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Best of 2016: Movie Edition, Part 2

Most of my top 5 movies have an element of magic, whether it be through talking animals or the unreality of musicals. I guess this year called beautiful things with a bit of escapism. Enjoy the loveliness!

5. Zootopia

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I watched Zootopia with a few friends, and we were completely delighted by it. Judy Hopps is the Leslie Knope of animation, a bunny determined to be the first non-predator police officer in Zootopia. While fighting stereotypes, Judy teams up with Nick Wilde, a fox who embraces his sneaky reputation. The filmmakers were incredibly creative in designing a city for animals of all sizes with neighborhoods for different climates. Lastly, the voice talent is stacked with Jason Bateman as the wily fox and Idris Elba as the fed-up police chief.

4. Amélie

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You may ask, how had I never seen Amélie until this year? I have no excuse, except that my teenage self was preoccupied with the Brits over the French. In the end, I adored this story of a young woman creating miraculous occurrences in the lives of people around her. Amélie isn’t just quirky; she’s a lonely girl alienated by her own shyness. Everything about the movie made me smile, from the specificity of the characters’ interests to stealing her father’s gnome for a worldwide tour. And most of all: Nino, the discarded-photo-collecting man of Amélie’s dreams.

3. La La Land

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Set in an ambiguously timeless version of Los Angeles, La La Land is a movie to make you smile with Classic Hollywood nostalgia. Doesn’t hurt to cast two of the most beloved actors of our generation either. Ryan Gosling is at his adorable best, and Emma Stone brings the moxie and the pipes. It’s a film for and about dreamers, these two trying to make it in Los Angeles and also everyone watching. I was singing the haunting “City of Stars” for days after seeing it. Do you want humor, romance, lovely songs, and gorgeous costumes? La La Land has it all!

2. All About Eve

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This year I fell in love with Bette Davis, and All About Eve is her knockout role. I mean, no one can take a sassy bite of celery like her. It’s a film about the business of being female. As Margo Channing, Davis says, “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not. Being a woman.” This film enacts the struggle of a successful woman who sees her value falling while a younger woman’s is on the rise. Instead of simply pitting the women against each other, it’s sensitive and self-aware. (You can read my full review here.)

1. Room

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Besides being one of the best novel adaptations I’ve ever seen, Room is an incredible film in its own right. Everything hinges on Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack, who are fiercely loving and imperfect. They both nail their characters, and the relationship between them feels natural. The set design and cinematography capture Jack’s magical feelings about Room, as well as the reality of their confinement. Although I saw Room early in the year, nothing could top it. It went straight to my heart. (You can read my full review here.)

Tomorrow we pick up the books!

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Craving Classic Hollywood: All About Eve

Bette Davis, where have you been all my life? What kind of a fool was I that I had never watched one of your films until this weekend? Forgive me, Anne Helen Petersen, for I have sinned. It’s been two days since I watched All About Eve.

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Rather than a Cinderella story, I would call this a Snow White story. All About Eve (1950) follows the rise of aspiring actress Eve Harrington. We know that she will rise because the first scene shows her winning an award for distinguished achievement in the theater, but we don’t yet know how she will accomplish it. Then the film flashes back to the beginning of her acquaintance with Margo Channing, a stage star played by the indomitable Bette Davis. Outside the theater of Margo’s current play, Eve approaches the playwright’s wife and confesses that she’s attended every performance. If that doesn’t scream “Beware of this crazy,” I don’t know what does, but Karen decides to introduce her to Margo instead. Anne Baxter plays Eve with enough quiet intensity to quietly creep me out.

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And where to begin with Bette Davis? You would never call her pretty, both because she isn’t and because it’s too common of a word for her. All of her features are striking with a voice to match. Next to Bette Davis, Anne Baxter’s beauty looks absolutely commonplace. Eve is introduced to Margo mid-banter with her friends, and the classic one-liners and monologues continue throughout the film. At the beginning of the film, Margo is often shown in physically vulnerable states, such as removing her wig and makeup backstage or being woken up by the telephone. However, her confidence outweighs her vulnerability in those moments. As the film progresses, we see more of her glamorous side, but she also reveals her insecurities and volatile temper.

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Now we arrive at Snow White. The conflict between Margo and Eve is that of a mature woman feeling threatened by a younger woman who shares her ambitions. Margo even refers to Eve as “so young and so fair” while accusing her boyfriend of admiring Eve too much. Or perhaps, who’s the fairest of them all? This conflict plays out again and again in our books and film. For example, an increasingly important plot point on Game of Thrones is Cersei’s fear of the prophecy that she will be replaced by another queen, “younger and more beautiful.” But does anyone really need a prophecy to tell them this? Every human is destined to grow older and watch the younger generations that come after them. Yet in the stories we tell ourselves, aging comes more quickly and mercilessly for women, whether you’re the Evil Queen or Margo Channing.

Apparently 1950 was the year that Hollywood wanted to come to terms with the fact that its stars would eventually fade. Sunset Boulevard, released in the same year, depicts a silent film star going bonkers in obscurity. Thankfully Margo Channing is spared that fate. All About Eve is brilliant in its script and performances, but also in its acknowledgement of what I stated above: the conflict between Margo and Eve will be repeated with Eve and the next generation of ambitious young ladies.

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