BEST FILMS of 2017
Movie graphic design by Yama Rahimi
The film awards season has officially gotten underway, with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Mo.” and “Lady Bird” snatching up Golden Globes already. Despite that and with a couple of exceptions, I don’t think its necessarily a clear path to Oscar gold. The contenders of 2017 are feeling very different than those of 2016. From the first press screening I saw of “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” I knew it would be one of the two to win all the awards (ok, truth be told, I assumed it would be La La Land). It was very obvious that those were extraordinary films bound for much acclaim, and in the case of “La La Land,” popular appeal. For last year’s films, there were several good ones, exceptional even, but I don’t feel that there are one or two absolute standouts. And in the case of “Three Billboards,” I believe it is getting more credit than deserved. While all the performances are outstanding (Frances McDormand is a lock), and the premise is creative and laudable, the writing and directing were lacking. It’s a great idea, with questionable execution. It feels like a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be, or unwilling to commit to a genre. If you’re going to be a drama, be a drama; if a black comedy (one of the hardest to pull off), be a black comedy. There is too much going with little being followed through on, but I digress.
The comedy category Golden Globe winner, “Lady Bird” is a wonder of a debut and beyond pleasant surprise. Who knew writer-actor Gretta Gerwig had a penchant for directing. This was a modest movie with a touching coming-of-age story and believable characters at its core. The main character, “Lady Bird,” played effectively by Saoirse Ronan is vulnerable, complex and likable. She’s surrounded by an equally talented cast, including Laurie Metcalf and Tracey Letts. Although a small movie, it packed a tremendous impact, universally loved and rightfully so.
One of the stand outs of 2017, if not thee best documentary is Ai Wei Wei’s powerful and stunning documentary “Human Flow.” The renowned artist and activist turns his camera to the plight of refugees throughout the world. Covering migrants in 23 countries over a year’s time, he captures the unique challenges facing millions of people fleeing their homeland in hopes of security and a better life. This is both a large story of political and social crises, as well as personal stories of human dignity.
Director Luca Guadagnino weaves another mesmerizing and sensual tale in his latest film, “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s the summer of 1983 when American graduate student Oliver stays with his professor and his family at their vacation home in Northern Italy. It eventually becomes a summer of love as the professor’s young son, Elio, becomes smitten with the older charming, attractive and seemingly womanizing, Oliver, who soon takes notice. This is new territory for Elio, new to sex and any kind of love, let alone with a man. Every performance in this film is captivating, and the story is sweet and pure, but there is one specific scene/dialogue towards the end, that alone is worth the price of admission. Does “Call Me By Your Name” achieve masterpiece status that Guadagnino’s debut film, “I am Love” did? Maybe not quite, but it sure is close.
With “Molly’s Game," Aaron Sorkin proves just as adept at directing as writing. No doubt, this will be one of “thee” hot tickets this year at the box office, and an Oscar contender for writing and acting categories. The movie is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic competitive downhill skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high stakes private poker games then got entangled in a legal web. Jessica Chastain embodies the role of Bloom, and she along with Idras Elba who plays her attorney, handle Sorkin’s dense, rapid fire dialogue with aplomb. The movie is fast paced, going from Molly’s past, including childhood, athletic life and poker career, to the present in which she is dealing with her case. This is a gripping drama, with moments of humor and featuring an unlikely, but undeniable heroine.
From the mind and mastery that gave us “Pan’s Labyrinth,”Devil’s Backbone” and “Hellboy,” comes “The Shape of Water” starring Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Sencer and Michael Shannon. Director Guillermo del Toro weaves a bizarre, yet charming fairy tale set in early 60s post war era. Hawkins plays a sweet, lonely woman who does custodial work in a government laboratory. Her life changes when she stumbles upon a top secret “asset” being held captive. This is not your typical prisoner-turn love interest, but then again, this is not your typical writer/director. Think “Amalie” meets “Creature from the Black Lagoon” ... sort of.
Moving quickly from the big screen to the small screen is Netflix’s bid for Oscar gold in “Mudbound.” This is a rare example of the movie adaptation proving just as good as the book by Hillary Jordan. It’s a drama filled period piece taking place in rural Mississippi toward the end of WWII and just after. It poignantly portrays the struggles of a poor white family and a black family sharing harsh farm land. The film also highlights the relationship between two men, from both families, who return home from war to work on the farm only to deal with demons within themselves and throughout their community. They are forced to contend with racism as well as adjusting to life after war.
With "Get Out," what's left to be said that already hasn't? Jordan Peele took his directorial debut to put a new spin on a genre that's been over done and often poorly done. He took all the classic elements of a horror film, but with race and racism as its backbone ... something that shockingly, has never been done! It is scary, suspenseful and humorous, all while being socially relevant and stickin' it to the man. On top of all that, it was a super low budget project that took the film world by storm, racking up a well deserved tremendous profit and nearly 100% approval on Rotten Tomatoes (had it not been for the infuriating slight by Armond White, its critical perfection would have been assured)
Also in my TOP TEN are ...
- I, Tonya
- Blade Runner 2049
The graphic above by my friend, Yama Rahimi, depicts my TOP TEN, but below belongs to a few that just missed placement. For them, it's an HONORABLE MENTION ...
- The Big Sick
- All the Money in the World