Here are my top 10 films of 2017.
Meditative and slowly paced (an audience member in front of me often threw his fists up in the air--frustrated at the elongated pausing in the dialogue) tale of souls surrounded by the juxtaposition of beautiful modern architecture with the banal of Columbia, Indiana.
Director Kogonada on the character of Casey in the film: "I think the way she’s even responding to modern architecture is deeply related to the struggles she’s having with her mother and the kind of chaos that her mother is presenting but also the sort of devotion to her. The messiness of her relationship with her mother and the deep sensitivity to not wanting to be away from her [informs her response] to architecture. And this particular kind of architecture, which is minimal and which is about empty spaces, resonates with her in a way that she doesn’t [understand]. She’s fairly young. She knows she’s responding to it in many ways, that it’s creating a space for her to process. [And in] bringing it back home I think she’s trying to control her environment a little bit and to create sort of the same lines at home, and so it’s deeply related to her relationship, the brokenness of it."
THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Situated in a pastel motel complex on the outskirt of Disney World, this painful and authentic movie--with vivid performances by the cast--portrays the intertwining lives of the motel residents much through the perspective of a child (played by the winning Brooklynn Prince).
"There were actually a lot of videos, such as Nightline-type coverage of the homeless situation in the vicinity of the Orlando area. But the treatment was only about a mother-daughter relationship, and we knew that the ending was going to have her run to Disney World, and that was about it. We actually had an opiod-addiction subplot. Then when we went there, our focus changed, like it always does, where you immerse yourself enough in a world, and the characters that you’re fleshing out become an amalgamation of who you met. Meeting motel managers really changed our approach to the film. We met one man in particular who opened up his world to us, and all the motel managers are almost like reluctant father figures. That very much inspired the Bobby character." -Sean Baker
Gorgeously shot by Rachel Morrison with strong direction from Dee Rees, Mudbound follows the intersecting stories of two families in post-WWII rural Mississippi.
"People have almost been lulled into complacency because there are no signs over the water fountains. But the signs have been in the policies. There’s still housing discrimination and wage discrimination. It’s still there, but it’s been made more insidious. These guys are wearing suits and ties now, not sheets. It’s weird to see them emboldened enough to come out wearing sheets again because that hurts their cause, that outs them and makes what’s always been there visible. In relation to the film – I heard some guys at a bar at Sundance. They were like ‘Mudbound was good but the Klan scene was over the top.’ Now, I wish I could find those two guys and say ‘You think that’s over the top now?!’ There’s a critical difference now, and people won’t think that’s over the top. For black Americans, though, they’ll know it has been there all the time. The difference now is that people can video things, making the problem seem less abstract. When people think about things abstractly, they turn around and say ‘They’re a crazy minority’. But after encounter after encounter being on film, where if you substituted the black guy for a white teenager they’re not going to get shot – that’s undeniable. And now there’s a wave of rebelliousness that’s finally happening but not because it’s new." -Dee Rees
This slices-of-lives doc, set on the Pacific Northwest-trekking line of Amtrak, is a stirring account, directed in part by the late Albert Maysles. Humanist, with an eye for the quirky--a glimmer of hope for compassion in socially frayed times.
"After many months of negotiating permission with Amtrak, our small crew was given full access to film on the Empire Builder, Amtrak’s busiest long-distance route. We took three round trips from Chicago to Portland/Seattle and back, finding all of our subjects spontaneously on these trips. Our Story Producer Martha Wollner and an Associate Producer were tasked with canvassing the train as soon as we boarded, and they would begin meeting passengers and getting a sense of who might be interesting on camera or at least willing to participate. They would then pass along the passengers’ info and location to one of our four to five cinematographers who would also themselves meet passengers as they explored the train. Sometimes we’d be able to record several hours of someone’s story and sometimes we’d only have captured several minutes of footage before the passenger had to disembark at their stop." -Lynn True & Nelson Walker
A QUIET PASSION
The dialogue by writer / director Terence Davies is pitched in an almost otherworldly way, even if it seems as if we are watching a cozily quaint drawing room biopic. It knocks hard in the finale, with a evocative use of Dickinson's poetry and Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question."
"Terence [Davies] didn’t want her to be solemn or meek... He thought she was savagely funny. She saw the world around her and herself with a really unforgiving eye. And, when you see the gaps between what’s supposed to be and what is, you can be depressed, or you can see the humor in it."
Another gut-punch picture from Andrey Zvyagintsev. Loveless follows a damaged Moscow couple, the search for their missing son, and the myriad of relationships and political power structures informing their lives.
"Loveless is a story of a painful divorce of an ordinary middle-class Moscow family. Their ordinariness was partly a reason to choose them and not people from low social strata, who more often treat their children horribly. And suddenly among these seemingly prosperous people who know life, we see that their child became a burden for both of them. These events take place against a very specific historical background. The film begins in October of 2012, when people were full of hope and were waiting for changes in the political climate, when they thought that the state would listen to them. But 2015 is the climax of their disappointment: The feeling that there is no hope for positive changes, the atmosphere of aggression and the the militarization of society, and the feeling that they are surrounded by enemies.' -Andrey Zvyagintsev
Devilish and ravishing, with a strong work from the actors and Paul Thomas Anderson.
"The nature of our story needed somebody that was self-obsessed and selfish, to enter into this relationship. We had just that, so we flirted with whatever ideas lent itself to that. Cristóbal Balenciaga was a fashion designer from the ‘50s, who was very famous and a master, and discovering him led us to discover more about dressmaker, particularly in London in the ‘50s. It was food and drink to us. The way that these men treated their work and the circumstances surrounding them was just to good to be true. It just kept filling us with more and more ammunition to go at this story." -Paul Thomas Anderson
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
André Aciman's internal, deliriously erotic novel is given a supple cinematic treatment by director Luca Guadagnino and a lovely adaptation by James Ivory.
"I’m a total “nostalgist” and Call Me By Your Name’s director, Luca, grew up in that time period. In fact, the book is set in ’88 and he changed it to ’83 because he said that was the year in your life you can hear music from. In the movie, there’s Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, or just the Bach or Beethoven—those are all songs from Luca’s youth, what it was like for him in Italy in the ’80s. Also, in 1988, the AIDS crisis had already hit and that was part of the reasoning for making [the film] a little bit earlier too, so it wasn’t as intense, and could be a little more utopic. What a tragedy for movies now that if you want to be contemporary, phones have to be involved, with texting and FaceTime. I don’t know if [the characters in] Call Me By Your Name would ever have that relationship if there was passive-aggressive commenting and “likes.” They actually had to talk, figure each other out, and struggle with their emotions." -Timothée Chalamet
Admittedly Greta Gerwig fare is right up my alley, but I was taken aback how sublime and tender her major directorial debut was.
"... When I got this cast, which is truly a phenomenal cast—every single actor is extraordinary, and I had this intention when I wrote the script, but I needed great actors to do it. I wanted the audience to feel like they could follow any one character and there would be a whole movie there, and almost that you got this quality of leaning forward for everybody because you think, 'What's that life? Who is that person, really? How did they get there? What was that decision?'" -Greta Gerwig
The best horror picture since Silence of the Lambs. And as it warrants repeat viewings that are as equally satisfying as the first, I think it will be an enduring film. Original, scary, rollicking, pointed, brilliantly executed and performed, nothing else really came close this year to the genius of Jordan Peele's debut.
"Every great horror movie comes from a true fear, and ideally it's a universal fear. The tricky nature of this project is that the fear I'm pulling from is very human, but it's not necessarily a universal experience, so that's why the first third of the movie is showing, and not in an over-the-top way, in a sort of real, grounded way, just getting everybody to be able to see the world through my protagonist's eyes and his fears." -Jordan Peele
The best of the rest:
Blade Runner 2049, Battle of the Sexes, Logan Lucky, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Endless Poetry, Uncertain, After the Storm, Strong Island, Personal Shopper, Good Time, Ingrid Goes West, Dunkirk, Frantz, I Am Not Your Negro, The Post, Novitiate, The Square, The Shape of Water, Molly’s Game, I, Tonya, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Big Sick, Brad's Status, God’s Own Country, Wonder Wheel, A Fantastic Woman, Wind River, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I don't feel at home in this world anymore, Wonderstruck, mother!, The Beguiled, The Bad Batch, Beach Rats, Faces Places
A look back at 2016.
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