Let’s face it – 2016 has been pretty rough. And as I am writing this, there are three whole days of it left, which means anything – I mean, anything – can still happen. We might be entering world war three, all the cast of The Sound of Music might end up trapped in a landmine, or another favourite celebrity or hero might bite the dust. (I will be outside Harrison Ford’s house in an hour, trying to safeguard him with a powerful forcefield.)
But as they say, when there are clouds (or, in the case of 2016, heavy thunderstorms), there is always a silver lining – or at least a small, pale ray of barely distinguishable sunlight. We ask ourselves in time of crisis: why does art matter? Well, the answer is this: it matters all the more because of the crisis.
So here are a couple of films which made me laugh, cry, or smile in this damnable, ‘let-it-end-already’ year. I hope that if you ever get the chance to check them out, they can make your 2017 a more joyful and more meaningful year:
I had no interest in Zootopia at first. Being the classic Disney fan that I am, going to the cinema to watch a cartoon with an excitable bunny as the main character held no appeal for me. How wrong I was.
Zootopia tells the story of Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin), a Leslie Knope-ish bunny who travels to the big city of Zootopia with a dream of becoming the police force’s first rabbit officer. There, she meets a charismatic con-artist fox called Nick (Jason Bateman) and gets tangled up in the city’s mysterious case of disappearing animals.
Somehow, we have become accustomed to the notion that an animation film either has to be intelligent or fun; it can’t be both. Well, Zootopia is here to prove us wrong. Not only are the characters nuanced and infectious, the film deals with issues of prejudice and diversity in ways that are most enlightening and refreshing. Children will get a kick out of this film, but adults will gain even more from it.
Speaking of classic Disney princess stories, Moana fits the bill and more. Moana is the daughter of a Polynesian chief and when disaster strikes her homeland, she sets out beyond the reef on an adventure of her own. A heroine of colour with no love interest who sails the sea with The Rock as her sidekick while belting out catchy tunes from Lin Manuel Miranda? You can’t ask for anything better.
Moana is an incredibly important landmark for Disney. Exquisitely crafted and researched, the characters, the music and the story of Moana bring the Polynesian culture to the forefront with immense love and care. A scene of Moana’s ancestor singing a song in Tokelauan made me tear up like a baby. Actually, come to think of it, the whole film made me tear up like a baby. Go see it and you will understand.
Many people would have missed this small, indie film by John Carney, the director of Once and Begin Again. Sing Street completes the musical trilogy for Carney, with him revisiting his childhood in 1980s Dublin through the eyes of Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), his 14 year-old protagonist.
Conor is struggling to get by in a strained and slightly mental household. He fares no better at his strict Catholic school. But when he is introduced to music by his elder brother (Jack Raynor) and begins to fall for a mysterious girl called Raphina (Lucy Boynton), he decides to start a band to win her heart.
Sing Street is, quite frankly, a hell of a good time. It is John Hughes meets School of Rock, with a dash of the old Irish humour. The film has its fair share of unforgettable tunes, but mostly it has a huge heart and it is not shy in showing it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get inspired, and you’ll wish your make-believe band is just as cool as Conor and his friends’.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
As a huge (I repeat – HUGE) Harry Potter fan, I had reservations about this franchise. Five films, with the plot spanning nineteen years? What other Wizarding story (that’s not Harry Potter) can possibly be worth telling? But then, I saw Fantastic Beasts and now I am hooked.
The film is not without its flaws (the Potter-verse still has a long way to go in addressing its diversity issue) but the new characters and their stories are immediately engaging. Free of the burden of having to adapt the story from a thousand-page novel, this introduction to J.K. Rowling’s new franchise retains all of Potter’s heart and humour while presenting a darker and more mature world. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander really did capture my heart, and as the story starts moving towards the second world war and the infamous clash between Dumbledore and the evil wizard Grindelwald, I can’t help but be intrigued to know more.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
This film. This absolute gem of a film. I want to have its children, grow old with it, say till-death-do-us-part with it. I saw this film and thought, “Where have you been all my life?” Am I exaggerating? Absolutely not.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is directed by the hilarious and talented Taika Watiti (the director of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) and it is set in the wilderness of New Zealand. Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a juvenile delinquent who’s been taken in by a middle age couple on a remote farm. When his foster mother prematurely dies, he is stuck with her husband Hec (Sam Neil) whom he affectionately terms “Uncle”. But when child services arrive to take Ricky back, they discover that he and Hec have disappeared into the New Zealand bush, determined to live the ultimate “skux life” and avoid the authorities at all cost.
Wilderpeople is gloriously unique. Sam Neil expertly nails the ‘cankerous old man’ role, while Dennison balances him out with wit and childish bravado. There is no other way to say it: this film is pure joy. Funny, charming, heartfelt, laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Oh, and there is also a dog called Tupac. Come on.
Captain America: Civil War
No one does superhero films like Marvel. Even when they get them partly right, the result is still entertaining (Doctor Strange and Iron Man 3). But when they get them absolutely note-perfect, the result is simply breathtaking. Captain America: Civil War is Marvel at their best: crisp, hilarious, action-packed, driven by well-defined characters and casting.
In theory, it should not have worked. An Avenger 2.5 hidden within a Captain America film sounded like a terrible idea, but somehow, the Russo brothers managed to make the whole thing a roaring success. In this third instalment of Cap’s tale, we find our hero and his band of friends being pulled apart by their disagreement over the Sokovia accords (a government-led superhero registration). When Cap’s brainwashed best friend the Winter Soldier (formerly Bucky Barnes) is thrown into the mix, the story turns into one of the most compelling moral dilemmas of all Marvel films. For the first time ever, Cap does not only react to or exist in the grey zone; he himself inhabits the grey.
And yes, the much talked-about airport fight scene is as thrilling as they say.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One is not a perfect film (there are things that don’t quite land), but it is nothing if not brave. Rather than it being a Skywalker story, it is a gritty, on-the-ground war film with a diverse group of characters who get their hands dirty more than your Obi-wans and your Yodas. The cast is arguably the best cast ever assembled for a Star Wars film: Felicity Jones (as the ferocious Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (as rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor), Riz Ahmed (as former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook), Alan Tudyk (as the scene-stealing droid K2-SO), and Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen as the galaxy’s first two prominent Asian characters Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus.
Set directly before A New Hope, the film follows our band of rebels as they planet-hop around the galaxy in search of Jyn’s mysterious father and try to discover a way to steal the Death Star’s plans. Not only is Rogue One a visually stunning film, it is never afraid to take darker, more mature turns when it comes to the story. Not to give anything away, but I have never been more emotional during an ending of a Star Wars film before. If you’re not a die-hard Star Wars fan, this will still be an enjoyable trip to the cinema. But if you are, this will be an absolute treat.
And it is never a bad thing to see a woman, a Mexican, a British-Pakistani, a droid and two Asian men kicking Imperial ass in 2016.
La La Land
Do not miss this film. I cannot stress this enough. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, get to the cinema when this one comes out. The critics are right: they don’t make films like this anymore.
La La Land is a musical romance set in modern day Los Angeles. It is a throwback to the old musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, while still finding ways to be fresh and original. It starts out as a classic story of ‘boy meets girl’ and ‘boy and girl fall for each other’, with the boy being Sebastian (Ryan Gosling as a struggling jazz pianist) and the girl being Mia (Emma Stone as an aspiring actress). We follow along (while enjoying catchy tunes and classic dance numbers) as the couple goes on their journey of love and heartbreak.
Gosling and Stone’s chemistry is off the charts here. The music is magical. The film is charming, fun, beautiful. It is deeply sentimental, and unashamedly so. It is not just a cute romantic film; it also delivers its own painful punches when the story calls for it.
Oh, and bring tissues. Just in case.
- Kubo and the Two Strings – Studio Ghibli lives on in Studio Laika. This film is a masterpiece in stop-motion animation.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Total mindless fun. Angsty Mr. Darcy in a long, leather jacket killing zombies alongside a badass, sword-wielding Lizzie is what I live for.
- Keanu – A silly and fun comedy that’s extremely well-executed.
- Love and Friendship – Jane Austen on steroids.
- The Dressmaker – A shirtless Liam Hemsworth, a snarky Kate Winslet and the Australian outback. What’s not to love?
- Pete’s Dragon – Unexpectedly sweet and delightful.
- Lion – Beautiful, haunting, and deeply emotional.
- A Monster Calls – It will destroy you.
Haven’t yet seen (due to the films’ late release dates in Thailand or just because I haven’t managed to get around to them yet): The Light Between Oceans, Loving, Moonlight, Arrival, Hidden Figures, Captain Fantastic, Swiss Army Man, and The Edge of Seventeen.
Follow me on Twitter: @PimKaprao