Like every year, there are great gems that reveal themselves throughout the seasons. But for every Hell or High Water this year, it felt like there were infinitely longer stretches of meh, crap or nothing to accompany them.
I mean, July had just one good movie. How does this happen?! Honestly, the dry spell of 2016 was nearly enough to make me forget why I bother going to movies in the first place. But last month, in November, that finally changed.
I can now safely say that November was the month that has defined the year the most, in terms of both cinematic joy and what it had to say about the times we live in.
Doctor Strange was the first to cut through the lull. As someone who has been mostly down on Marvel films for the past two years, it was with great relief that I could say this was the movie to get things back on track.
There may have been some familiar story beats present, but Doctor Strange felt like the first sign in a long time that Marvel wasn’t on autopilot. The cast did an excellent job, the visuals were fresh and stunning, the score was a cut above most Marvel music, the story stood by itself nicely and several doors were opened for where the whole franchise can progress.
Then came Arrival. Director Dennis Villeneuve capped off a recent run of great movies with a return to cerebral sci-fi. The Amy Adams-starrer was one of those films that speaks volumes at just the right time in history. Besides just being visually majestic, the story axed the idea of malevolent invaders to prioritize the value of communication and what humanity can gain from it. It wasn’t preachy, boring or simple, and that’s not an easy trifecta to achieve, much less knock out of the park. Finger crossed for this one to get some much-deserved awards attention.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them showed us the world of Harry Potter is alive and well, even without its main character. J. K. Rowling brought forth a new era of the wizarding world in 1920s America that still felt timely and interesting. Through the eyes of a group of fun new characters like Newt Scamander, we’re treated to a different immediate dilemma (the escape of several magical creatures in New York City) that still manages to touch on the relevant social issues of repression, fear and acceptance one finds in Rowling’s Potter works.
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Not only does the film leave doors open for future sequels (a whopping four, to be exact), it achieved the oft-ignored step of making sure the characters and story were good enough to want to revisit and expand upon. These days, that’s real magic.
Speaking of real characters with heart, let’s talk about Edge of Seventeen. I know many of you probably skipped out on it in theaters but I’m confident that once it hits home video and streaming you’ll realize what you’re missing.
Here we have a comedy about those awkward teenage years that values authenticity as much as it does snarky quips. An indie flick that doesn’t fall headlong into the indie cliches. It’s a film that uses its smarts and great performances to hit at emotional truth, and gosh does it feel special to watch.
If anything, Edge of Seventeen shows there’s a promising future for independent cinema beyond gorgeous shots and long, sullen silences. Do yourself a favor and track this one down post-haste.
These four films were enough to make November the leader of the pack for 2016 but it was the inclusion of Moana that made it the star on top of the holiday tree.
After years of good attempts, Disney delivered an animated musical feature that can proudly meet the high standard set by its ’90s renaissance.
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Gorgeous is a pretty simplistic way to describe Moana. Little Mermaid directors Ron Clements and John Musker bring the world of the Polynesian islands to vivid life with breathtaking visuals, strong mythology, well-rounded characters and amazing music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina.
Listening to “We Know the Way” in theaters is an early showstopper that leaves no question that we’ve tapped back into that old Disney magic we’ve been missing. At the same time, it feels like the studio is putting more of its more old-fashioned courtship elements behind it to explore new stories that, if they’re anything like Moana, can still be amazing cinematic experiences.
December looks to have a few dramatic heavyweights as awards season gears up and family holiday bait, not to mention the massive release of the latest entry of our favorite celestial conflict, but I don’t see how even this group can top the perfect gift that was November.
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