2016 summer movie recap

The summer movie season is over and you know what that means – it’s time to hand out pointless imaginary awards to the best, worst, and weirdest films of the past four months!

Welcome to the 2016 Summer Blockbuster Awards, which is like the Oscars if the Oscars only covered a specific release window, were decided by one person, and were also really dumb. Here’s how this works: I have created 24 categories, from “Best Performance” to “Movie Most in Need of a Hug” and have awarded one winner and one runner-up. At the name of these awards imply, the focus here is on wide releases that arrived between May and August of this year. So while you really should go out of your way to see indie gems like Swiss Army Man and Don’t Think Twice, they won’t be the focus here. Got it? Good. Let’s just dive right in.

Be warned there are spoilers ahead for some of this summer’s films.

2016 summer movie recap

Best Performance

Winner: Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys

There is a whole new Russell Crowe on display in The Nice Guys. He’s put on weight, but he wears it proudly. Any movie star vanity is shoved to the side in favor of darkly hilarious self-deprecation. Jackson Healy is the kind of beaten-up, spit-out, hard-knock bum anti-hero that the ’70s used to give us in spades but are so very rare today. This is the Russell Crowe I want to see in a movie every year. He’s given over to his inner character actor and the results are marvelous.

Runner-Up: Bryce Dallas Howard in Pete’s Dragon

Bryce Dallas Howard is often only as good as the material she’s given, but the material in Pete’s Dragon is so very good, allowing her to elevate a potential cliche (a nurturing surrogate mother-type) into someone warm and tender and recognizably human.

2016 summer movie recap

Best Child Performance

Winner: Oakes Fegley in Pete’s Dragon

Too many child actors feel overly rehearsed, feeling like they’ve been trained to hit their marks and smile for the commercial director. It’s a testament to Oakes Fegley (and his director, David Lowery) that Pete isn’t a smiling, singing Disney orphan – he’s a child dealing with trauma, whose life was torn asunder by tragedy and has never had to confront the impact of losing his family. His relationship with Elliot the dragon is tender and sweet when it could have easily been loud and obnoxious. The dynamic between him and the human family that grows around him is gentle when it could have been cloying. All of this rests on Fegley’s shoulders and he delivers a character who earns having his name in the title.

Runner-Up: Ruby Barnhill in The BFG

Steven Spielberg has always had a strong eye for young performers and he’s always brought out the best in them. In Ruby Barnhill, he has discovered an actress who radiates intelligence, a kid who can do the Spielbergian look of awe and wonder with the best of them. She matches wits with the great Mark Rylance, which is no easy feat.

2016 summer movie recap

Best Performance in a Bad Movie

Winner: Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad

Margot Robbie is a movie star. Period. End of story. She commands the screen like few other actresses, grabbing eyes first with her stunning beauty and then with her actual acting chops. Her Harley Quinn is delightfully deranged, a take that combines various elements of the character’s various incarnations into one bizarre and spirited package. She’s a hoot in a movie that doesn’t deserve her, a ray of sunshine in a movie that is otherwise unpleasant to look at. In a movie that is so scattershot, so uncommitted to what it wants to be, Robbie nails down a character who deserves so much more.

Runner-Up: Michael Fassbender in X-Men: Apocalypse

Michael Fassbender cannot give a bad performance if he tried, so it’s astonishing to watch him prop up so much of X-Men: Apocalypse on his shoulders. In a movie that feels like it was constructed out of plastic by people constantly distracted by their smartphones, Fassbender’s flawed, conflicted Magneto is a source of endless pathos.

2016 summer movie recap

Most Baffling Waste of a Good Actor

Winner: Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse

So you cast Oscar Isaac, one of the most exciting and talented young actors on the scene, as the villain in your superhero movie. That’s cool. That’s great. That’s taking advantage of his rising stardom and giving him a new platform. Then you coat him in thick, rubbery makeup until he is unrecognizable. That’s fine. A lot of actors, like the great Ron Perlman, work well under intense makeup. But then you run his voice through a filter, so he no longer sounds like himself. And then you don’t give him a single interesting line of dialogue or a single interesting action beat. You cast Oscar Isaac as a one-note cartoon villain, a guy who would inspire yawns in an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. What a crime.

Runner-Up: Jack Huston in Ben-Hur

If you’ve seen Jack Huston in HBO’s late, great Boardwalk Empire, you know this guy is a powerhouse just waiting for the right film to put him on everyone’s radar. Ben-Hur, one of the summer’s biggest bombs, was not that film. Ouch.

2016 summer movie recap

Best New Character

Winner: Jillian Holtzmann in Ghostbusters

Kate McKinnon has been an MVP on Saturday Night Live for years now, creating a slew of amazing characters and elevating even the direst sketches with sheer, brute comedic force. She is just an inherently funny person, someone who can appear onscreen and get you giggling within moments. And McKinnon is utilized brilliantly in the new Ghostbusters, where her sharp, sarcastic, sexually omnivorous Jillian Holtzmann steals just about every scene where the camera is allowed to linger on her for more than, oh, two seconds or so. It’s an inspired creation, a silly character who also radiates intelligence, a total goofball whose biggest laughs often emerge from her being so damn good at her work. Jillian Holtzmann makes science look like fun. She makes ghost-busting look real good.

Runner-Up: Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond

The rebooted Star Trek movie series (a.k.a. the Kelvin Timeline) has coasted on us being familiar with these characters. Of course we like Kirk and Spock! But it went too far with Star Trek Into Darkness, where it reintroduced Khan, stripped him of his interesting parts, and asked us to embrace him with the same fervor. No, thank you. Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah feels like a direct response to that criticism – she’s the first major character in the Kelvin Timeline movies with no connection to any past series or film and she kicks ass. If a fourth movie gets made (and Star Trek Beyond’s box office makes that a big question mark), she deserves to be on the bridge with everyone else.

2016 summer movie recap

Worst New Character

Winner: Rowan North in Ghostbusters

In a movie where the central four heroines are so funny and fresh and fun to watch, their chief antagonist gets the short end of the stick. Neil Casey does what he can with the loathsome sad sack Rowan North, but he feels half-baked at best. It’s likely that his most defining characteristics, the stuff that may have made him a compelling villain, was left on the cutting room floor. While it’s interesting to watch these proudly feminist Ghostbusters go up against a guy who looks and acts like he complains about “SJWs” on Reddit, the character is a total dud.

Runner-Up: Krall in Star Trek Beyond

Idris Elba is a strong enough screen presence to help distract from the fact that Krall is a great idea for a villain who never quite gels on screen and who never makes too much sense. Like with Rowan, there’s probably a version of Star Trek Beyond that fleshes him out and makes him as fascinating as he should be.

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