You didn’t think I would forget to do this, would you? Enjoy the Oscars!
It’s always an internal struggle to decide the final movie to crack the prestigious Top 12, and ultimately my decision came down to what film will stay with me the longest. And Coco is just so damn heartwarming that watching it to its conclusion is like receiving an injection of feel-good chemicals to the brain. It’s a fantasy film taking place in Mexico on the Day of the Dead – very similar to the 2016 film The Book of Life, which its fans certainly noticed – where a young musician, Miguel, accidentally crosses into the Afterlife and can only return by receiving a reprieve from an ancestor. Plot twists ensue in which Miguel meets family members who he can and cannot trust. There’s good music, beautiful animation and a plenty of sentiment, adding Coco to the pantheon of Pixar films that can be enjoyed by both adults and children, and in my case, 30-year-olds who watch alone in their bedroom on their laptop. It’s a shoo-in for Best Animated Picture.
At times slow-paced and plodding, but ultimately highly moving and poignant, Mudbound tells the stories of two families in the antebellum South in the immediate post-WWII era, each of which contain a young man (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) who have just returned from combat. Mudbound pulls no punches in showing the severe racial disparities of the era, with each of the men experiencing vastly different treatment from their neighbors. However, the two men meet and find kindred spirits in one another, forming an unlikely friendship and creating the impetus that sets the film’s plot in motion. Mary J. Blige in a supporting role was the lone acting Oscar representative in this vastly underrated and important film, and director Dee Rees deserves more attention not only for this film, but her previous work. Something tells me her best is yet to come.
10. Wind River:
Another criminally underrated film from 2017. Wind River centers around a federal wildlife worker (Jeremy Renner) who gets recruited into a homicide investigation on a Wyoming Indian preservation. Braving fierce environmental conditions alongside a neophyte, fish-out-of-water FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen), the pair untangle a series of clues that eventually lead them toward the perpetrator(s). The story never relents in its suspense and intrigue, showcasing the desolate landscape the and proud lives of Native Americans who live on it, culminating in a breathtaking climax. Most importantly, the movie delivers a powerful message about the indomitable spirit of humankind. A must-see.
9. Lady Bird:
I’ll admit, I was waiting for the movie to “hook me” while I was initially watching it … and then it ended. There is no doubt that the film comprises some fantastic performances from its leads, Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Lucas Hedges, as well as some highly enjoyable dialogue, penned by Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut. As the film centers on a mother-daughter relationship, it’s likely the film will resonate more with female viewers. But I still view the film in extremely high regard because I think it will age well over and time and be worth watching again.
8. The Big Sick:
Who didn’t love this movie? The Big Sick is based on the true life romance of Pakistani comedian and immigrant Kumail Nanijani and his white girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan), a relationship that his orthodox parents strongly disapprove of. Their budding romance has its typical ups and downs, but then takes a significant turn when Kate contracts a mysterious illness and lapses into a coma. The movie, while heavy at times, has the perfect amount of comedic brevity while also treading carefully around racial tension so prevalent in America. It’s definitely a film that even the most ignorant of people can find empathy in. If they choose to watch it, that is. (#MAGA?) It also features great performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents.
7. Phantom Thread:
Sometimes a movie just pulls the viewer so far into a world that you forget that what you’re watching isn’t real life. The scenery, setting and overall attention-to-detail created by Paul Thomas Anderson in this period piece is entirely engrossing. Daniel Day Lewis brilliantly portrays an immensely accomplished and talented, yet fiercely stubborn dressmaker who is unnerved by even the slightest alteration to his routine lifestyle. But he meets his match when he meets and falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps). It’s worth watching for Daniel Day Lewis’s performance alone.
6. The Shape of Water:
It’s always a welcome sign to the movie industry when Guillermo Del Toro is on top form. Pan’s Labyrinth remains, to this day, among the best films of the 21st century. The Shape of Water does not reach that level, but it bares many similarities and is right in Del Toro’s wheelhouse – Cold War era, nonhuman creatures, and a vulnerable protagonist that’s easy to root for. In a way, the Shape of Water deals with many of the issues that are brewing in today’s America – empathy for “The Other.” Phenomenal acting across the board by Oscar-nominated Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, as well as Michael Shannon as the bad guy, and a compelling story make this a supernatural thriller that many will enjoy.
5. Get Out:
It takes a special type of movie to be released in late February, a time period typically shelved by studios for non-award contenders, and carry enough popularity and acclaim into the following year to land Best Picture, Best Director and Best Leading Actor nominations at the Academy Awards. And Get Out was that special type of movie. Anyone who watched Key & Peele on Comedy Central knew it was not just another sketch show. This was a creation of two brilliant comics who’d become masters of their craft, and who were astute observers of cinema. The production quality of their skits was top notch. And if only we knew that their show was a breeding ground for what’s to come. Get Out is a masterpiece in several regards: in acting, score, plot, theme, all the while playing with the subtleties of racial tension that exist in today’s America. Everything about it is brilliant. Daniel Kaluuya won’t win, but scoring an acting nomination is a huge accomplishment and should help boost what promises to be a successful career. Get Out isn’t just one of the biggest surprises of the year – it’s one of the biggest surprises ever.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:
The front-runner for Best Picture at Saturday’s Academy Awards. What I personally enjoyed most about the film was that not only is it a compelling story, but that it involves several well-developed characters. Rather than following the simple formula of introducing a protagonist and having every other character revolve around him or her, Three Billboards gives you a handful of well-rounded characters who actually earn our emotional attention and response. And while many people will be dissatisfied by the ending, I had no problem with it. To me, the real message of the movie is that though we may each have our own problems, but regardless of how valid they may be, everyone else has problems too. Look for Frances McNormand and Sam Rockwell to bring home some bling tonight.
3. Call Me by Your Name:
Just a beautiful, beautiful film. Beautiful landscapes. Beautiful acting by breakout star Timothee Chamalet, as well as Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a gay love story in 1980s Italy between a professor’s (Stuhlbarg) visiting graduate student (Hammer), and the professor’s son (Chalamet). What makes the film so wonderful is the authenticity and the raw emotion that is prevalent throughout. It’s also easy for the viewer to fall in love with the film’s setting, the northern Italian countryside in summertime. But the heartbreaking romance between the two men is what will stay with you. What did Lin Manuel Miranda say? Love is love is love is … you get it.
2. The Post:
As a former journalist, I’m a sucker for movies about the newspaper industry that are done right. I picked Spotlight as my #1 film in 2015, and now The Post received the penultimate rank three years later. It’s a highly fascinating story in history that not enough people are aware of, involving the Vietnam War and the most prominent act of whistle-blowing in American history, all on the eve of the Watergate Scandal. At the center of the story is the Washington Post, a paper struggling to regain its national stature when it receives highly classified government material that sets it on a collision course with President Nixon and his administration. It’s up to the Post’s first female publisher (Meryl Streep) to decide if they publish it. It’s taking place in the early ’70s, but it might as well have happened today, with relevant issues such as freedom of the press, an overreaching president, and a women’s struggle in the male-dominated workplace taking center stage. Steven Spielberg takes us right into the bustling newsroom as these decisions are made in real time, and we’re treated to wonderful performances by Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk and Streep. A dark horse for Best Picture.
When the backdrop is World War II, it’s easy for a filmmaker to try to do too much. But in this case Christopher Nolan keeps it simple. We’re on the beaches of Dunkirk, in that history-changing pocket of time when the French and British armies were surrounded by German troops, and on the verge of surrender. But Nolan takes us right onto the shore, immersing us with the urgency and tension of the situation, with German bomber planes constantly raining fire on the suffocated troops. But we hardly see any Germans, aside from a brief opening scene and a few airborne shots. Instead, we are one of these hopeless soldiers, awaiting a miraculous rescue that would change the course of history. You already know the outcome, but the film is so thrilling that you will think that you’re experiencing it in real time and unsure how it will end. A long shot for Best Picture, but not an impossibility. An outstanding cinematic achievement, this film will age very well over time, with its #1 ranking indelibly marked at the Weinblog.
On the outside looking in:
I, Tonya: Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is a slam dunk across the board. Just in time for the Winter Olympics, I, Tonya reminded America of one of one of the craziest and scandalous pop culture stories ever. Tonya Harding’s “hit” on Nancy Kerrigan was one of the most talked about events of the ‘90s, and I, Tonya delivered the story in a unique and self-deprecating way that most viewers will find entertaining. Alison Janney will likely reap the rewards from the fim’s success with a Best Supporting Actress win, but a dressed down Margot Robbie is who steals the show.
mother!: This movie may confuse a lot of people at first, since its events become increasingly outlandish and unrealistic, but further thought will help you realize that film is one giant religious allegory. I personally was captivated from start to finish, and while Javier Bardem and a supporting cast of Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris and Domhnall Gleeson are good, the movie is carried by the phenomenon that is Jennifer Lawrence. Even though what’s happening may seem crazy, her human reactions to what’s unfolding actually makes it all believable.
The Darkest Hour: The Darkest hour had the unfortunate timing of being released in the shadow of another WWII drama, Dunkirk. But it still holds its own, thanks almost entirely to the outstanding performance of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. We watch as English leadership struggles to navigate its way through an increasingly bleak war. In steps Churchill to save the day. History buffs will be very satisfied.
The Disaster Artist: On the surface, a story about one of the worst films in modern history doesn’t sound too appealing, but James Franco and his pals managed to make it both highly intriguing and hysterically entertaining. Franco, who became engulfed in controversy amid the #MeToo movement, is spot on as the mysterious, cult icon Tommy Wiseau, managing to capture the man’s severe eccentricities, and at the same time, his unwavering determination.
Split: Just when you thought M. Night Shyamalan was completely washed up, he comes back with a vengeance and gives us Split. Sure, it may set back the public perception of people with split personality disorders for years, but nobody can deny that this movie is genuinely thrilling and entertaining, thanks in large part to a tour de force performance by James McAvoy. The film probably doesn’t succeed without him. That being said, it also wouldn’t have been quite as good without breakout star Anya Taylor Joy, who plays one of the girls who is kidnapped by McAvoy’s eerie character.
Other 2017 films worth watching:
The Florida Project: From the writer/director of 2015’s Tangerine, The Florida Project gives us a version of America from a much maligned group: the destitute. But we see it mostly through the eyes of young kids, experiencing briefly what it’s like to live to of a grimy motel. For the adults, it’s paycheck-to-paycheck uncertainty and misery. For children, it’s a playground. It’s really an astonishing film that a lot of people probably won’t want to see. Williem DaFoe gives arguably his best performance ever, and it’s a shame he’ll lose Best Supporting Actor to Sam Rockwell.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: This film should have gotten a lot more love. It’s somewhat of a coming of age story under quite unique circumstances, with Domhnall Gleeson portraying A.A. Milne, as we see the inspiration for beloved children’s story Winnie the Pooh. While one may anticipate this being a happy movie, we learn that the events actually ruined the life and childhood of his son, who was the inspiration for Christopher Robin. It’s an excellent story full of wonder, but the somberness may have been the reason this film never caught on.
The Greatest Showman: This is just a fun and entertaining movie from start to finish. Hush Jackman plays P.T. Barnum, and the musical tells the story how he came to create and popularize the P.T. Barnum circus, which sadly shut down for good a year ago. The Original music — by the acclaimed songwriters behind La La Land’s and Dear Evan Hansen’s respective scores — is the reason to see this movie. It’s all super catchy and performed well by its musicians. Look for the performance of “This is Me” by Keala Settle to steal the show at the Oscars tonight.
Molly’s Game: Written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain? How can this not be good? Molly’s Game is full of highly entertaining and fast paced dialogue, a Sorkin specialty, but also provides us with just a very interesting story: a high end New York City poker game whose hostess gets up in federal racketeering charges. I enjoyed it.
Brigsby Bear: Easily one of the best indie films of the year. Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney plays, well… basically himself. Brigsby Bear is about a 30-something manchild who gets rescued after he spent his entire life in the custody of kidnappers, who, while they didn’t necessarily mistreat him, awkwardly raised him by showing him a made-up TV show called Brigsby Bear. Now rescued, our heroic manchild sets out to create his own Brigsby movie with the help of a dissatisfied police officer, his sister and her friends. it’s out there … but worth seeing.
Baby Driver: Definitely the flashiest movie of the year. A high powered cast of Ansel Elgort, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey and Lily James deliver us a fun film involving good-looking people, car chases and plenty of action. Look for it to win some technical Oscars tonight.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer: For any students of non-mainstream films, anything by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is mandatory viewing. This compelling, borderline disturbing film involves an accomplished surgeon (a good Colin Ferrell) whose family becomes ensnared in a puzzling, supernatural hex derived by a young man of questionable sanity, who is outstandingly played by Barry Keoghan. Challenge yourself one day and give it a whirl.
The Lost City of Z: Based on the excellent book by investigative reporter and author David Grann, The Lost City of Z almost takes an ethereal, mystical look at the life of explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the early 20th century trying to discover a lost civilization — “Z” — in the Amazon Jungle.
Stronger: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, the well-known survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs in the explosion. The film is far from perfect, but Gyllenhaal is really good in this movie that provides an uplifting look at someone whose life took a major turn for the worst.
Detroit: The movie that zero conservatives will see. The film focuses on the notorious 1967 Detroit riots at the peak of racial tensions amid the Civil Rights movement. The story centers on a highly controversial occurrence that took place in a motel regarding a group of young people — mostly black — who were allegedly terrorized by police. I say allegedly because the true events are still unclear, and director Kathryn Bigelow uses creative liberties in telling it. Still, it’s a highly suspenseful, captivating and important film, and a highly relevant one, at that.
A Ghost Story: Casey Affleck, who wears a white bed sheet over his body for 90 percent of the film, gives his best performance to date. Just kidding. But not really. A Ghost Story goes heavy on the themes of death, time and space, and may leave some viewers frustrated and scratching their head. But it tries to be artistic, and I think it deserves the benefit of the doubt. it’ll certainly spark some type of emotion, at the very least. And after all, isn’t that the true purpose of art?
Beach Rats: An absolute breakout performance by English actor Harris Dickinson drives this film, which is about a teenager growing up in Brooklyn while dealing with his own sexuality. The whole film is very well done, but Dickinson is the draw here. His New York accent sounds so authentic that I never would have guessed he’s not from this country. If you skip this film because you’re uncomfortable watching gay scenes, then you’re not only ignorant but depriving yourself of a great film.
Last Flag Flying: I added a bonus film because Last Flag Flying, while ultimately forgettable, is a nice watch that carries a lot of emotion. It’s about three old Vietnam war buddies, well played by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, after one of their sons is killed in action. They take a road trip together to bury him.
And now you’re caught up. Enjoy the show! And maybe I’ll blog again sometime this year.