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Ian Nichols’ Film Brief 2016

Horror is Here to Stay. Whereas 2015 was a year for horror to experiment metaphor, narrative, and aesthetic (see: The Falling, Spring, Goodnight Mommy, It Follows, Bone Tomahawk), 2016 was a year of getting back to basics. And it did so by embracing the skeletal structure of horror stories that have worked for so long (and still do). However, it was The Witch that managed to blend trope with tradition with a nearly scientific artistry. Costumes, the sky, the forest, the language (of Shakespearean prose)–all of these are part of the equation that makes The Witch the stand-out horror film of the year–and maybe of the decade.


The Power of Denzel/Viola. Director/star Denzel Washington’s film adaptation of August Wilson’s play may come off a bit rigid–it’s nearly identical to the play and is so intimate sometimes it’s spatially suffocating. Claustrophobia aside, Washington and Viola Davis give two performances that can only be described as god-like. Denzel is Denzel, but an aged Denzel–one filled with rage that only comes with fighting against oppression. And as his opposite, Davis teems with a tense silence and an acrylic smile only a housewife knows, hinting at an impending eruption. They perform–no, live it–with a forceful grace.

That Dress in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. All of the costumes in the Harry Potter franchise spin-off were a dream, but Queenie’s blue dress overlaying a light pink satin blouse was the year’s best movie garment. All praise Colleen Atwood.


La La bLand. Perhaps the most disappointing buzzed about film of the year, La La Land was a failed attempt to write a love-letter to the Minnellis, Donens or Berkeleys. La La Land took two amateurs (Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling), made them sing and dance, insinuating they’re the Kelly and Reynolds of 2016. La La Land amounts to a vibrant, oftentimes beautiful high school musical, with nary a moment for uproarious applause or encore. The best musicals are the ones you rewind to catch those complicated steps and their immaculate execution in a take that lasts minutes and features 100 extras (they’re all professional dancers). This musical, with a trite plot, sleepy dance numbers, and chemistry as potent as baking soda water, is the year’s biggest disappointment.

Rated R Superheroes R the Best Superheroes. One of the hilarious movies to come out in 2016 was also one of the best superhero movies in at least a decade. Ryan Reynolds’s passion project, Deadpool, was raunchy, violent, bloody, and unashamedly sexy–the antithesis to superheroes as we’ve known them yet. I’m not holding my breath, but I pray to the gods that we get more movies like these–the popcorn blockbusters that color outside the lines.


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