Whenever I see the year end top movie lists, I agree with some, disagree with others – and there’s yet a third category entitled “Movies I’ve Never Even Heard Of” that the rest fall into. Sad to say, this is often the largest category, regardless of how many movies are ranked because reviewers seem to love picking films that haven’t yet opened but that they got to view in advance or movies that only played in a handful of theaters nationwide. On the bright side, I can make sure to see them eventually.
It often seems as if there is something of a snob factor to assembling these lists. There seems to be an unspoken rule that indies and art-house films (including at least one with subtitles) should outnumber more mainstream fare, and that only one or two blockbusters are acceptable to nominate. Taste matters – even when it’s an audience who doesn’t know you.
However, here’s my (mostly) mainstream year end list.
1. Eddie the Eagle – “Delightfully feel-good,” proclaims the cover blurb, and it’s true of this movie starring an unrecognizable Taron Edgerton as real-life Eddie Edwards, an working class British Olympic ski jumper, although you could also describe it as “aggressively heart-warming.” With Hugh Jackman playing the stereotypical washed-up champion who is reluctantly drafted to coach Taron. You may think you won’t tear up at the climax, but you may be wrong.
2. Everybody Wants Some!! – Despite the colossally dopey two exclamation points in the title and the fact that I’m not into baseball, I enjoyed this Richard Linklater movie. Blake Jenner (also appearing in “The Edge of Seventeen”) looks a little long in the tooth for a college freshman, but he gives a great performance, and besides, his fellow students look like they’re edging into their thirties.
3. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Yes, I have a soft spot for the “Harry Potter” franchise. This movie starring Eddie Redmayne is a mostly adults-populated movie, but as long as there’s plenty of the aforementioned fantastic beasts, I don’t mind. Also, there are sequels to look forward to, as apparently this franchise will have as many lives as “Star Wars.”
4. Free State of Jones – Despite a jarring subplot that takes place much later, the movie features excellent performances from Matthew McConaughey (as the real life Newt Knight who led an uprising during the Civil War), Mahershala Ali (as a runaway slave), and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who falls in love with Matthew).
5. Ghostbusters (2016) – Melissa McCarthy makes up for a disappointing “The Boss,” with this remake, starring Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as her fellow ghostbusters. Takes aim at angry Internet fanboys among other targets and succeeds. Unsurprisingly, the action sequences surpass the original’s.
6. Hacksaw Ridge – Andrew Garfield plays real-life Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss, who served as a medic in the Battle of Okinawa. Unlike many real-life based characters, Doss was apparently even more heroic than his film-counterpart, presumably this was toned down to maintain credibility.
7. Hail, Caesar! – Josh Brolin plays a Hollywood fixer in the fifties who is having a horrible, no-good bad day, especially as his leading man (George Clooney) has been kidnapped, among other subplots. Features many song and dance numbers that mimic their original inspiration and has solid performances across the board. Could have used more Jonah Hill, though.
8. Manchester By the Sea – Casey Affleck gives an authentic performance as a working class man who suffered a tragedy, who loses his brother and is forced to assume guardianship of his nephew (Lucas Hedges). Has the unpopular message that life often sucks and there’s not much you can do about it, but you’ll come to care about the characters, even Michelle Williams’s estranged wife.
9. The Nice Guys- When I saw that Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling were starring in a movie as a pair of detectives in the seventies, I thought “nah.” And I was completely wrong. If you don’t mind the vintage soundtrack (“The Great Escape,” “Horse With No Name”), you’ll probably laugh more than a few times.
10. Race – And here’s the second feel-good sports movie. With Stephan James as Jesse Owens and Jason Sudeikis as his college coach, this movie has a decent first half, but it’s the second that takes place at the Hitler-era Germany-hosted Olympics where it really shines. It addresses racism, of course, but also juggles a handful of controversies for both sides.
And the worst:
1. The Disappointments Room – It’s never a good sign when a minor character has to quote the movie title to explain things, which happens here. Kate Beckinsale plays a mother who lost a child a year ago and has the bad luck to move into a country house with a malevolent ghost and his daughter. Due to Kate not being the brightest bulb on the porch, many gory things happen which usually happen in a horror movie and put her in grave peril.
2. Fifty Shades of Black – The plus – It’s beautifully choreographed just like the original “Fifty Shades of Gray.” The bad news – it stars Marlon Wayans and Kali Hawk who gamely do their best, but the script – with a few exceptions – isn’t that funny.
3. Girl on a Train – Emily Blunt, (for some reason keeping her British accent), plays a mousey woman who gets her kicks imagining other people’s lives and who stumbles into a murder mystery. I had hoped it would be this year’s “Gone Girl.” It wasn’t.
4. Me Before You – Sam Claflin is listed twice at IMDB when you do a search. It might have been more entertaining if he had played twins, rather than a single paraplegic millionaire who is tended by Emilia Clarke, with whom he falls in love. But it isn’t.
5. The Neon Demon – Elle Fanning plays a naïve young woman who seeks a modeling career in California, but who runs afoul of said demon. Features lots of flashing lights, a slight plot and an unshaven Keanu Reeves as Elle’s landlord. Also there is a live tiger who easily matches the cast in talent.
6. Now You See Me 2 – This is one of those movies that boasts an all-star cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson) but just doesn’t come together the way it could.
* I could add a few more, but this list is depressing enough.
** Also I don’t mean to pick on horror movies – I did enjoy “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” especially when one character pointed out the stupidity of splitting up with ghosts on the loose.
*** Overall: a fair year, lots of decent movies but nothing that I will watch over and over.