Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year's favorites credit writers/directors who make them work so well

As is done here every year at this time, we celebrate our favorite films, along with some other odds and, in this case, a couple of “wondrous” ends from that thing called cinema 2017. Let’s begin with a special 10 (in alphabetical order):

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford hit the road in "Blade Runner 2049."
"Blade Runner 2049": World-class director Denis Villenueve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”) shows up on this list for the third straight year in helming one of the most superb sequels of all-time. It’s a technical masterpiece with a drop-dead story to boot.

"Call Me by Your Name" (opening here Jan. 19): There’s so much to discover in director Luca Guadagnino's take on a 2007 novel of the same name, including some beautiful Italian images, a few simply smart exchanges, and an ‘80s love story pertinent to our times

"Dunkirk": They certainly don’t make war movies such as this one from another prolific auteur, Christopher Nolan, who chooses themes of homeland pride and heroism instead of overt violence and detesting the enemy. It’s just a massive undertaking resulting in a deserved status as Best Picture frontrunner.

"The Florida Project": Gifted young newcomer Brooklynn Prince and the ever-terrific Willem Dafoe help introduce us to a modern-day world of Little Rascals in a depressed, though not depressing motel strip just out of reach from Disney World. Credit co-writer/director Sean Baker with showing it all off as so remarkably human.

"Get Out": How many first films can combine comedy, horror and satire so effectively? Jordan Peele, himself a talented comic actor, springs into the forefront of Hollywood’s most wanted filmmakers with a megahit people are still raving about long after its February release. The essential performance of a maniacally beleagured boyfriend by the mostly unknown Daniel Kaluuya certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

"Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer: Get past the unwieldy title and you’ll find Richard Gere in the year’s most unsung performance. He plays a unique and aging kind of political con artist many likely won't stop cheering for, with all very nicely presented by Israeli writer/director Joseph Cedar.

"Phantom Thread" (opening Jan. 19): Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (and his Ghoulardi Productions, which pays homage to a character played by late Clevelander/dad Ernie Anderson) weaves an elegant and often humorous treatise on manipulation and manners in the high-end province of fashion design. Oh yeah, it also features one last onscreen performance by the intense Daniel Day Lewis.

"The Shape of Water": Horrormeister Guillermo del Toro uses his impressive storytelling skills to create a lavish, Cold War fairytale. That it skewers the U.S. government and Soviet spies around an imaginative and heartwarming love story speaks volumes as well. 

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri": Another glorious writer/director, Martin McDonagh, uncorks one more dark, droll doozy, with Frances McDormand leading a grand ensemble cast as a tough and angry mom taking charge.

"Wind River": Actor-turned screenwriter Taylor Sheridan also lands a third consecutive year on this list. Only now he’s a first-time director, too, with a fascinating thriller that puts a tracker (Jeremy Renner) and rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) on the trail of the “stone evil” haunting Native-American women. Some also might call it the third smart leg of Sheridan’s loosely linked, American West trilogy, which includes “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water.”

Another baker's dozen well worth seeing – "All the Money in the World," "The Big Sick," "Darkest Hour," "The Disaster Artist," "A Ghost Story," "I, Tonya" (opening Jan. 5), "Lady Bird," "Loving Vincent," "Split," "Wonder Woman," and three fine docs: "Faces Places," "Jane" and "Step."

Add a few guilty pleasures – The boxing bio "Chuck," a fast and furious "Free Fire," and the reborn king, "Kong: Skull Island."

These don't necessarily match their hype – The somewhat cuckoo "Coco," the disengaging "Detroit," the puffed up "Molly's Game," and "The Post," a kinda clunky period piece from Steven Spielberg (opening Jan. 12).

Still, none were as unpleasant as these five – "All I See Is You," "Downsizing," "The Snowman," "Suburbicon," and the year's worst "mother!"

Timothee Chalamet in his coming-of-age role in “Call Me by Your Name.”
Performers of the year -- Michelle Williams (“All the Money in the World,” “The Greatest Showman,” Wonderstruck”); Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name,” “Hostiles,” “Lady Bird”); Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water,” “Maudie”); and Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour,” “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”).

But what the hell were they thinking? – Matt Damon (“The Great Wall,” “Suburbicon,” “Downsizing”), and Kristen Wiig (“Downsizing,” “mother!”).

A little something odd -- (Spoiler alert!) At least three films,The Beguiled,” “Lady MacBeth,” and “Phantom Thread,” used poisonous mushrooms as their weapon of choice.

OK, this is the real end -- “Wonder,” “Wonderstruck,” “Wonder Wheel,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” all debuted in 2017. And, believe it or not, the only real wreck in the bunch was directed by Woody Allen and featured such talents as Justin Timberlake and Kate Winslet.

You can look it up before starting to celebrate another, uh . . .  well, wonderful year of films in 2018.

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