The Movies of 2016

There has been a strange trend recently at the cinema. The growing struggle between escapist, populist, entertainment, and grim, but practical realism is apparent especially as awards season culminates with the Oscars show later next month. The two frontrunners, “Moonlight” and “La La Land”, are fundamentally different movies in their depictions of the world. “Moonlight” revolves around the struggles of Chiron, a young African American, as he comes to terms with his own sexuality and identity in a society that openly despises him. Brilliantly shot, vibrantly lit, it never shies away from the reality of Chiron’s situation. His father is never seen and his absence is never explained. It is simply how things are. The movie revolves around Chiron as he accepts himself as he is. Thousands of miles from the humid neighborhoods of Florida where Chiron resides, two dreamers in Los Angeles refuse to accept anything as it is. In a city filled with fallen hopes, Mia and Sebastian are rejected at every turn. The movie La La Land, matches their stubborn, romantic idealism with its own whimsy. One spectacular sequence even sees the two lovers fly into the sky and dance among the stars. Every moment is filled with a sense of hope, of a brilliant future awaiting If they could only stretch a little further. “La La Land” is loud and sun drenched. Its heart is singing. “Moonlight” lives on the quiet beaches empty of the usual tourists, filled with only the sound of the waves. They are as different as night and day. Yet, in the end, both movies confront the necessity of sacrifice in realistic terms. The level of realism is expected. Both are films with smaller budgets that do not need to pander to audiences to make money. They have the freedom to tackle difficult issues faced by everyday people. The truly interesting phenomenon has been as blockbusters have followed suit.

Star Wars Opening Weekend in 1977

In 1977, “Star Wars” was released. To say that it was well-received would be an extreme understatement. It was the first true blockbuster and it revolutionized the cinematic experience. Suddenly, every studio wanted to follow suit. At its core, Star Wars was always an idealistic fantasy with a handsome rogue, a daring princess, and an evil empire to be defeated by the heroes. It was the perfect, escapist package. Yet, this year, a new film in the Star Wars universe was released and radically diverged from the squeaky-clean path established by the previous films. The result was not entirely satisfying. Conceptually, it was an interesting idea. I’m sure that the everyone in the corporate boardroom nodded enthusiastically. “Let’s make Star Wars, but dark.” This new Star Wars movie tackles the desperate hope of a rebellion. Instead of focusing on a maniacal emperor, it focuses on the ordinary people opposing him. In this ground-level approach, “Rogue One” becomes far more like “Moonlight” and “La La Land” than any of its predecessors. This chameleon-like effect has largely occurred because one studio characteristic: They love proven brand names. Rather than risk investing in a new project, they’d rather paint on a coat of fresh paint. This has happened repeatedly. It worked in 2014, when Marvel changed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” into a political thriller of the 70s and again in 2015, when the ridiculous sounding “Ant-Man” became a surprisingly fun heist film. Previously these types of plots would have been reserved for middle to low budget movies. Now, they are slipped like medicine with our spoonful of escapist sugar.

Ashton Sanders as teenaged Chiron and Jharrel Jerome as Kevin in “Moonlight”

These two types of movies, the prestige flick and the blockbuster, define the current cinematic landscape. There is little to no middle ground. Most are simply priced out of the market. Their profits are simply too small to justify their larger budgets. Now their plots are given to the superheroes and jedis. It has been especially interesting as franchise films aim to be more than merely popcorn entertainment. Either way, I’ll be eagerly buying my ticket.

Corrina Lee

Corrina is a senior majoring in Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies and television and telling herself that she has time to spare. Someday, she hopes to own a cat.

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