Hate to See You Go…
What a year it’s been! We’ve reached the end of what has been a jam-packed year of quality titles that ran the gamut. We had a string of large-scale (and small scale) superhero films that refused to sacrifice quality for bombast, a resurgence of entertaining horror, and a series of directorial debuts that took the cinematic world by storm. While everyone wants to know the best films of the year, the “other” moments often get overlooked in the deluge of year-end lists. But not here. These “Wrap-Up” posts are my opportunity to highlight the scenes, songs, shots, and moments from the past 12 months that made a lasting impression on me. So while my Top Ten list is still under construction, please enjoy this Wrap-Up of 2017.
dir. Christopher Nolan | Cinematographer: Hoyte van Hoytema
Why it stuck: Few images were more striking this year than Farrier (Tom Hardy) staring at the wreckage of his fighter plane after rescuing his fellow troops with one last bombing run. Despite being doomed for capture, Hardy’s posture and stoicism signify a sense of accomplishment. Gotta love the magic hour.
Blade Runner 2049
dir. Denis Villeneuve | Cinematographer: Roger Deakins
Why it stuck: In all honesty, I could have chosen any number of shots from BR2049 because the entire film is a tableau of beautiful images. I went with this seemingly quiet shot because it’s a perfect marriage of mood and atmosphere. Just hand Deakins his Oscar now.
It Comes at Night
dir. Trey Edward Shults | Cinematographer: Drew Daniels
Why it stuck: Framing is essential when it comes to constructing strong images. The way Travis is center-framed in his attic peering at the new visitors makes us just as curious to see what is happening outside. A little light goes a long way.
dir. Kogonada | Cinematographer: Elisha Christian
Why it stuck: Some of the prettiest, most poetic shots of the year can be found in Kogonada’s Columbus. The film is filled with gorgeous architectural shots but this one featuring Casey and Jin framed between the North Christian Church in the background is magical.
dir. The Safdie Brothers | Cinematographer: Sean Price Williams
Why it stuck: Connie (Robert Pattinson) attempting to explain to his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) what happened to his brother is sad, funny, and desperate. The way the shadow covers his mouth mirrors his inability to articulate how his brother got arrested. Excellent stuff.
A Cure For Wellness
dir. Gore Verbinski | Cinematographer: Bojan Bazelli
Why it stuck: One of the strangest studio releases this year was also one of the most visually interesting. This shot of Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) spotting a girl up on the roof by a pristine pool of water is fantastic. The reflections of the mountains and sky are clear indications that everything is not what it seems in the world.
War For the Planet of the Apes
dir. Matt Reeves | Cinematographer: Michael Seresin
Why it stuck: CGI has come a long way. If you’re still not a digital imagery believer, then allow this shot of computer-generated monkeys riding horses on a sunset beach to convert you.
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson | Cinematographer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Why it stuck: They say shooting through a doorway is a quick and easy way to liven up an image. PTA takes this rule and runs with it, shooting through several doorways with unique lighting for each room. Throw in Daniel Day-Lewis slightly off-center admiring one of his creations and you have an image as indelible as a gown from the House of Woodcock.
Song to Song
dir. Terrence Malick | Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki
Why it stuck: Because Rooney Mara dancing with Ryan Gosling against the backdrop of the Austin skyline that’s why.
dir. Taylor Sheridan | Cinematographer: Ben Richardson
Why it stuck: The image of Fish and Wildlife agent Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner) dragging his kill across a snowy vista tells you all you need to know about this isolated (and deadly) wilderness.
Call Me By Your Name – dir. Luca Guadagnino
Music – Sufjan Stevens
“Mystery of Love”
What made it memorable: The tenderness that Sufjan Stevens brings to this picture is remarkable. The gentle way his string and guitar arrangements complement the ever-evolving nature of Oliver and Elio’s relationship is pitch-perfect.
The Shape of Water – dir. Guillermo del Toro
Music – Alexandre Desplat
“The Shape of Water”
What made it memorable: Alexandre Desplat is no stranger to providing whimsical overtures for master filmmakers (see his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel). His delicate compositions filled with a sense of “old timey-ness” make this score an ideal match for the hauntingly nostalgic imagery of a mute woman falling in love with a sea creature in the 1950s.
Good Time – dir. The Safdie Brothers
Music – Oneohtrix Point Never
“The Pure and the Damned”
What made it memorable: OPN does the unthinkable and somehow matches the chaotic energy of the night from hell that is Good Time. Within the first 15 minutes his beat-pulsing, synth-thrashing score propels the wild ride forward. Wrapping all this madness in a nice bow is the final track “The Pure and the Damned,” which features Iggy Pop singing a piano ballad. Wild wild wild.
Phantom Thread – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Music – Johnny Greenwood
What made it memorable: Paul Thomas Anderson’s collaborations with Johnny Greenwood have always proven fruitful. They share a brainwave that manages to elicit feelings of melancholy and tension. Seeing and hearing these two visionaries combine their talents once again is a highlight of the year.
Favorite Under-Seen Performances:
Tatiana Maslany | as “Erin Hurley” in Stronger
Why it stood out: Stronger may have been billed as a Jake Gyllenhaal movie but it’s Tatiana Maslany who steals the show. She plays the real-life girlfriend of Jeff Bauman who lost his legs after the Boston Marathon bombing. Gyllenhaal is typically great, but Maslany’s portrayal of a woman trying to keep his life from falling apart is delightfully memorable. She is the foundation upon which Jeff, and the entire film, rests on.
Barry Keoghan | as “Martin” in The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Why it stood out: The movie with the most twisted premise of the year contains one of the most twisted characters in recent memory. Having already announced his breakout in this year’s Dunkirk, Barry Keoghan flexes his acting muscles even further in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Without saying anything else about his character, just know that his performance is equal parts disturbing and equal parts comedic deadpan.
Lily Collins | as “Ellen” in To the Bone
Why it stood out: Playing characters with eating disorders is a tricky thing. For one, you need to lose A LOT of weight. You also don’t want the performance to turn into a cheap caricature, merely tricking the audience by the “shock” factor of looking underweight. Lily Collins avoids these traps by turning in a solidly committed performance. Having suffered from anorexia in her personal life, she is able to give an honest and earnest portrayal of a girl reluctantly staying in a recovery house for her lack of eating.
Vince Vaughn | as “Bradley Thomas” in Brawl in Cell Block 99
Why it stood out: I never thought I would buy Vince Vaughn as a tough-as-nails, take no prisoners badass but that’s exactly the performance he delivers in one of the year’s most surprisingly entertaining movies. Fashioned as a throwback to grindhouse B-movie action flicks, Brawl is violent, bloody, and grimly dark. But man does Vaughn shine.
Tracy Letts | as “Michael” in The Lovers
Why it stood out: Are there any actors more warm and comforting than Tracy Letts? The man exudes a homeliness that naturally radiates from all of his characters. This trait can be seen in small doses with his wonderful turn in this year’s Lady Bird, but it’s on full display in The Lovers. Letts plays an adulterous husband who is unhappy in his marriage. But underneath his treacherous behavior is a man holding out hope for a reconciliation with the woman he once loved so dearly.
Melanie Lynskey | as “Ruth Kimke” in i don’t feel at home in this world anymore
Why it stood out: Macon Blair’s directorial debut was one of the earliest films I watched this year. After a strong screening at Sundance in January, it was acquired by Netflix and quickly received a February release. This odd tale of revenge and partnership is anchored by Melanie Lynskey who plays an in over her head woman trying to recover her laptop after her home has been burglarized. She plays the every-woman with great patience and righteous anger because as she says, all she wants is “for people to not be assholes!”
O’Shea Jackson Jr. | as “Dan Pinto” in Ingrid Goes West
Why it stood out: O’Shea Jackson Jr. has come a long way from just being Ice Cube’s son. The son of the hip-hop legend has become a talented actor in his own right. In 2015, he broke out playing his father in Straight Out of Compton, and this year he got to show off his comedic side as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed boyfriend/landlord. He practically steals every scene he’s in and provides much needed respite from Ingrid’s stalker behavior.
A Ghost Story – dir. David Lowery
The pie eating scene
Why it’s noteworthy: The grieving process takes many forms. After all the tears and hugs, sometimes it’s best to just be left alone. Rooney Mara as “M” incorrectly thinks this is one of those times, unbeknownst to her that her recently deceased partner has come back as a ghost wearing a bed sheet who silently observes her. After receiving a homemade pie as a gift, she sits on the kitchen floor and devours this dessert as if it’s the only solace she can find. David Lowery bravely lets this entire meal play out in real time.
Wonder Woman – dir. Patty Jenkins
No Man’s Land
Why it’s noteworthy: Some leaders talk, others lead by example. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is more of the action type than talking type. Watching Diana take on a trench of soldiers single-handedly is both amazing and inspiring. No “man” may have ever crossed this field, but perhaps all it needed was a woman’s touch. One of the best blockbusters of 2017, Wonder Woman provided a desperately needed adrenaline shot to the the DC Extended Universe.
It: Chapter One – dir. Andy Muschietti
The opening scene
Why it’s noteworthy: Updating the 1990 miniseries, 2017’s It is not afraid to re-imagine the titular clown also known as “Pennywise.” Look no further than the opening encounter between Georgie and Pennywise to send a shiver down your spine. From the first scene it becomes clear that this isn’t your parents’ circus.
The Square – dir. Ruben Östlund
The dinner performance
Why it’s noteworthy: It’s difficult to provide context to this scene independent of the rest of the film so I’ll just tell you that Terry Notary plays a performance artist named “Oleg” who pushes the boundaries of the dinner guests. I’ll let you experience the rest.
Call Me By Your Name – dir. Luca Guadagnino
Elio play the piano for Oliver
Why it’s noteworthy: I could have chosen several moments for this slot from Call Me By Your Name. There’s Armie Hammer’s dance scene, Michael Stuhlbarg’s final monologue, and the now-infamous peach scene. But I went with Elio playing the piano for Oliver because it best encapsulates how the dynamic of their relationship evolves over time – at first playful and teasing, but at the end of the day, genuine and pure.
I, Tonya – dir. Craig Gillespie
Tonya prepares her makeup
Why it’s noteworthy: Margot Robbie is a serious talent. She has always been a fine complimentary piece in her movies, usually as the attractive female half to the male lead. But with I, Tonya (which she also produced) she gets her first true vehicle to show off her acting chops. In one of the film’s most devastating scenes, Tonya is tasked with recomposing herself after an equipment mishap right before the biggest skate of her life. Robbie heartrendingly teeters between fake smile and devastating emotion. This is what it means to embody another person ladies and gentlemen.
Spider-Man: Homecoming – dir. Jon Watts
Vulture learns about Peter Parker
Why it’s noteworthy: Marvel movies aren’t typically known for their intensity. Sure Homecoming has plenty of gags and visual treats, but sometimes the most powerful moments come between two actors sitting in a car. When the Vulture (Michael Keaton) discovers that his daughter is going to homecoming with none other than the thorn in his side Spider-Man, he offers the youngster one last out. What follows is a tense confrontation in a movie filled with otherwise lighthearted action.
Atomic Blonde – dir. David Leitch
The stairwell fight
Why it’s noteworthy: The plot is a mess, the setting is clichéd to death, and the characters are hollow. But damn does Charlize Theron kick ass as Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 secret agent. This seemingly unbroken stairwell fight scene should solidify her reputation as an action badass (remember “Furiosa” in Mad Max: Fury Road?) and put to rest any comparisons as the “female John Wick” because she could probably kick John Wick’s ass.
Alien: Covenant – dir. Ridley Scott
David teaches Walter how to play
Why it’s noteworthy: With his role as “David,” the human-like android introduced in 2012’s quasi-Alien prequel Prometheus, Michael Fassbender has single–handedly owned the cinematic portrayal of robots. In Covenant, he pulls duel duties as “Walter,” the new and improved model. In this strangely endearing encounter, David attempts to explain to Walter human obsolescence by teaching him how to create for himself. A fine show indeed.
Baby Driver – dir. Edgar Wright
Baby gets the coffee
Why it’s noteworthy: I was tempted to go with the opening car chase but I think this sequence captures everything right with Edgar Wright’s filmmaking. The music, the movement of the camera, the timing, the little details in the graffiti and lyrics written out on the walls, the way Baby’s actions sync up to the song as he saunters down the block, it’s all perfect indication that you’re in the hands of a master. Everything happens so fast you almost miss it the first time. That’s what I love about Wright’s films, they are guaranteed to reward multiple viewings with hidden treasures.
Best Theater Experience:
Dunkirk – dir. Christopher Nolan, in IMAX + 70mm
What made it memorable: I respect Nolan for the fact that not only does he shoot his films with IMAX and 70mm in mind, but he demands you see it in that format for the best experience. Few filmmakers working on the scale that Nolan does bother to craft their projects with large-format projection in mind and his films are always a technical achievement, if nothing else.
mother! – dir. Darren Aronofsky
What made it memorable: The last 10 minutes. Actually the last 20 minutes. Come to think of it, the whole movie. The craziest film ever released by a major studio (Paramount) in some time, mother! was unlike anything I experienced in theaters this year. Never invite guests over.
John Denver songs
What made it great: 2017 was the year of John Denver songs playing at crucial moments in the story. With two of his songs being played in four different films (all to great effect), John Denver has emerged as the tender cinematic voice in a tumultuous year.
Okja – dir. Bong Joon-ho
Free Fire – dir. Ben Wheatley
Logan Lucky – dir. Steven Soderbergh
Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle – dir. Matthew Vaughn
What made it great: I’ll admit, I made this term up. But it’s only because I couldn’t find a better term to describe this effect. We’re all familiar with “cold openings” where a scene jumps straight into the action before the opening credits begin, but what about when that happens at the end? When the end credits roll over the final shot before the film officially fades to black. I’ve noticed this trend occur in at least four films this year (Good Time, Call Me By Your Name, Roman J. Israel, Esq., and Phantom Thread) and I’ve coined the term “hot ending” to describe this moment. The credits are rolling yet the scene still lingers on in the background, demanding you ruminate on everything that preceded it.
Narrative of the Year:
Sexual Misconduct of Hollywood
The large stain on the industry this year was the cleansing of Hollywood of sexual predators and abusers. Unfortunately this has been a long, dark secret in show business, and required the complicity and silence of many people across a large network of industry professionals and creative types. If you want to get ahead, best to keep your head down and mouth shut. But not any more. With countless women (and men) speaking out against their abusers and the rise of the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment and abuse is now facing it’s reckoning. It’s unthinkable that in 2017 we are plagued by such disgusting and inappropriate behavior in the workplace, but it’s never too late to air out your dirty laundry. Here’s to a clean batch for next year and beyond.
Performances That Shouldn’t Be Forgotten Come Awards Season:
James McAvoy | as “Kevin Wendell Crumb” in Split
Why it’s Awards-worthy: Being someone who suffers from dissociative identity disorder may be a nightmare in reality but it’s a dream come true for an actor. James McAvoy rises to the occasion as he deliciously slips in an out of his 23 personalities effortlessly. He’s at any given moment charming, funny, confused, scared, sadistic, violent, calm, and curious. Although this film has been somewhat forgotten having been released in January, this performance should not suffer the same fate.
Pierce Brosnan | as “Liam Hennessy” in The Foreigner
Why it’s Awards-worthy: Having been typecast as the suave British gentleman after his turn as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan was a huge revelation in The Foreigner. A political thriller disguised as a Jackie Chan revenge flick, this movie was one of the left-field surprises for me in terms of expectations heading in versus results delivered walking out. His role as a former IRA member turned politician attempting to keep the peace via diplomacy is strikingly effective. I’m not quite sure if it’s his commanding Irish brogue or his steely-eyed fierceness that makes this performance so memorable, but I’m suddenly in the mood to revisit his 007 days.
Best Child Performance:
Brooklynn Prince | as “Moonee” in The Florida Project
What made it great: Little Brooklynn Prince as “Moonee” is one of my favorite things of all things this year. She’s feisty, spunky, and mischievous to the point that makes her endearing. Her infectious attitude almost makes you forget the dire conditions she and her mom are living in at the Magic Castle Motel. Moonee forever.
Baby Driver – dir. Edgar Wright
Get Out – dir. Jordan Peele
The Beguiled – dir. Sofia Coppola
The Killing of a Sacred Deer – dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
The Florida Project – dir. Sean Baker
mother! – dir. Darren Aronofsky
Raw – dir. Julie Ducournau
The Shape of Water – dir. Guillermo del Toro