2016 Top Ten – #6

#6 – Captain America: Civil War

#7 – The BFG

#8 – Moana

#9 – Rogue One

#10 – My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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Captain America: Civil War was directed by the Russo Brothers and stars…well… here we go:  Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, and Daniel Bruhl.  *whew*

If you’ve spoken with me at any length about Marvel movies, you’ll know that Captain America isn’t very high on my list of favorite superheroes.  He’s the quintessential lawful good character, who never toes over the line, never lets loose a white lie, never turns down an opportunity to do good.  At the very beginning of the movie, Steve is forced to begin dealing with the aftermath of his decisions to always do the right thing when innocent people are killed while they’re on a mission.  This is the tipping point for the introduction of the Sokovia Accords – the creation of a special group of international leaders to oversee and control all of the Avengers’ missions.  Steve vehemently opposes this, seeing echoes of Nazi Germany, while his friend Tony Stark is the poster boy for it, having seen the destruction unchecked supers powers can bring.  The strain on their friendship is the focus of the film as Steve begins to shed his “America’s White Knight” armor – not only to control who makes decisions for him, but also to rescue his friend Bucky, who has been framed for the assassination of the King of Wakanda.  This movie calls itself a Captain America movie, but it really is the next ensemble film, complete with a fight between almost all the Marvel superheroes we’ve met so far (Hulk and Thor are conspicuously absent, somewhere in Asgaard after the second Avengers movie).

 

I like this movie because it took a character whose very existence is based on his unwavering service to his country and dedication to doing good and both substantially changed his character and reaffirmed it at the same time.  He becomes an enemy of the state, he refuses to be controlled and essentially takes half the Avengers team and forms a splinter group.  Unprecedented for the man who truly inspired the United States during WWII.  He falls from grace publicly while never falling personally – he still sticks to his ideals and beliefs while sacrificing everything that defined his Avengers character.  He’s no longer the icon for the US’s strength, unity, and purity, rejecting it to support those who are in need of help (Bucky), openly calls out his teammates who are making (what he sees as) bad choices, and leaves to maintain his independence from those who would seek to control him for their own ends.  He sheds his mantle as America’s hero to embrace the values that originally defined America  Timely, in our day and age.

While not explored as in depth as Tony and Steve’s relationship, the choices they make concerning the Sokovia Accords place stress on other relationships.  Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Steve as Wilson sees the enduring bond between Steve and Bucky and must find a place for it alongside he and Steve’s brother-bond.  The burgeoning romantic relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch as they find themselves on opposing sides – both newly added to the Avengers and processing not only their new roles, but how their powers work.  And the mysterious but incredibly strong friendship between Hawkeye and Black Widow – tested but still strong throughout the entire film – Hawkeye straight up saying he’s only on Steve’s side because Steve called before Tony did.

I think this film is interesting. It came out before our politics got really incredibly insane with an unqualified leader with murky loyalties and a desire to control everything.  It’s easy to say “Oh, Tony would be on this side and Steve this side” and leave it at that.  But beyond this, it’s more important to look at how each character had to examine their ideals and decide where they stood, especially as the fallout started hitting.  There wasn’t a clear right side and a wrong side in this battle, which I hope was the point of the film.  Nobody won.  Everyone was hurt.  And everyone was weaker because of where the film was ended.  I’m deeply interested in seeing what happens in the next Avengers movie, and have some pretty complex theories about it if you’d ever like to talk about them.  And just to be clear, I never really get this deep about films in real life…I mostly just enjoy a good superhero flick.  This definitely qualifies.

2016 Top Ten#7

#7 The BFG

#8 – Moana

#9 – Rogue One

#10 – My Big Fat Greek Wedding #2

 

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The BFG was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill.  It was adapted from the Roald Dahl book of the same title.  It centers around the relationship between an orphan named Sophie and a giant whom she calls the BFG – or Big Friendly Giant.  The BFG kidnaps Sophie after she sees him one night and takes her to giant country, where he shows her his hobby of capturing and mixing dreams and must protect her from his fellow giants who are much larger than he is and oh – also eat children.

This film is a bit of a sentimental choice for me.  The BFG was the first chapter book I read out loud to our daughter and is still one of her favorites.  She begged us to take her to see it in the theaters, but it came out while we were in the fray of moving across the state, so it never happened.  But one night while DH was away on business, she and I snuggled on the couch and watched it together, forever cementing it as one of my favorite films simply due to that memory.

I’ll put it right out there – if you’re a fan of the book, you will most likely be a fan of the film.  There are very little differences between the two, primarily the fate of the other giants (the film opts for a much more humane ending than the book, imho), the introduction of the story of a little boy who used to live with the BFG, and also a few of the scenes where Sophie is threatened by the other giants are a bit different.

The film does a lovely job of exploring the relationship between two individuals who feel abandoned and disliked – Sophie being an orphan who is especially bookish and not conventionally pretty, and the BFG being the smallest of the giants and also the only one unwilling to eat children.  The giant himself is endearing in that he desperately wants to be a hero and helpful, but stumbles around in trying to find his way.  Rylance does a brilliant job bringing his character to life and the CGI, while not perfect, does a good enough job to immerse you in the universe.  There are some spectacularly beautiful parts, especially around Dream Country and as the BFG travels to and from Giant Country.  And if your kids like fart humor, there are several laugh out loud parts that were delightfully entertaining to my flatulent enthusiast daughter.

Overall, I would say this is the best family film of 2016.  It would make a lovely family film night choice, just be aware there are some intense parts with the larger giants that could scare smaller children (everything turns out okay in the end).

2016- # 8

8.  Moana

9.  Rogue One

10.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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Moana was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker and is the 56th animated Disney film.  It featured songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina.  It also introduced Auli’i Cravalo (possibly the cutest Disney star ever), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, and Alan Tudyk (as a chicken).

Moana tells the story of a future Maori chief.  She has a special relationship with the ocean, they’re friends and although she cannot command it, it’ll help her by carrying her, bringing her fish, and helping her sail.  It also gifts her with the relic the Heart of Te fiti – the heart of the Polynesian Island goddess that was stolen by the demi-god Maui many years before.  Moana longs to cross the coral barrier that surrounds her island and see what’s out there.  But her father (the current chief) forbids it.  When a mysterious plague threatens her island, Moana recognizes both her responsibility as the chieftain’s daughter (she’s not a princess as she repeatedly emphasizes) to protect her island and the chance to fulfill her dream to sail.  She takes a boat and Te Fiti’s heart and goes in search of Maui to heal the islands.

If you go into this movie wanting another Disney princess flick, you’ll probably be disappointed.  There is no Prince Charming in this film and Moana outright rejects the role of princess.  Instead, going so far as to declare “I am Moana” – her birthright is the ocean and all the adventure and responsibility it entails.  She is capable within herself to save her people and is strong enough to inspire a demi-god and confront lava demon, Te Ka.  Moana is the fierce role model young girls in our day and age need just as Wonder Woman is the fierce role model we as women have been longing for.  Moana is both smart and brave, willing to confront both her weaknesses and her fears, and able to take ownership for her mistakes and responsibilities.

The other fantastic thing about this movie is the music.  It’s just as catchy as those Frozen songs you’ve had on repeat for years, but not nearly as annoying.  I have never been quiet about my lack of love for Hamilton, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song writing in this film is incredible.  He not only utilized his own creativity, but collaborated with artists from Maori  tribes to be sensitive to their particular culture.  I don’t think that Disney has ever been this culturally sensitive in making a movie, which some criticized but I found overwhelmingly refreshing.  This film isn’t just a girls’ Disney movie, I feel like any kid would love it, no matter their gender.  There are a few mildly scary parts with Te Ka, and a jewel obsessed coconut crab named Tamatoa.  If you think of a reason to not watch this film and have not seen it yet, I’d love to hear it (and will probably dispute it) in the comments.  This is not only one of my top ten films of 2016 but probably one of my favorite Disney films overall.

 

 

2016- #9

9. Rogue One

10.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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Rogue One was directed by Gareth Edwards and was the first standalone Star Wars film Disney has released since adding the Star Wars rights to their gluttonous pile of money making machines.  Going into the film, the general population knew that Disney could handle Star Wars, The Force Awakens was a triumphant return for many fans.  But it was our first time in the galaxy far far away without any beloved faces – no Han, no Leia, no constant whining Luke.  There were a few scenes with everyone’s favorite Darth, but for the most part, Disney had the challenging job of taking a precious framework with a rabid fanbase and construct an entirely new story to fit within that framework as well as produce characters who could stand on their own and win our hearts.

 

They were highly successful.

 

Jyn Erso is the daughter of a brilliant scientist.  He’s taken by the Empire (and also has his wife killed to fulfill that tired old trope) to make a super weapon (enter Death Star) and Jyn is placed into the somewhat dubious care of a Rebel extremist named Saw.  Years later, Jyn has forged her own rebellious identity and is a criminal who has been captured by the Empire.  Rescued by the dashing Rebel officer Cassian Andor, she somewhat begrudgingly joins their cause with the sub-mission of her own to find her father.  Along with Andor’s acerbic droid K2S0, and a few oddball crewmates they pick up along the way, Jyn and Andor are tasked with destroying the Death Star or gaining the plans which will reveal a way to destroy it.  (Remember the beginning of a New Hope?  Those plans Senator Organa put into that little droid?)

 

I had my suspicions on how this film would turn out as soon as I saw the premise – the lead into a New Hope.  And I’ll do my best to remain spoiler free here.  But Disney and Edwards did a fantastic job keeping the action running as well as bringing home just how desperate a situation this galaxy is in.  A corrupt and all-powerful empire who seems to stamp down its constituents, I mean people, at every turn and only cares for more power for themselves.  A band of women, deserters, and minorities who are fighting not only for their own freedom but for the freedom of their entire galaxy.  And the crushing cost at which it comes.  It changes the tone of the entire series, the entire Star Wars universe.  Maybe because of the political landscape in the US today, or maybe because I’m an adult watching these instead of a kid.  But either way, Rogue One earned its place in the pantheon of Star Wars films, cementing Jyn, Cassian, K2S0, Saw, Bodhi, Baze and Chirrut as heroes of the Rebellion just as much as Solo, Organa, and Skywalker.

 

#10 – My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Ok, I’ll admit, this isn’t that spectacular a film – BUT it did really hit the spot because the weekend before, I saw the worst movie of 2016, which I talk about here.

10.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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This movie was directed by Kirk Jones and starred Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lanie Kazan, and Elena Kampouris.  It takes place roughly two decades after the first film – Ian and Toula now have an 18 year old daughter, Paris.  The vague semblance of a plot is the dual crises of Paris graduating from high school and wanting to escape her Greek family by attending a college very far away AND Toula’s parents discover their marriage certificate isn’t valid so they are not actually married.  Greek chaos ensues as Toula’s mother refuses to marry her father legally because she feels taken for granted and Ian and Toula struggle with wanting to support their daughter in her desire to be independent but desperately wanting her to stay near to them.  Add in the fact that Paris is in her first romantic relationship and the passion is waning in Ian and Toula’s and you’ve got the basics of the film.

Yes, I know it’s not groundbreaking.  I know it wasn’t nominated for any awards and most people (including me) only saw it because they have some affection for the first movie (which is a classic).  But – this movie didn’t make any huge promises.  It promised to take a look back at the Portokalos family two decades since Ian and Toula were married.  And it did just that.  It simply shows a slice of familial life in a family that’s a little bit crazy and a lot Greek.  And after the incredibly skin crawling let down that was Batman V Superman, it was just what I needed.  Sometimes it’s nice to see a film in which a family who seems somehow more insane than mine can survive the little (and the large) stumbling blocks to happiness that crop up in life and that sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want but you still have your family.  Nothing explodes, no one dies violently, no big twists – just a little bit of family time with the Portokalos’s.