Up until perhaps just a month ago, most cinemagoers had had very little reason to go to the movies this year. Deadpool in February, Civil War in May, and a few small-budget arthouse releases over summer (most notably Kubo and the Two Strings and Hell or High Water) were the only things that might have convinced you to press pause on your Stranger Things or Black Mirror marathon and drag yourself down to your nearest theater. It appeared that Netflix had won the war on multi-media entertainment this year and anyone who liked their stories told on a big screen, in a dark room and with a 2-hour run-time would have to wait till next year for their fill. A summer of mediocre reboots, sequels, prequels and franchise updates had all but erased the magic of cinema and only the most optimistic of us were highly anticipating Oscar season this christmas. How times change!
This month has seen an avalanche of riveting, intriguing and outright fun and entertaining releases. From children's comedies, big-budget blockbusters, sci-fi mind-benders, quirky indie-pics, to suspenseful thrillers and political dramas, Christmas has come early for all you film lovers out there. So without further ado, here are five films that can bring your 2016 cinema-going experience back to life:
5. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Let's just start with the obvious. Pretty much nothing screams "money-grab" like a Harry Potter franchise extension. The press-release confirming a total of five installments to be released over the coming years was probably Warner Bros.' most blatant move to pretty much print money. However, what separates Fantastic Beasts from all the summer duds of this year is that it's actually good.
Written by J.K. Rowling and directed by the veteran of Harry Potter films, getting the old team back together appears to be the best thing #WarnerBros. has done in awhile. With their DCEU launch having a disappointing lift-off, this is exactly what the studio needs to stay afloat. Smart, funny, whimsical and jolly, Fantastic Beasts kicks off its own extended universe with a bang. If you want a good night out to get you in the Christmas mood, it's unlikely anything will satisfy that itch more than Fantastic Beats can. So why not give it a try?
Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario are exceptional feats of cinema by this still relatively new director. Yet despite being released in quick succession, Denis Villeneuve is showing that far from running out of steam, he's, in fact, gaining momentum! With perhaps his best release to-date, Arrival shows that Blade Runner 2049 is in safe hands. In the same vain as Nolan and Tarantino's releases, #Arrival is a big-budget blockbuster for the thinking-man.
No other medium in film gives more of an opportunity to explore such ideas as "what is human-nature?""What is the purpose of life?" or "Where is our place in time and space?" quite like the sci-fi flick does. And Arrival makes full use of this. Limbering up for his Blade Runner sequel, you couldn't ask for a better opening act before the big show. This is not only a perfect prerequisite for a sequel to a sci-fi classic, but could well be on the road to becoming a classic of it's own. Although Rogue One will surely be hot on its heels, Arrival could be the science-fiction release we remember most this winter.
It appears the only consistent genres of cinema this year have been (perhaps paradoxically) the horror genre and children's entertainment. And Moana is no exception. With Zootopia, (or Zootropolis depending on what side of the Atlantic you live on) re-invigorating the stories Disney releases once more, Moana very comfortably follows in this trend. This time drawing influence from Studio Ghibli, Moana chooses not to have a stereo-typical "bad guy" in the mix.
Instead, opting for a more "human" story that embraces the different shades of grey in life (which is ironic given that it's set in sunny Polynesia where there often isn't much grey), this #Disney release knows where to keep the formula, and where to add a few new ingredients. As such, Moana gives you a refreshing cocktail with a twist, and one you didn't realize how badly you wanted it until you tried it. Amidst these more murky months of the year, Moana is a breath of fresh-air — bright, colorful and enlightening — you'll watch this wishing some of the year's earlier summer releases had done this sooner. Ah well, as they say: "All's well that ends well," so, Aloha!
2. La La Land
Acclaimed director of 2014's Whiplash, Damien Chazelle should have you covered for all things musical this winter. La La Land tells the nostalgia-soaked love tale between an aspiring actor (played by Emma Stone) and an aspiring jazz musician (played by Ryan Gosling) as they try to navigate through the highs and lows of pursuing their dreams in the City of Angels.
Another prime choice for all the sentimentalists out there, La La Land is a far sweeter take on the music industry than it's more brutish predecessor. Showing that Chazelle has a soft side, this musical number should have you dancing all the way to the jazz club by its final act, rather than running away from it the way its former might have had you doing. Catchy numbers, stellar performances and enough salt in the mix to stop you from hurling in a bucket from all the sickly-sweet treats, La La Land meets a perfect balance of punches and kisses that very few other movies have been able to match this year.
In a year where Trump wins the presidency and "equal rights" has become a dirty word in politics, never has there been a more apt time for adding a little humanity back to the now controversial topic of homosexuality. Moonlight tells the story of a young black man coming to terms with his sexual identity in a family, community, country and world that may reject him for it.
Moonlight is important because, for me, cinema has always been at its most potent when it's able to take the viewer away from their own day-to-day existence and place them in the shoes of a person completely different than themselves. When they are then able to empathize with this person, to weep with them, laugh with them, rejoice with them and grieve with them. When, at the end of the film, the viewer comes back to their own life with a different perspective of the world both they and the character they temporarily lived through inhabit. To understand that we are all a lot more alike than different.
This is when cinema is at it's most powerful. This is why Moonlight is one of 2016's most impressive feats in cinema. In a time when people's differences are being prioritized over their similarities, Moonlight might help rebalance this temporal disequilibrium, to show that there might not be as many walls between us as we might imagine.
So there we have it — five films that well and truly bought 2016 back from the brink. They always say "save the best 'til last," and hopefully these five films show that they just might have. Of course, I had to miss out other such exceptional works as On the Edge of Seventeen, Split, I, Daniel Blake and Hacksaw Ridge, but they are all definitely worth checking out, too. So if you're in the mood for a trip down to the movies this winter, Hollywood at last has got you covered — it's about time!
What was your favorite movie of 2016?