‘A bunch of decent movies’
TTV film critics recap the year in film
JEFF HUSTON: Joe, let’s crawl out from under our “for your consideration” DVD screener pile to get our bearings on this year’s awards season.
Before we start picking through the onslaught of year-end releases, what movies from the first 10 months of 2017 have endured, in your estimation? For me, “Get Out” is the easy one. Jordan Peele’s horror/racism allegory is so clever, smart, and relevant.
Lesser-known indies that also still resonate: the experimental “A Ghost Story” from David Lowery, starring Casey Affleck. Last year’s Best Actor plays a ghost in the form of a bed sheet, but it’s all very heady and philosophical. There’s also “It Comes at Night” from Trey Edward Shults, another horror/thriller thick in genre atmosphere. It delivers on the promise of Shults’s microbudget 2016 breakout “Krisha.”
Joe O’Shansky: I loved the rarefied anxiety of “Krisha,” but Shults’s new film still sits in my “not seen” pile. Like you, I’m playing catch-up. It’s probably not surprising that genre stuff made an impression on me earlier this year.
“Kong: Skull Island” and “Logan” both redefined the terms of their predecessors. “Wonder Woman” was great and, for a brief moment, gave one hope that the DC films wouldn’t all suck. Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” is a gangbuster action comedy, a masterclass in film editing—it better get nominated for that—and a welcome return to form for one of my favorite directors. “Get Out” is exactly the kind of subversive, vital filmmaking I want from the wildly talented Jordan Peele.
But if I were putting up a top 10, what comes to mind are Danny Boyle’s unlikely perfect “T2 Trainspotting” and the equally unlikely masterpiece “Blade Runner 2049.”
“City of Ghosts,” the story of the fall of Raqqa, Syria to ISIS, destroyed me. I won’t see a better, more traumatizing documentary this year. Or, hopefully, for the rest of my life. “The Florida Project” feels like a new American New Wave film, this year’s “American Honey,” but better.
Do you have a nascent top 10 in your head now that we’ve seen some of the late-season awards bait?
Huston: Much like the title of a top awards contender, my current top 10 has the shape of water, which is to say it’s very fluid. I’ve been underwhelmed by what this Oscar season has offered. The only entry that’s won my heart completely is Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age gem “Lady Bird,” an absolute charmer that seems to literally gush off the screen.
I’m a bit more mixed on looming releases like “The Shape of Water” and Steven Spielberg’s “The Post.” Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War fantasy romance creature feature [“The Shape”] is the better artistic accomplishment of the two. But both stories are in serious need of nuance and complexity; Spielberg’s more so, since it aspires to realism and indicting the notion of fake news.
“Hostiles,” however, is a towering Western that has yet to get a Tulsa release date. I was fortunate enough to catch it at a special event put on by Circle Cinema, honoring co-star Wes Studi. Along with Tommy Lee Jones’s “The Homesman” from 2014, director Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles” ranks among the genre’s best since Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” It may also boast Christian Bale’s best performance to date, which is saying something.
O’Shansky: Man, I should have been at that “Hostiles” screening. Cooper is great. And I feel you on the underwhelm-ment—let’s call that a word now—concerning the late-season awards-bait releases so far. Except for “The Shape of Water.” #TeamFishMan.
The much anticipated and hyped “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” proved Martin McDonagh can hit flat notes. I didn’t dislike it like you did, but he clearly has a better ear for the characters of his homeland. The similar level of hype for “Call Me by Your Name” was unfounded. It’s just fine. On the other hand, I’d recommend “The Post” watch “Spotlight” to see how it’s done.
My favorite late-season releases have largely been docs and foreign films. A great palate cleanser for the PTSD-inducing “City of Ghosts” is the hilarious “Too Funny to Fail,” which tells the story of the lamentably short-lived “The Dana Carvey Show.” “Jim and Andy” was a hoot, just for how unabashedly weird Jim Carrey actually is.
Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s bizarre, revelatory artistic satire “The Square” had me fascinated by the myriad rabbitholes of its cultural and sexual commentary. Did I say “City of Ghosts”? Yeah, I did. Christ, that movie.
Aside from “Mother!”—though “Phantom Thread” awaits—nothing really felt that important this year. “I, Tonya” was surprisingly perfect for right now—and a blast of a movie. “Lady Bird” made me cry. Her mom loves her so much.
But, yeah, it’s like we saw a bunch of decent movies with almost incongruously great performances.
How about you? Anything that put a lump in your throat? Perhaps “The Last Jedi”?
Huston: Pre-Jedi, that’s easy: “The Big Sick” and “Coco.” And “Wonder,” too, for that matter, but Kumail Nanjiani’s fictionalized take on his real-life romance is something particularly special. With various threads that blend seamlessly—a love story, health crisis, potential in-laws, and culture clash—“The Big Sick” is the best rom-com of the young 21st century.
There’s also the tragically underseen “Maudie,” the better Sally Hawkins film of the year. She portrays Canada’s most famous painter, who suffered from arthritis and lived in poverty. God, that performance moved me. I wanted to hug her, but then that’s a common response to nearly any Hawkins performance.
I found myself moved by the end of “Dunkirk,” which earns its heroism after Nolan masterfully weaves three separate timelines during the same WWII battle, capturing the intimate on an epic scale. Shout out, too, to “Wonder Woman” for giving me chills when she emerges as her heroic self in WWI’s No Man’s Land. Badass. It was the right blockbuster at the right time.
And “The Last Jedi”? Unfortunately, it fits squarely into our running theme: underwhelmed. I liked it, and that final stretch is truly epic, but the Force wasn’t strong in the belabored build-up. It’s not prequel-embarrassing, but it’s not inspiring either.
O’Shansky: That No Man’s Land shot in “Wonder Woman” dropped my jaw because I finally found myself fully invested in a DC film without a snarky word from my internal monologue. One of those “it’s about time” moments, for more reasons than one.
I can’t believe I didn’t mention “Dunkirk” earlier, since it might be my favorite Nolan movie. Elegant; his typical watchmaker convolution is muted and imbued with an emotional intimacy largely missing from his work—yes, even “Interstellar.”
As for “The Last Jedi,” I liked it more than you, though your initial take is pretty spot-on. It’s overstuffed. But after the semi-schizoid pacing of “The Force Awakens,” it felt confident enough to breathe and take some chances. Despite the familiarity, it surprised me more than once. And it really sticks the landing.
It’s hard for me to not be overwhelmed by that world, even when it underwhelms.