Select­ed by Paul Stathakis | March 4, 2018

 


Luca Guadagnino’s tale of romance between two male lovers was the year’s most mov­ing pic­ture. A roman­tic dra­ma can only touch us if it has a strong and con­vinc­ing love sto­ry at its core. “Call Me By Your Name” is for­tu­nate to have one that blos­soms large­ly because of the chem­istry between Oliv­er (Armie Ham­mer) and Elio (Tim­o­th­ee Cha­la­met). Noth­ing about their rela­tion­ship feels unnat­ur­al even though one is a teenag­er and the oth­er, an adult. Guadagni­no, a direc­tor in full con­trol, care­ful­ly builds on the sex­u­al ten­sion before offer­ing an inti­mate scene. Ham­mer and Cha­la­met, both straight actors, deliv­er out­stand­ing per­for­mances with great con­vic­tion and finesse. And what could be a more fit­ting loca­tion for set­ting than Italy where the sun always seems to shine brighter, where peo­ple always look and feel sex­i­er, and where the land­scape looks pur­er and clean­er. Watch for Michael Stuhlbarg, who stars as Elio’s sup­port­ive father. His mono­logue in the final min­utes of the film was one of the best pieces of dia­logue in recent mem­o­ry.

 

I’m old enough to remem­ber the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing the Tonya Harding/Nancy Ker­ri­g­an sto­ry. It marked the 1994 Win­ter Olympic games. Some­one some­where in Hol­ly­wood thought it might be a good idea to revis­it this sto­ry and, boy where they ever right in doing so. “I, Tonya” was direct­ed by Craig Gille­spie, a direc­tor whose film ever was the 2007 com­e­dy “Mr. Wood­cock.” Con­sid­er­ing his small body of work, this feels like the work of a sea­soned direc­tor. Mar­got Rob­bie is sim­ply per­fect as Hard­ing. This was the best female per­for­mance of 2017. Peri­od. Rob­bie lends every bit of her ener­gy, enthu­si­asm, comedic tal­ent, and phys­i­cal­i­ty to this role. It’s her film from start to fin­ish. Alli­son Jan­ney, who plays Harding’s abu­sive moth­er, is equal­ly ter­rif­ic. Def­i­nite­ly the best sup­port­ing per­for­mance by an actress in 2017. She is cold and piti­less right down to the end­ing where, for a brief moment, we feel as though she may reveal a gen­tler, more humane side of her­self. Some view­ers may be divid­ed over the film’s por­tray­al of Hard­ing. Does it try to vic­tim­ize her? To a cer­tain degree, yes. Does it try to make her the vic­tim in the famous scan­dal? Not nec­es­sar­i­ly. We feel for her main­ly because of her upbring­ing and the abuse she’s had to endure along the way, includ­ing her hap­less love life. Look no fur­ther for a film that retells a sto­ry with incred­i­ble detail from the events sur­round­ing the scan­dal to the out­fits worn on ice to the adver­tise­ments dis­played on the rink’s boards.

 

Mud­bound” is a pic­ture that aims straight for the heart. It painful­ly depicts racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in a time where there is still racial insta­bil­i­ty in the world. The film cen­ters on two sol­diers, played by Gar­rett Hed­lund and Jason Mitchell, who return home from the Sec­ond World War to work on a farm in rur­al Mis­sis­sip­pi. What fol­lows is a spir­it­ed friend­ship between the two men. “Mud­bound” con­tains  both dia­logue and imagery that could be dis­tress­ing for some. But any film that attempts to show the true plight of African Amer­i­can farm­ers can’t afford to cut any cor­ners. “Mud­bound” is no excep­tion. Direc­tor Dee Rees nev­er lets the actors or the view­ers, for that mat­ter, become too com­fort­able. There’s always dan­ger lin­ger­ing in the air. Unset­tling as it may be, it gives a sense of the fear that regret­tably enveloped many col­ored peo­ple and fam­i­lies dur­ing that peri­od. Though the film cuts back and forth between farm life and the war in Ger­many, it is the sit­u­a­tion in Mis­sis­sip­pi that takes prece­dence. It is more fright­en­ing and heavy than any­thing else. The film also fea­tures pow­er­ful per­for­mances from Carey Mul­li­gan, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Rob Mor­gan, and Mary. J Blige.  “Mud­bound” is a par­tic­u­lar­ly hard film to watch but it is unde­ni­ably also one of the decade’s most impor­tant pic­tures.

 

Every now and again, a few real­ly good films are only seen by a hand­ful of view­ers. They ulti­mate­ly go by unno­ticed espe­cial­ly when they arrive ear­ly in the year. “Wind Riv­er”, by actor/director Tay­lor Sheri­dan, is an exam­ple of such a film. It has all the hall­marks that make up a great west­ern and yet it seems to have found a rest­ing place on the side­lines. It stars Jere­my Ren­ner as a vet­er­an track­er with the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice who helps to solve a crime involv­ing a young Native Amer­i­can woman. Eliz­a­beth Olsen stars as a cop who joins forces with Ren­ner. Filmed in Wyoming, “Wind Riv­er” is not just an arrest­ing thriller but also a panoram­ic feast for the eyes. This is a thriller that keeps view­ers guess­ing. It isn’t hur­ried. Every­one deals with loss dif­fer­ent­ly. Watch close­ly how each char­ac­ter in this film is affect­ed by this tragedy, espe­cial­ly Gil Birm­ing­ham who plays the victim’s griev­ing but hope­ful father. The pain is evi­dent and real.

 

The Big Sick” is in the same cat­e­go­ry with films like “When Har­ry Met Sal­ly” and “500 Days of Sum­mer” in that it under­stands the com­plex­i­ties of love well enough. It’s a film with a big heart. It will make you think, laugh, and cry. But not nec­es­sar­i­ly in that order. It was co-writ­ten by one of its main actors, Pak­istan-born come­di­an Kumail Nan­jiani, who shares the writ­ing cred­its with his wife Emi­ly V. Gor­don. This is essen­tial­ly based on Nanjiani’s own per­son­al life. His sto­ry is heart­warm­ing and it touch­es on many impor­tant top­ics includ­ing cul­ture, tra­di­tion, and reli­gion. You don’t have to be of Pak­istani descent to relate to this won­der­ful film. Every­body knows at least one per­son who’s had to fight for love and, con­se­quent­ly, not only their par­ents’ con­sent but their bless­ing as well. The film also stars Hol­ly Hunter, Ray Romano, and Zoe Kazan who are indis­pens­able to this film. There are two scenes to watch for. One involves Nan­jiani and Romano shar­ing a bed­room. The oth­er involves Nan­jiani con­fronting his tra­di­tion­al par­ents. No oth­er 2017 film will make you feel any hap­pi­er.

 

To watch “Split” is to wit­ness writer/director M. Night Shya­malan con­tin­ue his return to form. It start­ed with “The Vis­it” and now it con­tin­ues here in a film that is filled with thrills, twists, and many turns. In a year that saw DC and Mar­vel expand on its uni­vers­es with char­ac­ter cross-overs, Shya­malan decid­ed to cre­ate a uni­verse of his own. The trail­er doesn’t reveal any of the major sur­pris­es. There­fore, I won’t either. Suf­fice it to say that James McAvoy is out­stand­ing in his por­tray­al of a man deal­ing with sev­er­al dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. The fun in watch­ing in him here is that you nev­er know which per­son­al­i­ty is going to sur­face. Some of them are nice. Some of them, dia­bol­i­cal. And then there are those that are inno­cent and naive. McAvoy is live­ly and seems to have enjoyed, as an actor, switch­ing between these per­sonas. Shya­malan keeps us on the edge of our seat. “Split” is one heck of a grip­ping film and its sur­prise end­ing will sure­ly leave Shya­malan fans yearn­ing for more.

 

Richard Lin­klater direct­ed “Last Flag Fly­ing.” This is the man who direct­ed the “Before tril­o­gy” and the acclaimed film “Boy­hood.” It also stars three of Hollywood’s finest actors: Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Lau­rence Fish­burne. And yet, much like “Wind Riv­er”, it didn’t find a large audi­ence in 2017. Carell stars as a griev­ing father who learns that his Marine son was killed in the Iraq War. To bury his son, Carell calls on his old Viet­nam pals from thir­ty years ago (played by Cranston and Fish­burne) to help out. What fol­lows is a thought-pro­vok­ing tale of hon­our, decep­tion, and the pain that comes with hav­ing to accept the things one can­not con­trol. “Last Flag Fly­ing” is a bold film that takes aim at the U.S. gov­ern­ment, the Marines, and war in gen­er­al. The char­ac­ters say and do things out of anger. But then they come around and embrace the pos­i­tives. It’s hard to think one way con­sis­tent­ly when you receive sev­er­al mixed mes­sages from the very peo­ple you serve. Lin­klater under­stands this notion and his char­ac­ters strug­gle to deal with the past and the present. Of course, in between, there’s always time for a good, much-need­ed laugh. Watch for the scene on the train where the men share amus­ing sto­ries and break out into laugh­ter. It’s a beau­ti­ful moment and a reminder that we must always, no mat­ter what, find a way to smile.

 

Won­der Woman” deserves its place on this list because it is the finest super­hero film since Sam Raimi’s “Spi­der-Man 2.” Even though Gal Gadot has por­trayed Won­der Woman in pre­vi­ous DC films, this is her big offi­cial intro­duc­tion. Thanks to the film’s ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry set­ting, “Won­der Woman” real­ly stands out from the oth­er super­hero fran­chis­es. It also fea­tures some of the best dia­logue as well. Con­sid­er a scene where Gadot and Chris Pine, who stars as her love inter­est, dis­cuss the con­cept of mar­riage when Pine refus­es to lay down next to her on a boat. “You don’t sleep with women?”, she asks. Pine answers, “No, I mean, I do sleep with women. I sleep with, yes, I do. But, out of the con­fines of mar­riage, it’s not polite to assume, you know.” When Won­der Woman then asks about mar­riage, Pine offers the fol­low­ing expla­na­tion: “You go before a judge and you swear to love, hon­our and cher­ish each oth­er until death do you part.” “And do they? Love each oth­er till death?”, she asks. Pine then poignant­ly replies, “Not very often. No.” There’s an abun­dance of clever dia­logue like this through­out and great humour as well. Anoth­er scene has Won­der Woman try­ing on dif­fer­ent cloth­ing to be less notice­able on Earth. She finds the right pair­ing only to exit the store hold­ing her shield and sword. It’s a delight­ful film, dif­fer­ent, charm­ing, and very refresh­ing.

 

Den­zel Wash­ing­ton received an Oscar nom­i­na­tion for his per­for­mance in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” and he total­ly deserves it. Wash­ing­ton has been con­sis­tent­ly choos­ing chal­leng­ing roles in the last few years. Here, he shines as Roman, a defence attor­ney who gets caught in the mid­dle of a com­plex and dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. Col­in Far­rell is also ter­rif­ic in a sup­port­ing role, play­ing a man we’re nev­er quite sure we can entire­ly trust. This is a small but sim­ple film, one which hits all the right notes with char­ac­ters that are flawed indi­vid­u­als but nonethe­less like­able.

 

Any­one who loves movies even­tu­al­ly hears about Tom­my Wiseau and his film “The Room.” It’s known by many main­ly because it’s con­sid­ered to be the worst film ever made. As a result, it has grown tremen­dous­ly in pop­u­lar­i­ty over the years, ris­ing to the sta­tus of “cult clas­sic.” Yes, it’s a bad film. As a friend once not­ed, it’s so bad that it’s actu­al­ly good. In case you have no idea who Wiseau is or what “The Room” looks and sounds like, James Franco’s “The Dis­as­ter Artist” is a great start­ing point. Like “I, Tonya”, it’s a very detailed film in that it painstak­ing­ly recre­ates the events sur­round­ing the mak­ing of Wiseau’s film. We are treat­ed to a side by side com­par­i­son between Wiseau and Franco’s film at the end of “The Dis­as­ter Artist” that real­ly makes the case. It is as fun­ny as it is strange. In short, “The Dis­as­ter Artist” is every­thing that “The Room” was and still is: enter­tain­ing for lack of a bet­ter word.

 

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