There’s something incredibly beautiful about the way director Barry Jenkins has crafted this haunting flick about the struggles of a person embracing his culturally reviled sexuality. Based on the Tarell Alvin McCraney play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” its central character, Chiron, is played at three stages of his life by three actors and the performances in this film are as powerful as the emotions in the story itself. Named best film of the year by the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and the Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), this worthwhile drama is guaranteed to sweep the awards circuit next year.
A story of three African-American female mathematicians who helped NASA win the space race with the Soviet Union, Theodore Melfi’s film is far from being a history lesson. Though educative, it’s more inspirational and entertaining as actresses Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe delightfully shine a deserving spotlight on the black female mathematicians working for NASA at the Langley Research Center. Based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, the movie brilliantly captures the excitement of early space exploration and the civil-rights movement while adding some light laughs along the way.
La La Land
Wonderfully whimsical, Damien Chazelle’s romantic musical is hard not to love. With toe-tapping tracks and colorful visuals, the film follows a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and their struggles to find love and success in Hollywood. Gosling and Stone are charming to watch and the musical numbers are so beautifully staged and choreographed, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in those roles. Nominated for 7 Golden Globes, including nods for best film, directing and an acting nomination for Stone, the American Film Institute recently named it best movie of the year.
This film adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play is an artistic tour de force. Produced and directed by Denzel Washington, who also stars as the main character, “Fences” is the story of a Pittsburgh family dealing with social and financial struggles in the late 1950s. Dialogue driven, expressive and superbly acted, this is one of those movies that withstands to repeated viewing. Starring Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Russell Hornsby, this is a story about shattered dreams, regret and familiar strife and all the actors deliver Oscar-worthy performances.
Citing startling statistics with disturbing images drawn from the Civil Rights era to recent turbulent images of police violence, this powerful documentary examines a loophole in the thirteenth amendment of the constitution and the role it played in justifying the mass incarceration of people of color in the States. Directed by Ava DuVernay, it's well-researched, informative and features interviews from activists, academics, lawyers and legislators from Angela Davis, Van Jones to Newt Gingrich.
Hell or High Water
A cohesive part Western, part crime heist and part family drama, this one’s a somber story of two brothers who are on a quest to save their family farm from foreclosure. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play bank robbers who are trying to raise enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage that will forfeit their recently deceased mother's ranch. Jeff Bridges stars as a Texas Ranger on their trail. With a catchy score, it's a slow-motion cat-and-mouse game and is a thrill to watch from start to finish.
A heartfelt story that follows an irresistibly cute small-town bunny with big aspirations, this film features a strong heroine and a terrific message. With gorgeous visuals and a voice cast that includes Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Octavia Spencer, Idris Elba and Shakira, this relatable tale of achieving the impossible and overcoming bias, is a smart, engaging and energetic film. Adding, there’s plenty of raucous humor to keep audiences entertained.
A film that will leave romantics everywhere misty eyed, “Loving” provides a blend of sordid history with good old-fashioned romance. Well-done, well-acted and beautifully shot, it follows Mildred Loving, a black woman whose anger over being banished from Virginia for marrying a white man led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling. A melodrama that strikes just the right tone, this film benefits greatly from the electrifying performances of its two young leads (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) who sizzle with romantic chemistry.
10 Cloverfield Lane
A brilliant psychological thriller, it’s a flick that keeps you guessing and with just three characters in a relatively confined space, there’s a claustrophobic quality, which skillfully adds to the tension. Tautly directed with gripping scenes that are brilliantly executed by director Dan Trachtenberg, it follows a young woman who wakes up after an accident to find that she's locked in a cellar with a doomsday prepper, who insists that the world outside is uninhabitable following an apocalyptic catastrophe. Uncertain what to believe, the woman soon determines that she must escape at any cost. It features great performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and delivers surprises and chills with equal measure.
Photo credit-Matt Dinerstein
Southside with You
A rare gem, this romantic drama is set in Chicago in 1989 when Barack Obama took a reluctant Michelle Robinson on a daylong excursion around Chicago’s South Side. Actors Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter in playing the president and first lady aptly nail their characters. The audience is drawn to these two people as are they to each other, and it’s not hard to understand why. They’re fresh, likable, have a sense of humor, and it helps tremendously that there’s chemistry between the two actors who are destined for more starring roles. As Barack Obama, Sawyers not only embodies his physicality, but his mannerisms, including his hand gestures, which are displayed in a scene where he gives an impassioned speech at a community meeting. It’s there we see Obama’s ability at giving inspiring speeches begin to develop, something that would eventually lead him to the presidency.
Queen of Katwe
This colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess is cute and inspirational. Directed by Mira Nair ("Salaam Bombay!”), the film stars Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo ("Selma"), Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") and newcomer Madina Nalwanga who just received an NAACP Image Award nomination. It’s a formulaic fairy tale flick about achieving the odds and it’s done such with pleasing visuals that even the slums of Katwe look paradoxically beautiful.
Morris from America
Modestly conceived and executed, this coming-of-age drama centers on 13-year-old Morris (played brilliantly by Markees Christmas) and his widowed father Curtis (Craig Robinson), as they adjust to life in Heidelberg, Germany after Curtis is sent there to coach professional football. Sweet and nostalgic, it’s a seemingly simple story that’s bolstered by superlative performances by all the principal actors. There is no shortage these days of coming-of-age of dramas, but what sets this apart is the father/son relationship that’s sprinkled in. The scenes between Curtis and Morris are endearing and there’s some solid acting from Robinson, who we are more prone to seeing in comedies. The film’s biggest strength lies in its affectionate and honest portrait of their relationship — a genre we don’t seen much of on screen. Likability is also a key in this film, which won two prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Chad Hartigan (“This is Martin Bonner”) directs this unique coming-of-age comedy with an even pace. There is an easy camaraderie among its charming cast and a neat message about following your dreams and forging your own path.
This film about a hairdresser who dreams of becoming a drag performer will tug at your heartstrings. Appealing and melodramatic, it follows Jesus (Héctor Medina), a hairdresser for a troupe of drag performers in a seedy club in Havana whose dreams of being a performer are dashed when his estranged alcoholic father reenters his life. As father and son clash over their opposing expectations of each other, the film follows the men as they struggle to understand one another and repair a badly severed relationship.
The Birth of a Nation
Just when you thought you had seen all the historical films about slavery, along comes “The Birth of a Nation.” This true story of an enslaved man who led a rebellion in Virginia is remarkably told and brilliantly conveys the experience of slavery from the slave’s point of view. An engaging character study, director Nate Parker unravels the tale of the 1831 Nat Turner Slave Rebellion in a conventional style. A slave who orchestrated an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom, Parker restores a figure long relegated as a historical footnote and shows him as the heroic trailblazer he was. Starring Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis and Gabrielle Union, the film offers a fresh perspective on what led to Turner’s revolt against slave owners and offers a human portrait of the man behind the rebellion.
This horror flick follows three young burglars who make a grave mistake when they target the home of a blind army veteran. There isn’t a single false scare as director Fede Alvarez (“Evil Dead”) supplies an effective onslaught of suspense and shocks. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, it’s a taut and claustrophobic thriller as the would-be victim of the heist turns the tables on the thieves with violent and disturbing results.
Loaded with expletives, it’s an outrageous, anything-goes animated movie about the raunchy life of our food and could well be the funniest thing you’ve ever seen all year. This film’s stuffed with laughs and is so darn filthy that you’ll want to sanitize your fingers right afterwards. Not for the faint of heart, it’s bawdy and littered with extreme profanity, food orgies and juvenile gross-out gags. Directed by Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”) and Greg Tiernan (“Thomas & Friends”) and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the masterminds behind “Superbad” and “This Is the End,” it’s not for the easily offended. But once you look past the astoundingly crude dialogue and sexual gags, this film is consistently funny and enjoyable and is easily the raunchiest film of 2016.
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