Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Top 10 Films of 2017

Cinema has the ability to do many things, and in 2017/early 2018, we have needed it to work its magic more than ever.

We needed to not only laugh, but to think, to swoon, and to cry. We needed to escape, but also needed to return to reality stronger--with armour and a determination to not only continue through the pain to the other side, but also with a desire to create a new world, through art and action.

A few months ago I couldn't have predicted the effect this year in film would have on me. Much of that has to do with my favorite film of the year, but possibly more so to do with the 19 films that didn't take the top slot. I can't remember a year in which 20 films legitimately vied for my Top 10.

Although it was a year of many great films there were 10 films I loved beyond the rest. In a year where so many difficult things happened throughout the world, in politics and in Hollywood, cinema did its job.

Here are the Top 10 films of 2017.

1. Call Me By Your Name

"Call me by your name, and I'll call you by mine."

Director Luca Guadagnino, screenwriter James Ivory, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, costume designer Giulia Piersanti, along with actors Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel and of course Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet have collectively created the best film of 2017.

Adapted from the superb novel written by André Aciman, these incredible artists have made what I consider THE modern queer masterpiece. It tells the story of Elio and Oliver who fall in love during a sensuous summer somewhere in northern Italy in 1983. It is a story of obsession, desire, exploration, love, family, acceptance and heartbreak.

"Call Me By Your Name" is a visual stunner, not only in the obvious use of the breathtaking Italian countryside, but also in the most daring of ways. Guadagnino is not playing it safe here. We have Mukdeeprom's use of exposed frames in an interlude set to Sufjan Stevens's "Futile Devices" where we witness Elio's angst as he processes his new found love, the use of film overexposure in a very brief dream sequence near the end of the film, showing us glimpses of what might have or could have been, and also the remarkable and somewhat daring editing by Walter Fasano. The film is a true collaboration.

I dare you not to swoon when Chalamet and Hammer flirt at the pool, the streets of Rome, or over a nose bleed, weep when Michael Stuhbarg delivers the speech every LGBTQ person wishes they had heard in their youth, or in the film's final minutes sit in devastated awe as Chalamet, in one long take, shot in close up caps an already Oscar worthy performance with a scene that almost defies description. We have watched Elio grow up and into love, and in the film's final moments the weight of that experience--the pain, the romance, the flirtations, all of there in his fire lit eyes.

2. Get Out

"Get Out," Jordan Peele's horror comedy, is the film that stood the test of 2017. Until I saw "Call Me By Your Name" I thought nothing would beat it. Chris (played by the amazing Daniel Kaluuya) and girlfriend Rose (a very waspy Allison Williams) leave the city to meet her parents on a very disturbing and ultimately terrifying weekend getaway. Although the opening scene certainly nods toward some of the horror genre's best films, what follows is a highly original experience. A treatise on race, white liberalism, and anything else you want/need it to be, "Get Out" is a masterwork in filmmaking and acting.

3. Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson makes the list again. His films "Boogie Nights" and "Inherent Vice" topped this list in years past, and "Phantom Thread" certainly comes close. First of all, the trailer doesn't come close to showing us the real story. "Phantom Thread" is a codependent comedic nightmare dressed in couture. The acting is top notch.  Daniel Day Lewis is remarkable as ever, and Vicky Krieps is electric as Alma. Jonny Greenwood's score is luscious, and of course the costumes are exquisite.  But the film belongs to Lesley Manville in the most delicious performance of 2017. 

4. Dunkirk

"Dunkirk" is one of those films that almost didn't make the list until I made the very wise decision to revisit it. Christopher Nolan as a director has been hit or miss with me. I wasn't the biggest fan of "Inception" and a tad lukewarm to "The Dark Knight." But I found "The Dark Knight Rises" (yes...that's what I said) and "Interstellar" to be fantastic. With "Dunkirk" Nolan has made what I consider his best film, weaving a remarkable tale of war that feels unbelievably immersive and present, even as he plays with time, rewinding scenes from new perspectives with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema putting us right in the action. What might be lacking in character arc is certainly made up for in characterization with wonderful performances by Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Kenneth Branagh and more.

5. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas and muse Kristen Stewart have done it again. Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper who also happens to be a medium, communicating with spirits such as her recently deceased twin brother. Assayas and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (who also shot another film that made my Top 10, "Clouds of Sils Maria") allow Stewart to do her natural thing and it pays off in spades. A haunting thriller about loss, a lack of contentment and searching, "Personal Shopper" is unlike any other film this year. 

6. I, Tonya

"I, Tonya" is so much more than a black comedy that tells the story of fallen figure skater Tonya Harding and her involvement in the attack on her good girl princess competitor Nancy Kerrigan. It is film at film's best. It takes a story from our past, dissects it, and uses it to tell us something about our present. It puts the American Dream side by side next to the American Nightmare. It tells us something about what it takes to win in this country, and forces us take a cold hard look at class division, family dynamics, domestic abuse and the role media plays in all of it. Steven Rogers crafted a fantastic screenplay, and director Craig Gillespie strikes an absolute perfect tone. Allison Janney is superb having created a real life monster in LaVona, Tonya's mother. Janney actually takes a bigger risk not giving her warmth. There is depth in the performance, but the flip side is buried very, very deep. Margot Robbie's portrayal of Tonya Harding is an absolute revelation. For those of us who lived through it, she makes us reconsider the event and the role our content starvation played on Harding's life.

7. Blade Runner 2049

Until 2017 I had never seen "Blade Runner," the 1977 Ridley Scott sci-fi masterpiece, but anticipating not only "Blade Runner 2049"s Oscar nominations, but also my love for the film, I remedied that before seeing the sequel.
I watched the first 30 minutes or so of "Blade Runner 2049" with an incredibly critical eye. I could feel it happening and wanted very much so to simply enjoy the film. Cinematographer Roger Deakins was being poised to finally win an Oscar, and I felt the urge to see his craft and not his work. Eventually that ceased and I was able to wonder at the film.

Director Denis Villeneuve paced the film very deliberately, something I found both thrilling and masterful. The film would not have been what it was without its run time, every minute creating tension. Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling are both great on their own and together, but I think the most interesting part of the film is it's portrayal of women. 

Deakins, Villeneuve and production designer Dennis Gassner continually show us what I assume to be the straight male fantasy of women, while at the same time giving us Robin Wright's "Lieutenant Joshi" and Sylvia Hoeks's "Luv" in reality. They are strong, bad ass and real. It is a fascinating comparison.

8. A Fantastic Woman

On it's initial viewing I wasn't sure how to feel about "A Fantastic Woman" directed by Sebastian Lelio and starring Daniela Vega.  We begin with the lovely romance between Marina, a waitress and nightclub singer and her older boyfriend, but then, when the boyfriend suddenly dies, the film takes a turn into what almost feels like transgender torture porn. Figuratively and literally. Vega, unbelievable as Marina, somehow transcends the difficult material allowing us to go deeper than the surfaces of what is happening to her. It is an understated performance in a film has stayed with me for many, many days.

9. A Ghost Story

"A Ghost Story," directed by David Lowry and starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck is the 2nd most romantic film of 2017. I have never seen a film so succinctly express eternal love in such a way. Although the initial device/premise is on its surface a fantasy, it plays absolutely truthful and believable. We see Mara and Affleck both grieve...Mara eating a pie and Affleck under a sheet. We see both death and life...and in the end (something I will try not to spoil here) Lowry takes us well beyond the life of M and C only to bring us back to the present, and what it takes and means to let go.

10. mother!

I couldn't have a Top 10 and not include Darren Aronofsky's daring and brilliant "mother!" When I left the theater I was charged with excitement for what Aronofsky, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and his team of actors--Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris accomplished only to find myself surrounded by furious audience members. 

It seemed that the majority of the people who saw this film either didn't get the parallels to Mother Earth, Creation/Revelations, etc or found the metaphor to be pretentious and insulting. But there are a few of us who are absolutely on team Aronofsky here. "mother!" is a wild ride, to say the least, and Paramount should be commended for allowing us all to take it. 

The rest

I usually make a list of honorable mentions, but this year I've decided to rank the next 10 best films of 2017. It was not easy relegating Kathryn Bigelow's "Detroit" to number 12. Or not to include Oscar frontrunners, "The Shape of Water" or "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" in the top 10. Or Dee Rees's gorgeous "Mudbound." Or the very dark "Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children," what I consider the best Animated film of the year...or even "Star Wars: the Last Jedi." But like I said, this was a year of riches. 

11. Bird Boy: the Forgotten Children
12. Detroit
13. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
14. The Shape of Water
15. Mudbound
16. God's Own Country
17. All the Money in the World
18. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
19. BPM
20. Wonderstruck

1 comment:

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