibly in play here, although it’s been cross-wired with Joss Whedon’s early run), you’ll probably just leave irritated. In short, X3 is just the type of lowest-common-denominator, dumbed-down rush job that gives both summer movies and comic movies a bad name: Think Fantastic Four.

Compounding the aggravation, X3 seems like it might turn out reasonably decent for the first ten minutes or so. The film begins with two flashbacks: The more interesting one, although it steals much of its subtext from Raimi’s Spiderman, involves a teenage Angel trying to clip his wings (the other features not-quite-ready-for-primetime de-aging CGI.) But then we’re thrust into a really clunky Danger Room sequence, involving Sentinels that have all the terrible grandeur of an industrial-strength flashlight and a Corman-esque Colossus that screams straight-to-video. (Apparently, the Danger Room was built in Professor Xavier’s Bargain Basement.) And, from there, it’s just down, down down. As it turns out, Worthington industries (run by Michael Murphy of Tanner), with the acquiescence of the President (a man who’s prone to looking into the camera and exclaiming “God…help…us.” whenever needed) has, as per Whedon, created a “cure” for mutants, prompting outrage (Storm, Halle Berry), confusion (Beast, Kelsey Grammer), relief (Rogue, Anna Paquin), and righteous megalomania (Magneto, McKellen) among the varied facets of mutantkind. Meanwhile, as tensions mount and the timely metaphors fly thick, a bedraggled Cyclops (James Marsden) ventures out to Alkali Lake — site of the climax of X2 — where he, surprisingly, encounters Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) alive and well. Ok, maybe not well…

As you can see, X3 is playing with at least two quality story arcs out of the X-Men canon here, so you’d think it’d just have to ride them through. But, alas, screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn — who, make no bones about it, deserve the lion’s share of blame for this drek — go crazier than Chris Claremont in his post-Mutant Massacre burnout phase. (Speaking of mutant massacres, no less than [Major Movie-Ruining Spoiler] SIX major characters — Cyclops, Xavier, Mystique, Magneto, Jean Grey, Rogue — are eliminated by the end of this flick, which, even given the lax standards one must accord this universe, seems both ridiculously brutal and exceedingly lazy writing.) Virtually everybody here — and particularly Xavier and Magneto — has at least one speech, quip, or action that seems totally out-of-character. (For her part, Halle Berry plays Storm as if she were Halle Berry.) Neither the good guys nor bad guys’ plans make one lick of sense. And, even despite all the X-Men on hand here, the film is overflowing with undifferentiated throwaway characters who all look and act like tattoo-riddled redshirts.

By the way, did I mention this film looks cheap? Oh, hell yes. Beast looks like a cross between a Metallica roadie and an alien on a Sci-Fi channel miniseries. Dark Phoenix — who, by the way, not once exhibits a phoenix flame — instead occasionally unleashes the terrifying cosmic force of scrubbly bubbles (a la the distintegrating vampires in Blade.) And the wire-fu…oof, it’s just plain sad. So, is there anything good here? Well, very briefly, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Madrox (Eric Dane), Moira (Olivia Williams)…that’s about it, and it all totals about ten minutes of screen time. In short, after the surprisingly delectable heights of Bryan Singer’s X2 (Nightcrawler in the White House, Magneto’s escape), this film is at best a tremendous disappointment, and at worst an insult to the fan base. If this and FF is how Avi Arad and Marvel have decided to treat their best (non-Spiderman) properties from now herein, make mine DC.

R&R, X&X&X.

Today’s trailers: Crockett & Tubbs reunite as Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx respectively in the full trailer for Michael Mann’s film version of Miami Vice (This isn’t much of an improvement on the teaser, frankly.) And, Dell offers seven minutes of clips from X3: The Last Stand, of which all but 90 seconds or so (thanks to Ian McKellen, who’s clearly at home scenery-chewing his way through this badly-written drek) looks and sounds cringeworthy. From this, it seems the real problem with X3 may be less Ratner than the so-far really clunky script by Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn.

Two for III.

In today’s movie bin, the full trailer for Brett Ratner’s X3: The Last Stand shows up online. Hmm, I’m still not feeling it. To quote an AICN talkbacker, “Too much wire fu makes Homer go something something“…although I did kinda dig the scene with Juggernaut chasing Kitty Pryde. (Insert your own I’m the Juggernaut, b***ch joke if you’d like.) Also out today is the new Japanese M:I:III trailer, now with considerably less Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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