First of all, yes, I know: it’s almost the end of February 2017. We’re already two months into 2017, so it’s pretty damn late to do an “end-of-the-year wrap-up” list. And, to that, I say…you are completely right, reader. But look, I’ll be entirely honest: I don’t do these lists for you. I do them for myself, so that years from now, I have a “record” of sorts about what the year in pop culture really was. So yeah, maybe this isn’t exactly timely. But I feel obliged to do it anyway and, if you’re reading this, I hope you get some type of value out of this very untimely list. And, c’mon, cut me some slack here — I still beat the Oscars to the punch, so doesn’t that count for something?
And it wasn’t like I spent the last few months just twiddling my thumbs — the reason I didn’t write out my Top 10’s of the year sooner was because I had so much stuff I had to catch up on first. The way I do Top 10’s isn’t “the best things I saw in the last 365 days” — if it was, most of the best things in 2016 would make my 2017 list. Every year I spend my January going through the quality things I missed out on in the year, all in an effort to make as through a list as I can.
Which of course is still an impossibility: I’m sure I’ll end up seeing something months from now that I think was good enough to retroactively make my list. But hey, two months into the new year is already late enough: I couldn’t wait until June now, could I? In any case, here it finally is: my Top 10’s of 2016. Today I’ll be closing things out with my favorite movies of 2016. Kicking off the list at number 10 is…
10. Hardcore Henry
Yes sir, I am indeed starting this list out with class, aren’t I? But, look: as I said around the time the film was first released, you will know pretty much right off the bat if Hardcore Henry is the type of movie you will love. I certainly did, as the film’s unique action style and off-the-wall craziness is present within minutes of the film’s start. This is the kind of movie that has a telepathic Russian baddie for like no reason, and has an exciting action shootout in a seedy strip club for like no reason. But the reasons for why Hardcore Henry did pretty much everything it did was pretty simple in my mind: cause it’s REALLY freaking cool.
At the time of its release, Hardcore Henry was very much compared to a video game, and I do think the comparison is pretty apt. Like a video game, you kind of have to accept some puzzling plot progression, and a lot of things that don’t really add up. But once you do that in a video game, the sense of utter fun and joy that can be had with the thing knows no bounds.
Hardcore Henry operates much in the same way, with its crazy unique first person style creating some of the most striking, energetic action sequences released in years. And though the story might be silly, there are little strokes of cleverness to be had within the broad strokes. First and foremost is the character played by Sharlto Copley, who is not only the best use of the actor’s talents since District 9, but also an incredibly fun and rather interesting plot device. To say anything more is probably a spoiler, but just know this: as weird as it is to say on a list like this, I truly believe there’s a strong likelihood you will not love this movie. But you know what? I sure as hell did.
9. Hacksaw Ridge
Upon creating this list, I decided that I could only include one “Andrew Garfield suffers for his faith at the hands of the Japanese” movie, and boy was it a hard choice between Hacksaw Ridge and Silence. But at the end of the day, I have to give the edge to Hacksaw Ridge, for primarily one reason: I’m a war movie junkie, and I don’t think I’ve seen a war movie as brilliantly realized as this one since Saving Private Ryan. The latter film is one of my Top 10 movies of all time, so, you know…I was a prime audience for this one.
And though at lot has been said about its somewhat preachy opening act, I think it was necessary to spell out Desmond Doss’ beliefs, and just how much it has impacted his life and time in the army. I am personally always interested in well-told stories about belief, even as a pretty un-religious person. And once again, when the film gets to the nitty-gritty of the massacre that occurred on Hacksaw Ridge, having the first half to back it up really does make it land all the better.
And, honestly, I loved Hacksaw Ridge just because it was so god damn refreshing. Well much has been said about the innate brutality of the film, one thing that I feel hasn’t been mentioned enough about the movie is how it idolizes a legitimately good person, a hero with very little flaws to put aside. War movies are often about heroes to some extent, but never have I felt it so profoundly than with Hacksaw Ridge. Because this is a movie about the heroism that comes from saving others through healing, not through harm. And regardless of the politics of it all, I would argue we need more films like this right now.
8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Look, I already wrote about the joys of Popstar back in my “Best Movies of Summer 2016” list, so I’m just going to re-quote what I said about the film there right here, since it still all completely applies today.
Not a day went by this summer when my heart didn’t hurt just a little bit for how hard Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping bombed at the box office. I was lucky enough to see Popstar at an early screening a month or so before it came out, and fell in love with the comedy almost instantly. It has humor, it has heart, it has like a dozen catchy songs — what more could I possibly want from it?
The best thing I could say about Popstar is that it reminds me of the very best Will Ferrell comedies, from Anchorman to Step Brothers, and that Andy Samburg does an exquisite job of playing the Ferrell-esque fool at the center of the film. But when the film isn’t being outrageously funny, it also does a stellar job of telling its central story in a surprisingly sweet way. Popstar is the type of film that SHOULD have been an early summer break-out, and the fact it didn’t catch on has me supremely bummed. At the very least, I hope Popstar is set to become a buzzed about cult comedy classic like a decade down the line. Considering the quality of the final project, it at least deserves that much.
Popstar was the funniest comedy of 2016, without a doubt.
7. Kubo and the Two Strings
Oh hey, I also wrote about Kubo on that list too so, y’know, might as well re-quote it! Even in a competitive year for the form, Kubo is the best animated motion picture of 2016. I just wish it saw nearly as much success as all the others…
I have been a fan of Laika since the very beginning, and have championed the studio as doing things with animation that very few others (including Pixar!) would dare to do. Laika truly takes chances with their storytelling and animation, and is not afraid to delve into the uncomfortable, gross, spooky, or what have you. Those have been aspects of all three of their previous efforts (Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls) to various degrees, and they are quickly getting to the point as a studio that I completely believe whatever films they make will be worthy of my time. Not only did this summer’s Kubo and the Two Strings cement that trust, but it also raised my expectations for the company to even grander heights.
To say that Kubo and the Two Strings is Laika’s grandest accomplishment is no small thing: like I said, this is a studio that has up until this point ONLY made great movies. But Kubo somehow manages to top all of them, combining jaw dropping effects, a delightful sense of adventure, and a fascinating story into probably the best animated film of the year. Unfortunately this is another one that isn’t getting its proper due (even with Laika’s low standards, the film is a bit of a disappointment at the box office with a gross so far of just $40 million), but in time I desperately hope that a big fandom will surround Kubo — if any film from this summer deserves such a thing, it would be this one.
Ah, Moonlight. What more can be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said before? It truly is a gem of a movie, one that does an astounding job at making you empathize with its main character. It’s also excruciating beautiful, brilliantly acted by a lot of great talent, and put together with such fine procession by writer/director Barry Jenkins.
I really wish I had more to say about Moonlight, but really the lack of things I have to say about it speaks volumes on its own — the film is just undeniably great, with the type of craft that only the best films can speak to. I don’t know what the film’s Oscar chances are come Sunday night, but even with the competition that “ranks” better in my list, I couldn’t possibly begrudge any praise that this film gets. Because it more than earns it.
5. Manchester by the Sea
From one heart-breaking drama to another, I guess it’s time to talk about the most notoriously depressing film of 2016: Kennether Lonnergan’s Manchester by the Sea. At this point, it’s almost become a gag: the film is pure misery, and everyone who tries to describe it comes away echoing the same basic thought.
And look, I’m not going to argue that Manchester by the Sea isn’t emotionally draining: it definitely is, and at no point does the film seem intent on “apologizing” to the audience for making them feel the way they are. But that in and of itself is why I loved Manchester — it’s incredibly true to life, and almost procedural in its portrayal of depression and crippling grief. Despite Lonnergan’s background, there’s never a point in Manchester by the Sea that feels overly theatrical, or emotionally manipulating. It’s just so matter-of-fact, and Lonnergan is such a brilliant writer that he can still devastate the audience with such relative simplicity. Add in some astounding performances from everybody involved (Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams especially), and you have the recipe for perhaps the best pure drama film of the entire year.
4. Sing Street
And now for something completely different! While Manchester by the Sea might be the most depressing film of 2016, John Carney’s Sing Street might just be the happiest.
I’m not sure there was a single moment where I wasn’t beaming in this glorious little musical comedy, and it truly was a perfect antidote for a year that was, well, not very fun to behold. And Carney’s talent for music really shines through here, with a litany of 80’s-inspired songs that are still getting a lot of play on my Spotify playlist (try not to get “Riddle of the Model” stuck in your head. Come on, I dare you.)
But more than anything, Sing Street is a movie about the joy of creativity, and the wonder and fun that comes with creating something artistic. It’s upbeat and happy, and truly fits that whole cliche of “you’ll want to start dancing in the aisle with it!” Not literally of course (I was at home on my recliner, so there was no aisle to speak of anyways, but you get my point.) As I put on Twitter the night I saw it, Sing Street is just delightful, and no other film this year earns that adjective nearly as much.
Plus, it made Mr. Statutory Rape from Transformers: Age of Extinction one of the coolest and most likable screen presence’s of the entire year. That’s practically a miracle!
3. Captain America: Civil War
Though I technically also wrote about Captain America: Civil War in my Best of Summer 2015 list, I’ll go ahead and write something different here, since I just recently re-watched the movie, and all the great things I felt watching it the first time very much came back.
Captain America: Civil War is going down as my favorite movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in the Top 3 of my favorite superhero movies of all time. The fact I can still say that about the MCU a dozen films in speaks to how spectacularly Marvel is at what they do, and how their trust in strong filmmakers continues to benefit them. Civil War has all of the whizzbang action excellence that has made superhero films so fun in the past, but also doesn’t back away from exploring a more dramatic, thought provoking side of the universe. It’s huge in scale but deliciously intimate, to the point that you really do feel intense pain when you see the heroes of the brand go at it.
Civil War is the kind of film you can only get after 10 odd films of build-up, and is a fantastic culmination of what Marvel has been doing with their universe building so far. But even just in terms of big blockbuster entertainment, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun watching a film like this, with Civil War besting everything else in the past half decade at least. Civil War is indeed the new benchmark for how great comic book movies can be, and the fact that the same people behind it (and the also great Captain America: Winter Soldier) are currently in production on Avengers: Infinity War couldn’t have me happier. They pulled off one hell of a hat trick here, and I’m beyond curious to see if they can pull it off again.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Above I called Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping the funniest comedy of 2016, but you might notice that I didn’t call it the best. No, that honor confidently goes to Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the comedic gem that premiered at Sundance back in January 2016, and opened in limited release during the summer.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the most charming movies I’ve seen in years, enlivened by two great performances by its two main stars (breakout Julian Dennison and Alan Grant himself, Sam Neill) and one heck of a funny script. But what put Hunt for the Wilderpeople over the edge is truly its direction from Waititi, who helms the film with the kind of self-assuredness you would never expect from a man on his sophomore feature. The film is energetic and stylish, with a sort of Wes Anderson vibe that bounces well off of the beautiful New Zealand vistas.
Though a comedy first and foremost, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a really enjoyable adventure romp, with its fair share of exciting moments and small scale action scenes. It’s also incredibly sweet, with an ending that makes you feel the kind of euphoria that only a great film with wonderful characters can truly manage. Watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of the most delightful moments for me in 2016, and its one of the few films on this list I would recommend whole-heartedly to pretty much every person I know.
1. La La Land
Yes, yes, I know — you don’t “get” La Land Land. You don’t see why the film is getting all the acclaim it is getting, and you just see it as another “overrated” piece of Oscar bait. And as I’m going to elaborate on in a latter article, that’s totally okay. But here’s the thing: I loved La La Land. With every fiber of my being, I love this goddamn movie.
I listen to the soundtrack everyday, with it being the rare musical in which EVERY song is great. I loved the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and honestly could give two shits about whether the two can actually sing or dance or whatever. I loved Damien Chazelle’s direction, who after this and Whiplash, has proven himself to be perhaps the most talented young filmmaker in Hollywood. And I love the ending, which is a breathtaking experience to behold, and a fascinating place to end its characters on.
But, more than anything, I love what La La Land IS, by the pure nature of what it’s exploring. It’s a film about two artists growing off of each other, a subgenre that I am admittedly a sucker for. It’s a beautiful theme that I always love to see shown in art, even if it can get a little bit self-important sometimes. But once again, I don’t care — as a fellow dreamer, it’s uplifting and beautiful to see such a perfectly realized take on how two people can so profoundly impact each other. As an artist, as a romantic, and as just a lover of damn good cinema, I’m going to paraphrase the words of famed poet Sir Mix-A-Lot here when I say that I LOVED La La Land — and I cannot lie about that fact. So, umm, deal with it, I guess? Yeah, that sounds right.
And there you have it — my extremely late choices for the 10 Best Films of 2016. Check out my similar list of the best TV shows of 2016 below:
Also published on Medium.
Avengers: Infinity War Crushed My Dreams in the Dumbest Way, and I’m Okay with it
We might never see Secret Wars properly adapted to the big screen, and I am at peace with that now.
Spoilers ahead, so be forewarned. Although at this point it’s impossible for this article to spoil what could possibly be the biggest blockbuster of all time, on a website nobody reads, but consider yourself warned. And a loser, let’s be real here.
So first and foremost: I very much liked this movie, and so did most of you, from what the box office tells us. I very much look forward to seeing it again to crystallize my real thoughts on it, because time ends up being the best critic of them all. It’s too soon for the test of time to enlighten us on where this thing ranks amongst the pantheon, but most of what has been said and written about is true; it’s a landmark, a milestone, impressively crafted and a miracle to watch. The ending has emotional stakes (though not real ones), and it really leaves an imprint. And yet…
The link above is a terrific examination about what I’m talking about, but I’m only really here to somewhat facetiously let you into my head beat by beat as the characters we love turned to ash and floated away. Mouth agape, I thought “they can’t be seriously doing this”. And most of you did the exact same thing! But I was referring to something else entirely, and as the screen cut to black, and Thanos’ big dumb expression still lingering fresh in our minds, my fellow audience members and space travelers all collectively gasped. Everyone did it for reasons that seem normal, “oh no our favorite heroes are dead and we have to wait a whole year to find out what happens!”. Except me, because I have a one track mind and was somewhere else entirely (and I’m not going to get suckered into believing anything that happened in that film actually has any consequence whatsoever, in terms of plot or story or the ability for Disney to make money and sign actors to long-term contracts).
No, I gasped because I actually thought Kevin Feige had the balls to go where I didn’t think they would ever go, and I yelled out in the crowded theater, in the pitch black surrounded by strangers, at the screen with credits rolling slowly:
IF THIS END STINGER DOESN’T TEASE SECRET WARS THEN THERE IS NO POINT IN HAVING A SEQUEL, BECAUSE IT WILL RENDER OUR MOURNING OBSOLETE AND MEANINGLESS.
I didn’t actually yell that, I said it quietly to the brunette in the college sweater next to me who I was trying to hit on before the movie started. There was a seven foot tall teenager in a business suit sitting in front of me, blocking the lower left quarter of the screen, and he turned around at the same time as his mother, who loved him very much and was proud of her son in that suit I tell ya, and they asked “what is Secret Wars? Is that the title of the next Avengers movie after this?” And I replied:
IF THEY DON’T SHOW BATTLEWORLD AFTER THESE CREDITS THEN ALL OF THESE CHARACTERS DEATHS ARE FOR NOTHING BUT THE SHEER AND BLATANT ATTEMPT TO SEEM EDGY AND BOLD AND DARING, BUT IN REALITY WE WILL ALL GET OVER IT IN TWO WEEKS WHEN THEY ANNOUNCE THE NEXT SLATE OF FILMS IN PHASE FOUR.
I didn’t actually say that either, but in the final moments of Infinity War I kept expecting the disintegrating bodies to reveal the truth: they weren’t dead, just going somewhere else, potentially the mirror dimension, or another parallel universe, or a representation of hell inside the Soul Stone. And then I realized that the only other gigantic crossover storyline not used so far in these movies is Secret Wars, which would have been the most amazing and ideal way to segue into next year’s Avengers 4: Secret Wars. Imagine, the most famous comic book story for Marvel (also seen on the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon) redone on the big screen: the possibilities endless, the potential for blowing minds unfathomable for fans.
But alas, no, they did not go there, and instead left the cliffhanger to just sit with us. In the dark, no answers, like a gut punch from the screen to our seats. I’m not going to explain why Secret Wars is worth doing, or what it’s about — the cover below says everything you need to know, really. Just look it up online after this, or read the original run, or the newer ones. It’s unreal they didn’t go for this, they had the chance and they blew it!
I like the ending in a vacuum, on paper, but we don’t live in a vacuum anymore. We live on the internet, where every production has leaked set photos and breakdowns, every project in development has casting choices ruined and surprises sold off to the highest bidder. The next five years are set in stone, the signatures already in ink, and it only lasted five minutes before I realized the head fake ending would have been better off being done without the obvious sign that A) the original team of old heroes and actors who should have died and said they’re about done all lived B) all the new characters and actors that are the backbone of Marvel’s future all died C) they already shot the untitled sequel so it’s not like they did that whole movie / marketing without Spider-Man and Black Panther and D) I’m going to end this run-on sentence being mad they didn’t finish the FOX merger fast enough to do Secret Wars.
Secret Wars, the only way to naturally introduce a space alien getting stuck to Peter Parker’s suit so the symbiote travels back to earth to battle Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock. Secret Wars, the only way to seamlessly transition the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the MCU, by forcing them to battle on Battleworld for the enjoyment of the masses. But no, they didn’t show those characters on a new planet. They didn’t bring in Ant-Man and the Wasp and the original Wasp (Michelle Pheiffer) through the subatomic quantum realm. They didn’t hint at the Beyonder, or She-Hulk, or Spider-Woman, or Titania, or Absorbing Man, or Kang the Conqueror, or Molecule Man, or Silver Surfer, or Volcana, or the Wrecking Crew, or Galactus! They didn’t bring back older villains sans Red Skull (good job on that one, actually) to fight and die again against different heroes (how hard is it to just show Ultron fighting without him talking?).
Oh well. I’m not actually that upset, and the odds of that were low enough I’m not shocked. I just really thought they were going in that direction, and now they are not, and that makes me sad. A man can dream, though. Infinity War was pretty good all things considered, even if the stakes they focused on are really just not doable anymore, in this culture of capitalism and engineering fandom into capitalist milk udders. Just milking us nerds dry, with no regard for anything but the almighty dollar. What can you do about it, honestly? At least my favorite characters aren’t being handled by Warner Bros.
Tune in next time when I write an article about how Thanos was just stealing all of his ideas and motivations off of Bill Maher, thanks for reading true believers. Excelsior!
It Took The Entire Kitchen Sink, But Marvel Has Reclaimed The Highest Grossing Opening Weekend of All Time Record
The combined might of the Avengers, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy was the only thing that could take down a galaxy far, far away.
Going into Summer 2018, there was no question whatsoever whether or not Avengers: Infinity War would end up being a success. There’s a reason we all chose it as the de facto box office champ in our Summer Movie Wager, after all — there was no chance in hell this movie wasn’t going to make money. In fact, the only question we were all asking about Infinity War’s box office was just how well it would do — were we just talking pretty massive, or record-breaking massive? We’re only one weekend into the film’s release, but the answer has already presented itself as the latter, with the film already breaking one of the most important box office records out there: the highest grossing opening weekend of all time record.
Which, as you might recall, used to belong to Marvel not too long ago. The studio first earned the laudable accomplishment back when The Avengers came out in 2012, snagging an (at the time) insane opening weekend of $207 million. The team-up film was able to hold onto that record for years, with even its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, unable to topple the number. But in June of 2015, a challenger appeared from out of nowhere — long-in-development reboot/sequel, Jurassic World. Apparently, demand for dino action was at a high with audiences, as the film managed to barely take the record away from Avengers with an opening total of $208 million. Jurassic World wasn’t able to hold on to that record for long, though, as a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out mere six months later to take the crown — and by a huge margin too (over $39 million, in fact.) For a long time, it was unclear what if any big movie could ever top such an insane number.
But leave it to the crossover film to end all crossover films to do such a thing. Even with estimates putting it just slightly beneath The Force Awaken’s opening (between $225 to $245 million were the predicted numbers), the film managed to outpace its expectations by a significant degree. Taking in a total of $257 million in its first three days of release (well, four if you count Thursday previews as a separate day…which Hollywood for some reason doesn’t), Infinity War indeed has a gross to match its scale. And things look even better when you factor in its worldwide launch — at a total of $640 million, it easily became the highest grossing global opening of all-time, surpassing previous record holder Fate of the Furious (yes, really.) That’s even more impressive when you consider that the film didn’t have a China opening, as it won’t be bowing in the Middle Kingdom until May 11. Then again, China seems to be the only place that DIDN’T get the film this weekend, what with Disney’s decision a few months back to push the film up in many major markets.
Either way, Disney certainly won out no matter how you slice it. As I wrote about back at the beginning of the month: the Mouse House has been working overtime to sell Infinity War as the event film to end all event films. And the gigantic opening weekend take, both domestically and globally, certainly proves their work paid off.
The only question now, really, is whether or not the film will prove to have legs. On that, I’m rather torn. While there’s a part of me that believes the film isn’t as crowdpleasing as Avengers, Force Awakens, or even Jurassic World, I certainly know that my first instinct after seeing the film was the desire to see it again. Is that the case for many others? Time will tell, but if it wants to beat current MCU champ Black Panther, it will have to play the long haul, not just the opening sprint. Case in point: Black Panther is still in the Top 5 this weekend, even with Infinity War coming out. Either way, Disney is facing a competition amongst themselves, no matter how you slice it. I doubt they (or Marvel for that matter) have much to complain about no matter which film ends up on top.
Also published on Medium.
In Which I Rank All The Current MCU Movies, As Internet Law Demands All Movie Bloggers Must Do
Kevin Feige has marked me for list-making, and now the internet must feast on my hot takes and controversial rankings.
For the most part, blogging about movies is a ton of fun. Vomiting your opinion all over the internet is of course a millennials favorite pastime, and when I get to do it in honor of a medium I love as much as film, even more so. However, the gig does have its drawbacks — mainly in the form of a disheveled, hungry Kevin Feige coming to my home in the middle of the night and demanding a ritual sacrifice of Marvel movie rankings come next Avengers Eve.
Yes, I’ve heard rumblings for years that Kevin Feige installs a curse on all movie bloggers to write detailed, thousand words essays on the various films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, sure, I’ve heard rumblings of the cruel, perverse punishment that’s instilled upon those who don’t present their work to the internet in time to tie into the release of Avengers: Infinity War (a 24 hour, back-to-back marathon of Inhumans AND Iron Fist…in 4DX! *shiver*) And, to be fair, when I registered this domain, I read the terms and conditions, which specifically pointed out I was obligated to present my thoughts on how The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World compare to each other to, like, no one in particular at some point in the near future. I knew what I was getting myself into by creating this blog, but that still didn’t prepare me for the horrifying image of a withering Feige pressing his palm to my face, whispering “RANKER!,” and scurrying off into the night.
Regardless, the mark of the beast is now upon me, and it is my obligation to feed him in the only way I can — meaningless organization and endless bloviating. Those are my two true superpowers, and like a certain Marvel character said, with great power comes…well, he never said it in the MCU, so who the hell can remember anyways?
Without further ado, let’s get this show on the road. Here are all 18 current MCU movies, ranked.
18. The Incredible Hulk
Of all the MCU films so far, The Incredible Hulk is the only one I would say has aged poorly. At the time, I rather enjoyed the reboot (and felt it an improvement over Ang Lee’s disastrous Hulk), but upon re-watching it earlier this year…oh boy. Not only does it now feel out of place within the rest of the universe (Edward Norton as Bruce Banner makes the whole thing feel very much “out of canon,”), but it also feels stunningly old-fashioned. While conceptualizing the Hulk story as a Bourne-esque chase thriller was a novel concept in 2008…it’s mostly just dreadfully boring now. There’s some fun to be had in the smash em’ up action of the climactic scene, but even that feels rather retro in a cinematic world that includes The Battle of New York and Sokovia. There’s simply nothing fresh or, hell, even interesting about The Incredible Hulk, which has only become even more apparent in the decade since its release.
17. Iron Man 2
For years, I thought Iron Man 2 was the nadir of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in my MCU rewatch, I realize it was not…but only because The Incredible Hulk aged worse, not because Iron Man 2 aged better. No, Tony’s Starks second adventure is as messy and unfocused as I remember it being, a cacophony of chaos that, ultimately, leads to not much of anything. It routinely whiffs on every single plot development it comes across, and not even Robert Downey Jr.’s aggressive charm can make something like the mindless, ugly climax any more interesting. Years ago, I thought my lack of passion for Iron Man 2 was because it tried to squeeze in to much Avengers set-up (like the completely boring version of Black Widow that shows up for no goddamn reason.) But now that we’re 18 films into this series…nah. Even on its own merits, the film just isn’t very good.
Ant-Man is…fine. Paul Rudd gives it his all in the central role, and some of the shrinking mechanics leads to inspiring places. But the heist movie concept never really pans out conceptually, with the superhero movie failing to ever feel like anything else but, well, a superhero movie…and a rather bland one at that. And yes, I will never not be able to think about what Edgar Wright could have done with his version of the film every damn time I think about it. Unfair, maybe. But if the film itself was more interesting, I like to imagine it wouldn’t even be an issue to begin with.
Luis is cool, though.
15. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. But that is mostly due to the fact that everyone thinks its REALLY bad. In my mind though, the film is just pretty mediocre. I like how it expanded the scope of the Thor universe, and I think the ending action sequence is a lot of fun, but the worst villain in the MCU really kills the momentum of the film dead. That being said, there’s a lot of great Thor/Loki work here, and I do appreciate the film on that front. But after the release of last Thor movie, let’s just say this one suffers by comparison.
Yes, the first two Thor movies are really close in my mind, and I think the original is only a smidge better than The Dark World at the end of the day. While the sequel improved on the action and scope front, the original far better handles the dramatic moments, most likely due to director Kenneth Brannaugh’s experience behind the camera. While the Shakespearean tone ultimately proved to be too limiting for the character and his world in the long run, as a way of establishing his origin and setting up the tragedy of his and Loki’s relationship? It does the trick quite well. Too bad the superhero stuff surrounding it is rather weak. Even as a New Mexican who craves every ounce of acknowledgment possible, I can’t quite figure out where the decision to throw the Asgardian god of freaking thunder in Nowheresberg, New Mexico came from.
13. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange has some really neat visuals. And, as always, I applaud Marvel on its casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the central hero (they really know how to cast their iconic characters, don’t they?) But, man, as an origin story, this one might fall more flat than any of the other ones in the entirety of the MCU. Stephen Strange’s journey to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme is both unoriginal AND poorly defined, with a lack of real growth plaguing the character’s transformation at every turn. There’s a lot of cool abilities and skills that Doctor Strange has in his arsenal, and seeing him learn how to harness such abilities would be really fun…if the film gave a crap about that at all. Instead, Doctor Strange seems determined to plow through the character’s origins as quickly as possible, taking the titular character from asshole doctor to THE BEST SORCERER OF ALL TIME in the span of one shaving sequence (if any film is in need of a training montage, it’s this one.) On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense — all the best things in Doctor Strange (namely the inventive action sequences) come AFTER the characters training is concluded, and the movie begins in kind. But because the film failed to lay the foundation for the transformation in its first half, none of it feels as riveting as it should. The arc is simple here (too simple, if we’re being entirely honest): Strange is arrogant at the beginning, and through the course of the film, he becomes humble. Except the film fails to really show its work time and time again, primarily because it wants to squeeze in another cool action scene into the mix. But, man…are those action scenes really damn cool.
12. Iron Man
I like Iron Man! It’s really fun and, re-watching it now, you really do have to commend it on how well it sets up exactly what a Marvel movie is, and what can be done with the universe and its characters. But like all good starting points, it also allowed plenty of room for its follow-ups to grow and become even better. I don’t have any substantial problems with Iron Man, but it’s really a testament to Marvel Studios talent that this film is barely the tip of the iceberg for how great the franchise can be. But, boy, what a fun tip!
11. Iron Man 3
Now, Iron Man 3? Iron Man 3 is dope as hell, and I just want all of you naysayers out there to know how wrong you are, with your naysaying. Sure, the bad guy is a bit weak and some of the plot gets a bit muddy towards the end…but it’s Shane Black directing a Marvel movie. And that’s as positively delightful as I would expect it to be. It’s the best Iron Man movie, hands down.
Also, Trevor Slattery is a Top 5 MCU character. Nothing you can possibly say will convince me otherwise.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
I’ve written tons about how much I love Spider-Man as a character, but very little about what I thought about his latest movie outing. To simplify the shit out of it: I thought it was pretty great! Tom Holland is perfect, the film’s version of Peter Parker is perfect, and a lot of what it does with the concept of Spider-Man brings out everything I love about the character. It also features probably my favorite MCU villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture character — he’s just the right amount of sympathetic and relatable, while reliably nasty and menacing when he needs to be. And the second act twist involving his character is one of the best ones I’ve seen in a blockbuster film in a LONG time (that car scene, my god.)
Honestly, the film would be a lot further down the list if it wasn’t for one element: the action sequences, which were shockingly kind of lame and unexciting. The dynamism and energy of Spider-Man lends himself to amazing set pieces (the train one from Spider-Man 2 is still unmatched in superhero cinema in my eyes), but Spider-Man: Homecoming fails to utilize his skillset to any memorable degree. I mean, the film doesn’t even have any web swinging sequences! I get it was purposely trying to stay focused on the “friendly neighborhood” angle, but having a movie where Spider-Man doesn’t swing across skyscrapers is like having a Superman movie without flying, or a Batman movie without the Batmobile…it’s just unforgivable. I can only hope that the film’s forthcoming sequel will rectify the mistake. The humor and heart of the character is there in spades, though. Throw a little “wow” factor on top, and we can end up with the perfect Spider-Man movie. Next to Spider-Man 2, of course.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Look, I just wrote a fucking treatise on Spider-Man: Homecoming there, so I don’t want to spend a lot of time with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Just know I probably like it a lot more than you do, think the final action sequence is some of Marvel’s best material, and will really miss what Joss Whedon brought to this corner of the franchise. Also, Hawkeye is the MVP of the movie. Hell, the MVP of The Avengers overall, really. Don’t @ me.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
The Chris Pratt, talking raccoon, anthropomorphic tree movie is so damn good, you guys. And I love the MCU for letting me write that sentence. Much has been said about how miraculously good the Guardians franchise is considering just exactly what it is about, but that’s the charm of the whole thing, isn’t it? The fact James Gunn was able to take this and make it A) uproariously funny B) stylistically unique and C) surprisingly riveting is one of the 21st centuries best unexpected blockbuster stories. I think the first film suffers a bit by its origin nature (and its incredibly weak villain, which comes part and parcel with that element), but boy is Guardians of the Galaxy a hell of a lot of fun. And if that’s not a defining factor in what makes a strong Marvel movie, what the hell are we even doing here?
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
But — HOT TAKE — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is even better. Getting the origin stuff out of the way proved to be a massive boon to the series, as its main story and characters were able to fly far higher without all the set-up baggage. The jokes come faster, the action is bigger, and the emotions hit harder — WAY harder, in fact. There was always a sneaky heart at the center of the first Guardians, but this one’s extend run time and thematic focus allows that heart to come front and center. While the brunt of Guardians of the Galaxy was spent just seeing a bunch of wacky misfits learn to work together, Vol. 2 has something to say about family and relationships and the way in which we chose to focus on the people in our life. It does that through low-brow dick jokes and pop-rock action set pieces, but also through moments of spectacular gravitas and heart. Vol. 2 builds up on what made the first Guardians great, and for that it stands as the superior movie in my mind.
6. Thor: Ragnarok
But as much as I really like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the space adventure comedy that really captured my heart is, surprisingly, Thor: Ragnarok. It’s the funniest movie of the MCU, while also serving as its most creative and skillfully created. Taika Waititi is one hell of a director, and in Thor: Ragnarok he finally imbues this sub-section of the MCU with the style and tone it always deserved. It’s the rare third superhero movie that actually works, and works so well that it retroactively made the ones before it worse…and made me regret that this couldn’t have been the tone of the trilogy to begin with. Mostly, I’m sad we didn’t get three movies of Korg. Please, Marvel: give us more Korg. #KorgDiesAndWeRiot
5. Black Panther
What more can be said about Black Panther in 2018 that hasn’t already been said? Undenaibly the cultural event of the year (maybe even more so than Infinity War), the best thing about Black Panther is that its completely deserving of all the hype. Ryan Coogler delivered yet another knockout with this one, and single-handledly upped the dramatic game of the MCU by creating one heck of a dramatic narrative for King T’Challa’s first standalone outing. How it combines Game of Thrones style intrigue with thought-provoking social commentary is a marvel (it’s my first time using that word in this context for the ENTIRETY of the list — give me a break!), and the story that unfolds is completely unique and riveting for the superhero genre. It might lack the strong humor of the other Marvel movies, and doesn’t have the best action set pieces of the MCU…but Black Panther honestly doesn’t need those elements. The story is good enough on its own to still shine amongst its superhero brethren.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger
As you might have noticed, most of the Phase 1 movies are towards the bottom of my rankings, something I didn’t even realize until I kicked off my MCU rewatch in the past few months. It’s not to say those movies are bad (honestly, I don’t think any of the Marvel Studios movies have sunken quite that low yet), but I do think that the MCU has developed and changed mostly for the better since the days of Thor and Iron Man. All that being said? Captain America: The First Avenger still rocks. It’s earnest as all hell and, even at the time, felt rather old-fashioned in its design. But you know what? That just made me love it either more. As you’ll see in the remainder of this list, Captain America is probably my favorite MCU character, and he couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling start to his journey than this movie. It’s Marvel’s best origin story, and a movie that just fills me with such joy and optimism everytime I see it (even with the fantastically somber ending.) And at the end of the day, those feelings are what makes the entire concept of superheroes so great, aren’t they?
3. The Avengers
The Avengers is great, and everyone in the damn world knows it’s great. The film already has its place in the annals of modern film history, so I doubt anything I write here could do more to increase its status as a cultural milestone. Just know that the Battle of New York is purely perfect blockbuster filmmaking, and I could watch it on repeat forever. And, with luck, I can do just that come Avengers: Infinity War!
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I remember being filled with doubts about Captain America: The Winter Soldier when it was first announced. Despite my love of Captain America: The First Avenger, I was worried that a sequel to the film would could easily go the route of Iron Man 2. After all, without the setting and characters that made the first film such a winner, how could Winter Soldier succeed? Certainly not by having The Russo Brothers at the helm, two TV directors who seemed like the cheap, “work for hire” choices to bring the sequel to life. Obviously, Winter Soldier was doomed to be an inferior superhero sequel, right?
Nope — not even a little bit, in fact. Instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is kind of amazing, and The Russo Brothers turned out to be one hell of a movie directing pair. How The Winter Soldier takes the character of Cap and throws him into the modern age is inspired, and the whole Hydra storyline remains one of Marvel’s most captivating plot threads. The Winter Soldier makes for an absolutely spectacular little conspiracy spy thriller, and what it says about government surveillance and our inherent trust in institutions is relevant not just to the character of Captain America and what he represents, but our modern world in general. Throw on some of the best action sequences ever put to film (DAT ELEVATOR FIGHT), and you have the recipe for one of Marvel’s most ably crafted films. But not quite it’s best. As close as Winter Soldier gets to that status, it was bested by a hair just a few years later with…
1. Captain America: Civil War
If there’s any sort of running theme throughout the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s this — Marvel Studios is adept at taking things that absolutely should not work, and making them work in ways that you can’t possibly even imagine. Washed up movie star Robert Downey Jr. hunting down terrorists in a rocket suit (while making quips the entire time!) shouldn’t have worked. Throwing said character in a movie with four other huge characters (plus Black Widow and Hawkeye) and telling a strong story utilizing all of them shouldn’t have worked. The aforementioned Chris Pratt talking raccoon anthropomorphic tree movie (yes, I just wanted another excuse to type that phrase, humor me) shouldn’t have worked. The movie about the ant guy who hangs out with Michael Douglas shouldn’t have worked. And combining half a dozen main characters into the film of one main character, whilst making them fight, whilst also continuing the story of two other branches of a franchise DEFINITELY shouldn’t have worked.
But it did. And it did so spectacularly.
I’ve ranted and raved about Captain America: Civil War in the past two years of its release, and there was a small part of me that worried revisiting it now would curb my massive enthusiasm on the superhero epic. But…nope! I’m still as high as ever for this miracle of a movie. What the Russo Brothers created here is astounding: a superhero movie that not only serves as the perfect closing chapter of its main character’s trilogy, but also operates as the dramatic crescendo of the entire damn franchise. Civil War manages to pull on everything we know about the MCU and the characters who populate it, blowing it all up in exciting, often heartbreaking ways.
Much has been said about the grand airport battle at the center of Civil War, and of course I’m not going to disparage it much here (it truly is something to behold, even now.) But for me the real high of the film is its final action sequence, which pits Captain America, Winter Soldier, and Iron Man in a brutal, no holds barred three-way duel. It’s a hell of an action sequence, but also one that pulls on nearly a decades work of character building and relationship work. Marvel knows we love these characters, and seeing them come to blows over real, human conflict is just the kind of sting that only a dozen films worth of set-up and character development can really achieve. Thor: Ragnarok might be fun, The Winter Soldier might be expertly crafted, and Black Panther might have a strong thematic issue at its core. But when I think of just what the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be at its best, and the kind of expert films that only they could possibly craft, Captain America: Civil War absolutely takes the cake.
…But will The Russo Brothers once again be able to top themselves yet again with Avengers: Infinity War? We shall find out this weekend but, if this list is any indication, they have their work cut out for them. That’s just how consistently good the MCU movies are, at the end of the day — they truly make up a league of their own in the world of crowd-pleasing blockbusters. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Also published on Medium.
Movies6 months ago
My Problem With Star Wars: The Last Jedi Isn’t That It Changes Too Much—It’s That It Doesn’t Change Enough
TV3 weeks ago
They Didn’t Make A Huge Mistake: In Defense of Arrested Development Season 4
Movies4 months ago
Let’s Speculate Wildly: Is Marvel Laying The Groundwork For A Thor Crossover In Black Panther 2?
Games1 year ago
The Official Backyard Baseball Tier List
Movies5 months ago
Matt’s Top 10 Films of 2017
Movies6 months ago
The Force Frustrations: Working Through The Disappointments of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Movies4 months ago
The 15 Movies and TV Spots of Super Bowl 2018, Ranked
Movies4 months ago
The Game of Thrones Guys Are Writing Yet Another Set of New Star Wars Movies, Because EVERYONE GETS A STAR WAR!