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« Box Office | Main | Instagram Battles: Armie, Kristin, or Billy? »
Saturday
Sep032016

Summer Movie Season Surveyed

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…

THE WORST

Garbage Fire
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.  

THE UNSEEN

my apologies to Sarah & Logan, two actors I greatly enjoy

Movies I Feel Guilt About Missing but at Least the Team Reviewed Them!
Indignation, Hell or High Water, The Nice GuysMaggie’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

THE BEST

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 VikanderThe 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.

and

Meryl StreepFlorence 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 rebootToo 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

an unequivocal masterpiece

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!

Honorable Mention:
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 

Best Duos
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 

The Fits - it barely got a release

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

Honorable Mentions:  
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. 

They say it's Henry Gamble's birthday...

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 PartyIt 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.

The Prime of Miss Regina King. Yup, she's brilliant again.

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?

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Reader Comments (24)

this rundown of the summer 's best/worst and somewhere in-between is so helpful... I do not see the number of movies that so many on this blog see... I just do not have the time, so I so appreciate your direction of movies... I usually am rather in sync with your tastes.

again... thanks for your work on this blog site....

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I'm so glad you're enjoying American Crime S2.

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

American Crime S2 was kind of amazing. But you know what's been wrenchingly jaw droppingly genius (after a blah previous season)? Orange Is the New Black S2. The last few episodes left me shaking every time.

On the comedy side nothing comes close to Difficult People.

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

saw Florence Foster Jenkins today and ROFL-ed so hard and loud I'm sure I annoyed the neighbors.

I'm totally fine if she gets her 20th nomination for this role. It's a really good performance and a wonderful movie. I'd be more than happy to see Simon Helberg nominated in supporting. It's his reactions to Ms Jenkins' talent that I laughed at the most.

I find myself repeatedly thinking about and laughing at the moment where she offers to sing to the music Cosmé's written while doing his dishes. Her improv skills are to die for "The trees, the... uhmg akjhj bees?" :D :D :D

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

sausage party is the best movie in theatres right now. suicide squad was pretty awful, but ghostbusters wasn't much better. i dont tend to give those unnecessary remakes a chance, but jesus, ghostbusters was uninspired. the only consistently funny actor was Leslie Jones. Kate McKinnon was fine, but I found her character (like all the other characters in the film) lacking in character development, so frankly her insanity just came off as pandering monkeyshines. Mocking me because this movie makes no sense. how the hell do you make a movie where Melissa McCarthy isn't funny?

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterkris

You may have forgotten the June premiere of Orange is the New Black S4. Maybe it's strongest yet and almost certainly the best thing to come out of this summer.

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDrewB

Drew B -- i haven't watched it yet. i dont know what's wrong with me! (actually i know why i haven't watched it yet but it's a long personal story so never mind)

September 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Definitely does not need a second season with the same story. Why not anthologize it instead?

I've seen this suggestion crop up in numerous places, and I really don't get it. The current anthology trend on TV was kicked off entirely because Ryan Murphy's ADHD approach to television means he can't keep up his own interest in a subject for more than 10-13 episodes at a time.

One of the best parts of television is watching characters develop over time. I want to see more of what happens with Eleven, Mike, Dustin et al., as long as the creators feel there's more to tell, and they've said they do. When you've got such a great cast, it shouldn't be thrown away lightly, and the creators have said there's a lot more to the world bible they built that they want to explore.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

Maggie's Plan is completely missable.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Nat you need to watch a horror film it's a booming business at the moment and there are great performances to be seen.Teresa Palmer is excellent in Lights Out as are Farmiga/Wilson in Conjuring 2 and the possessed girl in it.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Can I say that Wiig is my Ghostbusters fave.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Mark -- i saw The Conjuring 2. I see as much horror as i can handle (which is not much) so that i can keep vaguely aware of what's going on in cinema. So that generally means the critical hits or the ones that crossover outside their genre (like the Conjuring series)

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Couldn't agree more about Howard's End. Ravishing, both emotionally aand aesthetically.

September 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

I wondered why you never mentioned OINTB Season 4... now I know... I have to see American Crime season 1 (I really liked season 2). I have one episode left on The Get Down and really like it, I've watched it in a week, which is unusual for me. There are a lot of random moments in it but, as is typical of Baz, the big set pieces make it all worthwhile. It reminds me a bit of Romeo + Juliet because everything seems so heightened - I think his style works well when he's dealing with teenagers for this reason, it makes the stakes seems believable since when you are young, every decision/action feels like a life or death matter.

You've convinced me to rewatch Howard's End (the big screen restoration likely will never get to me). I loved it in 1992, but have only seen it once.

I think you highlight most of the good movies of the summer (Indignation is worth seeing for the long scene between Tracy Letts and Logan Lerman - after seeing it, I wish Letts would get cast more often), but I would add the two great documentaries of the summer, Weiner and OJ: Made in America. Both will probably be on my top 10 at the end of the year.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I think I'm the only one that sees Fiennes in SPLASH as a lead...

THE FITS is currently available on iTunes, readers! Do yourself a favor!

September 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

It was a terrible summer at the movies- well except for "Jason Bourne" and "Kubo and the Two Strings"- personal guilty pleasure "War Craft" ( yes I do want a sequel)

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

My favorite movie of the summer by far was The BIG. Sadly, like most of America, you've ignored it, too.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

MARK - I'm with you. My biggest laughs came from Kristen made me laugh the most. But I'm a Wiig man in most situations, so...

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

suzanne -- i'm assuming Cohen Media will rerelease the restored version on bluray or something, They spent a lot of money acquiring the rights to the Merchant Ivory filmography (sadly they still don't have Room with a View though)

September 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

'Closet Monster' and 'Kate Plays Christine' were both confrontational, original, and disconcerting film experiences. Highly recommend both of them.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Four of my top ten if I were to make one...were Oscar submissions from last year.

(For the curious: The Assassin, The Club, Embrace of the Serpent, and the sadly underpraised Ixcanul.)

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAR

My 3 summer favorites were:
Under the sun / V paprscích slunce (documentary about making pseudo documentary in North Korea, but at the same time secretly showing what everyday life really is like there. Amazing piece of documentary. They say the director has received death threats for making this film.)
Land of mine / Under sandet (Danish film about a group of german kids, who are forced to dig up 2 million land-mines with their bare hands in Denmark after their country has lost the war. Roland Møller is going to be the next big breakout star from Denmark.)
Childhood of a leader (such intensity and style from a young director Brady Corbet. Looking forward to his next films now. Music is worthy of an oscar.)

On a small screen I was amazed how good (and although I really liked Orange is the ne black's 4th season, this is so much better) was Australian female prison drama "Wentworth"'s 4th season (more exciting and way more serious than OITNB). If you haven't seen it, you're lucky, cause I would want to see it again without knowing what is happening there.

September 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKrister

You haven't seen Maggie's Plan!? But God herself is in the movie!

Seriously, I know that Roger called it "missable" above, but I disagree-- it's a love triangle told from a female vantage point with decidedly unexpected results. Brilliant acting, minus a single accent, and tonally unique.

September 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Yes to Henry Gamble's Birthday Party! It is so, so good. Really touching and generous and warm and funny and sexy. So many things! But really, it gives itself a lot to balance and does so beautifully.

September 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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