No matter how you slice it, this summer has been terrible for movies. Blockbusters are bombing left and right as $100 million tentpoles collapse from an underperforming box office. Sequels and remakes are beginning to wear thin on the public, and they can’t take much more of it. In a big surprise, spring and winter turned out to feature both better and worse movies; summer just appears bland in comparison. Before we head into fall with some hopefully better-made movies, let’s take a look back on the first half of the year (or so) for the five best and worst movies so far.
The Best Movies of 2016 So Far
At a time when superhero movies are starting to become repetitive, Deadpool gives this subgenre a big middle finger and then slices that finger off for a laugh. Ryan Reynolds pulled hard for this movie, and it’s easy to see why. Served up as a hard-R superhero comedy, Reynolds savages Marvel movies by mocking convention, defying clichés, and breaking the fourth wall. When paired up with two members of the X-Men to play off, Reynolds is unstoppably hilarious in how he finds numerous ways to poke fun at superheroes and shred their seriousness that deserves a hearty slap of silliness. As the first superhero movie of 2016, Deadpool set the bar high as a much-needed dose of subversion at a time when comic-book movies desperately needed some bloody, profane, and goofy levity.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Few movies this year managed to be this much of a surprise. 10 Cloverfield Lane is the loosest of spinoffs to the 2008 giant-monster-movie hit Cloverfield. We didn’t see much monster present in this picture, but what we did see was one of the most impressive bottle movies of the decade. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is caught in a car crash just as an alien attack begins but awakens safely in an underground bunker built by cautious conspiracy theorist Howard (John Goodman). Sharing the space with another survivor who wanted inside, they attempt to live together and ride out the apocalypse. But Howard is no stranger to the possible problem that might befall his bunker, which leads to him taking some strict precautions. So strict, in fact, that he may have lost his mind. With stellar direction, impressive actors, and the perfect amount of tension, 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the most genuinely enjoyable pictures of the year. I didn’t even mind its divergence from giant monsters. And even if that’s what you wanted, the movie attempts to give you a little taste of that as well for the final act.
Sure, Disney could have just created the standard buddy-cop picture with animal characters and called it a day. They instead decided to dig deep into the world of Zootopia and define it with a high level of thought, detail, and cleverness. Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore craft a compelling story of bunny officer Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) and fox con artist Nick (Jason Bateman) tracking down a threat that seeks to divide the utopia of predators living among prey. What’s most admirable about the picture is how it attempts to address the heavy subjects of racism, classism, and sexism but never hammers them in with bluntness or simplicity. Zootopia weaves its allegory well into its own world so that kids can have a little substance in their animation without being flat-out propaganda or edutainment. Most importantly, Zootopia is gut-bustingly hilarious. The scene with the sloths at the DMV never fails to make me laugh, even after seeing it countless times in the trailers.
2. The BFG
Steven Spielberg reaffirms his rightful place in moviemaking history as the director who knows how to create movies for kids. His whimsical approach to this classic Roald Dahl children’s novel is a sweet and charming telling without boring its audience, young or old. The young and plucky Sophie is played with exceptional bravery by Ruby Barnhill as a smart girl who can stand up to giants and teach them to read. The special effects of turning Mark Rylance into the giant who befriends Sophie are so spectacularly rendered that it’s easy to get lost in this fantasy world. The whole experience left a big smile on my face with the way the movie doesn’t dip down into being too dour but narrowly avoids being innocuous. It should also be worth noting that Spielberg has achieved making me laugh at a fart joke.
1. The Jungle Book
Disney’s latest live-action take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel is without a doubt the best adaptation put to the big screen. Favoring equal parts story from the books and musical numbers from the animated movie, The Jungle Book is wondrous family fantasy that is engrossing on every level. The cast is amazing, with newcomer Neel Sethi leading as Mowgli, the only human main character in this picture. The stellar voice cast of the jungle animals includes the likes of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, and Christopher Walken. Everything about this movie was a home run. The computer graphics, which built all the animals and sets, are some of the best visuals you’ll see all year. The story is trimmed of all fat but given just enough room to breathe and enjoy its splendor. Even the musical numbers for Bill Murray and Christopher Walken, which I expected to come off as goofy and flat, ended up being surprisingly fun. Between last year’s Cinderella and next year’s Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s live-action retreatments of their properties are on a roll.
The Worst Movies of 2016 So Far
5. The Boss
Outside of Paul Feig’s direction, Melissa McCarthy turns into a disgusting character in horrible comedies. The Boss is yet another example, with McCarthy being trotted out for simplistic jokes far below her true potential. She plays a selfish CEO who loses everything and has to move in with her assistant. A fish-out-of-water story? Nope. There’s no lesson for her to learn; all she needs to do is set up a money-making operation before she can gain back control of her company. McCarthy’s grand scheme is to create a Girl Scout troop that sells cookies and gets to keep the profits for the girls to start their own college fund. That’s called child labor, and there are laws against it. Couldn’t I just shut my brain off and ignore these pesky plot holes to appreciate the jokes? If there were just some arc to McCarthy’s character, considering the multitude of missed opportunities to explain her troubled past, I might have been more forgiving. As is it stands, this is a nasty little comedy that filets its female lead for the most base, juvenile, and lowbrow jokes that should be above McCarthy at this point in her career.
4. Meet the Blacks
As one of the more baffling satires I’ve seen, Meet the Blacks attempts to put the African American spin on the horror concept of The Purge as clumsily as it can. For the entire first act, Mike Epps pretends to be clueless about the Purge (the 12-hour abolishment of crime) despite the numerous TV warnings and conversations of the rich neighborhood he moves into. There’s a lengthy backstory about how he ends up in a mansion, but it’s so poorly slapped together it’s not worth mentioning. Of course, all of the Purge participants happen to be white people, and they’re the most cartoonishly racist figures you can imagine. The movie gives up by the third act and literally dresses up the murderous white people as the Ku Klux Klan. The attempts at racial and goofy humor came off more baffling than clever as I tried to piece together what the hell this movie was trying to be. The poster for The Purge: Anarchy on my wall that reads “United We Purge” was funnier than any lazy joke formulated from this mess. In a world when race is a topic of fraught and serious discussion, Meet the Blacks is an offensive minstrel act. A George Zimmerman–style joke requires more thought and tact than the awful scattershot method of this picture.
3. Fifty Shades of Black
Marlon Wayans continues to tap dance on the corpse of movie parodies, ensuring they will remain a dead genre. His satirical take on Fifty Shades of Grey is nothing new for his brand of comedy, which seems to rely on the old setup of “if that were black people.” That’s funny for an SNL skit, but not a whole movie. And since there just wasn’t enough to riff on with Fifty Shades of Grey, Wayans drags down other recent movies into his pit of putrid satire. He doesn’t find any clever means of mixing in the parodies of Whiplash, Magic Mike, or Zero Dark Thirty. Florence Henderson is reduced to a Mrs. Robinson–type role, whoring herself out to the neighborhood. Fred Willard and Jane Seymour are reduced to racist white devils who serve fried chicken for black people and tell Asian people to go back to sweatshops. None of this was apparently going too far for the likes of Marlon Wayans. Anything is up for grabs in his wacky world of sex jokes, poop jokes, race jokes, and oh-no-you-didn’t-isms. Fifty Shades of Grey was a far funnier movie, and it wasn’t even trying for laughs.
2. Dirty Grandpa
I have suffered through Robert De Niro subjecting himself to the tactless, witless, and demeaning comedy of Little Fockers. I had considered that rock bottom for his career, but it appears I was wrong. De Niro, one of the finest actors from the likes of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, has been reduced here to the saddest of roles. There’s no arc or story to this fiasco of a comedy: he merely stumbles around to say the most shocking of sentences while he annoys and pesters his grandson, played by Zac Efron. There is so much in this movie I never wanted to see. I didn’t want to see Robert De Niro grab Zac Efron’s taint. I didn’t want to hear Robert De Niro refer to the tight space of a car seat as the “car’s vagina.” And I certainly never wanted to see Robert De Niro have sex with a young girl who demands he speak in old-people babble during the act. This is not a movie; this is a freak show where De Niro will do anything for a dollar, leaving me shaking my head in pity and dismay.
1. The Do-Over
Let it be known that I have seen every Adam Sandler movie ever made. I state this not with pride, but to hammer home my credentials when I say that this is one of the worst Sandler movies ever made. This is mostly due to the fact that he can’t really decide on his character. At first, he’s an FBI agent who fakes his death with overly nerdy loser David Spade so that they can start their lives over. Then he turns out to be a coroner. What he ultimately decides to be—get ready for this—is a failed police officer with cancer . . . on the trail for the cure for cancer. He sets up this movie to be an action picture with dark comedy, but since he’s awful with humor, the movie simply comes off as mean-spirited and ugly. David Spade is smacked around by every character, and Sandler is always seen as the super-sly hero. Sandler’s sexism reaches critical levels when he comes on to a woman by intentionally hitting her with his car and putting the moves on her while she’s on the ground. Vomit began to surface in my mouth as I had to endure the awkward and disgusting three-way scene between David Spade, Luis Guzman, and Natasha Leggero. The best I can say is that it’s the least racist of Adam Sandler’s terrible pictures. Don’t worry, though—he’ll have plenty of opportunities with his Netflix movie deal to craft something that can offend everyone to staggering degrees.
Wondering how this year stacks up to last? Look back at my picks for best and worst films of 2015.