Fall is upon us. As the leaves change and the days get shorter, before the holiday struggle for cinematic accolades begins, let’s take a moment to reflect on a totally subjective, anecdotal look at the movies that have merited discussion so far this year.
Seen in multiplexes and art houses, on date nights and alone in matinees, I have liked most of these films; and one or two, I haven’t. But other people have. So here it is:
The First Half of My 10 Favorite Movies So Far for 2017:
10. Baby Driver
People loved this movie. Driving to the beat of his own iPod playlist, Baby is the putative charismatically cool frontman of Edgar Wright’s rocking caper about a gifted getaway driver who discovers that it’s difficult to extricate one’s self from a life of crime.
The soundtrack is great; the action, amazingly well choreographed and shot. The dialogue is snappy, the acting great, the set-direction superlative. The men are hot, and the women hotter. In service of what…?
The story is as thin as an oil-slick on a rain-soaked, two-lane blacktop. Other than Baby, the characters lack any depth. They’re cartoonish concepts of people, with no real humanity. There’s a pivotal scene in the middle of the film where Jamie Foxx tries to guess the backstory of each member of his crew and define them. He cleverly sums up their defining traits like a director dictating a cast list to his script supervisor. If only the characters on screen reflected any of the qualities he assigns them.
A mash up of genres, the music is thumping. The dialogue crisp. The action exhilarating. The film is a masterpiece of style over substance. With 2-dimensional characters that lack humanity, who really cares…?
Dispensing with exposition, this film thrusts the viewer into the visually lush world of the WWII evacuation of Dunkirk. Split into three interwoven time frames and perspectives (land, sea and air), the movie, the film is visually astounding — as all Nolan films are. But the movie cares little for character or contextual background.
It’s filled with grand set pieces that put the viewer in the middle of the chaos; but like Baby Driver, without well-defined, 3-dimensional characters and a context for what each cares about on a personal level, I was never invested in anyone. And with outcome known, I never found the suspense fully engaging.
It has towering scale, superb staging and inventive structure; the movie is an epic directorial feat. But if film a war and no one goes to see it, who really wins…?
8. Dawson City: Frozen Time
In 1978, a construction worker in Dawson City exhumed 372 silent films from the turn of the 20th century, printed across over 500,000 feet of nitrate film. 40 years later, Bill Morrison spliced together the found footage. With corroded film, a cascading soundscape and overlayed text, the movie chronicles the Klondike Goldrush, and a town’s turbulent history. It’s part documentary, part mystery; a reminder of how far filmmaking has come, and how much its core elements remain the same 100-yrs later.
7. Wonder Woman
Produced and directed by women, Wonder Woman breathed new life into the deadest of genres — superhero blockbusters. It’s strength and weakness is its origin story.
By reimagining its main character in a way that brings her into the relatively modern world of WWII, it gives a neo-feminist spin to the genre. At the same time, its origin story takes so long to get started that by the time the plot actually kicks into gear, the movie is a third over and there’s little surprise left for the viewer.
Conflating history and fantasy, the movie is filled with CGI spectacle that’s entertaining but not new. It’s feminist perspective gives the film – and the genre – fresh life. Guided by a heartening belief in the goodness of mankind, Wonder Woman had brains, beauty and brawn. If only she’d had a plot with that much depth.
Seventeen years after gracing the screen, Wolverine finally gets to end his warrior story. In this final chapter, Logan is a whiskey-guzzling drunk numbing the past and courting death. Stewart’s Professor X is a decaying psychic warhead. And Laura is a genetic prototype with claws like Logan. Forced to be the protector one last time, Logan does it with a profound sense of loss and a fatalistic philosophy that elevates this film above its genre.
With Wolverine’s death assured at the end, the writers were able to embrace the golden rule of screenwriting and the bane of serialized action films – change. Logan, whose body can mend five-minute-old bullet wounds in a flash, is finally allowed to confront a lifetime of loss. In doing so, he goes from being a mutant outsider to an outsider who finally gets to embrace the human experience of love. I’m not a fan of this genre, but I loved this movie.