Movies - Lists postsThursday March 01, 2018
Dates I Posted My Top 10 Movies of the Year
Yeah, sorry, this is mostly just for me.
Yesterday I got my top 10 movies of 2017 posted just hours before a self-imposed March 1 deadline, and it took a flurry of early-evening activity to pull it off. Even so. Feb. 28? I can't do better than that? Made me wonder when I posted the top 10 list in previous years.
Here are the dates, along with my #1 movie in parentheses.
- December 31, 2009 (“L‘Heure d’ete”)
- February 7, 2011 (“Un Prophete”)
- February 13, 2012 (“The Tree of Life”)
- February 10, 2013 (“De rouille et d‘os”)
- January 17, 2014 (“Wolf of Wall Steet”)
- January 12, 2015 (“Boyhood”)
- January 13, 2016 (“Theeb”)
- February 25, 2017 (“Manchester By the Sea”)
- February 28, 2018 (“Call Me By Your Name”)
I was impressed by all those mid-Januarys. And a December! The hell? Way to be on top of things, younger me.
I began to wonder about my #1s, too. Three of the first four were French. What happened to that? Them or me? Or Hollywood taking it up a notch? Mostly male stories, too: sensitive (“Manchester”) or insensitive (“Wolf”). The only female leads are in “L’heure” and “De rouille.” And “L‘heure” is more ensemble.
Next year is my 10th year doing this and I’m tired of this end-of-February shit. But the movie studios, releasing the best films later and later in the year, aren't helping much.
Top 10 Movies of 2017
OK, so I'm ridiculously late to this party. Sue me. It's been a busy few months. Plus it takes a while for some of these to show up in Seattle. Or on Amazon. So let's just get going, shall we?
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming: “Homecoming” does two things most superhero movies don’t. First, you get a real sense of how tough it is to put the “super” in “superhero.” Pete can scale the Washington Monument but it’s hardly effortless—any more than you or I doing wind-sprints up a hill would be effortless. Plus crimes don’t just happen, wah-lah, in front of you. He nabs a bike thief but can’t find the bike’s owner. At one point, with nothing to do, he helps an old lady with directions. The movie also answers the question David Mamet says every playwright/screenwriter needs to ask: What does the guy want? Generally, once a hero becomes super, they have no motivation other than a grand one (stopping crime, saving the world). Supervillains are the ones with schemes; heroes are just trying to stem the tide. Not here. Pete? He desperately wants to be an Avenger. He wants superhero friends. He wants a superhero home.
9. Louis CK 2017: I don't think that titular year turned out the way Louis CK imagined, but that shouldn't stop people from appreciating his brilliance. He's the greatest stand-up comic of the 21st century. He's a truthteller who held onto a dark secret. He begins this concert, which I saw live in Seattle in December 2016, by making comedy out of 1) abortion and 2) ISIS. Think about that. I assume he did it as a dare to himself. Well, it worked. I laughed harder at the ISIS bit than at just about anything in this horrible, horrible year.
8. Get Out: Great premise: Using the tropes of the horror genre to tell the story of a black guy visiting the family of his white girlfriend. It's racial awkwardness as the underlying horror of American society. Good follow-through: the GF is obtuse about race, thinking everyone's cool with everything; the father keeps dropping racial references to show how cool he is; the mother is steely and distant, perpetually stirring her tea. The white neighbors say inappropriate things. They‘re like the neighbors in “Rosemary’s Baby”: Everyone seems off. The third act doesn't undercuts a lot of this or “GO” would‘ve been higher.
7. Phantom Thread: I got a whiff of the serial killer at the outset. A ride in a sports car in the British countryside at night made me flash on Alex and his droogs in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Woodcock peeking through a peephole at how his fashion show is doing made me flash on Norman Bates doing the same with an undressing Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho.” Did Paul Thomas Anderson intend this? There's such a density to his movies. They feel beyond flickering images; they‘re palpable. Daniel Day-Lewis’ Woodcock, a precise, haute couture fashion designer in the 1950s, is heavier than all the CGI monsters in the world.
6. 120 BPM: The personal is political. It's also way more interesting. The first third of the French film “120 BPM” (Beats Per Minute) deals mostly with the comings and goings of ACT UP Paris in the early 1990s—their actions, stridency, the internecine battles between various players. You find yourself siding with this one ... or that one. And maybe sympathizing with that take ... or the other one. It's not until the focus lands on Sean, a radical, insouciant member, and his relationship with newbie Nathan, and then Sean's suddenly quick slide toward death, the thing they‘re all fighting, the thing we’re all fighting, that it hits you in the gut. That's when arguments about politics and tactics go out the door. It reminds you: Death is our greatest villain. It. Takes. Everything.
5. The Square: Writer-director Rebuen Ostlund is interested in cowardice—in what happens when men of the civilized and privileged upper classes face natural forces. In his previous film, “Force Majeur,” it was an avalanche. Here, it’s a thief. Then it’s confronting people with their possible thievery. Then it’s a noisy kid shouting his innocence in your face. It’s everything that’s avoided, and can afford to be avoided. And then when it can‘t.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: A movie about small-town police corruption and the battle of one woman, Mildred, to bring the truth to light? That’s how it seems at first, particularly when we meet Deputy Dixon, a dim, small-town bully known for racial profiling. But then Mildred has a tete-a-tete with Chief Willoughby, and the further the scene progresses, the more you feel your sympathies shift. The movie keeps shifting. By the end, it becomes a movie about all of us who are stuck between a desire for revenge and a need to forgive. Ourselves most of all.
3. Lady Bird: She’s a mix of contradictions. She displays confidence but isn’t. She may audition for the school musical, and run for school president, but she painfully aware that she’s a middle-class girl in a rich Catholic school. She’s authentic but pretends to be from richer homes; she pretends to have money. She drops one true friend for a prettier, more popular one. The irony is that once she gets the thing she wants, once she winds up in New York City, she embraces everything she’d previously rejected: her family, her church, California. Even her given name: Christine. She has to fly to let Lady Bird go.
2. The Big Sick: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl goes into coma, boy becomes closer to girl’s parents, girl wakes up and says, “What are you doing here, jerk, you already lost me.” Who knew this would be the recipe for the funniest, truest romantic comedy of the century? And how lovely to get such a round portrait of a Pakistani family, whose dilemmas are both new to the movies and universal. What Kumail goes through with his parents is what Portnoy did with his. The story of America is the story of assimilation, and Kumail's response to his parents is the response of every first-generation son and daughter: “Why did you bring me here if you wanted me to not have an American life? We come here, but we pretend like we‘re still back there?” Oh, and did I mention? It’s fucking funny.
1. Call Me By Your Name: In this impossibly beautiful Italian country home, Oliver is using Elio’s room, and Elio is forced into the smaller room on the other side of a shared bathroom, and the doors are like invitations or refusals. Generally when one is opening the other is closing. It’s red light, green light, keep away. There are little verbal attacks, snarky little bites that confuse the other, and probably the biter. The two men show off and compete, and, for a time, each sublimates his desire with a pretty Italian girl. (Not a bad way.) The point of the love story is to keep the lovers apart, and dramatists often bend over backwards to find ways, but “Call Me By Your Name” reminds us that we do a pretty fine job on our own.
See you next year. Hopefully sooner?
Past top 10s:
The Five Worst Movies of 2017
Alright, the five worst movies I saw.
That's actually true every year, but for some reason I feel the need to qualify it this year. Maybe because I have less distaste for these films? None of them horrified me like “Tusk,” or sickened me like “Nocturnal Animals,” or turned iconic heroes into ponderous boobs like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” None tried to make comedy out of a massive social anxiety. They just suck. They just dim down the culture a notch.
So maybe this year I got lucky? Or I'm inured? (Voice inside my head: Yes, you‘re a nerd.) Or maybe it’s this: Nothing Hollywood produces could dim down the culture as much as the low-IQ ego-spurtings of Pres. Trump.
Now on with the countdown.
5. “The Mummy” (Universal): How many movies kill off an entire universe? This one did. Universal wanted to do with its monsters what Marvel did with its superheroes—create an interlocking, continuous, ka-chinging series of films—but “Mummy” sputtered out of the gate. The movie itself sputters out of the gate. It begins in 12th century A.D., shifts to modern-day London, then, why not, takes us all the way back to ancient Egypt for our intro to the titular character. That's a lot of throat-clearing before we get to Tom Cruise playing a devil-may-care opportunist in Iraq. Right, that's another thing: Our hero is an American trying to steal ancient artifacts from a country we already destroyed. Tone? Light comedy.
“Wait a minute, I do what to Iraq?”
4. The Fate of the Furious (Universal): You know a series has run out of ideas when it makes its hero evil. Dom (Vin Diesel) doesn‘t become evil—like Superman in “Superman III” or Spider-Man in “Spider-Man 3”—he’s just blackmailed by Cipher (Charlize Theron) into doing evil stuff. The announcement to the rest of the team is made with all the gravitas of a newsman reporting on the JFK assassination: “Dominic Torretto just went rogue.” They‘re not even trying to not make this a cartoon anymore. The final battle in Russia involves a nuke sub that breaks through the ice and fires a heat-seeking missile at Dom in his muscle car. But Dom deeks out the missile (yes), and, in slow-mo, drives his shit up over the submarine, causing the missile to do its chicken-coming-home-to-roost thing with the sub. Boom. There are, I’m sure, more ludicrious scenes in the long, sad history of movies. But there shouldn’t be.
The classy-as-ever “Fast/Furious” opening credits.
3. The Circle (Image Nation Abu Dhabi/Playtone/Likely Story/IM Global/STX Entertainment): At first, it seems like our hero, Mae (Emma Watson), a new employee at TrueYou, a Facebookish Silicon Valley megacompany, will provide a cynical viewpoint for all things techy and corporate and awful. She even jokes with another savvy insider about people who drink the Kool-Aid. Then she becomes the Kool-Aid. She agrees to have her entire life recorded 24/7, and in this way accumulates millions of followers and power. And what does she do with this power? When CEO Tom Hanks suggests allowing people to register to vote via TrueYou, she one-ups him. She suggests that everyone be required to have a TrueYou account. That it would be law. The scales only fall from her eyes when she inadventently kills her childhood friend (the kid from “Boyhood”) but by this point we‘re long done with her. And the movie.
2. Transformers: The Last Knight (Paramount): Remember when you were 9 or 10 and played at war, and it was basically, “And then this happens, and then this happens”? No logic, no sense of connecting the past with the now? That’s this. It’s a movie written by 9-year-olds. A big robot named Optimus Prime and a bunch of army men chase our heroes—Mark Wahlberg and a hot newbie chick (British, named, I shit you not, Vivian Wembley)—who are trying to find a MacGuffin (an alien staff) that could lead to the end of the world, and which only they can find. Meaning if they don't find it, no one can find it, and the world isn't destroyed. So of course they find it. And of course the bad guys immediately steal it. And of course the big robot and the bunch of army men now join our heroes for the final battle, which takes place over jolly old England, and which involves a U.S. government scientist (Tony Hale) yelling orders at generals, as always happens. It's all so bad I kept flashing to that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” season in which Mel Brooks hires Larry David for “The Producers” because he wants his hit Broadway show to finally end. Because he's sick of it. Is Michael Bay doing the same with “Transformers”? Or is he simply boundary-testing how stupid we are?
1. “Baywatch” (Paramount): The biggest boobs here are the ones behind the scenes—particularly director Seth Gordon, who has already given us “Four Christmases” and “Identity Thief” and yet somehow keeps getting work. You know how “Jumanji” managed to make Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson both heroic and mockable? That's what this needed. It doesn't come close. The arcs in the movie belong to Zac Efron's gold-medal swimmer, who goes from douche to team player, and Jon Bass' Ronnie, who goes from schlubby tech guy wishing to be part of the team to ludicrously becoming part of the team (because “he has heart”). No, that's not really his arc. His arc involves his not-so-secret crush, C.J. (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach), who is out of his league by 20,000 or so. For most of the movie, he's constantly humilated around her. I.e., 1) he gets food caught in his throat, 2) she performs the Heimlich to save his life, 3) he gets a boner as a result, 4) he falls on a raft to hide his boner, 5) he gets his boner caught in the slats of wood, 6) medics are called in and a crowd gathers, laughing, as he's extricated. So of course C.J. falls for him. What S.I. model wouldn‘t? After the team saves the day, they wind up in bed together. Cuz movies.
What S.I. model woudn’t?
See you next year, Hollywood. Same time?
Top 10 Movies of 2016
Yeah, I'm a little late to the party. What can I say? Busy year. The fall and early winter were particularly busy, and that's the time distributors release their best movies, all at once, blarghhhhhh, and if you're a regular person with a regular job in a regular city you're kind of screwed. No movies you want to see for months, then a dozen you want to see on Dec. 29. They save the best for last. Or never. I blinked and missed the weeks-long window for “Silence” and “Paterson.” I haven't been able to drag myself to see “Lion” or “Hidden Figures.” “The Salesman” still hasn't arrived in Seattle.
So this is a top 10 list with that caveat. Or several. Here's one more: God, 2016 was a sucky year, wasn't it? In every way. Bless these movies that gave us a glimmer of something better.
10. Love & Friendship
I was wary of this one, afraid of another proto-feminist British costumed drama based upon another 19th century novel, and this is that, but far from that madding crowd. It zipped rather than plodded. And the woman at its center was a Scarlett rather than a Melanie: a schemer, Machiavellian in her ability to twist the world, and men in particular, around her beautiful finger. Her lines are among the dishiest of the year: “He has offered you the one thing he has of value to give: his income.” Yes, her options are limited in Victorian England but she makes the most of those limits. Indeed, with her, they hardly seem limits. More Scarletts, please.
Inspired by a 2006 oral history in Texas Monthly, director Keith Maitland spent 10 years filming and then animating the ground's-eye viewpoint of the people who, on August 1, 1966, were trapped and shot at and killed by former U.S. Marine Charles Whitman on the University of Texas campus. It's truly “you are there” cinema. It's recreation and documentary and a revolutionary way of viewing history. In the '60s, that turbulent, violent decade, Whitman seemed an outlier since his violence was random. We now know he was a harbinger. On that day, a radio newman tried to tell his colleagues what was going on: “There’s a guy on top of the tower. He’s shooting.” Then he had to add for clarification: “Shooting at people.” We never need that clarification now.
It’s “My Dinner with Andre” if Andre were about to die, and the story were spread over four days in Madrid rather than one night in Manhattan. Death hovers close, but it’s handled with a wistful shrug. Death is the asshole in the room, and the other two combat it with a shared secret and a twinkle in the eye. I liked hanging with them—that's the main thing. I liked their conversations, and meals, and women. We anticipate a lot of the third-act plot twists but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's an inevitability to it, as in life. Watching, we feel our own inevitable deaths on a deeper level while being reminding of what makes life worth living.
7. La La Land
Throughout, there's a love of L.A., and the movies, and musicals. It's a modernist take on a classic, giving us a bittersweet ending rather than a Hollywood ending. Both of our protagonists actually get what they want—she becomes a movie star, he owns a jazz club—they just don't get each other. Is that bad or is it life? There's magic throughout: their first dance in the Hollywood hills; their first kiss floating amid the stars at the Griffith Observatory. I like her and her friends in different, primary-colored dresses strutting down the street on their way to a party. I like Sebastian on the dock with the fedora. Magic matters.
It's December 1945, and an intern with the French Red Cross in Poland—helping identify, treat and repatriate French citizens after World War II—is asked to go to a convent, where she finds a nun about to give birth. Then she discovers other nuns are pregnant. Six? Eight? Is it a miracle? The opposite. Backdate eight months and it's when the Soviet Army came through. These are women who hardly know their own bodies, whose bodies, they feel, belong to God. Some of them won't even let the intern examine them for the shame of it all. And Russians soldiers were at the convent for three days. That's the first horrific revelation. The second horrific revelation is worse.
A powerful rendering of one of the saddest weekends in American history, “Jackie” is interested in story-making and mythmaking and the difference between the two. As first lady, Jackie Kennedy tried to bring the history of the country to life. As first widow, she opted for myth because she knew myth resonated. Myth was remembered and she wantd her husband remembered. She politely stomped over the Johnsons, the Kennedys, and anyone else who got in her way to make this happen, then, with a priest, searched her soul and found a death wish. The movie does the opposite of what Jackie does: It reveals the human within the mythic.
4. O.J.: Made in America
I may have been the only person in America who didn't pay attention to the O.J. trial back in '95. There was just too much noise; it felt like tabloid fare to me. But it's actually a linchpin in the racial history of America, meaning the history of America. It's the story of a man who became famous for running, and who ran from his race and embraced his celebrity; and then when the chips were down, he ran to his race. He spent years being treated as a football celebrity, even by the L.A.P.D., and got away with so much because of it; and in the trial he may have gotten away with murder for the opposite reason. The ironies in this seven-plus-hour documentary pile up and overwhelm. O.J. is a subject worthy of Shakespeare.
How hard do sensitive men have to become to survive? How much of yourself do you have to lose? Early in the film, Juan, the drug dealer/mentor, tells our child protagonist, “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you.” But Little/Chiron/Black lets others make that decision for him. Or maybe he simply decides to survive and in doing so you become someone else. By the third act, he's unrecognizable from the skinny, sensitive kid he was. He's a drug dealer with a grill, who intimidates with his presence. But a line late in the film reveals that the sensitive kid is still there underneath it all. It's the most devastating line of the year.
Was a better movie less seen in 2016? And yet it's a film that so necessary for our time. It's 1979 but that was the tipping-point year. That was the year before the year we all opted for wish-fulfillment fantasy in our politics as well as our entertainment. We even get Carter's infamous “malaise” speech here, and in it he seems to be predicting the future if we go the wrong way. He's talking to us like adults but we were children. “20th Century Women” is about a single mom who enlists two other women to help raise and educate her teenage son. The kid comes of age just as our country decides not to.
So many people think this movie as depressing, but I was exhilirated. Yes, it's a movie about a tragedy so large that its protagonist is essentially a dead man walking. There's no “working though the unimaginable” here. It's about two types of male stoicism: one adult, and aware, and tragic, and the other young and blind, and how each shapes the other. We get large understandings and small redemptions. And the redemptions, for being small, for feeling truer than the life outside the theater, are poignant and exquisite. They are cathartic.
The Five Worst Movies of 2016
Even the movies didn't help this shitty year.
My biggest concern with the year-end top 10 list is usually how I can pare it down to 10 because there's so many deserving movies; this year, I'm trying to build up to 10. I anticipate filler.
But the bottom five? Hey, that's the mother lode.
So here they are, from awful to horrible. Apologies to “Bad Moms,” (oh, Mila) “X-Men: Apocalypse,” (oh, Bryan) “Knight of Cups” (oh, Terrence) and “Ma Ma” (oh, Penelope): In a normal shitty year, you might've made the cut, too.
5. “The Girl on the Train” (Universal): It's called a tabloid film but even tabloids aren't this stupid. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) steals the husband of Rachel (Emily Blunt), a lonely alcoholic, who becomes obsessed with and spies on Megan (Haley Bennett), the aloof sexpot. When Megan goes missing, Rachel gives false info about Megan’s affairs. After Megan is found murdered, Anna finds evidence implicating her husband (Rachel's ex) but does nothing about it. And the theme of this backstabbing movie? Sisterhood. Of course.
4. “Suicide Squad” (Warner Bros.): Marvel gives us continuity between movies but DC can’t manage it between scenes. It’s as if the filmmakers took chunks of story and lined them up without concern for what came before or after. The whole point of this squad, this government-run team of supercriminals, is to take on the next metahuman (read: Superman) in case he's not such a boy scout. Guess what? The next metahuman could take out the whole squad in a second. So there's no point to them. And the battles here? With Witchie-poo? In the rubble of Central City? It's sound and fury, signifying nothing. It's a tale told by an idiot. Right: Idiots. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Zack Snyder.
3. “Wiener-Dog” (IFC): A clueless boy in the first family that owns the title animal feeds it a granola bar. Cue writer-director Todd Solondz's 45-second tracking shot of shit on the sidewalk. Consider it a metaphor for the movie. “Wiener-Dog” lacks life, joy, meaning. The dog subsequently winds up with: 1) a vet assistant who's hung up on a meth-head; 2) a mentally challenged man who plays violent video games; 3) a lonely teacher/screenwriter who tries to blow up his university with explosives strapped to the dog; and 4) an old woman whose granddaughter visits with her idiot boyfriend to borrow money. Does the dog run across the street to kill itself? If so, it's the smartest one here. I saw it at the Seattle International Film Festival, where someone literally shouted, “This movie sucks!” near the end. With you, brother.
2. “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus Features): There are two storylines: one hopelessly dull, the other hopelessly horrific. In the former, a beautiful, red-haired art-gallery director in a beautiful glass house and a dying marriage reads a novel dedicated to her by her first husband. In it, a man (whom she imagines as her first husband), and his beautiful red-haired wife and daughter (whom she imagines as Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber), are run off the road in the middle of the night in Bumfuck, West Texas by three yahoos, who slowly terrorize them and then kidnap the wife and daughter. They're later found naked, raped, murdered, artfully posed. For some reason, the novel piques the woman's interest in her first husband again. Focus Features marketed this pointless horror from writer-director Tom Ford as a “sexy thriller” but it's awful enough to kill sex.
1. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (Warner Bros.): Superman's great enemy isn't Lex Luthor but writer-director Zack Snyder. Snyder let the Man of Steel keep his powers but he took away his joy and purpose. What does Superman want in this movie? Who knows? He seems to help people reluctantly. He flies to Africa to save Lois but when Lex kidnaps his mom he's lost. I get being suckered the first time Batman uses kryptonite on him (he'd never experienced it before). But a second time? How dumb is he? And Batman? Snyder turns the Caped Crusader into a hateful xenophobe, a Fox-News watcher, a literal murderer. He listens to the noise, not the signal. He doesn't see the good Superman does, he simply fears him. And he would've killed him if not for ... Yeah. I know. I shouldn't. But in the future whenever this movie is mentioned, fans can rightly shout, “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!?!?” Because no one will want to remember it. Ever. It's the worst movie of the year because Snyder completely botched the first cinematic pairing of the most beloved superheroes in the world. Afterwards, I felt like Brando in “The Godfather”: “Look what they did to my boys.”
Here's other years, if you're interested:
Fingers crossed for the future. Please.