Sunday, December 17, 2017

Films of 2017

I'll leave it to various Awards Ceremonies to host anti-climactic competitions between the darling pictures like Three Billboards, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Shape of Water, and The Post...

I'd much rather celebrate the quality productions that gracefully shouldered their way past the status quo of formulaic comedies and mindless action films (that always predominantly feature dashing, hunky, camera-mugging white men) and instead suffused a much needed diversity of voices (and faces) in to Hollywood's docket of wide theatrical releases. I want to celebrate the movies that would initially grab headlines because of a certain exceptionalism, but then went on to supremely deliver the goods across the board, in terms of technical and artistic values as well as entertainment value!

1.) Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman: The highest grossing film of the year, as well as the highest grossing "superhero origin film" of all time. A female-led action film that wasn't as heavy on flash or cool-choreography-for-the-sake-of-cool-fight-scenes; an action film that tipped the scales to provide more substantive commentary (in this case, against mindless male aggression) against the formulaic string of reckless explosion scenes.
2.) Jordan Peele's Get Out: Highest grossing original (non-sequel, non-franchise) debut film of all time! First black writer/director with a $100m+ debut. Second-highest R-rated horror film box office ever. Daniel Kaluuya is my pick for best actor, with subtly and extremes in his expressions and reactions within this surreal, but not so surreal, satirical (but not so satirical) horror film. How does Peele not get Awards love for a Best Director nom? Out the gates and you're this good? Wow.

3.) Kumail Nanjiani's The Big Sick: A film released during the competitive Summer Blockbuster season about medically induced comas starring a Pakistani actor who hasn't lead in any previously successful theatrical release?  And it's a HIT!??! Brilliant! In terms of poignancy and heartfelt considerations of family and romantic love, of what we want out of life and how we honor our parents, no other film came close... It may be my sentimental favorite of the year! But it's dialogue is endearingly authentic, and I can't recall more genuine-feeling portrayals of parents and their complex regard for the future(s) of their children.

4.) Greta Gerwig's Ladybird: Gerwig had an uphill battle to break past preconceptions of "coming of age" movies following familiar formulas. Ladybird IS a coming-of-age film, but it is not just for the soon-to-be-graduating high schooler at the center of the story, but just as much for her parents. Greta is almost the same age as I am, and she has written and directed a film that profoundly captures the emotional machinations of two very specific points of our she reaches back 15 years into her past to access an 18 year old's mentality, but also reaches 15 years forward to inhabit the emotions of two parents who are getting on later into their middle age... 

The strength of this script and its direction (as well as its actors' performances) is that both sides of this confrontational-love/hate relationship, a butting-of-heads where both sides (18-year-old / 45-year-old) feel an outrage toward the behaviors and decisions of the other, are given sincere portraits that show each struggling to, eventually, (not a spoiler) come to an understanding of where the other is coming from (or going to...)

5.) Taika Waititi's Thor: A year or so ago, if you told me that a Guardians of the Galaxy film was going to be released during the same year as a Thor movie..., I would have already known which one I probably would have liked more.... The Thor series of films were so...unappealing, that I couldn't even sit through either of the first films. BUT... bring in Taika Waititi, master of quirk and a subtle stylist of active camerawork, and give him essentially a carte-blanche permission to get as flamboyant and off-the-wall as he wants, in terms of an injection of humor, warmth and visual decadence into the sometimes-too-austere genre of superhero movies? It was definitely a roll of the dice... And I want to see more directors like Patty Jenkins and Waititi getting these kinds of opportunities.
These are top notch films and my excitement amplifies at the potential that they are a sign of further progress in 2018. 

But I'm also compelled to round out this list with Blade Runner 2049. 

It's box office performance suggests that it might not have many critical cheerleaders at year's end. Nevertheless, I can't remember using the words "enthralled from start to finish" to describe any other theatre-going experience over the last few years. And that's why it's here for me... Set aside the heavyhanded philosophy and set aside Jared Leto. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmers score is superb, the cinematography is dazzling, the acting is compellingly understated, so it makes for a comprehensive galvanizing of the senses.........and I just hope they don't get scared off from making movies like this and releasing them for optimally epic, cavernously-aural theater experiences!! 

Honorable Mentions
Good Time
Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes
Three Billboards
John Wick 2
Trainspotting 2
Atomic Blonde

Omitted because I haven't seen them yet: Call Me By Your Name, Florida Project, Shape of Water

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