The best and worst movies of 2016 so far. Plus, where do those ratings numbers come from? (Part 1)

Nearing the end of August in 2016, it can officially be said that summer blockbuster movie season is over for this year.  Kids are returning to school, and the cineplex is returning to smaller budget, but also less stereotypical, fare.  So, now seems like a good time to talk about what’s been particularly great and particularly not so great over the course of the year, so far, and also use that as an excuse to finally explain to my readers the incredibly scientific formula I use to determine the out of 10 ratings I give at the end of every review.

Rather than go in order from best to worst, or vice versa, I’m going to go in order of release date and leave the actual ordered list for the end of the year wrap up when the time comes.  So, without further ado, let’s start with the second review I’ve ever officially done for this blog – Deadpool.

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Deadpool  – Directed by Tim Miller and starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and T.J. Miller

Deadpool is a film that took everyone by surprise despite the fact that everyone apparently really wanted to go see it.  It became the highest grossing February release for Thursday opening, Friday opening in February, opening weekend overall in February, the highest grossing opening weekend for an R-Rated film overall, superhero or otherwise and February or otherwise, the highest grossing X-Men franchise film, and the largest opening ever for 20th Century Fox as a studio.  That’s a lot of records for what’s essentially a superhero gross out comedy.  But, it absolutely deserves all the money, and by using a breakdown of categories which show how I get my ratings numbers, here’s why.

Acting:  7 out of 10.  Not all the acting is fantastic in Deadpool.  T.J. Miller is incredibly one note, though his character doesn’t really need to be more, and Ed Skrein as the villain Ajax shows that his superpower is the ability to bore you to death, but our two leads, Reynolds and Baccarin, do phenomenal work.  Baccarin takes the combination of empathy and sexuality she exhibited on Firefly and cranks it up to an even higher level giving us a character we nearly instantly fall in love with making it easy to see why Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool falls for her so completely, and Reynolds shows us the perfect match of actor to character as his manic sarcastic comedic energy perfectly embodies the superhero who knows he’s just a character in a comic book (movie in this case) and uses a constant barrage of self aware humor to cope with his quite tragic circumstances.

Writing:  9 out of 10.  The story to Deadpool is about as simple as it gets.  It takes place in four acts, and each act is a single scene and situation, for the most part.  This is all the movie needs.  Sometimes the secret to great writing is to not complicate things when it isn’t needed.  The dialogue, while probably mostly improvised where Reynolds is concerned, is sharp, quick witted, fun, and exactly what a high paced superhero film needs, but is also able to convey deep emotion when it needs to.  The romance between Wilson and Vanessa is anything but typical, but there are few people who wouldn’t say that finding a love like theirs is something they’ve always wanted.

Directing:  7 out of 10.  Much like the writing, the directing in Deadpool is kept simple, and that’s exactly the treatment it needed.  The film’s focus is on the humor, the action, and the love story, and on each of these exactly when and to the right amount they need to be.  There are some issues with the direction, the location of the final battle, while funny, could have been more interesting and dynamic, and a few of the actors, including bit parts and extras, could have used more instruction on what they were meant to be doing, but overall, the pacing, editing, and tone of Deadpool were right on the money.

Visuals:  7 out of 10.  The cinematography was quite competent, if never exciting, and the art direction was actually mediocre to occasionally downright bad, but the costumes, particularly Deadpool’s super suit, were wonderful, and the special effects were better than a relatively low budget (by superhero movie standards) movie had any right to have.  In short, it was seamless, with occasional bits of hilarious wows, particularly in the bits between Deadpool and Colossus.

Purpose:  10 out of 10  Deadpool did not want to educate us or make us think, it intended only to make us laugh primarily and become engrossed in Wade Wilson’s story as he goes from mercenary to lover to superhero, and it does all of this as well as any movie about Deadpool possibly could.  It uses crass, self aware, self referential humor as well as any story ever has, and it uses it well combination with action, romance, tension, or whatever other emotional focus any given scene needs.  Deadpool makes us cheer, smile, root for our hero, feel sorry for him, understand him, but most of all, it makes us laugh, and these emotional responses are exactly what Deadpool is trying to bring out in us.

Average these 5 categories out and we get an overall score of 8 out of 10 (.2 lower than my initial rating, meaning that this is a film that has fallen slightly in my estimation since my initial viewing, but only very slightly).

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Zootopia – Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, and Idris Elba

Acting:  7 out of 10  Voice acting is a different art form than more traditional acting, that is true, but while it may not be as physically demanding, that just means that the actor has even more of a responsibility to convey what they need to through voice alone (that and have faith in the animators unless they are also doing motion capture work, in which case we’re back to the physically demanding).  Every single character in Zootopia had to both embody and break a stereotype in nearly equal measure, giving the voice actors a duty to express both character and theme using only their voice while also making for an entertaining performance, and with few exceptions none of which are major characters they not only accomplish this but go above and beyond what could be expected.

Writing: 10 out of 10  Zootopia is an absolute triumph where the art of screenwriting is concerned.  It manages to be a film both for kids and adults at the same time, but not on different levels as many animated features are, both groups can enjoy it on the same level, even if they won’t necessarily experience it in exactly the same way.  It has a plot complicated enough for adults to have to think through, and be practically Chinatown or The Usual Suspects for the younger crowd, but the most important element of the script is in the way it uses the animal characters and society as a metaphor for modern race relations in a far more nuanced and insightful way than most adult films which focus on racial themes manage.  The writing isn’t 100% perfect, I do feel there is one scene which undermines the themes of the rest of the film, but it’s about as close as can realistically be expected.

Directing: 7 out of 10  At least one scene, and perhaps a handful of beats within scenes, probably should have been edited out of the movie, but overall Zootopia does a fantastic job of balancing plot with theme and keeping the pace brisk, the world fascinating and consistent, and build up and release of tension wonderfully timed.  I do however have to question the decision of including Shakira in the movie.  It’s obvious they are trying to make her song the next Let It Go even though Zootopia is not a musical (and, in fact, has a great gag at Frozen’s expense) but it just did not work.

Visuals: 9 out of 10  The only reason the visuals in Zootopia get knocked down a point at all is due to the fact that the character design does not have a great deal of creativity, all character models are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from anthropomorphic animals (though keeping their real life size differences was a stroke of genius).  Aside from that, though, the animation in Zootopia is absolutely fantastic.  The animals themselves are detailed down to every single piece of fur, and city design and look is wondrous to behold with every part of Zootopia being its own entity with a practical  function in both the story and in the fictional goings on of the city but not one you would necessarily think of as obvious.

Purpose:  10 out of 10  Zootopia succeeds on every level for every audience.  Humorous, gripping, and though provoking, not to mention emotional and all this for both children and adults in equal measure.  It may not propose any solutions to what to do about racism, but it has an awful lot to say about how to recognize it in ourselves and others and where it comes from.  Zootopia hits the sweet spot in everything it attempts to do, and ended up being the biggest surprise of 2016 to date for me because of this.

Average these scores out and you get 8.6 out of 10 (or slightly better than my initial reaction, and films that grow in estimation upon rewatches and reflection tend to be the ones that become classics)

(This was originally intended to be one article covering the whole year so far, but only two movies in, and only to the beginning of March, and this is already running long and the time is running late in my locale, so it looks like this is going to become a continuing series.  The next installment will be up sometime in the next couple of days.)

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