This was a strange year for film. We had a lot that worked, a lot that didn’t, and a lot that shocked the heck out of all of us when we walked, shaking, from the theatre. I’ve had a long year at home and at the cinema, with both family and film able to elate me and surprise me and leave me weak at the knees. The surprises that popped up this year are fantastic and kept me riveted from start to finish, and some things that I just tripped and fell over that felt like love at first sight.
Let’s do this.
A Ghost Story
Well this was unexpected. I had heard fairly positive things about this when it came out of Sundance but was unable to catch it during the theatrical run. After seeing it at home, with my tea and my tears, it was something that absolutely rocked me down to the core. There’s an odd feeling that comes in a movie where you can watch a 100 pound woman scarf down a whole pie, in real time and in one take, and then go vomit it up and you can see just how much she’s suffering through her grief in little acts like this. Casey Affleck is ok for the time he’s onscreen, but once in the bedsheet he becomes this “other” that is sort of an embodiment of what is left, the reminder of the people we love and the memory of them. This is a somber, quiet, brutal film that asks a lot of the audience but it is completely worth it. I suffered through it and wound up a shivery mess.
Completing a role is something we don’t always get, especially one that is this well executed. Seeing Hugh Jackman come into this was shocking. Even going in, knowing it is an R-rated film, doesn’t prepare you for the violence that ties completely into the themes of hopelessness and genocide in a world that seems bleak and broken. The border really is a wall now, the Mexican desert is the only safe haven while our characters just wait to die, and the small glimmers of joy are always shattered. With Jackman and Stewart giving their best performances in this franchise, I hate for anyone to have missed this film. It’s nearly perfect, and for an X-Men film that’s huge because they’re normally just flawed and entertaining. Check out our main review below.
The Disaster Artist
James Franco is magnetic in nearly anything he is in, but when he plays a guy that exists it suddenly gets grey. I went in certain that this would be a bit of a spoof, a comedy that is played for laughs. And if you’ve seen The Room then you’d understand why, that one is absolute insanity and makes no sense whatsoever, but Wiseau had a vision and this film is ultimately about that – vision. Whether it is how you think friendship should go, how you fight for your story, or how you aim to control what you want to create it comes down to vision and power. This is funny, heartbreaking, touching, and really disturbing in places. I don’t know if Wiseau is an alien with no concept of human interaction, but he’s striving to portray it and that says something. The entirety of it build to the premier of the film and it may be one of the most heartwarming scenes I saw all year.
For the Birds (Vir die voëls)
This had its American premiere at the Tallgrass Film Festival in Kansas. It opened the festival and I was lucky enough to make that showing. I read the description and rolled my eyes a bit because rom-com isn’t really my genre, I find them hit-and-miss and it skews to the latter. This was an absolute surprise, feeling real and like something out of time. The fact that it was based on a true romance from the South African 70’s adds even more charge to the characterization we get. I expected nothing from this and found myself laughing and crying a bit, really attached to these two as one strove for the other relentlessly. This is one of the sweetest films I’ve seen all year and I hope that one day more get the opportunity to see it.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I wanted to place this higher. I really did, honestly, and it’s actually killing me that it’s this low on my top 10 list. This was a really shocking experience. I went with my dad on opening night, freaking out because…well, my dad was going to see me cry. I know The Force Awakens was a nostalgia trip with little originality, but it hit all the right buttons for me. I went in holding out to feel like an angry fan and I wound up crying in joy through most of it (except that one part…that part still hurts). With this I went in ready to feel the same thing but hoping for something new. I got one of those things. I also got a lot of wonderful performances, some gorgeous shots (that freaking lightspeed scene…my god), and some really interesting new work on Kylo Ren. But there are plot issues that beg real meaning and they come up short. That said, this is Star Wars dammit and I’ve seen it way too many times already. I ultimately wound up overjoyed with this and by my most recent screening I’d come down on feeling pleased with this despite its shortcomings.
Yeah, this came out in December of 2016 in France, but we didn’t get it till this year so I’m counting it. Kristen Stewart is continuing to prove that she is one of our better actresses, and now her second film with Olivier Assayas is tense and terrifying and gripping. While this is not technically a horror film, it has some very scary moments in the plot that had me tense and glued to the screen. On the opposite side, it worked well to show a young woman dealing with grief and hopelessness. This is something you might notice that I really like (they’re some of my favorite themes in Logan and A Ghost Story) and this is in the same vein. This film is about situational sadness, about being stuck in it and knowing that you could meet the same end as someone you loved. This is out on bluray now and I cannot recommend it enough.
War for the Planet of the Apes
Ridiculous naming schemes for this trilogy aside, this is just a damned good film. It speaks to the quality of storytelling when a film about apes can teach us something about being human and can beat our emotions with a hammer. I walked out of this a bit shaken, realizing that I had just seen something special but unsure as to what aspect of it might be what struck me. After another viewing and more thought on it I landed on one character – Caesar. This character is not only the best Moses-allegory we’ve had since Heston belted out his Exodus dialogue in The Ten Commandments, he’s one of the most well-rounded characters in modern franchise filmmaking. This is not a happy film, it puts the audience through the wringer from the first few moments and does not let up until the gorgeous sunset ending. You could not ask for a more perfect ending for a character, and I know I say this in a year where Hugh Jackman ended a 17-year run.
Come on and admit it, you were shocked that this was that good. Stephen King adaptations have always been hit or miss and while the original attempt at bringing this into your home has nostalgia attached to it, the execution was weird and awkward. Muschietti has done something very special here, bringing these kids to life with fantastic hilarity. This movie freaks me out in places (a lot of them actually) but the real charm to it is just how funny these kids are. Finn Wolfhard has some of the best lines of the year and he definitely outshines the rest of the cast, but that should just speak to how good the rest of them were because he is a standout among fantastic child performances. This is one that I hope everyone made time for, but if you didn’t…get off your ass and find a way to watch it!
Blade Runner 2049
Making a sequel to a classic 80’s film 35 years later is just an awful idea. It comes off as needy, playing on nostalgia to sell tickets, and the original Blade Runner is a slow-burn that did not do well at the box office anyway. This felt set up to fail but between the director and the cast I was curious. Harrison Ford returning is always a bonus as I’ve enjoyed his recent leap into “crochity old man” performances. What we got, however, is so much more. This is the perfect execution of a film of this nature. What director Denis Villeneuve did is stunning. Right down to the wire I was worried, particularly when Johan Johannsen’s score was removed in favor of Hans Zimmer (I just felt he wouldn’t be able to keep up with previous themes and tones). The final product, however, is a perfect film. I could not have asked for more and while I don’t believe it surpassed the original it gave me nothing I expected but everything I wanted, a gorgeous and thoughtful film on the nature of being human that is perfect visually, sonically, and in all performances. I left the theatre in awe and have been afraid to watch it again because I’m scared that I’ll begin to nitpick what is an excellent bit of cinema.
My absolute favorite American director is Darren Aronofsky. This is where I’m going to lose some people because this is one of the most polarizing films of the year. I don’t think that should detract from its greatness. What Aronofsky has done is take several things – the struggle of the artist, the bible, the struggle between nature and man – and woven them together into something so beautiful it was beyond words. I walked out impassioned, angry, offended, joyous, and exhausted. What Aronofsky has created is something uncomfortable, aggressive, and fascinating. I have no idea how this got major release, let alone as many viewers as the reviews would suggest (seriously, everyone has an opinion on this and I think a lot of them never even saw it). This is the most daring release by a major filmmaker this year, and it drew the best performance from Jennifer Lawrence that I’ve ever seen. This is an artist laying it all bare for the first time in ten years, letting us see who he is and what he struggles with, and it’s absolutely stunning. I could not have asked for more from this film, and I still get weak at the knees watching it. I would have to call it my favorite movie released this year and say that there is almost no way to watch it without feeling something. This is the most visceral movie of the year and will stick with you for days.
- Lady Bird: I often think about my relationship to my father and this really hit home. A movie about a girl who just cannot be understood by her mother? Yup, that was definitely going to hit home for me.
- Get Out: Damn, this was nuts. It’s hard to have a film be scary, funny, uncomfortable, fun, and socially relevant all in one go but Jordan Peele pulled it off.
- Coco: This is adorable and heartbreaking. Gorgeously animated, respectful of the culture it discusses, and absolutely wonderful to behold.
- Phoenix Forgotten: Almost no one saw this and that’s a shame. It’s a bit of a Blair Witch Project ripoff but it spoke to the kid in me that really wanted to see aliens, to hunt for the truth, and to find belief in the weirder things in life.
- The Shape of Water: Haven’t seen it yet but this probably would have knocked something else off of the list as I’m a die-hard Del Toro fan and everyone has been calling this his best work. I’ll see it as soon as I’m able.