You Should Be Watching: May 31 – June 6

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.

This week, I’m recommending one of my all-time favorite crime thrillers that doubles as a piercing character study of the everyman. Next, I have a classic pairing of Bogart and Hepburn on an adventure on the rivers of Africa. And finally, I’m recommending an intense Israeli courtroom drama about one woman’s quest for a divorce from a loveless marriage. And in the coming and going section, there are a whole bucketload of worthwhile movies coming to streaming in the first week of June including the arrival of Thor: Ragnarok to Netflix, Lady Bird to Amazon Prime, and Blade Runner 2049 to Hulu.

 

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


A Simple Plan

    

Year: 1998

Director: Sam Raimi

Genre: Thriller, Crime, Drama

Cast: Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe, Chelcie Ross, Gary Cole, Becky Ann Baker, Tom Carey, Jack Walsh

 

To start my recommendations, I’m headed back to 90s crime thriller territory to a can’t miss film about good people doing evil things. It’s easy to watch films like The Wolf of Wall Street and… well, Wall Street and self-righteously sit back and condemn the greed on display. We’re not heartless and self-absorbed like those jerks, we think. We wouldn’t put the pursuit of money above literally everything else. We’re not evil like that. But greed is not so easily dismissed. Greed does in fact lie in the heart of good people. And when that greed takes hold, well, as the Bible says, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

The setup of A Simple Plan is just that, simple. Two kindly brothers, Hank and Jacob, and their good friend Lou (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe) discover a crashed plane in the woods near their home with nothing but a dead pilot and over four million dollars in cash. What Sam Raimi does with this setup is to masterfully challenge his audience through the consequences of one seemingly rational decision after another by each of these characters along with Hank’s wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) to reveal the horrifying things human nature can convince us to do out of greed and fear of getting caught. It is a film rightfully at the top of Raimi’s filmography, one of the best studies of human nature on film, and among the best performed roles of each of its stars. I cannot recommend <i>A Simple Plan</i> highly enough.


 

The African Queen

Year: 1951

Director: John Huston

Genre: Adventure, Romance, War, Drama

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Peter Swanwick, Richard Marner

 

Sure, it’s directed by John Huston, the man who gave us such adventure classics as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Man Who Would Be King. Sure, it’s filmed on location in the jungles of Uganda and the Congo in lush technicolor. But what makes The African Queen really shine is the strength of its stars, that is Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Even playing the disheveled, ill-mannered boat captain Charlie Allnut, Bogie can’t help but charm. And with Hepburn as his near polar opposite, the straight-laced missionary Rose Sayer who has just seen her mission destroyed and the villagers run off by the Germans of World War I, the stage is set for this unlikely pair to set off on an unlikely adventure.

Through the trials of a handful of thrilling set pieces and especially the sharp, snappy dialogue and wonderful chemistry between Charlie and Rose, a relationship slowly begins to take shape. While neither expects the other to become something they’re not, they find satisfaction in learning about each other and looking out for their well-being, whether it’s Charlie taking ill or Rose about to dive into alligator-filled waters to get away from a horde of files. The more dirty, weary, and bedraggled the pair become, the more joy they find in simply being together and facing their obstacles as one. All in all, it’s a charming film showcasing Africa’s beauty and its exotic rivers and an inspiring story of love strengthened through trials.


 

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

  

Year: 2014

Director: Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz

Genre: Drama

Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy, Gabi Amrani, Dalia Beger

 

For my final recommendation, I head to the oft-neglected area of Israeli film for a searing single-room setting courtroom drama. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem presents the unfolding of hearing after hearing as Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) and her lawyer implore the Jewish religious courts to give her a divorce from her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) whom she can’t abide and no longer lives with. He is completely unwilling to grant her the divorce she seeks. While he claims to want her back, to love her, the bitterness is evident on both their faces. The acting in this film is stellar. It’s amazing to watch the change in Elkabetz throughout the extended trial, whether through her nonverbal reactions or her slow burning frustration that eventually bubbles over.

This is actually the third film in the Gett Trilogy. Weird recommendation, I know. However, I absolutely do recommend it even as a standalone film, even though Viviane’s stated goal is to obtain a divorce. Let me be clear. I hate divorce. It approves of selfishness, makes one’s happiness the ultimate priority, excuses a lack of sacrificial love, and tears apart families. I hate how prevalent divorce is, especially in western society, where people treat their vow to love and cherish the other for as long as they both shall live with utter disregard. So why the recommendation? It’s a brilliant study of Jewish culture and its court system and the bitter consequence of a lack of love lived out, a love in word not in deed until even the words are gone. While on one hand this film is a call to reform the Jewish court system, on the other, it’s a powerful revelation of how marriages die. It acts as a powerful warning to all husbands and wives to give themselves fully to their spouses, to love them deeply and unselfishly.

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 31
8 Mile (2002)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Men In Black (1997)
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Neerja (2016)
Oldboy (2003)
Scarface (1983)
Super (2010)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)
Training Day (2001)

June 24
Captain America: Civil War (2016)

June 29
On Golden Pond (1981)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 31
From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

June 7
Remember (2015)

June 9
Rosewater (2014)

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)
Natural Born Killers (1994)

June 8
Christopher Guest:

Best in Show (2000)
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Elia Kazan:

On the Waterfront (1954)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)

June 15
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Metropolis (1927)
Peeping Tom (1960)
Wag the Dog (1997)

June 22
An American in Paris (1951)
The Piano (1993)

 

HULU

May 31
1984 (1984)
Breakdown (1997)
Manhattan (1979)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Coco (2017)
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Seven Beauties (1975)
The Unknown (1927)
Wendy and Lucy (2008)
The Women (1939)
Lolita (1962)
Grand Hotel (1932)

 

HULU

I, Tonya (2017)
Rain Man (1988)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

June 1
Blue Jasmine (2013)
The Departed (2006)
Miracle (2004)
National Treasure (2004)
Outside In (2017)

June 2
The King’s Speech (2010)

June 5
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

June 1
The Age of Innocence (1993)
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
Breakdown (1997)
The ’Burbs (1989)
Day of the Dead (1985)
The Disaster Artist (2017)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Event Horizon (1997)
The Natural (1984)
The Running Man (1987)
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Space Jam (1996)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Wonder Wheel — AMAZON ORIGINAL MOVIE (2017)

June 3
Lady Bird (2017)
Stargate (1994)

 

HULU

June 1
Apollo 13 (1995)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Bull Durham (1988)
The ’Burbs (1989)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Event Horizon (1997)
Hellboy (2004)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Margin Call (2011)
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
The Running Man (1987)
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Trainspotting (1996)

June 2
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

June 3
Stargate (1994)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

What We Learned This Week: January 14-27

OSCAR NOMINATIONS EDITION

LESSON #1: THREE YEARS LATER, THE SHAME FROM #OSCARSSOWHITE IS WORKING— Led last year by Moonlight, Fences, Loving, and Hidden Figures, a boost of respect for minorities led to historic wins.  This year, it’s Get Out and Mudbound.  Behind the scenes, the Academy invited nearly eight hundred new members—39% of which are female and 30% non-white.  That’s the bigger wake of change from #OscarsSoWhite that shows legitimate progress.  Recently, a piece in The New Yorker posed the question of whether or not the #OscarsSoWhite era is over thanks in part to such gains.  I don’t think so.  The movement is working incrementally for black performers, but more can be done for Hispanic and Asian performers as well.  Oh, and there’s that other new hashtag…

LESSON #2: THE #METOO MOVEMENT DESERVES TO ADD MORE SHAME AND CHANGE TO THE OSCARS— The state of respect and equality for women in the film industry has arguably needed the turnaround push it’s getting now from #MeToo movement longer than minorities have from #OscarsSoWhite.  The writing and directing nominations for Greta Gerwig are excellent and the formal nod to Mudbound‘s cinematographer Rachel Morrison is historic as the first woman in that category, but, again, more could be done.  I know I was rooting for Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman to receive nomination honors.  Like #OscarsSoWhite, let’s come back in 3-5 years and see where the industry is at after this cataclysmic year.

LESSON #3: DON’T BELIEVE THE GOLDEN GLOBE AND SCREEN ACTORS GUILD HYPE FOR THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI— The Shape of Water led all films with 13 nominations, one short of tying the record of 14 shared by All About Eve, Titanic, and La La Land.  Dunkirk is a distant second with eight.  In third, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has seven.  That’s a great haul, but it’s missing one important one that makes it a genuine threat to win Best Picture.  Its celebrated director, Martin McDonagh, was left out of the Best Director raise.  Since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, only four films have won Best Picture without a corresponding nomination for Best Director (Wings, Grand Hotel, Driving Miss Daisy, and Argo).  I don’t like the film’s chances.  Looking at the data on my 2018 Awards TrackerGet Out has won more Best Picture awards than any other film this season, followed by Lady Bird and then The Shape of Water.  You can virtually narrow the final vote to those three.

LESSON #4: COMEDY CONTINUES TO GET LITTLE RESPECT AT THE OSCARSLady Bird is carrying the flag for comedy at this year’s Oscars.  Greta Gerwig’s film stands far above the subtle dark comedy within Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Get Out.  In my opinion, there’s always room for more comedy representation at the biggest awards show of the year.  The Big Sick received a lone nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but was ignored in the acting categories for Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano.

LESSON #5. THE ACADEMY APPARENTLY DOESN’T PLAY WITH LEGOS— This lesson is one of two repeats from my Oscar nominations reaction post on Every Movie Has a Lesson because it fits perfectly here this week.  A few years ago, the overwhelming Best Animated Feature frontrunner was The LEGO Movie and it was snubbed from being nominated in shocking fashion.  The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t have Coco-level pull, but, gosh darn, it’s better than Ferdinand and The Boss Baby.  Expect one Alec Baldwin Trump joke and a tuxedoed stage appearance for WWE star John Cena as a presenter.

LESSON #6: NETFLIX HAS BROKEN THE GLASS CEILING WITH MUDBOUND— Here’s the final repeat.  Dees Rees, Virgil Williams, and Mudbound have made Netflix a new and legitimate player for quality film.  Their efforts mostly remain undiscovered treasure as the newfangled digital arthouse.  For every high-profile Bright, there are five other films like MudboundFirst They Killed My FatherOur Souls at NightWin it All, and War Machine.  Mudbound deserves this love and Netflix is just getting started.  Give it time and they have the money, talent draw, and ability to invade the Oscars the way they’ve already invaded the Emmy Awards for television.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

Jeremy’s Top 10 Films of 2017

2017 was a great year for me as far as movies go. I was able to see more new movies than ever before, and thanks to Aaron and Patrick, I was also given the opportunity to write about them from time to time. I’m not a critic. I’m never going to talk about how the director’s use of color helped to invoke a sense of whimsy or anything like that, because I don’t know what that even means. I’m glad there are people out there who do know, because I like to listen to them talk about movies and hopefully get a little smarter while doing so. But I’m just a guy who likes movies and watches way too many of them. All in all, I was able to watch 107 movies that had release dates in the United States in 2017. The following are my ten favorite, not necessarily the ones that I thought were the best films. Enjoy!

10- Logan

This is the first of two films on this list that were released last winter but managed to hang out in my top ten all year. I’ve long been a fan of Hugh Jackman and his portrayal of Wolverine in the X-Men films, but like many others, I had hated the individual Wolverine films up until Logan. So my expectations for this film were quite low. I was completely blown away when James Mangold managed to create the perfect send-off for not one, but two characters in the X-Men universe, all the while making an emotionally satisfying film about legacy and family.

9- The Greatest Showman

If you would’ve told me 10 years ago that I’d be getting super into musicals in my late 30’s, I never would have believed you. But here we are. I really like this movie, but I completely LOVE the soundtrack. I recently got a Google Home Mini for Christmas and thus far it’s basically been a Greatest Showman soundtrack playing machine. I could be nitpicky and talk about its faults, but I kind of just want to dance in my living room to This Is Me instead.

8- Dunkirk

I’m a pretty big Christopher Nolan fan (it’s one of the requirements to be a Feelin’ Film contributor) so I was pretty excited to see this one from the moment I heard about it. Its tension really puts you in the headspace of its characters and while some saw the timing differences in the three different story threads distracting, I thought it was brilliant and served to heighten the imminent danger in the film. It’s not my favorite Nolan, but it’s still really good.

7- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This one hit me in all of the right places. I thought the story and dialogue were both funny and heartbreaking with excellent performances by the all-star cast, with Sam Rockwell standing out. This film is a lot darker than what I am usually into. but I really enjoyed the realistic way in which it portrayed positive change in its characters, even characters as unlikable as the ones that McDonough gives us.

6- Wonder Woman

I don’t have a whole bunch of words to say about Wonder Woman, I just really loved this movie. The scene where Diana emerges from the trench at No Man’s Land is one of my two or three favorite scenes of the year. Gal Godot perfectly brings the Amazon goddess to the screen, giving her a perfect amount of naivety, beauty and compassion without sacrificing her fierceness as a warrior. It immediately became my favorite entry into the DCEU even though I’m a guy who really likes all of the films in that universe (besides Suicide Squad, but that goes without saying).

5- The Big Sick

I went to see this one afternoon this summer after hearing Feelin’ Film contributor Don Shanahan gush about it for a few days. He wasn’t using hyperbole. I loved this film. It’s funny and sweet and heartbreaking and thought-provoking, often achieving all of those things in the same moment. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano give my two favorite supporting performances of the year in this stand-out film.

4- Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

So my wife went and had a baby on the day I was to go to the 10:00 opening night show of SW, meaning we’d still be in the hospital when the second showing I had tickets to came around. The timing of the birth of my son (whom I love and with whom I hold no grudges about the time and date of his arrival) meant that I wouldn’t be able to see the film until almost a full week after its release. But I really think that this ended up being a good thing. I was somewhat careful to avoid spoilers, but I saw enough to know that the critics were loving it but that a lot of the fans were pretty upset. I think this helped my mindset going in as I started to expect the unexpected. Because of that, I came out of the theater completely in love. I think the story went places where it needed to go to move the universe beyond the family tree of the Skywalkers while also adding a satisfying chapter to Luke’s legend. The new characters continue to impress and the old ones have absolutely brought their A game to the new trilogy as well. This movie has already moved to number three in my Star Wars rankings and by this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at the top. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson has in store for his new SW trilogy.

3- Lady Bird

Lady Bird is another movie that I wouldn’t have seen (at this point, anyway) if it weren’t for the relationships I’ve been able to build at Feelin’ Film. After spending a couple of hours chatting with Aaron and Patrick about Edge of Seventeen (episode 86 of the podcast), Aaron suggested to me that I’d like Lady Bird. He wasn’t wrong. Beautifully acted and casted and directed and performed, Lady Bird is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve seen on screen. What’s the opposite of a back-handed compliment? Like when you’re playfully bashing on something that you actually love? Is there a word? If there isn’t we need to invent one to accurately capture Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s funny and heartfelt love letter to her home.

2- Get Out

This movie was the number one film on my list for more time than any other movie this year. I saw it because I’m a fan of Jordan Peele from Key and Peele and I thought that if he wrote a film, it would probably be pretty fun. As an experience, it was one of the most enjoyable times I had at the theater all year. As a film, I found its themes to be something that has challenged my thinking even more on repeat viewings. It’s one hell of a directorial debut and I’m looking forward to what he’s got up his sleeve next.

1- Brigsby Bear

Sometimes a movie comes along that just hits you in the right place at the right time. Brigsby Bear did that for me. It’s a quirky comedy (described by Filmspotting’s Adam Kempenaar as Be Kind, Rewind meets Room) that can be enjoyed on its surface, but that also has a lot to say about friendship, family, moving on from tragedy, the joy of creating art and what makes us love the things we love if you want to engage with it on a deeper level. I’ve seen it three times now and each time something new stands out for me to think on for a while. Kyle Mooney is perfect as our main character man-child James and Mark Hamill gives my favorite performance of his in 2017 in a supporting role. This will be a movie that I watch often and might just end up being one of my favorites of all-time.

The films that almost made this list but just didn’t quite make the cut are:

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes
  2. Baby Driver
  3. Justice League
  4. Spiderman: Homecoming
  5. Wonder

And if you want to see my ranking of all 107 movies that I’ve seen that were released this year, check out my Letterboxd list. Notable movies I haven’t had a chance to catch up with yet are Darkest Hour, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Phantom Thread, and The Post. I look forward to many more movie conversations here in the new year. I appreciate you reading and hope that 2018 holds great things in store for you and yours.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned this Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Movie Industry in 2018

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this seventh edition, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year.  I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change.

Since last year, I feel like I’ve been writing a little bit of this every week all year over on the “What We Learned This Week” column contribution here on the Feelin’ Film Podcast website.  Readers and followers of that podcast and column will get my cadence.  I’m sarcastic, but I’m not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll.  This will be as forward as I get all year.

Some resolutions come true (a great deal of last year’s list is still relevant), while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward.  Alas, here we go again!  Enjoy!

1. Clean out your closets for good.

Without question, the most enormous and egregious issue to cross this industry this past year was the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against big names, small names, and studio executives.  I know I’ve preached patience in a recent Feelin’ Film “soapbox” to plead with folks to be in the camp of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around, in terms of letting these claims play out to proven guilt before burning careers to the ground.  That said, let these exposures continue to be moral napalm to clean out a dirty Hollywood.  Purge the skeletons from the closets in a string of ugly years, if that’s what it takes, to advance equality and fairness going forward.  Pass the matches.

2. Continue the “Year of the Woman” into the “Era of Women.”

Last year on this column, I celebrated female protagonists.  Despite the ugly headlines, 2017 was an incredible year for women going ever further to lead the charge in film behind the scenes as well.  If voters were vigilant enough, you could fill the upcoming Best Director Oscar field with 80% women, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), and the category wouldn’t lose an ounce of talent or respectability.  Much like #OscarsSoWhite sticking around through Moonlight last year, Hollywood has to do better than a one-year surge or knee-jerk olive branch.  Turn this banner year into a string of them worthy of being called an era.  These ladies and others have earned it.  Reward them as such with opportunity.

3. There is room for objective to go with the subjective.

I might be gunning fairly high-brow with this one where I might be wearing too much of my film critic hat to go with my movie fan t-shirt.  I get the general foundation where loving and enjoying movies will always be greatly subjective.  Too each their own, all day.  I get that.  However, maybe it’s the capacity of the school teacher in me, but if I’ve learned anything doing this film critic thing is that there is room for objective to go with the subjective when it comes to reacting to a film.  I’ve seen movies this year like A Ghost Story, mother!, and Call Me By Your Name that I do not find entertaining, per se, or contain content I don’t condone or agree with from the seat of my personal values.  When that occurs, I’ve learned to take a step back and recognize the goals those films and filmmakers were going for and find ways to respect them, and even commend them, even when I don’t like the finished products.  I think general audiences could try a form of this reflection on for size too.  I think if people took a breath, stepped back, and looked at something other than their own expectations for a film, they might see purposes other than some self-serving ones and we would have a whole bunch fewer rants and raves of negative hyperbole.

4. Make smarter trailers and less of them.

Stop giving away too much in a trailer.  There are films from this past year where the trailer gave away 80% of storylines.  Where’s the mystery?  Less is more.  Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After Star Wars: The Force Awakens made over $900 million domestically two years ago, the sequel didn’t need the help of a lengthy trailer and could have sold itself on principle alone rather than a second trailer that even director Rian Johnson had to give a minor spoiler warning to.  Trailers like that aren’t worth it or necessary.  Between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the people who fussed about not getting an Avengers: Infinity War trailer until December, find some patience.  Trailer-makers, leave the audience wanting.  Make them wait.  Imagine the anticipation if there wasn’t a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Avengers: Infinity War.  Imagine the frenzy and the payoff, not just on the screen, but on the bottom line of box office receipts.

5. Drown out the click bait with creativity.

One of my satisfactions from Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it shook off two years worth of superfluous noise and the endless conjecture of silly fan theories and think pieces to surprise just about everyone by sticking to its creative guns to blaze its own trail, not one caving to unreasonable expectations.  How I know it worked is watching the butthurt backlash from the two weeks of people trying to disown the movie because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.  To the click bait crowd, Rian Johnson and company made THEIR movie, not YOUR movie.  That was the objective goal and it’s a shame people can’t respect that or the differences, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just one example of many.  Pushing anything else is entitlement and not anticipation.

6. Don’t let Disney’s head (or portfolio) get too big.

Last year on this annual editorial, one of my items read “Disney/Marvel, please pay Fox and Sony whatever they want to bring your universe under one roof.”  By golly, I didn’t think Disney was going to go even further that that to entirely buy 21st Century Fox.  Disney is playing Monopoly with more money and property than anyone else with a token on the game board.  Be wary and mindful of that power beyond the wish fulfillment of X-Men and Fantastic Four possibilities in the MCU.  Disney hasn’t been a saint this year with the blackout of critics from certain publications, shuffling and firing directors, price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention, pulling their content from Netflix (while buying controlling stake in Hulu Plus), arranging their own streaming service, and more.  Maintain healthy competition and watch out for that bullseye on your back, Sony.

7. While we’re talking about superheroes, scale them down a touch.

Superhero films are the hottest tickets in town.  You don’t have to necessarily have studios slow down the pace of the film releases, just the size of the films and stories.  The best superhero film this past year was Logan, which striped all the spectacle away and told essentially a modern western to become of the best-ever entries to the genre and further proof that R-rated options were viable as well.  Until the big swirling finale of special effects, Wonder Woman was nearly the same for leanness and importance.  The counterexamples are Justice League this year and X-Men: Apocalypse two years ago, where the storylines are becoming overstuffed and piling on in an effort to constantly top themselves.  Logan is proof you don’t need to do that.  Tell a single good story.  Lead up from small to big, instead of from big to bigger.  Build from small for a few films and then get to the massive Infinity War level events.  That rumored Matt Reeves Batman detective story can’t come soon enough instead of the next intergalactic throwdown.

8. Put more depth of heart and less dumb antics in family films.

I’m bringing this resolution back verbatim as a repeat from last year.  I hear people (one of them sounds like me) all the time saying how annoying and unintelligent the movie options are for kids and families, particularly in the live-action department.   In 2016, Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe showed audiences that not everything had to be 90 minutes of animated noise, but neither took off as big hits.  This year, Beauty and the Beast was a ready-made blockbuster and Wonder is doing great this holiday season.  They give me hope.  I just wish more folks could have seen and discovered the heart of Wonderstruck this year like I did.  Keep the efforts coming.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

 

Steve’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Despite all of the turmoil oozing out of Hollywood this year, 2017 still managed to supply us with a bevy of wonderful films to enjoy. I feel like a lot of blockbusters rose to the next level this year, and as always, there were plenty of fantastic independent films to balance everything out. My top 10 of the year is indicative of this balance.
As always, there were a handful of potentials I just haven’t had a chance to see yet, either due to lack of time, or due to the geographical restrictions of living in the great tundra that is Maine, where we aren’t typically privy to early releases. So, some of the buzz worthy films that I haven’t yet peeped… The Darkest HourPhantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, and Wonderstruck. I’m sure there are a few more, but these stand out for me at the moment.

Shuffling the top 10 deck was difficult this year, simply because there were so many excellent films to choose from. I seriously feel that many of my 11-20 list could easily be considered for higher standing. But, as they say, you have to be prepared to kill your darlings.

I’m not going to regale you with any commentary on my “not quite” top ten (ie: 11-20), but I’ll list them, and you should know that all are fantastic and should be on your cinematic radar.

Those are…

20     Logan
19     Beauty & the Beast
18     Detroit
17     Baby Driver
16     Gerald’s Game
15     The Big Sick
14     Star Wars: The Last Jedi
13     Brigsby Bear
12     mother!
11     Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And the top 10…
10 – LOGAN LUCKY
Steven Soderbergh comes out of “retirement” to give us Ocean’s Eleven with rednecks, but he never cheapens the experience with tired cultural cliches. Okay, there are a few tired cultural cliches, but they don’t drag the film down. The characters have depth and the actors are all in on this madcap adventure which finds them plotting to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the 4th of July. What could possibly go wrong?
9 – STRONGER
This is the film Patriot’s Day wishes it was. Choosing to focus less on the capture of the perpetrators of the cowardly bombing of the Boston Marathon, Stronger instead follows the story of bombing victim Jeff Bauman, played here with ferocious abandon by Jake Gyllenhaal, and the struggle of coming to terms with being thrust into the spotlight as a symbol of hope for an entire nation.
8 – WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
The rebooted Apes trilogy comes to an end with one of the most heartfelt and well crafted war movies in recent memory. This series has gotten better with each installment, hitting all the right notes in the telling of Caesar’s story. The special effects are unmatched. And I’m coming around to the idea that Andy Serkis deserves some recognition from the Academy for his motion capture work.
7 – Get Out
It’s not often you find a horror film getting so much attention during the awards push, but Jordan Peele’s take on race relations in our society disguised as a genre film is simply outstanding in its structure. Funny, scary, and poignant- wrapped up in a tight script, Get Out is a breath of well intended and needed fresh air- conveying a necessary message in our current cultural state.
6 – WONDER WOMAN
With undoubtedly one of the best scenes of the year- as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) ascends to her rightful place as warrior princess in the Battle of No Man’s Land, a female icon is finally emblazoned into the fabric of cinematic geekdom. Director Patty Jenkins was without a doubt the right choice to bring Diana’s story to life on the big screen, and to see the impact on the faces of empowered women and girls is easily one of the hallmarks of the 2017 cinematic year.

5 – THE DISASTER ARTIST

Based on the making of the 2003 “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, The Room, James Franco deep dives into the persona of eccentric writer/director Tommy Wiseau and the calamity that surrounded the  production of his cinematic oddity. Watching The Room is highly recommended before jumping into The Disaster Artist. Having that context greatly enhances the appreciation for what Franco achieved…..Oh, Hi, Mark!

4 – A GHOST STORY

A deeply moving look at grieving and loneliness, A Ghost Story will not be for everyone. Each scene is a haunting portrayal of loss, shown from both sides of the equation- the living that must move on, and the dead that cannot. This is a deeply emotional and affecting film, shot in a way that can often be uncomfortably slow of pace. Those with a lack of patience may struggle, but if given a chance, this is a film that will resonate on a deep level.

3 – THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Having worked for Disney for nine years, this story felt very close to home for me. Knowing there were pockets of people living far beneath the poverty line mere minutes from the front gates of the Happiest Place on Earth make me feel equal parts ignorant and culpable. This film is an unflinching look at people living day to day in the shadow of a world that has essentially left them behind. Yet, in all of its squalor, the spirit of six year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her friends is rooted in an innocence that is often as hopeful as it is bleak.

2 – I, TONYA

Margot Robbie is fantastic as figure skating’s bad girl, Tonya Harding. Director Craig Gillespie shoots the film in a way that accentuates the zany humor of the scandal surrounding the 1992 olympic games, but he never cheapens the awful abuse levied against Harding by her family and her on again / off again love interest, Jeff Gillooly (here portrayed by Sebastien Stan). Harding, while not completely innocent, is treated mostly as a product of her environment, unable to free herself of the bad influences in her life, and she comes away here as a mostly sympathetic figure. Allison Janney, as Harding’s Mom, is a stand out.

1 – LADY BIRD

In what seems to be a renaissance of coming of age films, Lady Bird raises the bar even further, perhaps to a place unaccessible for whatever comes next. Greta Gerwig’s scriptwriting is so tight, it’s difficult to find any flaw in the narrative of high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, all at once head strong and in search of an identity. Her contentious relationship with her mother Marion (an award worthy Laurie Metcalf) provides the crux for everything happening on screen. The result is a heartfelt and sometimes difficult look at love and familial relationships, told in a refreshingly honest way.


Steve’s first cinematic experience dates back to 1972, when his Aunt took him to see Dumbo at Buffalo’s historic North Park Theater.  With the seed planted, his love for movies has blossomed into a full time obsession over the years, and he will happily engage in conversation about all things film related, especially the works of Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino.  He also manages to find time to keep current on the plethora of great television shows and comic book series, and build upon his retro vinyl collection.

He lives in South Portland, Maine with his wife and a menagerie of small furry pets.  When not engaged in the latest pop culture phenomenon, he spends time working on creative writing projects or updating his personal blog, popcornconfessional.com.  Follow him on social media at facebook.com/popcornconfessional/ and Twitter@woosterbbb.

Don’s Top 10 Films of 2017

The end of the year brings grading and reflection points for both the school teacher in me and the film critic.  Looking at the online Trapper Keeper portfolio called Every Movie has a Lesson, I published 126 full film reviews in 2017, topping last year’s 114 and setting a new high mark.  When I did my website’s first “10 Best” year-end list in 2011, that number was 53.  Humming along with press credentials, festival access, and being part of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle as a recognized awards-voting body, I can’t even remember what 53 feels like.

Even at 126, I feel like I left plenty of opportunities on the table living in a big market with a great reach of films.  For the purposes of a proper “10 Best” list, short of not making it to The Disaster ArtistMudbound, and Molly’s Game quite yet, I feel sound about 2017 and have no problem calling it a fair to middling year.  By this teacher’s math and reflection, 2017 < 2016 < 2015.  Give me the likes of SicarioCreedBrooklynSpotlightRoomLa La LandJackieMoonlightA Monster Calls, and more compared to most of the 20 films listed below.

Focusing back to now, only three of my “so far” picks from this past June made the final ten this year.  Here’s my definitive list.  True to my website’s specialty, each film will be paired with its best life lesson.  Enjoy!

THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2017 AND THEIR LESSONS

1. LADY BIRD

This was like watching a no-doubt home run off the bat of a muscle-bound slugger fly over the stands and out of the park.  Like that home run crack, Lady Bird’s effect was unmistakable.  I knew it as soon as film made contact.  From that opening car ride argument between surefire future Oscar nominees (if not eventual winners) Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird was going for something reinvigorated conventions and oxymoronic cadences with the coming-of-age film framework.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: PUNCHY WHIMSY— All of Lady Bird’s conflicts and clashes build to swelling peaks of emotion and legitimate feels.  Gerwig’s film is one heck of a debut and shows that a good cry and awkward laughs do go together when assembled with truth and care.  When it hits, my goodness, it hits.  When it charms, by golly, it charms.  Few films this year can tout such towering achievements of writing and performance to create such a genuinely satisfying experience.


2. I, TONYA

In a fierce performance, Margot Robbie proves without a shadow of a doubt that she is a talented actress beyond her bombshell looks.  From the director of Lars and the Real Girl and the writer of Stepmom (I know right?), the dark comedy, pushed often by Allison Janney’s Oscar-worthy rants, fuels an unconventional sports film and true story American dream saga with kinetic sizzle.  It’s the wildest and brashest film I saw this year.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: EVERYONE MIGHT BE TELLING THEIR TRUTH, BUT NO ONE IS TELLING THE REAL TRUTH–The true merriment of I, Tonya is the trying to sniff out the bullsh-it.  Many of us remember witnessing the tabloid history unfold on television before our very shocked and captivated eyes in a era before the 24-hour news cycle.  Even know the fate of the characters, this film’s spin of such events will glue you to the screen preparing for the suspense of possibly observing a few chapters of “what really happened.”  Who’s right and who is full of it?


 

3. WONDERSTRUCK

From what I can tell viewing the year-end lists of fellow critics, this one is going to be a unconventional choice and I don’t care.  I see a great deal of perfection in the whimsy and introspection of Wonderstruck.  Artful to no end, I cannot help but compliment the care and consideration given to the Brain Selznick source material from a skilled filmmaker like Todd Haynes stepping into PG material in a manner as impressive as Scorsese doing Hugo.  In a landscape where people are craving rich and compelling films for family audiences instead of mindless animated entertainment, I adored what this film accomplished. (full review)

BEST LESSON: THE MAJESTY OF MUSEUMS— Both in the novel and in film form, Wonderstruck is a love letter to museums, their history, and their continuing presence as authentic experiences.  It starts with one person gathering a collection of interest, a “cabinet of wonder” if you will be that in a single room or an expansive complex, and deciding to share it with a larger audience.  In the present-day of Google, Wikipedia, content apps, and innumerable virtual experiences, there should always be a place for the tangible and real wonders right before our eyes in museums.  Calling them magical is not enough and calling them antiquated should be a compliment and not a slight.


4. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

The closing chapter of what has quietly become one of the best film trilogies of all-time (it’s that good as a sum total) elevated the impressive soaring themes, blockbuster action, and the performance-capture brilliance of Andy Serkis that have enraptured myself and many others.  Serkis, present and emoting in every scene behind the finished special effects, deserves the Oscar for Best Actor even if he doesn’t stand a chance against the stigmas towards the technology.  No film this year hit me the full roller coaster of feels like this one, from heart-stopping thrills to blubbering tears.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: APES AND HUMANS HAVE MORE SIMILARITIES THAN WE ALL REALIZE— Due to the increases in peril and consequences, this is a repeated lesson from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that is cemented even further in this third film.  Both primate species love their families, cling to their homes, and possess tangible feelings and emotions that drive their actions and personalities.  “Humanity” doesn’t have exclusivity to those behaviors in this fictional world anymore.


5. THE BIG SICK

The Big Sick, written and inspired by the real-life duo of Emily V. Gordon and leading man Kumail Nanjiani, offers wide hopes that smart romantic comedies are still possible since their 1990s hey-day and that they don’t require man-child actors and full-on toilet humor.  When people have asked me this past year for a no-doubt winning movie suggestion or hidden gem to entertain them for any occasion, The Big Sick has been my top recommendation for its maturity and humor while still carrying the right heft of drama to keep it honest.  In my eyes, this was the best screenplay of the year and I hope the Oscars notice.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: FIND SOMEONE YOU CAN BE OVERWHELMED BY— This lesson is going to sound like one of those “find someone who looks at you the way so-and-so looks at such-and-such” memes, but captivating ga-ga devotion is a real draw.  The film uses the word “overwhelm” when it talks about measuring such love and it couldn’t be more spot-on advice.  Love has its own rules and it’s just as hard to keep as it is to earn.


6. LUCKY

The directorial debut of character actor John Carroll Lynch stands on this list as the “Little Engine That Could.”  Far from a blockbuster and puffed with zero muscles for Oscar bait on the 90-year-old frame of its star Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky is a straight-shooter of writing and performance brilliance to make cantankerous endearing.  In different hands, this would be a Coen brothers quirk-fest or a Grumpy Old Men farce.  Instead, Lucky plainly might have the most heart of any film on this list, and that’s saying something.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: ACCEPTING MORTALITY— Nothing is permanent and the biggest truth to be told is the finality of the human condition.  No matter the level of your faith or depth of character, misgivings about your own ephemerality are inevitable feelings we all share.  We would all be so “lucky” to reach our nineties to have that revelation.


DF-13002 – Hugh Jackman stars as Logan/Wolverine in LOGAN. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein.

7. LOGAN

Sharply shrinking the comic book genre’s towering current scale down to the marrow inside of its bones, James Mangold’s Logan nails the western motifs to make one of the best comic book films of all-time.  For me, this movie is like what young songstress Ella Mae Brown did to slow down with Bonnie Tyler’s 80s classic “Holding Out for a Hero” a few years ago.  This is energy boiled down to bold substance, making something rightly stoic as the conclusion for Hugh Jackman’s lovable anti-hero.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: THE POWERFUL NEED FOR FATHER FIGURES— Loganopenly creates a parallel with 1953’s seminal western classic Shane and it is an ideal thematic pairing.  Alan Ladd’s reluctant gunfighter and Jackman’s Wolverine embody the fight for the defenseless as well as the influential father figure role of this lesson.  Laura is another Little Joe and but one more person Logan leaves a positive mark on in his world.  Tales may be written on the actions of heroes, but the personal connections they build and leave behind are where the real legend lies.


8. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Sean Baker’s sprightly dose of youthful fantasy mixing with socioeconomic reality was one of the few times I’ve ever gone back to a review and changed my rating after some thoughtful reflection.  This film went from a four-star film to a five-star one on the strength of the impact of that aforementioned storytelling and emotional mix.  The level of empathy stoked by this film’s fire is off the charts and I cannot help but respect that.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: THE CAPACITY TO FEEL EMPATHY— The crucial emotional response The Florida Project demands of its viewers is empathy.  If you can’t find that, if you turn your nose, close your eyes, and refuse to accept that this kind of American lifestyle exists, you are missing the hard truths, the teachable moments, and the larger points being presented.  Become compassionate enough to remove the negative prefixes from Mother Teresa’s quote of “unwanted, unloved and uncared for” when it comes to addressing poverty.  Take her advice and start in your own home and community.


9. PHANTOM THREAD

Five years ago, after beating my head senseless over the pretentiousness of The Master, if you would have told me I would have a Paul Thomas Anderson film in my “10 Best,” I would have said you were nuts and wondered how the sequel to Boogie Nights could have been achieved.  Yet, here we are and Phantom Thread is the real deal.  Exquisitely crafted and intensely nuanced, I was impressed like I’ve rarely been.  If this the last ride of Daniel Day-Lewis, he leaves us with a gem. (full review)

BEST LESSON: “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT CAREFULLY”— This quote from Lewis’s Reynolds, the peak of the film’s trailer, sent in the direction of his new muse could be echoed in dozens of aspects of one’s life.  Mundane activities could become effective and even artful with an extra level of paid care and consideration.  At the same time, there is an unsettling level to that rigidity.  Often there is a missing flexibility to perfectionist who cannot get over themselves or adjust their idiosyncrasies.


10. LOVING VINCENT

In terms of sheer creation of a finished piece, Loving Vincent might be the most miraculous film of the year and greatest technical achievement as the first entire oil-painted feature-length animated film.  125 painters combined their efforts on over 65,000 canvases shot on film to create this incredible achievement.  Beyond the art, the enriching whodunit drama of investigating the final days of Vincent Van Gogh backed by Clint Mansell’s rich musical score create storytelling worthy of all the work. (full review)

BEST LESSON: INTERPRETING AN ARTIST— Subjected to ridicule and criticism from a young age to his last, Van Gogh’s talent and purpose were always questioned before the established reverence that followed his death.  Another Van Gogh quote in the film reads “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” Sometimes artists are not peaceful souls.  The few people that did realize his greatness in the moment were not enough to save his.


HONORABLE MENTION:

NOT YET

When I can, I dip my toe into the world of short films and I’m beginning to love the art form and the efficiency of its skill.  Merely scratching the surface of this form of film medium, among the handful I saw and reviewed this year, Not Yet was a five-star gem.  Picture one of those expressive and imaginary Pixar shorts that open their films and apply live-action human emotion to it  That will give you a taste of Not Yet.  My full review has a link to the short for you to see for yourself.  I promise nothing but smiles.

BEST LESSON: THE IMMENSE CHALLENGES OF CHEERING SOMEONE UP— Some folks are tough nuts to crack in the cheer department.  Add the physical drain and toll of illness into that equation of happiness and the challenge is even greater.  Self-deprecating humor in this situation often works in spades, but there’s one action that’s even better: Love.  In Not Yet, you have a man that unabashedly loves his wife with every ounce of willingness and companionship.  Love always wins the best cheers.


THE NEXT BEST TEN:

11. Wonder

12. All the Money in the World

13. Get Out

14. The Shape of Water

15. Princess Cyd

16. Baby Driver

17. Wind River

18. Battle of the Sexes

19. Stronger

20. Darkest Hour


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Christmas-time, a season of joy. A time when many take a much needed break to relax, enjoy family, and celebrate religious traditions. Oh, and there’s also that fun little part of gift giving. Well, Christmas is also the time when film critics are finalizing their year-end lists, a gift given to the world (but without that whole relaxation part). So, after much debate and internal stress, I’m ready to discuss my Top 10 favorite films of the year. There are many lists out there, but I expect you won’t find another one that matches up perfectly with mine.

2017 was a banner year for me as both a film critic and podcaster. Some of the biggest highlights:

  • Feelin’ Film’s inaugural listener-nominated and listener-voted 2017 Feeler’s Choice Awards
  • The addition of contributors Don Shanahan, Steve Clifton, and Jeremy Calcara to the Feelin’ Film staff team
  • Gaining press credentials to screen films early for review purposes and covering the Seattle International Film Festival
  • Becoming a member, and then Communications Director, for the newly re-formed Seattle Film Critics Society
  • Feelin Film’s two incredibly fun themed months: Christopher Nolan Month (January) & Book-to-Movie Month (September)
  • Voting in the 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards
  • Witnessing the amazing growth of our Facebook Discussion Group that offers daily film conversations and relationship building among our listeners
  • 155 films seen that were released in 2017, by far a new “career high”

Now about those movies. 2017 was a fantastic year at the cinema. Offering numerous superb indie hits, documentaries, and some big, unique blockbusters as well, the wealth of exceptional and diverse content was both a blessing and a curse. Experiencing all of these wonderful films was great, but trying to rank them, not so much. So my disclaimer is that while 10 have been highlighted, with 10 more selected for recognition as just missing the cut, even these films don’t scratch the surface of what 2017 provided in terms of quality.


10. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – This spot on a Top 10 list is always a brutal decision. No less than five other films got serious consideration here, and I could make an equal case for any of them. Ultimately, I had to go with a film that blew me away my expectations and reinvigorated my childhood love of a franchise. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is not without faults, but it is a wonderful next step in this new trilogy and one of most epic cinematic space operas since THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Its unexpected plot choices had me gasping in surprise, and several emotional moments brought me to tears. Its impossible not to respect director Rian Johnson’s talent, ambition, and passion, especially as the film’s momentum builds and races home to its incredible climax. I LOVE the direction this film takes the series and can’t wait to see where it goes next.

 

9. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – Hugh Jackman has said that “A bad musical stinks to high heaven, but when a musical works, there’s nothing like it. It’s everyone coming together and opening their heart.” THE GREATEST SHOWMAN worked for me and opened my heart, too. Its reverence for musicals of old shines through every frame and its impressive soundtrack has been played on repeat endlessly since my first viewing of the film. It may not be a perfectly accurate historical representation of P.T. Barnum, but as entertainment it is a fun and emotionally provocative family-friendly film complete with several inspirational messages. It’s the kind of film that deserves being seen with an audience, a real crowd pleaser.

 

8. DARKEST HOUR – Winston Churchill is a fascinating figure. Historian and politician, but also extraordinary leader. His actions within that first month as British Prime Minister changed the course of world history. Had he sued for peace, who knows if Hitler would have been stopped from overtaking Europe (and beyond). DARKEST HOUR is a high-energy thriller as much as a period piece drama, with Wright combining the two styles to form an incredible, visceral, inspiring film experience that is anchored by Gary Oldman’s award-worthy transformation and performance.

 

7. THE FLORIDA PROJECT – THE FLORIDA PROJECT wowed me in a way that few films did this year. I resonated deeply with its primary theme of empathy. As a parent myself, watching it was sometimes difficult but always worthwhile. My hope is that many will see this poignant film and begin to look a little more closely (and with more compassion) at those outside the margins as they go about their everyday lives, and perhaps even be called to action. Sean Baker continues to be one of our best young directors and he has created a film that is unforgettable down to the final shot.

 

6. SONG TO SONG – For those willing to meet director Terrence Malick halfway and open themselves to engaging with the film, SONG TO SONG offers a moving emotional experience. Its dialogue is lyrical poetry that works perfectly in concert with Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, an expertly balanced soundtrack, and wonderful acting performances all around. This may be some of the least abstract and aimless work Malick has ever produced, but it is also among his best, and quite possibly my favorite. SONG TO SONG is a film that needs to be more than just seen, it demands to be felt.

 

5. DUNKIRK – Christopher Nolan’s vision of this important but little known battle is a hold your breath affair, set to an almost never ceasing Hans Zimmer score that is pounding with atmospheric dread. Fear, after all, is at the heart of this portrayal of the civilian rescue of nearly 330,00 allied troops pinned down by Germany on the beaches of Dunkirk. It is a wholly unique war film, gorgeously shot and focusing on the authenticity of its characters’ feeling, displayed much more in act than exposition. A truly remarkable achievement that left me shaking in amazement and raw emotion.

 

4. PHANTOM THREAD – In what has been proclaimed to be his final performance, Daniel Day-Lewis once again collaborates with director Paul Thomas Anderson for a story about an obsessive man, this time with an unconventional view of romance set around the industry of high fashion. Though PTA’s films have never spoken to me before, PHANTOM THREAD is captivating from the opening scene to the end credits and casts a spell unlike any other film experience in 2017. Thematically, it’s exploration of submissive/dominant relationships makes it feel like the arthouse version of MOTHER! combined with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Cinematically, it is one of the most well-crafted, stunningly beautiful, perfectly scored, impeccably acted dramas I’ve seen in years. PTA’s meticulous attention to detail marries so well with Daniel Day-Lewis’ devotion to character immersion, and on top of that newcomer Vicky Krieps is every bit DDL’s equal, flat out owning the screen in every scene. This film left me unable to shake it for a month and dying to talk to others about it. If this is really Day-Lewis’ last hoorah, he goes out with a bang, and PTA has a new fan.

 

3. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the rare third film to end a trilogy on the highest of notes. It is a spectacular marvel of technical achievements, acting, and thematic blockbuster storytelling that uses Biblical, historical, and cinematic references to craft a compelling epic. It has surprisingly limited action and the film lives in bleakness, but out of that comes a celebration of the human spirit – embodied by apes. Caesar’s journey is gripping from beginning to end, filled with emotional depth and moral complexity. His place among the greats is now secure, and the trilogy stands as one of the finest the 21st century has seen. APES. TOGETHER. STRONG.


The films above are all exceptional works of art which I expect to remember many years from now. These last two films, though, are special to me, and choosing between them was an impossible task. Both of these films are guaranteed inclusion in my next Top 100 Movies update, and as much as I just want to make them 1a and 1b, I made the hard choice. So for today, this is where they fall.

2. YOUR NAME (KIMI NO NA WA) – Like many Americans, my only exposure to anime films prior to this were the works of the great Hayao Miyazki. But when I heard that this film had broken box office records to become the highest worldwide grossing anime film in history, I took notice. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, YOUR NAME is the story of a star-crossed boy and girl, perhaps destined to forever yearn for a meeting that will never come, connected across space and time by an unexplained magic and framed against the backdrop of an impending supernatural disaster. It is a story of dreams (and desperately trying to not forget them), time travel, body swaps, natural disaster, coming of age, and romance that is emotionally riveting from beginning to end. Comedic at all the right times, soul-crushingly painful, and yet tender and hopeful. This is an animated masterpiece that goes far beyond its dazzling visuals and one of the very best films I’ve seen this decade.

 

1. BLADE RUNNER 2049 – It took more than one viewing to get there, but after seeing my most anticipated film of the year three times, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the 1982 classic BLADE RUNNER is more than worthy of its name. Staggeringly incredible cinematography by the masterful Roger Deakins is matched by a thought-provoking, multi-layered script. Not a single word of dialogue is wasted. So much emotion is conveyed through expression and silence. Performances are brilliant and memorable. The film strikes an ideal balance between cerebral and action-packed while remaining so mysterious that even more is revealed with every subsequent viewing. Despite being over two and a half hours long, it is so immersive that I would have gladly lived in this world for two and a half more. Inconceivably, an improvement in every way over than its hallowed source material. Cinematic perfection – the best film of 2017.


And now for the rest. In many cases, multiple viewings and rewatchability were major factors in determining how to order these.

11. LADY BIRD
12. THE LOST CITY OF Z
13. THE POST
14. A GHOST STORY
15. FACES PLACES
16. LA 92
17. GET OUT
18. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
19. COLUMBUS
20. MOTHER!

Keep in mind that just because a film isn’t listed doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredible. I could list another 20 “great” films from this year that deserve attention. 2017 was truly an excellent year. Here’s hoping that 2018 is even better, but if it’s not, we’ll always have these gems.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted. 

What We Learned This Week: December 3-9

LESSON #1: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, BUY THEM— Barring any final hang-ups, big media will be getting bigger.   The entertainment universe is abuzz with the prospect of Walt Disney buying 21st Century Fox (more than just parts or assets of it as initially rumored), a $60 billion deal that could be done as early as next week.  Word is Fox would retain its sports and news properties (dammit), but the film wing is what has folks dreaming.  Fanboys go straight to the fantasies of seeing the X-Men/Fantastic Four worlds merged with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I cannot blame them for those tingles. I have them too, but circle back to some of the little things we’ve seen Disney do over the course of the year (many reported in this column): the blackout of critics from certain publications, the price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention and streaming service, and more.  There is something to be said for healthy competition and not a one-stop shop that is the size of an empire.  For example (and I bet you didn’t know this one), buying 21st Century Fox would give Disney controlling interest in Hulu.   Combine that potential with Disney’s ESPN service and their own streaming platform coming in 2019 and Disney could have the power to squeeze the life out of Netflix like a corporate anaconda.  Plainly put, I hope the deal doesn’t go through.  If Disney wants to use X-Men and the Fantastic Four, broker a sharing deal with Fox the way they did with Sony for Spider-Man until the rights run out and the properties are free agents again.  Share and play nice together instead of bully with a takeover.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BIG BUSINESS, LET THE JUSTICE LEAGUE AFTERMATH BEGIN AT DC/WARNER BROS.— I have been one of the vocal minority to tip my hat at Warner Bros. going the bolder and more adult direction with their superhero properties as an antithesis to the sunny and safe market cornered by Disney’s MCU.  They had the balls to be different.  The bottom line, unfortunately, is that even the cajones have to sell.  I wouldn’t say Warner Bros. is losing money from its DC films, but you can tell a boardroom somewhere looks at their receipt and then looks at Marvel’s receipts and sees lost earning potential.  They’re making money, but they think they should be making even more money.  Go figure.  Justice League is being seen as a business failure and a rumored producer and operational shake-up made headlines this week.  Adding salt to the wound for many (even though I saw this coming as soon as the Flash solo film was titled Flashpoint, implying the out clause for a reboot), there is strong desire to recast Ben Affleck as Batman in the future Matt Reeves-directed film.  You had to know they were going to need to go younger at some point and it’s reading this was according to plan for Affleck too.  As much as I admire their attempt to be different, I’m fine with a shake-up and some changes to normalize these characters and their potentials.

LESSON #2: “STANDARDS OF CONDUCT” ARE NOW NECESSARY TERMS TO HAVE ON THE BOOKS— The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing and voting body of the Oscars, have enacted a “standards of conduct” requiring members to “behave ethically by upholding the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”  In this day and age, what should be common sense for personal behavior now has to be spelled out in specifics and put into print because of how flippant and rampant those unwritten rules have been broken.  It’s never pretty to need this measure, but it’s one that should be applauded.

LESSON #3: LOS ANGELEANS ARE DIFFERENT THAN NEW YORKERS— The critics’ groups from the two largest and leading cities have spoken with their year-end award picks.   Both are trendsetters, yet both are different.  As reported here last week, the New York Film Critics Circle stumped for Lady Bird for Best Picture and Best Actress.  This week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association went in the direction of Call Me By Your Name for Best Picture and Best Actor with equal love shown to The Shape of Water for Best Director and Best Actress.  If those three non-conformist films are your Oscar frontrunners, this is going to be a feather-rustling awards season with bold independent film leading the way.

LESSON #4: RYAN REYNOLDS HAS NOT TURNED THE CORNER FROM MAKING BAD DECISIONS–Before Deadpool resurrected his career, Ryan Reynolds could not have put together a trashier resume if he tried.  Just when you thought being enlivened striking gold with the “Merc with a Mouth,” here he goes signing on to be the lead voice in a Pokemon movie named Detective Pikachu.  Come on, man.   You’re back.  You’re better than that crap now.  Did you not learn your lesson? Stick to the good stuff, Ryan.

LESSON #5: QUENTIN TARANTINO’S INVOLVEMENT WILL EITHER BE FUN OR A HOT MESS— News bounced around this week that J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino are meeting to hash out some ideas for a Star Trek film.  Word around the campfire is Tarantino pitched an idea to Paramount and Abrams they thought was awesome and now the two filmmakers are putting together a team of writers to develop the screenplay.  If all goes well, Tarantino, a self-professed Trekkie since the original TV show, could also direct.  Follow-up word says that an R-rating has been given a green light.  I don’t know what to think about that potential.  I don’t think you need profanity and R-rated violence in a Star Trek film, in any shape or firm.  Would it spice things up?  Sure, but it’s out of character, even for this rebooted universe.  I’ll grant that Tarantino has panache like no other.  He could take an old TV episode premise like “City on the Edge of Forever” and jazz it up well for the big screen.  However, unchecked Tarantino is silly and excessive when not reined in.  I’m glad other screenwriters are involved to keep the chatty Cathy Tarantino grounded.  Hire a crack editor while they’re at it to keep it from being a 170-minute yak-fest.  I don’t see a middle ground between awesome and disaster when it comes to a guy like Quentin.

LESSON #7: THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING FOR STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI SPOILERS— Folks, next week is the week.  It’s finally here!  Star Wars: The Last Jedi!  I humblebragged this week that I have yet to watch the supposedly spoiler-ish final trailer and I’m pleased as punch that I made it this long.  If you’re avoiding stuff like me, be ready for radio silence next week right around Tuesday morning (hint, hint).  Be cool.  Don’t be a troll.  Don’t ruin it for people.  I promise a spoiler-free review, as always.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

What We Learned This Week: November 25-December 2

LESSON #1: NEW YORK WILL HELP STUMP FOR LADY BIRD FOR ME— The New York Film Critics Circle yesterday named Lady Bird their Best Picture and Saoirse Ronan their Best Actress.   I don’t normally trust New Yorkers, but you can take this recommendation salt-free.  There is a multitude of reasons Greta Gerwig’s indie gem is finding itself a winner against larger pedigreed titans.  Go see for yourself why.

LESSON #2: 2018 CAN AND SHOULD BE THE “YEAR OF THE WOMAN” AT THE OSCARS— Patty Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, Gerwig, and Dee Rees could dominate the Best Director category if voters allowed it and, in many ways, rightfully so.  Chaz Ebert wrote an excellent column recently on RogerEbert.com examining the possibilities.  Gerwig has already broken through as the Best Director winner from the National Board of Review this week.  Let’s see the boy’s club pushed to the sidelines for a year.

LESSON #3: THE POST IS GOING TO BE THE OSCAR FRONTRUNNER WITH THE “TIMELY” LABEL ATTACHED TO IT— Each year, there is always one or two Best Picture Academy Award contenders that feels like fateful films echoing the current societal landscape.  With a headliner cast expressing topical parallel challenges in journalism between the past and the present, Steven Spielberg’s The Post is going to create and carry quite the favor with critics and public alike.   Look at its Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress sweep from the National Board of Review.

LESSON #4: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME WILL EARN ANOTHER “TIMELY” LABEL FOR THE WRONG REASONS AND WILL PAY FOR IT ON OSCAR BALLOTS— Paul Bois for The Daily Wire posted a sharp editorial titled “TONE DEAF: Oscar Buzz for Movie About a Romance Between 25-Year-Old Man and 17-Year-Old Boy.”  As well-acted and well-intended as it may be, the verbiage of that headline is what may doom Call Me By Your Name.  Reverborating in an industry crushed by one sex scandal after another each week, I agree with the article and wonder where the widespread support for such a questionable premise of wrongful romance is going to gain favor.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

 

What We Learned This Week: November 19-27- Thanksgiving Hangover Edition

Folks, holidays off of work will derail any routines you have, be it parenting or writing and publishing film reviews and online content.  I had a week and my world went lazy in a happy and welcome hurry.  Super-sized to match our post-Thanksgiving “muffintop” bellies, here’s a late edition of “What We Learned This Week!”


LESSON #1: YOU REALLY NEED TO SEE LADY BIRD— There is a five-star and potential best-of-2017 film sitting right under your noses with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.  My review glows like the California sun and you will find much more like it from my peers on Feelin’ Film and the pros on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, take a look at this distinction, one even greater than the RT buzz given to Get Out‘s high score earlier this year:

LESSON #2: WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, GO SEE WONDER TOO— So often, we ask where are the quality family films in this current Hollywood marketplace.  I can’t be the only parent out there who asks for something better than made-for-TV ABC Family and Hallmark channel movies and the endless string of mindless noise coming out of blockbusters like MinionsSing, and etc.  Disney scaling things down with Pete’s Dragon and The Queen of Katwe last year gave me hope that a legitimate live-action family film could still be made and be mildly successful.  Wonder is that exceeding hope this year.  Its messages are virtuous and heartwarming.  Add Stephen Chbosky’s film to your shortlist for holiday viewing.  It’s a keeper.

LESSON #3: SPEND EXTRA TIME IN THE LOBBY, BATHROOM, TRAFFIC, OR AT DINNER BEFORE SEEING COCO (BUT DON’T FORGET TO STILL SEE COCO)— Disney/Pixar’s Coco is another family-friendly keeper right there with Wonder, but the animated “short” before it the opposite.  I don’t know about you, but I was done with Frozen when it came out.  Subjecting a (hopefully) diverse family audience to 21 minutes of repetitive Olaf silliness on top of previews and other advertisements before a hearty and heavy 109-minute film is too much.  Dear Disney, save that crap for your own TV channel and future streaming service.  Dear Pixar, we come to a Pixar film for your brand of superior original shorts, not Disney’s extra product placement.  Future Coco audiences, use article guide from Slate to calculate how much time to stall and cut right to the feature.

LESSON #4: BE MINDFUL OF WHO IS IN BED WITH WHO WHEN IT COMES TO THE BUSINESS OF HOLLYWOOD— Rotten Tomatoes was applauded before the release of Justice League for its stance to hold its first official rating designation until the opening day of Friday, four days after publication embargoes for critics ended that Tuesday.  It was seen as a move of patience and a step in the right direction away from the immediacy of rash judgment.  When you learn Warner Bros. owns Flixster, the parent company of Rotten Tomatoes, you might realize it was a selfish move of shielding flack instead of championing temperance.  Let me continue to join many other voices, including this great piece from Hype, begging for the general public to loosen their obsession with the broken math of Rotten Tomatoes.  Find critics you trust and appreciate and separate from the pack mentality of pitchforks and/or circle jerks.

LESSON #5: YOU GET WHAT YOU GET WITH JUSTICE LEAGUE— I’d love a Zach Snyder or Joss Whedon “director’s cut” (hell, even both) of Justice League, but conflicting reports make it sound like it can’t or won’t happen.  No matter what, too many folks play amateur armchair film editors.  If we get a bonus, that’s great.  If we don’t, take what the film gives you.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF SUPERHEROES, IT’S TIME FOR EVEN MORE DIVERSITY REPRESENTATION— Seeing the strength of the Amazons in Wonder Woman and Justice League as well as the badassery of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, it’s time additional diversity in comic book films.  This Collider column and list lay out six places inclusion of LGBTQ characters could have been made and it’s a good blueprint for more.  Heck, just start with women in general, let alone the other special demographics of the acronym.  The Guardian recently outlined a primer for a full “women’s canon” foundation.  It’s impressive.    Let’s see Hollywood continue to get progressive and build on the good starts and new energy.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.