The debate hall of Cambridge University is filled with graduates and undergraduates, with handfuls of people still left outside. James Baldwin, best known at the time for his eloquent essays and literature, such as Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son, is debating William F. Buckley, an American conservative who laid the groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The question up for debate: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”
James Baldwin left his quotable handbook of statistics at home this day and decided to turn the audience inside out. Baldwin spoke of the destruction of his identity, a collective experience among the black community in the United States. The destruction of his identity, caused by the American population’s refusal to accept the growing racism in the United States, adding decades more to the centuries of oppression.
Baldwin spoke of his experience as something that came from an utter shock, from the realization of his ancestor’s upbringing, to the realization of the color of his skin. He expressed that everything in his world was white, from the sticks and stones, to the faces on television, to the faces down the block — all white. He continues to express his shock, the realization that he himself was not white, since he never looked in the mirror before. He explains, “It comes as a great shock around the age of five, or six, or even seven to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you.” Baldwin’s analogy proved his offset. The country in which he was born left no place in society for him; nowhere to evolve, grow, or prosper.
The Godfather, directed by revered filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, is a period drama that realistically depicts the hardships and misfortune associated with the Italian Mafia in the early twentieth century. Coppola’s film tells the fictional story of Vito Corleone and his endeavors as the head of an organized crime family in New York City.
The Godfather allows its audience to become transfixed in the secret, underground dealings of an extremely powerful crime organization that is built upon both trust and fear. However, maintaining this power does not seem to be a simple task, as the Corleone family faces the constant threat of other families who desire their fortune and supremacy. In addition to the film’s well-constructed plot, Coppola remarkably utilizes various film elements in order for the audience to better connect with the characters in an emotional manner. It’s the emotional appeal of The Godfather that makes it one of the greatest films of all time.
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.
Most “rockumentaries” follow a standard formula: baby pictures, interviews with family members, the rise to fame, and the tragic drug overdose concluding with the death of the artist.
However, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary on long, lost musician Sixto Rodriguez breaks this traditional format in Searching for Sugar Man. It’s a film one-part rockumentary and another part mystery, as a music journalist goes on a quest to find out what really happened to the enigmatic singer — did he really set himself on fire at a show? Or was it a bullet to the head?
The beginning of Bendjelloul’s film depicts animations of Rodriguez, an unknown troubadour in America but South Africa’s equivalent to Bob Dylan, walking down a Detroit street.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, City of God (2002) is a formalist film that explores the binary between power and peace through outstanding cinematography. The film takes place in Rio de Janeiro during the 1970s where our narrator, Rocket, walks us through the story of a poverty-stricken town that’s ruled by superfluous amounts of gun violence.
Many of the scenes are shot in high contrast lighting with subtle tints of gold, which resembles a photograph from the 70s and effectively catapults the viewer into the era. This tinting also connotes gold as the characters’ thirst for riches and power — the two ultimate driving forces for everyone in the film. In many scenes, the dominant contrast is a handgun in a given character’s hand; the camera is always emphasizing guns as they are the key to money, power, and the root of all evil in the film.