Aaron’s Top Ten Films of Summer 2016 & More

Captain America Civil War 1The summer of 2016 was a weird one.  While there was plenty of anticipation for potential big hits, more than a few of the supposed blockbusters ended up underwhelming. Some of the expected hits delivered as well, but there was plenty of disappointment among the big hits. As usual though, many of the smaller films and arthouse fair ended up being the most satisfying. Now it is time to take a look back at what the summer had to offer and which films stood the highest (and the lowest). Of course, feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments as well!



Top Ten Favorites:

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10. Don’t Breathe

The horror genre has surprisingly delivered a number of satisfying mainstream hits this year (including Lights Out and The Conjuring 2). However, Don’t Breathe stood above them all by offering audiences a thrilling cat-and-mouse game set in a house in Detroit. Stephen Lang stars as a blind man who fights back against would-be burglars, with all sorts of twists, turns and inventive camera work. Director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) managed to take a simple premise and deliver plenty of intense moments that worked well enough to impress many.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

9. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

While not insanely expensive, Popstar was unfortunately one of the biggest box office duds of the summer. It’s a true shame as The Lonely Island delivered exactly what fans would hope in this hilarious satire on pop music stars. In addition to having one of the best and funniest soundtracks of the summer, the dedication to making this mockumentary look as authentic as possible is certainly notable. It’s one thing to see Andy Samberg and the truly hilarious cast shining brightly, but it’s another to take into consideration how great and true the concert sequences really feel.  Definitely a film for comedy fans to catch up on when it arrives on Blu-ray.

8. Captain Fantastic

Here’s the first of a few notable independents. Writer/director Matt Ross (who can be currently seen as the evil Gavin Belson in HBO’s Silicon Valley) made a very effective comedy-drama about a man raising his family off the grid. Viggo Mortensen stars and continues to show why he’s one of the best actors out there. Explaining both the process this man and his family go through to survive and the way their interactions with the rest of society play out is wonderfully captured. I only wish the ending was a bit more satisfying, but there is still plenty to like in this well-shot film that managed to find its way from Sundance to theaters.

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7. Finding Dory

I’m not one to doubt Pixar (and I’m the rare person who champions Cars 2 more than most), so it was no surprise to find plenty of joy in Finding Dory. The massively successful sequel to one of my favorites from the animation studio had a lot to live up to, but I was never too concerned with its potential. Keeping expectations in check, I was happy to enjoy this new story for its humor, new characters and subtle theme of what it means to care for a child with special needs.  All of it came together under the direction of returning director Andrew Stanton and he certainly delivered a film agreeable for all audiences.Civil War 2

6. Captain America: Civil War

The summer movie season started off with a bang thanks to another effort from Marvel Studios. Being a fan of the Captain America series the most among these various separate Marvel entries, this film (which also worked as Avengers 2.5) easily delivered another entertaining spectacle featuring both epic brawls and some terrific, character-driven story elements. The addition of Black Panther and Spider-Man were very welcome, let alone the amount of humor to go along with this action-packed and occasionally thrilling entry in the MCU. It’s the stuff that big summer movies are made of.

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5. The Nice Guys

On the more low-key side of mainstream releases, The Nice Guys certainly got the love from critics it deserved, but not nearly the audience that was meant for it. Shane Black returned from (fittingly enough) Marvel land with Iron Man 3 to make a film that seems much more his speed – a buddy detective comedy.  Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe were both great in this frequently funny 70s detective story.  Plenty of dark humor and even some sweetness to be found and the film is certainly worth seeking out, now that it is available on Blu-ray.

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4. The Lobster

Getting to a few films on the indie side of things, The Lobster was a movie I had been looking forward to for some time. Director Yorgos Lanthimos came up with a wild premise in which people are forced to find a partner or be turned into an animal of their choosing. There is much more to it, but what matters is how off-beat, yet successful the whole thing is. Colin Farrell leads the cast and commits to the role in a film that has a very precise sense of humor. Additionally, there is lots to enjoy in the world that is setup in this film and the general tone that is matched against some wild ideas.

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3. Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi is currently filming Thor: Ragnarok, but before he moves into blockbuster territory, Waititi has followed up his hilarious 2015 comedy What We Do In The Shadows with Hunt For The Wilderpeople. This is a heartfelt and hilarious story featuring the duo of Sam Neill and young Julian Dennison as a boy and his uncle who go on the run in the New Zealand bush. The film is gorgeously shot and tells a wonderful adventure story that has easily stuck with me for the past few months. It’s another indie and while the film managed to expand to a good number of theaters, it is another smaller movie that many more need to seek out.


2. Hell or High Water

While Hell or High Water premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year, the film pretty much came out of nowhere for audiences still taking in the various blockbusters from recent weeks. That being said, this neo-western heist film is one of the best features of the year, with terrific performances from leads Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham. Written by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan, the film plays like a cousin of No Country for Old Men and certainly delivers plenty of thrills as well as some existential thoughts concerning the way the world works. Bits of humor, solid cinematography and a strong sense of proper pacing only help to punctuate what kind of mark this adult-skewing thriller was able to make.

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1. Kubo and the Two Strings

As one who fully supports LAIKA Animation, Kubo and the Two Strings has been one of my most anticipated films of the year and it managed to completely deliver. While there is something to be said for the controversy surrounding its voice cast, that does not take away from all the ways this film succeeds. There’s a compelling story here that had to be meticulously constructed by hand, as this stop-motion adventure utilized some of the most complicated set-pieces yet for the company. Yes, the aid of visual effects is noticeable as well, but along with a fantastic-looking feature, there is a truly great story here that should appeal to any fan of classical heroic storytelling with some exciting twists. Kubo may not be the biggest hit of the summer, but it was certainly my favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

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The BFG, Don’t Think Twice, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

It’s not often one gets to mention Spielberg, Mike Birbiglia and Seth Rogen in the same sentence, but here we are. Somehow a fantasy about giants ended up being one of the summer’s biggest bombs, but the film was plenty of fun. Don’t Think Twice is a solid comedy-drama about a struggling improve group. And Neighbors 2 somehow turned out to be one of the best comedy sequels ever.

Biggest Disappointment:

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X-Men: Apocalypse

What happened here? I could not have been more excited (along with all the other supposedly ‘jaded’ critics) to see the latest X-Men film almost a month in advance, which would have appeared to be a promise of certain quality. Instead, Apocalypse turned out to be one of the weakest X-Men films, complete with bad/bland characters, a boring story and unmemorable action.

The 5 Worst Films of The Summer:

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5. Batman: The Killing Joke

4. Free State of Jones

3. The Angry Birds Movie

2. Ice Age: Collision Course

1. Suicide Squad

There’s not too much reason to draw this out. Some films just didn’t deliver. Batman: The Killing Joke was kind of a disaster for DC’s animated film slate. Free State of Jones had nothing to offer as far as being a potential awards contender. Angry Birds and Ice Age are just animated junk. And that leaves Suicide Squad a film that was quite bad, with the disappointment stinging even more, since it was one of my most anticipated films of the summer. At least the DCEU has nowhere to go but up (right?).

What’s Next?

There are certainly plenty of films coming up in the fall and early winter to be excited for, big and small. For every Rogue One and Doctor Strange, we have a Manchester by the Sea and La La Land. Others such as Arrival, The Magnificent Seven, Passengers, Loving, Moana and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk certainly have my attention as well. Time will tell which films end up being the hits for the end of the year.la la land

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