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The Carletonian

2016: Films in Review

<s not an easy year for many of us, and that includes me. But with so much chaos and hate in the world right now it seems only fitting to focus on some of the good that did happen over the past twelve months. 2016 was a banner year for the arts, seeing new and stunning albums from David Bowie, Anderson .Paak, Beyoncé, Radiohead, Mitski, Frank Ocean, Solange, A Tribe Called Quest, and Run the Jewels. I don’t have time or space to address those wonderful works of art here in greater detail (but you should totally check them all out). Instead, I’d like to talk about another way in which 2016 stood out for the better.

Last year we saw scores upon scores of excellent films. Here I’ll list a few (five, actually), in alphabetical order since I really hate ranking things I love.

Hell or High Water. Fargo in West Texas is the best capsule description I can come up with for this film. Like that Coen brothers film, it’s bleak, idiosyncratic, darkly comedic and quite the story on its own. I came in expecting a thriller, and left satisfied at having seen a film just as funny as it is poignant and thrilling. The film captures (what I imagine to be) the backcountry of the West, with all its character, charm and all too frequent flaws.

La La Land is the latest in a long tradition of love letters from Hollywood to Hollywood, but I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all. It has all the Romanticism and romance we’ve come to expect from films put together into a heavily stylized, beautifully shot and ceaselessly fun (yet still hefty) story. No, it doesn’t matter that Ryan Gosling can’t sing, or that Emma Stone can’t dance. What matters is their passionate performances, the quirky dialogue and the complete air of plausibility the film carries throughout. It’s the rare film that you can enjoy both for its breeziness and for the weightiness it leaves in your head.

Manchester by the Sea is one of the most devastating films I’ve ever seen, from start to finish, and easily one of the most emotionally involving. Manchester is absorbing, gripping and taxing all at once. Rarely do I feel connections to characters as strongly as I did to those in this film, despite their many flaws and the many differences between us. The acting, story and set make it nigh impossible to not feel involved in the plot’s every turn. When I left the theater after seeing Manchester, I thought to myself, I don’t need to see another movie again for a while. Such is its power.

Moonlight opens by sampling the same song that opens Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, which is fitting as both Chiron and Kendrick confront some similar issues in their journeys, such as empowerment, black identity and social ills in their communities. From there, the similarities end. Moonlight’s Chiron is an outcast many times over—a shy, passive, gangly, gay, black American teenager, raised in poverty by a drug-adicted mother. The story is dark but hopeful, often grim but full of love, and always compelling. Chiron’s journey toward self-acceptance and self-assurance (or at least self-knowledge) is portrayed in three critical episodes of his life by three different actors, each of whom act beautifully. For all the bleakness of its world, Moonlight carries a powerful undercurrent of hope all the way to the very end—more so than any other film on this list. That is, except for…

Zootopia. The newest Disney blockbuster is more profound, more beautiful, more poignant and more entertaining than I have come to expect from a family film. The world depicted is fantastic and yet very real, with lush imagery, character depth and most critically, a message of equality that constantly subverts your own expectations and prejudices, thus strengthening its own morals even further.

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