Who knew that alums of The Sun’s Arts section keep on listening to music and watching movies after they graduate?
With our Top 10 songs, Top 10 films, and Top 50 albums of the year released just this past week, we thought that it would be interesting to see how some of our elder leaders — the veritable forgotten gems of Sun Arts — were thinking about the question, “What was the best of the year?” In no particular order, here are some of the thoughts Sun Alums have been having about the art of 2016.
Zach Zahos ’15
Filing a Top 10 full of limited release art films, most of them globally sourced, does not content me like it used to. That Sully is, in my view, the only great film to open in a multiplex this year signals terribly esoteric taste or something awry that is much bigger than me. I can accept both conditions to be true—I found much to admire in year-end favorites like Arrival and Moonlight, but not enough to dismiss the sinking conviction that what passes for profound in mainstream cinema is lots of handheld camera and shallow focus. For it is the mainstream that worries me, and how this year—this year—the studios played it safe to cynical extremes. Consider Warner Bros., which in 2015 released the gorgeous trifecta of Creed, Magic Mike XXL and Mad Max: Fury Road, yet this year dropped Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman and Fantastic Beasts. OK, they did give us Sully, too, so perhaps my thesis is a bit crass—but then again Trump just tapped Steve Mnuchin, EP of four aforementioned movies, as his Treasury Sec. What does it all mean!? Well it means if you care about movies, watch them, pay for them, put up with subtitles, but most of all think for yourself: As much as we need beauty about now, ’tis also a time for dissent.
1. Right Now, Wrong Then
2. Knight of Cups
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
5. Certain Women
6. OJ: Made in America
7. My Golden Days
8. Cemetry of Splendour
9. No Home Movie
10. Sunset Song
Kaitlyn Tiffany ’15
1. “Formation” — Beyoncé
“Y’all haters corny,” is one of the best lyrical openers of all time and this is one of those rare songs that physically knocks you down the first time you hear it. I remember coming back from a trip to Target to buy glitter glue (okay sure) and seeing the tweets, then watching the video alone in my apartment, sitting on the floor while my jaw slid off somewhere under the refrigerator. Aside from being a total banger and a profound political statement, this song sees Beyonce claiming what so few women in this world truly have — the power to say anything they want, and then using the power for what so few people choose to — bending the world to the will of the girls, and specifically black girls. She’s invincible, which feels contagious.
2. “Ultralight Beam” — Kanye West ft. Chance the Rapper
The words that Kanye contributes to this song are vague nonsense. They literally mean nothing. They’re gurgled over a characteristically gorgeous Kanye West arrangement, so you might not notice right away, but it’s a song about the revolutionary act of choosing faith in the face of profound grief only because Chance decided it should be so. It’s the best verse he has ever written or may ever write, and when he performs it you can tell that he knows that and that he knows who to thank. For whatever else you might say about Kanye West, he loves to bring out the best in people.
3. “Your Best American Girl” — Mitski
*Ugly-crying for three and a half minutes at this perfect angst anthem*
4. “Ivy” — Frank Ocean
The second-best piece of teen angst released this year. It’s the type of song you write when you’re playing grown-up and looking back at an old relationship like “oh, to be so young,” but in your heart of hearts you know you’re just as not-over-it as ever. Every person alive feels gutted by “Ivy” and that’s because you’re also not over it. We’re babies forever.
5. “Summer Friends” — Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper’s new mixtape Coloring Book isn’t quite as linguistically dexterous or emotionally dynamic as his first two — it’s mainly about being happy, and good for him! But “Summer Friends” sees Chance looking back at his childhood in Chicago and building a vivid diorama of innocence contrasting with violence. It’s mournful and sweet, and it’s a perfect example of what he does best. He’s better than anyone else at creating a scene and plopping you in it.
6. “Blk Grl Soldier” — Jamila Woods
There has already been a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not we’ll have sufficient protest music under President Trout. On the one hand, it’s a moronic conversation that comes from a place of privilege. On the other: people like Jamila Woods were making protest music long before white people started to feel nervous about their democracy. Best known as the vocalist on Chance the Rapper’s “Sunday Candy,” she released a brave, beautiful album of songs this year that range from private hymns to city-wide anthems to a soundtrack for a march. In this one she says: “Look at what they did to my sisters / last century last week. They put her body in a jar and forget her / they love how it repeats.”
7. “Prima Donna” — Vince Staples
I want to marry Vince Staples and live forever.
8. “Still Think About You” — A Boogie wit da Hoodie
I’m a sucker for a sad boy, and this 20-year-old Bronx rapper is as sad as they come. His whole debut mixtape is about how he should have listened to his mama when she said “even if you feel like you really love her, don’t ever tell that bitch that you really love her.” (He half-apologizes for saying “bitch” later, which is honestly very sweet!) It’s the perfect moody tape for anyone going through puppy love heartbreak and feeling a dozen things — sad about it, mad about it, apathetic about it because you’re making money and getting professional accolades, etc. A Boogie has been tapped as a possible new torch-bearer for NYC rap, and I hope it’s so because I want all the best for this cutie.
9. “Work From Home” — Fifth Harmony
You’ve never heard a song this sexy in your goddamn life!!!
10. “Black Beatles” — Rae Sremmurd
Paul McCartney said, “Okay!” and the whole world followed suit. The super-weird, massively popular song from a duo generally dismissed as novelty posers is a vindication for fun. Who wants to do a Mannequin Challenge?
Mike Sosnick ’16
Year end lists are meaningless, it’s impossible to rank art … blah, blah, blah … I know how it goes. But they’re fun as hell to make, and what are people who write about music if not self-important and self-indulgent? While my top album list is much thicker with picks that I feel have reasonable “artistic merit” (whatever that is), I went a different tact for ranking the unrankable with my singles. A great single worms its way into your brain in a way that often runs counter to creativity and inventiveness. It’s music that clicks passively — the track you choose for the last stretch of your commute when you don’t know what else to play, the single that brightens your day a little when it comes on the radio, the song that makes you bust a quick move when you inevitably hum it in the shower.
While I’d consider some tracks on my list, like “Ultralight Beam,” true works of art, others simply fill the color-by-numbers of their genre a little better than their competitors. Take The Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” FratDM so perfect that its catchiness outweighs my gag reflex. Or “Hasta el Amanecer,” which checks all the boxes of the post-J Balvin trop house-tinged reggaeton that’s now dominant. And if you could see my face at Pure, an all-you-can-drink club in Osaka that’s about as dangerous as it sounds, when “Gyal You a Party Animal” drops, you’d understand why a saccharine, cookie-cutter dancehall track made my top 10. It makes me happy, gosh darnit. At the end of the day, good “art” has an effect on you. So be it if that effect is spilling your drink while you dance like a maniac and sing at the top of your lungs.
1. “Higher” — Carly Rae Jepsen
2. “Formation” — Beyoncé
3. “Ultralight Beam” — Kanye West
4. “Gyal You a Party Animal” — Charly Black
5. “Closer” — The Chainsmokers
6. “Ooouuu” — Young M.A.
7. “Everybody Wants to Love You” — Japanese Breakfast
8. “One Night” — Lil Yachty
9. “Hasta el Amanecer” — Nicky Jam
10. “Your Best American Girl” — Mitski
Mark Distefano ’16
1. Edge of Seventeen
From what I’ve seen, the best movie of the year. The reasons I have for naming it as such have only to do with how immediately I relate to each and every one of the characters. The insecure, self-loathing nature of being a teenager, captured beautifully by Hailee Steinfeld in the lead. A sweetly neurotic wannabe boyfriend, a good friend who betrays her, a parent who is devoted but hasn’t a clue as to her daughter’s plight, and a period in one’s life characterized by constant struggle to figure out who the hell one is—and all this resonant material packaged within a hilarious, moving story from a first time director. Kelly Fremon Craig’s film neither idealizes this trying time nor makes it all doom and gloom, but strikes a perfect balance between the two. It does justice to an age when all things — the horrors, the laughter, the joys, the tragedies and everything in between — are felt with greatest acuity.
2. Knight of Cups
The non-obvious choice — Terrence Malick’s latest gem polarized critics, with some rightfully hating it, and others falling in love. At first as I watched I could not see what the point was, but slowly and steadily this piece won me over more thoroughly than any other film has after getting off to a mediocre start. I am now convinced it is a fierce evocation of grief, isolation and, finally, the struggle of an individual soul to unite with God in the hectic embittered tedium of the modern world. An incredibly pretentious premise, but the fearlessly audacious Malick pulls it off with techniques never before seen in mainstream film. He evokes his themes and feelings not with plot points, but with a chorus of images that reach the viewer on a deeply primordial level, and if one keeps an open mind, it speak volumes.
3. Sing Street
One of those movies it is impossible to watch without feeling uplifted. If you thought director John Carney’s Once was the cutest pseudo-musical romance in recent memory, watch him top himself here with a coming of age story set in 80s Ireland about a loner who forms a band with a group of ragtags, so he can impress a girl. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is announced as a major new talent in the lead role, bowling you over with his singing and his nuanced performance. His character puts it perfectly: when your life sucks, get a guitar and some friends and make some art — you’ll feel better.
4. Hacksaw Ridge
When judged solely as a filmmaker and not as a person, there’s no doubt Mel Gibson possesses significant gifts. However his recent efforts were marred by his taste for senseless blood and gore, which clouded their dramatic effect. Hacksaw Ridge bucks the trend. By spending the first half of the movie with Desmond T. Doss (an excellent Andrew Garfield), his family, his lady and his backwoods Virginia hometown, Gibson builds up enough character development so that when he plunges us headlong into the maelstrom of Okinawa for the entire third act, the movie delivers a surprisingly moving emotional payload. In the same way this heroic individual overcomes the regimen of the military and the horrific carnage of war to honor his beliefs, the story overcomes the director’s own bias towards gruesomeness, and emerges victorious.
5. The Nice Guys
The straight-up most entertaining movie of the year. Loaded with laughs, self-referential wisecracks and infectious buddy chemistry, this sendup does for the LA noir genre what Hot Fuzz did for cop films. From the minute Ryan Gosling’s floundering PI enters a joint to steal some classified information like Sam Spade, Mike Hammer or Philip Marlowe before him, but instead of succeeding he slits his wrist and ends up in an ambulance on the way to the ER, any movie lover knows this is going to be a blast. And on top, Angourie Rice steals the show as the smartest character on screen — a 13 year old girl.
6. The BFG
This one didn’t get enough credit. I adored this book as a child — Roald Dahl remains one of my favorite authors — and Steven Spielberg is his cinematic equivalent. He’s perhaps the only director who could bring off this cheeky, whimsical tale about human beans and radio-squeakers, snozz-cumbers and giants, and of course the Queen of England, and imbue it with real depth and poignancy. Ruby Barnhill is delightful as Sophie — an orphan a million times more charming than Annie — and Oscar winner Mark Rylance creates a Big Friendly Giant whom you are unable to see any other actor playing. The effect is like a bedtime story from a master filmmaker and an especially talented bunch.
7. The Swiss Army Man
Say what you will about the go-for-broke, gonzo-bonkers intensity of Swiss Army Man, but why do some critics love a movie like Inherent Vice and turn up their noses at this one? Yes it’s weird, undoubtably, but it’s also refreshingly devoid of cliches. Who doesn’t want to see Daniel Radcliffe play a farting corpse whose flatulence is harnessed by Paul Dano into a human jetski, which he uses to escape a deserted island? I was giggling all the while. And buried underneath is a surprisingly thoughtful premise: an introverted, suicidal man befriends a dead one and has to convince him that life is worth living.
8. Kubo and the Two Strings
In a terrific year for animation, Kubo and the Two Strings deserves pride of place. It is stop-motion studio Laika’s best feature since Coraline, and a haunting, moving meditation on storytelling and mortality, whose dark undertones will not escape even the youngest of viewers. This is a story about an orphaned boy who strums his guitar to keep the memories of his two vanquished parents alive. The visuals are spectacular and epic, and the film’s melancholia gives new meaning to the end-credits song, a lovely rendition by Regina Spektor of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Moana represents perhaps the best execution of the classic Disney formula. All the archetypes are here: headstrong female, cocky macho man, happy village song, Let It Go-type song, cute animal sidekicks. One knows exactly which story beats are being hit and which come next, and yet it’s a total pleasure to be swept along. When the songs are this bright and catchy — thanks to a composer called Lin-Manuel Miranda who’s got some obscure play on Broadway — the animation is this beautiful, and the voice talent is heartfelt and funny — especially that of newcomer Auli’i Cravalho in the title role — any quibbles over familiarity are easily forgotten.
10. Don’t Breathe
It was a summer of good popcorn pleasure this year, and while for this last spot I could have picked a more intelligent movie that deals with grander themes — Sully, Eye in the Sky, American Honey — this is the one I could watch again with solid delight. The ambitions of this modest horror flick are slight, but it’s the commitment to minimalism that makes it so effective and entertaining. Jane Levy and Stephen Lang also give memorable performances, and the movie earns its even more memorable gross-out scene, which creates a visceral recoil in the theater.
Sean Doolittle ’16
This year was a very bad, no good year for every reason. But crying in a movie theater is better than crying in a bedroom, so I ended up seeing a lot of films. Most of them were bad. Some of them were good.
I don’t go to the movies to forget; I go to remember. Each ticket stub collected is a laugh and a tear, a kiss and a fight, indelibly linked to some memory. When I reminisce over my collection of scraps, I’m thankful for it all.
Perhaps you won’t feel the same emotional connection to these films as I have. I just hope you can find it in some art this year. God knows we need it.
Zootopia is bad. Just see Kubo, ya dingus.
1. Hell or High Water
5. Kubo and the Two Strings
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane
8. The Handmaiden
9. Hacksaw Ridge
10. The Nice Guys