Late last year, when I was compiling my 2016 Movies on My Radar list, titles like “Hail Caesar!,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Free State of Jones” piqued my interest. Six months later, I’m faced with the realization that not all that glitters is gold. Some films fell below my expectations, some exceeded them…some had such low expectations to begin with it’s hard to tell. At any rate, six months through 2016, we’ve had our share of great filmmaking. Here’s how they stack up so far:
1. Finding Dory
Rare is the sequel that nearly topples the original. “Finding Nemo” has remained, for 13 years, near the top of Pixar’s filmmaking resume. Reaching that sort of pinnacle status would take a lot, but “Finding Dory” found a way to feel nearly as enjoyable as its near-perfect predecessor. A bevy of new characters all hit the right spot. “Finding Dory” is comical and meaningful, and it found a story to tell aside from the one it picked up from “Finding Nemo.” I guess it shows that a franchise, like an octopus, can have multiple hearts.
2. Sing Street
A full soundtrack of original tunes and a big cast of effective teen actors makes this Irish musical dramedy the best live-action movie so far this year. It’s a simple story: Boy likes girl. Girl doesn’t like boy. Boy starts band. Watch out for Mark McKenna, playing the protagonist’s new friend and multi-instrumentalist. If this one is a little too crowd-pleasing and satisfying for you, I understand. But get over it.
“Zootopia” would feel like a Pixar film if it wasn’t so socially conscious and adventurous. It couldn’t have come at a more fitting time, with the rise of Donald Trump and the brand of minority-hating xenophobia that has risen steadily alongside him. Don’t worry, it’s not too preachy. But your kids will learn a lot about respecting each person as an individual and not as a member of a group, and you’ll get a kick out of its effective caper story and references to “The Godfather” and other pop culture phenomena.
You won’t breathe until the end of this hundred-minute mystery about a man and his bunker…and the two people who feel like captives but who he claims he’s protecting from aliens. Who’s right? Can they both be? You’ll be off the edge of your seat until you find out.
5. The Nice Guys
From the director of the irreverent crime-comedy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” comes “The Nice Guys,” a sort of spiritual prequel in the form of a whodunnit taking place in the 1970s. The story is engrossing, the comedy is on point, and Ryan Gosling shows once again that when he puts his mind to it he can be one of the better actors in Hollywood, no matter the genre.