Things to Make You Smile: Best of 2016

What’s better than beginning a new year by looking back at what was good from the last? 2016 wasn’t one of the best years on the books, but it had it’s moments that reassured everyone maybe it would be okay after all. I mean, if you can’t escape with a good movie or book, then what even is the point? If you are still looking for a little bit of sunshine, I hope this list provides you with everything you need. Here are the ten things that made 2016 all worth it (well, kind of).

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La La Land

Damien Chazelle created a Hollywood musical masterpiece, and he knows it. Unlike traditional musicals, La La Land only boasts 6 songs with actual singing, but it’s soundtrack isn’t something to brush off. The songs littered through out the movie will make you fall in love and leave you humming for days. Maybe that’s just me, I have bought the soundtrack digitally and received the vinyl for Christmas (I can’t stop singing it, and I know I’m driving my loved ones crazy).

Much like the tagline, this movie is for the fools who dream. If the opening scene doesn’t draw you in and the last 15 minutes doesn’t get your tear ducts working, then I think we need to talk. Bring back the chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Gangster Squad, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sparkle like they never have before. Gosling hit a stellar year with film, and has already partnered up with Chazelle for a Neil Armstrong-biopic, but it is Stone who steals your heart and doesn’t stop running. Stone brings sincerity to every role she touches, but La La Land is the next level and her career best. I’ll be forever grateful for this 2-hour romantic stroll about the ones who dream. Until it is on DVD, I guess I’ll just be humming along to the soundtrack every day (sorry loved ones).

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Sarah Kuhn’s “Heroine Complex”

Lately, I’ve had a hard time connecting to books. Graphic novels are a different story, but traditional books have eluded me this year. That was, until I stumbled across Heroine Complex at our local Barnes and Noble. If the cover didn’t suck me in, the story did. A fine mix between your soapy fantasy love story and the baddest female super heroines previously missing from DC and Marvel movies,  you’ll fall in love with Evie and her fellow companions and see why representation is so important in storytelling (and, of course, every day life).

With the sequel, Heroine Worship, set to be released in July 2017, I can’t wait to fall back into the comfortable, sassy mind of Evie Tanaka and see if her life is still ridded with evil cupcakes. Cheers to Sarah Kuhn for making such an easily lovable character, and for reminding me that good books are always waiting around the corner.

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Arrival

Speaking of women who kick ass, have you seen Arrival? One of the sharpest sci-fi movies to date, I instantly fell in love and connected to Amy Adams‘ character, Louise Banks. The story felt familiar (in the best way), and the structure of the film will make you long for more science fiction stories. The movie is based on a short story by Ted Chiang called, “Story of Your Life.” If you connected to this film like I did, I highly recommend checking out the short story and connecting to some of Chiang’s other material.

I don’t want to spoil the plot of Arrival, but if you follow along closely you will catch little bits of detail that unravel for a very hard hitting final act. Don’t sleep on this film. If it is still in theaters around you, I urge you to go out and see it now.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

One of the few new shows I actually loved this year, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency captured my heart with episode one. The titular character, Dirk Gently, is such a gem, but he doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the supporting characters. Ultimately, this feels like the love letter Douglas Adams deserves, whose novel the show is based upon.

To anyone worried about getting too attached to a show, Dirk Gently’s has already been renewed for a season 2! That means another season full of ridiculous adventures, a new mystery to explore and an opportunity to show this show to the people you care about most in your life. With all of its quirks, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was the show I needed in 2016.

Added bonus: If you love the show as much as I do, be sure to follow their Twitter account for a little extra pep in your step every morning.

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The Nice Guys

Shane Black created a very raunchy buddy-cop comedy, and I’m here for every second of it. I remember seeing previews for The Nice Guys in February and wanting to see it, but alas my husband and I waited until it was out on DVD. Out of all the movies we saw in 2016, I wish we would have saw this one in theaters. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe had some of the best on-screen chemistry I have ever scene, and, much like Dirk Gently, the Twitter account did a great job of promoting that fact (enjoy).

The movie itself found a way to pair up two unlikely candidates to solve a mystery that is so ridiculous, that you will want to follow it until the in. Sprinkled with inappropriate jokes, Gosling truly owns every scene, but his character’s daughter, Angourie Rice stole the show in her own way. Crowe reminds you that he can be charming, but more than anything the movie left me wanting a Yoo-hoo! If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.

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Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl Issue 50 (and before)

Why Issue 50? Well, that is the last issue that the Batgirl trio, Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, worked on together. Batgirl of Burnside, as I like to call the journey (but it also the name of the first volume), was one of the greatest re-envisions of Batgirl and I relished in every issue. If you ever glanced at any of Tarr’s work, then you know exactly the kind of beauty you are getting yourself in for. As for Stewart and Fletcher, they help bring the images to life and create a story worth living in.

Don’t be too sad that they aren’t creating any more issues for Batgirl (even if I’m still silently sobbing in my pillow), they developed a new comic series through Image Comics called Motor Crush and it is worth diving into. Just as vivid and lively as Batgirl, this is a dynamic trio that I would keep my eye on in years to come.

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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

When I recently read Danielle Gutierrez’s article about Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, it was everything I’d been feeling and more. With little promotion before it’s release, Popstar was one of the best comedies I’ve indulged in. The Lonely Island has always had a direct line to my funny bone, but this felt like a refinement over their past material and built a monster that I’ve watched multiple times since purchasing on DVD. Unfortunately, like Gutierrez mentioned, I was one of the few who saw it in theaters, much less to tell all of our closest friends about it who didn’t even know it existed.

If you are looking for a good laugh or some good weekend entertainment, rent it. Get stuck on the comical soundtrack, buy it and play it on repeat. After a gloomy 2016, who doesn’t need something like”Incredible Thoughts” to brighten up their day? If this is any sign of what is to come from The Lonely Island, sign me up for more. Like usual, I’ll be there waiting for it the day it releases.

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Kate McKinnon

If you’ve made it through 2016 without anyone bringing up Kate McKinnon, I’m utterly shocked. One of the brightest stars of 2016, McKinnon not only dominated SNL, but also made a name for herself in Ghostbusters amongst other comedies released this year. Even with lackluster releases of Office Christmas Party and Masterminds, McKinnon found a way to make herself stand out against a crowd of comedic superstars. If she didn’t steal your heart as Hillary Clinton on SNL, then I truly have no hope for you going forward.

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Mahershala Ali

The best parts of Moonlight and Luke Cage, I’ve been a huge fan of Mahershala Ali since his role as Remy in House of Cards. Every time Ali graces the silver screen, he brings something new to the show. Whether charming or threatening, I’m almost always captivated with what he is selling. The most disappointing part is that Ali is almost always in a supporting role. Somehow, he never lets that stop him from dominating every scene, usually stealing the light from the main performer (looking at you Mike Colter). Let’s leave it at this, there is a reason he is sweeping the awards for best supporting actor this season.

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The Evolution of Fangs

A paper I wrote for an English final that I thought you guys might enjoy. Just a little fun thought.

Do you fear a chilling vampire lurking in your bedroom in the late hours of the night? Probably not, because in today’s culture we are taught that vampires simply want to watch us while we sleep. From the 1900’s to now vampires have made the biggest transformation in pop culture, and that is simply brought from the fact of our constantly changing views on how they should be portrayed to mortals. In fact, if you ask most people what they think vampires are they would ask you to refer to Twilight with the gallant Edward Cullen, or maybe even the True Blood’s vampires mainstreaming to be a part of humans’ life. Society has shaped vampires throughout the decades to fit them to the needs of that specific culture.
In the early twentieth century, people feared leaving their houses after darkness because of what lied in the shadows and wished to feast upon their blood. One of the foes people dreaded running into was Nosferatu, he embodied what their culture thought of vampires: hideous and frightening. One of the few ways to be saved from this creature of the darkness was daylight, and the safety in one’s own home. Some of the myths that could protect citizens from vampires were holy water, garlic, and wearing a crucifix around one’s neck. When it came to killing vampires the protagonist could stake the monster in the heart, trap them in sunlight, set the vampire on fire, or shoot the vampire with a silver bullet. Even more well-known than the haunting Nosferatu was the legend he was loosely based around, Count Dracula. Dracula is the most famous vampire of all time; the story that surrounds him is a classic and is constantly being reworked for every generation so each will gain a similar understanding of what a “true” vampire is (Stoker). The most chilling aspect of Dracula was his ability to compel others to do as he wished, which resulted in them wasting away till their death. The only person who could save us from these formidable immortals was Abraham Van Helsing, a vampire hunter who roamed the country teaching others how to protect themselves and searching for the Count; it was widely believed that if you were to kill the Count, all vampires would also perish since he was their creator. But as people started to get bored with the legend, it adapted to keep the population constantly guessing on what prowled behind them.
The next philosophy on vampires was that they still were monsters of the night, but they could seduce and enchant their prey. Although vampires where seductive, when transformed into their true vampire form they were as hideous as before. This is probably the most common thought of vampires, in fact the myth on vampires only changed recently. These beasts would charm the innocent into becoming obsessed with them, allowing them to feast on them whenever as long as they could be a part of the vampire’s legacy. Many stressed over venturing into their local tavern because the beautiful stranger glancing their way could either be their fun for the night, or a predator looking for their next meal. Many film directors attempted to remake the Dracula series to fit this new image, making him more appealing to the female audience, and making the women the epitome of seduction. One interpretation of this is Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn where they have Salma Hayek dance with a snake provocatively, when suddenly she transforms into a horrific monstrosity due to the scent of blood and attacks all who were in the bar. This image was but a stepping stone for a more human like vampire; one that would have a soul.
Once we started yearning for a new image for the vampire, we started to attribute more human characteristics to them. One legendary vampire who exhibited these traits is Lestat de Lioncourt, bringing about the belief that a vampire could indeed have soul (Rice). Although he is very vain character, he is constantly questioning his motives and plan in life. With this newfound knowledge we are treated with various interpretations of this version of vampire in both film and television with Interview with a Vampire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both of these adaptations show vampires who go through the transformation to become more of a living creature, experiencing the humanity that was robbed from them as they regained a soul. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer the characters Angel and Spike both underwent this transformation, and to do that they had to undergo punishments for the crimes they had committed during their entire existents as vampires. Although it still comes with the price of being trapped inside till darkness comes and feasting upon human/animal blood, it is a fair trade in order to still be able to comprehend human emotions, and question their place in the universe. As vampires transpire into more of what society sees today, they see more of a shift in how vampires become more humanized.
As people have become more infatuated with vampires, vampires have evolved to feel emotions towards their prey that they had not felt before. Vampires would be more than alive; they could love as well. The first interpretation of this was brought in a book called Twilight which let us explore the world of an ordinary girl who becomes entangled with a vampire, and his vampire family. The book though did change all vampiric myths; vampires could walk in the sun, holy water and garlic did not intimidate them, they could only be killed by being beheaded, and the color of their eyes reflected what they feasted on (golden eyes meant animals, red eyes meant humans). The movie adaptation of this book series sparked a rapid turn of events, and overnight every female became obsessed with Edward (vampire protagonist of Twilight). As this epidemic continued to spread, soon television providers picked up on the hint and developed two of the most popular television series on any network, True Blood (2008) and The Vampire Diaries (2009). Both of these shows have built upon the vampire legend, by taking their own twist on of the story. In True Blood, we get the original vampires, and then we have the mainstream vampires (hipster vampires); mainstream vampires drink synthetic blood created to help wean vampires off human blood. The series uses some of the traditional preconceptions of vampirism, things like a stake to the heart, silver bullets, blood sucking seductresses, and going into the sunlight have stayed, while myths such as vampires having no reflection, garlic, holy water, and even crucifixes are revealed to be clever lies vampires created to conceal their identity from humans. At the turn of the century people discover that vampires are real, and the lies used to conceal them are forgotten superstitions. In The Vampire Diaries, the same traditional rules carry over, but they are able to walk into sunlight provided they wear a magical ring that protects them. Besides the similar theories to the original vampires, they go along with Twilight with allowing vampires to feel human emotions. This emotion helps humans trust these creatures by allowing them to establish relationships where they both understand the other. These four vampire types represent society’s views throughout the years.
The relationship between humans and vampires show society’s obsession with the supernatural, and exploring the unknown. Since 1900 till now we have seen this creature constantly change to match up what society yearns for. In 1922 we were looking for something to fear, in 1960 we started looking for something to seduce us, around 1980 we started developing vampires to carry human attributes, and in the late 2000’s we wanted something to love. The world is constantly changing and to keep up with modern trends pop culture projects this image for all of society. Since we are able to keep track of all of the trends, we can go back and explore each decade and what fascinated them and how it has changed from today. Without vampires in our cultures, we would not be able to have a creature to relate our problems to and to fantasize about in our world, whether to make us fear or to give us something to love.