Saturday, December 31, 2016

Catholic Skywalker Awards 2016 - BEST IN MOVIES

With 2016 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place. 

Below are a list of movies that are NOT on this awards page because I had not gotten a chance to see them

Jason Bourne
X-Men: Apocalypse
The Legend of Tarzan
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Now You See Me 2
The Boss
Miracles from Heaven
Deepwater Horizon
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
The Shallows
Kubo and the Two Strings
How to Be Single
Office Christmas Party
Money Monster
Hell or High Water
Free State of Jones
Manchester by the Sea
God's Not Dead 2

So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)


Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

There is no doubt that I am in the clear minority in my love for this movie.  And I can't think of a single other person I've read who would put this as their number one film of the year.  But I stand by this decision with any critical integrity I can muster.

In a conversation I had with my friend Rick O., we agreed that unlike even the best Marvel movies, the films of the DCEU are ABOUT something.  Man of Steel dealt with large issues of identity, family, and clashes of cultures.  Batman v. Superman deals with fallen human nature, man's place in the universe, God and the problem of pain, civil liberties vs. justice, trust vs. suspicion, and what it means to be really human.  And it tackles all of these things in a way that does not feel out of reach for a film that is based on the premise of two superheroes punching each other a lot.

I have watched and re-watched this film several times and it gets better with each viewing.  Even my original dislike for Jessie Eisnberg's choices for Lex have grown on me.  I can see in it now the toxic false-masculinity that fills the character.  He feels powerless so he lashes out at his objects of hate: Superman because he sees him as stand-in for the God he hates and Batman because he is a reminder of everything Lex could be but is too weak to be.

And I stand by all of my original observations about how this movie has the best cinematic Batman, how the visual spectacle is amazing, how it creates an epic scale in plot and theme, that it raises religious issues in a respectful and entertaining way, that its emotional core is primal and solid, that the performances are top-notch, and that this movie is ultimately a strong story about raising us from darkness into the light.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not just a great super hero movie.

It is a great movie!

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Hacksaw Ridge
Captain America: Civil War
The Accountant

Zack Snyder*- Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

My respect of Zack Snyder as a director increased greatly with this film, and I already held his talent in high regard.  As I wrote in my review for the film: "Man of Steel was very much an atypical Snyder film, with its hard lighting and non-stationary camera work in physical locations rather than green screen.  In Batman v. Superman, the director melts the Man of Steel aesthetic with sometime closer to what we've seen of him in 300 and Watchmen.  Surprisingly both styles blend very well.  I love the fact that Snyder forces his actors to put on real muscle bulk.  Even in the midst of fighting CGI monsters you always have a concrete sense of the heroes' strength.  The action sequences were high-octane, visually rich moments."  

On how he uses the camera I wrote: "But what director Zach Snyder skillfully does is keep the camera at street level as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) races through the chaos to his friends at the Metropolis' branch of Wayne Financial.  This scene is tense and harrowing.  Even though I saw it in the previews, the shot of Bruce running straight into the dust clouds still give me that visceral flashback to all the footage from 9/11.  And by keeping the camera at street level, Snyder visually sets up the contrast of perspectives between our main heroes:  Superman (Henry Cavill) is isolated from humanity because he is so far above and Batman is filled with fear and rage by all the damage felt below."

And all the while, Snyder never forgets to tell you the emotional story at the heart of this movie.  He succeeds brilliantly in Batman v. Superman where Gareth Edwards failed miserably in Rogue One: he tells the story visually.  This can be seen best at the end of the battle between our main characters and Superman says that oh-so-important name.  In that moment, Snyder shows the desperation in Clark's face, the confusion and vulnerability in Bruce's and his visual call-backs in that moment to the murder of Bruce's parents immediately put you into Bruce's head and heart space.  In that moment, all his childlike pain and rage come to him and he can see it all reflected in Clark's eyes.  And all of this is captured by how Snyder uses the camera to tell his story.
(*Snyder won a Best Director Kal El in 2007 for 300)

Michael Bay - 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge
Joe and Anthony Russo - Captain America: Civil War
Damien Chazelle - La La Land

Ben Affleck - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

As I wrote in my review: " I know I may get some hate for this, but Ben Affleck's Batman is the best representation of the comic book Batman I have ever seen on the big screen.  This is not a knock against Michael Keaton or Christian Bale.  But Affleck's Batman is a grizzled, war-scared veteran of the war on crime; he is a hulking wall of muscle that seethes with righteous rage, and he projects a sharp intelligence."

Watching it again, I picked up on even more.  Bruce is always wearing a mask even with those closest too him.  That is why the performance is so key so that we can see all those layers.  And Affleck never loses his performance when he's wearing a literal mask.  The moment he first sees Superman face-to-face, we see the fear in Affleck's eyes.  And this helps us understand so completely Batman's reaction to Superman, because he makes Batman feels something he doesn't usually feel: fear.  And while it is almost unthinkable to imagine Christian Bale smiling while in the bat outfit, Affleck's Batman smiles the smile of superiority that only a master strategist like Batman could pull off.  While Affleck's performance is not the showiest, it is the strong human heart that holds this great movie together.

John Krasinski - 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Ryan Reynolds - Deadpool
Chris Pratt - Passengers
Taron Egerton - Eddie the Eagle

Emma Stone** - La La Land

La La Land is a movie with a serious flaw.  But Emma Stone is not one of them.  One of the best things she does in this movie is show you the difference between her as an actress and her as a real person.  Most actors accomplish this by overacting when playing the character and then being more precise when being the "real" person.  But Stone does not take the easy way out here.  When she goes into "performance" mode, she does it with all the intensity of a real performance.  But she still gives us shining glimpses behind the curtain to the "real" person underneath.  Not an easy task, but she pulls it off marvelously.  On top of that, she is flawless in her dancing skills and takes her character to dramatic emotional arcs.  And all the while she uses her natural charisma and humor to bring us on her heartbreaking journey.
(**Stone won a Best Supporting Actress Kal-El in 2015 for Aloha)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead - 10 Cloverfield Lane
Amy Adams - Arrival
Amy Adams - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Jennifer Lawrence - Passengers

Robert Downey Jr.*** - Captain America: Civil War

From my review of Captain America: Civil War"This is the best performance Downey Jr. has done as Tony Stark.  He has been funnier and more charming, but he has never been this intense.  You can feel his anxiety as he sees everything slowly slipping towards destruction and Downey Jr. makes you twist inside the way Tony does.  I really think he should (but won't) get an Oscar nomination for this."

Having re-watched this performance, I can see even more what Downey Jr. has done with the role.  He has taken the cumulative history of the character as he has been battered around in the last five movies and makes us feel those scars.  Tony has grown a conscience that is tearing him apart.  It is heartbreaking to watch his desperation as his shining dream of the Avengers begins to escape his grasp.  And when you can see how he hates himself for not being able to stop his attack on Captain America all the way to the end.
(*** Downey Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor Kal-El in 2008 for Tropic Thunder)

John Goodman - 10 Cloverfield Lane
Jon Berthnal - The Accountant
Dan Fogler - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Jai Courtney- Suicide Squad

Viola Davis**** - Suicide Squad

Davis won a Kal-El previously for her work in The Help.  In that movie, she made quiet virtue seem strong and appealing.  It is a testament to her range as an actress that she can play the cold-blooded Amanda Waller with that same believability.  You get the feeling that she could stare down Hannibal Lector until he blinked.  Calling her evil is too simple.  She is ruthless, but Davis fills her with an absolute sense of self-righteousness.  She knows that she does evil, but Davis shows us that she doesn't care because she thinks its for a good cause.  And when that tough exterior begins to crack, it serves to makes us feel the stakes she faces are insurmountable.  
(****Davis won a Best Actress Kal-El for 2011's The Help)

Haley Bennet- The Magnificent Seven
Alison Sudol - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Gaal Gadot- Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Keira Knightly - Collateral Beauty

Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer – Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I have already written extensively about all of the wonderful thematic elements written into the movie Batman v. Superman.  But the execution of that incorporation is truly remarkable.  The symmetrical nature of the plot (look at the first and last moments of the story), the balance of action and drama, and the depth of character are fantastic.  The fantastic use of subtext in the first meet between Clark and Bruce is delicious.  And the script plays with contradictions as if they are completely natural.  I love how Lois says, "I'm trying to say thank you, I'm trying to say there's a cost."  Her gratitude and her dread mixed completely.  

And the story works so well because it gives you an unsolvable problem that has to be fixed: make Batman and Superman mortal enemies and then allies in a believable way.  Bruce's speech is key here: "He has the power to destroy the entire human race and if there is even a one percent chance then we have to take it as an absolute certainty."  But there is nothing that Superman could ever say that would remove that one percent (certainly not the words he see said with his foot on his throat, though that helped).  Instead, Superman does the only thing that could possible remove all doubt as to his love for the world.  And it is so explicitly Christological that it actually gives a wonderful cinematic reference to explain the Gospel.

Eric Heisserer- Arrival
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick - Deadpool
Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle - 10 Cloverfield Lane
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely- Captain America: Civil War

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One is a wonderful technical achievement and no one does alien creatures like the Star Wars universe.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Captain America: Civil War


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Again, Rogue One used some fantastic special effects.  Though some complained about the use of CGI faces, I thought it was amazing.  And the space battles alone were worth the price of admission.

Doctor Strange
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Captain America: Civil War

Michael Giacchino***** – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Giacchino is, I think, one of the most gifted composers working today.  And if anyone is taking up the John Williams baton, I'm so glad its him.
(Giacchino won a 2009 Kal-El for Best Score for Up)

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
La La Land


"Audition" - La La Land

What makes this song work so well is that the melody pervades the entire film.  And it isn't until the final act that lyrics are given and they bring out so much of the film's emotional strength.


Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The costume design, particularly for Batman and Wonder Woman were amazing.  I especially love how Batman's costume is the closest thing we've seen to the traditional navy and gray in the comics.

Doctor Strange
Captain America: Civil War
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Below are the list of all the films of 2016 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

1 comment:

  1. Question: why are the 4/5 Hacksaw Ridge and 13 Hours ranked above the 4.5/5 Civil War? Or the 1.5/5 The Nice Guys ranked above the 3/5 ID4: Resurgence?