Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Favourite Films of 2017 - UPDATED

I'm delighted to share my annual list of my favourite feature films released in 2017.  Of course, I'm no movie critic so I haven't been able to see every major release this year, so there are several probably great films I have yet to see which could find their way into my top 13 favourites (in fact, one just did; The Florida Project has jumped to number 1 on my list!)  As I continue to see more movies, or as my opinions evolve upon more reflection, I'll continue amend this post, like I always do.   While I do consider myself a refined cineaste, this list is still, first and foremost, a list of my favourites.  So very good films that simply didn't appeal to me or even offended me won't make it on this list.  Still generally, I don't think any film critic or film lover would quibble with my top 13:

1.  The Florida Project:  Wow! Everything about this tender, incredible film is note perfect.  The film depicts life for a little girl living with her troubled single mother in a Florida housing project/motel and it's quietly riveting.  The performance by Bria Vinaite as the mother is mesmerizing and so is young Brooklyn Prince as Moonee, through whose eyes we see the experience unfold.  Plus I don't remember enjoying a performance by Willem Dafoe this much.  He most certainly deserves the acclaim he's getting for this.  This is great filmmaking. 

2.  Dunkirk:  Stunning visuals and direction from Christopher Nolan, as well as a stunningly hot and talented cast, depict the efforts to rescue the British and French armies from the beach in France in early World War II.   Gripping and beautiful to watch, I loved this war film from beginning to end.  It's nice to see Nolan stay true to his vision, perfectly execute it and now receive the acclaim and hopefully the nominations he deserves.

3.  Lady Bird:  I saw this recently and loved it.  Saoirse Ronan gives a performance as equally lived in and authentic as Timothée Chalamet did in Call Me By Your Name.  This is a brilliant character study and I loved the unique relationship portrayed between daughter and her mother, played by the amazing Laurie Metcalf, who I haven't seen much of since Roseanne.  I also adored Tracy Letts as Lady Bird's dad, as well as Lady Bird's relationship with her best friend Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein.  There are so many moments in this gem that I truly cherished.  Touching, intimate filmmaking here by Greta Gerwig.  (Formerly #9 but moved up after some more consideration.)

4.  Call Me By Your Name: This film is a sensuous delight that perfectly captures a unique moment in time and place for its characters.  It's the classic coming-of-age/first love tale many of us in the queer community have always hoped to see, free from queer film tropes like gay bashing, hateful parents or inevitable punishment and death.  This film chronicles the evolution of young Elio from genius yet inexperienced teenager to broken-hearted adult, and actor Timothée Chalamet embodies the role with seemingly effortless authenticity and feeling.  He is the beating heart and soul of this movie. (This was my #1, but upon more reflection and another viewing, I do find the romance fairly unsatisfying here; it works mostly as a one-sided reflection or memory of a teenager's first love that got away rather than a true romance.  Plus Armie Hammer's performance seems often unconvincing to me.) 

5.  Get Out:  This timely, anti-racist, satirical masterpiece by director Jordan Peele was released last winter, yet is now poised to do well this awards season, even perhaps take Best Picture.  It deserves to.  It's a perfect, original exploration of its subject matter about a young black man who visits the home of his white girlfriend only to find a house of horrors, playfully pushing buttons that need to be pushed today in our culture.  Loved it!

6.  The Post:  Steven Spielberg taps into the zeitgeist today in this note perfect film about the 1971 backroom deliberations at the Washington Post to possibly publish details of the infamous Pentagon Papers after the New York Times had been temporarily barred from doing so.  There is heady stuff here including the fight between government and the press, the competition between newspapers, the fight for equality and respect for women in the workforce.  And it's all handled with a non-melodramatic touch that felt completely realistic and appropriate.  Spielberg does thankfully keep some of his stylistic Spielbergisms in check, focusing on moving the story forward at all times.  And the film is gorgeous including the 1970s art direction and the awesome focus on the old-fashioned news gathering and editing process, not to mention the printing press mechanics.  Meryl Streep is perfect as are the rest of the cast.  I was born to love this movie!

7.  Baby Driver:  Super-hot Ansel Elgort plays the sympathetic driver nicknamed "Baby" who transports his fellow crooks away from their crime scenes.  Every element of this film - from the music, to the editing, to the sound, to the writing, to the acting - is masterful.  I watched this before the Kevin Spacey scandal erupted, so I have no idea if his presence might ruin it now for viewers.  But I suggest it's still demands a try.   

8.  The Shape of Water:  This just might be director Guillermo del Toro's best, most accessible film. It's certainly my favourite one of his.  It's still a little strange, but what else could it be coming from him?  Let its beautiful colours, sounds, effects and performances wash over you as soon as possible, I say.

9.  Okja:  If you've never thought about the conditions in which your food is engineered and brought to your table, you need to see this film immediately.   Director Joon-ho Bong does some of his best work here ever, artfully telling his tale without being preachy.  If you have Netflix, watch it!  Not only does this film enormously entertain, it inspires audiences to think.  It certainly inspired me to start buying "free run" eggs despite the extra costs, although I'm not quite ready to give up meat.

10.  Detroit:  I didn't know much about the 1967 Detroit riots, nor the shocking and heart-breaking Algiers Motel incident that took place during it, before watching this film.  But I do now thanks to the incredible talent of director Kathryn Bigelow.  Harrowing and essential viewing for anyone who thinks the police are just great and that black people complain too much about discrimination and police violence.

11. I, Tonya:  Hilarious and completely entertaining.  Margot Robbie superbly captures the essence of Tonya Harding's humanity, in all its tragedy and ridiculousness.  Allison Janney as her mother is an unforgettable villain.  The rest of the cast is awesome, as are all other elements in Craig Gillespie's film. 

12. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool: I read that many people were moved to tears during Call Me By Your Name or Lady Bird, but I wasn't.  But I did cry toward the end of this lovely film, which tells the tale of aging Hollywood starlet Gloria Grahame's affair with a much younger man, upon whom she depended during the final months of her life.  Annette Bening is perfect as Gloria Grahame, as is the supremely sexy Jamie Bell as Peter Turner, her lover. 

13.  The Big Sick:  I didn't think that star Kumail Nanjiani was sexy before seeing this movie, but I definitely do now.  Funny that.  Fabulous all around. 

14.  Wonder Woman:  Director Patty Jenkins (who helmed Monster back in 2003 with Charlize Theron) outdoes herself with this perfect telling of the famous heroine's story.  I'd always lamented the fact that Hollywood had not yet put Wonder Woman on the screen, but considering how great this film is, the wait was worth it.

Honorable mentions: 

Battle of the Sexes
God's Own Country 
Spider-Man: Homecoming  
Land of Mine 
I Am Not Your Negro 
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
All the Money in the World  
The Lost City of Z
Victoria and Abdul
A Bad Moms Christmas 
Blade Runner 2049

Strangest, completely fucked, but a masterpiece: 

mother!: Darren Aronofsky's most daring work can only be viewed and understood as an extended, tragic and violent metaphor.  It's a tough watch and definitely not for everyone.  But I've never seen anything else like this movie and remain glad I got through it.  


Darkest Hour:  Gary Oldman gives a great performance as Winston Churchill.  But director Joe Wright has no idea how to make historical dramas gripping.  Instead, he spends his time using odd lighting and showing his hero "huffing and puffing" and marching quickly down dark hallways.  In calling it Darkest Hour, they mean that literally.  This is the most poorly lit film I saw this year.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri:  I thought Frances McDormand, unlike in previous roles, was a little one note here.  There were many great characters here with stories playing out especially with Sam Rockwell, whose character was thoroughly repulsive.  Overall as a film: not horrible, but I just didn't like it that much including the (spoiler alert) non-ending.  

Beach Rats: Where was all the much-hyped male nudity?  And haven't I seen this closeted teen story done this way dozens of times before?

It:  Unsettling and not in a good way.  Watching kids fend off child molesters and killer clowns for two hours is not my idea of entertainment. 

The Dark Tower:  Way too short and rushed.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:  Lots of visual eye candy but little depth.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle:  Ugh, nowhere near as enjoyable as Part One.

The Great Wall:  Look, it's white guys saving the day in People of Colour land again.

Life:  Look, the black guy is the first one to die again.  Couldn't finish it.   How do you make a film with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds together in tight quarters, and yet it still disappoints?

Worst film of 2017:

Geostorm:  Makes all other apocalypse films look like masterpieces.  So bad.

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Politics in Review, and a couple Predictions for 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, a few political observations:
  • 2017 saw the cancer that is Donald Trump assume the Oval Office and proceed to denigrate American democracy and government - from constantly promoting white supremacy to muddying all waters simply for the sake of causing trouble.  His own fragile, pathetic ego was his only priority.  The good news: because of his inherent unsuitability for office, Trump was barely able to get anything accomplished, except for the big tax cut bill passed in the Republican Congress.  If there's anything Republicans (and most conservatives) are good at it's cutting taxes for the rich and powerful, at the expense of the rest of us who pay for it with degraded public services and higher service and tuition fees.  
  • But perhaps in response to the grotesque Trump, we saw an important push back from the left this year with key victories that may portend more progressive wins in 2018 and beyond.  Pendulum swings to one extreme tend to eventually provoke similar swings in the opposite direction.  With Democratic wins this year in Virginia and, most importantly, in the special Senate election in Alabama where progressive hero Doug Jones bested bigot/accused rapist Roy Moore, it looks like the Democrats will do very well in 2018 mid-term elections. 
  • But should the Democrats stay the safe centrist course, or follow the Bernie Sanders route of authentic progressive politics?  Time will tell.  2017 did also provide some important insight into how well an unabashedly progressive agenda might play with voters: 
    • Voters in Great Britain upended the Conservative establishment by turning to far-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in droves in last June's election.  Written off as politically dead before the campaign, Corbyn inspired a new generation of voters to turn out with his "For the Many, Not the Few" campaign that echoed sentiments promoted by Bernie Sanders in 2016.  As a result, Corbyn held Conservative Theresa May to a shaky minority government and stands well-positioned to topple the Tories next time. 
    • Voters here at home in British Columbia also turned to both the NDP and the Green Party to displace the long-entrenched conservative BC Liberal Party.  Despite a booming economy, voters decided last May that policies designed only to benefit the privileged needed to go in favour of helping the many, and the combined NDP-Green vote jumped from 48% in 2013 to 57% in 2017.   Now a NDP-Green alliance is governing British Columbia, with a fair vote on proportional representation set for 2018.  
    • Voters in France embraced flawed centrist Emmanuel Macron over the governing Socialists (who got trounced), and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to beat back the horrid Marine Le Pen, whose racist politics mimicked those of Trump.  The final tally saw the centrist Macron beat out Le Pen 66% to 34%.   But Macron now has seen his popularity plummet and it remains unclear if he can maintain his centre-left coalition over the forces of the far right in that country. 
Those gains by Corbyn in the U.K. and the NDP and Greens in B.C. proved to me that authentic progressive agendas can win wide support from voters.  Federally in Canada, we continue to see the progressive left divided between a moderately progressive Liberal administration under Justin Trudeau, and the third-party NDP under the novice but promising Jagmeet Singh, forcing the question: what is the best way for progressives to beat conservatives?  As an authentic left-wing option under the NDP or Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, or as a mushy/moderate/barely progressive option like under Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron?  This question will continue to dominate my thoughts in 2018.   

Besides the above predictions of Democratic victories next November, I'll predict that the upcoming Ontario 2018 election will be closely fought between a superior incumbent, Kathleen Wynne, who's worn out her welcome with most Ontario voters, and her sub-par opponents Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwath.  Ontario voters will be largely uninspired by their choices.  I honestly can't decide who will win this.  Although my gut is telling me that, in the end, Brown will fall flat on his face due to his inherent mediocrity, opening up the election for a narrowly re-elected Wynne government.   To that end, Wynne has already embraced the policies and politics of the Sanders left, sensing that Ontario voters will want to swing as far away from the neo-con Trump right as possible.  In the end, Ontario voters might just decide to accept the devil they know (Wynne) rather than the ones they don't (Brown and Horwath.)  We shall see. 

Stay tuned soon for my annual Favourite Movies of the Year post....