15. Star Trek Beyond
Okay, this movie may have the biggest positive turnabout from ‘quality of trailer’ and ‘quality of movie’ I’ve ever seen. Seriously, from that garbage first trailer whodda thunk we’d get one of the best movies of the summer?
Now personally, I’m pretty damn fond of the first Abrams Trek movie. Sure it has definite flaws and I entirely understand why some Trek fans dislike it, but it was a really really well done Sci-fi action movie with good pacing, acting and overall a very entertaining movie. Into Darkness was an alright movie… right up until it turned into word-for-word quoting Wrath of Khan, which, quite frankly, was just plain embarrassing. However, this movie I honestly think might be the best of the three. It may not tell an epic ‘Federation at peril’ story like the other two, but it captures the sense of intelligent exploration and adventure in a way that the other two movies did not. Chris Pine finally feels like he’s fully grown into the role of Kirk (possibly helped by the writing finally giving him some maturity) and the rest of the cast do an excellent job as well. And giving Karl Urban more screentime is always good in my books. Even the villain, who I was willing to write off as a generic doomsday guy (albeit one played by Idris Elba which is always great), gets some depth in the final third. Plus the movie had one of the best space station designs I’ve ever seen with Yorktown.
Ultimately, I think I like this movie best because it feels like a much more complete story than the first two reboot Treks. It tells a narrative that definitely feels somewhat like a sidestory in the greater Trek mythos, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Without the need to set up for sequels or franchises or whatever else, the creators were simply allowed to sit back and tell their story. And they do it really really well. Which I kinda think helps makes it a better 50th anniversary Trek tribute more than any major universe-shaking developments would do.
Dennis Villeneuve, to me, is the ‘Animated Disney Revival era’ of directors working today. By which I mean I do genuinely like and enjoy his work buuuuut never seem to enjoy it quite as much as everyone else does. Does this movie change that? Actually, kinda yeah. Sure I only have it at 14, while most people seem to have in their favourites of the year, but it’s a case where I entirely get why it’s making so many Top 10 lists. Hell, in a lesser year this would’ve very easily made my Top 10. Because it is a genuinely fantastic, intelligent movie.
Honestly, the very concept itself is fascinating. We’re so used to popular portrayals of aliens being able to understand us or vice-versa with very little difficulty, but the idea of trying to communicate with a truly alien species, ones whose thought processes and communication methods are so fundamentally different from our own, the very idea is just utterly compelling. And this movie knows it and takes full advantage of that. The aliens are an utter mystery, a puzzle box for our protagonist to solve. We don’t know whether they’re helpful or hostile or something else entirely.
As for the acting, you may be interested to know I saw Amy Adams at a police station recently after the Best Actress nominations were announced. She was there to report a goddamn robbery. Seriously, she really should’ve been nominated for this role and if you watch the movie you’ll understand why. The supporting cast also do an excellent job of supporting, but ultimately it’s her show and she 100% owns it.
Admittedly, I do have some minor issues here and there (particular a lot of the ‘dead daughter’ shots/flashbacks/???? feel really overindulgent and get a bit dull after a while), but overall it’s a genuinely great movie. Like Ex Machina last year, it’s really good to see these intelligent, small budget, low key sci-fi movies doing so well.
13. Kubo and the Two Strings
After the disappointment that was the Boxtrolls, it’s good to see a movie that reminds me why I goddamn love Studio Laika. Not just for their excellent stop-motion animation, but for their willingness to stretch the limits of childrens storytelling in directions it so rarely goes nowadays. Forget the fluffy safe boredom of stuff like Secret Life of Pets, Laika are perfectly willing to go full horror movie (like Coraline or Paranorman) or simply tackle some genuine complex storytelling and themes. Seeing stuff like Kubo caring for his mother after her head injury grabbed my heartstrings from the very beginning and that was just the beginning.
The rest of the movie is a relatively timeless adventure/coming-of-age story, with gorgeous settings and designs, amusing characters and some fantastically inventive uses of Kubo’s power. Plus the villains have a surprising level of depth to them, not just evil for evils sake, but evil due to genuinely not being able understand humanity and, in a twisted parallel with Kubo’s own desires, simply want to be a family again. And the way the situation ultimately ends up being resolved feels fitting and makes a wonderful change from the usual ‘kill the bad guy’ you see in most animated kids movies. Plus, Laika do pull their punches. A few tragic events that I assumed would just be undone by stories end, end up sticking in a very bittersweet way.
So overall yeah, it’s a fantastic movie and definitely worthy of all the praise being thrown its way. Which makes it kinda odd that it’s not in my Top 3 animated movies this year thus far….
12. A United Kingdom
For me, there are three types of Oscar-style movies. The ones that I find are utterly dreary trash that everyone else seems to praise because they seem Oscar-y (see: American Hustle, The Theory of Everything), the ones that are decent but nothing spectacular and probably don’t deserve nominations either (The Imitation Game, Hidden Figures (Saw it a couple days ago, not that impressed)) and the ones that genuinely live up to the hype. This was the latter. Which was a shame because apparently, unbeknownst to me, nobody had any actual intention for putting it up for awards. But if they had, I really think this movie could’ve done excellent (and it made a lot of the categories on my Boffy ballot).
This film, a story about the relationship between an African prince and the white British woman he married (in the 1940’s, so you can figure out why that might be a problem), pretty much lives and dies on the chemistry between its two leads, David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. And boy do they have chemistry. So many other movie romances rely on just saying that these characters are in love, but Oyelowo and Pike make you feel it. Their relationship is energetic, cute and you can completely understand why they’d go through so much for each other. Their performance is pretty much the pillar that the movie is built around.
Not to say that their performance is the only thing worth watching. The writing, directing, story, all excellent. Plus I appreciated its examination of prejudice on both sides of the isle during that time. One of the biggest opponents and hurdles of their marriage comes from the prince’s own uncle, along with the expectedly obstructionist British Empire representatives, played to stuffed-shirt perfection by Jack Davenport. PLus the politics of the era and the deft writing creates a strong sense of tension and will-they-won’t-they, not in terms of whether they have feelings but more as to whether the two will be able to be together at all. There were even a few scenes that made the audience audibly gasp in my theatre.
So yeah, an excellent little awards film… that was not up for any real awards. Yeah.
Le Shocker! Zootopia misses the Top 10! (barely) And I get the impression that most of this write-up is going to be me trying to justify that decision to everybody reading.
See, the thing with Zootopia for me is that it kinda suffers from what I like to call ‘The Up Effect’. Specifically, like the movie Up, it has one scene/moment/aspect that is genuinely outstandingly fantastic. Like full-on masterpiece stuff which on its own totally justifies all the critical praise. Buuuut that one amazing scene kinda overshadows the fact that the rest of the movie is just good. Not great, not masterpiece amazing, most definitely not bad, just good. (For other examples, see Ratatouille, Monsters University and Inside Out). And quite frankly, I tend to prefer movies that can be more uniformly engrossing from start to finish, rather having that one outstanding scene that towers above the rest. That’s why I can’t really justify putting in my Top 10.
Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the movie is genuinely very good, which is why it’s this high on the list. The two leads have excellent chemistry, the world-building has depth and detail far far beyond your average talking animal movie and there really is a lot to like. But ultimately, up until the big message of the movie, it’s just a standard detective/underdog flick with talking animals. It’s not a bad one by any means and I do genuinely enjoy detective.underdogs flicks, but if you took the message out and stood it on its own, I don’t think it would get nearly the same level of praise it’s been getting currently. It would still get a lot of praise, mind, because it’s a very entertaining story, but probably not ‘99% on RT’ praise
Still, I think I’ve gone enough talking about why I didn’t rank this movie higher. Time to talk why it did rank this high. Specifically, holy crap it did an amazing job with that message, delivering a topical nuanced look at prejudice that, quite frankly, most movies this year that are outright about prejudice didn’t deliver nearly as well. I have nothing but top praise for that and it deserves to be up there with Up’s opening in terms of all-time great animated moments..
Shame the rest of the movie wasn’t quite in the same league otherwise this would’ve scored even higher than it already did..