I’m going to be honest here: 2016 has been a notably poor year for major American studios. It’s not all their fault, of course: The Nice Guys, one of the most remarkably entertaining action-comedies to be released this decade, got no love at the box office despite an energetic and engaging marketing campaign. Captain America: Civil War was fun and did very well, but even if it wasn’t very good, it was going to make money. Need proof? A similarly buzzed-about title, Batman v Superman, will remain in the top ten best opening weekends of all time for at least a year, and probably much longer based off of little more than its name and a battalion of devoted fans who tend to curse, brood, cite, and threaten rather than actually explain what there is to like about the film.
But hey, I’m not here to just jump up and down on Zack Snyder’s head; it’s already been done in far more eloquent ways than I can muster. Even outside of the tentpole pictures, things have been grim: Keanu was a tremendous disappointment from two very funny men, while The Jungle Book proved to be both very pretty and incredibly thoughtless. Deadpool, Civil War, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, up until it’s final 10 minutes or so, all offered minor pleasures that at least made the case for efficient, creative blockbusters at the multiplex, but for each one of them, there was a cloying, misguided mess like 13 Hours, London Has Fallen, and Allegiant.
None of this is particularly new, however. This has been the state of being for quite some time, and if 2016’s top offenders felt all the more noticeable, it’s only because their failures have also been more public. Word of mouth actually slowed Snyder’s roll, and there’s been a similarly clear backlash to the grand, empty spectacle of Warcraft, a film that should have been far more sweeping and magical than what felt like three hours of my cousin playing a really weird video game. It’s not surprising then that most of the best films have remained just a little below the radar, whether it be the assured moodiness and feminist allegories of The Witch or the wondrous, existential voyage that is Knight of Cups or Richard Linklater’s irrepressible ode to good times, Everybody Wants Some!!
One has to give credit to something like Civil War for having such a tight grasp on what makes a busy, entertaining movie, but the very best of 2016 thus far has, as always, come from films with distinct personalities and perspectives behind them, packed with ideas that don’t always do well in market testing. With the summer season well under way, we thought we’d gather our favorite films of the year as of right now, so there will be plenty of time to catch up with the best of the bunch by the time you’re making your end-of-the-year lists.