Making The Best of a Bad Summer: Top 5 Films of Summer 2016 (and a few superlatives to make everyone feel better)

Well, that sucked.

As if psychically rocked by the malaise of the world around it, Summer 2016 was one of the most unpleasant, difficult, and frustrating summers of moviegoing I’ve seen in some time. Film after film of overwrought nonsense that fell apart in committee and disappointing franchise attempt or follow-ups coming again and again and again and again and again and again and for one last good measure again.

Normally, I do a “Worst-Of” list at the end of the summer too. I’m not this time. I feel like not only is that shooting fish in a multi-billion dollar barrel, but I also feel like that just misses something. God knows we don’t need more negativity in the world.

Instead, let’s talk about what was good this summer! There was enough of that.

Also, special note before we go in. This list is only going to be for major studio released films originally released in Summer 2016. In other words, summer movies. Limited releases and delayed festival stuff isn’t eligible for the rankings. Sorry, Kristen Stewart in Cafe Society, Colin Farrell in The Lobster, Sing Street, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and especially Swiss Army Man, but this isn’t your list. We’ll talk later.

5) Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

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At least Ike Barinholtz had one positive experience with clowning this summer.

We’re kicking off with what still rests as my biggest surprise of the summer, Neighbors 2. A sequel to a film I only liked, Neighbors 2 expands on the premise and deepens its commentary, creating a surprisingly sweet film with a lot to say about feminism and friendship. It helps that it’s riotously funny with fully committed performances from its main cast and surprisingly tight direction. It’s the kind of film I want people to see, something delightful, raunchy, and still relentlessly good-hearted.

4) Star Trek Beyond

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Star Trek Beyond is most admirable in that it truly brings us back to Where No Man Has Gone Before. Infused with an enthusiasm for exploration and doing good in the world and guided with the incredibly able hand of Justin Lin, Star Trek Beyond is a strong reminder of how important the utopian vision of the Federation is. It helps that it also is the winner of the Best Musical Cue of the Summer for a late-game use of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that’ll knock you right on your ass. Plus, this will never not be the single best cast in franchise film, every one of them is so good for their roles and so watchable on screen.

3) The Nice Guys

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This one is the great lost adult blockbuster of the summer, a timeless film that feels a little close to home. A darkly hilarious movie about the slow death of the American system, it’s the kind of bourbon-soaked comedy-noir that only Shane Black could give us. It’s got the impressive performances of Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and the young Angourie Rice anchoring it, but it’s Shane Black’s hand that crafts this endlessly compelling, too-good-for-the-summer flick.

2) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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I just straight up love this movie. There are members of my family I love less than I love this movie (Just kidding, well, maybe, I have some extended family I don’t see that often). Popstar is pitch-perfect satire of a medium that it feels hard to still come up with jokes about. Incredibly well-made, incredibly funny, and just all around the best time I’ve had at the movies in a long time. The film from 2016 I can most imagine revisiting again and again.

1) Captain America: Civil War

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I’ve said a lot about this to a lot of people, and I recognize that there are problems with it, but I think I can still unequivocally now rest on my original assessment of Civil War. This is as good as the shared universe model gets, a perfect encapsulation of what it means to have our affections for characters carried out year-by-year and seeing them grow and rise and fall with us.

And now to recognize some individuals:

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War

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Regal, powerful, and badass. Boseman knocked Black Panther out of the park with a performance that absolutely dominated a film of colorful characters and huge concepts. Boseman made every line he had sing like the declarations of a comic book splash page and every moment hit harder. This isn’t just a performance. It’s an announcement. It’s time for the Black Panther to rule, and it’s Boseman that gives him the authority.

Best Actress: Kate McKinnon, Jillian Holtzmann, Ghostbusters

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Of a similar tack to Boseman, McKinnon was the MVP of her film by a mile and dominated it with a very different power. McKinnon was utterly in control of every ounce of Holtzmann as a character and that allows her to almost warp the film around her gravity. Always weird, always riotous, and imbued with a core that makes the character instantly relatable. No actress owned their film this summer like McKinnon did Ghostbusters. 

Best Off-Screen Performance: Ellen Degeneres, Dory, Finding Dory

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I’ll admit that I still had my reservations about Finding Dory as a story centering on Dory, but it’s Degeneres’ performance that ultimately sold me. She gives Dory a great deal more weight than I ever thought she could have, particularly selling her scenes alone and narrating to herself. Degeneres manages to give Dory a full spectrum of thoughts and feelings and emotions, and just for managing to get over a lot of the hump with her performance, she deserves the applause.

Best Director: Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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This is a film that needed to be as well-directed as comedies can get, so it’s a good thing we had Taccone and Schaffer to make this film work. Popstar apes every music video and every style it needs to effortlessly, imbuing the subtlest commentary and sense of unique style under the surface of every parody. It’s directorial commitment, never letting up from the world they created, that is exactly why Popstar works as well as it does.

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