Last year, I decided to not do a worst list and I feel similar now. What’s the use of telling you that your beloved Deadpool is for the kids that ate glue in Kindergarten or telling your about how this weird Christian movie you’ll never be able to get a hold of was horrid? Not this year, anyway. So I’ll instead take up your precious time with another list of the top 5 most surprising movies of the year. Not exactly guilty pleasures. Not exactly good or bad but were not something I expected to have a strong reaction to, and keeps the net I cast for movies wide so I don’t miss anything worth seeing.
5. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY/ NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING
Studio comedies are in a bit of a slump. The same five faces grace the posters these days and the kings and queens of 10 years ago are starting to get a little stale. In the case of NEIGHBORS 2, I quite enjoyed the original but saw little point to another one. This was more like a back door spin off that didn’t need any of the original characters, but felt compelled to include them anyway. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Twitter’s Shelby Ferro so blatantly, that her name is Shelby in the movie and we get a sequel not about quarrelling neighbors, but a college film about the ladies that want to have fun too without getting fucking raped. Very refreshing, very timely but most importantly, very funny. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is a newer premise that looked like it would fall into HANGOVER territory but actually being funny made up for its flaws. It’s kind of a shame how foreign it is to think that a comedy only really needs to be funny to succeed with an audience. It feels like a lot of comedies these days seem to put that effort in last. All it really needed to be was a giant cartoon and it had me pretty entertained.
4. ME BEFORE YOU
Not surprising in that something that looked like a Nicholas Sparks rip off would get me in the theater. I will always be there for those. Good or bad, it’s always fun. But what looked like boilerplate romance here became a more intimate portrait of character. Even though the standard quirky girl meets rich snooty snoot has been done, flipped, reversed and laid out in every way possible, like a nice Turkey dinner with all the trimmings, a simple dish done well is still delicious. There were things that I knew were gonna happen. From seeing them in the trailers, to them getting telegraphed in earlier scenes, to flat out expectation of cliché. And shockingly, when they came, I found myself welling up. Because the set up overwhelmed the feelings of familiarity. The leads were flat out great. Emilia Clarke shed her tough girl role she’s famous for, for a cute weirdo that she’s probably more like in real life. Sam Claflin earns the sympathy his cold and broken character gets from us, and not because of what is presented to us in the beginning, but by how he’s dealing with it. I also snuck in a really good burrito into the theater when I saw this and it was just a really great night that I look upon fondly.
Why did I walk into this remake of one of Disney’s most boring movies by one of the indie scene’s most boring directors? Because it was 90 minutes long, that’s why. Let that be a lesson to the studios. Let people get on with their lives. Looking at the runtime of a movie has become such a make or break thing with my decision to see a movie, even with things I’m actually looking forward to! I’ll pretty much give any movie a shot if it’s 90 minutes or shorter. This was a very sweet, very soothing, very successful exercise in tone. It felt like a bedtime story, and not in that condescending M. Night Shyamalan way, but still with a little Bryce Dallas. It deals with traumatic stuff but in a sleepy way that let’s fairy tales get away with baby eating and stuff. It never talks down to its audience and still remains interesting. There’s usually this us vs. them dynamic in fantasy movies that take place in a real world context, and that can get really boring, really quickly. This doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the unconvinced, and I was thankful for it. It was so unlike the Disney remakes that have come before, or like anything a big studio like Disney is putting effort into, that it must have slipped past them in their production of Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, remakes and their own original films. I guess they have room to experiment and it worked.
Believe any movie that has “bad” in the title the way these movies are doing it these days. The thing that interested me in seeing this was that it went into turn around after nearly becoming an Apatow/Leslie Mann vehicle and falling apart at the last minute. It went over to the Chinese money production company of STX-Huayi Brothers, which is trying to build content for itself as a new studio. I was curious to see if an American production for I’m assuming a more global appeal by Chinese money was any different than your average studio piece of garbage. Well, in the last year, STX-Huayi Brothers is actually just picking up the slack for the kind of mid-level movie that studios don’t want to risk making anymore, across the board in all of their films. This was led by Mila Kunis, who I keep forgetting is amazing. And it finally puts her front and center in a way she’s never been before. She’s really funny and charming. And Kristen Bell playing the exact same character as she did in THE BOSS (same wardrobe too, right?) is finally worth a god damn again! I guess she works best a broken woman stripped of all dignity. I guess marrying fucking Dax Shepard is good research for that kind of role. The Bad Moms don’t actually let their children drink the blue stuff under the sink or fuck their kid’s friends or anything that real bad moms do. They kind of just go the grocery store and don’t pay for the milk that they’re drinking right there in the aisle. Oh, and they drink a lot. Still, it was the rare comedy these days that actually had more laughs than groans and you just feel like watching Kunis all day long. Also I like grocery stores a lot, and they need to be depicted more in cinema.
We really can’t title movies anymore. We’ve become really bad at it. But NERVE is something you could really sink your teeth into. It fits on your ticket stub and everything. Reigning indie queen, Emma Roberts really gets to flourish in this techno thriller for millenials in which her character takes part in a dangerous online reality game controlled by users on an app. Kids be snap chattin’ and tweetin’ and it all adds to the fun but at a certain point the game gets a little too DANGEROUS. This was fun, exciting and courteous enough to provide some interesting twists and turns and has one of the more exciting sequences of the year that really fits in with the movie’s sensibilities. It may not stick the landing but it kept me talking about it for days afterward. It also introduced me to the wonder of Emily Meade, which I guess MONEY MONSTER did a few months before, but I didn’t even realize it was the same person playing both roles, so that’s how good she is. I may have snuck a burrito into this one too!
Coming later this week, my top 10 of the year!