I KNOW!!! I know, I know, I know, (Frustrated scoff) I KNOW!!!
Yes, I'm over a year late on this now. And guess what, I still don't feel prepared. I don't think I've seen enough. In fact, I know I haven't seen enough films. I haven't been watching as many films as I've wanted to this year. I can give you a long list of films I haven't seen yet too. "Battle of the Sexes", "Foxtrot", "BPM (Beats Per Minute)" gotta get to that one. I've missed a few Marvel movies. You wouldn't think that'd be something somebody could just pass by, but eh, yeah, it's something I just can't get around to.
It's not like I haven't been watching movies, I have, just not as many and honestly I'm too busy, too broke, or not as interested in newer films as I have been in say, television or politics or just other things lately. Like, I should be watching a movie while I write this. Right now, I'm switching between Youtube videos and I'm listening to a book on tape, "There's Nothing In This Book That I Meant to Say" by Paula Poundstone if anybody's interested. I've spent a lot of time writing myself. I'm pitching a screenplay, and a book that I was a "Contributing Writer" on, that's now available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback:
So, yeah, movies have, not been as easy thing for me to watch and/or write about this year. It's been a rough year, a really rough year for me. I'm not gonna remember 2018 for much good, outside of the Eagles winning the Super Bowl. I'm not gonna remember much of the movies either; I've only seen four of them from that year so far, but so far I've liked all the ones I've seen a lot. As to 2017 films, look I'm making this list because it's an obligation, I'm way late on it, and I've finally seen all of the Oscar-nominated feature, which is traditionally the minimum amount of films I watch before I do this list, but this is the most incomplete Top Ten List I've ever done on a year in cinema. In fact, I seriously considered not doing it this year. I mean, at this point, it's just comedy how late it's been. That said, ask me in a few months or years what I truly feel about the best in film, when, hopefully, I've gotten a somewhat better grasp of the year.
In the meantime, consider this an-, just consider it an incomplete list until I can get around to making a better one that I'll drop on Twitter or Soundcloud or wherever else people drop things like this anymore.
Alright, once again, I always have the last word, even if it's a little laster than it really should've beem. Let's count down:
THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2017!
I guess this would be the most controversial pick on my list, but I really thought Kathryn Bigelow's "Detroit" was a striking masterclass is filmmaking execution, in telling a complicated story of a gruesome incident of police violence and overreach that not many people know about or remember and frankly they should.
My Original Review:
I'm not exactly sure how to tackle a review of Kathryn Bigelow's controversial "Detroit". It's by no standard a bad film, although there are some critics of it out there. Most of their criticisms,- well, some I don't mind, but the main crux seems to be this notion that, as Christopher Orr of the Atlantic put it, "Detroit... is strangely disengaged from the cultural and systemic forces that led to Police brutality in 1967 and continue to do so today." I'm not saying that's not necessarily true, although I'm not sure I agree with that. I hear that same complaint about Paul Haggis's "Crash" all the time, and I never agreed with it there either; mainly 'cause I never got the impression that that film's intention was to explain racism, only to examine aspects of it through a modern lens, how it's practiced and shows up in everyday modern life. "Detroit", well, it's goal is to create a document about a very specific incident, involving corrupt, abusive and murderous white cops and their actions against a group of African-Americans and as far as I can tell, it does it really well. Does it have to get into a detailed history of racism in the United States and it's Social Impacts on Society today lesson as well? Also, how disengaged can it be, it's a whole movie where a specific historical event is used as a symbolic reference to shine a light on how the modern society's view on Police Brutality today, have in many ways not been changed too much as well as show just how the Justice System has been systemically broken not just now, but always. This feels like asking more of the movie than the movie's trying to do, this line of criticism to me.
So, the Detroit Riot of 1967, also known as the 12th Street Riot lasted for five days, at the time, was considered the largest riot in American history and certainly the largest race riot until the L.A. Riots of '92, as the African-American community and the Police were basically at arms against each other after the Police raided an unlicensed nightclub called the Blind Pig. During this time, there were attempts to alleviate the raid by local leaders in the African-American community, but also outside forces from the state and national level were brought in. In total there were 43 deaths over the five days, including that of a four-year-old girl who was killed by National Guardsman because, and yes, this is as stupid as it sounds, because they thought she was a sniper. The movie shows several of these scenes and incidents, but it's all briskly shown in chaos, which is understandable, all this happening in a short period and we have a lot of characters to inevitably introduce as they head to the Algiers Motel.
So, it's in the middle of this race riot that an incident at the Algiers Motel occurs, one where the Police act beyond the scope of their legal means and end up killing three black men, all of them, in cold blood, none of them in self-defense. I'll spoil the punchline, they were found not guilty, despite basically terrorizing the occupants of a motel, mainly because they could. There was a report of a sniper that seemed to be after a group of Police, and at least according to this movie, there was a customer, Carl (Jason Mitchell) who did something stupid and decided to mock shoot at the cops, using a starter's pistol, just to scare them. Then, believing there to be a gun and that they were legitimately shot at, led by Officer Krauss (Will Poulter, in a really amazingly evil performance), a cop that's already been accused during the raids of shooting an killing an unarmed Black looter trying to escape, (And one that might not have even been a lotter by the looks of it) decides to use the situation to terrorize and abuse as many of the motel residents as possible until things started to get worst and worst and one cop, unaware that they were only insinuating that they were killing African-Americans one-by-one until someone confessed, actually killed someone.
There's other storylines crossing here, for instance, two of the members of The Dramatics, Larry & Fred (Algee Smith and Jacob Lattimore) were at the hotel at the time after their performance was canceled due to the riots, this was right before they hit it big in Motown, there's two white girls from out-of-town Karen and Julie (Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray) staying the hotel who they hook up with and when they find the girls in a room with a Black man, the police immediately presume they're hookers and that one of the men, Greene (Anthony Mackie) a soldier home from Vietnam is their pimp. There's a Black security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) who's hired to protect a local store where the Police and national Guard are staying and he's able to manipulate the situation well in order to make sure he's protected and not mistaken for, a looter or sniper or something. The movie is a bit of a mess, but the situation is a mess within a mess and it doesn't attempt to hide what it was or make it understandable, maybe to it's detriment it unflinchingly shows us what happened, to the best they can reconstruct, at this time.
And remember, Bigelow's main motif through the majority of her work isn't race or any social issues for that matter, her fascination has always been the study of masculinity. Now that certainly has a major role in race, but she's fascinated by the examining of it in dire situations and say whatever else, "Detroit" is a fascinating portrait of masculinity on multiple levels through many different forms of it. From that perspective, I have to give "Detroit" some credit. There's certainly some flaws in the film, but I couldn't look away if I wanted to. To me, that's a successful movie.
2017 was the 25th Anniversary of the last L.A. Riots. I say last, because there's actually been several over the decades, but the one everyone remembers was 25 years ago. As a '90s kid, I still remember them like they were yesterday, but it is good to be reminded of them, especially in these times of turmoil where racial tensions and conflicts with the police seem to be at the highest they've been since the Riots, they do seem relevant and prevalent now. It's not surprising that there were several films based around them this year, including two highly-acclaimed documentaries. I watched both of those, they both could've easily made my list. However there was another documentary that I picked instead that was about a fight over the future of a different city, and a different kind of fight too.
9. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
I've got a few documentaries on my list this year, "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City", is probably the most surprising one for most, but I found it fascinating. It details the fights for New York City's past and future as Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, fought over city planning fans.
From my original review:
I think it's fair to say that any random city and Las Vegas are complete opposites from each other, but I can tell you that there definitely is a wide difference between my hometown of Vegas and real cities, like the ones back east. I spent some time last year back in Philadelphia where my family is, and I also spent some time walking around Washington D.C. while I was on that vacation, and I do mean, walking around, 'cause, while some of those areas,- I mean, I saw cars driving down the roads, I can't for the life of me imagine how. Of course, any city that existed pre-automobiles are gonna be a little bit smaller but there was a time when the suburbs were being formed and the urban renewal movement began where the basic idea was, well, A. that certain parts of the city, the slums areas weren't pretty and needed to be gotten rid of, but also B. that cities needed to be designed, or redesigned in order to make room for the automobiles.... That's not the worst idea, out west. You see, there isn't really other transportation possibilities for us; we've tried to figure out a high-speed rail system, but to go to and from large cities, that are often too far apart for any other reasonable option, short of an airplane, means that highways are actually a good idea. Now, notice I said "to and from" cities, not, "in cities." See, another weird thing about Las Vegas in particular, it's a really new city. They didn't really start building anything here until the 1940s at the earliest, and they didn't build a neighborhood or anything.... The National Highway system was in it's infancy, Las Vegas in particular, was barely above 25,000 people by the fifties., it's about the equivalent population today of Cudahy City, CA, today,... So highways going through the city, actually made sense at that time, 'cause... we needed to bring people in, and that was the best way to do that..... There just wasn't much of a city to begin with.
Annnnnnnnd-, that's kinda the drawback. ..Las Vegas doesn't have an culture of it's own, specifically a city culture. We are working on it, in hindsight, these... highways, especially the I-15 really separate the city out, especially since, there wasn't a city to begin with and Vegas was being built during the suburban sprawl, so there's really no city here, and what you get is more this idea of carving out a completely separate census-designated area as opposed to a real city of Las Vegas, (Hell, the Las Vegas Strip isn't technically in Las Vegas, it's in Paradise, Nevada) it probably wasn't the best city planning to have them cut right through the Las Vegas Valley....
Now, that's a long introduction to "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City", but this was the constant battle, for the cities over the years; it's bad enough that a barely populated area like Las Vegas would get a couple highways, but Jane Jacobs was fighting to make sure highways weren't built through Manhattan, in the '60s! Yes, Manhattan, I mean, they already built one that cut The Bronx in half, and basically carved out less desirable neighborhoods, and replaced them with gigantic art-deco monstrosities of public housing projects, many of which were large monoliths that soared to the sky and essentially, eliminated the safety and connectivity that a community had, and basically turned a community into a slum. This wasn't just in New York, this was a cross-country movement that thankfully's starting to be eliminated across the country, most notably the (finger quotes) "failure" of The Pruitt-Igoe Complex in St. Louis, and while I think the idea of public housing could work, not the way it was done and funded back then.
It makes sense when you think about it and notice it, the more people on the street, the safer the street it, the safer the road is, the more connected people are to everyone else the better the area is. This is something Jane Jacobs would see. She wrote what was then panned as a simplistic critique of the then-modern city planning movement, which focused more on the symmetry of the buildings and the skyscrapers and really didn't have focus on whether or not it would improve, help or benefit the community. They assumed the people would form around the building, but the building and the highways, they didn't provide anything that would've benefitted the people, so all it did was isolate. Now, it's recognized, but her battle with the infamous New York, the notorious public official, Robert Moses, who was never once voted into office that set off all of these plans that forever changed New York forever, are basically the core legendary battles, which ultimately she's won, if not over the immediate history of city planning, but over NYC and certainly over the future of city planning.
"Citizen Jane..." is a powerful documentary, it's mostly old footage and talking heads, but it got me really thinking about the area and conditions where we live in and the surroundings I've been around and experienced, and really made me wonder if my perspective and viewpoint on the world couldn't be changed and altered significantly if I went to permanently live somewhere else, or how much that viewpoint was determined by those forces outside my immediate control and by people who didn't know better and designed the world around me, not with malice necessarily, but forced together some unintended consequences and short-sighted projections and assumptions about human behavior.
Like my, desk and basically everything else that's around me at nearly all times that, cities look like chaos, Jacobs observed, but if you actually look closer, there's a pattern and a structure and a method to how they work, and nothing is truly streamlined and perfect, it's often the perfection that looks like chaos that's actually what control looks like that makes the place run. She's right, everything seems like a mess, but so does nature when you look at it from afar, but if you look at it up close and actually live in the environment, or in nature, you'll see how it works. For too long, most city planners didn't see that and I have doubts that my city will ever truly figure it out, but I can tell you this, this movie reminded me of how my clearer and relaxed my mind felt when I was in a place and a city and a community, that, actually works.
You know, despite my review, I really never thought or cared much about city planning or wondered exactly why it matters so much, however after watching "Citizen Jane...", I started thinking and considering it a lot more. Also, it's just a fascinating and entertaining documentary about two differing philosophies that are in battle with each other. It's a really well-made documentary. Also, I gotta give some credit to Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio who did some character voiceover work for the film, that was really helpful as well. They played Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses when they didn't have a recording of them and recreated their words; there were a lot of documentaries that didn't have much in the way of narrators and they were particularly strong here. Mostly though, it's a great story about a city, it's people, it's building, and the entire city planning profession in fact. It's a philosophical, idealism debate that eventually shaped the profession forever, and it's a truly original film.
(Sighs, shrugs) Alright, I give. I like the X-Men now.
I've made it known in the past that I ain't particularly big on superheroes or the overwhelming trend of superheroes films, but it's not like they're all terrible or anything; I've had a few break my Top Ten before. That said, I never would've figured a movie in the X-Men franchise or series would ever be anywhere close to this good, but goddamn, "Logan" is just a masterpiece.
From my original review:
This is the saddest film I've seen in a long time. It's the most I've cried since,- since,- every time I've watched "Moonlight".
(Long pause, tears wiped away, sigh, taps table three times)
Alright, I give. I give. I was the last holdout on the "X-Men". I never understood this franchise. Even from the cartoon series from the '90s, what little I've seen of the comics, I've never been able to understand this thing or why it's so revered. Well-, actually I guess that's not entirely true; "X-Men: First Class" finally showed me that there could be an entry point into this franchise for someone who's not necessarily inclined to appreciate it. And I didn't hate "X-Men: Days of Future Past", but still, I'm behind; I haven't caught "...Apocalypse" yet, and for that matter I missed "X-Men 3" and "Wolverine" and frankly I don't remember much of "X-Men" or "X-Men 2: X-Men United", other than the latter being boring and confusing and the original being slow, boring, and annoyed at the two girls in bed with me watching it and getting way to turned on by Wolverine. (Shockingly, that story, which I won't be explaining, sounds like it should make me seem cool, but actually it really doesn't.) Actually, is this even an "X-Men" movie? I'm gonna presume it's in continuity, but it feels so foreign to everything else I've seen, that maybe this is it's own thing?
I don't know; I do know that I've always had an issue with "X-Men" that for one reason or another, I could never get over entirely. That issue: well, why are all the mutants, differently mutated? Seriously, I know it works metaphorically, sorta, but logically? Scientifically, within the universe, how can they all be so distinct and different; that doesn't make sense? That's not really how mutations work, especially on a large scale like this. Mutations, especially those that evolve a species, specific mutations are prevalent throughout. I'm not saying everybody needs to have self-healing powers and bone claws, or everybody walks through walls, or whatever, but there should be more than one of each, right!? The mutations shouldn't be this continuously distinctive. There should be a lot more similar mutations, but the way it's describe, it's like a mutation is just random so you get a mutation and maybe you turn into Mystique or you turn into, Magneto or whatever. I know this is sounding pedantic to every fan of the franchise right now, but it's annoying; I can't stop thinking about it. Look, I always look at the rules of the universe first, when it comes to fantasy, 'cause that's the big frickin' thing with fantasy, it's a different unique world, so I look to see if world holds up, this is why I despise certain things like "Lord of the Rings", and-eh.... I've never despised "X-Men" but this,- it's admittedly my only big, big, big issue (three bigs) rules of the universe, but it's really never been sufficient enough, even if it was a parable about how everyone's different and our struggles, well, some people are quite similar to each other, so some of the mutations should be similar?!
I'm not gonna say, "Logan" fixes this, but, it kinda tackles this issue a bit, 'cause, apparently, there's a second Wolverine. So, it's some time in the future, and I'm not quite sure what happened, but the state of mutants is bad. There's less of them, most of them seem to have died off, and even the great Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is no longer running a school; he's being taken care of by a belligerent and depressed Logan (Hugh Jackman) and a bald metallic guy named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) a mutant who's ability is to be able to track down other mutants. Charles Xavier is in his '90s and his brain is basically exploding upon himself and his body, to the point where he basically is a weapon if he isn't medicated and medication is hard to come by. Despite there being less mutants around, there is still, a demand for them, for reasons that I'm not gonna explain, one group has an army led by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) who's contracted out Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who's, more cyborg than mutant, I think, to capture a little girl mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is a mute, it seems, but she's also a slightly more powerful Wolverine. She even has bone claws in her toes, and she's very much like Wolverine, complete with self healing powers, and an extremely rebellious anti-social streak. Logic dictates that she is Wolverine's daughter. That's not quite 100% clear, in fact based on her origin story, I would consider the possibility that she isn't as it being more powerful storytelling-wise, but it doesn't matter she thinks Logan is her father, and she also believes, based on the word of a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) that helped her escape from Dr. Rice, that if Charles Xavier and Logan can take them to North Dakota in a few days, they can escape and find clear passage across the border to Canada, which is a safe haven for Mutants. (Insert your own "The Handmaid's Tale" joke here)
Structurally, this is one of the least superhero-plotted type superhero movies I've seen in a while. The movie itself doesn't reference superhero films but makes it's obvious comparison to the western genre, and makes several reference to-, ooooooooh boy.- to George Stevens's classic "Shane"....
I don't think I've brought this film ("Shane") up before, but I have never liked "Shane", and frankly I'm not sure I understand why others love it so much. And this is a beloved western, one of the top ones in fact; my Grandfather god rest his soul, it was his favorite movie, but it doesn't really hold up well; even when I had to see it in film classes, they were like, "Look, we know this isn't great, but it's one of those you have to watch, so let's sit through it." I don't really disagree....
....That said,... it actually really works with "Logan". "X-Men" itself is often read as a coded gay parable and "Shane" kinda fits with that. Plus "Logan" is about a reluctant father figure who taking care of a kid that he sees similarities to him in. (And yeah, I did notice that both films are named after the title characters.)
...The only thing that's really holding me back is that while I was familiar with Wolverine, but I'm not familiar enough to say that I'm emotionally attached to the character, but I think that's where the genius of the Laura character lies. All the mutants form their makeshift family in this universe, but they, like I mentioned, are all distinctly different from each other, for whatever reason. Here's a character, a young mutant in this world who finds somebody's that's the same, and this is what amounts to the the bulk of their time together, and after, I don't know how many movies and series and struggling to sorta learn the comics and why this is franchise is as big as it is..., and this nuance of a twist to the narrative; it-, it got me. For good or bad, this is the first time this franchise has ever effected me, and it hit me hard, 'cause the way the framing and writing works, eventually we move from Logan's perspective and then we eventually see it through Laura's. I wouldn't call that genius, but you'd be amazed how many would've screwed this up. Credit to Dafne Keen's work; this is the young girl's first film performance and she only has limited credits, but both her parents are actors so she's got natural skills, so even though she doesn't say a lot, necessarily, she does enough here. I especially give credit to James Mangold's directing, he's somebody I've characterized as hit-and-miss, but this is by far his best film, and the script in particular by Mangold, the great Scott Frank, who makes any shortlist of the best writers in Hollywood and Michael Green, shockingly,- I've never been big on his work at all, but these talents came together perfectly to craft this brilliantly detailed screenplay. I don't like to characterize films as being "surprising", but this is as close as I probably get. Here's a franchise, I have never given a single shit about, even when it was good, and this many movie's in, it got me to care.
Yeah, I have a long history of never really liking "X-Men". I have always heard though, even as a kid that, that it does take a committment to begin liking the franchise, because it takes a couple years in order to fully get into the world and characters. Frankly, I kinda dismissed that thinking once I found out about "Watchmen", which pulled this off in one graphic novel, maybe I shouldn't compare them, but anyway, that said, this was honestly one of the first movies where I actually did find Wolverine or Logan, to be a truly interesting character. However, to see this other lost character in this young Mexican girl, care about him,- it's the first time he's really challenge, the first time somebody can truly understand what he's like. Finding this connection where him in this world, and I think I have always been searching for in "X-Men" as well, really takes something I've always admired from afar and made it something that I can really get ahold of. If you don't like the X-Men, "Logan" is the X-Men movie for you.
7. Cries from Syria
Yeah, this is gonna be a tough one to discuss. We've gotten a lot documentaries about the crises in Syria since the Arab Spring; I could've picked from a few from this year, and I went with the one that most disturbed me, and it's probably the one that would be the most disturbing for all of you to watch as well. And that's the point, and that's why it's on the list.
My Original Review:
(Sigh) Do I really have to review, this?
Goddammit. Yeah, "Cries from Syria" is...- a lot of dead children. It's one of the first images, it's an image that's shown, along with several, several, (Depressing sigh) several, other images of the dead. I'm telling you this now, because, essentially the movie is more than that, but that's all I'm really gonna remember. We've been getting a lot of documentaries about Syria lately, there's a reason. That's where all the shit is happening. You know, I heard people during the last election, some truly idiotic people talking about how they didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton because she was supposedly a "Warhawk". They feared that because of Russia's involvement in Syria, she would send troops there. I'm not sold that either A. she's a warhawk or B. that she would've, but she probably should've. Trump probably should've too. Not just because Russia's involved although they are and they are destroying the civilians there, but because, well, they need help and we're the ones with the ability to provide it. Those that somehow escape and become refugees, are treated like shit in half-the-countries they're temporarily placed in, and frankly the fact that they got out or survived at all is amazing, and this is movie is, somewhat about them, but mostly it's documenting the slaughtering of everyone else.
For those who don't remember, in 2011, the Arab Spring took over the Islam world and democracy suddenly spread over several countries as they overthrew their leaders, Tunisia, Egypt among others, and Syria got caught up in it as well. Now, for the most part, the rest of the transitions were, considering the region, surprisingly peaceful, at least more peaceful than they probably could've been considering their histories. Syria, was not so lucky; it's long-standing dictator Bashir Al-Assad, decided to fight back and they've been fighting ever since. He's got the Syria government, along with the Russian government's backing, and everything from regular bombs and attacks to full on chemical warfare at his disposal. Oh, and ISIS is also somewhere in this mess causing chaos of their own. The Resistance is also divided to some extent and they made some mistakes. The film is cobbled together from footage of whatever they can, whether it be from a high class camera or from a cell phone. Every time you think you get a small break, there's more destruction. Hospitals being bombed and assaulted as they're trying to serve the injured and dying of those that just came in. Parents and kids dying on tables next to each other, and by kids, I mean some of them are babies. It's no wonder why teenagers in this country are themselves trying to be militarized.
The movie that this most reminds me of is "A Film Unfinished" a documentary from years ago that was about the Nazi films of the Holocaust that they themselves filmed. Like that movie, it's basically a document of atrocities, except it's not happening in the past; this is all the stuff that, even during the most gruesome days in Vietnam when the media truly was independent from the government, a lot of this footage even they wouldn't air. Yet, it needs to be seen. One way or another this is the battlefield for the 21st Century's version of a supposed "Cold War" and we're gonna end up dragged into this in one way or another either way; it might be kicking and screaming, but at some point, the longer this continues... and there is no end in sight at the moment, we're gonna have to be there, and God help us to do our damnedest to help the innocent and take out the Dictatorship and those who fund them and those who try to take advantage of all sides for their own selfish causes, and God help us that we don't somehow make it worst. I have absolutely no idea whether this is the best of the Syrian documentaries or not that we've gotten, but it's the most shocking and disturbing of the bunch. Yes, they show the White Helmets, yes a lot of this footage comes from the ragtag groups of on-the-ground "journalists" who document this footage, yes there's talking heads to put it in context, but this movie is about images. Powerful, distressing, nauseating images of what a violent Civil War in the Cradle of Civilization has become and I will not be able to get them out of my mind for awhile. It's a hard watch; but it needs to be seen.
Yeah, there's- (Sigh) I mean, there's a lot to say about "Cries from Syria", but it's hard to talk about any of the things that need to said, 'cause it's documents a massive lack of humanity. All these movies documentary the atrocities of Syria and the people fighting or surviving it, um, there's really nothing more to say than their stories need to be told. This movie, has the most unblinking and gets doesn't try to hide or shy away from any of it. It's appalling that all this crap is happening, it's doubly-appalling we aren't there trying to stop it, and it's amazing that we're able to watch and document it through the power of the medium.
(Teary-eyed, slight chuckle)
You know, someday this Disney/Pixar narrative of a young familial rebel trying to seek out his own path, separate from the traditions of his background only to find that the tradition itself, is actually part of himself and his heritage will stop working on me, but not today.
From my original review:
I must confess that I'm not as adept at my own personal family tree as I'd like to be. Perhaps it's because there's no real Italian version of the Day of the Dead celebration,- well technically, we do have "All Saints Day" and "All Souls Day", but those aren't as rich in tradition as Day of the Dead. But,- I don't know, for whatever reason, it's just never fascinated me as much, although thankfully my mother has preserved a family tree on geni.com for me that I don't check nearly enough and I do have a general idea about much of my family history; being the firstborn of my generation in an Italian family also meant that I had a great deal of family around me, up to three generations above me for a decent chunk of my youth. So, perhaps it's just overexposure that I never really quite dived into the traditions. That said, I never really thought much about how important it is to remember my relatives and ancestors before. Memories, and the real fear of one day being forgotten.
That's the angle that got me when it came to "Coco". I don't why or how it did and did it so well, other than to just say "Pixar magic did it," but it did it again. Consciously, I know this story isn't that different from say, "Moana", which I also happened to absolutely love, and hell, this isn't even the first computer-animated feature I've seen that's centered around the Day of the Dead, and involved a character going into the Land of the Dead, that distinction belongs to "The Book of Life", which came out a couple years ago. It was okay, but "Coco" is vastly superior.
"Coco" is a curious title for the film, the titular Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Marguia) is the oldest surviving family member, and is young Miguel's (Anthony Gonzalez) Great Grandmother. His family, the Rivera's have a long proud tradition of being shoemakers. However, Miguel wants to be a musician, which he discovers is not only a tradition in the family, despite their bizarre antagonistic hatred of music; it turns out that the town's great songwriter, the late great Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) might be Coco's father after a picture is shown with Ernesto's head cut off and showing a framed photo of Coco's mother, Imelda (Alanna Ubach). Eventually, this leads to him trying to steal Ernesto's guitar, which brings him to the Land of the Dead, 'cause you can't disturb the belongings of the Dead, or something, and now, he needs a relative in the Land of the Dead, to give him a blessing to come back. However, his family, and Mama Imelda, in particular, are vehemently against his musical career and ambitions, so he needs to get the blessing from Ernesto. He gets some help from Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a musician who knows Ernesto and wants Miguel to put his photo up onto the family's ofrenda so that he can be remembered and survive. Once your picture no longer is on a wall, you're no longer remembered, and you suffer from the ultimate death in the Land of the Dead, which is just sad and horrifying.
I love a lot about this movie. Yeah, the story is familiar and somewhat predictable, but more than any American film I've seen, the movie gets something that I've seen in some of the best Mexican films; this historic tradition of the past and the celebration of family including those who've passed. I've noticed that family heritage and narratives are often a common thread in most of my favorite Mexican and Mexican-American based films, like "My Family/Mi Familia" a multi-generational sprawling epic that tells the complete history of a family from their older roots in Mexico to when they moved up and made new roots in California. Another of my favorite Mexican films is "Like Water, for Chocolate" a fantasy-realism fairy tale that also tells a multi-generational narrative and celebrates the past and where they came from. I bring those movies up in particular 'cause some smaller parts "Coco" are played by Edward James Olmos, the narrator character in "My Family" and Alfonso Arau, the director of "Like Water for Chocolate". I particularly like the clever casting of Arau as a family matriarch as you could consider him one of the fathers of modern Mexican cinema, as both an actor and director as well as one of the first big names to break into American film. (He was in "The Wild Bunch", and his career dates back longer than that; you should look him up.) It's a small behind-the-scenes touch, but that kind of detail is shown everywhere onscreen as well.... "Coco" is really inspiring and makes you think not just about Mexican familial traditions, but helps you reflect on your own past and those who came before you and everything they did, that helped you get to become who you are.
You know, I should really look at that family tree Mom put online for me more often....
I still really should, and the thing with some of these Pixar movies lately, also, like "Inside Out", for instance, it seems like they've been making a very conscious effort to teach and show kida various aspects about the mind. "Inside Out" tells a story about complex emotions, and here's another complex, emotional film about memory and history,- so many kids movies, and animated movies, even if there's stuff that's good about them, they're not trying to dig into the psyche of a developing mind,- I mean, what did "Sing" teach anybody? What did "The Angry Birds Movie" teach anybody? I know those are extremely bad films but, even the moderately good ones, "Turbo" wasn't awful, but it's nothing that a kid is ever gonna think about again, it's nothing that they're ever gonna remember positively years later. A film like "Coco" or "Inside Out" or "Moana" or "Frozen" even, there's some complicated lessons above what love is in that film, and deals with emotions and actions on the mind we can have on people. There are going to be kids who will watch these films and learn from them, the same way we watched and learned from "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" as a kid, and that is just great and makes it more impressive when they're done this well, and makes you angrier when you see other stuff that's just fluff even to the kids that the animated world seems to pop out a lot of. Others are like, "Let's bastardize Dr. Seuss's best works again!", and Disney and Pixar at their very best are striving on such a different level.
5. Phantom Thread
It's been awhile since I added a P.T. Anderson film to my Top Ten. It's not that he hasn't made great films; "There Will Be Blood" made my list pretty high in '07, and I still got called out for putting too many films ahead of it, but I think I've just been waiting for the next ones that really blew me away the way his early films like "Boogie Nights" and especially "Magnolia" did. I don't know if "Phantom Thread" did that for me either, I only gave it 4 1/2 STARS originally, but I gotta admit, I've thought a lot about it since, and I had a lot to say about it at the time.
My original review:
So, as much as everybody else seems fascinated by the fashion and clothes of "Phantom Thread", I want to focus on the food. "Phantom Thread" is a romance that doesn't start with the world of high fashion that Reynolds Woodcock (Oscar-nominee Daniel Day-Lewis) lives in, but instead with, a breakfast order at a restaurant. It also ends with him, lying with his head in the lap of the waitress, Alma (Vicky Kreips) that he has now gone on to marry, something he previously said that he didn't think he was capable of doing, and now he's mentioning that, he's getting hungry. This, after having eaten an omelet that Alma made for him. (Eh, don't entirely think "Big Night" with a parallel though, different kind of omelet.)
So, coururier houses and couturiers still exist, but they're not as common in the fashion world, especially in America anymore, as they once were, but if I remember my Season 3 of "Project Runway", correctly, couture fashion is very high quality, completely hand-sewn dresses that are made specifically for an individual client. The hand-sewing being the most prominent and distinctive aspect, when you think of a couture house, you literally think of a dozen or so people hand-sewing and fitting a single outfit at once, and really detailed exuberant dresses at that, the kind, you probably shouldn't fall asleep in after having a party, and if you for some reason do, you shouldn't be surprised if the couturier will take it off you in your sleep, no matter how rich you are. In France, you have to be licensed in order to call yourself a couturier or a couture designer and they're not easy licenses to get. The movie does show this to an extent, it takes place in 1950s London and Woodcock is the biggest couturier in England. He is essentially an artist of his time, and he behaves that way, partly because he's expected to. Also, his sister Cyril (Oscar-nominee Lesley Manville) basically runs every aspect of his life, including what he eats and when and with whom. Now, at first, she's reluctant to bring on this little waitress Alma into the mold. She's enthralled, although for a muse, she isn't necessarily excited about the world of fashion, she's most interested in being with Woodcock. However separating him from hiis sister also seems to mean separating him from his work, something he's reluctant to do, naturally. Other than being brother and sister, they have a deep connection and it's revealed early on that Woodcock they have a soft spot for their late mother, even going so far as to sewing parts of her hair into the lining of his clothers, to always keep her near him.
P.T. Anderson's by any standard one of the great filmmakers of our time, but I must admit I've been a little confused by some of his inspirations lately. There's basically two kinds of films he makes, the emotional character narratives, "Hard Eight", "Magnolia", and "Punch-Drunk Love", the films that are based more around the emotions of the characters, and then he's got his movies have focused on something particular. "Hard Eight" was the underground gaming world, "Boogie Nights" was the porn industry, "There Will Be Blood" was turn of the century oil tycoon, "The Master" was the beginning of Scientology, "Inherent Vice" was-um, Thomas Pynchon world, I guess. He's constantly shifting the time and location of his movies, it seems to fascinate him moreso than anything in his narratives lately. That's not to take away from the narratives and "Phantom Thread" is a good one, although some of these I just am wondering, why the fashion industry? Why Scientology? Why oil? I guess if there is one theme that overtakes all his films it's indulgence; that's usually his biggest criticism although I find it a strength most of the time, but sometimes it seems completely random. The director he's most compared is Robert Altman, who also switched settings all the time, but he also switched his narratives a lot. Usually, Altman had several narratives, Anderson has seemed to have decided not to continue with that trend since "Magnolia", even "Inherent Vice" is mainly about the detective's story and not everything around him, but there are some other more singular story films in Altman's repertoire too. He's also random in his settings, but the style of every Altman movie is basically the same. With Anderson, it seems like the look and slickness of the film is the only thing that seems to be a a continuous thread. He DP'ed this movie, although he took his name off the credit so technically the movie doesn't have a cinematographer. Altman has a fashion movie, "Pret-a-Porter (aka Ready-to-Wear)" and that's a great film but it shows absolutely no similarity to "Phantom Thread".
I think what I'm getting at is that I'm just not sure how to interpret Anderson's inspirations and since this movie is about the complications of muses compared making an artist's goals and objective conflictive...- hmm..., well, I guess it's better not to speculate any further on P.T. Anderson than that. (Although I do find myself more interested in that possible subtext of the movie than the film itself.) Anyway, "Phantom Thread" is a great film; I'm not sure how to rank P.T. Anderson's film anymore but it's another great film of his, but I'm just curious as to what he might be saying underneath all the fashion and get to the man himself, who seems to be way more mysterious now than I ever remember him being before.
It definitely seems like I"m being somewhat ambivalent in my enthusiasm of "Phantom Thread"; as well as some of P.T. Anderson's other recent works, but I think at this point with Anderson, it's like saying a minor work of his is like a minor Scorsese film, it's still a P.T. Anderson, and his films are great. They're distinctive, they're indulgent, they're grandiose and over-the-top in subject matter and execution, and "Phantom Thread" is another one of those. I do think it's probably more interesting than some of his other recent films, because this one, seems to be more of an insight into his artistic mind than we've seen from him. The movie is about, muses and which ones you should have and which you should and knowing they can be dangerous, but following them anyway, because that's what muses are. As somebody who writes myself, I know that, I don't care where I get my inspiration from, I just know once I get it, I have to trust it and follow it wherever it takes me, and that can be some strange and dark places sometimes.
Believe it or not, I actually hate writing about myself and my life, even though, I'm often commenting on it at the edges of my writings on this blog, or sometimes, just blatantly talking about it, but that said eh, me and my family have been struggling in recent years and lately, it's been pretty lousy and-, well, let's just say, it wasn't lost on me when suddenly my living situation became very similar to the characters in this film.
4. The Florida Project
Yeah, a weekly hotel outside of Disneyworld, a weekly outside of Las Vegas; I suspect that's more similar than I'd ever wish to admit. So, maybe the movie seemed quite prophetic to me, but that's not the only reason this is making the list though. Nah, this is just an amazing film that officially solidifies Sean Baker as one of the greatest directors working today.
From my original review:
So, some of you may have noticed that occasionally when I'm watching something nowadays I try to tweet out an occasional non-sequitur related to whatever I'm watching. (My Twitter is @DavidBaruffi_EV which btw, you should be following already.) Anyway, as I was watching "The Florida Project" I took a second to pause and make this observation on Twitter:
30 Minutes into "THE FLORIDA PROJECT" and I've come to one realization: KIDS who GO OUTSIDE to play all day are ASSHOLES! Seriously, kids need to stay inside and watch TV, MOVIES and play VIDEO GAMES, you'll be nicer, you might learn something and they won't be bothering others.
So, I got some shit from that from some friends. One FB friend of mine, one who btw generally who thinks he understands what comedy is but is often sorely mistaken, responded with, "This is the worst piece of film analysis I have ever read in my entire life, congrats!"
Well, first of all, I don't think too highly of people who think true film analysis can be accomplished in a paragraph. ([sigh] My own early work included) Secondly, I clearly said I was only thirty minutes into the movie, so I hadn't made up my mind yet as to my thoughts and opinions on the film at the time of the tweet. Thirdly,- well, to those who have seen the movie, am I that wrong here? Maybe not with the movie in its entirety, but in general and from my experiences, this is accurate. The kids who played outside in my day, and this wasn't like back in the '30s or something when it was either go outside or do nothing, this was the '80s & '90s, when even for the poorest kids there were plenty of legitimate indoor options, it was always the ones who were always playing outside that made me the most nervous and got me in the most trouble, often by making me do things that, not only would I not think of doing, but I wouldn't even know that they were bad enough things to do that would get me in trouble, until after I was talked into doing them, usually by the outdoor kid, who was frankly, was usually an asshole....
The main character in this film, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is one of those outdoor kids, and one of the first things we see her convince her friends to do is to go across the way to a nearby monthly condo rental place and spit on one of the resident's car. Why?
They're asshole outdoor kids, they come up with stupid things to do I guess. I seriously don't know, and these kids do a few things that I genuinely don't know why exactly they did them,.... I mean, even after they're told to clean it up from the car's owner, they act like it's not even a punishment or anything; it's just the next game they're playing. I guess that's very childlike and I'm supposed to be inspired or enchanted by this and to be fair if I was living in some run-down monthly motels, even with cable TV, I'd probably be seeking out other things to do. "The Florida Project", named after the early codename that Walt Disney gave to the project that would inevitably become DisneyWorld, takes place in Kissimmee, Florida, and begins with the song "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang, which is a much more subtle reference than people might realize, since Celebration, Florida, is the name of the famous master-plan community/town that was created by Walt Disney and the Disney Corporation and is often the home of a lot of DisneyWorld employees and is technically apart of the greater Orlando-Kissimmee area, but this movie takes place more in the run-down area of Kissimmee that is right down the road from Disney World and you may have heard of the town from those old commercials from about fifteen years ago as it promoted itself as being centered around every Central Florida tourist attractions. I've never been to Disney World but I'm told by those who have that this area is a strange is a decrepit tourist trap and it looks like it.
Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) is difficult to explain. She's young, immature, impulsive and depending on the situation is either a hustler who whores or a whore that hustles. And yeah, she often lets Moonee basically run around the area which is populated by, what I'm told are symbolically..., places that all seem to mimic famous places in the Magic Kingdom, including Moonee's motel which is called the Magic Castle. It actually exists and is shot on location and mostly with unknown or lesser-known actors in most of the roles, many of whom are actually people who live in the area. This is very similar to Writer/Director Sean Baker's previous film, "Tangerine". That movie was also about a friendship between two young people, in that case, two transgendered sex workers. Here, it's mainly a friendship between Moonee and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) a young friend who lives at a different motel across the way. Moonee began with a third close friend, Scotty (Christopher Rivera) but after Moonee's playing got way-the-fuck out-of-hand one day, his grandmother Stacy (Josie Olivo) made sure he didn't play with her anymore, but Moonee and Jancey become and remain fast friends.
Trying to describe the film's plot is difficult 'cause there's really a subtle story that's happening at the edge's of the screen, very similar in some ways to one of my favorite movie's in recent years, Scott McGehee & David Seigel's "What Maisie Knew".... There are some great sequences highlighting that in the movie like when Moonee helps her mother with, what she thinks is an innocuous bikini selfie, while she's actually putting a hooker ad on Craigslist. It's not entirely that insular though, Willem Dafoe earned an Oscar nomination as the motel's landlord and he's an interesting character as well. Oddly though, the slice-of-life film that "The Florida Project" mostly reminds me of is Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven", a movie that's also about a young Girl's changing world and how she kinda sees it changing at the parameters, but only somewhat understands everything that's happening and it's completely out of her control.
The final scene, which has been heavily debated on, reminds me of this the most, it essentially ends the same way "Days of Heaven" did, with two young friends running off to the world that they're forever gonna know and remember. I personally loved it, and even though other symbolism probably went over my head, I love how much it represents the end of one world for Moonee and essentially the beginning of another. The more I think about "The Florida Project", the more I reflect on a lot of how brilliant it is. As somebody who's only got limited theme park experience..., I suspect the deeper I look into the film, the more I'd appreciate it. With his recent collection of films, I think it's very fair to rank Sean Baker among the best directors working today. It's not just that he's good at slice-of-life films, and is absolutely great at capturing these realistic, complex and interesting friendships, but his fascination with those who live on the outskirts, essentially places literally and figurate that we generally think of as being fairly glamorous is fascinating. He's able to spot an interesting film subject before others can, and he finds new and interesting ways to show the lives of those characters. He's quickly becoming one of those filmmakers who I can't wait to see what new project they come up with next and "The Florida Project" might be his very best yet.
He also made a movie that I greatly admired a few years ago called "Starlet", which also showed a friendship between two women, in that film's case, an aging old woman and a young porn actress; he seems fascinated with certain thing, frankly fascinate me as well; he's fascinated by unusual friendships, he's captivated by, if not fame, but entertainment, and things that are fame-related, and ergo, he's interested in those people who live on the outer edges of that society, and- he's clearly capable of working with great actors, but he's wants to document these characters and lives as accurately as possible, and he's incredible at simply casting people around and getting some amazing performances out of them. Willem Dafoe, got an Oscar-nomination for this film, most of these his actors are either unknowns, not professional actors, or very early and young in their careers, and he has manage to nail setting in these films, better than most directors. I can see the pattern, he's using the more I look, but it's not the structure, it's what he does and how he twists it, and the world he creates around it. "The Florida Project" nails so many of these things, the hardships, the immaturity, the struggles of being a young mother who can barely take care of herself, and a kid, who essentially is just raising herself and doesn't really have a role model to look up to and Baker decides to capture this moment, where, essentially it's the moment you go from being unaware to being painfully aware. It's easy to just look at it as growing up and going from kid to adult way too fast, but it's more complicated than that. Everything in "The Florida Project" is more complicated and complex than that, we see that, he shows that, sometimes the characters see it, sometimes they don't. And sometimes, they have to force themselves not to see it, by imagining and living in a fantasy world for a bit.
3. Dawson City: Frozen Time
The highest-ranked documentary and more-than-likely the most obscure title on my list this year is Bill Morrison's "Dawson City: Frozen Time". Admittedly, this was a year where I seemed to be more inclined or inspired to watch documentaries than regular features; it's the second year in a row where I have three documentaries in my Top Ten, and this was a good year for them. However, I think the best of the year, and the biggest celebration of cinema this past year was heavily overlooked. One of the more experimental documentaries, the movie tell the story of both an obscure northern Canadaian town that fell out of favor after the Yukon Gold Rush died out, but also happen to be the sight where hundreds of old lost films where hidden, preserved and eventually found and recovered; one of many, many fascinating aspects of the history of the town.
From my original review:
Before I get into everything else, I'm not overly crazy about the movie's constant use of subtitles instead of a narrator. That's a bit of a curious choice, but that's a minor issue; "Dawson City: Frozen Time" is one of the best films of the year and one of the greatest love letters to classic cinema ever but more than that, it's a look into a history of a town and of early cinema that feels likes it's only now being discovered and written.
So, there's a place in the Sierra Nevada's called Bodie, California that at one point was the state's third largest city. That was about 125 years ago, it's now a ghost town. It was a mining town that benefited greatly from both the California Gold Rush and the Comstock Lode silver discovery in Nevada, but after the profit ran out on that, people eventually started leaving and now the town resides as basically is a tourist trap for those historically-inclined enough to even know about it. I bring it up, 'cause it's probably the most comparable thing I can think of to Dawson City, at least in America. Now Dawson City, is not a ghost town, there's still about a 1,000 people living there, but it's literally about as out-of-the-way as you can get; at one point it was the capital of the Yukon Territory where after the land was originally owned by Natives, of course, the town found a mass population boom in the late 1800s as the Klondike Gold Rush hit. And no, I had never heard of this place before I saw this movie;....
That is until 1977 when, inside a long-abandoned swimming pool that now resided under a hockey rink, they found 533 nitrate films, most of them dating back to the Silent era, having remained protected from the elements by Permafrost, the majority of these films were long-thought lost or destroyed. (Remember, this was nitrate film, so it was, and still is, highly flammable so the fact that it was basically preserved by permafrost is kinda amazing, even if it led to most of the films having suffered from severe water damage, the restoration efforts are worth it.) It's weird to think of just how recent the Gold Rushes were, but right as Dawson City was becoming a hub at the center of the Klondike, film was beginning to explode across the world and the town has itself a rich history of entertainment, including multiple movie houses in those days. The thing is, it was still really out-of-the-way and back in the days where film reels would literally travel from town-to-town and Dawson City, was literally the last stop, like the last places the reels would travel to, after traveling up and down the continent, and before the days of film preservation, Hollywood, never picked them up. This led to a few fires and some movie houses and entertainment hubs having to get built and rebuilt and pretty soon, the idea of what to do with the films came up. Many were destroyed, purposefully burned, some were thrown into the Yukon River, but several found homes and survived and the story of their survival and inevitable rediscovery and preservation is probably bigger and more important than many of the actual films.
"Dawson City: Frozen Time" doesn't tell these two stories to fill up the time either, they're both intertwined with each other and with a part of our history that's forgotten and under-told. One of Director Bill Morrison's great tricks is now only splicing in footage of the films or other time period movies and movie scenes with the historic photos whenever possible, but it's amazing to see just how much of the films made back then, really were also telling the recent realities and stories of the time, much of it easily fill in as tales of Dawson City itself. Not only do we have all these films, we now get to look at them with fresh eyes, but also imagine them being seen by the Miners and their families of Dawson City and perhaps wonder what they saw and what they were thinking as they watched this representation of life and rare glimpse into the outer world on the screen. In a way, "Dawson City: Frozen Time" gives us a rare opportunity to look into our past and the past of cinema as a tool for recording history as it's happening, and simultaneously as it's already happened. It's one of the most inspiring and important films of the year, and it's absolutely a miracle that such a document can be made today.
Every so often I see people in film groups, they talk about how much they love film and love cinema and then you see somebody ask a question like "What's everyone's favorite black and white movie?" I hate to be that guy, but unless you're really, really young, if you really love cinema, that's not a question that's ever asked; in fact if people do ask it, they should probably be slapped. "Dawson City: Frozen Time", is a movie for popular who truly love film. They love film, they love history, the love the history of film, they can appreciate just how amazing and miraculous this film is, they can even love how unique and experimental this film is. There's very little spoken dialogue in the movie, most of this film, is just pictures and words on the screen, telling the story and stories of the town and of the films, the explosive nitrate films that somehow miraculously survived all this time. The fact that this movie exists, is partially a miracle, to begin with. Director Bill Morrison, who is a longtime documentarian who specializes in projects based around film preservation and old cinema, manages to take this amazing film find, and seeks deeper into the weird, out-of-the-way place that it came from and tell a deeper story about the town. It feels like a walk through Dawson City's local historical museum, it feels like it was made in the days of silent films, but this movie couldn't be made without the modern technology that both preserves the films that survived and were found, and with the films themselves that came through this once-upon-a-not-that-long-ago, thriving mining town. I'm amazed that this film, really flew under a lot of people's radar, this is an absolute must-see piece celebration of the art form we love so much, and so much more.
I thought this was gonna be my number one for the longest time too.
2. Get Out
I've never been big on horror, and certainly the last person who I would've thought of to get me into it would've been Jordan Peele. Honestly, I was only ever lukewarm on "Key & Peele". It wasn't until "Get Out" did I realize just how truly boring the horror genre had become. Thank Christ somebody finally came into the genre with a truly unique and original point of view to take a dull drama and make it seem so new and interesting that, hell, even I'm starting to dive into horror in my own work now. Oh, and btw, it's a brilliant, masterful film that I want to watch again and again.
From my original review:
It's been a long time since I've been this infatuated with a horror movie. Hell, it's been a long time since I've been infatuating with any movie, lately, (I might talk about that some other blogpost) but yeah, "Get Out" is one of the sharpest, smartest and strangely funnest horror films I've seen in a while. It was written and directed by Jordan Peele of "Key & Peele" fame, but this isn't a straight-up comedy. There's some funny lines and moments, but this is good, true psychological horror, that truly had me worried and guessing, and had a point of view on the genre. One of the things that's really held horror back, is the lack of point of views from the filmmakers. They may have an interesting idea, but they so rarely have an interesting perspective. They mainly spend their times, putting characters together in a room, and letting whatever play out, and usually they don't have much more of an idea than "put the pretty people in peril," or "make the pretty people suffer a bloody, messy death," or something along those lines. Of course, we're not getting that with Jordan Peele, who's got too unique a perspective for a simple horror film.
For one, the movie takes a famous film set-up and begins to subvert it; the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" idea. In this case, Rose (Allison Williams) is bringing home Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), her new African-American boyfriend to meet her upper crust, intellectual liberal parents. The kind who are first to note that they would've gladly voted for Obama for a third term. Her father Dean (Bradley Whitford) is a highly-accomplished doctor and surgeon and her mother Missy (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist, who specialty was hypnosis. At first, they seem eccentric but protective parents, although they do keep African-Americans employees as a groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson) and a maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) which seems peculiar, mentioning how he doesn't like the image, but that they're family friends. What' peculiar though, is their behavior. At a get-together with several other locals as well, it appears that everyone's behavior seems strange. Georgina unplugs Chris's phone, supposedly on accident, but when he runs upstairs for something, every guest suddenly stops talking. All of whom, rich white people, who try very hard to talk to Chris, and get to know, but mostly want to show how they like African-Americans without sounding racist about it. "I know Tiger", says one old man who claims to be a former professional golfer. One of them seems to be a wiser, more aware old man, Jim Hudson (Stephen Root) who runs a museum and art distribution company, but who's gone blind in recent years. He had heard about Chris's work as a photographer and treats him fairly well. The only other black man at the party,...-
Well, I don't want to give away too much more about what happens, 'cause it's, it's- really well done, and the reveal is perfectly set-up, but not overly set-up, which I like. Some movies, even great movies, love to relish in paranoia, before inevitably, they're paranoia is revealed to be justified. "Get Out" does have it's paranoia moments, but nothing as strange as surreal as say Mia Farrow scrambling Scrabble tiles or anything like that. It's a movie that begins with realistic, everyday fears and awkward, yet scary moments, that can, in a moment's notice, either be completely disregarded and washed away as just a paranoia delusion or can turn into a sudden life-or-death dangerous moment. Every review I've read of this movie, seem to talk about the opening scene, where a young African-American guy is looking for a house in an affluent white community and suddenly, there's a car that seems to be following him. I can think of some ways to interpret this scene, the George Zimmerman-type fears for instance that I suspect more African-Americans share than most of us would think about, although I suspect most people can relate to this scene. Speaking as a white Caucasian male, we've occasionally those feelings of being in a neighborhood that's primarily not-white, maybe one you see named too often on the 11:00pm news at night, and let's just say that you tend to make sure your doors are locked when you're driving through it, and I think most critics relate to that scene on that kind of level, even if we don't want to admit it. Honestly I didn't find that scene particularly interesting to me. I thought the dynamics between the characters were interesting, 'cause walking along a quiet neighborhood, that's one thing, suddenly being in the middle of a scene that's clearly a group of people who's culture you don't understand and don't relate, and seeing them trying to relate to you on their level, and vice-versa, and neither one of them is ever gonna understand, that stuff is interesting in of itself, and can be done in a bunch of different genres, and focusing on the unease and tensions of that kind of situation to propel into a horror, nightmare scenario, is a really strong one, that's not done enough, and usually not done well when it's tried.
It's done incredibly well, here, cause it doesn't necessarily read or play as horror, and that fools us at every turn, which makes it incredibly satisfactory when it finally does inevitably play itself out. There's also some good performances here by Caleb Landry Jones as the twitch drunk little brother of the family, as well as Lil Rel Howery as Chris's best friend, but the real accomplishment of the movie, is the screenplay by Jordan Peele, who has made-, this might be the most interesting horror movie, American horror movie, in a long time. Like, maybe going back a decade or two. It's already a bit of a throwback in style, it's a bit "The Stepford Wives," it's a bit "Rosemary's Baby", but in terms quality writing, and storytelling, and point-of-view I can't stress this enough;- Peele, on the DVD talks about how setting up a scare in a horror, is similar to setting up a joke, which is true, but also, similar to comedy, horror, works best, when those scares have a real point-of-view and perspective and a unique one at that.
Compare this to something like Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck", which is another movie that takes a typical genre, but sends it through a unique and singular perspective and takes something that's been boring for years and suddenly makes it fresh; every so often I saw on Youtube these stupid videos by people who don't know what they're talking about, about Amy Schumer can't or tell a joke correctly and focusing on certain shock value things, or whatever bullshit that was; trust me, she's being doing stand-up for like fifteen years, she knows how to tell a broke the normal way; what she's doing, is changing the structure to match her perspective. That's what makes "Trainwreck" so great, and in very much the same way, Jordan Peele, has done the same for the horror genre with "Get Out". He knows the rules, he knows the conventions, he uses them when necessary and then twists and subverts to his vision and his view of the world, to make a genre film seem fresher and newer than it has in years. Absolute kudos to Jordan Peele on this one; this isn't just a great horror movie, this is a great movie, period,....
You know, I've started, maybe somewhat erroneously or foolishly, but I've been working in the horror genre with some of my recent personal writings lately, there's several reasons for that, but a big part of it is that, through Jordan Peele and this film, really revealing what I could contribute to the genre, by just introducing myself into the genre. Peele introduced himself to a tired, often cliched and tired genre and plugged more life into it than it's had in years. He has a point of view, he has something to say and a way he wants to say it, and nobody else could've done it. Only he would've and could've made "Get Out".
Alright, number one!
Huh. I'm playing the clip from the Oscars again. No envelope mix-up, which, yes, I know I did the fakeout thing when I picked "Moonlight" last year for my number one, but honestly I was still genuinely pissed at that. I think I'm over being angry about it. I do care about the Oscars, but honestly I don't care that much who wins. (As long as they don't pick something that's complete indefensible garbage, anyway.) That said, the real reason I did that last year was to show that, frankly I rarely agree with the Oscars and that me and the Academy both picking the same movie, especially under that circumstance was mere coincidence. And it was. I do tend to trend toward award-honored fair than I do, whatever's big in the populace, but yeah, I can't say that I've ever consistantly thought their Best Picture was the Best Picture of the year. Hell, "Moonlight" was the first time it happened to me this century, and I've had a really difficult time recalling when it ever happened before that. So, yeah, that was a weird anomaly, and I thought I should mention it.
And, the fact, that, somehow it happened again, I-eh, I-, (Shrugs) yeah, I don't know how to react to that.
1. The Shape of Water
You know, the funny thing is that, I've generally not been that big on Guillermo Del Toro over the years. I always respected him, but of all the major Nuevo Cine Mexicano directors that have take over Hollywood in recent years, he's the one who's popularity I'm generally ambivalent towards. I mean, I usually liked his films fine, but eh, I almost thought he was more interested in visual and special effects sometimes than he was storytelling, which sometimes even in his best films seemed to drag. Well, can't make that claim here, "The Shape of Water"'s greatest strengths are it's story and the great filmmaker who's the only one that could've told it this well.
My original review:
Admittedly, the swarmy side of me mostly wants to start making jokes. There's easy ones too, but I'm sure at this point most everybody has made them. Besides, I don't feel like doing that, although it's naturally gonna be hard since we're talking about a movie where a girl has sex with-, well, essentially a- ph-ph-ph-fiiiiiiiiiii-ish-?- well, technically the character's name is Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), so-eh,- well, I guess most appropriately for a fairy tale, technically, she's having sex with a frog, but fish sounds funnier, and works a lot better when you're aching to make a "Swingin' On a Star" reference. (That is a weird song that we should be making much more fun of than we do.)
Well, nobody is carrying moonbeans home in a jar, instead we have a young mute cleaning lady, Elisa Esposito (Oscar-Nominee Sally Hawkins). She has scars on her neck that took out her pharynx sometime after she was found as an orphan baby by the canals. She has a mundane life sweeping the floors at some kind of government facility in the early sixties in an apartment building overlooking an old movie theater. She loves watching old movies with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) a gay painter who's struggles to get work in an advertising industry that's quickly moving to photography over ink & paint. One day, there's a new, eh, creature who's brought into the laborator facility by Col. Strickland (Michael Shannon), whose one of those archetype governmental bad guys that Michael Shannon plays so well, they might as well name the type after him at this point. He's got a cattle prod to rebel against attacks and finds a biblical inspiration for his racist and sexist relgious views, like how he compares himself to Samson after conversing wiht Eliza's co-worker and friend Delilah (Oscar-nominee Octavia Spencer).
The creature, the Amphibius Man is mute and can only communicate in movement and gestures, similar to Eliza, and the two begin to hit it off. First, wiht Eliza sharing her lunch, mostly boiled eggs that she makes while she masturbates in the bath every morning, but soon, they begin to have emotions with each other and even manage to take the creature and hide them in her apartment at one point with the help of Dr. Hofstetter (Michael Stuhlbarg) a scientist/Russian spy who's fighting to preserve the Creature's life as oppose to dissecting it, believing it's the best way to study the creature that was treated as a God in the Amazon and it turns out, might have some healing powers. Although, it also has the power to eat cats and slice off the fingers of it's attackers among other skills.
I've noticed some comparisons to other films and stories that many critics keep bringing up. Obviously there's some "King Kong" and probably more specifically, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" references, there's also several references to older movies; the film looks lovingly at Cecil B. DeMille's "Cleopatra" and the stair dance from "The Little Colonel", but I think the story that's actually most apt for comparison, is "The Little Mermaid". Not just the sea creature falling in love with a human, and doing so without a speaking voice. It's how it's a misfit love story where two people who don't feel at home and seem most like freaks in this world fall in love, and search for a place and a world where they could be accepted. I'm still being too simplistic though. Yes, I can point to mythology to make the inter-species narrative be more palatable, but as a symbolic metaphor for anybody who's seemed like an outsider, and just as visual feast for people who love the movies, "The Shape of Water", exceeds beyond expectations.
This is one of the few films this year that I genuinely want to see again and watch several over times over, just to learn more about it, and find something new to think about with it; it's the first time I've had that feeling with a Guillermo Del Toro film. As somebody who's never been too huge on Del Toro, outside of being impressed by his painterly visuals of course this was one of the few times I felt the visuals weren't just superficial additives to the narrative. One of the biggest criticism I got from when I put out Top Ten Lists on my blogs, was when I left off "Pan's Labyrinth" from my 2006 list. Now, I do think very highly of "Pan's Labyrinth" and that movie is just as much a fairy tale as this one, but the fairy tale aspects of that film were a protectorate of the reality that the young heroine of that film was living in. It was more "The Wizard of Oz"-like than anything else, the faun underworld she visited paralleled the perils of the Spanish-American War reality she was going. Not a negative aspect of the film, but I think it made it harder to fully connect to. "The Shape of Water", will almost definitely be in my Top Ten this year; it doesn't just take the two worlds and more easily combine them, it create better and more deeper metaphoric narrative while it takes these contrasting times and places and simultaneously creates a better, new fantasy world to tell this story in. It's always risky creating a historical piece like piece, but it never once bothered me in "The Shape of Water". There was always something deeper underneath that kept me interested no matter what new avenues or dimensions the film took.
What really pushed "The Shape of Water" over the top for me was that I think it was the best film in terms of, it's love of film and cinema that it shows. This is a beloved film that is both an homage and repudiation of some of those really classic cinematic tropes that-, well, I mean, I wrote a piece awhile back where I called "King Kong" the number film that created it's own mythology, and it's true, the great myth narrative of cinema. Del Toro, presents it, in a modern way, with modern ideas and to me, and again, through his eyes and experiences. There's been "Beauty and the Beast" narrative before and since, and there will be forever, but and "The Shape of Water" embraces that and advances it, and reimagines it in ways that make it the film that owes the most to the art form as well as being a wonderful huge piece of personal self-expression as well as a technical and visual marvel...- yeah, overall, I think this is an easy choice. "The Shape of Water" is a masterful piece of cinematic craft and a great piece of personal expression and love of cinema that I can easily see why the Academy bought into it, and I bought into it as well. They got it right again, "The Shape of Water", the best film of the year.
At least, until I finish watching all the other films that I haven't gotten around to yet. (Eye roll, sigh)
Anyway, here's some other films that I highly recommend along with their directors. Consider them honorable mentions, and consider this list, as well as the aforementioned Top Ten, to be an incomplete list for now.
LIVE-ACTION AND ANIMATED FILMS
After the Storm-Hirozaku KOREEDA
All the Money in the World-Ridley Scott
Beach Rats-Eliza Hittman
The Big Sick-Michael Showalter
The Breadwinner-Nora Twomey
Call Me By Your Name-Luca Guadagnino
Everybody Loves Somebody-Catalina Aguilar Mastretta
A Fantastic Woman-Sebastian Lelio
First They Killed My Father-Angelina Jolie
I, Tonya-Craig Gillespie
The Insult-Zlad Doueiri
Lady Bird-Greta Gerwig
Lady Macbeth-William Oldroyd
The Lost City of Z-James Gray
Loving Vincent-Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Molly's Game-Aaron Sorkin
Personal Shopper-Olivier Assayas
The Post-Steven Spielberg
Princess Cyd-Stephen Cone
On Body and Soul-Ildiko ENYEDI
A Quiet Passion-Terence Davies
The Square-Ruben Ostlund
Their Finest-Lone Scherfig
War for the Planet of the Apes-Matt Reeves
Wind River-Taylor Sheridan
Women Who Kill-Ingrid Jungermann
Wonder Woman-Patty Jenkins
Betting on Zero-William Ackman
City of Ghosts-Matthew Heineman
David Lynch: The Art Life-Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Faces Places-JR, Agnes Varda
Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS-Sebastien Junger and Nick Quested
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond-Featuring a Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton-Chris Smith
La 92-Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992-John Ridley
Long Strange Trip-Amir Bar-Lev
Oklahoma City-Barak Goodman
Whose Streets?-Sabaah Folayan; Co-Director: Damon Davis
Alright, I'll do the Worst Films of 2017 next time, and hopefully at this rate, I'll catch up to this year sometimes before next Christmas. (Sigh)