Now we come to the best and the worst of what cinema had to offer this year...no no, we already did our top picks of 2016, I'm talking about the best and worst feelings you can have coming out of a movie theater. Honestly there's nothing better then going into a movie with little to no expectations and coming out blown away. Conversely we've all felt the despair of coming out of a movie that we've been told is the second coming with a feeling like we've been robbed. Well, here it is, the PDC picks the most underrated and most overrated films of 2016.
UNDERRATED: MR. RIGHT
If this Sam Rockwell/Anna Kendrick flick hit theaters it was quick and small, I didn't catch it until cable but hot DAMN was I pleasently surprised when I finally sat down with it. Full disclosure, I'm a Sam Rockwell superfan, the guy just knows how to get right to my funny bone and Anna Kendrick...c'mon! The story of a hit man who kills the people that hire him to kill other people (that's right) falling for a socially awkward 20-something is as ridiculous as it sounds, and as awesome as it could possible be. The two, Kendrick and Rockwell, have not just amazing chemistry but perfect comedic timing together, what results is one of the most satisfyingly entertaining films I've seen all year.
OVERRATED: THE WITCH
I was so damn excited earlier this year when I sat down to watch The Witch. I mean, I don't usually go for poster quotes but with things like "Scariest Movie of All Time" and "Terrifying" being lauded around by respected names in the horror community I was fairly certain I was in for a good time. I was not. What followed the opening credits was like the most messed up episode of Big Brother: Amish Country followed by a 10 second shot of an actual horror film. Watching this film felt like going to a modern art gallery...you walk up to the painting that is essentially just a straight line in black paint wondering what you're missing. I mean all of these people are saying it's genius and breathtaking...it must be me, right?
UNDERRATED: QUEEN OF KATWE
Disney had some massive successes this year -- Zootopia, Captain America: Civil War, Moana, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story -- and they dominated the box office with their animation and Marvel and Star Wars properties. But the movies that got lost in the mix, unfortunately, were the live-action remake of Pete's Dragon and the "based on a true story" Queen of Katwe. Either of those two movies could be my most underrated of the year, but I'll go with Queen of Katwe here, because at least I've been seeing commercials on VOD for Pete's Dragon, and it's time doesn't seem to be totally over yet. Queen of Katwe, however, has seemed to disappear completely -- no awards season recognition, no marketing campaign to discover the movie on home video or streaming. This was a movie that featured stellar performances from David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, and newcomer Madina Nalwanga; was beautifully shot by director Mira Nair and well-adapted by screenwriter William Wheeler; that featured a diverse cast and an uplifting story about a young Ugandan girl discovering her passion and talent for chess. What the hell happened? How did this movie -- that only cost $15 million to make -- not even make back its production budget? This reminds me of 2015's McFarland, USA, another small sports drama that focused on an unlikely set of athletes, but that movie was a solid success, making $45 million on a $17 million budget. Queen of Katwe couldn't get anything going, and it frustrates the hell out of me that a movie with an A+ CinemaScore and a strong RottenTomatoes rating was so overlooked. Simply put, it just sucks.
OVERRATED: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Stylistically, I get why people were into Nocturnal Animals. It makes sense that fashion mogul Tom Ford would have an eye for production design, and he puts together a lot of gorgeous, gross images in his second feature film. The grungy Aaron Taylor-Johnson, tapping his overgrown fingernails on the top of a car, with what is clearly a stolen woman's ruby ring on his finger. How Amy Adams's face transforms when, during a conversation with her traveling husband, she realizes he's cheating on her. Michael Shannon's straightforward appeal to Jake Gyllenhaal to help him kill the men who ruined Jakey G's life. As a series of moments, Nocturnal Animals works, but as a narrative, this whole thing is a cynical, sour mess. Every character is an asshole. The beautiful imagery can't cover up the moral decay at the heart of everyone. And maybe that's the point, I guess? But it's not something I particularly enjoy, and it doesn't make me respect Nocturnal Animals -- or ever want to see it again.
UNDERRATED: RULES DON'T APPLY
Almost every critic has slammed this one for its brick-in-the-dryer editing. “Sloppy,” they say, never asking if Beatty might have had a point, like getting the audience to feel what it’s like to work for an erratic boss like Howard Hughes. And it’s a shame, because there’s a very real and necessary point to be made about the dangers of aligning too closely with anyone whose glamor and wealth blind them from any real self-examination.
You can easily get too comfortable, and believe that you are somehow not subject to the same forces that shape the fates of everyone else in the world, not realizing that you’ve just bought them off for a while, but they’ll be back all the stronger. It’s true whether you’re working for Howard Hughes, or Donald Trump, or even for the “exceptional” United States of America. Any time you think the rules don’t apply, you’re already in trouble.
OVERRATED: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Oh boy, another sob story about the hard life of a working-class white guy who can’t grieve appropriately. We haven’t seen that one over and over and over again.
Yes, it’s good — not Lonergan’s best, mind you — but it’s hardly the greatest-thing-ever-in-cinema that it’s being made out as. Affleck is solid, but it’s the same solid character he’s been working since Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Williams is somehow getting high praise and Oscar buzz for a handful of scenes she cedes to Affleck. And the backstory is nakedly, inartfully, Lifetime-level manipulative.
Whatever it has to say about the permanence of sufficiently traumatic events, it does by lionizing a drunken, violent lout who even before his tragedy gave off a real self-centered, short-tempered, domestic-abuser vibe. Passengers was pilloried for less. And to think we’re being told we need to spend even more time understanding this guy and indulging his mood swings in order to move the country forward.
UNDERRATED: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE & SUICIDE SQUAD
Yeah, I'm bringing both DCU movies onto the pedestal with me, because both got railroaded faster than a speeding bullet. I'm not going to say both movies are without flaws, because obviously they have a ton of problems. But I do think they were hurt by a concerted effort to diminish anything that isn't Marvel. Both movie kicked Doctor Strange's ass at the box office, but I don't hear anything about Marvel dropping the ball.
In the case of Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder's typical issues (repetitive choreography, sloppy storytelling, bleak tone) are still there, but let's not ignore everything that was done right. He had the nuts to present a bold, fully-realized take on DC's top heroes, one that veers away from everything we've seen a million times before. Ben Affleck's grim, haunted Bruce Wayne was his most effective turn of the year (Nothing against The Accountant or Live by Night), and Gal Gadot's rousing debut as Wonder Woman has us all excited for her solo film. Nobody is going to argue that Suicide Squad makes a lick of sense, odd for such a linear narrative, but we can't ignore that its strength was always going to be the team of antiheroes. In that regard you'll find no duo more fun to hang around than Will Smith's Deadshot, and Margot Robbie unhinged Harley Quinn. I even think we should leave some props for Jared Leto's Joker, which everyone kept comparing to Heath Ledger. Come on, people! It still managed to inject quite a bit of humor into the morose DCU and set the stage for a lighter tone moving forward. Let's wait and see how people complain about that next.
OVERRATED: HIDDEN FIGURES
I was SO gonna go with Nocturnal Animals but I don't want this to turn into a Tom Ford punching bag. And besides, I can't add anything that Roxana didn't already. So I'm going with Hidden Figures, a movie I actually like but feel has been given undo praise as a potential Best Picture contender. There's no doubt the story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn is incredible. Few of us had ever heard the story of these three remarkable black women who were so integral to NASA during the Space Race. But that's pretty much all that drives the film, which handles every single complicated issue with kid gloves. The racism these women faced is reduced to Taraji P. Henson's character having to run to the far-away bathroom. I'm pretty sure it was a lot worse than that, right? It works as a crowd-pleasing effort and will make for an enjoyable time at the movies, but part of me couldn't escape the feeling a more thorough movie is out there to be made.
UNDERRATED: DON’T THINK TWICE
Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice, about a group of improv comedian friends who are trying to make it big in NYC, but realize belatedly that not everyone is going to be successful, is really, really neglected. It was generally well-received by critics and has a high with a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 74% audience score. So I just don’t understand how this film didn’t get more love or coverage. It has strong performances, deals with the realities of trying to make even so much as a dent in the comedy world, and shows us how the artists really live before they get to a place where they can start making a substantial amount of money. But that’s a big if. Don’t Think Twice will make you laugh and cry and has an amazing cast that includes Keegan-Michael Key. It very thoroughly examines trying to follow your dreams in a harshly realistic way and deals with the fallout of friendships in the wake of success. Frankly, it should be given more attention.
OVERRATED: THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
UNDERRATED: HARDCORE HENRY
Thanks to duds like Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, we still haven’t made a good video game movie. It seems like that genre will never break its curse. However, it’s arguable that Hardcore Henry was the first awesome video game movie. Although it is not based on any video game property, the film very much is a video game movie, right down to the first person viewing and having “boss-level” fights as the movie progressed.
Although the plot isn’t exceptional, the film is a technical brilliance. Continuing the visual style from the excellent music video “Bad Motherf*cker” by Russian rock band Biting Elbows, singer, and director Ilya Naishuller directed the first ever full length, first-person sci-fi action movie. The film’s technical skill and style haven't been duplicated since, and probably won’t for quite some time. Some excellent fight choreography, and balls-to-the-wall action and gore made fans cheer watching the film. Like I said, not a film that would win any dramatic awards, but you will most certainly have a great time watching it!
OVERRATED: SUICIDE SQUAD
For the life of me, I cannot understand how this movie became one of the highest box office films this year!
Guaranteed, there was a lot of hype for this film as it was the DC Extended Universe’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy and the film did have a “fun” vibe based on some brilliant marketing for the film. However, the final product did not live up to the hypes and for some reason, audiences went to see it again and again. The plot was nonsensical: basically, by unleashing suicide squad member Enchantress, Amanda Waller needed the suicide squad to come in and stop her. Don’t get me started on Enchantress either. She was terribly miscast for the role. The film was not all bad, Will Smith and Margot Robbie (when she stuck to her accent) did a fine job as Deadshot and Harley Quinn (it’s no surprise they will be getting their own spin-off films), and Jared Leto gave an “interesting” take on The Joker.
Many fans are split on if this is a great film or not, but audience goers went, again and again, to make this movie a bona fide blockbuster, guaranteeing a sequel. Hopefully, the sequel won’t be edited by a trailer company and instead by an actual director so we can have a better end result.
UNDERRATED: HAIL, CAESAR!
I fully recognize and understand that this is a bit of a polarizing film. While many critics absolutely loved it, most audiences really didn’t dig the two hour in-joke that is the Cohen Brothers latest film. And I totally get it. The movie is an intricate satire of Old Hollywood movies, 1950’s American culture, and the Red Scare – none of which are especially big in current pop culture. The Cohens hold nothing back, and just expect you to understand their references to this time period or accept that you’ve missed the joke. Movies that involve this kind of homework are also not especially appreciated by mass audiences. Add to that the mismarketing that suggested that the A-list celebrity cast were featured in more of the film than they are and you end up with an understandably unhappy public. But again, critics and nerds (like myself) love this kind of stuff, and totally ate up Hail, Caesar! when it came out back in February. So seeing as award shows and Best of the Year lists are created by these very same critics and nerds, I have to wonder what happened.
Seriously, why are we not talking about this movie anymore? It’s great! There’s so much to love! Every single actor knocks it out of the park. The dialogue is endlessly quotable (“Would that it were so simple”) and perfectly satirizes the tropes of the time period. With all respect to Moana and La La Land, Channing Tatum’s gay sailor tap number “We Ain’t Gonna See No Dames” is my favorite song of the year. Not to mention the brilliant twist ending that I swear I’m still laughing at. It’s just a really solid movie, and I’m sad to see it so forgotten. If you never got around to seeing it, I definitely suggest you check out Hail, Caesar! (and seem to be one of the only people left doing that.)
OVERRATED: THE JUNGLE BOOK
I really didn’t get why everyone loved this. The animation was beautiful, that’s for sure. But past that, it was just kind of okay. Why is this such a huge thing? What did I miss?
It was certainly a better adaptation of the source material than the 1967 Disney cartoon and held together a more solid storyline, but that’s actually a pretty low bar to hit when you think about it. The original Jungle Book is kind of a mixed bag. People really only remember the two songs, and it’s miserably unfaithful to the series of stories it’s based on. In some ways the 2016 version fixed these problems, in that it made a lot of cuts and changes to the plot to make it flow smoother. But then in other scenes they stayed weirdly true to the original film and it felt kind of tone deaf and out of left field. Again, the animation is startlingly lifelike, but the kid actor in the lead role doesn’t connect to any of it. His stilted kid acting kept taking me out of the beautiful world Director Jon Favreau had crafted, and constantly reminded the audience that what they’re watching is actually all CGI magic. It was a frustrating movie to watch in a theater, and rather easy to forget after I left.
Was it truly just the visual effects that people freaked out over? I just don’t get the hype.