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Beyond Fest '16: The Bad Batch


As most people know, January is a slow month for film as it is the month sandwiched between the release of the Oscar-nominated films and the actual Oscars. So I did what most people do and caught up with all the award-nominated films like Hidden Figures and Ava DuVernay's The 13th documentary. Both films are essential viewing as it focuses on America's racial inequality and shows how we need to work together to bring change. And when I wasn't trying to help change the world, I was chilling in bed and watching MTV's Daria, which is exactly the kind of sardonic humor we all need to survive these dire times. 


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The Oscar 2017 nominations are out and of course, I had a lot of say about it. I’ve always had a love and hate relationship with The Academy Awards as it is mostly a showcase for Hollywood to be self-congratulatory. The usual suspects were nominated but also, #OscarsSoWhite was heard loud and clear this year, resulting in the most Black people being nominated in almost every category. (See full list). This is a great start but we have a long way to go! I dive deep into La La Land’s absurd 14 nominations, Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck and Meryl Streep's record-breaking noms. Here we go.

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Another year, another list. But unlike most years, 2016 was one for the books and I truly thought my top 10 films of 2016 should encompass the realistic world in which we live. So the films that I picked are not only made by visionaries but are ones that show the beauty of humanity and those that remind us the most important aspects of life. Whether they are stories of people with vastly different background, opinions and experiences, we get a sneak peek into their world and into their shoes. And above all, I found comfort in other people's stories as they took me on an exhilarating ride from the heavens to hell, made me face my fears and even made me laugh to bring light to this crazy place called life.  So here we go!



Top 10


American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

Andrea Arnold is one of my favorite filmmakers because her films portray life in all its beautiful chaos accompanied by raw intimacy and electrifying performances. In American Honey, not only does it focus on a coming-of-age story of a free-spirited woman trying to achieve her own “American Dream” but it also shows a daring portrait of the socioeconomic landscape of America while focusing on the most underrepresented citizens. American Honey’s gritty reflection of America is uncompromising, relevant and a hopeful place as ever. // Full Review


Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

I can’t think of another film to come out in 2016 that reflects America’s political division amongst its citizens more accurately than in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. At the end of the day whether one is a punk rocker or a neo-nazi, Saulnier presents the vicious cycle of vengeance like a master covering all sides of the spectrum whether his characters are on the right or wrong side of the situation. Thinking that this is Anton Yelchin’s last film, the film shares an important lesson of fighting for what you believe in at all cost. Green Room is grounded in realism and it is powerful in its execution and style that makes it an unforgettable and scathing ride. // Film Review


Spa Night (Dir. Andrew Ahn)

Andrew Ahn perfectly captures a specific corner of the Korean-American experience set in Koreatown, Los Angeles, with his directorial debut, Spa Night. Watching Spa Night as a Korean-American, the film hit too close to home because my problems never felt more validated until I saw it on the big screen. I saw myself in David played by Joe Seo who delivers a powerfully restrained performance, who feels the burden of exploring oneself while trying to abide to familial obligations. Ahn’s acute direction  is finely tuned and hones on the specificity of the never before seen culture and stories of second-gen Asian Americans and that we desperately so need. // Trailer


The Fits (Dir. Anna Rose Holmer)

Anne Rose Holmer’s stellar debut film, The Fits, is an emotionally visceral, visually stunning and haunting meditation on the anxieties of adolescence. Newcomer Royalty Hightower is mesmerizing to watch, transforming Toni from tomboy to dancer, all while battling with her own complexities with identity and gender through assimilation. With Holmer’s singular vision, DP Paul Yee’s dreamy shots, and the intoxicating soundtrack, The Fits is an ethereal and spellbinding experience that viewers deserve and rarely see in cinema today. // Trailer


The Nice Guys (Dir. Shane Black) 

If anyone could make a thrilling and super-charged buddy cop comedy, it’s Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black with The Nice Guys. You have never seen either Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe quite like this who deliver terrific performances especially Gosling who makes a hilarious turn as an inept alcoholic detective. With hysterical one-line zingers, slapstick comedy and the terrific chemistry between Gosling, Crowe and newcomer, Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys is a sidesplittingly hilarious and refreshing neo-noir film you cannot miss!


The Wailing (Dir. Na Hong-jin)

There has been many groundbreaking Korean films to come out this year from Train to Busan to The Handmaiden but there has been one film that leaves the rest in the dust and that’s Na Hong-Jin's The Wailing. Na toys with our mind and turns the dial to a feverish 1000% in this occult murder mystery which expertly blends various horror genres including the supernatural, zombies, and possessions to say the least. The Wailing doesn't present a clear cut answer and it's not suppose to. It's the hellish descent into madness with a philosophical undertone that truly makes this film, one that will terrorize you many nights to come. // Favorites


Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins) 

Once every few years, we get a film that is overwhelmingly stunning in its singular vision and originality that we wonder what did we ever do to receive such a gift? Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is that film and it’s easily one of the best films of the decade. The film’s poetic portrait tackles themes of identity, toxic masculinity, and isolation, which bursts with sensitivity and shows blackness in all its painstaking beauty. It’s exploration of the complexities of black homosexuality within the community and family has never quite been shown on screen till now and that’s something to laud about. // Trailer


The Invitation (Dir. Karyn Kusama) 

You already know a dinner party with your ex and her new lover isn’t going to go well. Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation amps up this “dinner party from hell” story with themes of grief and isolation to deliver a chilling story that you won’t forget. She crafts a suffocatingly tense psychological thriller with razor-sharp precision and  artistry. The Invitation is her most masterful and finest work yet. // Full Review


Toni Erdmann (Dir. Maren Ade)

There has never been a film like Toni Erdmann. It’s hard to begin to explain the brilliance of the film because the whole film is an accumulation of “You Just Had To Be There” moments. Maren Ade’s father-daughter story provides some of the most iconic scenes in recent cinema that will have you simultaneously tearing up from ROFLing till you choke and sobbing your heart out. It’s a film that is as outrageously silly as it is profoundly moving and makes us question the important aspects of life like human connection and humor. It's a rollercoaster of a film that you must experience to understand why Toni Erdmann is one of the greatest films of 2016.


Arrival (Dir. Denis Villeneuve) 

Based on the 1998 short story, "Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Denis Villeneuve does the impossible and creates the most artistically intelligent Hollywood film. Accompanied by a booming score by Johan Johannson, Villeneuve crafts this ultra smart story that dares to ask big questions about life and actually answers them with nuance and meticulousness. Profoundly intimate and epic, Arrival is what Interstellar tried to be and failed. It’s hard to believe that a film like this was even made, but it’s one that came at a time to remind us that we need to stand united now more than ever, with empathy and understanding, no matter how alien and fearful our world may be.


Runner-ups:

Honorable Mentions:
Hunt for Wilderpeople
Evolution
Train to Busan
Rogue One
Embrace of the Serpent
Zootopia
The Junglebook
Star Trek Beyond
10 Cloverfield Lane
The Witch
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The trailer for one of the best films has arrived and it's Julia Ducournau's cannibalism film, Raw. This French-Belgian horror film stars Garance Marillier as a vegetarian college student who, following a hazing ritual, becomes a cannibalism. Crome Yellow and I did a full review for it after we saw it last year at Beyond Fest and we were completely floored by this tantalizing coming-of-age story (See Review).  Now, we get not only one but two spanking new trailers for Raw! Be prepared, you're not ready for this!





The two trailer gives off very different vibes but nonetheless, it's an intense story that touches on everything I love: sisterhood, female sexuality, and of course, cannibalism! And despite how jarring the trailer is, Raw is one bloody brilliant film with incredible performances and unforgettable scenes that truly re-invent the cannibalism genre. You cannot miss this when it comes out, March 10th!

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You know I love me some Fast and the Furious films! After the tragic death of Paul Walker, nobody were sure if they were even going to continue the franchise. But I'm assuming as a tribute to his death, the cast and crew wanted to continue expanding the Fast and Furious. So here we are with the latest installment, Fast & Furious 8! The solid foundation of Dom's family will be rocked to its core when he betrays them and joins a cyberterrorist! Gasp, what will happen to the family? We will find out April 14th!

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So's Reel Thoughts turn 9-years-old today! It's been one hell of a wild ride to get to this point but I'm glad that we are here because having this blog has given me incredible opportunities/friendships/joy and we are just getting started! I am continuously amazed how long it's been and if there has been one thing that I've learned, it's that you can choose to succeed on your own terms. Manifest your passion into something and even if it's not what you thought it would be, at least you showed up and put in the work. And trust me, something always good comes out of doing what you love. So here's to cultivating our passion and craft, now & forever. And thank you to everyone, whether you have been with me from the beginning or just now, I thank you. <33
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There's nothing more exciting than hearing the words "All-Female Directed Horror Anthology". As much as some of the best horror films have been directed by men, the truly horrifying stories seem to come from female perspectives (The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy). So you can imagine my trauma after watching the latest trailer for the all-female directed horror anthology film, XX.



Four deadly tales from four killer directors consisting of Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), Annie Clark aka St. Vincent who makes her directorial debut, Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), and Jovanka Vuckovic (The Captured Bird) in addition to award-winning animator, Sofia Carrillo (La Casa Triste) help weave the stories all together to create one ultra suspenseful tale of terror! Also, I'm loving the poster design! The film premieres at Sundance Film Festival on January 22th before slaying the rest of us all when it hits theaters and VOD on February 17th.

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It's a difficult art to translate interpersonal intimacy onto the big screen for any filmmaker but So Yong Kim does it so masterfully, she takes it to another level. Her latest film, Lovesong, follows a relationship between two friends whose bonds deepen during an impromptu road trip. The premise sounds vague and even the trailer only shows a glimpse of the breathtaking transcendental beauty that lies within the film. I got to catch the film at Sundance's NEXT Fest and the film completely broke me with it's delicate portrait of the ebbs and flows of female friendship. I can't wait for everyone to see the film when it comes out February 17th!


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Award shows aren't usually my thing considering it's a huge popularity contest but 2017 is about change so I thought, why not do a recap of the first award show of the year, the Golden Globes! Out of all the award shows, the Golden Globes are considered to be the most fun because it is a bunch of Hollywood big-shots getting together and being boozy together! I talk about Moonlight’s big win, Rami Malek getting snubbed, and Meryl Streep’s powerful speech to say the least. (See list of winners) Live streaming afterwards was incredibly fun so this may happen again once the Oscars roll around! What were you favorite or least favorite moments?

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December is a time to just wind down from the hectic year and just chill with your family. In the beginning of the month, I saw the fantastic Moana that reminded me why Disney films reigned supreme. A friend recommended a British show on Netflix called Chewing Gum, which is about a 24-year-old girl who is trying to lose her virginity. It's one of the most hilarious shows I've seen as of recently, it had me ROFLing. Literally. And how can I forget Gareth Edward's Rogue One that brings the darkness and realness to the Star Wars Universe to show that there is no battle without casualties of war. And to cap off the year of 2016, La La Land captured my heart especially because of it's message of the sacrifices and compromises that need to be made in order to achieve one's dreams. And ain't that the truth!



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The Blade Runner 2049 teaser is truly a tease. Capping at a minute and a half, we see that Harrison Ford is continuing his role of Rick Deckard and Ryan Gosling as Detective K who needs Deckard's help to unearth a long-buried secret. I'm glad that one of the original writers, Hampton Fancher, is returning to write this sequel. So lower your volumes a bit and watch me scream my head off every five seconds. This is going to be a good one!

Like most people, I was skeptical about Blade Runner getting a reboot, sequel, or whatever Hollywood is always concocting up to ruin all our favorite original films. But once I heard Denis Villeneuve's name attached to the project, my disdain quickly turned into elation because that is one man that can do no wrong! Villeneuve has consistently released some of the most groundbreaking and thought-provoking films in the last decade to shows that he can play with the big dogs in Hollywood on his own terms. And that's not something to fuck with. 

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2016 was a whirlwind of a year, in terms of films and real life events alike. And it seems like we need films now more than ever to empower and share our important and untold stories. Because if there's one thing in this world that can change perspectives, it's films! 

This year, I put So's Reel Thoughts on the back burner for once in pursuit of transitioning from a film critic to a filmmaker. I released the 5th episode of the Girl Talk Series and made 2 shorts (here & here). Sadly, it seemed like I would eventually have to shift my total focus to creating more films instead of talking about them if I ever wanted to become a better filmmaker. It's only realistic to wholly invest all my time in one passion if I sincerely want it to happen but is it? Could being both a film critic and a filmmaker be possible? I'm hoping to find out in 2017!

My baby, So's Reel Thoughts is turning 9-years-old this year and that's no small feat! This blog chronicled my ever-evolving film taste through the good, the bad, and the ugly. But nevertheless, offered an fresh and honest perspective that is seems so desperately needed in our pre-dominantly white landscape of film criticism. It's brought me incredible opportunities and joy so why stop? Hence why, I'm excited to continue and expand by bringing new voices (Holla SRT Gang!) so we can talk about Badass Cinema. All day. Everyday.

Now, don't think I forgot, my Top 10 Films of 2016 is coming very soon! (I bet you can guess what's on it!) All in all, 2016 was one for the books! And last but not least, I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for tuning in and sharing your love of cinema with me. Love & peace to you all. <33

XOXO,
So
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