So as previously mentioned, this is coming a bit later than I’d initially planned, but with so many good movies coming out at the end of the year, I had to see a few more films before making this list. 2016 was a great year for cinema, and I feel like this list represents a rather wide range in genre and scope, showcasing the kinds of stories that were told on the big screen over the past year.
La La Land
I feel like everyone is already sick of hearing me talk about how much I loved this movie, but I refuse to shut up about it. It was utterly fantastic. I still remember the first time I ever heard of this movie, when I saw a first look photo in Entertainment Weekly during the summer of 2015 depicting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing together, the same image that was eventually used for the poster above. I was excited about it then, and had been looking forward to its release ever since. I knew it was going to be good, but it honestly exceeded my expectations. I’m not into show tunes, and I really don’t even love musicals that much. La La Land is a musical for people who don’t really care about musicals, or so I feel, because it’s so much more than that. At it’s core, this is a love story about two people struggling to achieve their dreams. They stumble, they fall, they succeed, they flourish, they crash to the floor. The acting is fantastic, the sets, the design, the use of color, the score, just everything felt so right. I cried multiple times. The scene that really got me was toward the end when Emma’s character, Mia, is convinced she should give up on her dreams, because it’s just not working out the way she’d hoped. For whatever reason this really spoke to me, because I could relate. It’s hard at times to feel so passionate about something, to pour so much of yourself into your craft, only to be overlooked, to be told you’re not good enough, to be made to feel as if your art doesn’t matter. But Ryan’s character, Sebastian, won’t let her give up. I don’t wan’t to rehash too much of the plot for those who haven’t seen the film yet, but what really solidified how great this movie was for me came as the picture came to a close. The ending was exactly how I wanted it to be after spending two hours with these characters. La La Land basically contains every element for the kind of story I’m a huge sucker for, and I gladly ate it all up, every part. I’ve never been so excited to watch a film again. Ps. If it doesn’t win best picture at the Academy Awards, I will riot in the streets.
Moonlight on the other hand, is such a completely different film. It’s understated, it’s elegant, (even when it’s alarming), it’s slowly paced, it’s haunting, it’s beautiful. By following the transition of a young African American boy into a grown man, we see how the world around Chiron shapes his identity. We see the pain he has to endure, yet we see the fleeting moments of happiness too. Some people were pissed that La La Land won best screenplay over this at the Golden Globes, and I can see why. The script is extremely well done, and the actors bring it to life so well on the screen. I felt tense while watching this movie, and my heart ached often for the struggle Chiron was going through. The scene when he is a little boy and asks “What’s a faggot?” was especially affecting. This film also had a beautiful score, and the way they used lighting throughout the film really stood out to me. This is an important story.
The opening sequence to this movie is one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen in cinema, yet somehow, it felt appropriate. The opening credits sort of desensitize you in a way that alone makes this movie special. While Moonlight made me feel tense because of what the main character was going through, Nocturnal Animals made me feel kind of paralyzed because of the pacing, the overall storyline, and what was transpiring on the screen. I literally was on the edge of my seat watching this. This is only Tom Ford’s second film, but he seems like a pro at this point. And as a huge fan of his directorial debut, A Single Man, I knew I had to see this. It’s completely different from his first film, but striking just the same, even if it’s in a completely different way. At first I was disappointed with how it ends, but upon further reflection, it all makes the perfect kind of sense. Also, Jake Gyllenhaal with a beard…hot, damn.
The Light Between Oceans
This is one of my favorite books, so I was really excited when I found out it was being adapted into a movie. The deal got even sweeter when they cast two of my favorite actors for the leading roles. This film is really beautiful, especially all of the shots filmed on location in Australia. I found the cinematography a delight, and it really pulled me even deeper into the heartbreaking plot. Both Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender fully embody their roles, and to be honest I’m kind of surprised this movie hasn’t really earned them much buzz. I knew the ending was going to be difficult to watch, as the conclusion of the book made me openly weep while I finished reading it during a sunny day on the beach. They executed it with just the right touch, causing my eyes to well up with tears in the theater once again.
Amy Adams is having a good year. So much so that I went to this movie with my friend Aishleen because she told me she wanted to see ‘that new Amy Adams movie.’ And I was like, ‘let’s go!’ Then when we were standing in line to get some popcorn I mentioned how I love movies about aliens, and she looked at me like I was crazy. Long story short, she thought we were going to see Nocturnal Animals. Luckily for both of us, Arrival was a great film, and we went to see Nocturnal Animals together a few weeks later. As anyone who has read any of my books will know, I’m a big sci-fi fan. This movie took the whole aliens coming to Earth thing in a completely new direction, and I really enjoyed it. It’s smart, without having to try too hard. The fact that it’s adapted from a short story from an author based in the Seattle area made it all the better. While the ending sort of threw me for a loop, the complexities and surprise of the big reveal made this movie all the more intriguing.
I was planning to see the Natalie Portman starring Jackie before writing this post, because I felt it might have made the list, but frankly, since I still haven’t seen it and we’re almost halfway into the first month of 2017, I had to cut my losses. I really enjoyed coming up with these four lists and plan to do it again at the end of this year. Hopefully we’ll all still be here and Trump won’t have gotten us nuked yet! Fingers crossed.