Film 2017: Top 5
Between MoviePass and film festivals (Seattle, Orcas Island, Telluride, and an absurd daytrip to Marin to see Call Me By Your Name at the Mill Valley Film Festival) I saw more movies in 2017 than any other year (somewhere around 140, including oldies and re-watches) and liked quite a few of them.
But the top of the list was really easy, so long as I’m allowed to call the first five a tie. I love them all for slightly different reasons.
A Ghost Story opens with a bump in the night, but it isn’t a horror movie, unless you find the contradictorily vast and fleeting nature of time to be scary, which it absolutely is. One character ceases to be alive, yet lingers under an evocative sheet; a wife remains, grieves, consumes the better part of a pie in a single sitting. Time passes (and passes) and David Lowery captures its infuriating swells and contractions in a truly haunting cinematic meditation.
In Faces Places (Villages Visages) ninety-three-year-old Agnes Varda and thirty-something photographer J.R. travel to small French towns to take and install extremely large pictures onto unconventional surfaces. Her eyesight is failing; he refuses to take off his sunglasses. Between their effervescent charm and the moving effect that being seen has on the people of the photos, I had tears in my eyes during most of the film’s running time. An utter delight.
Call Me By Your Name’s gift to those of us with more mundane lives is how sensuously it conveys the feeling of a being a exceptionally bright-yet-bored teenager in Italy, all those dull summer afternoons stretched endlessly ahead, until suddenly you’ve fallen in love with Armie Hammer and those endless days are disappearing all-too quickly. Timothée Chalamet’s performance – rangy curiosity, restrained vulnerability, eager determination – is one for the ages. Elio, Elio, Elio.
Following the conventional rhythms of a senior year in high school, we see Saorise Ronan’s Lady Bird as she falls in love with a theater geek, a nihilistic dirtbag in a band, her mother, the city of Sacramento, and eventually herself. Where lesser, lazier filmmakers might allow a focus on the lead to crowd everyone else out, Greta Gerwig demonstrates exceptional humanity in allowing every supporting character to be absolutely essential with three dimensional stories of their own. Each of them could’ve sustained their own spotlight, but their intersection with Lady Bird form a rich tapestry of class and geography, family, friendship, and the life-changing power of acknowledging your love of an objectively terrible Dave Matthews Band song.
I can’t believe how the summer’s greatest and most expensive spectacle, Dunkirk, seems to have completely disappeared from the year-end awards conversation. Christopher Nolan gets to indulge his fondness for clockwork shenanigans, depicting the unlikely rescue of all those sad doomed Brits from that treacherous beach, from three perspectives: the land (sorry, the Mole), sea, and air. There’s very little dialogue; we barely see the Nazis; and there’s no helpful voiceover to refresh you on forgotten history lessons. Yet, with great storytelling economy and absolutely dazzling cinematography, the disjointed timeframes induce a sense of the confused desperation, an utterly harrowing sense of looming death, and the ever slim prospects for escape. Despite being told with a cool interiority and a restrained chin-up sense of duty, noticing the first hints how the three timeframes intersected were among the year’s most thrilling, the IMAX images among the most indelible, and those little boats finally arriving over the horizon while Tom Hardy’s valiant small plane glides down onto the beach among the most moving.