Sunday, February 11, 2018


And now, dear readers, it is finally time to reveal to you my complete countdown of the films I loved and loathed and loved even more in the year 2017. Now, as with years past, I will begin with my personal HONOR ROLL and then move onwards to what I like to call "NUMBER 11," the films that were just this close to being a part of my Top Ten Favorite Films of the year.

Additionally, the films are listed in alphabetical order and I will also place a reference to where you can find the full review upon this blogsite. In doing so, you will see that I have awarded these films from between three and a half to four stars. Just note that I feel that star ratings are more than arbitrary as well as the fact that all three and a half star films are not all the same and definitely not all four star films. Just take it all in as these being solely my opinions and nothing more than that.

So now then...

"ALIEN: COVENANT" Directed by Ridley Scott
Nearly 40 years into the "Alien" franchise, Ridley Scott's second entry in his prequel series left audiences mostly underwhelmed yet again, but for me, I found myself again enraptured in his on-going nihilistic interstellar nightmare. Yes, scientists are still more than a little stupid (but I do think that Scott smoothed that quality over in better fashion this time around), but Scott has continued to present his simultaneously elegant and brutal series to high quality as he has seemingly found somewhat of an overall purpose to the films as a whole rather than yet another round of face huggers and chest bursters. With the triptych of the titular creatures, the humans and artificial intelligence (in two representations by an excellent Michael Fassbender) all battling for survival, Ridley Scott has not only managed an even more urgent ode to the end of human existence by our own arrogant hands, he has even conceptualized what I think is actually a link to his cinematic "Blade Runner" series with the rise of the synthetic as a potentially dominant species with an even hungrier taste for existential permanence.
(Originally reviewed May 2017)

"THE BEGUILED" Directed by Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola's dark, atmospheric remake of the 1971 Don Seigel directed and Clint Eastwood starring film is a Southern Gothic battle of the sexes made for a strong addition to her filmography as she once again tackled themes of female isolation and imprisonment, whether self-imposed or otherwise, when come in contact with an uninvited male presence.

Set at an increasingly vacant girls school three years into the Civil War, "The Beguiled" stars Nicole Kidman as the pragmatic headmistress and Colin Farrell as an injured Union soldier reluctantly taken in by Kidman and her skeleton crew of teachers and students, often to their accelerating curiosity and attraction until tension slowly begin to boil over. Coppola has created a grim chamber piece as well as a slowly burning thriller that contains an especially meticulous gaze into aspects of male and female vanity, the respective balances of power and an especially singular artistic view into another world of Coppola's trademark "butterflies under glass."
(Originally reviewed July 2017)

"THE CIRCLE" Directed by James Ponsoldt
Here's another film that completely underwhelmed audiences and yet, I found myself enjoying quite a bit. James Ponsoldt's "The Circle," I felt was a meditative and even creepy thriller about not simply the rise of technology and our dependence upon it, but how that very same human/technological dichotomy provides an insidiously interpersonal detachment as we end up creating our own increasingly Orwellian existence which we seem to be more than happy to subscribe to. More thoughtful than I had expected and perhaps the film failed to ignite much interest was how Ponsoldt never shied away from addressing our own complicity in our potential downfall as well as our advances.
(Originally reviewed May 2017)

"THE FOREIGNER" Directed by Martin Campbell
I actually have not provided you with a full review of this film as it was a bit lost in my end of 2017 shuffle. But with that in mind and if you need a break from catching all of the serious, Oscar hopefuls for something more immediate and definitely more two-fisted, but still one that would not leave you feeling ashamed in the early morning after, I think I have just the one for you.

"The Foreigner," from Director Martin Campbell, the filmmaker behind two of the higher quality James Bond adventures over the last 25 years including "Goldeneye" (1995) and the particularly outstanding "Casino Royale" (2006), is a solid action thriller but one that is indeed refreshingly adult in its intent as well as with its themes of political espionage and radical terrorism, which I felt to be handled intelligently and not with the full cartoonish vibe that we typically witness. Furthermore, it was indeed a treat to see the film stars, Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan, subvert their screen personas, each eliciting performances and creating characters that became more compelling than they ever needed to be. Trust me, check out "The Foreigner." You may just be as surprised as I was with its grim effectiveness.

"The Foreigner" stars Jackie Chan in a rare to these shores dramatic role as Ngoc Minh Quan, a seemingly gentle, reticent owner of a Chinese restaurant in London. When his teenaged daughter Fan (Katie Leung) is killed in a bombing claimed by the fringe terrorist group calling themselves, the "Authentic IRA," Quan, consumed with grief, is determined to find justice, and soon, revenge. Pierce Brosnan stars as Liam Hennesy, Northern Ireland deputy first minister as well as former leader within the IRA who finds himself at the receiving end of Quan's quiet, relentless fury.

While we do receive more than enough bang for our collective bucks, "The Foreigner" is not a film about mindless carnage and easy thrills. I was surprised to find a film that was, again, more thoughtful is its espionage certainly but mostly, for the themes of grief, mourning and how the actions of our past may sometimes never quite relinquish their holds. And then, there's Jackie Chan himself who never for an instant channels the humorous persona of the action comedies he co-starred in with the likes of Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson, respectively. Yes, he still performs his own stunts but there is now a haunted quality, filled as much with hunger and regret as well as vengeance.

"LADY BIRD" Directed by Greta Gerwig
One of the most highly received films of the year and definitely an awards season favorite, is one that I am considerably much softer on. In fact, I do think that the film is even more than a little over-rated and quite possibly falls into that "cult of Gerwig" faction of film-goers and critics. But that being said, Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is an exceedingly well crafted and acted coming of age tale about a most precocious girl's restless final year of high school before her hopeful departure from Sacramento for the shinier, more culturally interesting and exciting locale of New York City with a turbulent Mother/daughter conflict sitting uncomfortably at its core.

For an actress who has represented nothing more than self-congratulatory indie film hipster quirk to me, I deeply appreciated how all of the faux irony I typically connect with Gerwig was stripped away in favor of sheer honesty and authenticity, making for an experience that was undeniably more surprising and moving than I ever thought that it would be.
(Originally reviewed December 2017)

"LOGAN" Directed by James Mangold
In a performance of blistering, existential outrage, Hugh Jackman hangs up the adamantium claws for good in James Mangold's ferocious, brutally elegiac "Logan," the final entry in the solo film series starring Marvel Comics' favorite rampaging Canadian from the X-Men. While the film has no shortage whatsoever of bone crunching action, Mangold has ensured that his superhero epic remains firmly grounded and unapologetically gritty. In fact, "Logan" feels more like an urban Western anchored superbly with a roaring "dying against the light" narrative that features our hero rapaciously facing down his impending mortality. 
(Originally reviewed March 2017)

"mother!" Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Easily the most controversial film upon my list and truth be told, this is a film I appreciated more than I actually liked...and furthermore, I don't really see myself putting myself through this particular wringer again. Even so, Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence have made an unrepentantly uncommercial film, which seems to function as a psychological thriller but in actuality--I think--the film is entirely a  metaphor, a Biblical allegory filled end-to-end with all manner of religious themes and concepts from Old Testament to New, in an urgent plea to care for the longevity of our planet. To me, it felt that Lawrence is essentially Mother Earth or Mother Nature while her husband, played by Javier Bardem, is...well...when he identifies himself as "I am I," you can gather what he is supposed to be, I would imagine.

But beyond the puzzling nature of the film and how it just may infuriate some (if not, many) of you, please do consider this: to me Darren Aronofsky's "mother!" is representative of the very type of filmmaking that has arrived in increasingly short supply as the sequels, prequels, re-imaginings, comic book characters, franchises and remakes, and reboots have taken over over cinemas and multi-plexes. We need to have motion pictures that function solely as artistic statements, box office be damned just as much as we do need films that can shake us out of any sense of movie-going complacency and challenge us, as art does not always exist to make us feel comfortable. On that level, this film is a success as "mother!" is a supremely disquieting, demanding and disturbing film that was unlike anything else I saw all year long.
(Originally reviewed September 2017)

"PHANTOM THREAD" Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
The latest film from PTA, and starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what is reportedly his final film role, is a Kubrickian study of a meticulous, fastidious fashion designer in 1950's post war London who has seemingly met his match in the form of his artistic muse, lover and wife, portrayed by Vicky Krieps. While visually resplendent and filled with a surprisingly hilarious comedy of manners, "Phantom Thread" is a chilly affair, exceedingly more cerebral then visceral, yet is unquestionably single-minded in its uncompromising artistic vision that it just may be one of those types of films that may not fully resonate in just one viewing but in several subsequent viewings over time. With that, Anderson and Day-Lewis have given us more than enough to ruminate over.
(Originally reviewed January 2018)

"SPLIT" Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan's complete return to form arrived with this intensely scrappy, sometimes nasty, often surprising (that fantastic ending!!!!) psychological thriller starring James McAvoy in a full throttle, off-the-chain performance as an individual overtaken by 23 different personalities (and with a terrifying 24th ready to fully emerge) who has imprisoned three teenage girls in his underground lair. Taking material that would be more than tasteless and somehow making the proceedings simultaneously elegant and harrowing, and armed with sequences that prowl with superb menace and explode into flights of madness and lunacy, Shyamalan is clearly having a blast after a lengthy rough patch creatively. He clearly has re-gained his groove and here's hoping that his follow-up, due in 2019, will raise that bar further.
(Originally reviewed January 2017)

"THOR: RAGNAROK" Directed by Taika Waititi
This is the movie James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy" series wished that they could have been. Easily arriving in his very best solo film outing to date, "Thor: Ragnaork" finds the Norse God Of Thunder (again portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in his loosest performance) propelled through a psychedelic adventure that reunites him with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), forms an uneasy alliance with his duplicitous half brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a new ally in the hard drinking, winged horse riding, scene stealing warrior Valkyrie (a stunning Tessa Thompson) as he attempts t save his home of Asgard from annihilation from the hands of his own sister Hela, the Goddess of Death (never did I think that I needed to see Cate Blanchett appear as she does in this film but now that I have...).

I honestly do not know how Waititi kept all of his spinning plates in the air but miraculously, he weaved Thor's latest adventure through an astoundingly glorious sound and light show, sincere pathos and storytelling heft, some serious creative risks (Thor loses both his trusty hammer and much of his long flowing blonde locks, for instance) and unprecedented display of humor so goofy that the film comes dangerously close to unraveling entirely only to snap itself back into place perfectly. It is as if Waititi created the film version of Queen's iconic "Bohemian Rhapsody," as "Thor: Ragnarok" is by turns hysterical, ridiculous, epic, bombastic, stunning, hilarious, and beautiful. This film is a paintbox come to life with rock and roll energy and comedian's expert sense of timing.
(Originally reviewed November 2017)


"BLADE RUNNER 2049" Directed by Denis Villeneuve
This visually astonishing, sonically powerful and creatively enthralling sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 original film is a more than worthy successor that fully immerses itself in all that we have seen and know from this dark future and increasingly synthetic society featuring replicants existing among humans and extends even further into a universe where humans may not even exist anymore yet the quest and quandaries of humanity are still at the forefront of our collective existential journey.

Ryan Gosling elicits an appropriately cold performance as the titular Blade Runner who falls into the aforementioned existential rabbit hole at which Harrison Ford, returning as detective Rick Deckard, sits at the core. Certainly a film of this sort (one that runs nearly three hours and is deliberately paced), one that celebrates the arcane and esoteric rather than thrills and excitement, would be a polarizing one and how could it not as the original film, to this day is essentially a cult film, albeit one whose cultural influence has cast an immense shadow over the science-fiction and fantasy genre. In fact, "Blade Runner 2049" often feels like those dreams of electric sheep that series inspiration Philip K. Dick wrote about, an approach that certainly lends itself to the film's languid approach.

Now there has been some criticism towards the film for its barrage of misogynistic imagery and characters. Certainly, but I felt those images and characters were key to Villeneuve's vision as misogynistic imagery does not necessarily mean that we are seeing a misogynistic movie, especially one whose primary themes of enslavement and emancipation are paramount. Villeneuve has created a sumptuous production, a voluminous experience designed to enthrall, disturb, provoke, challenge, arouse, and overwhelm.
(Originally reviewed October 2017)

"IT" Directed by Andy Muschietti
Easily one of the very best cinematic adaptations of a Stephen King novel to date, "It" starring the shape shifting horror of Pennywise the Clown who terrorizes a collective of misfit kids in small town Maine during the summer of 1989 is a perceptive, empathetic ode to the dark side of childhood as we witness how the young persevere in a decidedly cruel adult world.

How easy it would have been for the filmmakers to create a series of tasteless shock value driven sequences of children in peril, and yet, for all of the intense scares, the heart of Muschietti's film remains within the tender bonds made between the children, suggesting a film that owes considerably more to Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" (1986) than Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980).  Let's hope the same attention to character continues in the film's second chapter due to arrive in 2019.
(Originally reviewed September 2017)

"THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER" Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
This enthralling bad dream of a film is a superb follow up from the director of one of this decade's most audacious, astounding films which is "The Lobster" (2016). Lanthimos, again working with Colin Farrell, weaves the grim parable about a heart surgeon (played ny Farrell) caught in a macabre battle of wills with a teenager (Barry Keoghan) and with the lives of the surgeon's family, including wife Nicole Kidman, all hanging in a precarious balance of which retribution will be achieved and no escape hatch exists.

Lanthimos has created a strenuously tight, vice grip of psychological horror where its languid, insistent pacing pulls you slowly into its quicksand. Again, we have a feature that is uncompromising to the degree that some viewers may find it to being morally repugnant. To that end, I think that Lanthmos has fashioned an experience that delves entirely into the themes of self-perception and how one's personal sense of morality can clash with another's, and in the case of this film, to a terrifying degree filled with a relentlessly mounting doom and devastating, inescapable consequences.   
(Originally reviewed November 2017)

"WONDER" Directed by Stephen Chbosky
This one truly hurt to keep off of my Top Ten list, so much so that if I were to have a category called "NUMBER 10.5," this film would sit there proudly.

In a year filled with all manner of darkly themed films (several of them are on this list), I felt this achingly beautiful adaptation of the stunning R.J. Palacio children's novel to be of equal importance as a reflection as well as navigating tool in our turbulent 21st century. "Wonder" tells the tale of Auggie Pullman (a terrific Jacob Tremblay), a facially disfigured boy with whom we experience his year of 5th grade, the first time he has attended school outside of his home and with children his own age.

The magic of this film is its adherence to the concept of kindness, which Chbosky achieves through giving ample screen time to the lives of Auggie's parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), his sister (a lovely Izabella Vidovic), her boyfriend and estranged best friend plus Auggie's classmates as well. Instead of a film that could have easily gone the route of something you might see on Lifetime, Chbosy has ensured that every character is presented honestly and lovingly, giving us all an opportunity to take time to walk in their respective shoes, as well as Auggie's, giving us a larger understanding of all of the characters. In doing so, we explicitly witness how everyone, from the characters on screen to all of us in the audience, are waging some internal battle and what a better world we could have if we all just took the time to just choose kindness rather than anger, recrimination, fear, and hatred.

Never is there a moment that smacked of false sentiment or cheap manipulation. "Wonder" is a film of startling tenderness and tremendous empathy where every single tear shed has been rightfully earned.
(Originally reviewed November 2017)


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