So what is right and what is wrong? Gimme a sign. What is love?
I know that this quarterly report is somewhat delayed, but, hey, with over forty films viewed in July, August, and September, there was a lot of ground to cover. On the upside, between a hectic work schedule and a birthday road trip, I’ve only seen six movies since then. So, never fear, I’m making up for my packed third quarter with aggressively lazy viewing habits now. In any case, as I was contemplating the beginning of #Noirvember and whether I should do a noir series, I thought perhaps I should put in a little effort and start to tie up other loose ends.
The good news is I’ve seen an incredible number of great films, both in and out of the theater. For that reason, I’ve decided to list twenty 2017 titles below, rather than the usual ten. Note: The ranking below is more of a gut call than anything, it’s more than likely to change at the end of the year as I revisit and rethink some of these.
2017 Top Twenty (to Date) Ranked
Blade Runner 2049
Ingrid Goes West
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
The Big Sick
War for the Planet of the Apes
The Zookeeper’s Wife
As per usual, I will focus below on the 2017 movies I watched this past quarter. For my thoughts on previous quarters, you can read Vol. 2017, Issue 1 and Vol. 2017, Issue 2.
If there was one thread that ran through most of the films I’ve watched in theaters since June, it was love. And not just the usual questions and forms of familial and erotic love that we see on screen, but a variety of expressions of this emotion, and a real questioning of what love is and what it means.
I look for pleasure in the details.
Best Film Seen in a Theater: Blade Runner 2049. I had my doubts about the idea of a sequel to Blade Runner, but I should have known that Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins wouldn’t let me down. I loved how this script chose to expand the Blade Runner universe and how the writers managed to keep to very simple themes while simultaneously giving you lots of information to unpack. Normally I would complain about the length of any film running two hours and forty-five minutes, but, honestly, I can’t imagine where I would cut this film. And, needless to say, with Roger Deakins at the camera’s helm, there were plenty of stunning visuals. My only real complaint was the score. It mostly served to remind me how much I hated the sound and score of Dunkirk. Go away, Hans Zimmer.
Best Theater Experience: Logan Lucky. Why did no one see this film? It was so much fun. And, frankly, I liked the heist here better than in Ocean’s 11. It’s a lot looser, and the film just has more heart in it. And, hey, I actually liked Adam Driver, which is almost a miracle in and of itself. I loved Daniel Craig and it was nice to see him playing someone other than a dour James Bond. Yes, Seth McFarlane was ridiculous, but his role was minor enough that I could live with it. Finally, unlike most people (apparently), I liked where it ended up and would eagerly get in line for any planned sequel. Definitely catch this Steven Soderbergh gem on video or streaming when you get a chance.
Best Elizabeth Olsen Performance (tie): Wind River and Ingrid Goes West. I kid. Sort of. Olsen is fantastic in both of these films, playing two very different roles in two very different films—one a dark comedy and the other a neo-western thriller—but she is not the only one who shines; her co-stars are equally good. Aubrey Plaza gives emotional poignancy to the troubled character of Ingrid and O’Shea Jackson Jr. is adorable as Ingrid’s landlord/friend. At times funny, at times uncomfortable, and at times uncomfortably funny, Ingrid Goes West will not be for everyone, but it serves as an excellent showcase for these actresses and as a warning about the dangers of social media obsession. Wind River is on the opposite end of the social media extreme, focusing on a remote, forbidding landscape and a people that seem left behind by (or left out of) the globalized economy. Here, Olsen stars opposite a quietly powerful Jeremy Renner, in perhaps his best role since The Hurt Locker (and maybe even better than that). The film exposes the best and worst of humanity but ultimately believes in justice and the heroic nature of man (or, in this case, woman). If you like thrillers, and especially if you liked Sicario or Hell or High Water, both written by first-time director Taylor Sheridan, I highly encourage you to catch Wind River when it is released on DVD this coming month.
Best Visuals: Atomic Blonde. Sure, this film is far heavier on style than substance, but, what style. From song choice to outfits, this homage to 1980s Cold War spy fantasy is pitch perfect, right down to the convoluted plot that makes no real sense whatsoever. But who cares? See above, re style. Like John Wick, David Leitch’s first directorial outing (with Chad Stahelski), Atomic Blonde is packed with incredible, and incredibly realistic, fight scenes. The fighting is visceral, the bruises seem real, and it all seems exhausting—as I’m sure this type of hand-to-hand combat would be. One thing I loved about having a female lead in a movie like this is that Charlize Theron’s character has to make use of her environment to defeat her adversaries, since she can’t rely on brute strength. It just forces a creativity that sets a film like this apart. And again, like John Wick, the film has some incredibly stunning camera angles and framing choices. Does this mean I have to see Deadpool 2?
I don’t know—what can I do? What else can I say? It’s up to you.
Best Opening Scene: Dunkirk. And, once again, a film that many people adored but only got a meh from me had the best opening. The cold open of soldiers running through the streets of the town to try to get to the beach was Dunkirk at its most visceral to me. Unfortunately the rest of the film didn’t live up to this opening. Despite the claims of people that “you must see it in 70mm IMAX,” I really wish I hadn’t. Beyond the “air” sequences, I didn’t think the square framing served the movie very well and wish I had seen it in standard widescreen. And don’t even get me started on the sound, my god, the sound. And, no, I don’t only mean you couldn’t understand the dialogue (although you couldn’t), it was also just too damn loud. I’ve heard people say that the film didn’t need dialogue, and I agree, but if you are going to have it, it should be intelligible. And the writing in the “sea” section was clunky at best. I don’t know, I guess Dunkirk was mostly frustrating because I wanted to love it, and the basic plot and three timelines really worked for me, it’s just that I didn’t think the execution lived up to the concept.
Best Closing Scene: Wind River. Oh, am I mentioning Wind River again already? Well, there you go, this one has really stuck with me. There is a lot to love about this film, but it’s worth it if only for the final scene between Jeremy Renner and an excellent Gil Birmingham—which itself is simply icing on the cake of the two excellent resolutions that come just before.
Best Sequel to a Prequel: War for the Planet of the Apes. In another quarter, this film might be much higher on my list, because it is a very good close to a well-conceived trilogy, all wrapped up in a lovely Michael Giacchino musical bow. Like Blade Runner 2049, it questions humanity, but delves deeper than that film does into the questions of oppression and exploitation, and the cycles of violence that come along with that. The appreciation for and mastery of classical Hollywood storytelling is in evidence throughout the film [elevator pitch: a war film meets a prison escape film meets a western, but with apes], although a bit too on the nose at times. We get it, Mr. Reeves, you love Apocalypse Now.
Most Out of Left Field: Good Time. I went into this film with no expectations, except knowing it had something to do with a heist. It is not actually a heist film at all, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. This is one of those solid but gritty indy films that likely would never get made by a studio because the basic premise is just so off the wall. The film is anchored by an Oscar-worthy performance by Robert Pattinson with some excellent supporting work by one of the film’s directors as his brother. [Side note: I had no idea there were so many Robert Pattinson fan accounts on Twitter.]
Most Problematic: Lady Macbeth. I left this film not quite knowing what to make of it. And perhaps I still don’t. On the one hand, it is utterly gorgeous filmmaking with some brilliant performances, especially Florence Pugh as Katherine Lester, but it is brutal to watch and implicates the viewer in such a way that I just can’t love it. In fact, this film had me reconsidering my whole ranking method. (Yes, there is a method to the madness. And a spreadsheet. Duh.) However, the fact that this is a debut film is simply incredible, and I look forward to seeing whatever William Oldroyd may do next.
I know we’re one, just me and you. I can’t go on… What is love?
Best Movie by a Female Director: Novitiate. I saw this movie described as “Whiplash with nuns” on Twitter and, while that’s not completely accurate, it is sort of apt in that Novitiate is both about how much sacrifice goes into joining the clergy and also the smugness that often becomes wrapped up in the rules and rituals of Catholicism (or really any patriarchal, hierarchical order). What happens when you are no longer “special”? Like many films I’ve seen recently, it is also about how love motivates and drives us but can also be the seeds of our undoing. I didn’t love all the choices that writer-director Maggie Betts made with her script, but this is an overall solid first directorial effort.
Most overrated: Logan. I had heard Logan was ridiculously violent and, since my tolerance for slicing and dicing is far less than that of gunshots or other violence. I figured this was one best watched at home. I was right. There was much to like about this film (the young actress playing Laura was amazing), but it is no “contemporary western” as I have heard it called. In fact, while seemingly modeling itself on Shane, it betrays everything that Shane was about and, in so doing, becomes what I hate about many recent superhero movies, the complete disinterest in how the hero impacts those he brings into his world. And the fact that this betrayal is one that involves a black family? Well, that meant it had already lost me by the time it got to an admittedly great final act.
Most Underrated: Kidnap. Kidnap is not a good movie, but it was utterly enjoyable as a low-budget action-hostage adventure. Halle Berry as Liam Neeson in a minivan. Who knew?
And with that, let’s look at some of my other favorite (and not-so-favorite) selections from this quarter. Since almost all of my home viewing this quarter was related to The Great Unseen project, I won’t dwell on too many older films here, but here are some highlights and lowlights:
Best Classic Rewatch: Sherlock, Jr. (1924). This is a classic silent gem that everyone should watch. With Buster Keaton’s character entering the film he is projecting and the incredible special effects on display as he does so, this film feels incredibly modern.
Best New-to-Me Classic (tie): Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and Rio Bravo (1959). The classics are classics for a reason—I adored both of these “Great Unseen” films. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either of these to anyone.
Best Math Greek Selection: Unbreakable (2000). The Math Greek was very surprised when he learned I hadn’t seen this, and, given that I’ve actually liked other early Shyamalan films that many people hate (Signs, The Village), I can’t really say I blame him. While I will likely always regard The Sixth Sense as his masterwork, I think this may technically be a “better” film.
Most Oddly Relevant for Today: The Little Foxes (1941) and High Noon (1952).
Most Romantic: Paterson (2016). As I stated above, love was a dominant theme in many of the movies I watched this quarter. However, not many of them were what I would call romantic. But Paterson is, in multiple senses of the word. I wish I had seen this earlier, it might have made my 2016 top ten. Also, Adam Driver is once again excellent here; maybe I like him more than I realize. He’s still awful as Kylo Ren though.
I want no other, no other lover. This is our life, our time.
Best Sitcom Disguised as a Movie: Home Again (2017). Home Again is not the best picture by any definition, but it is also one of those women’s films that gets slammed harder than it needs to be by critics, partly because of the subject matter, but also because of the perceived nepotism here: The director, Hallie Meyers-Shyer is Nancy Meyers’s daughter and Nancy Meyers acted as producer. The plot has wacky sitcom written all over it, but the film has a lovely sweetness to it and is a nice take on the “What makes a family?” question.
Worst Geography: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). Much like in the original, I found myself saying “Wait, how far did they go?” on more than one occasion.
Most Honest: Columbus (2017). A quiet movie about a man, a woman, and modern architecture. I’m sorry, what was that last bit again? Oddly enough, for a movie about a topic I see as decidedly cold and sterile, this beautiful film is all about human connection.
Best Line Delivery: Wind River (2017)
Six miles, bare foot. That’s a warrior. That’s a warrior.
Best Line Delivery (runner-up): Atomic Blonde (2017)
Am I a bitch now?
Bechdel-Wallace “Themyscira” award: Novitiate (2017)
Marvel “Can’t Live Up to the Hype” award: The Driver (1978)
Most Existential Ennui (aka Frenchiest): Moka (2017)
Best Use of Batman: Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Best Use of a Bat: I, Tonya (2017)
Pam Grier award for Best Distribution of Vigilante Justice: Jeremy Renner in Wind River (2017). I guess it’s true what they say: Revenge is a dish best served cold. Ice cold.
What are your favorite movies of the year so far? What have I missed that I absolutely must see? Let me know in the comment box below.
We are together. I need you forever. Is it love?… What is love?
For Vol. 2017, Issue 1, click here.
For Vol. 2017, Issue 2, click here.
*The movies I saw or rewatched this quarter include:
2017: Atomic Blonde; Blade Runner 2049; Columbus; Detroit; Dunkirk; Get Out; Good Time; Home Again; I, Tonya; Ingrid Goes West; Kidnap; Lady Macbeth; Logan; Logan Lucky; Moka; Novitiate; Their Finest; War for the Planet of the Apes; Wind River
2016: Moana, Paterson
Released prior to 2016: The African Queen, Banshun (Late Spring), Бронено́сец «Потёмкин» (Battleship Potemkin), Casting By, The Driver, Duck Soup, The General, The Gold Rush, High Noon, The Kid, The Little Foxes, A Matter of Life and Death, Model Shop, A Night at the Opera, A Night to Remember, Pretty in Pink, Les Résultats du féminisme (The Consequences of Feminism), Rio Bravo, Safety Last!, The Scarlet Empress, Sherlock Jr., Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Sur mes lèvres (Read My Lips), Sweet Revenge, Swing Time, Tōkyō Monogatari (Tokyo Story), Unbreakable
Note: These posts are in no way affiliated with the Film Quarterly journal published by the University of California Press.
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