If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many make use of timely social issues in order to convey poignant commentary on their respective subjects. Visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to literally turn society into zombies. The Purge series of films delve into classism, Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideals, They Live looks at the power of the media, and plenty of other examples handle countless other social issues.
The latest film to do this is Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-writer/director Jordan Peele. Get Out is Peele’s first foray into the horror genre, as well as his first time being in the director’s chair, but this is never apparent as you watch it. The film is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade, but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.
Get Out’s central character is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something black man who’s in an interracial relationship with his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), who plans to take him along for a visit at her family’s house for a weekend getaway. Chris is noticeably skeptical about the trip and coyly asks Rose if her parents are aware that he’s black, implying that he believes he may not feel welcomed by Rose’s family. “My dad would vote for Obama for a third term if he could,” Rose responds, Peele obviously making fun of the people who say things like, “I have a black friend,” as if that can automatically save them if they have racist opinions or support racist ideas. The punchline of the joke lands a little later on when Rose’s father recites this line to Chris verbatim.
Veteran action star Keanu Reeves returns to embody his titular role in John Wick: Chapter Two, which proves to be a fantastic follow-up to the 2014 sleeper-hit that single-handedly revived Reeves’ stagnant career.
John Wick 2 expands upon all of the aspects that made its predecessor so invigorating, and is a near-perfect example for what a film sequel should be. John Wick was brimming with style, featured some of the best gun-fighting I’d ever seen on film, and was set in an immensely intriguing world. It was light on story, but that didn’t matter, because even though we didn’t know it yet, that first film gave us everything we wanted from an action flick: John Wick being an absolute badass. John Wick 2 presents its audience with all of this and then some.
The longer runtime of John Wick 2 allows for an even higher body count, as well as a more fleshed-out story this time around. John Wick is ready to settle back into retirement after his previous encounter forced him to return to a dangerous world of assassination. However, getting out of this line of work is never as easy as Wick would like it to be.
It’s been a little more than 20 years since the release of the original Resident Evil changed the landscape of video games forever. It’s a game series I literally grew up with, as it saw its original American release mere months before I was born. My initial encounters with the game were through watching my older brother and cousins play it for countless hours, all before I even had any idea how to handle a controller in order to experience it myself, which I later would many times. It, along with some of its sequels, are among my favorite games of all time, and it’s safe to say that Resident Evil holds a special place in my heart. While I was eagerly anticipating Resident Evil 7, I did so with bated breath following several missteps among the series in recent years. But, I’m glad to say that Resident Evil 7 is the game that fans of the series have been waiting years for.
Resident Evil has been one of gaming’s most successful, important, and influential franchises, having introduced several groundbreaking ideas to the medium throughout its storied existence. With its latest iteration, developer Capcom hoped to revitalize their survival horror series after some not-so-stellar efforts that have come as of late. Resident Evil 7 incorporates a perfect mixture of ideas both old and new, effectively re-introducing mechanics that the earliest entries were originally built upon as well as instituting entirely new concepts that, for the most part, work, including the major shift from a third-person perspective to first-person.
Don’t even try to tell me that 2016 was a bad year for film. I found myself falling in love with new films week after week from the beginning of the year until its final days. Be it the year’s biggest blockbusters, the indie-est of horror flicks, or those found in between, the output from filmmakers in 2016 was absolutely remarkable.
I ended up condensing this down from a lengthy list of 35, and it wasn’t easy. Actually, ranking these films could’ve been an even harder task, but I sadly didn’t get to see every film I wanted to in 2016 — the most unfortunate among them being Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and Jackie, which I’m sure would have all been strong contenders. And before I get to the actual list, below you will find a number of standouts that just barely missed the cut for the top 10.
Captain America: Civil War – Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (streaming on Netflix)
The Witch – Dir. Robert Eggers (streaming on Amazon Prime)
Zootopia – Dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush (streaming on Netflix)
Hacksaw Ridge – Dir. Mel Gibson
10 Cloverfield Lane – Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Like I said before, there were plenty of films I loved this year. Here are the best of the best:
Movies are supposed to feel magical. They transport us to worlds both familiar and alien, relay stories ranging between grandeur and intimate scale, and introduce us to an array of characters we’ve known our entire lives along with those we’ve yet to meet. La La Land, from Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle, is 2016’s most magical and completely marvelous film. From start to finish, La La Land pays homage to classical Hollywood musicals in a wholly engaging and visually stunning tribute — one that features class performances from co-leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who impressively dance and sing along to its wonderful soundtrack.
Emma Stone plays Mia, a young, aspiring actress desperately hoping to make her break in Hollywood, but is unfortunately stuck working a barista job on a soundstage lot. Opposite her, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is a down-on-his-luck pianist whose admiration for jazz guides his desire to manage his own jazz club in L.A., but is rather left performing renditions of Christmas songs at a local restaurant.
The two eventually find what they’ve always needed in each other, but as these things always go, there’s initially some chance encounters in which the two butt heads and express how uninterested they are in each other. But it’s apparent that the pair has wonderful chemistry, brought to light early on in one of the film’s best pieces, “A Lovely Night.” The couple elegantly dances around an L.A. street corner as the sun sets — the scene not only being gorgeous to look at, but Stone and Gosling’s voices evoke similarly as much beauty.
Bleed For This, from writer-director Ben Younger, is yet another in a long line of recently released boxing films. Based on the real-life story of Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, Bleed For This is unfortunately unable to stray from the familiar trappings found in countless boxing films before it. However, it is still successful in many aspects — most notably the dedicated lead performance from Miles Teller and Larkin Seiple’s excellent cinematography — even if it’s never allowed to reach its full potential due to middling fight editing and choreography.
Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) isn’t soft spoken or humble, and he’s definitely not a Rocky type. Instead, he’s a loudmouth, frequents strip-clubs, and has a gambling addiction. But he’s also freakishly dedicated, and an impressive boxer to boot. Bleed For This moves through the motions in its first 45 minutes, still being entirely enjoyable as Younger shows off the aforementioned traits of Pazienza through a couple of his most pivotal matches.
The downside, however, is that it all feels too comfortable in the beginning; these are scenes and character archetypes that we’ve all seen before. But then we’re thrown a curveball when Pazienza is involved in a horrific car accident that breaks his neck.
While the sci-fi genre is typically reserved for high-stakes, big-budget action, director Denis Villeneuve’s latest, Arrival, stands apart from its peers. Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer instead opt for a wonderfully human and refreshingly grounded take on the alien invasion tale in what is one of the year’s absolute best films.
The film appropriately begins with an arrival, although not (yet) one of the alien variety, but instead one of childbirth. Over a couple minute’s time, through montage and monologue, we’re effectively introduced to the film’s lead, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), as she cradles her newborn daughter in the initial moments. We quickly move through the child’s life from infant to toddler to teenager, watching the loving relationship between mother and daughter grow before the child’s life is cut painfully short due to a rare illness. Arrival’s opening is intensely emotional, and also remarkable in its ability to give such depth to a character and her situation with so little time.