Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Half Time Top 10 List: 2017

For some reason, it feels like I’ve seen fewer movies this year than normal – and yet, when I checked, I’ve reviewed 79 films so far from 2017. Perhaps it is because that this year, more than ever before, I’ve been more prone to skip some of the bigger movies that come out. It’s not that I have no interest in films like the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean or Baywatch of The Mummy or xXx: The Return of Xander Cage or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or Snatched, etc. It’s just that I don’t want to see them ENOUGH to head out on my regular movie nights – Sunday, Monday or Wednesday, and then get behind on TV shows as brilliant as Twin Peaks: The Return (which is the best thing I’ve seen this year in any medium), Better Call Saul or Fargo. No, I’m not becoming a TV is better than movies person (I think they are separate art forms, with a lot of overlap – and neither form is better than the other) – but those shows (as well as others I’ve enjoyed this year – Big Little Lies, Feud, The Americans, Legion, The Handmaid’s Tale, etc) are almost definitely better than The Mummy.
So while I’ve missing some movies, I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing them Bob (thanks Office Space). There are movies that I have wanted to see that I’ll likely have to wait for VOD for. These include: Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Their Finest, Kedi, The Lovers, The Dinner (I know the reviews weren’t great – but I love the book, so I’ll be checking it out), Wakefield, I Called Him Morgan, Manifesto, My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea, Abacus: Small Enough to Fail, Slack Bay, The Commune, The Death of Louis XIV, All These Sleepless Nights, Dawson City: Frozen Time and Dark Night There’s also a few things opening late in June that I didn’t get a chance to see yet, or hasn’t gone wide enough for me to see yet – Baby Driver, The Beguiled, The Big Sick, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography and Okja. So with that out of the way, a few notes on great performances and the best movies I have seen so far this year. Please, don’t hold me to the ranking at year’s end:
Looking at the four Acting categories, here’s three performances from each of them that are the best that I’ve seen so far:
Best Supporting Actress: 3. Hayley Squires in I, Daniel Blake is much better than the film itself, a wonderful performance as a struggling single mother in Ken Loach’s latest. 2. Allison Williams in Get Out is just about perfectly cast as the good girlfriend who ain’t so good. 1. Natalie Portman in Song to Song is utterly heartbreaking in Malick’s latest – it’s a largely wordless performance, and every note is wonderful.
Best Supporting Actor: 3. Michael Fassbender in Song to Song is essentially playing Satan here, and he’s well-cast, and doesn’t let Malick complete overtake his work. 2. Patrick Stewart in Logan brings more emotion to his final performance as Professor X than I would have thought possible. 1. Bradley Whitford in Get Out is perfectly cast as the good liberal, in part because of West Wing, but then goes deeper.
Best Actor: 3. Joel Edgerton in It Came At Night is essentially playing an archetype, but does it so well that he truly gripping. 2. Hugh Jackman in Logan delivers the best work of his career as Clint Eastwood’s Wolverine. 1. Adrian Titieni in Graduation is great as a father who is willing to do anything to help his daughter in the corrupt modern Romania – and perhaps ends up ruining everything.
Best Actress: 3. Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman is the perfect Wonder Woman – is there anything else to say?, 2. Garance Marillier in Raw is wonderful as a teenager delivering with her insatiable hunger – who looks so innocent at first, but who will directly challenge the audience to continue to like her throughout. 1. Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper continues to show why she’s one of the very best actresses in the world – she anchors this haunting ghost story about grief, often without saying anything – and is easily the best performance in any category this year.
So, these are the film so far from 2017 that I really, really think you need to see:
Runners-Up: Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo) has a wonderful Anne Hathaway performance, and is a clever twist on the kaiju (giant monster) genre – even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing. Five Came Back (Laurent Bouzereau) could be classified as a 3 part TV doc, but I don’t care – every movie lover should see it, as it looks at the work of five American filmmakers during WWII – and then read the even better Mark Harris book it’s based on. Hounds of Love (Ben Young) is disturbing as hell, but also memorable and intense. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski) is a wonderful, pure action film. L.A. 92 (Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin) is the best of the L.A. Riot docs (I still haven’t see John Ridley’s) to come out this year. The Lego Batman Movie (Chris McKay) was great tonic for those of us who think certain superheroes need to lighten the hell up. My Life as a Zucchini (Claude Barras) was a wonderfully smart, sensitive and beautiful animated film about children and grief. A Quiet Passion (Terrence Davies) is a beautiful, and strange, biopic of Emily Dickinson, with a great performance by Cynthia Nixon – Davies best in a while.
10. Casting JonBenet (Kitty Green)
The year’s best doc so far is this very strange one from Netflix and director Kitty Green. Yes, it’s another doc about the infamous JonBenet Ramsey case – which is something we do not need – but the film knows that, and instead has crafted a movie about the way we all process these true crime stories. The film’s basic premise is that the director is holding auditions for local actors from Boulder to come in and try out for a part in a docudrama about the case – when they get there, instead, they are told they’ll be making a documentary – and are asked about the case, and, yes, also “play” various characters. It’s a fascinating movie – especially for true crime buffs, who already know the case, who will see themselves projected in various people, in both good and bad ways. True crime docs have become trendy in recent years – and there have been a lot of good ones. But this one was great, and it’s because it’s unlike any other one in memory.
9. Song to Song (Terrence Malick)
If you’re a Malick fan you knew whether you’d like Song to Song or if you thought it was further proof that Malick has gotten lost staring up his own boat before you saw the film. This is more To the Wonder and Knight of Cups – apparently, this is the final part of this loosely connected trilogy, and Malick will do something more “narrative” driven next. For me, it was the best of the trilogy – in part because I’ve gotten more and more used Malick’s recent style, and learned how to watch them, etc. – but also in part because this movie did hit me the hardest in terms of its emotions – primarily because the performance by Rooney Mara (in the lead) and Natalie Portman (who has a much smaller role) are so good – with Michael Fassbender also doing fine work. Yes, you can argue that Malick is simply navel gazing – but fuck it – there are a lot of other movies that are more narratively driven than this (like, all of them) – I just Malick to keep doing his own weird, wonderful thing – even if I have to agree this trilogy is the weakest of all his films.
8. Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)
Wonder Woman is easily the best movie in the DCU so far (it’s the only one I would want to watch a second time) – and in fact, it’s better than almost anything in the Marvel Universe as well. Yes, in many ways, it is a typical origin story – a little Captain America: The First Avenger, a little Thor, a little 1978 Superman – and the third act is a little bit of a bloated, CGI mess. Still, the movie is amazingly entertaining, Gal Gadot is amazing in the lead role, Chris Pine is great as her love interest, and in the No Man’s Land sequence, the film has one of the best action sequences you will see this year. I still enjoy going to many superhero movies, but don’t really “look forward” to them anymore. I cannot wait for more Wonder Woman.
7. It Comes at Night (Trey Edward Shults)
If you want a more traditional horror film, than Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night my not be for you. The film is ambiguous, and builds its tension very slowly. It doesn’t really have a villain, or that much blood or gore. Instead, it’s about a world that has already pretty much fallen, and the paranoia that may up destroying the small family at its core. Shults, whose extraordinary debut Krisha came out last year, has crafted an intense, scary film with great performance by the entire cast. An intense, frightening film that is different than you’d expect.
6. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
James Gray’s The Lost City of Z almost feels like a long lost John Ford film from the 1950s that has just been unearthed. In the early days of the 20th Century, a British military officer (Charlie Hunnam) is sent to the Amazon to map out an order thus setting off an obsession that will overtake his life. Hunnam, who I normally think is bland, is a fine choice here – at first you think he’s a good guy, but he becomes more complicated as it goes along. Robert Pattinson is also in fine normal as his sidekick. The real star here though is Gray – whose has made a beautiful, brilliantly structure, old school adventure film. The best cinematography of the year is here – and Gray, who has continued to evolve in strange ways, has made perhaps not his best film (that would be his last film, The Immigrant – another more classical film) – but a fine one just the same.
5. Logan (James Mangold)
I have been hard superhero movies for all being just about the same story, over and over again, with very little differentiation. That’s still largely true – but James Mangold’s Logan is an exception – the best X-Men film to date, and one of the very best the genre has ever produced. The film is, in many ways, a Clint Eastwood Western, with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine stepping into the Eastwood role. The film is more violent than most – and also adds swearing (it didn’t need it). But this is a film that, for the first time since the Nolan Batman films, felt like there were real world stakes here – but not end of the world stakes, but human level stakes. Hugh Jackman has never been better, and Patrick Stewart is great as well. For the most part, while I like Superhero movies, I want more to take some chances – Logan takes those chances, and crafted a standalone story, that doesn’t depend on setting anything else up. That’s why it’s one of the best the genre has produced.
4. Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
A father in Romanian wants what is best for his daughter – and little by little, bends the rules until they break. Director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Beyond the Hills) has once again made a movie about how even if Communism is over in Romania, it isn’t completely gone. It is about a father who regrets the decisions he has made, trying to ensure his daughter doesn’t make the same ones – but, of course, teenagers are wont to do what they do. In many ways, Graduation feels like a kinder, gentler version of a Michael Haneke film – Mungiu punishes his lead character here to be sure, but you feel for him, unlike in a Haneke film, which picks the bones dry. Mungiu’s style – long, flat shots that allow you to take into entire conversations or scenes in one shot, forcing you to listen to the whole thing. The film is quiet and subtle, but builds to a fine moment. It may not have the big, dramatic moments of Mungiu’s two prior films – but it has the same impact.
3. Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Julie Ducournau’s debut film had become infamous on the festival circuit for making audiences either pass out or vomit. It’s too bad that’s the one thing people know about the film, because Raw really is a terrific coming-of-age horror film, and a brilliant look at sibling rivalry. Yes, the film can be nauseating at times (the one scene that turned by stomach the most is one that isn’t talked about as much – the hair scene) – but it needs to be that way to really get under your skin. The lead performance by Garance Marillier is so good because she starts the movie as so innocent, so sympathetic to the audience, and then she slowly challenges the audience to still like her (there is a scene where she stares at you in that challenge. The last scene in the movie is the weakest, which is a shame, but other than that this is a brilliant debut film, and brilliant horror film – in any other year, it may well have been the best of either of those things. Not this year.
2. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart collaborated before on the brilliant Clouds of Sils Maria – where Stewart delivered the best performance of her career in a supporting role – the personal assistant to a famous actress (Juliette Binoche) in a film that evoked the best, old school European art house cinema. Their new film together casts Stewart in the lead – a personal shopper for a model in Europe, who is grieving for her twin brother who just died of the same heart condition she has. Then, she starts receiving strange text messages from a mysterious stranger. The film is intense, scary, moving, ambiguous, stylized and utterly brilliant. No, it doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat package, nor does it want to. It challenges and provokes the viewer right up until the disturbing climax. I hope these two make many more films together.
1. Get Our (Jordan Peele)
You could easily make a case for any of the three foreign art house films listed just behind this as the years greatest accomplishment so far – but for me, the best Jordan Peele’s horror film with a social conscious. Peele knows his horror movie history, and goes back to the films of the 1960s and 1970s to find his inspiration – and then adapt it for up-to-the-minute social commentary. The film isn’t really scary on a traditional level – the film doesn’t go for big scare moments, and does build tension nicely, but it wouldn’t make a list of the scariest films ever. It is terrifying on another level though, as we are right there alongside the black main character, as he has to try and decode everything being said to him by a family – and eventually a much larger group – of seemingly good liberals, bending over backwards to make him feel welcome, which has just the opposite effect. I cannot say for sure how the film plays for black audiences – but as one of those “good liberal white people” the film makes you question every interaction, everything you say or do. It is a film that has grown in my mind since watching it – and is the clear winner for best of the year so far.

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