CinemaScore’s Audience Surveys Be Damned: “Mother!” Is Ambitious and Entertaining (Enough) Cinema

Less than twenty films have ever received an “F” from CinemaScore. The fact that Mother! is one of those films says more about us than anything else, really.

Let’s be clear: just because a film has ambitious intentions doesn’t necessarily make it an enjoyable experience. The Tree of Life, for example, was brilliant in scope and what it was trying to say about humanity, but most people fell asleep after ten minutes. For others, it was an unforgettable emotional journey that led to tears of astonishment. You can never really know how you’ll feel about a movie until you see it for yourself.

Of course, if you’re the type of person who can’t live between the Fast and Furious world and the Drive (another extremely polarizing film) world, then you’re probably somebody who would never be able to even appreciate what something like The Tree of Life set out to accomplish. And the same goes for a film like Mother! – with one big difference.

Mother! is less Terrence Malick and more Christopher Nolan where entertainment and sheer ambition successfully coexist for a couple of hours. Nolan was able to achieve that with films like Interstellar and even Dunkirk whereas Malick has been stuck in a quagmire of impressing the few, but boring the majority for decades.

Going back to Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn closed the gap better than Malick ever did but even that film was too slow, or too pretentious, or too whatever for much of the general public. Darren Aronofsky, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to suffer from that problem.

From the beginning he’s been an upper echelon director with a knack not only for the technical aspects of his job, but with the conceptual side as well. Mother! is certainly no exception to that premise, with allegorical, environmental, and even political symbolism stuffed into 121 minutes like it’s the country’s last Thanksgiving turkey.

The idea that such a – if you think about it – unbearably pretentious film can be watchable is an idea we should be celebrating. I thought Mother! (stylized as mother! because of the symbolism of course) was suspenseful, thrilling, and grotesque at the end with strong, anchored performances from every major cast member.

I would think that even without the symbolic variables, people would be able to appreciate a film like this that incorporates elements of various genres to express whatever the fuck Aronofsky wants to say. So why does this movie have an “F” from CinemaScore?

CinemaScore is a market research firm in Las Vegas and they survey film audiences and rate their experiences with the use of letter grades. In my experience, most films tend to get somewhere between an “A” and a “B-” so the thought of a movie actually achieving an “F” is downright staggering. Although I didn’t do the actual math, I’m guessing the odds are more likely you’d be attacked by a shark. In a landlocked state.

All jokes aside, it’s a very dubious accomplishment and given what Mother! brings to the table, it makes me question whether the problem lies within the movie, or within the audience. Make no mistake: this film can be difficult to sit through sometimes, but I can honestly say I was never actually bored. I may not have “known” exactly what I was looking at, but I knew it was important and I knew it was important I paid attention.

Plus, let’s not act like Mother! is some kind of documentary about calculus or something. It is a genuinely tense film and the performances are simply sublime. Each individual obviously knows the significance of their role in this deeply layered tale. Just look at some of the cast and the “names” of their characters:

Jennifer Lawrence: Mother

Javier Bardem: Him

Ed Harris: Man

Michelle Pfeiffer: Woman

Domnhall Gleeson: Oldest Son

Brian Gleeson: Younger Brother

You get the idea. Not a single person in the film has a name or is referenced with any name. Lawrence, Bardem, and Harris are terrific in almost every role, but what I really enjoyed the most was what Michelle Pfeiffer brings to this film as the Woman. She is funny at times, extremely sinister elsewhere, and occasionally downright disturbing. Imagine if her Scarface character had the brain of Gus Fring from Breaking Bad. That’s right: cold on the outside AND the inside. Scary!

The technical aspects of this film are no joke either, from the cinematography to the production design. My guess is that people would have a much more favorable view of this movie if the content was much less complex. And that’s a fucking shame and maybe the advertising was misleading. But there’s really no excuse to go into this film and get blindsided.

Everyone I’ve personally spoken to made a conscious decision to go into this knowing as little as possible, because they know what kind of director Aronofsky is and they know his work is consistently approachable yet complex at the same time. Think about Black Swan, for example. That was a very complicated film with lots of themes to consider (only to drift off and think about Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman heh) but it was admittedly easier to sit through.

Again: Mother! really was not a grind. Would I see it again? I’m not sure, to be honest. I will say I think I get the basic gist of what Aronofsky intended with this film, and seeing it again to squeeze out more meaning isn’t worth the 121 minutes. But seeing it once? I think you have to. It’s a must. The sheer ambition of this film and the degree of success in which that ambition is met – not fully, but good enough – is something we should not be taking for granted.

I understand the vast majority of people see movies to have fun and be entertained, but just because you don’t fully (or partially) understand the full meaning of a film doesn’t mean it should just be thrown to the curb. It is not a bad thing if you don’t understand something the first time and I feel like Mother! is a classic example of a film where most people leave and just say, “Ugh, that was fucking terrible! Nothing happened. The fuck, man!? It didn’t even make sense!”

Come on, cuh!

Like I said at the beginning, there’s no hope for you if you can’t walk the line between Fast and the Furious and Drive, or Armageddon and Interstellar. In other words: if you can’t handle actually having to think about your entertainment, you probably shouldn’t bother with this despite the various positives I’ve described above. Even though it’s a pretty good movie even if you remove, like, seventy percent of the symbolism, this is also a country with Donald Trump as president. I mean, what did we really expect CinemaScore’s results to be?

However, if you’re the type of person who is able to appreciate cinema for both its entertainment and artistic value, Mother! just might be the thing for you during this disconcerting Hollywood drought (both commercially and critically over the past several months).

One thing I will say though is that I feel like this movie is extremely polarizing for the vast majority of us because I admit there’s almost too much shoved in here. It’s kinda overwhelming and I think Aronofsky almost tried TOO hard if that makes sense. Instead of focusing in on the scope, he kinda just threw it all into the blender and poured it into a cup for us. There’s a certain degree of quantity over quality here, but in my opinion, there’s enough quality to make up for his thermonuclear explosion of content.

So here’s my final assessment of Mother! since I wrote a lot more than I intended to and it was all over the place. I didn’t hate it. I also didn’t love it. I liked what the film offered outside of the symbolism (acting, technical stuff) and I appreciated the ambition of the symbolism’s scope as well as the integration of that symbolism with the technical aspects of the film itself.

I thought there was too much in this, however, and maybe it would have been better if Aronofsky just made a mini-series or something. It was just too much in too little time. It was also too in-the-face in the second half of the film, which is ironic considering most of the criticism seems to be about what the film’s message is supposed to be.

With the blatant symbolism in the second half, you would think that wouldn’t be the case, but maybe what happened was that people were so lost after like twenty minutes, they never made a recovery even though Aronofsky makes the mistake of losing the subtlety, especially in the last third of the film which descends into grotesque madness (but maybe that was the point… SYMBOLISM!).

Still, I think the positives outweigh the negatives, although as a backhanded compliment and final thought, I will say I would recommend The Tree of Life over Mother! any day of the week. You can have beauty with your symbolism and in this time of darkness in not just this country, but all over the world, I don’t really think we need to subject ourselves to more darkness in a setting we generally use to get OUT of the darkness.

But see this at least once.

Romania Vice: “Comrade Detective” Is a Truly Great Amazon Original

Comrade Detective is must-watch television with or without the satire.

Picking a new show to watch can be a daunting task when there are a gazillion possible options out there. Sometimes, however, a show will stick out and grab your attention. Maybe it features a really strong cast, or it’s from a reputable director. Maybe you just think the main character is hot. Whatever the case may be, some shows just have a way of getting you to watch.

For Comrade Detective, it was actually the premise that got me hooked. It’s a satire of American buddy cop shows and movies from the eighties… but from a Communist perspective (which also means Communist propaganda is satirized by default as well). This is an Amazon Original that goes all out, with a cast and crew that is 99 percent Romanian. The entire show was filmed in Romania, in Romanian, and the English dubbing voice actors were only found after the show was edited. That’s some real commitment to making a quality satire.

Speaking of voice actors, this is a show that not only features Channing Tatum as a voice actor for one of the two buddy cops, but it also uses Tatum as a presenter for the show along with Jon Ronson. Comrade Detective is supposed to be a “lost” show that never aired because it was created right before the fall of the Berlin Wall; it subsequently gets brought to the spotlight after being rediscovered decades later through a rigorous restoration process so the beginning of most of the six episodes features Tatum and Ronson discussing the journey before the show actually starts.

Like I said, this is some next level shit.

For a show like this, it’s important to judge both the satire and the quality of the show itself independent of the satire. I believe a truly successful show should succeed in both categories and I’m very happy to say Comrade Detective is a worthy watch for all interested viewers.

What I really enjoyed about the satire was how layered it is. Some of the satire is clearly inaccurate – a representation of how much of American pop culture either dramatized or dehumanized Eastern Europe and Russia in the eighties – while a good portion of it is shown through the loyal Communists expressing issues with capitalism, religion, and even the mindset of us Western folks.

Maybe it was intentional, or maybe I just eased into the Communist mindset, but I found that the satire is more jarring or noticeable in the beginning of the show, only to evolve into more of a statement against Western ideals rather than more basic, visual approaches like showing Americans as fat pigs who stuff themselves with burgers.

While there are certainly moments in later episodes that are clearly meant to be exaggerated, I found Comrade Detective really settling into itself as a quality program regardless of the satire as time went by. After a certain point, the story takes priority over the satire, to the point where the satire almost becomes irrelevant. Sure, it helps remind us that this show is both a satire of American pop culture and Communist propaganda, but even if you forget, it doesn’t take anything away from the overall experience thanks to the surprisingly engaging plot.

Like the best buddy cop pairings, the duo of Gregor Anghel (Tatum) and Iosif Baciu (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) starts with tragedy. Anghel’s partner gets murdered by a man wearing a Ronald Reagan mask in a drug bust gone wrong. Determined to find out the killer’s identity, Anghel pairs up with a new partner, Baciu, and discovers a truly heinous plot to spread capitalism and religion through Romania (and all of Communist society, naturally) over the course of six incredible episodes.

Like I said, it’s a genuinely interesting storyline that somehow gets more amusing, more serious, and more addicting as time goes by. The climax is kind of predictable if you keep in mind this is a satire yet it is superbly presented and I think there’s a possibility there might be a sequel to this gem.

Also, I want to give kudos to the Romanian actors and actresses who all do a phenomenal job and I wish we could get a version of the show without the English dubbing. It’s perfect acting all the way around and I thought the Western characters were fascinating to observe just because they are supposed to be stereotypes. Much like the best Commie villains from the eighties, the Western baddies in Comrade Detective are portrayed in a one-dimensional, yet surprisingly relatable way.

While I felt mostly neutral about the voice dubbing, there was one positive for sure: playing the always entertaining game of Who’s That Voice? All I’m gonna say is that Comrade Detective has one hell of a cast. Nick Offerman is the police chief, for example – this is extra amusing when you consider his character’s views on government in Parks and Recreation. But there are bigger names lurking within this show and it’s just a delightful cherry on top of the average capitalist pig’s sundae.

This show is perfect for a lot of different demographics. Even if you choose to disregard the excellent satire, this is a strong drama with an interesting plot that gets extra fuel thanks to the passionate work done by the Romanian actors and actresses, the big names providing amusing voiceover work, and production values that walk a fine line between too good and good enough for a Romanian television show from the eighties.

Now be a good Communist and share this valuable information with everyone in your village! It’s what Lenin would do!

A History of Violence: “The Battleship Island” and “A Taxi Driver” Revisit Pieces of Korea’s Tumultuous Past

From an infamous Japanese forced labor camp in 1945 to the Gwangju Democratization Movement – and subsequent massacre – in 1980.

Korean films are excellent at combining these three elements: humor, poignant acting, and historical relevance with emotional appeal. Both The Battleship Island and A Taxi Driver accomplishes all three things, although I believe one film is overall more superior than the other. First, let’s talk about The Battleship Island.

I’ve discussed the relationship between Korea and Japan before, so I won’t go into it again now, but the film takes place on Hashima Island during the twilight of World War II. The plot revolves around hundreds of forced labor workers planning a riveting prison escape with a couple of subplots thrown in for good measure.

In terms of humor, there isn’t all that much present here actually. Most of it comes in the form of actor Hwang Jung-min, who gets tricked into going to the island with his daughter instead of going to Japan. He’s a bandmaster who rises up in the ranks thanks to his musical talents (along with his band members) as well as his generally appealing – if initially morally dubious – personality.

Hwang is a phenomenal actor who I’ve actually seen before in a Korean drama called The Accidental Couple from 2009. It’s one of my favorites, actually, and I recommend it! Anyway, in terms of acting, Hwang carries a significant portion of the clout and is one of the main reasons why the film succeeds in the way it does.

On the other hand, the younger (and more popular tsk tsk) actor Song Joong-ki doesn’t do too well here. He’s a Korean Independence Movement resistance fighter who infiltrates the camp to rescue another independence fighter of great importance. I don’t know if it’s his pretty boy looks, or soft features, but I didn’t think it was a very good casting choice. Somebody more appropriate would have been a guy like Jang Hyuk, who is on another level as an actor, but more importantly, looks like he could actually be an effective and deadly soldier.

Soft.

Overall though, the acting was very good across the board. Thanks also to steady directing and the weight carried by Hwang Jung-min, I thought the pacing was decent as well. I read a review on IMDb that absolutely blasted this movie, but I thought it was way off after seeing the film for myself. It’s actually quite entertaining despite its serious subject matter (maybe “engaging” is a better word).

Honestly it was hard to watch this movie and not get a little emotional especially near the climactic scenes. It’s probably because I’m Korean, but seeing Korean people suffer strikes me extra hard. This movie is definitely guilty of playing up the emotional appeal as much as possible. They didn’t overdo it though. And that’s important.

All in all, I thought this was a solid movie. The climax was tremendous and emotional, but the journey was also a thrill to experience. The only thing I have left to say is that in a bizarre coincidence, the same song that gets used in a lot of Modelo ads was played during a particularly inspirational sequence. It’s nobody’s fault of course, but it made me thirsty!

A Taxi Driver plays out much more like a drama with random spurts of comedy mixed in for good measure. With the exception of one car chase sequence, this is a much calmer film than The Battleship Island and it chooses to focus on a more clinical approach regarding the atrocities committed by government troops as they faced off against mostly peaceful protesters in a city under lockdown.

Song Kang-ho leads the way as a widowed Seoul taxi driver who tries to make some easy money to pay his late rent and support his young daughter. He gets in way over his head, however, as he unknowingly takes on what is essentially an escort mission for a German journalist (Thomas Kretschmann) to infiltrate the city and record what is really happening.

Everybody’s acting was really strong, which is what you need in any good drama. There was a good variety of character types, from the taxi driver’s determined but relatively lighthearted personality to the journalist who initially appears to be very smooth and almost arrogant, only to break down from filming and witnessing the actions that take place over the course of a few days. Of course, the supporting cast was great too, including Yoo Hae-jin as a Gwangju taxi driver and Ryu Jun-yeol as a university student.

Like I said before, this film is much more of a drama than an action film and therefore relies less on heavy climactic sequences to get the point across. Having said that, I still thought there was almost too little emotional appeal here. On one hand, it made for a much more evenhanded film. On the other hand, I felt like something was missing as I walked out of the movie theater; it was similar to the feeling I had after I walked out of Dunkirk, actually.

Both A Taxi Driver and Dunkirk are strong films, but their lack of desire to approach the audience through a genuinely emotional angle was a mistake in my opinion. While this film still did it better than Dunkirk, it was negligible compared to the sweeping cinematography and music that one would find in The Battleship Island.

However, I did prefer A Taxi Driver over The Battleship Island. Action films are a dime a dozen, and although the historical importance of what Japan did to Korea can’t be denied, it’s harder to find films like A Taxi Driver that can combine both somber elements of history while getting the audience to laugh a lot. Even more impressive is that it doesn’t utilize satire or parody at all. It’s an accomplishment worth lauding… and so I’m doing it now!

For people relatively new to Korean cinema, I do recommend both films. They bring a lot to the table in their own ways and it’s always a treat to see the trifecta of humor, acting, and history competently brought together.

Tra La La Land: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Is a Guaranteed Pantheon Film

It may only be June, but I’m calling it: this movie will be inducted into my 2017 Movie Power Rankings Pantheon.

This is the first animated film I’ve seen in recent memory where it’s purely for kids, mature adults be darned. This is nothing like the multilayered Inside Out or Zootopia, or really most animated films that try to juggle the responsibility of entertaining kids while producing some kind of “moral of the story” that satisfies the parents.

Here, the entire premise revolves around two best friends named George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and their cranky principal (Ed Helms) who accidentally gets hypnotized into believing he’s Captain Underpants, a fictional comic book hero created by the two mischievous pranksters.

Of course, Captain Underpants eventually becomes a real superhero thanks to some radioactive school lunch leftovers, which culminates in an expected boss battle between a disgruntled science teacher named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) and the #1 fan of 100% cotton underwear. All in all, it’s about as straightforward of a plot as you can get.

I figure it’s worth pointing out that fans of the original “novel” series by Dav Pilkey will find this film to be a mostly spot-on replica of what would happen if those novels were turned into a movie. People who are just jumping into this blind may find the comedy to be absolutely primitive and juvenile – just a hectic compilation of slapstick, literal toilet humor, and over-the-top zany shenanigans.

Both groups are correct to be honest, but let me tell you something: if you can’t laugh at most of the jokes in this movie, you should lighten up before you end up like Principal Krupp! And speaking of the principal, one thing I actually found quite surprising was how funny they were able to make this tremendous asshat.

You have to understand, this man is pretty much a kid’s definition of evil – I wouldn’t be surprised if Principal Krupp was the son of Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That’s the kind of heinous monster poor George and Harold are up against for a good portion of time in the beginning of the film. But the way he expresses that evil is pure comedy, from the faces he makes when he’s furious, to the bizarrely staccato way he smiles when he knows he’s got dirt on George and Harold.

Somebody get this guy a stress ball jeez!

Although I can’t say I laughed at every joke, or found the movie completely engaging from beginning to end, I was blessed to get exactly what I expected (and a bit more than that to boot). I was a big fan of the voice acting – I know some people were distracted by the fact that the kids weren’t voiced by actual kids – but Kevin Hart in particular put in some solid work.

I did think the real standout was Ed Helms though, for his tremendous work as both the evil (but secretly sad) principal AND the dumb, friendly, overly enthusiastic Captain Underpants. Shoot, I might argue his voice work was comparable to Scarlett Johansson in Her. Does his Oscars campaign start now?

Just kidding, sheesh.

In terms of the animation, I enjoyed how clean and crisp it was. I also found it oddly adorable, which gave the whole film a really comforting vibe even during the times when the audience watched two little kids almost get permanent psychological trauma from their tenacious principal hell-bent on separating them forever.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is truly epic indeed and I can wholeheartedly say I’m looking forward to my newest favorite film franchise (fingers crossed). It appeals to every demographic possible in my opinion and anyone who doesn’t like this movie is probably a schmuck, a blockhead, a blowhard, a jerk, a knucklehead, a gabagool, a twerp, a sap, a stooge, or a professional critic who doesn’t know how to enjoy life.

There’s nothing wrong with silly and immature humor if it’s done well and it’s definitely done pretty darn well here. I’ve always loved Captain Underpants even though I forgot about that love as I got older, but this movie has brought back the passion I might have assumed was gone forever. Now I yell his catchphrase everywhere I go and nobody is safe from my impression. Not my parents, not my girlfriend, and certainly not any of my coworkers.

Shoot, I went to a prostate cancer seminar at the Chicago Botanic Garden with my parents recently and I got so bored I ended up drawing my own little comic sequence involving my favorite underwear superhero. Even my dad cracked a smile when he saw it and he’s a Korean dad with the personality of a Terminator.

I don’t think it’s even a question that this is my favorite superhero movie in a while and I would half-jokingly argue this is better than anything in DC’s current cinematic universe, although I haven’t seen Wonder Woman as of the end of this sentence…

Blunder Mifflin: “The Belko Experiment” Plays It Too Safe

For films in the “survivor of a fatal free-for-all amongst friends and/or family wins” genre, you either go big, or go home.

You know the type of person who just coasts through life and never bothers to hone their potential? That’s The Belko Experiment. It’s a movie that meets the minimum requirements to be entertaining – nothing more, nothing less. It has got very agile pacing and an abundance of violence, but its blatant conventionalism derails what is overall a decent ride.

Honestly, this is one of the rare movies that might have gotten a much needed jolt of energy if there were actually MORE disgusting deaths. I’m not saying there had to be any torture scenes, or close-up shots of someone’s intestines dangling out of their lower abdomen as they crawl around grasping at the increasingly elusive tendrils of life.

I’m just saying if there are eighty people in an enclosed office building and thirty of them need to die within two hours (in the name of a social experiment), I don’t need ninety percent of those deaths coming in a combination of an executive and his lackeys lining people up and shooting them in the back of the head, followed by explosive implants blowing out brain stems because not enough people were killed during the set amount of time.

There’s a disconcerting lack of creativity here, replaced only by an eerie sense of “realism” in how the test subjects in the experiment operate under duress. I’m not saying a bunch of white collar office workers should turn into MacGyver, but I would rather scratch my head and wonder how John C. McGinley made the chainsaw machine gun from Gears of War than see two separate sequences of clinical precision that sucks a lot of the fun out of the air.

Movies like this are a real opportunity to stray from the path of normalcy and show true madness. This should have been an event where people were sharpening the ends of brooms and impaling each other. It takes place in an office building for crying out loud – can someone explain how John Wick: Chapter 2 ended up with more stationary-related kills than this movie!?

A relentless pace and the convenience of guns and the explosive implants makes the death toll rise extremely quickly and before you know it, the movie has narrowed down the living to a handful of the “bigger” names in the cast. It’s a process that’s breathtakingly quick – if you blink you might miss a death – and for that, I’m thankful. The Belko Experiment‘s saving grace is how quickly things go from zero to a hundred (or should I say eighty to one, hehe).

I can’t be the only one who imagined a far more chaotic movie than this one, but for what it’s worth, The Belko Experiment is still a mostly enjoyable and occasionally suspenseful horror flick. I just think there was some serious potential here to think outside the box, and what we got was the opposite of that.

Monsters, Inc: “Kong: Skull Island” Knows What Its Strengths Are

Godzilla, this is most certainly not!

In 2014, Godzilla tried to be something deeper than most of the monster-based movies that came before it, only to waste valuable time failing at character development and trying to be cute by refusing to show Godzilla in his entirety for a good portion of the film in the name of building suspense and *blows raspberry*.

Kong: Skull Island goes almost the opposite direction, but the irony is that this movie has pretty much the same amount of character development while consistently maintaining at least twice the fun and excitement as the underwhelming Godzilla.

A talented cast (namely Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, and Samuel L. Jackson) does get criminally underutilized with the soaring exception of a phenomenal John C. Reilly, although who really cares when we can see a massive spider terrorizing Vietnam War soldiers, or Kong violently wrestling a monstrous lizard from the depths of hell into deadly submission?

This is a movie that wants us to ogle at its visual effects and in a world where we increasingly take CGI and the like for granted, it’s worth noting Kong: Skull Island absolutely nails its visuals. I don’t think there was a single shot that took me out of the movie, which is not a universal truth in films even now. Plus, unlike Godzilla, this takes place in a colorful tropical location as opposed to a drab and rainy urban environment.

If you’re gonna make a movie, this is one of the right ways to do it. Not every good movie needs to be a candidate for prestigious awards. It’s definitely better to know what your strengths are rather than trying to be something you’re not.

Does that mean it’s impossible to make a monster movie that has a strong story and solid character development? Of course not. But maybe that’s not what’s important for these types of films anyway.

In a lot of ways, I feel like Kong: Skull Island managed to “Marvel” itself – in a good way. You know, that magical balance of action, comedy, and pacing that doesn’t feel rushed, but – perhaps more importantly – doesn’t drag and drag. In those aspects, this movie absolutely nails it. It’s almost two hours long, but boy does it fly by.

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes character development doesn’t matter. I mean, if we’re really being honest with ourselves here, do the humans actually matter in a budding franchise featuring gargantuan beasts like Godzilla and King Kong? Maybe, but maybe not. I think what’s more important here is that while Kong: Skull Island may have the same plot/character depth and technical accomplishments as an entry in the dreaded Transformers franchise, the difference between the two is that Kong: Skull Island is actually really fun to watch.

Plus, let’s not make the mistake of underselling this movie. It’s not just fun – there are some real moments of genuine tension and suspense here that comes from a combination of everything discussed above as well as a terrifying plethora of monsters… like the aforementioned giant spider. When I say giant, I’m saying this motherfucker was like multiple stories tall. So disturbing.

The atmosphere in this movie is very well done and overall it’s hard to argue against the idea that this is a legitimately entertaining movie. Despite its misuse of a very talented cast and a lame script, I will continue to put forth my argument that a film must prioritize its strengths based on its content. I don’t necessarily think it would have been a good thing if Kong: Skull Island had the same character depth as, say, Manchester by the Sea.

In the end, Kong has his fun and so do we. What else matters?

2016 Movie Power Rankings

A power ranking of my ten favorite films of the year – and the complete list of all the films that didn’t make the cut.

It’s that time again, can you believe it? Two quick reminders:

  1. I’m using release dates from IMDb. So if The Lobster falls between the cracks, don’t blame me.
  2. This is a ranking of the movies I personally saw. So don’t get uppity with me just because you can’t find a specific movie somewhere. Having said that, I don’t update these rankings after they’re published so even if I see a 2016 movie after the fact, oh well, it didn’t make the totally arbitrary deadline.
  3. If you can click on a movie title, it means I wrote a review for it. Go ahead and click away! What have you got to lose!?

That was three things, not two. Just making sure you’re paying attention.

Check here for 2015 and here for 2014.

HONORABLE MENTION

10. N/A

I’m sorry but I can’t even pick a tenth movie. It was up in the air between Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Sausage Party, and The Neon Demon. There are serious flaws with each one in my opinion and I don’t think any of them deserve to make my list.

This was an off year for me. The number of films I saw didn’t differ much from previous years, but the overall quality of them definitely fell. Usually, creating this list isn’t too difficult, but everything below the Pantheon has been a struggle (as you’ll see).

Let’s hope 2017 isn’t the same.

9. The Accountant

This film’s greatest strength might be how good it is compared to the expectations most people probably had before seeing it. While it’s not a perfect product by any means, Ben Affleck delivers a nuanced performance that is accompanied by a nice blend of seriousness, humor, and unexpectedly badass action sequences, and it looks like there’s a genuine possibility this could end up being some kind of franchise.

Even though The Accountant doesn’t have the same adrenaline-filled high compared to a movie like Hardcore Henry or even John Wick, the added substance here is what makes this a superior film. Plus, the highly-functioning autistic protagonist could be the hero we need in this day and age – maybe more so than Affleck’s other 2016 hero in Batman v Superman: I Left the Movie Theater with the Worst Headache of My Goddamn Life.

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Look, any movie that drops a disconcertingly catchy song about a girl asking to get fucked like Bin Laden deserves to be on this list. Also, we’re talking about The Lonely Island, who have a certain method of approaching comedy that doesn’t change very much in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

This mockumentary about a singer/rapper named Conner4Real often goes over-the-top in parodying not only the music industry, but perhaps all of popular entertainment in itself. It also does a pretty funny job of showing the rise and fall of a pop star and it’s easy to see how someone like Justin Bieber might have served as inspiration for this kind of thing.

Andy Samberg leads the way with a typically charming performance, but the real stars of this movie are the original songs. They’re super catchy, super funny, and it’s a damn shame the aforementioned Bin Laden song hasn’t gotten traction during awards season.

The plethora of celebrity cameos in this movie round out a solid movie that succeeds in what it sets out to do, but doesn’t have the same resonance as other movies with similar goals. But that’s okay, because I see Popstar on my list, and not those other movies. Ha!

7. Sully

A quietly competent film buoyed by another strong performance from Tom Hanks and a steady directorial hand from Clint Eastwood. Sully is the equivalent of a Buick: reliable, subtly confident, and doesn’t take anything off the table any more than it needs to.

While some aviation-based films like Flight relish the gut-wrenching sequences in the air and milk them for all they’re worth, Eastwood and pilot Chesley Sullenberger (he consulted… for obvious reasons) decide to focus on the power of humanity rather than gratuitous special effects and cheap thrills.

It’s a move that pays off, giving us one of the year’s most sneakily satisfying films.

6. Deadpool

The most refreshing superhero experience since Guardians of the Galaxy comes from Ryan Reynolds, who also graciously provided us with one of the worst superhero experiences in 2011’s Green Lantern. Nevertheless, Deadpool is the character Reynolds was born to play and his performance has led to critical acclaim.

The R-rated adventure goes against the grain in a myriad of ways, with one common one being Deadpool breaking the fourth wall (addressing the audience or acknowledging there is an audience to begin with) and saying something snarky.

Really, the only losers here are the furious parents who chose to take their very underage children to see this movie, only to realize there’s literally a sex montage with each act taking place on a different holiday. Also, did I mention this is R-rated?

Sorry parents, it’s your loss. I can only imagine there’ll be a sequel. We can only hope future installments are just as good as this one.

THE PANTHEON

5. Zootopia

No joke, the hardest I laughed in a movie theater this year was during the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) scene in Zootopia with the sloths. Even when I think about it now, it’s maybe one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie. On a broader scale, Zootopia is an ambitious animated film that explores important – and timely – themes like stereotypes, discrimination, and determination.

Like most animated movies, it tries to serve both the kids and the adults in the audience, and in both cases it really delivers. The animation is excellent, the voice acting is engaging, and the characters are both fun and relatable. Most of the humor is easy to understand for kids, but there’s also a lot of more subtle opportunities to make jokes older audience members would appreciate.

It’s a genuinely fun movie to watch, no matter how old you are.

4. Hell or High Water

Chris Pine and Ben Foster deliver the best acting of their careers with a helping hand from a rumbling Jeff Bridges and a bemused Gil Birmingham in this modern Western heist drama. There’s a rough beauty to how the complex story is shown in such a well-crafted and efficient way, thanks to a phenomenal screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.

The storyline is tight and brisk and the cinematography is simply sublime. The pacing is balanced, allowing us to lean forward in tense anticipation during the heist scenes while also allowing us to fully appreciate the scenes where Bridges and Birmingham get to exchange some of the best banter of the year.

I suspect this movie slipped under a lot of people’s radars. That’s a shame, because despite its seemingly ho-hum marketing campaign (I remember thinking I wasn’t interested when I watched the trailers), it’s actually one of the best films of the year.

3. Sing Street

This feel-good, coming-of-age tale takes place in the delightful year of 1985 in Dublin, Ireland. We follow a boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who transitions from private to public school. It’s rough at first before he sees a girl off in the distance. Lo and behold, he’s completely smitten and now he must somehow win her over. But how…?

I know, start a band!

Inspired by the likes of Duran Duran, The Clash, and other great bands of that time, Conor and his friends end up creating a band with undeniable potential. With a lovable cast and a story you immediately want to see end happily, Sing Street is a charming little flick with a big heart.

2. Arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve continues his strong run as one of the premiere directors of our time in a comprehensive piece of cinema that uses an alien “invasion” to lead the audience to places nobody could have seen coming. This is a movie that addresses a lot of deep and profound questions, juxtaposing the concept of extraterrestrial life with humanity’s existential ponderings.

The complex storyline is almost singlehandedly carried by my future bae, Amy Adams, as well as a throbbing, tense atmosphere and one of the best original scores of the year from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. All those factors elevate the film’s twist from simply provocative to a complete emotional and mental experience.

Arrival is a can’t-miss film. So don’t miss it, jeez.

1. La La Land

It’s the only movie I saw in theaters twice this year and the second time was such a struggle because of how emotional everything is. After you’ve seen the infamous gut-wrenching ending sequence the first time, you can’t stop your heart from breaking into a million shimmering pieces as you watch everything all over again.

La La Land is the very definition of a memorable movie, filled with vibrant colors, glowing dreams, and the harsh slap of reality that says success can come at a hefty, hefty price. As an added plus, it’s a legitimately catchy original musical and I’ve heard lots of people say they’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat and letting themselves get caught up in the ensuing emotional rollercoaster.

Hell, it inspired me to take up the piano again so I can come closer to becoming a Korean Ryan Gosling (and finding my Emma Stone, um, without the [spoiler]).

Here’s to the fools who dream. Congratulations La La Land, you’re my Movie of the Year.

THE LEFTOVERS

Bad Santa 2

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Bleed for This

Captain America: Civil War

Central Intelligence

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jason Bourne

Mechanic: Resurrection

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ride Along 2

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sausage Party

Suicide Squad

The Boss

The Brothers Grimsby

The Conjuring 2

The Do-Over

The Infiltrator

The Magnificent Seven

The Neon Demon

X-Men: Apocalypse