Marvel Studios: 11 Years and 21 Movies Ranked

With Avengers: Endgame just about to hit theaters, I and everyone else obsessed with movies whether professionally or otherwise have decided to look back to the beginning in 2008 and rank and talk about the 21 movies which have been released prior to the epic finale of phase 3 and of the entire Marvel story line thus far.   The feature films in the MCU could arguably be the most consistently entertaining, crowd pleasing group of movies ever released by a studio, but that doesn’t mean they are all equal nor that they don’t have their share of issues.

The secret to Marvel’s success and consistency, in my opinion, is a deep understanding of their characters and themes.  While they have had an issue giving life to their villains at times (and certainly not all the time, there are a few great villains in their canon), they otherwise give us three dimensional, exciting, witty people we can get deeply invested in.  Where they fail is in lack of stakes and in being so true to visual and storytelling formulas that all their films look and feel far too similar, creativity gets lost to what is seemingly studio mandate.

From their worst to their best, here is how I feel about the pre-Endgame MCU feature films.

21.  Thor: The Dark World (Taylor; 2013)

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Underwhelming writing, dull cinematography, and a cast which doesn’t seem to want to be there make for Marvel Studio’s worst film by a rather large margin.

If any of the MCU films can be called downright bad, it would be Thor: The Dark World. The villain problems extant in much of the MCU is at its worst here with a villain so basic, so lacking in any personality or distinguishing traits that he’s nearly impossible to remember for most.  The heroes aren’t much better with Chris Hemsworth not being used to the best of his ability, yet, and obvious lack of chemistry between most of the cast, and supporting characters who don’t seem to have much of a reason to be in the film beyond exposition and snark.  Even Tom Hiddleston, the best part of the first two Thor movies, is somewhat wasted here as Loki is only in half the film and his character is written inconsistently.

 

20.  Iron Man 3 (Black; 2013)

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Much like Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3 is a mess of a movie with dull villains and an unnecessarily complicated story line.  The exploration of Tony Stark’s PTSD after the events of The Avengers is a fantastic idea, but the idea is poorly executed and diluted by too many unrelated subplots.

Iron Man 3 does take its fair share of risks, something I wish more Marvel Studio’s films would do, but in this particular case those risks don’t pay off and can be actively aggravating.

I admit to this low of a ranking being subjective.  I did not see Iron Man 3 until many years after its release by which time I had seen a few MCU films which already grappled some with Stark’s PTSD and so the impact wasn’t as great as it could have been had I seen the films in order.  I decided to not take that into account in my rankings, however, as this demonstrates one of the many ways personal experience can impact one’s investment into and enjoyment of art.

19. The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier; 2008)

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The Incredible Hulk is sort of the poster child for what makes a bad MCU film.  It understands the character of its protagonists well enough, but it again has dull villains (yes, that will be said a lot throughout this list), is predictable, takes no risks with its story, and outside of its action sequences has little creativity in its technical aspects.  The tensions between Edward Norton and the studio are also well known, and almost certainly played a part in The Incredible Hulk‘s lack of inspiration.

William Hurt’s role as General Ross was arguably the movie’s highlight, and his return in later films was appreciated.  Hulk – not a smash.

18.  Iron Man 2 (Favreau; 2010)

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Iron Man 2 is undeniably a mess.  It touches on Tony Stark’s irresponsibility and alcoholism, but not to the degree necessary for those themes to contain any weight.  Its story line is a little all over the place trying to grapple with more conflicts and character arcs than its running time can reasonably allow.  And, its action sequences are arguably the hardest to follow in the entire MCU.

It does have two often forgotten saving graces, however, in Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell as well thought out, well acted villains.  Mickey Rourke famously hated working on the film and refuses to return to the MCU, which is too bad because his professionalism still allowed him to give a captivating turn as Whiplash, but the fact that Rockwell has never returned as Justin Hammer is a little bewildering as he was excellent as well.

17.  Thor (Branagh; 2011)

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Thor’s origin movie suffers from the same problems as its sequel where the cast chemistry is concerned, but has the advantage of Hemsworth being allowed to flex is comedic muscle a bit more and Tom Hiddleston has a much larger role.  The film does suffer from pacing issues, and the fact that Hiddleston and Hemsworth are separate for the majority of the film means we are stuck with Hemsworth and Portman’s comedically bad rapport for most of Thor.

The screenplay does do an excellent job of getting the primary characters personalities down, Branagh’s direction does add a distinction most MCU movies don’t contain, and Hiddleston was so great that I believe he is the reason Rourke and Rockwell were all but forgotten about from Iron Man 2.  Thor has more positive than negative, but is still far too inconsistent and rocky to be considered among even the more moderate movies of the MCU.

16.  Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston; 2011)

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By the time the first Captain America movie came along, Marvel Studios had a plan and it showed.  However, it did not have a complete formula and that also shows for better or worse.

When Chris Evans was chosen to play Captain America the general consensus was that he looked perfect for the part, but since he was just coming off of a short run as The Human Torch in the not so great Fantastic Four movies many were dubious as to his being able to give the role the calm charisma needed.  We know now that he perfectly embodied the role to the same degree Hugh Jackman embodied Wolverine, Ron Perlman did Hellboy, or Ryan Reynolds Deadpool.

The rest of the film is not quite as great.  Cap’s relationship with Bucky is near perfect, but the rest of the characters don’t fare quite as well.  His chemistry with Peggy is certainly better than Thor’s with Jane, but it’s still not stellar, and Hugo Weaving gives a so-so performance as Red Skull.  Overall, a solid, but slightly underwhelming entry into the Marvel canon.

15.  Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed; 2018)

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Ant-Man and the Wasp is a film which may epitomize both the best and the worst parts of the MCU in one film.  On the one hand, it understands the majority of its characters intimately, nailing their relationships with one another, the positives and negatives of their personalities, and what their talents and abilities allow them to accomplish on both a practical level and in a fun for the audience way.  It’s humorous without devolving into pure camp, its action is creative and exciting, and its dialogue witty but light and unpretentious.

However, it suffers from having a truly underwhelming and underwritten villain in Ghost (which is particularly annoying here since the last few Marvel films had gotten past this flaw), and it’s primary plot shows that stakes in Marvel films are not just light, but non-existent.  It’s a running gag that people never die in the comics, but the Marvel films could fix that since actors have contracts and while Spider-Man in the comics has to survive for decades to sell books, the movies not only don’t have that problem, they can’t even if they wanted to.  So, to have the Marvel films constantly resurrect their dead protagonists lowers the stakes when we know it isn’t ever permanent, to have a plot which revolves around essentially bringing a character back from a point of no return epitomizes and exacerbates that.

14.  Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon; 2015)

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What Marvel having a cinematic universe allows it to do better than any series of films before or since is have large event films with dozens of characters and gigantic action scenes which don’t need the usual exposition and set up since this has already been done in other movies.  Personally, I enjoy these large event movies more than the smaller films (spoiler alert as to which films are going to be toward the top of this list) as they allow me to see something on an epic scale done in a manner few if any films prior to the MCU have been able to accomplish.

Avengers: Age of Ultron most definitely has the touch of its director Joss Whedon with witty dialogue, a light tone which uses self awareness and verbal prestigitation, and death to evoke an emotional reaction.  Unfortunately, these very qualities undercut the film’s tone giving us a villain more snarky than scary (though not dull, at least), a film with emotional beats more manufactured than earned, and an action movie which depends more on what the characters say than what they do.

Add to all that inconsistent tone and many scenes which have little to do with the main story and break the narrative flow, and that makes Avengers: Age of Ultron the worst of these large event films.

13.  Ant-Man (Reed; 2015)

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One thing Marvel did in its second phase of films is start branching off into different genres than straight comic book action dramas.  In Ant-Man we got Marvel’s first heist movie with all the fun and large supporting cast heist movies generally entail.

Going with the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man rather than the original Hank Pym version was a bit inspired as it allowed Ant-Man to be portrayed by Paul Rudd with his “aw shucks” brand of hilarious charisma rather than an Ant-Man who is incredibly intelligent but otherwise bland as Pym is in the comics.  It also created a far more interesting character dynamic than Pym’s origin had in the printed version.

Unfortunately, Ant-Man was severely hampered by a plot far too similar to the other Marvel origin movies, including the usual lackluster villain, and the comic, light-hearted tone means the film didn’t even have high stakes tension to lean on for excitement factor.

12.  Dr. Strange (Derrickson; 2016)

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The fact that a movie as solid as Dr. Strange is this far down the list speaks to why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has struck such a chord with general audiences.  We’re not even halfway through the list and we’re to films that aren’t just good, but have positive qualities which far outweigh their negatives.

Dr. Strange is nearly perfectly cast, it has trippy, creative visuals, it separates the magic of the Marvel world from the fantasy magic we are used to from traditional fantasy films, and it is written with a deep understanding of its characters without being afraid to change their more problematic elements.

All that being said, Dr. Strange still has horrible villain problems, the only interesting factor involving the villains is how the ultimate enemy is finally defeated, and is predictably formulaic to an extreme.  Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect for the role, and Ejiofor as Mordo showed a lot of promise as a future villain, so I have to believe that the second solo Dr. Strange film will be superior.

11.  Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts; 2017)

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The only entry in the MCU not distributed by Disney/Marvel Studio’s, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a solid entry for Sony, one of the best of the Spider-Man films, but not quite good enough to break into the top 10.  Sony made the very intelligent choice to not make Spider-Man: Homecoming and origin story, figuring most likely correctly that its audience already knows this story and more than a little sick of it.  Another aspect of Spider-Man: Homecoming which demonstrates a lot of intelligence on the part of its creators is a phenomenal cast including the rare for Marvel movies fantastic villain Vulture played by Michael Keaton and Tom Holland as Spider-Man the first person to take on the role who is excellent as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker.

The very personal story line of Spider-Man: Homecoming allows for one of the most intimate character studies in a Marvel movie to date of both Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes (Vulture) but it also makes for much smaller stakes than we are used to in an MCU film.  I do like the fact that this means for his first MCU feature we get a “friendly neighborhood” Spider-Man, I don’t like that this makes for a movie which has very little to say beyond its surface.

Still, what we get is enough to make it a strong entry in the MCU, the second best live action Spider-Man film after Spider-Man 2, and while its themes of working class man who gets screwed over by the powers that be are shallow, they are enough to make for a bit more than just surface level investment.

10.  Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi; 2017)

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I’ve stated that Marvel has never made a truly bad movie, except possibly for Thor: The Dark World, but past this point we go beyond mediocre and good into exceptional.  Which if you have already calculated the very simple math means I believe that nearly half of the output of Marvel Studios enters the exceptional category (though, I don’t believe any approach anything resembling a masterpiece).

Thor: Ragnarok is the first Thor film to recognize and utilize Chris Hemsworth’s talent for comedy to its fullest extent, which makes sense since it is directed by Taika Waititi the New Zealander responsible for What We Do in the Shadows.  What doesn’t make sense, yet absolutely works anyway, is that this comedic tone is taken in a film which focuses on gladiatorial combat, the end of the universe, and the goddess of death.

The first Marvel Universe film which is a straight-up comedy also deals with its darkest subject matter (until we get to Infinity War) but Waititi somehow manages to balance the light tone with the heavy stakes without turning to cynical dark comedy.  It’s an amazing feat, and I hope that Waititi and Marvel Studios can somehow find a way to work together again sometime down the line.

9.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn; 2017)

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This was perhaps the most difficult film for me to place on this list as it does the thing I love most in a film better than any other Marvel movie, and that’s use the fictional and the fantastic to grapple with a theme relevant to reality.  In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s case its using superhero space opera to cast the light from a semi-warped mirror onto the dysfunctions present in most every family on Earth.  It sheds that light primarily onto those with “daddy issues”, but it also tackles sibling rivalry, being overly attached to a parent, and issues prevalent in foster families.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 also has the best cinematography of any MCU film.  Somehow, Gunn managed to get away with more than just the standard practical but farthest away from anything which could be considered art cinematography of the other Marvel Studio’s films and gave us a few scenes, in particular the opening credits scene of all things, which have a definite artistic personal style to them.

Even though GoG 2 does two things better than any other MCU entry, though, I can not rank it any higher than this because it suffers from the same villain problems as most other Marvel films (though not quite to the usual degree) and its comic tone never finds a true balance and is often downright distracting in it inability to just let a tender emotion sit and stew with the audience.

8.  Black Panther (Coogler; 2018)

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There is one reason and only one reason that Black Panther isn’t far enough up on the list to make it the best of the Marvel solo origin movies, and that reason is that starting with Iron Man we had already seen this film 5 times before in the MCU.  Man lives morally questionable lifestyle, said lifestyle threatens man’s life, man makes better choices and acquires superpowers simultaneously, man meets his villainous mirror image, man overcomes villainous mirror image in final battle to make up for past self is the Marvel solo movie formula, each one having one variation on the theme, and Black Panther is no different.  But, this no different is the 6th time it was no different.

Beyond that, though, Black Panther is brilliant.  There’s the obvious fact that it highlights a continent and a culture which too much of the world is largely ignorant of.  While T’challa may not be the first black superhero to lead a film, not even the first time for a Marvel movie, Black Panther is the first superhero film to have a very predominantly black cast and, in my opinion even more importantly, crew.   It has a solidly African American message, too, which may be handled with the subtlety of a jackhammer, but not every movie needs to be subtle, and it being primarily a big budget, epic scale, superhero action movie I can definitely forgive it not making its audience discover its themes.  In fact, that was absolutely the right way to go in a film of this sort.

Black Panther is also the very rare Marvel movie which has a villain more interesting than its hero.  Its costumes won it an Academy Award, every aspect of its production design was incredible, and even its soundtrack was excellent and original.  Except for its way too derivative plot, Black Panther is top notch superhero origin movie material.

7.  Captain Marvel (Boden & Fleck; 2019)

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Captain Marvel is far from a perfect movie.  It tries to do too much in its just over 2 hour running time to maintain consistency.  Its tone is a little all over the place, its humor is inconsistent, and its the rare Marvel movie which neglects protagonist characters as well as its villains.  But, this all occurs because Captain Marvel is an incredibly ambitious, risk taking movie – a quality far, far too rare in Marvel films – and those risks make for a unique experience among the MCU, and while that uniqueness occasionally is discordant, it more often adds up to a very powerful experience.

The risk that always works is its overtly, and also sometimes not so overtly, feminist themes.  Wonder Woman was an inspirational film, and it was wonderful to see a well made movie about a woman with godlike powers finally do well with both audiences and critics, but Captain Marvel not only has all those same qualities, but it also intelligently scrutinizes the way women are treated by their male peers (lest anyone think that means this movie “hates men”, may I point out her closest companion throughout the movie is a man).

But, what sets Captain Marvel just ever so slightly above Black Panther in my esteem is the fact that it finally breaks the MCU solo origin movie formula.  Rather than show a man overcome his past both literally and metaphorically, we get to see a woman gain power through her own heroism, then realize there is nothing wrong with fully embracing that power despite what the men around her whisper in her ear.

6.  Avengers: Infinity War (Russo & Russo; 2018)

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This is the ultimate example of what the Marvel Universe was created to do.  It would be impossible in any other circumstance to make a movie with dozens of protagonists all with established personalities, motivations, and backgrounds.  Even a television show, which in many ways the MCU resembles more than any other series of films, would take multiple seasons to establish a cast of characters as Marvel has, and a television series wouldn’t have anywhere near the budget a feature film has.

Avengers: Infinity War‘s genius is that it does even one better than would seem necessary, though.  Not only did Marvel studios have the patience to wait for 20 films so that it could tell a story so epic in scale without having to use the majority of its running time for exposition and character development, it wrote its villain as its protagonist so that we still do have that exposition and character development for a singular character for which it’s most important.  This also has the not incidental side effect of making it so Avengers: Infinity War does not have the MCU’s usual villain problem.

Avengers: Infinity War is not the smartest, most emotional, most artistic movie in Marvel Studio’s canon.  But its epic scale, particularly where the sheer number of characters is concerned, has arguably never been matched in any film before.  It does that without sacrificing cohesion or audience investment, and that’s damn impressive.

5.  Iron Man (Favreau; 2008)

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The movie that established the MCU is still one of its very best.  Prior to 2008, Iron Man was at best a third stringer superhero.  If you said the name people had heard of it, though it’s just as likely it was because of the Black Sabbath song as the comic character, but they probably couldn’t say much more.  As someone who collected comics for a while in my teen years, I still had never bought a title in which he was a main character. But, post 2008 Tony Stark is a household name just as much as Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne.

The secret to Iron Man‘s success (and Dr. Strange‘s, and Thor‘s, and Ant-Man‘s, and Black Panther‘s, and The Incredible Hulk‘s if it can be considered a success) was that the story came from the character and his growth and experience rather than the other way around.  Tony Stark isn’t a man reacting to circumstances beyond his control, he’s engineering his own fate and everything that happens to him from his accident, to his change of heart, to his battle with his former partner comes naturally as an extension of who he is.

Iron Man is not just the first of the Marvel movies, it’s still the best of the origin movies and it’s the movie that defined what the Marvel formula was to be (at least until Captain Marvel – we shall see what happens from here).

4.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo & Russo; 2014)

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier has as much, if not more, in common with The Bourne Identity as it does with other superhero movies.  This, the second Captain America movie, was the first of the Marvel movies to play around with genre by giving its audience a political spy thriller instead of straight comic book action/adventure.  Its success both with audiences and with critics meant it wouldn’t be the last Marvel film to incorporate different genres into its story and tone.

What made the success of The Winter Soldier more surprising than perhaps any other factor, was its directors.  Prior to this movie, Joe and Anthony Russo were known for directing comedies.  Television situation comedies for that most part, at that.  Many thought prior to The Winter Soldier‘s release that the heads at Marvel Studios had lost their marbles and had made their first major, possibly studio ending, mistake.  What the heads at Marvel had actually done was demonstrate their genius, or at least their luck, in a grander fashion than ever before.

The Winter Soldier is a fantastic film on its own merit even if none of the other Marvel Studios films had ever existed, but it ended up being more as much of the storyline still going on derives from this movie.  The first Captain America movie defined his character, but this is the movie that defined his place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and thus the path of the MCU in general to a very large degree.

3.  Marvel’s The Avengers (Whedon; 2012)

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The first big Marvel event movie had huge expectations partially due to the quality of the films leading up to it, partially due to Joss Whedon helming the project, and partially just from pure hope that it could be as much fun as the idea seemed.  It not only met those expectations, it exceeded them and became one of the top grossing movies of all time as well as a critical success.

It was made in the days before Marvel Studios forced the same visual style on all of its directors, and so had some truly fantastic visuals including a long, unbroken shot during its final fight scene which has been equalled in artistic and technical merit only by the opening credit sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 mentioned earlier.  It also had Joss Whedon’s style tattooed all over it from its witty dialogue, to its subversion of both character and genre, to its use of humor and drama when least expected to heighten the impact of each.

Marvel’s The Avengers created the template for the huge event movie of today, and remains one of its best examples still.

2.  Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn; 2014)

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Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s greatest risk not only because it was a property which not even die hard comic book nerds had much familiarity with let alone the majority of its potential audience whom had never heard of it at all, but also because it had to be an origin story for an entire group, not just a single person, and could thus very easily have lost focus. done a disservice to its characters, or more likely both for a movie this large in scale with this many moving parts.

It not only pulled off giving us five fully fleshed out, engaging, charming protagonists within an epically scaled space opera along with just as fully formed side characters, Guardians of the Galaxy and director James Gunn created the tone which would propel forward not only the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but which would also be copied by movies such as Baby Driver, Suicide Squad, Atomic Blonde, and many more.

It broke the mold on Marvel movies and action movies in general, created a new one which everyone wanted to get their hands on, made household names of characters whom nearly no one had heard before, and did it all in a movie seemingly cram packed with too much material for anything to get the attention it deserved, yet somehow was actually perfectly paced.  Its only real glaring problem was, say it with me, the villain, whom even by Marvel standards was especially bland.

1.   Captain America: Civil War (Russo & Russo; 2017)

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Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War somehow managed to have its cake and eat it too by being both one of Marvel’s epic event movies and a piece which was personal in scale by focusing more on character than on plot.  It has the large scale action and fight sequences with many characters and moving parts to keep your heart racing and your eyes glued to the screen, but at its heart is a movie about duty, friendship, and responsibility and what those values mean to different people.

Captain America: Civil War‘s secret to success was to focus not on the accords nor the assassination attempt, those were merely excuses to move forward the action, but on Captain America’s friendships with both Bucky and Tony Stark and the lengths to which he’ll go to protect those people and ideals which mean the most to him.

Everything great about any individual Marvel movie is present in Captain America: Civil War, except for the occasional brilliant camera work.  It has relatable, engaging characters who change and grow throughout the movie, it takes risks in making those we’ve always seen as heroes before into the villains here, it has some of the greatest action sequences ever put into a Marvel movie which means they are in the running for greatest of all time, period, and it does all this while also having themes with far more depth than all but a handful of the other Marvel films and it introduces two characters brand new to the MCU on top of all of that.  If Marvel ever manages to top this movie, it will only be because they somehow managed to add art to their formula, because aside from that missing factor Captain America: Civil War is a near perfect comic book movie.

 

The 2016 Shauning Achievements in Cinema Awards

Welcome to the 1st Annual Shauning Achievement in Cinema Award Show Spectacular!  I’m Shaun, and I’ll be your host for this evening from when the stars make their way down the red carpet until the time the last award for the evening is given out and we all head out to get raging drunk.

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This is my carpet.  It isn’t red at all.  And those aren’t stars, I’m pretty sure they’re very old Cheeto crumbs.

Before we begin tonight’s ceremony, it’s important to mention in the name of full disclosure that there are a handful of films which have been garnering critical praise that I did not get a chance to see and so therefore will not be on the list.  These include (but are not limited to) Silence, Jackie, A Monster Calls, and Green Room.  In addition, only films with full theatrical releases are going to be considered.  So Netflix only films like Hush and ARQ will not be considered nor will films with very short releases such as Batman: The Killing Joke and Godzilla Resurgence.

And now, on to the festivities!

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Pretend this is the opening song and dance number.

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Let’s start out the ceremony by mentioning a few films that did not get nominated for any awards this evening, but were still excellent and while they didn’t show themselves to be the very best at any one category, they still managed to be very entertaining or thoughtful or creative or interesting or all of the above and are well worth your time and dollar.

  1. The Witch (Eggers; 2016)
  2. Eye in the Sky (Hood; 2015)
  3. The Nice Guys (Black; 2016)
  4. The BFG (Spielberg; 2016)
  5. Star Trek Beyond (Lin; 2016)
  6. Lights Out (Sandberg; 2016)
  7. Don’t Breathe (Alvarez; 2016)
  8. The Accountant (O’Connor; 2016)
  9. Ouija: Origin of Evil (Flanagan; 2016)
  10. The Eagle Huntress (Bell; 2016)

Shauning Achievement in Acting – The Guys

It wasn’t that long ago that when you thought of great performances in Hollywood it was usually a man’s name that would pop into your mind first.  The ’90s and the first decade of the 2000’s was a period in which guys with leading man looks were branching out and taking on comedic and character roles, and turning leading parts into quirky and downright unusual people rather than a typical heroic archetype.  That era is beginning to fade a little, and women are stepping forward now with the more unusual and dramatically satisfying roles in very modern Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t guys out there who can still bring it.

Denzel Washington is fantastic in this very deep and nuanced performance portraying a man trying to maintain his pride while also confronting prejudice and trying to raise his family in this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play.

All four of the main actors in Hell or High Water give wonderful performances, but Chris Pine is the stand out as a man determined to give his family what they’ll need to live the comfortable life he could never have and deny those who would try to take everything away from them and him.

Daniel Radcliffe is a corpse and best friend in this unusual escape from a deserted island and find home movie.  This performance is not only physically demanding, but also creative and thoughtful and will most likely be unfortunately overlooked – but not by me.

There has perhaps never been a more perfect marriage between character and actor as Ryan Reynolds to Deadpool.  He showed that the superhero genre not only still has life, but also plenty of fun and style still waiting to be explored if the studios would only take some risks.

And the winner is….

Affleck’s performance is subdued to the point of nearly boring until you realize just why his character acts the way he does.  When we learn Lee Chandler’s history and we see his bottled up emotions explode out of him like the world’s most caustic champagne, you can see just how brilliant and measured this performance is.  You deserve the Shauning Acheivement Trophy for 2016 Mr. Affleck.

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The Shauning Achievement Awards are casual.

 

Shauning Achievement in Acting – The Gals

 At some point in the last decade or so, Hollywood figured out that women actually watch movies.  While they still haven’t figured out exactly what women like, they have at least determined that it’s more than just romantic comedies which is leading to much more diverse roles for women in Hollywood than the mother or the romantic interest.  This has had the pleasant side effect of showing us the real skills of some the best leading ladies ever to be seen on the silver screen, in addition to Charlize Theron who somehow got way ahead of the curve years back.

The nominees for the the Shauning Achievement in Acting for the Ladies in 2016 are

Ruth’s performance knowingly sidesteps an attempt to make a statement, and just shows us a real person.  It’s exactly this realism and vulnerability that ironically makes the movie and her part in it so powerful as we relate rather than listen to preaching.

Amy Adams had two stand out performances in 2016, but her part in Arrival gets the edge not only because it is larger, but because without her very thoughtful performance the rather intellectual themes of the film would not have worked nearly so well.

Hailee Steinfeld gives us a self absorbed teen who not only avoids stereotype, but actually gets us to root for her even as we recognize that most of the problems she complains about in her life are her own fault.  This is another case of a movie falling apart entirely without one  amazing character portrayal, and instead Hailee gives us one of the best high school movies of all time.

Viola, like Amy Adams, also had one hell of a year.  While her performance as Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad was far and away the best part of that film, it’s her role of long suffering wife and mother Rose in Fences that is truly her crowning achievement for the year.

And, the winner is…

While the singing and dancing does add to the impressiveness of Emma’s performance in this love note to Hollywood and old school musicals, it’s her chemistry with Gosling and complete understanding of her character’s emotional state that make this performance and the entire film an absolute triumph.  Come get your award Miss Stone.

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Everyone is showing up in their sleepwear.

Shauning Achievement in Animashaun

2016 was a pretty great year for animated films, showing that not only are cartoons not purely for kids, a common theme for quite some time now, but also that animation can be used to explore themes in ways live action films still are not capable.  This year’s nominee’s skewered religion, took a good hard look at racism and sexism, and showed us just how beautiful film can be.

The nominees for The Shauning Achievement in Animashaun Award are…

While the movie had some controversy regarding how it explored its themes of racism, just the fact that it spurred so much conversation is a testament to what a chord it struck in its audience.  That’s not even counting the fact that it is one heck of an entertaining story without even taking its message into account.

This movie is gorgeous and gives us a Disney Princess who has no romantic interest whatsoever.  It also has Dwayne Johnson giving us one of the more fun Disney characters to come around in a while, and you have all the makings of why Disney rules the box office.

The most adult cartoon to ever get a major release, this film used its very hard R Rating to make statements about our beliefs, how they get started, and why we often need them in a way only a cartoon can.  This movie in which nothing is sacred does a fantastic job of teaching us why very little should be.

This family film has a lot to say about family.  It’s beautifully animated, well acted, and entertaining for every single member of said family.

And the winner of The Shauning Achievement in Animation Award for 2016 is…

Original, captivating, dark, thoughtful, and the finest stop animation ever captured describes this year’s output from Laika Studios.  Kubo and the Two Strings combines Western and Eastern styles and sensibilities perfectly to make for the greatest and most beautiful animated story of the year.

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Shauning Achievement in Shaunematography

What sets a stage play apart from a movie ultimately is the camera.  The camera is our eye, our viewpoint, into the world being shown to us on the screen.  The cinematographer has to give us a viewpoint that is practical while also being beautiful, creative without being incomprehensible, and is the first line in communicating the movie’s very literal vision to those in the audience.

The nominees for 2016’s Shauning Achievement in Shaunematography are…

Is it a strange thing to say that it’s a testament to McGarvey’s skill that after watching this movie you feel the need to go home and shower?  His very detailed and off-putting camera work make this very dark fairy tale come to life and grabs your attention from the very first second before the credits even start rolling.

Duggan does a phenomenal job showing he can capture people well, but the chaos of war with the best of them.  The highlight of Hacksaw Ridge is the battle in the last half, and the true star of that last half is the visuals.

This movie is called a Western by many even though it takes place today, and doesn’t focus on cowboys or Indians.  Much of the reason for that is Nuttgens’ amazing vision of West Texas showing us both the beauty and the poverty so prevalent in the American Southwest.

Vibrant, lively, colorful, frenetic are all words that describe La La Land’s visuals, but more than that it is also one of the most deeply emotional and thoughtfully constructed films in recent memory.  Sandgren captures motion as well as emotion and makes for one gorgeous overall package,

And, the winner of the 2016 Shauning Achievement in Cinematography is…

Never has the term window to the soul been so literal as it is here.  While all three actors who play Chiron are excellent, and the writing is moving and heartwrenching, the cinematography on display here is what allows us to actually become Chiron for a few hours and experience a character movie like never before.  Mr. Laxton, you have created a masterpiece, come get your award.

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I don’t make jokes about this movie.  It just seems crass to do so.

Shauning Achievement in Creativity

Creativity in Hollywood is not dead despite the constant outcry from all the naysayers, but it is rarer than the majority of us would like.  Part of that is because it is the least creative films that are most often the movies which have the highest box office gross, but it’s also partially because creativity is hard.  This award goes out to those who worked hard and took risks to give us a truly original and memorable experience in the cinema this past year.

The nominees for The Shauning Achievement in Creativity Award are…

A big budget science fiction movie about an alien invasion that focuses on linguistics?  And, which actually makes the study of linguistics exciting, fascinating, and easy to understand?  Mucho kudos to whichever Hollywood exec signed off on Arrival, because this could not have been an easy movie to sell, but the results are extraordinary.

Animated grocery store items sounds like a bad idea, and animated grocery store items in a raunch comedy as a parody of religious belief sounds insane.  It is insane, but in a fun, fantastic way and ends up being much deeper than its premise and bathoom humor would suggest.

CGI has become absolutely dominant when old school stop animation is the most creative form of animation around.  Add to that a non-traditional story with non-traditional characters and you have the makings of a movie experience not quite like any we’ve ever seen before.

This surreal, low-key movie points out the true absurdity of modern relationships whether it be how we seek out love or the expectations we place on a partner.  The movie is unsettling but still endearing, and definitely takes more than one viewing to get everything it’s trying to say, as the first viewing just allows us to get a feel for its incredibly unusual style.

And the winner of The Shauning Achievement in Creativity Award for 2016 goes to…

A lonely suicidal man is saved because of his touching relationship with a scatological corpse.  It’s a movie that has no business being touching, but it is, and is the source of my favorite sentence describing a movie for this entire year, “Farts are life affirming!”  Thank you, for giving us something truly unique Swiss Army Man.

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The corpse takes better selfies than I do.

Shauning Achievement in Directshaun

The director’s job is arguably the most difficult to perform, and also the most difficult to recognize if it’s done well.  The director is the film’s coordinator, while they may not personally perform many of the duties they oversee, though they very well may much of the time, nothing on a film gets done without the director’s sign off.  Their vision is the film’s vision, and ultimately a film’s success or lack thereof falls squarely on the director’s shoulders.

The nominees for the 2016 Shauning Achievement in Directshaun Award are…

A huge cast of characters that all need individual attention, a movie which requires constant action meaning stunts, special effects, and special attention to editing, many big name stars all with their own quirks and special needs, and an intricate plot which still needs to be easy to follow for all ages.  Captain America: Civil War was a Herculean task for a director to take on, and not only did the Russo brothers rise to the challenge, they made it look easy and fun,

MacKenzie managed to put together a movie with meaningful themes, but played like an action movie.  He gave us the cinematography of an art house flick with a complete lack of pretension usually associated with the arthouse.  He coaxed the best performances of their lives from 3 of the 4 actors, and the only reason I can’t say the same for Jeff Bridges is because his phenomenal performance is to be expected from him now.

The attention to every single detail in this movie is mind blowing.  The details of the complicated script, the impeccable art direction, the gorgeous cinematography all show that Tom Ford is a director who is a hands on overseer in every single part of his films, and his artisanship pays off.

Chazelle’s unique vision combining new and old, corny and down-to-earth, spectacular and grounded came together in a way no one else could have fashioned nor even envisioned.  When you get done with this movie, you have seen something familiar yet unlike anything else and you have run through every emotion you know how to feel while also being intellectually stimulated.

But, the winner of the 2016 Shauning Achievement in Directshaun Award is…

Semi-autobiographical character pieces are a dime a dozen, but none allow you to live the life of its subject like Moonlight, and that is due to the vision of Barry Jenkins who managed to merge the work of many different actors working in many different locations into a cohesive work that is beautiful, haunting, and most important, authentic.  I feel like I know Chiron, for brief periods I felt like I was Chiron, and that is possible because of Jenkins phenomenal skill.

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Chiron is just as stunned as I am.  Okay, I made a lame joke with a Moonlight stock photo now.

Shauning Achievement in Writing

Every film, even a documentary, needs a story.  While the director molds the story into his or own, it has to come from somewhere originally, and that somewhere is the screenplay.  Sometimes the screenplay is an original vision sprung straight from the writer’s head, sometimes it’s an adaptation of an earlier work of a different kind, but in either case the story needs to be told taking the advantages and limitations of telling a largely visual story in a limited time frame into mind.  The very best of those stories not only entertain, though they definitely have to do that, but educate, enlighten, and inspire as well.

The nominees for The Shauning Achievement in Writing Award are…

Adapted from the stage play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight is a nearly perfectly paced and always engrossing script that knows how much power there is in silence and action rather than in constant dialogue.

This was a nearly impossible script to get right.  It had to be entertaining and educational in equal measures focusing on a subject that sounds as if it couldn’t be anything other than dull, and not only did Heisserer succeed, but he knocked it out of the park making for a truly thrilling experience, thrilling due to personal discovery as much or more than the alien invasion plot.

Chazelle had to write not just dialogue and action for this film, but also lyrics (the music was composed by the also excellent Justin Hurwirtz).  This entire movie is a magic trick which lulls you into believing it’s one thing, then pulls the rug out from under you giving you one of the most emotional experiences in cinema, and it could never work if not for the impeccable construction of the screenplay.

Non-linear story telling is hardly something new, but it is still a very hard technique to perfect.  Lonergan manages to not only perfect it here, but is intelligent enough to know that this character and this story could never have the impact they do if this screenplay was constructed any other way.

And, the winner of The Shauning Achievement in Writing for 2016 is…

Clever without being pretentious, fast paced but still very deep and meaningful, dramatic at the right times, comic at the right times, and all this with true to life, fully realized and fully developed characters.  It’s rare that a script can touch everyone on at least some level, but in Hell or High Water Sheridan achieves exactly that.

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We’ll come up and get our award when we’re good and ready.

The Shauning Achievement in Shaunema Award

Here we are at the end of the night, it’s almost time that you can stop paying attention and go do a line of the drug of your choice off the abs of your choice, just hang in there a few minutes longer.  What makes a movie the best?  It’s an impossible question to answer, but it’s part craftsmanship, part teamwork, part entertainment value, part art, and part inspiration.  Any movie can do something well, but it’s those rare movies that do most everything well that can be looked at as being one of the best.

The nominees for The Shauning Achievement in Shaunema Award are…

Appealing equally to a child and adult audience both as a work of entertainment and as a think piece, this is the best animated film to hit the theaters in a very long time.  Kubo and the Two Strings may be a better piece of animation, and a more creative work, but Zootopia is the animated film that goes above and beyond and becomes a true work of cinema.

The only thing that keeps this movie from being perfect is simply that other movies have done very specific things better.  Hell or High Water is impeccably acted, wonderfully written, artistically shot, and artisanally directed.  2016 gave us three masterpieces in this critic’s opinion, and this is one of them.

A movie emotional enough to have you weeping in the early stages of the movie (if you have a soul, anyway), intellectual enough to have you thinking about it weeks afterward, and entertaining enough that you want to watch it over again.  This is a very rare movie, indeed, and that’s Arrival.

The best character piece this critic has ever seen, the second masterpiece of the year, and the only reason it isn’t winning best picture is due to a lack of mass appeal.  The subject matter, as important as it is, will still turn a great many people off.  That is a very unfortunate truth.

The Shauning Achievement in Shaunema for 2016 is

A traditional love story married to a love letter to Hollywood which is immensely entertaining, took massive amounts of talent and dedication from everyone involved, perfectly mixes old with modern, and still surprises while making you feel as deeply as a movie can make one feel and lingers in your thoughts long after you’re done, La La Land is a masterpiece and the greatest film of the year 2016.

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Winning this award has us walking on…  I can’t even finish that obvious joke.  I’m sorry for even thinking it.

That’s it for my completely made up award ceremony.  I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you continue to read Shaun’s Reviews in the future.  As I wrap up my first year of writing this, I’m reaching out to my readers to ask what you like about what I’ve done, what you haven’t liked, how I can improve, and things you would like to see me do for the next year.

Happy 2017, everyone!  And, remember, why develop your own taste when you can trust mine?

The Best and Worst Movies of 2016, so far (Part 3)

As indicated by the title, this is the third part of a series, but unlike the first two parts of the series which endeavored to use the films I feel are the best and worst of the year to date in order to show how I come by my ratings for movies, this one is merely intended to finish the best and worst list, and thus will not go into as great of detail on the way I view the inner workings of each of the movies.

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Warcraft directed by Duncan Jones and starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, and Ben Foster

An unfortunate entry in the canon of otherwise very promising director Duncan Jones, Warcraft is an obvious labor of love that can never seem to find any kind of consistency, even internally.  Visuals are fantastic for the character effects, but horrible for nearly everything else.  Rules for magic make for interesting plot development, but are forgotten about whenever they are inconvenient.  It is hard to tell who the film is made for since important scenes go unexplained, making it look as if it is made for people already very familiar with the game and its world, but it spends much of its time explaining details that these very same people should know intimately and thus wasting time which could be better spent on character and plot development.

Overall:  3.6 out of 10

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Independence Day: Resurgence directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman

The first Independence Day was a dumb but fun alien invasion piece that threw every stereotype of such films in the book at us, but at least did it in the best possible way.  Independence Day: Resurgence has all the dumb stereotypes, but almost none of the charm and fun of the original.  The only thing which this movie has going for it are the admittedly quite impressive special effects, but the acting is either wooden or hammy, the writing absolutely incompetent, and directing practically non-existent.

Overall:  3.6 out of 10

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Star Trek Beyond directed by Justin Lin and starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban

Star Trek Beyond combined the thoughtfulness and themes of the original show with the fast paced action of the rebooted universe to create something the ends up being the best of both worlds.  Add to that the fact that the well known and loved Star Trek characters have never had quite this much depth of character nor been portrayed quite as well as they are here and you have a movie that must be included in any conversation about the greatest Star Trek stories ever told.

Overall: 8.0 out of 10

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Lights Out directed by David E Sandberg and starring Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman

Lights Out is the greatest example of what a low budget horror movie can be.  It relies more on psychology than on jump scares and special effects.  It has strong themes meaning you not only have something to think about when the movie is over, but the scares have a purpose and commentary behind them.  It’s good to see that word of mouth got so many going to see this one, because it has all the makings of a one day classic.

Overall:  8.2 out of 10

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Jason Bourne directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Alicia Vikander

Jason Bourne is the name of a movie and a character which have both become mundane, predictable, and disappointing.  To say this fifth film in the series is more of the same would be to give it a little too much credit.  It’s realistic bits are dull, and as if it realized this it decided to go too over the top in its climax to remain consistent in tone.  At least the acting was decent.

Overall:  3.6 out of 10

And that’s it for my and of summer wrap up of the best and worst of 2016 to date.  These entries include only major theatrical releases and not limited release, straight to DVD/streaming video services, nor my reviews over the last couple of weeks as I feel I need more time to dwell on those to adequately place them (though, I have a strong feeling Deadpool will have to make room for Kubo and the Two Strings come year end when I do top 10 best and worst.

Let me know what you think of the list in the comments, and tell me what your favorites, and your favorites to hate on, are.

The Best and Worst Movies of 2016, So Far. (Part 2)

This article is a continuation of the one begun a few days ago in which I talk about my favorite and least favorite movies of 2016 now that summer is over, and show some insight into my rating system as part of the discussion.  The list is in order of release date, not best to worst nor vice versa.

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Captain America:  Civil War Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo and Starring Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.

 

 

The 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the third Captain America movie, is their most ambitious, yet, with 12 superheroes, a villain, and plenty of side characters all crammed into one movie.  But, because they have been so systematically building their universe bit by bit to this point, they not only manage to pull it off, they exceed what were already high expectations.

Acting  7 out of 10  Arguably the low point of the technical aspects of the film, the acting in Civil War is still very competent.  For every mediocre performance, such as those by Elizabeth Olson and Don Cheadle, there are some truly fantastic ones.  Robert Downey Jr and Paul Rudd are particularly charming, and Tom Holland absolutely nails Spiderman like no actor, even Tobey Maguire, has before.

Writing  8 out of 10  Writing about this many characters and making sense of the plot is achievement enough.  But, every character is given their chance to shine, has real motivation to get involved in the action, develop as a character at least a little bit (and sometimes more than a little), and manage to promote themes that are rarely seen in more serious fare, let alone a comic book action flick, showing that comic book action flicks can be serious fare.

Directing  9 out of 10  As already mentioned, a lot had to be juggled in the making of this movie, and not only does it not seem cluttered, it’s easily understood and incredibly gripping from start to finish.  On top of that, it has some of the most creative action scenes ever put to film.  That airport battle will be a scene that goes down in history.

Visuals  7 out of 10  Most of the special effects are as fantastic as you’d expect, and the action scenes are for the most part incredibly well framed.  But the visuals never go beyond very proficient into beautiful or creative range.

Purpose:  10 out of 10  Captain America: Civil War is perfectly paced, and thus remarkably gripping and entertaining, but it isn’t content to just stop there.  It also gives us real complexity of character motivation and theme without ever losing focus on that entertainment which is what is most important.

Average those out, and we get an 8.2 out of 10 and arguably the best movie in the Marvel sage to date (though if you wanted to argue The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, you’d be very much in your right to do so).ner1dizhrdewus_2_b

 

X-Men: Apocalypse Directed by Bryan Singer and Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbinder, and Jennifer Lawrence

2016 started out brilliantly.  Never before had there been so many excellent films released in a year before the summer season had even begun.  Sure there were a few hiccups (I’m looking at you Batman v Superman) but overall it was looking like this could be an epic year for Hollywood.  Then X-Men: Apocalypse came along to lead us into what was to be a summer of one disappointment after another.

Acting 3 out of 10  While McAvoy and Fassbinder did their absolute best, the rest of the cast was either too green, and thus gave impassioned but hammy performances, or too bored, giving us dull, wooden portrayals.  Jennifer Lawrence was particularly unhappy to be in the film, it seemed, and even the normally wonder Oscar Isaac just looked lost as the titular villain.

Writing  4 out of 10  Like Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse is an epic story line which includes dozens of characters.  Unlike Civil War the characters are given next to no development, poorly understood motivations, and many are included just because and add nothing to the plot.  That plot is also not the greatest with a villain whose motivations and actions make little sense, scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot or even subplots, and the best scene is a carbon copy of a scene from an earlier movie.

Directing 2 out of 10  Much of the movie could have been salvaged, and perhaps even been good, if the director had taken tighter reigns over his cast and crew.  So many of the performances are either bored or confused that its obvious Singer didn’t pay much attention to his actors, there are scenes which don’t belong in the film, and things that seem like they’re missing, and few of the technical aspects are to the level they should be in a feature film.

Visuals 3 out of 10  The special effects and make up for the characters of Nightcrawler and Angel were quite well done, but aside from that nothing in this movie looks right.  The camerawork is shoddy to the point where you sometimes wonder if its pointing in the wrong direction, the special effects aside from the ones mentioned above look like blobs from a psychedelic 70s flick, and the art direction is almost universally dull.

Purpose 2 out of 10  A superhero action flick has one job, and that’s to entertain us through adrenalin rush.  When you have bored actors, camera work and editing so poor you can’t see the action most of the time, and the little action you can see doesn’t look like much more than people surrounded by blobs, and you have a movie that really has no purpose.

And, for those who weren’t doing the math as we go, that makes a total of 2.8 out of 10, also known as lousy.screen-shot-2016-05-04-at-12-02-56-830x547

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Directed by Dave Green and Starring Megan Fox and Will Arnett

Being made for kids is not a good excuse for a movie to have sloppy writing, and I’m not altogether sure this movie was made for kids.

Acting 4 out of 10  Despite the fact that the four guys playing the turtles themselves had a blast playing their parts and passed that fun onto us, the rest of the cast just didn’t bring it to anywhere near the same level.  Will Arnett was passable, as was Laura Linney, but none of the rest of this cast could give a decent performance if they were promised they didn’t have to do anymore of these films if they’d just act well in this one.

Writing 1 out of 10  This is writing at its worst, in a way even worse than schlock films like The Room or Plan Nine From Outer Space, because those are at least fun to laugh at.  Here we are given a story that makes absolutely no sense, people do things just because it was written in the script, and not a single whit of though was put into why anyone does anything other than it might look cool.

Directing 3 out of 10  For all the pacing problems, acting problems, visual problems (getting there in a second) Green at least understands that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is supposed to be fun.  That’s about all he understood, though.

Visuals 3 out of 10  The special effects are commendable for the most part, and the turtles themselves are quite good, but the camera work is some of the worst I’ve ever seen in an action film.  Once characters start doing something in the acrobatic or fighting vein you may as well close your eyes since you aren’t going to be able to follow a single thing that’s going on, anyway.

Purpose 4 out of 10  While the film did a decent job of capturing the fun of the cartoon, it still didn’t get who its audience is.  If it was trying to bring in the original lovers of the Turtles from the 90s, it forgets that they are adults now and fun does not mean completely assinine and childish to them now.  If it is intended to bring in a new child audience, then why does it have half naked Megan Fox, references from the original show, and writing too unsophisticated even for 7 year-olds.

A pathetic 3.0 out of 10 for the turtles.  Sorry guys, you deserve better.

To be continued in part 3

The best and worst movies of 2016 so far. Plus, where do those ratings numbers come from? (Part 1)

Nearing the end of August in 2016, it can officially be said that summer blockbuster movie season is over for this year.  Kids are returning to school, and the cineplex is returning to smaller budget, but also less stereotypical, fare.  So, now seems like a good time to talk about what’s been particularly great and particularly not so great over the course of the year, so far, and also use that as an excuse to finally explain to my readers the incredibly scientific formula I use to determine the out of 10 ratings I give at the end of every review.

Rather than go in order from best to worst, or vice versa, I’m going to go in order of release date and leave the actual ordered list for the end of the year wrap up when the time comes.  So, without further ado, let’s start with the second review I’ve ever officially done for this blog – Deadpool.

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Deadpool  – Directed by Tim Miller and starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and T.J. Miller

Deadpool is a film that took everyone by surprise despite the fact that everyone apparently really wanted to go see it.  It became the highest grossing February release for Thursday opening, Friday opening in February, opening weekend overall in February, the highest grossing opening weekend for an R-Rated film overall, superhero or otherwise and February or otherwise, the highest grossing X-Men franchise film, and the largest opening ever for 20th Century Fox as a studio.  That’s a lot of records for what’s essentially a superhero gross out comedy.  But, it absolutely deserves all the money, and by using a breakdown of categories which show how I get my ratings numbers, here’s why.

Acting:  7 out of 10.  Not all the acting is fantastic in Deadpool.  T.J. Miller is incredibly one note, though his character doesn’t really need to be more, and Ed Skrein as the villain Ajax shows that his superpower is the ability to bore you to death, but our two leads, Reynolds and Baccarin, do phenomenal work.  Baccarin takes the combination of empathy and sexuality she exhibited on Firefly and cranks it up to an even higher level giving us a character we nearly instantly fall in love with making it easy to see why Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool falls for her so completely, and Reynolds shows us the perfect match of actor to character as his manic sarcastic comedic energy perfectly embodies the superhero who knows he’s just a character in a comic book (movie in this case) and uses a constant barrage of self aware humor to cope with his quite tragic circumstances.

Writing:  9 out of 10.  The story to Deadpool is about as simple as it gets.  It takes place in four acts, and each act is a single scene and situation, for the most part.  This is all the movie needs.  Sometimes the secret to great writing is to not complicate things when it isn’t needed.  The dialogue, while probably mostly improvised where Reynolds is concerned, is sharp, quick witted, fun, and exactly what a high paced superhero film needs, but is also able to convey deep emotion when it needs to.  The romance between Wilson and Vanessa is anything but typical, but there are few people who wouldn’t say that finding a love like theirs is something they’ve always wanted.

Directing:  7 out of 10.  Much like the writing, the directing in Deadpool is kept simple, and that’s exactly the treatment it needed.  The film’s focus is on the humor, the action, and the love story, and on each of these exactly when and to the right amount they need to be.  There are some issues with the direction, the location of the final battle, while funny, could have been more interesting and dynamic, and a few of the actors, including bit parts and extras, could have used more instruction on what they were meant to be doing, but overall, the pacing, editing, and tone of Deadpool were right on the money.

Visuals:  7 out of 10.  The cinematography was quite competent, if never exciting, and the art direction was actually mediocre to occasionally downright bad, but the costumes, particularly Deadpool’s super suit, were wonderful, and the special effects were better than a relatively low budget (by superhero movie standards) movie had any right to have.  In short, it was seamless, with occasional bits of hilarious wows, particularly in the bits between Deadpool and Colossus.

Purpose:  10 out of 10  Deadpool did not want to educate us or make us think, it intended only to make us laugh primarily and become engrossed in Wade Wilson’s story as he goes from mercenary to lover to superhero, and it does all of this as well as any movie about Deadpool possibly could.  It uses crass, self aware, self referential humor as well as any story ever has, and it uses it well combination with action, romance, tension, or whatever other emotional focus any given scene needs.  Deadpool makes us cheer, smile, root for our hero, feel sorry for him, understand him, but most of all, it makes us laugh, and these emotional responses are exactly what Deadpool is trying to bring out in us.

Average these 5 categories out and we get an overall score of 8 out of 10 (.2 lower than my initial rating, meaning that this is a film that has fallen slightly in my estimation since my initial viewing, but only very slightly).

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Zootopia – Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, and Idris Elba

Acting:  7 out of 10  Voice acting is a different art form than more traditional acting, that is true, but while it may not be as physically demanding, that just means that the actor has even more of a responsibility to convey what they need to through voice alone (that and have faith in the animators unless they are also doing motion capture work, in which case we’re back to the physically demanding).  Every single character in Zootopia had to both embody and break a stereotype in nearly equal measure, giving the voice actors a duty to express both character and theme using only their voice while also making for an entertaining performance, and with few exceptions none of which are major characters they not only accomplish this but go above and beyond what could be expected.

Writing: 10 out of 10  Zootopia is an absolute triumph where the art of screenwriting is concerned.  It manages to be a film both for kids and adults at the same time, but not on different levels as many animated features are, both groups can enjoy it on the same level, even if they won’t necessarily experience it in exactly the same way.  It has a plot complicated enough for adults to have to think through, and be practically Chinatown or The Usual Suspects for the younger crowd, but the most important element of the script is in the way it uses the animal characters and society as a metaphor for modern race relations in a far more nuanced and insightful way than most adult films which focus on racial themes manage.  The writing isn’t 100% perfect, I do feel there is one scene which undermines the themes of the rest of the film, but it’s about as close as can realistically be expected.

Directing: 7 out of 10  At least one scene, and perhaps a handful of beats within scenes, probably should have been edited out of the movie, but overall Zootopia does a fantastic job of balancing plot with theme and keeping the pace brisk, the world fascinating and consistent, and build up and release of tension wonderfully timed.  I do however have to question the decision of including Shakira in the movie.  It’s obvious they are trying to make her song the next Let It Go even though Zootopia is not a musical (and, in fact, has a great gag at Frozen’s expense) but it just did not work.

Visuals: 9 out of 10  The only reason the visuals in Zootopia get knocked down a point at all is due to the fact that the character design does not have a great deal of creativity, all character models are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from anthropomorphic animals (though keeping their real life size differences was a stroke of genius).  Aside from that, though, the animation in Zootopia is absolutely fantastic.  The animals themselves are detailed down to every single piece of fur, and city design and look is wondrous to behold with every part of Zootopia being its own entity with a practical  function in both the story and in the fictional goings on of the city but not one you would necessarily think of as obvious.

Purpose:  10 out of 10  Zootopia succeeds on every level for every audience.  Humorous, gripping, and though provoking, not to mention emotional and all this for both children and adults in equal measure.  It may not propose any solutions to what to do about racism, but it has an awful lot to say about how to recognize it in ourselves and others and where it comes from.  Zootopia hits the sweet spot in everything it attempts to do, and ended up being the biggest surprise of 2016 to date for me because of this.

Average these scores out and you get 8.6 out of 10 (or slightly better than my initial reaction, and films that grow in estimation upon rewatches and reflection tend to be the ones that become classics)

(This was originally intended to be one article covering the whole year so far, but only two movies in, and only to the beginning of March, and this is already running long and the time is running late in my locale, so it looks like this is going to become a continuing series.  The next installment will be up sometime in the next couple of days.)