Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #1

We've saved the best for last: Luca Guadagnino's poignant and haunting "Call Me By Your Name," a story of first love lost and self found with a (huge star-making) lead performance by Timothée Chalamet that's fifty decibels softer than Oldman's in "Darkest Hour" yet infinitely truer, more penetrating and more memorable.

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #2

Reminiscent of Bill Forsyth’s great “Housekeeping,” Aisling Walsh’s “Maudie,” a biography of the Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, staked claim to the highest in cinematic achievement in the first half of 2017. Profoundly moving without a hint of the maudlin, it stands on the shoulders of Oscar-worthy performances by Sally Hawkins and, as Maud’s husband Everett, Ethan Hawke, and a Sherry White script that speaks volumes in few words.

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #3

The Safdie Brothers' "Good Time" plays like a contemporary update of Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" with a criminal overlay. An unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (whose "Maps to the Stars" scene as a chauffeur driving a boldly suggestive Julianne Moore through Beverly Hills is perhaps the sexiest of recent years) stars as a hood who enlists his slow younger brother (Benny Safdie) in a botched bank robbery, then tries to break him out of Rikers, eventually plucking the wrong handcuffed guy (Buddy Duress) out of a hospital on a perfervid and hallucinatory nighttime odyssey through the underbelly of New York. Events feel increasingly disconnected from reality, culminating in a did-that-really-just-happen moment that I will never forget. The cast, featuring the terrific Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh in small supporting roles, is uniformly excellent, led by the chameleonic Pattinson, a serious and thoughtful cineaste who's going to be around for a long time. So will the supremely stylish, adrenaline-fueled and draining "Good Time," which more than half of my audience watched enraptured to the last of the closing credits.

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #4

Harrowing yet exhilarating, Ruben Östlund's art-world satire "The Square" took the Palme D'Or at Cannes. Östlund's last film, "Force Majeure," made the top half of my top-ten list in 2014 (and its exclusion from the Oscar shortlist was another blot on the Academy). Östlund is better than any other director working at putting you smack in an unpleasant situation and forcing you to think about and decide what you would do. It's a cinema of dilemma, but more so a cinema of discomfort. Things - aural things even more than visual - are always happening around the edges of his frame that keep his characters and us from ever being able to relax. I was surprised but not shocked that both the friend I attended "The Square" with and two friends to whom I had recommended it walked out. I, on the other hand, was nodding my head up and down with excitement. In a largely moribund current cinema, "The Square" feels jarringly alive.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #5

Terence Davies' Emily Dickinson biopic "A Quiet Passion" features a nomination-worthy performance by Cynthia Nixon as the belle of Amherst, devoted sister (to Jennifer Ehle) and daughter (to Keith Carradine). Anything but stuffy or starchy, this is a full-bodied study of a woman, made with wit and, especially in the first half, laugh-out-loud humor (Catherine Bailey enchants as the naughty, ahead-of-her-time Miss Vryling Buffam). As in "The Deep Blue Sea," Davies evinces his mastery of light and darkness; where so many directors aim for the crepuscular glow of dusk, the hours between twilight and nightfall, when just a hint of illumination suffuses the house, belong to Davies as to no other. Also as in that film, which made my 2012 top-ten list, you may find yourself thinking deeper thoughts and feeling deeper emotions than you realized lay within you. Davies also makes use of the poetry itself - as read by Nixon - as effectively as any film since 2013's "Reaching for the Moon." What emerges is a portrait of a brilliant mind that rarely failed to get in the way of its owner's happiness.

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #6

Bill Condon’s live action “Beauty and the Beast” was a stunning surprise, an improvement on the animated classic of a quarter-century ago and the first certified crowd-pleaser of the movie year. Funny, witty, impeccably cast, fully imagined and movingly penned, it delights and enchants, eternal yet effortlessly of the moment.

The Ten Best Films of 2017: #7

David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde” stars a kick-ass, super-sexy Charlize Theron as MI6 superspy Lorraine Broughton, sent to Berlin to infiltrate an espionage ring and procure a vital information database. James McAvoy – in his best performance in years – is the station chief who alternately helps and hinders her; there’s also good work by Sofia Boutella (whose erotic scenes with Theron are only enhanced by the latter’s real-life lesbianism), Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, German vet Barbara Sukowa and the redoubtable John Goodman. This is a movie that’s beautiful to look at (I could watch it with the sound muted) but also to listen to (with a great new-wave soundtrack that fits the late-80s Berlin setting like a glove), with mordant humor and scenes of hand-to-hand combat far more ingenious and exciting than the director’s “John Wick” franchise. I can't wait to watch this flick again (and again).