ZekeFilm Writers Share Their Midyear Film Picks
With the 2016 movie year more than half over, it’s time to pause and take stock of what’s stood out thus far. This year, seven regular ZekeFilm contributors have submitted their shortlists, along with brief reasons why you should consider each film if you haven’t already.
Additionally, we’ve got a moderately scientific yet completely unfair site-wide list to start things off. Why “completely unfair”? Because, at this point, many of us have yet to see all the heavier hitters of the year. Most of us still have significant gaps in our 2016 filmgoing, meaning some terrific films (such as Love & Friendship, Weiner, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Remember and Sing Street) simply can’t make the cut. Not yet, anyway. So maybe this says more about us and our own immediate filmgoing priorities than about which 2016 (So Far) movies are the top… In any case, since we can only list what we’ve seen, this is an important caveat. But, we do take each other’s advice. By the time we get around to our year-end lists, moviegoing gaps will have been filled. For now, though, this is the best of what we’ve seen so far:
ZekeFilm’s Collective List
All films listed here received more than one vote.
1. Captain America: Civil War
2. Hail, Caesar!
3. (Tie) The Lobster
3. (Tie) The Witch
4. Green Room
Our Individual Lists:
A small film that demonstrates very big ideas, and some of the best performances this year, from two actors that have every right to settle down in the 80’s but who continue to provide us solid, gripping, and moving performances. I’m looking at you Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau.
2. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater, and a hangout film that takes place in Texas, my home state….it doesn’t get much better. This film was just a lot of fun, poignant, and familiar, even if nothing like this film ever happened to me. It just simply reminded me of a time of my life I really enjoyed…my first year of college.
3. The Witch
A small disturbing folk-tale that is more concerned with the evil that lurks within all of us, than any potential sinister force in the woods. The nature of mankind, the dangers of individualism and community, and the darkness of our own soul are laid bare for us to deal with as we contemplate this film’s themes.
4. Captain America: Civil War
I’m including this film here, because it frankly delivered everything a giant, loud, comic-based pop-corn film should be. It had heart, it continued to explore the characters that populate this shared universe, and it finally dealt with the consequences of all of the destruction that occurs in films like these while still providing a contemporary commentary on our own culture. Plus, it did what Age of Ultron could not, in that it was able to have lots of superheroes, and balance all of the egos in the room without getting bogged down with having to make sure everyone got equal screen time. I left looking forward to more Marvel.
5. Green Room
Another small film, this one embodies the punk attitude contained within the music that is front and center of this film. Its gory, dark, horrifying and loads of fun, especially with Patrick Stewart playing the film’s antagonist. Everything from the location to the club set piece makes this claustrophobic thriller work.
Honorable Mention: Zootopia, Finding Dory, The Jungle Book
1. Sing Street
Filmmaker John Carney’s Sing Street is note-perfect in its bittersweet adolescent longing, and the earnestness of the 1980s rock n’ roll it wraps itself up in. It’s a light yet deep Dublin-based look back in nostalgia, refreshingly laughing with rather than laughing at its era. Nearly note-perfect in its warmth and Carney’s personal recollections.
2. Captain America: Civil War
The rare comic book movie that nails the vibe, tells a compelling story, and does very little wrong. For good measure, the screenplay manages to juggle umpteen new and established characters, giving each their due, and making it feel natural and easy. Civil War proves that there’s no such thing as “character overload” when it’s done right. This is pure summer movie satisfaction for a longtime Marvel comics fan turned film buff such as myself.
3. The Witch
Brimming with eerily authentic period detail and dread, director/writer Robert Eggers’The Witch is a truly old fashioned slow-brewing terror. It’s the kind of scary that is prone to lingering under the skin, resurfacing to pronounce itself unexpectedly. It’s also frighteningly relevant to the here and now.
4. The Lobster
Dogtooth Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is an accomplished, self-amused screed on the state of singleness and relationship pressure in the 21st century. It’s twisted kinda-sorta sci-fi story that no one saw coming, yet resonates like a film that needs to be here. Esoteric, darkly humored and aloof, this Lobster may not be the most appetizing for many, for adventurous filmgoers who can deal with unpleasantries amid their comedy, it’s a plenty satisfying meal.
5. Hail, Caesar!
Joel and Ethan Coen make their most odd and admittedly indulgent comedy yet with their vintage Hollywood sideways-salute, Hail, Caesar! At once celebratory, critical and mocking of the movie industry’s checkered history, Caesar! Is an undeniably intelligent mindworm, a ridiculous next step in Hollywood’s legacy of self flagellation steeped in self congratulation.
1. Love & Friendship
Whit Stillman directs a Jane Austen adaptation starring Kate Beckinsale – and the results are every bit as good as that sounds. Love & Friendship also features Tom Bennett in a hilariously dimwitted supporting role.
What I expected to be light Disney fare is actually a thoughtful (but still very funny) exploration of bigotry and the ways that fear of “the other” can be exploited by those in power. That’s a message we all need to hear at this particular cultural moment. Zootopia also features a great earworm of a song: Shakira’s “Try Everything”.
3. Hail, Caesar!
This much-anticipated Coen brothers movie about Hollywood’s Golden Age is not one of their best. But it’s bright, energetic, and full of the kind of vivid performances the Coens know how to elicit from their casts. A scene in which a studio head (Josh Brolin) asks a group of clergy to evaluate a new biblical epic is worth the ticket price all by itself.
4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
An appeal to two zealous fandoms – Austen lovers and the zombie crowd – that works better than it should, partly because the script retains Austen’s wit. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this beautifully costumed, mildly violent, Regency period silliness.
A documentary that may not teach you anything more about this goofy politician, but will entertain the heck out of you.
2. The Lobster
A movie so weird can only be the perfect commentary on modern day romance.
The funniest movie of the year happens to the best kids movie of the year too.
4. Green Room
A claustrophobic thriller for movie fans. A commentary on the battle between right wing fascists and left wing anarchists for punk fans. And for some, like me, it’s both.
5. The Invitation
A creepy thriller with an ending that’ll stay with you for days
1. Green Room
A grisly, blood-spilling midnight-movie elevated to a high-art masterpiece. I highly doubt I’ll see a film in the latter half of 2016 that’ll take “Green Room’s” spot at number one. The fact that this film is not being talked about enough and was given a shoddy release by A24, a most of the time forward thinking, on top of their game production company, is further evidence that artfully rendered cinematic experiences are being neglected for inferior politically progressive, award-baity dramas that resemble TV movies. Jeremy Saulnier, whose previous film “Blue Ruin”, which should certainly be noted for its smart themes about the futility of revenge and the cycle of violence, has created a film that miles better than his last. Saulnier is a talent, and mark my words, we’ll be seeing more of him soon.
2. The Nice Guys
Shane Black’s follow up to “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” Is a cynical comedy-noir with manners. The days of ladies and gentlemen may very well indeed be over, but “The Nice Guys” is a pleasant reminder that there’s a scarce few still trying to preserve some kind of decency.
3. The Witch
Robert Eggers low budget indie-flick debut, which was originally only expected to play on an extremely limited number of screens, was touted around as a unflinching black-magic dread piece that couldn’t go un-missed. While it may not reach the hyperbolic praise given to it by its Sundance Film Festival crowd, this is a horror film that separates the purest from the tourist and is most definitely worth checking out. Not only is it the best of the lot that’s emerged from the festival circuit recently, towering over mostly everything the market has to offer at the moment, but it stands up honorably next to classic witch movies such as Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). Eggers is a man who understand that that horror is genre that has potential to be more than a sleazy, often-times cheap and lazy commercial product targeted towards brainless teenagers, but rather a just as valid vehicle for exploring profound, adult themes, in the case of “The Witch” being family dynamics.
4. Hail, Caesar!
A Hollywood Babylon by way of the Coens that was largely shunned by audiences upon release, but is a better film then people have given it credit for, especially by Coen Brothers standards. Add to that a 1950’s Golden Age setting with satirical-humor and subversive themes and you have a film that, for however disjointed it may be, is worth returning to. There hasn’t been a scene this year that’s made me laugh as hard as Hobby Doyle’s attempt to pronounce the line: “Would that it were so simple…”
1. Captain America: Civil War
People that know me are rolling their eyes, but this pick is not because Chris Evans is handsome. It’s because Marvel and the entire Captain America trilogy stayed true to the Bucky/Cap friendship and developed wonderful characters along the way. The story is complex, the writing’s not cheesy and the action is thrilling. This is my kind of blockbuster! It’s fun, exciting and it pulls on the old heartstrings as you choose between the genius rock star and the soldier with the heart of gold. PS… Chris Evans is perfection as the Cap and Civil War was an ideal bounce pass for the slam-dunk that will be Black Panther! Take all my money Marvel! Take it all!
2. Hail, Caesar!
I’m a sucker for a Coen brother’s film, The Big Lebowski is one of my all-time favorites, and Hail, Caesar! did not disappoint. I love it for the fun it has with classic Hollywood. I love it for the fantastic six-minute tap scene that Channing Tatum performs effortlessly. And speaking of scenes, there’s one that everyone should see with a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, an Orthodox presbyter and a rabbi in a movie executive’s office where they discuss the studio’s depiction of Jesus in an upcoming film. It’s too wonderful for my ridiculous words! Rent Hail, Caesar! now and catch yourself smiling all through this quirky, fanciful tale. PS… Scarlett Johansson is in two of my “Best Of” films, do with that what you will. (She’s a goddess!)
3. The Lobster
I saw the trailer for this odd film and I was totally intrigued. After all, I am single and I hope that my singleness will not lead to me being turned into a favorite animal after 45 days in a weird hotel. Yes, that is the premise for this wacky comedy. The cast is fantastic! Ben Whishaw, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and Colin Farrell are on point with their performances. But the draw and the comedy lie in the story and the writing. To be able to laugh and ponder the way that singles idolize singleness and couples idolize coupling is fantastic. It’s a left field story but one that will stick in my noggin for years to come. And to answer your question, a turtle, I would want to be turned into a sea turtle.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a bunker after a car accident with her leg handcuffed to a pipe. Her self-proclaimed savior (John Goodman) says everyone outside is dead. Thus kicks off the mysteries of the quasi-sequel to 2008’s monster movie Cloverfield. I won’t tell you too much since part of the fun is watching the secrets unravel. Well, most of them. You’ll still be thinking about this movie days later because just the right number of details is left open to interpretation. The most basic needs of a film are storytelling and character development, and this movie knocks both out of the park. And at the risk of overstating it, Winstead and Goodman are giving performances of a lifetime.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
The ads for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 promise an even bigger, fatter, and Greeker movie, and it lives up to the promise. The original was an enviable fusion of one-liners, background jokes, relatable conflict, and character growth, and Nia Vardalos recaptured the magic of that Oscar-nominated movie over a decade later. I laughed the whole way through! If you’re like me and count My Big Fat Greek Wedding as one of your favorite comedies, you’ll be pleased with the sequel.
No, it’s not the best entry in the series, but following up the best (Days of Future Past) is an unenviable position. X-Men is one of the few franchises with something to say and—hear me out—is about the closest thing superheroes have to auteurism post-Dark Knight. Bryan Singer has kept his filmmaking cohesive and his point of view consistent, all while making fun action-adventures since 2000. Apocalypse is no exception, and it may have the most visual flair.
Captain America: Civil War
Too long. Forgettable villain. Plot hole the size of Iron Man’s ego. These are givens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by now, but for the first time since Iron Man, it asked questions that made me curious to hear their answers. Its ideological warfare on government control was almost too relevant to this year’s election cycle. It didn’t take a bold stance, but maybe its commentary was really on how we handle conflict. Wait—did a Marvel movie just become the best metaphor for our current political climate? Well, it’s more accessible than most political Oscar bait anyway.