This article originally appeared in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad. It is reprinted here in a revised TFE specific but abridged version...
While summer didn’t technically begin until June 20th and isn’t technically over yet, “Summer Movie Season” is not beholden to the solstice and equinox but to The Blockbuster. Summer has long been the most lucrative season for Hollywood and so they’ve stretched it out to start earlier each year. It now tends to begin sometime in April with the release of the first movie that feels like a Summer Blockbuster proper (this year that would’ve arguably been The Jungle Book on April 15th) and ends on Labor Day, aka Any Second Now. It’s no secret that it’s been a rough summer for the quality of blockbusters. But if you’re lucky enough to live in a big city or smart enough to seek out films without gargantuan ad budgets, there was still plenty of cinema to get excited about. So herewith the Best & Worst of 2016’s Summer movie season…
Suicide Squad. Against all odds it was even more horrible than critics warned with its awful patchy storytelling, complete absence of character development, incoherent plot, and even less coherent than "incoherent" (if such thing is possible) action sequences. That's all especially true in its last act (wait -- how did ___ get ___? How did ____ survive? What happened to ___? Oh never mind, the movie does not care. It's just a commercial for itself and for the sequel) Just wants a sequel). The film ought to be studied in fact in terms of What Not To Do Whilst Making a Movie since it is wildly inept in dozens of ways. It plays like someone fast forwarding something, stopping and starting but never actually arriving at a scene that they feel like watching. It’s not unlike watching commercials for a movie strung together for an entire movie's length. Yes, Suicide Squad is even worse than Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice which was an actual movie, albeit a very very bad one.
There are four non awful things that could theoretically belong to a better movie: the graffiti gawdiness of the title cards feels right; Viola Davis's scary soulessness and side eye as the intimidating Amanda Waller; Jay Hernandez in general even though he’s stuck with the racist conception of a character in gangbanger arsonist “Diablo”; Margot Robbie’s mismatched eye shadow, pig tails and costuming as Harley Quinn. She won Best in Show reviews (not even close - that'd be Viola) but the breadth of her performance is aptly summed up with 30 Rock's “I’m a very sexy baby” joke.
Worst Villain Not in Suicide Squad
This “prize” obviously has to go to Oscar Isaac, whose short incredible attractiveness is buried in pounds of ugly inexpressive latex makeup for his 7′ god with extremely vague superpowers (basically all of ’em) in X-Men Apocalypse. Our "C" review was, I think, too generous in retrospect as nothing about the movie inspired anything approximating a fond memory. Not even a single scene, really.
Movies I Feel Guilt About Missing but at Least the Team Reviewed Them!
Indignation, Hell or High Water, The Nice Guys, Maggie’s Plan
Movies I Purposely Avoided
Nine Lives, Mother's Day, Ben-Hur, Angry Birds
Movies I Didn't Avoid but They Slipped By Nonetheless
Jason Bourne, Sausage Party, The Secret Life of Pets, Money Monster
Best Actor FYC
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
The undervalued star digs deep into the role of a survivalist father with too many stubborn ideals, too little contact with society, and not enough compromise when he deigns to reenter it.
Honorable Mention: Hugh Grant, charming as ever but his light touch makes the undertow more poignant in Florence Foster Jenkins; Michael Fassbender still manages pained interiority better than just about anyone in Light Between Oceans
Best Actress FYC (tie)
Alicia Vikander, The Light Between Oceans
It’s a pity that the Swedish actress won the Oscar for The Danish Girl since it wasn’t even her best performance last year (That’d be her amazingly intricate work as the android in Ex Machina) and it's clear she's going to consistently outdo it in her career since she already has less than a year later. She’s very moving again as a baby-crazy young wife in this romantic tragedy.
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Her work as this delusional diva is her most joyous since Julie & Julia. But she works the undertow and those same delusions as not-quite-healing balm to prevent it all from floating away in fluffiness.
Best Supporting Actor FYC
Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
He's just inspired and hilarious as dim Sir James Martin, a wealthy bachelor in the best Jane Austen adaptation in a dozen years which clocks in at a perfectly breezy 93 minutes. The running time is as refreshing as this performance.
Honorable Mentions: Ralph Fiennes, insufferable but super in A Bigger Splash;
Best Supporting Actress FYC
Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters
She stole the show with eccentric comic swagger in this all female reboot. Too bad the movie had to endure so much nonsense in the media because the leads had vaginas. (Sigh)
Honorable Mentions: Chloe Sevigny and Nina Arianda in Love & Friendship and Florence Foster Jenkins, respectively, provided exactly the kind of comic support the movie needed; Kristen Stewart is radiantly romantically confused in Woody Allen’s Cafe Society
Greatest Moviegoing Experience of the Summer
This summer’s high profile 4K restoration of Merchant & Ivory’s Howards End (1992), in theaters now, is unmissable. The film is absolutely perfect and should’ve won Best Picture in its day (8 nominations and 3 wins but it lost Picture & Director to Unforgiven). It’s even richer, funnier, and more dramatically resonant than you may remember if you saw it years ago with Emma Thompson at her most generous and complex, Vanessa Redgrave at her most lyrical, Helena Bonham-Carter working near silent movie levels of inner fire, and Anthony Hopkins as his most nuanced. What's more though the film is a generous 140 minutes it earns every second, jam-packed as it is with character arcs, metaphoric resonance, and thought-provoking dialogue and emotionally loaded visual flourishes. It proves all over again what a master the director James Ivory is. It was sad when the Honorary Oscars were announced a couple of days ago and he wasn’t named. Oscar is so stingy with the gay artists!
This summer also featured a restoration of the Joan Crawford noir Sudden Fear (1952, 4 Oscar nominations). As reviews noted, it totally deserves reevaluation and classic status. My friends and I had a blast watching one of Crawford’s greatest melodrama performances as a playwright who marries an actor she once fired (creepy Jack Palance) unaware that he and his girl on the side (shady lady Gloria Grahame) are after her riches. The film starts out as rigid as Crawford’s posture but things get enjoyably baroque in the last half hour when things go completely off Crawford's literal script. Loved loved loved it.
Movies I Liked But Wish I Had "Loved" As Others Did
Kubo and the Two Strings and Pete's Dragon
Colin Farrell & Rachel Weisz in The Lobster
Edina & Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Jeannie Berlin & Ken Stott as bickering parents in Cafe Society
Ellen DeGeneres & Ed O'Neill as fish and octopus in Finding Dory
10 Best Films Released This Summer Movie Season
And for a terrifying but emblematic addition: How many screens they played on at their widest. In other words it was a ROUGH summer for at the multiplex but a good one at specialty theaters. In Alpha Order
Tier 1 - Not to be missed
- Captain Fantastic (550)
- The Fits (20)
- Little Men (37)
- The Lobster (560)
- Love & Friendship (826)
- Sing Street (525)
Tier 2 - Other goodies
- A Bigger Splash (378)
- Captain America: Civil War (4226)
- Florence Foster Jenkins (1528)
- The Light Between Oceans (1500)
Sexiest Performance by a Body Part
Alexander Skarsgard’s Abs in The Legend of Tarzan, all however many of them. So so very many of themmmm---mmmm
Kate McKinnon’s tongue in Ghostbusters
Chris Evan’s helicopter-stretched arms in Captain America: Civil War
Viggo Mortensen’s penis in Captain Fantastic
It’s only a penis. Every man has one.
Best LGBT Movie Discovery on VOD
Any quick perusal of VOD options and streaming services reveals a wealth of gay titles that you’ve maybe never heard of. We’ve all seem terribly amateurish LGBT films so sometimes a really good one fills you with missionary zeal. This summer the best one I caught was Stephen Cone’s Henry Gamble's Birthday Party. It didn’t receive a theatrical release but this Chicago film is unusually confident in its storytelling voice and proves how much you can do with no budget. It never leaves one location (it’s all at the titular party) as it attends the titular party for a young closeted gay man at the home of his devout Christian famil, and their guests. It’s fly on the wall approach and overlapping ensemble is a bit Altman-esque but with less cynicism and a sharp eye on how people navigate the confusing waters when faith and sexuality get in the pool together. Henry is available on multiple platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Wolfe OnDemand, and Vimeo.
Small Screen Streaming Binges in Preference Order
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1 an instant classic - nothing else like it)
American Crime (Season 2 now streaming on Netflix and as stunning as Kieran promised)
The Night Of... (Season 1 is very handsomely made/acted, but ultimately kind of empty?)
Stranger Things (Season 1 is super bingeable/fun but is it "good"? I dunno... Definitely does not need a second season with the same story. Why not anthologize it instead?)
The Get Down (Season 1A last place only because I haven't gotten very far. Perhaps it'll move up this specific ladder)
HOW WAS YOUR SCREENING SUMMER?