What We Learned This Week: January 1-13

LESSON #1: EITHER BUSINESS IS BAD OR PEOPLE ARE FINDING THEIR ENTERTAINMENT ELSEWHERE— I have found that in the box office business, trends rarely lie.  Looking past inflation and price changes, the reported actual ticket sale counts are alarming according to the year-end news reported in several places.  A six percent drop is telling but not drastic.  “Lowest in 25 years” is a whole other thing.  To me, as I’ve stated in this column frequently, it’s all about the price point for family dollars.  The wave of unlimited TV and streaming options available at high quality and far lower costs than it takes to bring the average family of four to the multiplex with refreshments is becoming a no-brainer for those cost-minded folks.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, APPLE MIGHT HAVE A COUNTERPUNCH TO DISNEY— Once Disney bought 21st Century Fox, they gained controlling percentage of Hulu Plus at the same time as they’ve been positioning to launch their own dedicated streaming platforms.  The target was placed on Netflixes back, especially after the Mouse House pulled all of their content off the platform to bring under their own roof.  Netflix might have found a benefactor and powerful one.  According to reports sourced by Citi, Apple is angling to buy Netflix with a billion dollar price tag.  Throw Amazon’s power in there, and this WWE triple threat match in a streaming ring just got big

LESSON #3: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, KEEPING ADVOCATING FOR EQUAL PAY ACROSS GENDERS— You can try to slice it, refocus the points, or pretend to justify the reasons however you want, but the Mark Wahlberg/Michelle Williams All the Money in the World compensation disparity story that broke this week is kind of sh-tty no matter which way you play it.  It just flat-out looks bad.  I’m glad it’s getting investigated by the union (Screen Actors Guild).  I keep the benefit of the doubt going that good faith is out there or that contracts are this and other contracts are that.  For that to remain, a positive outcome (with a rolled head or two) must arrive or this will only incite more from an already fractured female demographic, and rightfully so.

LESSON #4: WE HAVE TO CONSIDER THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI A FULL-FLEGED OSCAR CONTENDER NOW— To me, the Golden Globes have been a joke, are a joke, and will remain a joke with some of their category distinctions, silly nominees, and oddball choices.  That said, the Golden Globes aren’t the only awards Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, and Martin McDonagh’s film are sweeping up.  The two actors have been surging and now stand as legitimate co-frontrunners with Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) who have dominated the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress categories.  These dark horses aren’t so pitch black anymore.  By the way, you know which Golden Globe winner is not a real contender?  James Franco.  Via con dios, dude.

LESSON #5: THE STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI HATERS ARE GOING TO BE BUTTHURT FOR A LONG TIME— …and it’s going to be agonizing to deal with them.  Most of the haters are just harmless snobs and sub-trolls.  Their rants and forgettable and carry weak traction, like silly petitions to remove the latest film from canon.  However, some of them take it too far.  This recent story of Kelly Marie Tran dealing with racist and sexist comments is a prime example.  That’s the kind of crap that goes too far and isn’t “fansmanship” nitpicking over water cooler talk anymore.  That’s the hurtful garbage that needs to go and get a life.

LESSON #6: CIRCLE BACK TO THE BEST OF 2017— Rotten Tomatoes closed the 2017 calendar with their list of 100% Tomatometer films.  Seven titles never received a bad review.  Use JustWatch to seek them out in this boring and empty annual moviegoing wasteland known as January.  Liam Neeson flicks can only keep your attention so long.  If you want more films after those seven, you’ve got five top-ten lists right here on Feelin’ Film from your hosts and contributors.


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.

Minisode 035: 2017 Year in Review

In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.

Favorite First-Time Viewings (non-2017) – 0:01:10

Favorite Performances – 0:27:36

Films that Most Exceeded Expectations – 0:52:19

Films that Were Biggest Disappointments – 0:57:56 

Favorite Episodes of the Year – 1:04:31

Our Feelin’ Five Films – 1:15:03

Most Anticipated Films of 2018 – 1:48:13

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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. 

MOVIE REVIEW: The Florida Project

The Florida Project (2017)


Going In

Sean Baker first came onto my radar with 2015’s Tangerine, the unique and moving story of a transgender girl searching on Christmas Eve for the pimp who broke her heart. Oh, and it was also shot almost entirely on an iPhone 5s. This made Baker a must-watch director for me. His newest film, The Florida Project follows the life of a 6-year girl and her single mother over the course of one summer. Not much more detail than that is known other than the film also stars Willem Dafoe in what critics are calling one of his best performances. The simplicity of its plot and incredible amount of positive critical buzz make this one of the movies I am most excited for this fall.



COMING OUT

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. To use a common metaphor, it is the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” If there is one thing that The Florida Project evokes it is empathy, something our world could do with a hefty dose of right about now.

Sean Baker’s latest is a phenomenal film. Willem Dafoe anchors a cast of unknowns, including leads Brooklynn Prince (Moonee) and first-time actress Bria Vinaite (Halley). Both Prince and Vinaite are a revelation, turning in stunningly powerful performances as a homeless/jobless single parent and her mischievous 6-year old daughter. Set entirely over the course of one summer, this family lives in a run-down motel on the outskirts of the nearby Disney World. Moonee is not just a rebellious child, though, and that is what makes The Florida Project effective. Both she and her mother are both good and bad, living in that gray area that most of us do. Moonee could very well be seen as gifted, as well. She is incredibly creative and self-sufficient for her age, and a natural leader, but those rebellious tendencies that she has learned from her mother are ever-present. Hally, her mother, is also not a one note character. We don’t know exactly how she got into the situation she is in, but how she deals with it is the interesting thing. Her desire to provide for her daughter is never in question, but her methods of doing so definitely are. Watching her progressively poor choices was painful – she is a parent who thinks that she is showing love but doesn’t understand fully what that means. She is in many ways as much a child as Moonee when it comes to raising her daughter.

Willem Dafoe does indeed turn in one of his career best performance as the hotel manager and the only male influence in Moonee’s life. Like most characters in the film, he has the best of intentions but leads us to question whether the choices he makes truly what’s best for Moonee and her mom. Dafoe’s character could even be seen as a surrogate for the viewer, a man who is not in the same situation but on the fringe, trying to figure out how to interact and support without overstepping his bounds.  This is a movie about adventure, friendship, and innocence lost. The story is powerful from start to finish and it all leads up to an intense ending sequence that I haven’t been able to shake for weeks.

Verdict

The Florida Project wowed me in a way that few films have in 2017. I resonated deeply with its primary theme of empathy. As a parent myself, watching it was sometimes difficult but always worthwhile. With any luck, 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. The Florida Project is unforgettable – a definite must see.

Rating:


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.