MIG’S SHORT TAKES – Films of 2016

At least as far as my collection is concerned, when it comes to calendar year 2016, the sequels ruled the world, so much so that I was compelled to include, not one, but THREE sequels in my rundown.

To give you an idea of how many sequels/prequels there were, here’s a list of movies I WON’T be summarizing:

• Captain America: Civil War
• X-Men: Apocalypse (not great)
• Star Trek Beyond
• Jason Bourne
• Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (also not great)
• Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

…and those are just the ones I happen to own.

As usual, sequels rule, as far as Hollywood box office is concerned. But, again as usual, there are always a few original, exceptional films that should not be missed. Here are nine films from 2016 that deserve to be on your radar, if you haven’t already seen them.

1. DEADPOOL, 2/12/2016 – Marvel meets Monty Python crossed with Ferris Bueller on amphetamines. I was never a reader of the beloved comic book character Deadpool, but based on this movie, I think I SHOULD have been. Ryan Reynolds brings a delightful sense of mischief and anarchy to a character that would have made Jim Carrey’s “The Mask” throw his hands up in frustration. He breaks the fourth wall, he makes pop cultural references, he makes meta-references galore (“I’m breaking the fourth wall in the middle of a fourth wall break! That’s like…sixteen walls!”), he has nothing but disdain for the X-Men, and his cursing and inappropriate statements would make a sailor blush. And yet it all plays well in a well-rounded story that has plenty of laughs, but also just the right amount of pathos, sadness, and real human drama to even everything out. Much like “Guardians of the Galaxy”, it’s a small miracle that this movie succeeds as much as it does. It’s a riot.

2. BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, 3/25/2016 – Haters be damned. I liked this movie. I liked it even more on repeat viewings, especially Diana Prince’s rousing introduction to the final battle with Doomsday. I do think Lois Lane got the short end of the stick a little bit, relegated to being the stereotypical damsel in distress, but leaving that aside, “Batman v Superman” is a solid piece of popcorn/comic-book-movie entertainment, VERY reminiscent of the comic books themselves…at least, the very few comic books that I’ve personally read. Ben Affleck makes a credible Batman (with a voice distorter in his mask – nice touch) and a dashing Bruce Wayne. Jesse Eisenberg as arch-villain Lex Luthor takes a little getting used to, but it works. And then, of course, there’s Gal Gadot…nuff said. That aforementioned final battle is spectacular and easily trackable, not an easy feat. The new Batmobile is pretty damn awesome. I mean…I understand the haters, I know where they’re coming from, but I just cannot agree. This is good stuff.

3. HELL OR HIGH WATER, 8/26/2016 – This is a movie that first dazzles you with a GREAT story with GREAT characters and GREAT writing. Then, after it’s over, you start to think to yourself, “Wait a minute…I was actually rooting FOR the two guys who were robbing banks.” To be sure, these two are not Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and “Hell or High Water” is not that movie. But as the movie progresses, you can see where these two guys are coming from. You understand their motivation for bank robbery, and it’s a damn good motivation. Then the movie throws a monkey in the wrench by having one of their robberies go awry. And, since they’re in Texas, they find themselves up against a bank full of patrons who have concealed carry permits. Now, I’m typically on the side of gun control, but there are few scenes more satisfying than the one where regular men and women chase two bank robbers out to the street with their various revolves and automatics. Without the carry permits, the robbers would have gotten away clean. But they didn’t. It’s a conundrum for which the movie provides no easy answers, just convenient debate points. …and that’s just one of the movie’s delights. This is a sleeper, a rare treat, and well worth a search.

4. DON’T BREATHE, 8/26/2016 – Hey, it’s Zoey from “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”! Okay, now that’s out of the way… “Don’t Breathe” is an incredibly effective little thriller about three nickel-and-dime house burglars who decide to burgle the house of a blind ex-soldier. Little do they know this guy has honed his reflexes and remaining senses to accommodate his disability, in effect becoming something like Daredevil’s grandfather. Far from being helpless, he becomes a formidable adversary, disrupting the burglary and effectively trapping the burglars inside his home. What follows next, I would not DREAM of revealing, but suffice to say it does include a scene that puts a neat twist on that one scene near the end of “The Silence of the Lambs” where Jodie Foster is in complete darkness, but Buffalo Bill has those night-vision goggles. “Don’t Breathe” made little noise at the box office, but it’s definitely worth your while. Trust me. What happens in this movie, you’ll NEVER see coming.

5. THE ACCOUNTANT, 10/14/2016 – Raise your hand if you remember “The Hitcher”, a quirky, nihilistic thriller where C. Thomas Howell matches wits against a psychopathic killer who miraculously anticipates just about every move Howell makes, or ever WILL make. Now imagine that the Hitcher became a good guy instead…sort of. Voila! You have “The Accountant.” I realize that may not be a sterling recommendation, but this is actually above average stuff. Ben Affleck plays a man who serves as accountant-for-hire to various criminal organizations, but who also suffers from a high-functioning behavioral disorder that resembles autism or OCD, or both, I guess. (The movie goes into more detail about this than I will.) It’s this disorder that enables him to “uncook” books, find missing money, and solve jigsaw puzzles in record time. How this relates to the FBI, hired assassins, and a prosthetic arm manufacturer, I’ll leave for you to discover. The point is, “The Accountant” is not too flashy, but it’s extremely well told, and that makes all the difference. The final few minutes are worth the rental price.

6. DOCTOR STRANGE, 11/4/2016 – As I mentioned on Facebook a few weeks ago, I don’t pretend to fully understand the mechanics of what goes on in the last two reels of “Doctor Strange”, but damn! The visuals of that last battle in New York City, where the streets and buildings become freed from all laws of physics and reality…? That was worth the trip in, man. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a wonderful Stephen Strange, perhaps channeling a little TOO much Tony Stark, but I didn’t care while I was watching it. It’s yet another above-average MCU installment with dazzling visuals, lengthy battles, and good guys beating up EVENTUALLY on the bad guys. You’ve seen it all before, I’m sure, but this one dresses it all up prettier than usual. I liked it.

7. ARRIVAL, 11/11/2016 – Mmm, that’s GOOD sci-fi, Billy! “Arrival” is another alien encounter movie, but it’s more “Close Encounters” than “Independence Day.” Massive ships of unknown origin land – sort of – on Earth at twelve different locations around the globe. A linguist (Amy Adams) and a mathematician (Jeremy Renner) are asked by the military to help decipher the aliens’ language, but there’s a second level to the whole endeavor, and by the end we’re left with mind-expanding questions about the nature of time, love, the Cassandra syndrome, and the ridiculous intricacies of the English language. (That last one is just for me.) I was on the edge of my seat this entire movie, from prologue to finale. This is the kind of science fiction on which I thrive.

8. MOONLIGHT, 11/18/2016 – “Moonlight” is a minimalist masterpiece, composed, not of “flashy” moviemaking, but of exquisitely crafted and honed performances, especially from the three actors who play the lead character at three stages of his life. I reacted to this story, more than I thought I would, because it falls neatly into one of my two favorite genres: A Story of a Life. It’s not quite epic like, say, “The Last Emperor” or “Amadeus”, but it’s no less enthralling. There is a moment involving a classroom, a camera at ground level, and a chair that coaxed a “Holy shit” out of me when it happened. There is a heartbreaking realism at the core of “Moonlight” that reminded me a bit of “Schindler’s List” in a way. When I watched “Schindler’s List”, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not just entertainment; this really happened, to real people, in a real place. “Moonlight” is like that. Everything felt completely authentic and real, and I found myself wondering how many kids were watching the movie and seeing themselves on screen. It really made me think.

9. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, 12/16/2016 – When I first heard they were making this movie, I was prepared for disappointment…which may partly explain why I love it so much. It exceeded all possible expectations I had for this prequel story about how the Death Star plans fell into Princess Leia’s hands in the first place. Not only does it tell an adventurous, “Dirty Dozen” type story in space, it also answers one of the most nagging questions I’ve ALWAYS had about “Star Wars”: HOW could the builders of the Death Star been STUPID enough to build a giant space station that could be destroyed by two little torpedoes going down a stupid little shaft? If that’s something you’ve always wondered, wonder no more. But aside from all that, one of the great thrills of this movie is seeing old characters and locales reappearing and feeling brand new. The Rebel base on the Yavin moon, Walrusman and Dr. Evazan, Red Leader and Gold Leader, the Tantive IV…it was exhilarating. But even so, previous knowledge of the Star Wars movies is not ABSOLUTELY required in order to enjoy “Rogue One.” It’s skillfully crafted in a way that allows it to stand alone. (You might even call it the Star Wars movie for people that hate Star Wars, but that’s VERY subjective.) “Rogue One” is a fantastic achievement and a worthy addition to the Star Wars filmography.

Other notables from 2016: Midnight Special, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle, Moana, La La Land (Full reviews of “Midnight Special” and “La La Land” can be found elsewhere on this website.)

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