The 25 Best Films of 2017, Kinda (Part 2)

Over a week ago, I counted through number 25-11 of my favorite films of last year. Now I’m going to talk about my top ten favorite movies. These run the gamut from sci-fi blockbusters to small intimate character studies. From first time directors making explosive debuts to seasoned veterans continuing to pad their resumes. Any way, enough intro stuff, lets get into it.

blade-runner-2049-ryan-gosling-new-image

10. Blade Runner 2049

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Making a sequel to one of the most influential science fiction films was always going to be tricky, making it a good sequel would be even more tricky. But with Denis Villeneuve, the director of Prisoners and Sicario, at the helm this film shines. At its core a film about what it means to be human, Blade Runner 2049 is as thought provoking as it is beautiful. While it could be easy to talk on and on about the many wonderful and powerful performances in this movie, I want to talk about one in particular, Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi, Ryan Gosling’s K’s hologram girlfriend, is the thematic center of the film, a character that truly asks us how we define our humanity. It would have been so easy for the character to have been shallow and functional, getting the job done of conveying plot points and informing Ryan Gosling’s character, Ana de Armas fills here with so much depth and empathy that we can’t help but almost forget she isn’t human. It is this depth and complexity that is brought to every little piece of this film that really makes it stand out. Combine that with an excellent Hans Zimmer score and academy award winning cinematography by Roger Deakins, and you have one of the most powerful science-fiction films in recent memory. It might not have demolished the box office but this is a film destined to last just as long as the original.

Luke-teaches-Rey-about-the-Force-in-Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi

9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson

Star Wars is my favorite film series, a group of movies that I don’t remember discovering, merely always existing in my consciousness. I’ve spent more days than I can remember simply thinking about and pretending to be in Star Wars, and yet I don’t know if there’s ever been a Star Wars movie that has ever touched me in a way The Last Jedi has. From it’s first moments until its stunning final image, every second of The Last Jedi feels new and exciting, and yet sits with me as though it has always been there. I believe that every person has their own Star Wars movie, and this is mine. In The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson jettisons the dynastic framework that has dominated the series since its very beginning, instead imbuing his film with a populist streak that really struck a chord with me. Who are Rey’s parents? It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter who your parents are or where you come from, what matters is what you do. The heroes of this film are nobodies, from nowhere, doing all they can to merely protect the spark of hope they have. It serves as an indictment of the idea that you can simply abstain and stand by while evil is being done, and truly believes that the average person can make a difference, force powers or not. The Last Jedi also serves as perhaps the most visually stunning film in the series, a film cloaked in deep reds, golds, and greens. It features perhaps the most visually arresting moment in film this year, a moment destined to always be interrupted in theaters by the sound of someone going “whoa”. The Last Jedi may have been divisive among fans and movie-goers alike but I quiet honestly don’t care. This movie made me happy, and excited about my favorite series in a way I didn’t think I could be excited about Star Wars any more. It turned me into a child again, and for that I thank it.

UPTA_05950_R_CROP-feature-1600x900-c-default

8. Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread is a movie that seems to defy labels, part character study, part romantic comedy, part self satire, it feels like one of P.T Anderson’s most personal films. Anchored by the wonderful and brilliant performances by Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis, this exploration of the relationship between a dressmaker and a waitress in 1950’s London is utterly mesmerizing. Perhaps the years most quotable film, Anderson has created an engrossing, dramatic, hilarious film that I still think about now, months after having seen it. The score by Johnny Greenwood is magical and works so seamlessly with the visuals in a way I seldom see at movies. I wish I had more to say about it but what more can I say that hasn’t already been said about the film. It is truly a one of a kind movie that could have only come from Paul Thomas Anderson, and it is just excellent artist executing a singular vision in a way no one else could. A career highlight from careers already filled with highlights.

dunkirk-review

7. Dunkirk

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, in my count it’s probably third after Memento and the Prestige. But even more than that it is by far his most refined film. Building on themes and techniques that have always fascinated the acclaimed director. Nolan’s mixed timeline works best here, and is edited to perfection, moments where his three nestled timelines come together are some of the most rewarding of the year. This is also Nolan’s most efficient film, clocking in at a very tight hour and forty six minutes, not a wasted line or camera move in the film. Telling a story that feels more akin to a disaster movie than a typical war film, it feels so much more interested in the way people feel fear, despair, and relief than they do so. Dunkirk deals with war in way unlike most war movies and in doing so is a true cinematic triumph. You can read more about my thoughts in my full review here.

JRQPNDUIIBCHRFWZ64V3W6EEL4

6. Get Out

Directed by Jordan Peele

With Get Out Jordan Peele has a debut for the ages. A tight, scathing satire of modern American racial politics, taking direct aim at the type of privileged white racism so prevalent in “liberal” parts of the country Get Out is the rare mainstream horror film to break out of the horror bubble. Not only a smart satire but also a profoundly engrossing and masterfully made film. While much has been written about Peele’s incredible script, that drops hints and themes like breadcrumbs only to pick them up at the end and wrap the film up in a way that rewards multiple viewings, I want to shout out the great camera work. Peele has knack for creating unease, and has a mastery of the close up. So many of the films iconic shots feature close up shots of characters faces, forcing us into invading their space, in the same way that they themselves have had their own bodies invaded. The sunken place is perhaps the most iconic image of the film, and is one that seems to linger most with the viewer. Finally I want to talk about Daniel Kaluuya, who turns in a mesmerizing performance that is both subtle and powerful. In the end this is a film that deserved every accolade it received and is probably destined to be the film we most talk about when we talk about this year in film. But I don’t think it will be the last time we talk about a Jordan Peele film as a masterpiece.

merlin_129467771_8d79a240-191d-465d-a50d-30c549af3eb1-superJumbo

5. Coco

Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

I have had mixed feelings on recent Pixar films. At times they create true masterpieces, such as Inside Out, but at other times can create films that prove to be utterly forgettable, like The Good Dinosaur. So it was with hopeful optimism that I looked forward to Coco, and it did not disappoint. So many of Pixars best films deal explicitly with themes of family and what it means to be part of a family. In Coco these familiar themes are filtered through the vein of traditional Mexican beliefs in the Day of the Dead and traditional Mexican family dynamics. This works wonderfully, creating a work that is at once both specific to a single culture and yet feels as though it can be apply to anyone. Of course, as someone who is Mexican, I am a bit biased but I don’t really care. I enjoyed seeing things from my own upbringing that are so rarely shown in a mainstream American film. It was nice, it made me feel warm about my own past and history. I loved the lush and colorful production design, creating a colorful and warm after-world that feels so distinct from those that we traditionally see in Hollywood. This film also feature a tearjerker of an ending in the Pixar tradition but that also feels distinctly happy. Combine all of this with a beautiful soundtrack and some excellent voice work, and you have another stellar entry into the Pixar canon.

LKC2QKY5JRDSXFU7PBW33PNLS4

4. Lady Bird

Directed by Great Gerwig

Get Out would have been the best debut film of the year were it not for Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Anchored by one of the years best scripts, strong direction and editing, and perhaps the best performance in Saoirse Ronan’s already terrific career, Lady Bird paints a complex and sincere portrait of the moment where teenagers begin to see their parents as real people. Equal parts funny and touching Lady Bird is one of the best films about the teenage experience in years. What I came to appreciate about it was the films sincerity, its joy in portraying things that have not been seen as cool, especially the Dave Matthews Band, as something that one should embrace simply because you like them. The Sacramento that Gerwig creates in this film is obviously a work of love, feeling so lived in and a place we want to stay in even as the films protagonist yearns to escape it for New York. No discussion of Lady Bird can be complete without a talking about the incredible performance of Laurie Metcalf as the mother of Lady Bird. A complex and nuanced performance of a mother who is doing her best to raise her daughter in spite of a myriad of problems in a rapidly changing world, Metcalf is allowed to be something rare in Hollywood, a parent who is allowed to not always be the best parent but with out being a villain. While Ronan may be the star and main character, it is Metcalf who for me is the emotional core of the film. It is Metcalf who guides Lady Bird to the moment at which everyone become an adult, when they see their parents as a whole human being and not just as their parents. In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, and Laurie Metcalf have created one of the most human films about being a teen. Gerwig has already stated she wants to make even more films set in Sacramento, and I will be looking forward to every single on of them.

1_9II_R0kkVGXbo-Xz0ooVvQ

3. Call Me By Your Name

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

The first thing one might notice about Call Me By Your Name is that the movie is overwhelmingly gorgeous. Every shot in this film makes you want to drop everything, and move to the north of Italy. What is most affecting about this film is that despite how overpowering the visuals can be at times, this is a film that found a way to have ostentatious pillow shots after all, is the way that so much of the story is so quiet. This is a love story that is told through glances, pauses in a sentence, and the brush of a hand on another hand, and yet the romance never feels rushed, it always feels real. This is of course down to the incredible acting performances by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer who deliver stunning, intimate, and vulnerable performances in the main roles of Elio and Oliver. But they aren’t the only ones bringing it, Amira Casar and Esther Garrel deliver great performances as the Elio’s mother and sometime girlfriend respectively. But perhaps the best supporting performance is give by Michael Stuhlbarg as the father of Elio and Oliver’s professor. In Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino has crafted a film where the visuals so perfectly compliment the quiet story about perhaps the most grand thing there is, love.

TFP-cover

2. The Florida Project

Directed by Sean Baker

For almost the whole year after I saw it, this was going to be the film that I listed as the best of the year. Timely, and powerful The Florida Project is the movie that most encapsulates the state of America as profoundly messed up place filled with people who are just trying to get by, and yet there still remains a core of people who are trying to be good. The Florida Project is at its core an incredibly empathetic movie by perhaps our most empathetic filmmaker. Sean Baker as a director works best when he examines the forgotten underclass of America, in Tangerine these are transgender sex workers, and here the invisible homeless. Starring a cast of mostly unknowns, The Florida Project follows the lives of the tenants of the Magic Castle, a motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World. Seen predominantly through the eyes of Moonee, played by a revelatory Brooklynn Prince, a six year old girl who spends her days with her friends generally getting into trouble and hanging out. Through her we meet her mother played by Bria Vinaite, and Bobby the manager of the Magic Castle, played by Willem Dafoe in perhaps his best role ever. Much has been written about Willem Dafoe in this film, and the truth is, its all correct. Dafoe is brilliant in this movie, caring yet stern, and who obviously cares a great deal about the people who live in the motel he manages. For so much of the past year the country has searched for a narrative, for a way to give a voice to the people we have left behind, and in this film Sean Baker continues to be the filmmaker most interested in telling the stories of those actually forgotten, not merely those who act as though they have been. Finally, I’d like to speak obliquely about the ending, I won’t ruin it here but let me just say that the ending of this film is one that I simply can’t forget about. It is an ending that is both devastating and yet oddly hopeful in a surreal and emotional manner. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal amounts The Florida Project is simply the kind of movie we should reward, that we should beg more filmmakers to make.

1206562

1. Paddington 2

Directed by Paul King

First things first, yes this film didn’t come out until 2018 in America but it came out in 2017 in most of the world, and this is my list so I get to make the rules and categorize it as 2017 film. Beside this list is so late anyway that it might as well have counted as 2017 movie for America anyway. But enough about the details of my list making, why is this the best movie of the year?

In the late 1990’s television series Sports Night, there is an episode in which one of the main characters tries to get tickets to see the Broadway musical production of The Lion King. Initially dismissive of the show as frivolous entertainment, after she see it she says “ I didn’t know we could do that.”. That is how I feel about Paddington 2, I didn’t know we could do that. In a year marked by confusion, fear, and sadness this movie made me feel hopeful again. Not only hopeful but good, an emotion so rarely triggered by film. This movie made me feel good, not just about the world but about myself. Paddington 2 is an absolute joy to watch, a sweet and understated film about a bear from darkest Peru who just wants to get his mother a popup book of London. This gives director Paul King, who also directed the first film, a chance to stage some very touching and also very sequences, occasionally at the same time. But where this film really shines is when Paddington is sent to jail after being framed for theft by Hugh Grant who is doing one of the funniest performances of the year as a washed up actor. Once in prison, the gags get funnier, the film gets even warmer, and the movie truly wins you over. Incredibly well acted, incredibly well directed, and a film that moved me to tears of joy and left me feeling not just good and happy but optimistic about the future Paddington 2 is a true masterpiece. Paddington 2 made me feel a way that films so rarely do, it is a film I’m excited to revisit and one that I will think about a lot in the years to come. I didn’t know we could still do that.

Advertisements

I Hate It Here: A Review Of Transmetropolitan

Transmet16_004 uneditI Hate It Here

That’s the title of the column that gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem writes in Warren Ellis’ comic book series Transmetropolitan. In it he chronicles his continuing crusade against a corrupt and unjust world. A world in an America of the future, a future different from and yet still similar to our own. Transmetropolitan ran from 1997 until 2002, and while much of it can be and was probably intended to be read as a commentary on contemporary society and politics, it remains a powerful and insightful work twenty years later. It portrays a society in which most people keep their head down and try to make a living, a world where people consume media at every moment and yet ignore the real problems in the world. A place where the poor and disabled are segregated away from view, where those whose lifestyles differ from the norm face discrimination and hatred, where politicians lie and toy with the lives of real people, and where the press is silenced by those who fear it. Transmetropolitan portrays an American that is has always existed and seems all the more real now.

It may seem that in describing the world of Transmetropolitan I’ve created a rather bleak image in your mind, and at times it is bleak. At others though, the story of Spider Jerusalem and his continued journalistic exploits can be inspiring, funny, emotional and uplifting. It begins with Spider being called back from a drug and alcohol filled mountain side cabin by the need to fulfill his contractual obligation to publish two books. Returning to The City, a mega-city located in an unspecified part of the United States, he begins working for his old editor Mitchell Royce as a columnist at “The Word”, The City’s largest newspaper. From here Spider along with his assistants Yelena Rossini and Channon Yarrow, begins writing about the inhabitants of The City and the myriad of lives they live.

Transmet19_004

At first Transmetropolitan features a variety of one-off stories, in one Spider visits a community of people called Transients who use alien DNA to modify themselves into a new species and documents the brutal police response to their protests against discrimination. In another Spider watches the thousands of television channels available to the people of The City, with programs as varied as “Anthrax Cat”, “Sex Puppets” and ads for sneakers that let you walk on water called “Air Jesus”. In the backdrop of these anthology style stories is the continued narrative of the upcoming presidential election. As the series continues it follows this thread with Spider and his assistants working to expose the corruption and crimes of the two presidential candidates.

It’s here that the series goes from being merely very good to being incredible. The incumbent president, almost exclusively referred to as “The Beast”, and his challenger “The Smiler” are embodiment’s of all that is wrong with modern politics. One is a law and order politician who seeks to use the problems of society to divide people and create fear, and the other is an amoral power-hungry man who wants to be president solely to hurt those who have wronged him. As the series continues past the election and towards its conclusion it offers a powerful portrait of the society and people who are shaped by their corrupt and dishonest leaders. It looks at the power structures that hold down those who would dare try to change The City.

Transmet13_031In many ways Transmetropolitan’s closest cousin thematically is The Wire, both revolve around a city and those that live it. Much like The Wire, Transmetropolitan explores both those who want to make a difference, to push back against a corrupt and broken system in order to help those hurt by it and those who benefit from and enable that same system. It’s this idea that is echoed in the title of Spider’s column, “I Hate It Here”, a distaste for the world as it is and yet despite all the cynicism of the series, the implicit belief that it can be better. The conclusion Spider and Transmetropolitan reach is one and the same, that it is truth and exposing the misdeeds of those in power that will help us to create a better world, even if only marginally. This culminates in the climax of the series, a triumph of reporting, journalism, truth, bravery and public will on par with any in fiction.

Transmet27_011

Outside of its expertly written story, Transmetropolitan is spectacular, its dialogue is memorable and leaps off the page. The art work is gripping and truly sucks one into story. It is at times dense with memorable images and other times stark and simple. The action portrayed within its pages feels visceral and gritty. The art beautifully compliments the themes of the series, showing The City as a foreign and frightening place to a woman awoken from cryogenic preservation, emphasizing the poverty and forgotten nature of ghetto, and above all bringing us into the mind of Spider Jerusalem.

Writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson explore fascinating ideas and themes about a world close enough to ours to be recognizable but far enough away to seem alien. Among these are the aforementioned Transient movements, an explosion of new religious movements including one in which people upload their consciousness to a cloud of nanocomputers, and places know as cultural reservations in which people from traditional cultures including Mayan and Tokugawa Japan live. The series touches on important subjects such as LGBT issues, corruption, the influence of the media, censorship, and ethics in ways that are both subtle and mature while never ceasing to tell a compelling story.

Transmet08_010

Above all of these ideas the one I find myself thinking about most when my mind turns to Transmetropolitan is that of the “New Scum”, an idea that Spider coins in “I Hate It Here”. The idea that there is a group of people left behind by the system, ignored by politicians and told what to believe. That there is a large portion of society who the game is rigged against, the silent people, who won’t be remembered by history except as statistics. The idea that these people, most people, are important, valuable, and should have their stories told. The refugees, the students, people who work long hours just to get by, people who are being left behind, the nameless and faceless in the crowd and who just want to be represented and heard. Maybe this has always been a constant idea, a constant group of people, maybe each generation has its own “New Scum”, and yet in today’s political climate where groups and movements that reflect the idea of the “New Scum” have come to the forefront it feels oddly prescient. Transmetropolitan is not only one of my favorite comics but also one that I consider among the best but even it can’t give us a blueprint to follow to solve the grievances we as the “New Scum” have. No instead it offers us only advice, that we the “New Scum” have to decide for ourselves what kind of society we want instead of allowing others to decide for us and to continue to exploit us.

In the end Transmetropolitan leaves us only with the words of Spider Jerusalem:

“These are the new streets of this city, where the New Scum try to live. You and me. And here in these streets are the things that we want: sex and birth, votes and traits, money and guilt, television and teddy bears. But all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.”

Rating: 10/10

Transmetropolitan

Sixty Issues

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Darick Robertson