If you live for the noisy blockbusters Hollywood releases every year, 2016 wasn’t a victory. Zoolander 2, Independence Day Resurgence, and even Jason Bourne disappointed audiences. However, in the independent (or indie) landscape, the cinema thrived. If you live in this layer of lower-budgeted film, you found original, thought-provoking, visually-pleasing stories like I did. In fact, there were so many winning 2016 indie films, I have conjured up several acknowledgements outside of my top 10.
To avoid bogging down this list with even more thorough explanations, I’ll list each 2016 indie films mention with an accompanying sentence. If you’re a fan of yucking it up at the theaters, the relatable coming-of-age teen comedy The Edge of Seventeen delivers huge. Also, comedian Mike Birbiglia steps behind the camera again for another honest and funny outing with Don’t Think Twice.
If you yearn for the unconventional approaches, The Lobster will quench that desire and then some. Director Ben Wheatley contributes a bizarre but compelling story about an apartment building gone to hell with High-Rise. The Eyes of My Mother will discomfort you but penetrate your every thought after you see it with its interesting serial killer origin tale. Always Shine throws plenty of psychologically thrilling elements at you to stick with you as well.
For those that have sappy hearts like me, the family dramedy Captain Fantastic and the romantic, reminiscing-on-old-love flick Blue Jay hit you deep in your feels. Winding down these 2016 indie films selections is an unflinching study of alcoholism in the gorgeous Krisha. Lastly, Goat shows an unpleasant side of college fraternity hell week that can’t go ignored. With those stellar titles out of the way, here’s my 10 favorite 2016 indie films!
10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The first movie comes from the same director as 2015’s hilarious What We Do in the Shadows. This time, writer/director Taika Waititi pursues an adventure-driven dramedy feel and sticks the landing. With Sam Neill and newcomer Julian Dennison leading the picture, nailing the tone appeared to come easy. The 2 leads have a palpable chemistry that evolves as the film proceeds. If you’re searching for laughs and heart in a film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has an abundance of both.
9. The Invitation
The Invitation came out of nowhere, more so than any other previous or forthcoming pick. Out of these 2016 indie films, this picture is the most pulse-pounding and uncomfortable to watch. This is not due to overuse of gore, but just pure atmosphere, which director Karyn Kusama immaculately creates. More than being a horror-thriller, The Invitation serves as a study in grief and how one copes with loss, similar to Kubo & the Two Strings but much darker and with more adult-geared themes. The movie is available now to stream on Netflix, so I implore you to see what the fuss is about while it’s there.
8. Green Room
While The Invitation is uncomfortable to watch for its atmosphere, Green Room makes you squirm through its unexpected, real-feeling violence. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier hits yet another home run here, with his first being a revenge-driven movie, Blue Ruin. Here, Saulnier manages to round out a more recognizable cast with the late Anton Yelchin and the surprisingly-creepy Patrick Stewart. The violence doesn’t exist simply to evoke unease though. Its purpose is shown through how it drastically affects our protagonists. I’m eager to dive into spoilers to further justify this film’s placement, but I’ll stop myself to recommend you catch this streaming on Amazon Prime now.
7. The Handmaiden
Director Park Chan-wook can frankly do no wrong in my eyes. He continues to live up to this with The Handmaiden, an erotic, thriller that shifts perspectives and makes you second guess what you’re watching at every possible chance. The story occurs in Japanese-controlled Korea, where a con man attempts to marry an heiress to steal her fortune. That’s the biggest oversimplification of a film that features such layered complexities, one after another. Like all of Chan-wook’s movies, this demands to be seen for one’s full appreciation. A fair warning though: at some point, this features the director’s propensity for odd, gross-out moments. Like his prior works though, those moments are absolutely earned.
6. Southside With You
For me, Southside With You was the largest surprise of the year. A movie about Barack and Michelle’s first date didn’t sound necessary or appealing. If anything, Southside had giant potential for failure. However, thanks to the brilliant casting and compelling dialogue, we instead received one of the best romance movies in the last decade or so. I have a fondness for films that opt to tell their story in a single day, and do it well. Not only that, through its writing, we’re shown many differing yet very valid perspectives on the racial climate, the business world, and the importance of community. Even if you’re not politically aligned with the subjects of Southside, you’ll still come out enjoying it.
Goodness, Jackie is a beautiful film to behold. Every frame is meticulously crafted like a painting. All credit can be given to director Pablo Lorrain for captivating me so successfully and effortlessly. In addition to the enthralling sights, Natalie Portman puts in another award-worthy performance in her career as Jackie Kennedy Onassis as she experiences the single hardest moment of her life. Then there’s a whole underlying conversation the movie makes about politics bleeding its way into every facet of life, even something as personal as facing a devastating loss. Instead of grieving in private, every action you take is endlessly scrutinized. Considering this, Jackie is a feast for all the senses.
4. Sing Street
I admit the placement of Sing Street is based on its personal connection to my life. In high school, I studied guitar and songwriting in every free second I had. Granted, I didn’t start that venture to “get the girl” like Conor does in this film. Nevertheless, the seemingly never-ending stream of failures after taking multiple risks is a familiar feeling that resonated with me on a large scale after my first viewing.
Director John Carney, who tackled one of my favorite musicals to ever exist titled Once, concocts one of the best coming-of-age movies of the 2010s. With the relatability comes an incredibly infectious original soundtrack. “Drive It Like You Stole It” still seeps into my brain randomly, and I saw this film more than 8 months ago. Sing Street just hit Netflix’s streaming platform, so I implore you to watch this and get some unadulterated joy in your life.
3. Hell or High Water
Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan yet again knocks it out of the park with 2016’s Hell or High Water. As far as 2016 indie films go, an argument could be made for this title at #1. Not only is High Water the best written movie of 2016, it has one of the best performances of Jeff Bridges‘ entire career. Ben Foster shines and continues to show how Hollywood is simply out of excuses as to why he’s not a consistent leading man. Story-wise, you’re left with clammy hands and tense feelings up until the end credits. Even though this was a summer movie, there’s still consistent awards talk for this picture and it’s entirely justified.
Once again, we have another of these 2016 indie films that could be argued into the top position. Director Barry Jenkins carefully creates one of the most perfectly directed, affecting movies of the year in Moonlight. Mahershala Ali turns in a quiet performance that’ll evoke so many emotions from you. The emotional moments are endless though and rather subtle. However understated the film is as a whole, it doesn’t detract from its importance and its engaging themes that will connect with everyone universally. If you’re looking for an underdog to take the Best Picture award at the Oscars, Moonlight is it.
1. Manchester by the Sea
The giant gut-punch of a reveal and the breathtaking, touching performances seen in Manchester by the Sea elevate the movie into “best drama of the 2010s” status for me. Paired with writer/director Kenneth Lonergan‘s distinct vision, you have Casey Affleck offering up his career best, and Michelle Williams‘ vulnerability breaking us to tears. Although spoilers will help explain why Manchester is so highly regarded on my top 10 2016 indies films list, it’s imperative you experience this ride for yourself. With the movie occurring in Boston, the coarse language divvies out much of the humor, especially when our protagonists are placed in awkward encounters. I assure you it’s not all downtrodden misery, and it’s not just a performance-driven piece. Yes, heartache is very present, but these are characters you ultimately root for and identify with in meaningful ways.
If these heavy-lifting, fascinating, inventive dramas are indicative of anything, it’s that the state of cinema is healthy. With an eye to 2017, we have plenty of more promising blockbusters to anticipate like a new Christopher Nolan film, another Blade Runner film, and of course another Star Wars episode. It may be harder for indies to eclipse those pictures in quality or excitement levels, but like 2016, the gems will be there if you seek them out.
It’s that time of year again when we have a day of reflection and I sort through everything I’ve read and make a top graphic novel list of sorts. This year was difficult in a tremendous amount of ways, but I found solace among the pages of this spectacular medium. Comics were DOPE AF this year. There were so many fantastic stories. There were so many in fact, that I had to make three separate lists for all the books I wanted to include.
Without further ado, let’s get to my top graphic novels of 2016, ranked in no particular order! My criteria were few:
- Released at some point in 2016
- Stand alone or collected a mini-series
- I thought about it a lot throughout the year
LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN
POISON IVY: CYCLE OF LIFE AND DEATH
STEVEN UNIVERSE & CRYSTAL GEMS
UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL BEATS UP MARVEL UNIVERSE
DRAWN & QUARTERLY
X-MEN TP WORST X-MAN EVER
In a quiet seaside town, a gas station clerk named Huck secretly uses his special gifts to do a good deed each day. When his story leaks, a media firestorm erupts, bringing him uninvited fame. As pieces of Huck’s past begin to resurface, it’s no longer clear who his friends are-or whose lives may be in danger. Mark Millar’s bright, sweet story about a man particularly good at finding is akin to laying in bed in the sunlight on a Sunday afternoon. A completely pure story among this year’s indie sci-fi dystopias.
That rounds out my top 10! It was not an easy task and I’m already not looking forward to doing one of these for 2017. Did I miss one of your favorites? Let me know in a comment!
Death Squared, a cooperative puzzle game where players guide defenseless robots through a series of mazes filled with deadly traps, will come to PlayStation 4 in 2017 simultaneously alongside the previously-announced Xbox One and PC versions.
The PlayStation 4 version will receive exclusive levels, robot skins and silly controller features to distinguish itself from the Xbox One release, which will have exclusive levels of its own.
Danger lurks around every corner in Death Squared‘s series of intricate puzzles. Teams of two or four simultaneously and individually guide robots to their respective color-coded waypoints, and all must reach the end for the group to achieve victory.
At its core, Death Squared is about communication and experimentation. One false move can trigger hidden hazards and the fun is learning each stage’s “rules” through trial, error and cooperation. Instantaneous respawns help players put newly-gained knowledge about a level’s pitfalls to quick use.
With an emphasis on teamwork, Death Squared is best enjoyed as a multiplayer experience. Solo players and parties of two can play through the story mode, while more chaotic stages await groups of four with specially-designed “party chaos” challenges unseen in the main campaign.
“The reception to Death Squared has been amazing from groups of all sizes and skill levels,” said Patrick Cook, lead designer, SMG Studio. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch the many different groups of players approach our puzzles. Every team has its own dynamic. Strangers at conventions start high-fiving, couples have an equal share in a level’s success. I think everyone can get behind comradery in the face of adversity.”
Death Squared will be at RTX Sydney for hands-on sessions with all-new stages. The game will also be playable at PAX South, where SMG Studio will debut PlayStation 4 and Xbox One-exclusive levels, as well as story sequences featuring the vocal talents of Mick Lauer.
Have you ever had a visual that nagged at the corners of your mind with its unidentifiable familiarity? Something you know is an undercurrent to common things you touch every day? One of them is probably happening when you turn on your phone’s Bluetooth.
The icon you are seeing without considering is actually a double rune called a bind-rune. It is formed from two runes that are merged together. Ericsson, the Denmark based company that created Bluetooth, has a Viking heritage which explains the use of Norse history.
Bluetooth uses radio waves instead of wires or cables to unite two separate devices. Harald Bluetooth united Denmark in the late nine hundreds and as such the device is named after him in rune form. You can see the H and B runes for his initial are joined to represent this idea.
To truly appreciate this, should understand what runes are. There is a lot of mystery if they are ancient Norse letters that, according to mythology, Odin discovered and gave to gods and humans, if they are divinatory symbols, or something else entirely. Runes have been around for thousands of years and their symbols are still used as psychic tools today.
What does this have to do with video games? Not surprisingly, runes are a type of universal language in video games as well. When you need a symbol to represent a magical power or indicate an instruction that supersedes language limitations of the users, runes allow for game design in visual form. You might find this familiar since you have seen this before. Do you recall the runic alphabet, in the Ultima games, Runescape, Dishonored, or perhaps you noticed them when you cast spells in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. However, those six Elder Scrolls runes are inspired by the Nordic alphabet but not truly reflective of it. Camelot Unchained uses runes as well in combinations during spell creation. As you can see video games often borrow from history and mysticism when the setting is right. Hopefully you can appreciate that something so ancient is still affecting both our digital and our physical world today.
Long has the winter extreme sports genre laid dormant, until Ubisoft awakens a game like Steep from its creative slumber. The team over at Ubisoft does a lot of good with Steep, an open world mountain simulator where you get to, snowboard, wind-suit, paraglide, ski, and walk across a frozen paradise. While the team nails the sense of speed, there are some shortcomings that hold this game back from being truly, genre defining.
Apparent right off the bat, are the recreated Alps, open world in all its beautiful and digital glory. The graphics are near lifelike as I stand atop a mountain that a helicopter has just dropped me off on, and gaze at all the powder that I am about to shred. Character models are detailed well but there are no customization options in terms of how your physical appearance is represented. However, you do get a choice of pre-set character models and you can change the clothing of. This cosmetic only customization is sure to bother some, but the mechanics themselves make up for these shortcomings.
Steep goes for a much more realistic take on the sports than say a franchise like SSX, or 1080 Snowboarding. You won’t be unhooking your board, and swinging it over your head like a helicopter propeller. Instead, the game feels much more like the game franchise, Skate. The tricks are more standard, and less flashy, and I think that works in this game’s favor. Steep still lets you bring the funny as you can don some goofy looking suits, and act out some pretty bizarre furry adventures as you glide down the slopes in a panda costume. The silliness ends there though, as the real focus is on recreating the feelings of these extreme sports.
The controls are rather simplistic, but take some time to actually master. Pulling off tricks is as easy as nailing a jump at the right time and then manipulating a series of R1, L1, and joystick maneuvers to pull off some real life moves when on skis or a snowboard. The sense of speed that is built through these courses is perfect, and nailing a good speed run or a series of tricks is gratifying.
The paraglider is easy enough as you float along, catching updrafts as you go point to point. This event can most often times be more boring than entertaining. I found myself skipping these missions as often as possible. Wing-suiting may be the star of the show. Nailing a perfect drop and course run is intense, and induces the urge to stand up and cheer as you celebrate your close calls as you fly dangerously close to the environment. This is the best feeling wing-suit mechanics in the medium, as I feel like I have absolute control over my glider.
The walking around may be the most polarizing aspect of this game. Steep encourages you to take a moment to walk around, and explore. Doing this will unlock more drop off points to start new races. New summits will be unlocked as you increase your player level, and on these summits are increasingly difficult races and events. At some point the game will force you to walk around. While I may call it tranquil and serene; I have found many that have called it tedious, boring, and time consuming. I will ask that you let your own preference guide you on how the walking portions will make you feel.
Leveling up in this game feels empty. Your character does not get stronger, faster, or better at balancing. The costumes, and clothing, and items you unlock have no stats are baring on your performance either. Everything in this game is cosmetic including your level number, which to me is a shame. I wish these things stood for something more, but there is something to be said about a game that gives you everything at the start, and has you relying on pure skill and not stat boosting upgrades.
My biggest issue with this game is one that had me constantly frustrated. There is no easy way to find a race type you are looking for. When choosing a race to tackle next, the game has you going to a world map and choosing a series of flags that represent a race off of said map. There are so many different types of races and tracks, and I was usually looking for a specific one to show off to a friend of co-op partner. To find that specific race, I would have to locate it on this cluttered world map, with strangely marked iconography to loosely represent the event. This world map is basically littered with these varied races. The events are dotted like chicken pox all across the face of the map as you try and decipher which race is which. I found myself constantly frustrated as I tried to find a specific event type, only to lose patience and just choose any event. This is extremely poor mission design.
The multiplayer is another pillar of mediocrity for Steep. Real players will bleed in and out of your world and races as you explore around and participate in the events. It is not uncommon to see people engaging in the same races you are, but it never quite feels like you are racing with/against them. It feels more like they are just participating in timed events with you, racing against their own times, and leader-board scores. Sure it is a lot of fun to have these players shredding around with you, but it still feels like an empty experience. I never once felts like I was working towards the same goal with my partner or opponent. This is a racing game right? Why don’t I feel that urgency in the events?
There are user created events, and you have the ability to share your own runs down the mountain for others to compete against your time, but I found the menus to be convoluted and confusing. I’m sure some may not have an issue with the navigation, but I felt they could have presented the information in a much clearer way. This content does have the ability to extend the life of the game, but at the end of the day you are still going down the same mountain sides, using the same equipment, with the only goal being to get a better time or score.
Steep truly shines when a singular event has multiple traversal styles. There was a particular race in the game that has you using all modes of transportation as you make your way across the mountain range. Switching between all the mode of transportation to ensure you reach the finish line, is as tactical as it is exhilarating. I just wish there were more moments like this.
Steep has a lot going on for it. It is easily the best extreme winter sports game in years, but then again it has not had much competition. I feel a few updates and additions could fix the issues I had with the game, however its final and last issue I will share may be a deal breaker to some. Steep has very little content. It takes a week or two of play to max out your character level to the cap of 25. The amount of different race types is little as well when compared to others in the genre and their mode types. Perhaps DLC could extend the life of this game, but I think selling a season pass on top of the game’s full price is a tall order to ask of people.
I think Steep can be a perfect pallet cleanser at the end of the year as you come off of huge experiences like Watch Dogs 2, Dishonored 2, and Final Fantasy XV. Is it worth the full price? Well that depends on how much you enjoy striving for bettering your times and scores, because it is hard for me to recommend the game based off the amount of content alone. What you will get with Steep though, is a true sense of speed, amazing controls, and a beautiful open world. If that is enough for you, there will be plenty of fun to be had with this game.
To those of us enamored of Carrie Fisher, the most important person in your life, you were a comfort. You helped an icon be the best she could be. You were there with her to the end.
May I share a couple of personal stories with you?
In 1977, my parents went on a date to see a movie. I don’t know whether they argued about what to see, but ultimately they saw Star Wars. They tucked away the name “Luke” on the chance they had a boy in the near future. I arrived nine years later and was instead given the name of the space princess who saved a galaxy. Inevitably, I grew up watching Carrie in A New Hope over and over again. She stood up to an entire fucking Empire! I can’t impress upon you enough what that felt like, to see a woman staring defiantly in the face of oppression and darkness. It was an honor to have such a name as Leia. When I felt weak, I looked to her character for guidance. “What Would Princess Leia Do?” became a mantra.
She gave me new hope every time I felt hopeless.
Learning that the woman who played her was just as strong and just as fiery was AMAZING. Carrie Fisher was outspoken and honest about everything, even when the world at large told her she shouldn’t be. She struggled with being bipolar, and spoke candidly about the stigma surrounding it.
That’s when you came along. Seeing you became synonymous with knowing she felt more at peace with herself. You helped her so much, Gary! In fact, my second story is about you.
In May 2015, I attended a Dallas convention in a spur of the moment decision. My time was spent showing a convention newbie around the place. When we entered a hallway between the dealer room and the autograph area, you zoomed out to us, barking happily. We squatted and gave you a couple of pets before I froze. A voice I knew all too well rang out in the quite hallway.
“GARY, MY LOVE, COME!” she called out and off you went, tongue out, tail wagging.
I gripped my companion as we stood, ecstatic that I’d gotten to meet you.
You probably don’t need me to tell you how great she was, as you knew her much better than I did. My awe of her was spent largely from afar, one of many many fans of her work, both onscreen and off.
It doesn’t make me sad I never officially got to meet her, because I get to see her whenever I’d like. I get to share her story with everyone and describe how a princess could save herself, an entire galaxy, and ultimately, me. A whole new generation of people just got the chance to fall in love with one of the greatest heroes of our time.
That will always be what Carrie Fisher was to me…A hero.
I am so sorry that she has left your side, but please let me say from the bottom of my broken heart: Thank you, Gary.