Glass Half Full
We’re at the midpoint of the year which means the summer movie season is going into full swing over the next two months. There’s been a surprising amount of depth early in the year (big blockbusters included). Already we’ve seen a slew of high quality releases in the first half of 2017, the likes of which are typically reserved for after the summer season has cooled off and nearer to the “awards season” months of November and December. Hopefully this increased interest in movies released between January and June, both critically and commercially, will serve as a lesson to studio execs that the traditional release model is antiquated and in need of an overhaul. High profile mega-franchises can thrive in March and April and prestige indies can open alongside the new Transformers movie and still find a sizeable audience. Spreading the quality of cinematic titles over the entire calendar can only help distributors who are looking to hit their sweet spot on opening weekend as well as energize moviegoers to come out to theaters every month, not just in July and December. Below are my ten picks (as well as some honorable mentions) of the best 2017 has had to offer up to this point. Enjoy!
10. Donald Cried – dir. Kristopher Avedisian
Released: March, 3rd
Awkward humor or “cringe comedy” is a tricky genre. The style is often hit or miss and the sensibilities of the viewer greatly determine the effectiveness of the jokes. Fortunately Donald Cried is a hit on every level. The performances are tonally perfect and the plot line is hilariously simple yet relatable on many levels. Wall Street executive Peter is forced to leave the city and go back to his hometown in order to bury his grandmother. After losing his wallet, he reluctantly enlists the help of his former high school buddy Donald, who is more than eager to spend the day catching up with his childhood friend. Problem is that Donald isn’t all there. He lives at home with his mom and stepdad and seems content on being a deadbeat forever. Watching this odd couple navigate their old stomping grounds (as well as reconcile with some of life’s growing pains) is strange, funny, and familiar to anyone who has left home before.
9. Colossal – dir. Nacho Vigalondo
Released: April, 7th
If 2017 can be summed up with one word so far it would be “originality.” Audiences crave it and critics have been clamoring for it. No title has more originality and uniqueness this year than Colossal. Here’s the pitch: Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic yuppy who lost her job and was recently kicked out of her boyfriend’s New York City apartment. She relocates back home in Middle America where she reconnects with an old classmate and is taken on as a waitress at his bar. She struggles to get back on her feet and overcome her destructive addictions. Oh and she discovers that she’s in control of a kaiju-monster wreaking havoc on Seoul, South Korea that mimics her bodily movements. Like I said, originality to the highest degree. I promise you that you’ve never seen anything like this before.
8. Wonder Woman – dir. Patty Jenkins
Released: June, 2nd
It’s rare that a flagship property starring a female lead is actually given to a female director. It seems that it would be common logic to do so, but it’s rare. To few people’s surprise and to everyone’s delight, Wonder Woman is not only one of the highest grossing films of the year but it’s also one of the most well-regarded. Audiences adored it and critics raved over Gal Gadot’s performance and Patty Jenkins’s sharp direction. Easily the DCEU’s best film, Wonder Woman has set the bar for superhero action films – male and female alike.
7. Logan – dir. James Mangold
Released: March, 3rd
Continuing the trend of high quality superhero films is Marvel’s Logan. Following up 2013’s The Wolverine, James Mangold returns to bring closure to Wolverine’s saga. The year is 2029 and mutants are dying. Little is left of the world that Wolverine has once known. When a little girl with “special abilities” escapes a research facility, it’s up to Logan and Professor X to protect her from the group hunting her down known as the Reavers. Maturing the tone of the series and taking advantage of an R-rating, Logan feels fresh while updating the DNA of an X-Men franchise in dire need of a new direction. With this film, along with last year’s hit Deadpool, I’d say that direction is pointing upward.
6. Raw – dir. Julia Ducournau
Released: March, 10th
Adding to the originality reservoir of 2017 is French filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s debut feature Raw. What happens when a lifelong vegetarian tries meat for the first time? Well, some strange things according to Justine. In her first year of veterinary school Justine is pressured into trying rabbit kidney as part of her hazing ritual, which triggers a dangerous appetite in her. She becomes unexpectedly attracted to meat, especially the raw variety. What unfolds is an unpredictable and seductive awakening for Justine, in more ways than one. Bon Appétit!
5. It Comes at Night – dir. Trey Edward Shults
Released: June, 9th
Horror is experiencing something of a renaissance over the past few years. The powers that be are beginning to understand that audiences require intelligent storytelling along with their jump scares. That’s why it’s exciting to see filmmakers flock to the genre to tell their stories. I’ve written about how good this film is in a previous post and why its withheld approach to exposition is effective as a horror technique. You’re in safe hands with It Comes at Night…as long as you don’t open the red door.
4. The Beguiled – dir. Sofia Coppola
Released: June, 23rd
Be·guile [bih-gahyl] – Beguiling indeed.
3. Baby Driver – dir. Edgar Wright
Released: June, 28th
B-A-B-Y, Baby. That’s his name. Baby Driver was one of my most anticipated titles heading into the new year and it didn’t disappoint. The pace is frantic and the editing is energetic. The movie has no pretensions about what it wants to be and maintains a consistent (and surprisingly violent) tone. Few directors working today can match Wright’s visual acuity and keen ear for sonic syncopation. With a stellar cast and killer soundtrack, Baby Driver is everything you could want out of a summer movie. Following the creed of his precocious protagonist, wherever Wright calls, I’ll go.
2. Get Out – dir. Jordan Peele
Released: February, 24th
Leave it to one half of a comedic duo to deliver what is perhaps the most inventive and biting critique of race relations in America. By funneling his observations on race through the lens of a horror movie, first-time writer/director Jordan Peele subversively comments on what he perceives to be the systematic targeting of African-American males as societal prey. It helps that the acting is top notch and the tension is expertly built until it reaches its inevitable release. Few cathartic moments can match the ending of Get Out.
1. The Big Sick – dir. Michael Showalter
Released: June, 23rd
The Big Sick left a lasting impression on me far beyond anything I could’ve expected. Partly because the subject matter connected with me on a personal level (being a first-generation Muslim-American, Kumail’s cultural upbringing resonated with me deeply), but mostly because the film is so well constructed. This true-life story explains how Kumail met his wife Emily while he was performing standup and how they eventually fall in love. Things quickly nose dive however when Emily is diagnosed with a serious illness that leaves her in a coma. Kumail is forced to navigate Emily parents, his own parents’ disapproval of his lifestyle, and his career during the most trying time of his life. The writing here is phenomenal, with story beats flowing seamlessly between each major act and the jokes landing at all the right moments. That’s one of the standout features of The Big Sick. The jokes keep coming even when the plot takes a turn for the dour. By incorporating veterans like Ray Romano and Holly Hunter with young talent like Kumail, Zoe Kazan, and Bo Burnham, The Big Sick perfectly walks the line of romance, comedy, and drama.
–Split – dir. M. Night Shyamalan
Released: January, 20th
–A Cure for Wellness – dir. Gore Verbinski
Released: February, 17th
–I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore – dir. Macon Blair
Released: February, 24th
–Alien: Covenant – dir. Ridley Scott
Released: May, 19th
–Okja – dir. Bong Joon-Ho
Released: June, 28th
What were your favorites of the year? Leave a comment below with your picks of 2017 (so far).