Well we’ve made it to the end of another year, which means another numerical judgement of any number of things. I use this platform as an opportunity to share some thoughts on films that stuck with me throughout the year. Luckily for all, there were many that I never had the chance to touch on in the first place. Kinda like Jumanji (the board game concept – I haven’t yet seen the film), some of these films are like hidden artifacts that your rediscover, which end up trampling you like a herd of rhinos with their authenticity and originality. Making lists is hard. Just ask Buzzfeed. Some of the best, most deserving films can’t quite make a top ten cut. And every so often you’ll have that film that’s just plain lucky to make a list amongst such heavy hitters.
With the Golden Globe nominations out (and the Oscars) right around the corner, it’s time to discuss some films that aren’t just decidedly good by old people. It’s also a chance to see why not every good movie you’ll see this year will make it to the awards shows. Whilst every Oscar nom is critical gold, a lot of these films, in my opinion, are the equivalent of critical platinum. Unfortunately, certain films just can’t make the cut. While I would have loved to do in-depth discussions of films like The Disaster Artist, there just wasn’t the time. Relevancy has it’s limits and in order to keep my meager viewership interested, I try and stay relatively topical. Thus, there is a whole slew of notable mentions this year that didn’t make the cut. Just as well, there are a number of critical hits that I frankly felt were a bit overhyped. Oscar-baity, if you will. Films like Star Wars, Ladybird, Happy Death Day, The Greatest Showman, and All the Money In the World all had me feeling one way or another, but there’s a bit of cathartic beauty in not having to share my opinion on every film I see. Instead, the opportunity to revisit these films may come in time when they become useful in comparisons to other films. Additionally, films like The Florida Project, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri have still escaped me. Between New Years resolutions and the slow adjustment to 2018, I hope to find time to see em’ all before the actual ceremony at the end of next month. And as we dive deep into movie mania, with the Golden Globes this weekend, take my perspective with a grain of salt. This is no Oscar-ballot. This is no cheat sheet or critical guide or countdown. It’s merely my take on what films I believe should be praised this year. Because sometimes the biggest tragedy is that the greatest films can often go unnoticed. So without further ado, here are the top ten.
10. Personal Shopper
Whilst I’m not big K-Stew, there was something haunting about Personal Shopper that really struck a chord with me. It was a movie that was constantly switching themes and could never quite decide what it wanted to be about. But then again, they may have been the best part. What it lacked in its ability to spook, it made up for in lingering suspense. It also manages to tie in a suspiciously thoughtful meditation on the afterlife and the lasting effect it has on the living. It wasn’t a particularly scintillating film overall, but it had more thought an intrigue than many other “suspense” films this year. Olivier Assayas’ film was haunting – not like the way It was, but in a way that slowly builds over you throughout the film. By the end of it, you feel disjointed from the world in a way. And if a film about a professional personal shopper can elicit that kind of spiritual experience, color me impressed.
9. Wonder Woman
I actually don’t feel like much has to be explained for this one. DC’s one bright star in a dim galaxy was by far the best film of the summer. Sure it fell into many old superhero cliches, but everything it did differently was the right thing to do differently. Gadot fought through the pitfalls that held back Elektra and Catwoman and showed that grace and badassary walk hand in hand. We finally have validation that superhero films can be critically well-received and not be directed by Christopher Nolan. We also know that Patty Jenkins is a certifiably respectable Hollywood heavyweight who did a respectable job and launched an exciting new franchise. Now if they can just make sure that they don’t screw up the sequel…
For those reflecting on the surprising influx of horror films this year, one might think fondly on Split. For one thing, it played on the better aspects of M. Night Shyamalan. For another, it was really fun! James McAvoy killed it in his performance as did the heroine trio who served as his foil. The hype around this time of year was centered around Get Out, which was a fresh take on the genre, but Split took a new twist on and old genre and knocked it out of the park (a feat that is more difficult to pull off when you have The Last Airbender on your resume). Shyamalan layered the film really well, with hints to stories beyond simply the main plot that were subtle enough to not be annoying and still leave you interested. It might be a small positive blip in the larger Shyamalan career, but for a psychological thriller in the first quarter of the year? I couldn’t have asked for more.
7. My Cousin Rachel
Period pieces leave different impressions on different people. Some people find them to be cinema’s Ambien. But every once in a while, you find one that hits you the completely other way. My Cousin Rachel had that effect. That was probably partially because it was seriously dark. The film is based on a Daphne DeMaurier novel, which should tell you a lot considering the last novel of hers to hit the big screens was Hitchcock’s Rebecca. The film plays on her penchant for ambivalent female characters and suspense by leaving the audience just as confused as their main character. It’s a great story of betrayal, manipulation, deceit, and seduction that pushes all the right buttons to keep your intrigued. The fast-paced story paired with a sense of unknowing that gives it enough traction to stick around in your head for a couple months afterwards.
Another period piece, but this time in black and white?! Are we getting even more boring? Frantz was another film that was surprisingly delightful. It was a quiet story, but an engaging one nonetheless. The story of a soldier crossing former enemy lines to engage the family of his former foe moved audiences all over the world. Plus, how many World War I movies do we get nowadays? Not enough. The themes it touched on and the emotion that it exuded reminded me of old Hollywood classic. A touch of color to help make the element of time resonate was the cherry on top of this moving war-time classic. The film follows divisions in language, culture, and class. And yet, it manages to bridge the gap with love and provide audiences with a hopeful sense of closure and a lesson about letting go. Though the film seemingly belonged in another era, it’s lessons and story have a powerful impact on the world of today.
5. Baby Driver
When Edgar Wright was booted from Ant-Man, I was amongst those most upset. I mean Peyton Reed is fine. But Edgar Wright has a distinct energy in his films that you just don’t get with many other modern directors. I mean the music, the costumes, the characters in this movie all oozed cool. Ansel Elgort, who has a name that only a bully could dream of, transformed into this svelte, quiet badass. He embodied a James Dean-esque spirit that cinema has been craving. Sure, the plot wasn’t all that complicated. He’s a heist driver who’s trying to leave the business for good and can’t. But in a world where we have films like Valerian, isn’t it kind of nice to have a film that’s a well-orchestrated visceral experience not weighed down by mediocre plot twists? Baby Driver left as fast as he arrived, but my hope holds out that other filmmakers take note of this formula and we get to see a lot more films like this. After all, we all would benefit from a little rhythm in our own lives.
4. The Lovers
What a great twist on the traditional middle-aged love story. Maybe it’s part Tracy Letts singing, maybe it’s seeing Aiden Gillan have some life outside Game of Thrones (he needs it after all), but this film charmed me. The story itself was a pretty sad meditation on the dissolution of love. That being said, I found redeeming qualities in most of the characters, save for his asshole son. After all, the best part about the film was it’s subtle authenticity. It didn’t have to spoon-feed plot points and character development to it’s audience and it still managed to feel very real. Part of that was the setting and dynamics, but the execution was excellent as well. As I wrote at length, the connections to Faces, John Cassavettes 1968 masterpiece are innumerable. And in an age where the way we connect with each other is shifting day-to-day, it serves as a reminder of how our own relationships will age – gracefully or otherwise!
3. Your Name
In the dark days of anime, where Miyazaki’s talent is few and far between, Your Name brings some brightness to the world. A simple love story with a Freaky Friday twist, Your Name brought simplicity back to romance all while highlighting the importance of understanding in relationships. If you take it at face value, it’s no more than a rom-com. These days, rom-coms are thirsty for originality and Your Name had a lot to supply. I stumbled upon this film after knowing literally nothing about it and I was pleasantly treated to a unique, powerful love story that provides some much needed insight to its country of origin. For something to be original, it doesn’t need to be complicated. That’s where this film succeeded. It told a succinct love story in a short period of time and emphasized the importance of human romance. Plus it gave some seriously high hopes for the future of anime. If one non-Miyazaki can make some magic, then hopefully others will take note and follow suit!
2. Patti Cake$
If there was a year that needed a film so deliciously quirky, it was 2017. Everything about Patti Cake$ was so fresh that it stuck around a lot longer than I expected. Are stories about white rappers new? What about women with body-image issues? On the surface, the film seems to follow a few tried and true tropes. But that’s all surface level stuff. Peel back a layer and you find, complex interesting characters who exist not to defy stereotypes or fight the system, but simply to carve their own path in life. It’s a film free from an overbearing agenda, which provides ample opportunity to create its own message, free from heady conceptual filler-plot. Instead, you join Patricia and her team of ragtag misfits as they use the stage as a soapbox to spout-off their soulful soliloquies. As they come to term with their futures in such dark surroundings, so do you as the audience. Patti Cake$ left 2017 with a blueprint on how to make things better and how to inject a little soul into your 2018. It was full of enough raw emotional weight and an uplifting ending, that I’m still dancing with joy in the new year
1. The Square
And here you have it. The film that struck the deepest chord with yours truly. Ostlund have us a film that confused us and satiated our visual appetites. What was most striking about The Square was it’s ability to resonate. It was one of those films where I found myself discovering something new about the film weeks after I had watched the credits roll. It had the mind effery of Inception, the social satire of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and sprinkled with outrageous humor you might find in a Seth Rogen movie. What at first seemed like a loosely connected group of vignettes taken from the life of a Stockholm curator playboy, quickly became something altogether much more intriguing, biting and altogether interesting. With one of the most unique premises I’ve seen in a film in a long time, The Square hit all the right chords. It was a distinctly Scandinavian film with a global appeal. It’s dark humor, cheeky (and often despicable) lead, and biting social commentary made it this unique, stylish masterpiece that left me with more questions than answers in the most satisfied way. And damn it was funny. It wasn’t necessarily a laugh out loud experience, but more the kind of situational humor that makes you laugh when describing the scenario to your friends. Though this year had some serious contenders, and just about everyone has their buzzworthy pick for the number one spot, The Square stands a giant amongst already tall people for it’s uniqueness and it’s enduring philosophical resonance.