2017 was a mediocre year for people who love going to the movies
2017 was a not very good year for movies, the theaters clogged with 90-minute toy commercials, increasingly unhinged Star Wars sequels that almost no one wants beyond the rote habit of watching them, and the dreaded Universes Marvel and DC and that monster one that includes The Mummy.
The best that I saw released in 2017 were Columbus, Personal Shopper, The Beguiled, A Ghost Story, Una and Wind River, none of which are getting any sort of awards push (in fairness Sophia Coppola won best director at Cannes, but that was last spring).
Other notables included Killing of a Sacred Deer, Good Time, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde, Baby Driver, Raw, John Wick Chapter 2, The Circle, Wonder Woman and Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, a project he shot several years ago that finally reached its end form and it’s light for for Malickophiles but better than most.
Of my best of the year list, Columbus was for me not only what I enjoy seeing but also where a new wave of American cinema is going. It is beautifully, patiently shot, its story delivers no cheap tricks or needless drama, and its cast does a wonderful job with the excellent material, John Cho perfectly realizing the plight of a middle aged Asian man estranged from his famous academic father who is now dying.
A Ghost Story won’t be for everyone. It is very slow right until it speeds up in its final act, a kind of meta-commentary on the film’s story, about a ghost who is incapable of leaving the home it shared in human form with its spouse. Its unnerving (but not horrific) view of time and death as layered atop each other and perpetually folding called to mind Francis Ford Coppola’s highly underrated 80s dreamer Peggy Sue Got Married (the genius nerd who explains his theory of time being like a burrito could have easily inspired this story). The film is now available on Amazon Prime.
Personal Shopper was technically released in 2016, but it’s very much a 2017 film, at least in fitting with the themes of the more serious work released in the year. Kristen Stewart is quietly evolving into the most important American actress, not only with her outstanding work here, but also for 2016 Clouds of Sils Maria in which she was so good she won the Cesar(the French Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) the first American woman to ever win the award, and the first American since 2002 when Adrian Brody won for The Piano. She has slowly transformed, post-Twilight, into an actress whose films I will watch solely because of her presence.
The Beguiled premiered to raves at Cannes, but received a lukewarm reception here in America. I loved it but my sister, who I also thought would love it, found it dull, and that’s the mixed reaction I seem to be getting from everyone who’s seen it. I think a dividing line is whether one saw it in the theater or at home – I saw it in the theater and loved it.
Una was shocking, even knowing the basis of the story. Its twist in the final fifteen minutes is cleverly disguised throughout the film, effective enough to leave me stunned once the character of Una goes upstairs at her former predator’s new home. Rooney Mara was good in A Ghost Story, very good in Song to Song, and outstanding in Una, which should but likely won’t earn her her third Oscar nomination.
Wind River continues Tyler Sheridan’s run of great work – he penned the script for Sicario, then directed last year’s out-of-nowhere hit (and best picture nominee) Hell or High Water, and then this year, Wind River. The murder-mystery of a native girl on tribal land, found barefoot in the middle of a pasture covered by heavy snow miles from the nearest home, is thrilling. As I noted in my original review of it, Sheridan is an expert at deploying small bursts of violence, and it’s no less effective this time around.
A friend and I took a trip to L.A. in the fall, and it was my first trip there. I couldn’t live in L.A. (Malibu yes, Santa Monica maybe, but the rest of the area no way) but was in awe of all the films that were available and the palatial spaces in which we got to see them. Before each film we saw, regardless of the theater, a theater employee would come to the front of the theater just in front of the screen and introduce the film. Each theater had strict outlined rules regarding talking, texting and the pernicious glow of a smart phone, and after leaving the theater where we saw The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the premiere for LBJ was taking place, red carpet and all. To people who live in L.A. or New York, this might be normal, but for me it was one of many firsts.
Hollywood is eating itself with all the so-called ‘Universe’ movies and the atrocious turn Star Wars has taken since Disney took over. Yes, they make money but to so quickly move the film from its corny, serial roots to a vehicle for feminism, multiculturalism and political correctness will eventually backfire. I’m not a Star Wars fan, but there is a charm in the original three and even in the prequels that Lucas rolled out that is long gone from the newer film, and just as the current iteration of Disney shit on Walt Disney’s vision of family entertainment and turned it into a sewer of postmodernism, moral relativism and filth, so too will they now do the exact same thing to George Lucas’s vision.
There is more to movies than Hollywood, and that grip is getting less-tight by the day. The fact is with today’s Oscar nominations, I have seen almost none of the nominated films or performances, and except for Phantom Thread and Call Me by Your Name, I have almost no interest in seeing any of the other films nominated for Best Pic I haven’t already.
Oh well, such is life.