The Five Best Films of Summer 2016

A.K.A. The Only Five Films That Were Good in Summer 2016

What a bummer summer it has been for the silver screen, huh? Going into Summer 2016 I can’t particularly say I was excited (even from afar, the blockbusters of the season looked rather “meh”), but even I couldn’t predict how downright mediocre it has been for film in the last few months. But even in a season as sparse as this one, there are always good movies coming out — you just have to look a little harder to find them.

Which was an interesting observation that I made when forming this list: for the first time in recent memory, my picks for best summer movies are predominately made up of smaller, more low key releases —hell, two of them didn’t even break $10 million domestically. But underseen or not, these five films are very much worth your time, starting with…

5. Sausage Party

Yes, Sausage Party is probably a bad example to kick off a list of “underseen” summer delights, but the sentiment remains despite the actual gross: Sausage Party is not a mainstream release, and isn’t the four quadrant release that typically performs best in the summer. In fact, Sausage Party is the kind of film that only is geared for a VERY particular type of moviegoer — thankfully, I happen to fit into that type.

As someone who is pretty much in the bag for everything that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg do (This is the End is one of the best comedies of the decade, and don’t you forget it), Sausage Party was always destined to be a movie I really, really liked. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite get over the hump into full on love territory (although its incredibly bonkers third act certainly tries to take it there), but Sausage Party is nonetheless another unique (and of course very funny) film from the pairing of Rogen and Goldberg, two men who have daftly defined themselves as two of the ballsiest comedy filmmakers out there. As always, I am excited to see what they do next.

4. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Not a day went by this summer when my heart didn’t hurt just a little bit for how hard Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping bombed at the box office. I was lucky enough to see Popstar at an early screening a month or so before it came out, and fell in love with the comedy almost instantly. It has humor, it has heart, it has like a dozen catchy songs — what more could I possibly want from it?

The best thing I could say about Popstar is that it reminds me of the very best Will Ferrell comedies, from Anchorman to Step Brothers, and that Andy Samburg does an exquisite job of playing the Ferrell-esque fool at the center of the film. But when the film isn’t being outrageously funny, it also does a stellar job of telling its central story in a surprisingly sweet way. Popstar is the type of film that SHOULD have been an early summer break-out, and the fact it didn’t catch on has me supremely bummed. At the very least, I hope Popstar is set to become a buzzed about cult comedy classic like a decade down the line. Considering the quality of the final project, it at least deserves that much.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

I have been a fan of Laika since the very beginning, and have championed the studio as doing things with animation that very few others (including Pixar!) would dare to do. Laika truly takes chances with their storytelling and animation, and is not afraid to delve into the uncomfortable, gross, spooky, or what have you. Those have been aspects of all three of their previous efforts (Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls) to various degrees, and they are quickly getting to the point as a studio that I completely believe whatever films they make will be worthy of my time. Not only did this summer’s Kubo and the Two Strings cement that trust, but it also raised my expectations for the company to even grander heights.

To say that Kubo and the Two Strings is Laika’s grandest accomplishment is no small thing: like I said, this is a studio that has up until this point ONLY made great movies. But Kubo somehow manages to top all of them, combining jaw dropping effects, a delightful sense of adventure, and a fascinating story into probably the best animated film of the year. Unfortunately this is another one that isn’t getting its proper due (even with Laika’s low standards, the film is a bit of a disappointment at the box office with a gross so far of just $40 million), but in time I desperately hope that a big fandom will surround Kubo — if any film from this summer deserves such a thing, it would be this one.

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is yet another film this summer that, in a perfect world, would have been a smash hit. And arguably if it got a wide release, say, two decades ago, it probably would have been. Because, though the film is technically an indie one, absolutely nothing about it really veers outside of the mainstream. But trust me, that’s no insult — one of the best things about Hunt for the Wilderpeople is how accessible it is. I can point to pretty much anyone and recommend they watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople, no strings attached. That’s how good this movie is.

I was not shy about how much I loved last year’s What We Do In The Shadows (I ranked it as my third favorite film of the year, after all), but it’s kind of crazy how writer/director Taika Waititi was able to make another film just a year later that completely matches it in quality. Even more impressive is the fact that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is so very different from What We Do In The Shadows in almost every way. Well What We Do In the Shadows was a gory, unique vampire mockumentary, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a far sweeter, Wes Anderson-esque romp focused primarily on a surrogate father/son relationship. They couldn’t be more different from each other, yet Waititi manages to make them both extremely funny and very memorable. And in the case of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, manages to inject a healthy dose of adventure and pathos. It’s not what my mind would immediately jump to when thinking “summer movie,” but man do we need to have more movies like this one released in the summer timeframe.

And, as a sidenote, I am absolutely stoked to see what Taika Waititi is going to end up doing with Thor: Ragnarok. The guy is already two-for-two when it comes to fantastic movies, so I hope he’ll be able to do something great with the Thor property. And on the segway opportunity of Marvel movies, let’s jump to, well…

1. Captain America: Civil War

Yes, this list was largely about the unsung heroes and underseen gems of the summer movie season — so why not end with the second biggest movie of the summer? Yes, Captain America: Civil War was a huge hit financially, but what makes the film truly remarkable is this: in a summer filled with high grossing disappointments, Civil War was the only film that I believe actually deserved the massive success it had. When I see that The Secret Life of Pets or Suicide Squad posted huge numbers, I shrug — neither are great movies, and their success can be ascribed to marketing factors more than anything else. But Captain America: Civil War made a lot of money because it deserved to make a lot of money.

Because, four months later, I still have not been able to shake off wanting to see this movie. I saw it three times in theaters (of which I can only say for a few other movies in the past few years: The Dark Knight, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and I will definitely be purchasing the Blu-Ray sometimes soon. The film is just that rewatchable, primarily because it’s one of the most well done blockbusters I’ve seen in years, and somehow an even bigger high point for Marvel Studios, a studio that seems to be topping itself every year.

And sure, the fact I feel that way about Marvel definitely is influenced by how “in” I am on the MCU in general — but it’s not like I woke up one day and was like, “Wow, I love the Marvel movies now!” The studio has simply spent the past decade delivering high quality films, immersive storytelling, and the guarantee of a good time. And all that build up has definitely lead to Captain America: Civil War, which plays off all the strengths (and few of the weaknesses) that the MCU has spent years developing.

Incredible action sequences, wonderful interwoven storytelling, terrific cast interplay, fantastic special effects, hilarious moments mixed with just the right amount of heavy stakes — Captain America: Civil War has it all. It’s the best Marvel movie so far, it’s the best end to a superhero trilogy ever, and it remains not only my favorite movie of the summer, but also my favorite movie of the year so far. If that makes me a “biased” Marvel shill, so be it — that isn’t going to change my view of Captain America: Civil War as action blockbuster perfection. And in a summer filled with disappointment after disappointment, that’s exactly what the movie doctor ordered.

So there you have it, what I consider to be the five best films of Summer 2016. Can you think of any others?

…No seriously, can you?