I am like that sports fanatic, whose life revolves around the cycles of seasons of a particular sport. I read the buzz pre-season, I go to lots of games, and I have countless conversations on who is going to win.
Except my sport is film and the games are theaters. Christmas is the most wonderful time of year for me, because all of the awards season films are being released and I have a whole week to watch as many as I can. Ok, it’s wonderful for other reasons too, but the film situation is definitely in my top 3 reasons why I love Christmas.
As 2017 has come to a close, I’ve begun to ask myself, “Self, what are my favorite films from this year?” In a surprising move, about half of the films came out pre-awards season. Huh, go figure. I’m not a fan of ranking my top selections, so I present them in no particular order, except the order it came from my brain to my Word document. To you.
I hate horror films. It’s not a fear of the demonic/spiritual world. I just truly hate being scared. I do not find that to be a fun experience. In fact, I get angry when someone scares me. I don’t understand the appeal of haunted houses and scary farms. I never see horror films (with a few exceptions from my teenage years when I was still desperate to fit in with my peers – thank goodness for adulthood and a growing comfortability in my likes and dislikes).
I feel as though I need to preface this pick with the comments in the previous paragraph so that you understand how unique it is that I have put a horror film on my list. So, rewind to earlier this year when I started hearing all of this crazy buzz on Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. I was a late to the game fan of Key and Peele, but quickly caught up after watching their hilarious East West Bowl skit (I could watch this on repeat). Unfortunately, Peele’s film was in the horror genre, which as you know, I don’t watch. But I kept hearing how good it was and how incisive its criticism on racial issues in the US was. I even read an article by a fellow horror hater, giving a heads up on all the super scary parts, and encouraging folks with similar tastes to still see the film. I finally made a decision to watch the movie, although it still took a couple of months for me to sit down and actually watch it.
I am so glad that I did. It is a great story, has fantastic performances, and provides some timely commentary on American society. However, what astounded me more than anything was Peele’s artistic vision for this film. Multiple times I wondered to myself “how is he a first time director”. There was such a confidence in how he told the story and the visual choices he made along the way. It was the type of film that made me incredibly excited to have his cinematic voice added to our collection of auteurs. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
So, if you haven’t seen Get Out, please get out and do so immediately!
Pixar films makes me cry. I do not often cry while watching movies. I distrust emotionally manipulative films, that get jollies out of making people weepy. Pixar does not operate like that. They tell a truthful story and that truth can be emotional. I was basically in fetal position sobbing while watching Inside Out. While I didn’t agree with every story telling choice that was made along the way, Coco is a beautiful film that is absolutely worth watching. The animation is breathtaking (bringing me to tears with its beauty) and the way in which it describes the beliefs behind Dia de los Muertos was illuminating. Fast forward to the end, when I’m weeping in the theater, agreeing in the depths of my soul that we must remember our family members. If all of this wasn’t enough, the film features a lovely song aptly titled “Remember Me”, which has a nostalgic tone that re-enforces the theme of the entire movie. For some infuriating reason, it did not win the Golden Globe for best song. This is wrong and I hope that the mistake is not repeated at the Oscars.
I went into this movie expecting a fantastic performance from Allison Janney (because any movie or TV show is elevated by her presence), but I didn’t expect to enjoy the movie as much as I did. I, Tonya is darkly funny and plays around with the narrative in some very interesting ways (mainly via the use of unreliable narrators). It was this approach to the story – a story that most of us know and likely have some strong opinions on – that surprised me. Traditional biopics can feel especially stale when it tells a story that we all are familiar with. By taking a different route with this story, what results is a film that shows a real person, for whom you can sympathize with and still disagree with her choices. The film also makes some interesting points about social class and the press along the way. I had never been a huge fan of Margot Robbie, but was very impressed with her acting abilities. She imbues Tonya with a tough exterior (understandable given her upbringing), while also letting her softer sides show in certain moments. I was also delighted with Sebastian Stan’s performance as Jeff Gillooly. The way he holds his body in constant tension helps to make sense of this mild-mannered man who explodes as the smallest provocation.
I was trying to describe this film to another person and failed miserably. Any way in which I tried to explain the story felt trite and this film is anything but trite. It is a film more about the people than the story and features such lovely performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, who play mother and daughter opposite each other. It is funny, it is sad, it is wise, and it is reminiscent. This film also features another first time director, Greta Gerwig. She’s become a favorite actress of mine and I was excited to see what she would do in the director’s chair, since she’s co-written two of her more iconic roles (in Frances Ha and Mistress America). She’s another directorial voice that I am excited to see what she does next.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This film is not for the faint at heart or for those wanting a tidy ending (or those wanting a snappy, short title). However, if you like complex characters in a darkly humorous story, then get yourself to Three Billboards. Writer/director Martin McDonagh has crafted such a unique story that blends murder, gender and racial politics, and characters that refuse to act according to your expectations. Frances McDormand struts around a la John Wayne, demanding justice, while contending with a town of men who want to dismiss her. She will not be dismissed.
Oh, this movie. I get warm fuzzies just thinking about it! Faces Places is a “documentary” following French artists JR and Agnes Varda as they seek to give dignity to people in rural France through art. JR is a young artist, never to be found without his trademark shades, while Agnes, an aging director, is dealing with the gradual loss of vision (a devastating thought for a director). They are opposites in so many ways, but it is clear that they love and respect each other greatly and it is this relationship that makes this film soar. It is technically a documentary, but as some of the moments feel like staged interpretive recreations, I count this more as an art film.
I eagerly awaited the latest installment in the Thor world, even though I wasn’t a fan of the first two films in the series. I actually didn’t even see the second one. There is one reason this film had me excited: Taika Waititi. Waititi is a New Zealand director who lovingly crafted such quirky and sweet films such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (and for the sake of my friend Amy, I’ll also mention Boy). Waititi deconstructs Thor’s sacred objects and in the rubble, a fun, buddy comedy emerges. Chris Hemsworth is incredibly funny and we see his comedy talents really get to shine in this picture. I was so excited about this movie, that I wrote about it. So, for more thoughts go here. Note: this is a spoiler-filled post, so reader beware!
Is Wonder Woman a perfect film? No. But this was an important film that was well done (might I also add that it’s the only recent DC film that has performed well in the box office and critically). I resonated with particular moments in which Diana is told to shrink. The situations felt so familiar to me – they’re familiar to most women. But instead of melting into a pile of nothing, she says no. In one particular instance, I cried, because this woman said no and triumphed. The image of that was incredibly moving and healing and freeing for me. Just as with Thor: Ragnarok, I was so excited by this film that I blogged about it here.
The Big Sick
This is the first romcom that I’ve liked in years and it really is a work of art. Based on a true story, it perfectly blends comedy, romance, and a fun cast of characters. In lesser hands, this film could have turned the female lead into a manic pixie dream girl in coma. Instead, they find ways to give her character such vitality early on that it remains with us even while she’s asleep. While the plot points are unique (boy meets girl, boy and girl break up, girl gets sick and is put in a medically induced coma), it’s the relationships between characters that makes this film shine.
You may have never heard of this film and I only was exposed to it thanks to a recommendation from some like-minded friends. Your Name features one of the most unique stories that I have ever seen. It starts off in familiar territory, when two individuals swap bodies at seemingly random moments (think Freaky Friday or The Lake House. There grows an odd connection between this teenage boy and girl. Then, the story takes a surprising turn and that’s where I will stop. One of the best parts about this movie is a storyline that you’ll never guess. As for things I can talk about, the opening moments of this film were breathtakingly gorgeous, and other scenes in the film were similarly beautifully drawn. I’ve heard that an American version is in the works and this makes me a bit sad. We don’t need an American knockoff when we can just watch the original. A few subtitles never hurt anyone.
I Am Not Your Negro
I initially left this film off my list since technically it came out in 2016 (in order to qualify for the Oscars). However, it really didn’t get into theaters until 2017, so I’ll count it for this year. Racism is not a new thing in America and this documentary on James Baldwin re-enforced that truth. Some of the more shocking moments were hearing Baldwin’s own words describing attitudes and beliefs decades ago that are still happening today. It’s a sobering experience, but also speaks to how racism has not been defeated and just picks new ways and new people to dehumanize.
Okja – Apart from Jake Gyllenhaal’s horrifying performance, I really loved this sweet film about a girl and her genetically mutated hippo-pig. There were moments when the expression in Okja’s eyes were so human-like and full of emotion. I’ve never seen that before and it was a wonder to behold. Also, Tilda Swinton is the Swintoneyest in this film.
The Beguiled – There is something powerful that happens when a woman steps in to protect others. The Beguiled slowly explores themes of power and gender in a women’s school during the Civil War. It’s a slow burn sort of film, but I thoroughly enjoyed its nuanced pacing and was also wowed by the spectacular cinematography.
Mudbound – This nearly made my list and truly, shouldn’t be discounted. Netflix has started to release these fantastic, award caliber films. But Hollywood is still reticent about letting the streaming service play, at least when it comes to the bigger categories (i.e. best film, best actor, etc.). Dee Rees (woo hoo for another fantastic female director) masterfully tells a story of two families, who while separated by race, find connection through the trauma of war. Mary J. Blige is phenomenal and barely recognizable, although I found the entire cast to be fantastic.
Delores – I was born and raised in California, but learned so much about my home state while watching this documentary on Delores Huertas, who led the United Farm Workers movement with Cesar Chavez. It is both inspiring and sad, exploring the battles she won and the relationships that were neglected along the way to support farm workers in the US.
Movies I haven’t seen (but want to): The Florida Project, Dunkirk, The Phantom Thread, The Post, and The Disaster Artist
I’d love to hear what your favorite films from there year are! Share below in the comments.