BILL’s BIZARRE BIJOU
William D. Carl
“My Favorite Films of 2017”
2017 was an extremely good period for films, but I noticed something unusual this year. Among my favorite movies, there were very few studio films from the big guys; my list consisted almost entirely of independent films with a few notable exceptions. This is also the first year in many that my list has not included an animated film (none of them wowed me this year), but many of the films that made the list were challenging, and several were exceptionally artistic. Let’s work our way backwards, starting with a bit of a cheat . . .
11 (tie) Mother! and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER were both very intelligent films that each contained flaws which kept them from making my top ten, but they are, nonetheless, fabulously smart and fascinating works of art. Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a bold Biblical allegory that features stunning set pieces, but the symbolism got pretty heavy-handed sometimes, while Yorgos Lanthimos’s THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER features a terrifying, suspenseful storyline with a not-so-obvious metaphor about Agammemnon, but the stilted, robotic performances that are supposed to remind us of Greek drama only distanced me from the story, leaving my emotions frozen.
10. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is a fantastic showpiece for the amazing performances of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and, especially, Sam Rockwell, as it peers into the lives of several shattered people, ably demonstrating how rage only serves to further enrage and spread damage. The acting and script elevate it over the rather pedestrian direction, but, oh, that delightfully profane dialogue!
9. GET OUT is a brilliant horror movie/social satire that manages to entertain wildly while making the viewer very uncomfortable with the underscored racism . . . and that’s the point! Jordan Peele’s directorial debut shows what can be done with terrific actors and a crackling script, and it manages to prove that audience’s expectations can be completely overturned.
8. WONDERSTRUCK is as experimental a children’s movie as I have ever seen. Todd Haynes directs Brian Selznick’s self-adapted screenplay from his book, and it all somehow works. Two deaf children experience New York City, fifty years apart – one in a black and white silent film and one in a garishly-colored 1970s NYC with dialogue and funky music. What is their connection? I guessed it early, but it still moved me immensely.
7. MUDBOUND is a gritty little film, detailing the lives of two families in 1940s rural Mississippi. They are each farmers, but one family is white and the other is black. When each has a son that goes to war and returns damaged, the real drama begins. With outstanding performances from Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Garret Hedlund, and especially Jason Mitchell, this one will break your heart. It debuted on Netflix, and I wish I could have seen it in a theater.
6. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a magnificent, visually-stunning sequel to the beloved BLADE RUNNER (1982) by brilliant visionary Denis Villeneuve. Some found is slow and dull while I was entranced and fell right under the spell of the sheer gorgeousness of it all. Pretty pictures do not make a film, but this one also features a psychologically complex storyline and terrific performances, so there is more to it that the way it looks and sounds.
5. (tie) THE SHAPE OF WATER and A GHOST STORY are each new takes on old monsters, but they are wildly different in execution. Guillermo del Toro’s cold war fishman love story is a delightful mélange of 1940s musicals (often referencing one of my favorite actresses, Alice Faye!), romance, and bloody monster movie. It was disconcerting to me that the actual fishman escape was so easy, but I can forgive anything that features a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire musical number featuring a monster and Sally Hawkins. The cast in this one is also astonishing, and the ending is quite moving. A GHOST STORY, on the other hand, is something brilliantly new. After a woman’s husband dies, he watches her as she grieves, eats an entire pie, gets older, and moves on, all while lurking in the background as a white-sheeted ghost for years and years. It’s a simple premise, but the results are devastating, and that infamous slow pace actually adds to the dream-like quality and the way we, as humans, suffer through time.
4. LADY BIRD is a simple story well told, the tale of one young, rebellious girl’s last year in Catholic High School and her aggrieved mother, brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. The hilarious moments are perfectly balanced by the parental feelings of loss as our heroine finds herself and leaves for college. Those final scenes are stunning pieces of characterization, and writer/director Greta Gerwig could be our new Woody Allen (only without that ick factor).
3. FRANTZ is the new film from auteur Francois Ozon, and it is easily one of his best, if not his best work yet. Filmed in glorious black and white, it details the story of a German family grieving the loss of their son in WWI. When his fiancé discovers a French man leaving flowers at the grave, the mystery as to the relationship between these two young men begins. Beautifully shot and scripted and featuring two amazing lead performances, this is a lovely film that deserves more recognition.
2. STEP is a documentary, simply my favorite personal documentary of its type since HOOP DREAMS (1994). An inner city school for African-American girls was started in Baltimore twelve years ago with the single aim to have a hundred percent of that class graduate and get accepted into college. Now, those girls are seniors, and director Amanda Lipitz focuses her camera on three girls on the step team as they progress toward a big competition and their graduation. One is brilliant and wants to attend Johns Hopkins, one is a bit of a clown and is often tortured by her mother, and the third is a young woman who often has no food, no parental guidance, no heat in her house, and no reason to attend college. All she has is step. The real hero of the piece is Paula Dofat, the guidance counselor who will do anything . . .ANYTHING . . . to help these children. It’s an important piece of work as education is unfunded and given very little value in our me-first society. I dare you not to cry! I dare you!
AND MY NUMBER 1 CHOICE:
BRIGSBY BEAR came and went, virtually unnoticed, but please watch this wonderful movie. I beg you. It tells the story of a young man who, as a toddler, was kidnapped. Raised by two people he believes are his parents in a bunker and told that the world is ending and the air is poisonous, his only companion is a tacky live-action TV program, Brigsby Bear, which is written and filmed by his abductors to teach him math and life lessons, like to question all government. When the man is saved and returned to his real parents—strangers to him—he needs to adjust to life outside the bunker, and the only way he thinks he will be able to move on is to write, direct, and show a final episode of Brigsby Bear that ends the storyline. Only then can he get on with his own life. With great performances by Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, and Greg Kinnear, this is a brilliant film about the importance of art in our lives, and it took me by surprise and charmed the socks off of me. It’s big-hearted, completely original, and unpredictable. How often can you say that about a film?
RUNNERS UP: These are all very good films that just didn’t make the list, but all are worthy of viewing and discussion. In no particular order, I heartily recommend:
DAVE MADE A MAZE; THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER; THE BIG SICK; DUNKIRK; WONDER WOMAN; OKJA; GIRLS TRIP; STRONGER; THE DISASTER ARTIST; BABY DRIVER; COLUMBUS; THEIR FINEST; FACES, PLACES; and (if I am allowed to add a mini-series from Netflix) GODLESS, the best Western in more than twenty years.
There are also several films which have not played near me yet, which could change this whole list like THE PHANTOM THREAD, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, THE SQUARE, and CALL ME BY YOUR name, but I must go with only those I have seen with my own eyeballs. I still can’t wait to watch these!
That’s it for now. Soon, I will also reveal my picks for Bill’s Bizarre Blu-Rays of the Year, which will feature new releases and reissues that stunned me, scared me, made me laugh, and made my jaw drop to the floor.
© Copyright 2018 by William D. Carl