Since I posted my third-quarter round-up so late, this issue of film quarterly only covers the months of November and December. During the last two months, I watched fifty-three total films—eight in the theater and forty-five at home. This included fifteen 2017 releases, many of which are now available on DVD or streaming. Besides catching up on critical darlings I missed earlier in the year, my home viewing was dominated by the thirty film noirs I watched for Noirvember, which included twenty-four selections that were new to me.
In both old films and new, the main theme of the quarter seemed to be ghosts of the past, whether metaphorical or literal. I guess that seems about right for the year we’ve had.
Let’s start with the new, shall we?
Note: Since I will be publishing a “Year in Film” post soon, I will not be putting up a 2017 top ten (or more) here, but I can assure you that many of the films below will be on it.
Best Film Seen in a Theater: Lady Bird. I leave very few movies thinking “that was just perfect” but Lady Bird was such a movie. Smart, charming, and understated, not to mention extremely well written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird goes beyond your standard coming of age film, revealing as much about class and the economy as it does about family, relationships, and sexuality. I had to check my watch at the end because I was sure the movie was longer than ninety minutes. It wasn’t, but the various characters were such well-rounded portrayals the movie seemed very “full” if that makes sense. There are great performances by Saoirse Ronan, the titular character, as well as Laurie Metcalf as her mom, Beanie Feldstein as her best friend, Timothée Chalamet as her douchey boyfriend, and Tracy Letts as her dad. It just all seemed refreshingly normal.
Best Film Watched at Home: A Ghost Story. I will admit that I thought A Ghost Story looked incredibly stupid and not at all my thing. Plus, Casey Affleck was a decided mark in the “con” column in terms of selecting something to watch in a theater. But I heard so many great things about it, I felt it was a must watch when it came out on DVD. While still sort of annoyed by Affleck’s presence, I can’t deny that this tale of love and loss is incredibly poetic and beautiful. I could watch it again and again. And did. Its meditation on the spaces we inhabit and the examination of a lifetime lived through simple moments in time really resonated with me.
Best Theater Experience: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I didn’t agree with all the choices that Martin McDonagh made in constructing this tale of a grieving and angry mother, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed this black comedy immensely when I saw it in the theater. I have a feeling it is definitely better with a crowd. The dialogue was brilliant and I have been so angry this past year that seeing someone venting their rage on screen was extremely cathartic. Almost none of these characters is sympathetic, but I don’t think they are meant to be. They are speaking to a certain truth of life in the United States today and centralizing important questions we are still struggling with. It is not the easy view of sorrow and loss presented by A Ghost Story; Three Billboards makes us uncomfortable because it is willing to go out on a limb where there are no easy answers.
Prettiest: The Florida Project. If you are a longtime reader, you know how much I enjoyed Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015). I’m not sure The Florida Project reaches those heights, but it comes pretty darn close. Emphasis on the pretty: This is perhaps the most colorful movie about homelessness that you will ever see. It’s also funny, energetic, and believable. Baker apparently did a ton of research for this film and it shows. This is not poverty porn. Much like Bobby, the character played by Willem Dafoe, it is quiet and unassuming, with a lot of heart. Also, kudos to Baker for finding such a great actress in young Brooklynn Prince, without whom the film would just not work.
Best Adaptation: Mudbound. I read Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound earlier this year and I have to say that I think Virgil Williams and Dee Rees did an excellent job adapting it. I’m sorry to have lost so much of Laura’s voice in the re-telling, but I accept the trade-offs they made to amplify the voices of the Jackson family. Since I knew the story so well going in, it probably didn’t hit me with the emotional weight it should have, but the cast and cinematography are exceptional. In many ways, Mudbound feels like The Grapes of Wrath for the twenty-first century.
Most Hitchcockian: Personal Shopper. This film was not at all what I expected. This is another film about actual ghosts, and I did not anticipate how scary it would be. Shout-out to The Boys who I convinced to watch this with tales of Paris and fancy clothes. Sorry, guys! While I liked it better than The Boys, I didn’t love it; however, it does provide some insight on how the Master of Suspense might have used modern technology. I should also note that Kristen Stewart delivers an excellent performance and I may have to rethink my stance on her. (I also watched Certain Women this quarter.)
Most Mixed Emotions: The Shape of Water. I wanted to love this one, but The Shape of Water just didn’t work for me somehow. I certainly bought into the world, which looks incredibly like a Jeunet-Caro film, but the plot was extremely predictable and the moments of gratuitous body horror were so jarring they threw me out of the movie every time. That said, the fairytale aspects are lovely and the film itself is often visually stunning. Sally Hawkins gives a great performance.
Most Underrated: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (aka February). I caught this one on DVD after it popped up @Schofizzy’s best of the year (so far) list back in October. Horror is hit or miss for me, but I really liked the mood and structure of it. Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts are both excellent in this debut film (it was filmed in 2015) by Oz Perkins.
Most Overrated: Call Me by Your Name. While I’m generally happy to watch the “privileged class enjoying its privileges,” I’ve grown tired of Luca Guadagnino’s tendency to present precocious and/or pretentious people in pretty settings as something that is somehow intrinsically deep or meaningful. Honestly, I didn’t love Moonlight like others did, but I am almost upset on its behalf that people compare these two films. Moonlight’s structure and cinematography didn’t personally work for me, but at least they represented a choice and a vision. And I felt I knew those characters and believed they loved each other. Who do we really get to know here? Timothée Chalamet is great in the role of Elio, but what else is interesting or challenging about this?
Most Fun: Thor: Ragnarok. I probably would have had more fun at this movie if I hadn’t dragged my sister who, unbeknownst to me, had not seen any of the Avengers movies. Needless to say, she was a little confused. For myself, I found it extremely funny, blessedly “short” at 130 minutes, and remarkably free of most of the mythology gobbledygook I hate in the MCU. [Side note to the MCU: Enough with the credit sequences already.]
Best Documentary: Visages, Villages (Faces Places). I can’t imagine not liking this lovely confection of a documentary by cinema legend Agnès Varda and visual artist JR. Not that it is all light and sunshine, but this unassuming documentary, which consists of this odd pair of artists travelling the French countryside and interacting with working-class people, is a lovely antidote to the endless parade of Trump voter interviews we seem to get here.
Most Unique: Colossal. Speaking of odd, one of the most unusual new films I watched this quarter was Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal. It is hard to describe this one, but let’s say it’s part rom-com, part Godzilla movie, and part social commentary on toxic masculinity. It doesn’t quite work, but is extremely creative with a strong performance by Anne Hathaway as a rather unsympathetic alcoholic heroine.
Finally, just to round out the list of what I watched in terms of 2017 movies, I also saw Beatriz at Dinner, The Incredible Jessica James, and The Meyerowitz Stories—all perfectly fine rentals but nothing to write home about.
And with that, let’s look at some of my other favorite (and not-so-favorite) selections and moments from this quarter.
Much of my home viewing this quarter was related to Noirvember, and I discovered many excellent films as part of that project. In 2018, I hope to take a more methodical approach to the genre, but if you’d like more details on what I watched this first time around, check out Noirvember 1: Out of the Past, Noirvember 2: Raw Deal, and Noirvember 3: Hot Spot.
Top Fifteen Noirvember Selections:
The Narrow Margin
Kansas City Confidential
Out of the Past
The Maltese Falcon
The Big Heat
His Kind of Woman
Murder, My Sweet
Ace in the Hole
The Asphalt Jungle
Kiss Me Deadly
I Wake Up Screaming (Hot Spot)
Best Classic Rewatch: Laura (1944). I don’t think I could ever get tired of this one. A great mystery with a great look and fantastic dialogue.
Best New-to-Me Classic: In the Heat of the Night (1967). The “Great Unseen” strikes again. I didn’t get to many more of them this quarter, but this one was excellent.
Best Math Greek Selection: The Tales of Hoffman (1951). The Math Greek has been telling me for some time I should watch this. He’s not wrong. I mean, I love Powell and Pressburger, I love opera. I can’t believe it took me this long.
Best Christmas Movie: While You Were Sleeping (1995). It’s like Die Hard, but a Christmas movie.
Best Sports Movie: Girlfight (2000). A brilliant debut by both director Karyn Kusama and lead actress Michelle Rodriguez. I’m sorry I didn’t get to this during my #52FilmsByWomen project.
Best Cinematography: Mudbound (2017)
Best Score: A Ghost Story (2017)
Best Use of 70s Music: “Immigrant Song” in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Best Use of 80s Music: “Love My Way” in Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Best Line: Out of the Past (1947)
You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.
—Robert Mitchum to Jane Greer
Best Opening: The Shape of Water (2017)
Best Ending: A Ghost Story (2017)
Best Worst Dancing: Anne Hathaway in Colossal (2017)
The Rupert Giles Award (aka Mathiest): Contact (1997)
Most Existential Ennui (aka Frenchiest): Personal Shopper (2017)
Bechdel-Wallace “Themyscira” award: Certain Women (2016)
Marvel “Can’t Live Up to the Hype” award: Mad Max (1979)
Spinal Tap “Mime Is Money” award: Blow-Up (1967). I never could have predicted that ending in a million years.
For Vol. 2017, Issue 1, click here.
For Vol. 2017, Issue 2, click here.
For Vol. 2017, Issue 3, click here.
*The movies I saw or rewatched this quarter include:
2017: Beatriz at Dinner; The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February); Call Me By Your Name; Colossal; The Florida Project; A Ghost Story; The Incredible Jessica James; Lady Bird; The Meyerowitz Stories; Mudbound; Personal Shopper; The Shape of Water; Thor: Ragnarok; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Visages, Villages (Faces Places)
2016: Certain Women
Released prior to 2016: Ace in the Hole; Angel Face; The Asphalt Jungle; The Big Heat; Blow-Up; The Blue Dahlia; The Blue Gardenia; Contact; Double Indemnity; Fallen Angel; Force of Evil; Girlfight; The Grifters; His Kind of Woman; The Hitch-Hiker; I Wake Up Screaming; In the Heat of the Night; Kansas City Confidential; Kiss Me Deadly; The Lady from Shanghai; Laura; Mad Max; The Maltese Falcon; Murder, My Sweet; The Narrow Margin; Nightmare Alley; Out of the Past; Pitfall; The Postman Always Rings Twice; Raw Deal; The Strange Love of Martha Ivers; The Tales of Hoffmann; This Gun For Hire; Union Station; Where the Sidewalk Ends; While You Were Sleeping; Whirlpool
Note: These posts are in no way affiliated with the Film Quarterly journal published by the University of California Press.
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