Every week, the CriticWire Survey asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What was the best film of summer 2016?
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Rolling Stone
Gosh, where to start! It’s been a banner summer if, like me, you enjoy submerging yourself in vast unending ocean of incomprehensible bullshit at the movies. There was “Suicide Squad,” which is to plot structure what the Elephant Man is to facial bone structure. Loved me some “X-Men: Apocalypse,” an epic battle between an uncomfortable-looking ensemble of interesting-to-talented actors and a script intent on turning them all into cardboard cutouts. “The Shallows” was fun in the way that completing the maze on the back of a cereal box is fun, which is to say, kind of and briefly. I am not entirely convinced that the “Jason Bourne” script was not the result of find-and-replacing the proper nouns from the Bourne Identity .doc file. Throw in a brand new, triply paranoid Dinesh D’Souza joint, and we’re looking at an all-time season.
But we’re to celebrate the good’ns, not kvetch about the, uh… bad’ns? It feels unfair to cite “The Lobster” or Zulawski’s “Cosmos,” two outstanding films that have been bouncing around festivals for more than a year, and whose foreign origins kinda preclude them from entering a conversation about the state of Hollywood’s summer. Kids had to deal with a heaping helping of spoiled produce over the past few months, but August served up just desserts with the earthy, touching “Pete’s Dragon” and the dazzlingly gorgeous “Kubo and the Two Strings.” I was a great fan of David Mackenzie’s socially-attuned neo-western “Hell or High Water” after catching it in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, but it is not the film that emerged unscathed from the twelve-car pileup that was studio filmmaking in 2016.
“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is nothing more than a bunch of really, really funny scenes in a row, and in my estimation, that’s a fine thing for a concept comedy to be. Andy Samberg’s meteoric rise and boozy fall as dunderheaded Justin Bieber avatar Conner4Real gives the film a spinal column, but the genius lies in the margins – stage mom Joan Cusack blowing lines, Seal getting murked by a wolf, Chris Redd’s inspiredly loony riff on Tyler the Creator. And dear lord, that deranged TMZ parody, which isn’t all that far off from reality. That’s the best joke of all, that real life these days is, like, two rewrites away from being an absurdist comedy.
Richard Brody (@TNYFronRow), The New Yorker
One! Meyer Liben wrote the great story about the pathos of limiting oneself to one of things, so let the Great Winnowing take place somewhere after the appearance of the Great Pumpkin. (If I’m right now, I may not be wrong then.) For now, there’s “Love & Friendship,” Whit Stillman’s ingenious Fordian vision of societal change through intimate audacity (it could as easily have been called “Freedom & Constraint”); there’s Todd Solondz’s scathingly derisive yet almost unbearably tender “Wiener-Dog,” a comedy of love, pain, death, and art; there’s Zachary Treitz’s granular, intimate, visionary Civil War Western, “Men Go to Battle” (with some of the best performances of the year, from David Maloney and Tim Morton); there’s “For the Plasma,” in which Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan scan friendship, memory, work, and the rugged Maine landscape with a puckish eye and a hard, practical metaphysical whimsy; and there are two documentaries that, with cinematic ingenuity, transform one’s ideas of history: Penny Lane’s “Nuts!” and James Solomon’s “The Witness.” Then, there’s Hong Sang-soo’s new film…
Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic) Nonfics/Film School Rejects
The best film of the summer is about to close out the season with a tragic bang: Robert Greene’s “Kate Plays Christine.” Whatever you want to classify it as, this take on the true story of on-air suicide Christine Chubbuck presents a complex and compelling investigation into a life as well as its portrayal. The best Hollywood movie, though, was “The Nice Guys,” which started off the season and offers a detective story of a different, funnier kind.
Erik Davis (@erikdavis), Fandango
I have to go with “Captain America: Civil War.” It was the best of the summer spectacle in that it delivered the big-budgeted special effects you expect from a summer blockbuster, but it also advanced the genre by delivering a dynamic we haven’t seen from a superhero movie yet. Do we root for Iron Man or Captain America? Two good guys on opposite sides. I love how it pitted hero against hero, and it was really the only sequel that truly dared to test the loyalty of its audience. It made you laugh, it made you cheer, and they even figured out a way to reintroduce Spider-Man back into the fold. It really achieved everything you want from a summer movie, and then some.
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
Kubo. And. The. Two. Strings.
(Enunciated so as best to shame the overwhelming percentage of moviegoers who didn’t go to see it last weekend).
Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire
Simple: “Pete’s Dragon.” While the summer has been mostly awful in terms of blockbuster movie-going — I look forward to never having to watch “Suicide Squad” ever again, and I write that as someone who just adores Margot Robbie — there have certainly been some wonderful surprises along the way. Indies like “Kate Plays Christine,” “The Lobster,” “Weiner,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “The Innocents” and “Little Men” will likely have spots on my end of the year best-of lists; discoveries like “The Fits” and box office bonanzas like “Captain America: Civil War” scratched different kinds of itches; and few things delighted my lizard brain quite like “Nerve,” but my heart belongs to David Lowery’s wondrous remake.
More than anything, “Pete’s Dragon” made me feel — like a lot! I sobbed my way through the film’s last act to the point that I was dizzy and dehydrated upon exiting the theater! — and that’s not so easy after four months of loud things go bomb. The film is also proof that remakes of beloved properties can still be done right, can still add something to the conversation, can still stand on their own. That’s a miracle no matter the season.
Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly), freelance
The best film I saw this summer? “A Bigger Splash,” directed by Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love”.) No contest. Loosely based on Jacques Deray’s “La Piscine,” Guadagnino’s Italy-set crime/drama is a lush, sensual feast, featuring a Ralph Fiennes dancing to “Emotional Rescue” and a voiceless Tilda Swinton in luxe, gorgeous Christian Dior ensembles, co-created by costumer designer Giulia Piersanti and the former Dior Creative Director Raf Simmons prior to his departure from The House of Dior. The cast includes Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts as part of the naughty quartet vacationing and misbehaving on the Mediterranean. As I often said this summer, I needed a cold shower after this hyper-seductive, twisty indulgence.
Keith Phipps (@kphipps3000), Uproxx
I’m ending this summer movie season with a skewed sense about its quality because it’s ended so well. After bottoming out with “Suicide Squad” it offered “Hell or High Water”, “Pete’s Dragon,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” all great. I’d put “Kubo” chief among them. It’s a film as visually stunning as it is moving and I had no idea where it was going once it began. And I kind of get misty just thinking about the title now that I know what it means. If I had to slog through the dreck to get to a movie that good, I don’t mind.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) Pajiba, Comic Book Resources
I kept waiting for that big summer movie that would really blow me away. And there were some that came close. “Captain America: Civil War” made me giddy with its heady action. “Kubo And the Two Strings” awed me with its gorgeous animation. But nothing hit me as powerfully as the farting corpse jetski movie “Swiss Army Man.” The buzz out of Sundance made it seem almost impossibly ridiculous, what with news of its bawdy body humor. The sharp marketing campaign from A24 made it seem defiantly weird, and knowingly playful. And yet for all the anticipation, I was still surprised by just how good this strange buddy comedy is.
With a hero who swedes a world with garbage, and his unlikely love interest, a corpse who’s learning to feel, the directing duo Daniels created something brilliant, bold and truly original. Which stood out all the more in a summer flooded with sequels, reboots, and brain-dead spectacle. “Swiss Army Man” was radiant with life, whimsy, and a willfully weird sense of wonder. It’s gross and glorious, relishing not only in warmth and wonkier forms of love, but also in the ugly truths of humanity, our flaws and our biological quirks. It went so much deeper than the fart jokes, but understood that the scandalous silliness of them was important too.
Christopher Rosen (@chrisjrosen), Entertainment Weekly
“Weiner” and “Don’t Think Twice” were the best movies of the summer, but those aren’t films anyone would consider “summer movies.” So: What was the best “traditional” summer movie? “The Shallows.” That shit ruled. Blake Lively lights a shark on fire, and a seagull gave the best performance of Vin Diesel’s career. It reminded me of stuff I would have loved in the summer of 1998. Give me a sequel next week.
Jen Yamato (@jenyamato), The Daily Beast
“Swiss Army Man.”
As poignant as it is fart-tastic, the most uncategorizable film of summer ’16 is also deceptively simple at its core. Nothing else this season has approached the sweet oddball sentimentalism of Paul Dano rediscovering hope and humanity while riding Harry Potter’s putrid, rotting corpse across a vast body of water. “Swiss Army Man” got a ridiculously harsh reception out of Sundance, but is a rewarding watch for anyone who opens their hearts and minds to really smell what directing duo the Daniels have dealt.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOVIE CURRENTLY PLAYING IN THEATERS?
Most Popular Answer: “Pete’s Dragon”