Taylor Sheridan – Wind River
By Jacob Wampfler
Fresh off the heels of overwhelming praise for his Sicario and Hell or High Water screenplays, Taylor Sheridan decided to tackle a subject that is close to his heart in Wind River. It remained to be seen if Sheridan could translate his success as a screenwriter to the director’s chair. Wind River showcases Sheridan’s keen eye for the American frontier as he delivers yet another taut neo-western. I’m convinced that Sheridan isn’t in the business of missing the mark anymore. This failed actor turned screenwriter turned director continues to amaze, and I don’t think he’s slowing down in the near future.
It becomes evident early on in the film that Wind River is put together by someone that understands Native culture and the harsh landscape of Wyoming. While most of the film was shot in the neighboring Utah, the point remains the same. As Corey Hawkins’ (Jeremy Renner) says bluntly in the film, “Luck don’t live out here.” Yet another character, Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene), states, “This ain’t the land of backup. This is the land of ‘on your own.’” It would be one thing if Sheridan simply wrote these lines for his actors and didn’t show us exactly what these words meant. Instead, Sheridan delivers visuals that match this harsh and hopeless outlook. Two scenes in particular stand out to me as some of the most startling and violent action scenes of 2017. Sheridan’s vision is clear throughout the entirety of the film and Wind River makes me supremely glad that he’s made the transition from page to screen.
Jordan Peele – Get Out
By Sam Wampfler
Get Out came right out of left field. Jordan Peele did sketch comedy and there was no indication before the film came out that he would make an enjoyable non-comedy film. And that is exactly what he did, but he didn’t stop at enjoyable. Get Out is an engaging, well crafted, and superbly relevant horror film (or social thriller according to Peele).
Peele not only directed the film, but he wrote it as well. The way he uses both the dialogue and the images on screen to often disturbing effect is impressive. There are so many simple shots in this film that Peele somehow made extremely intriguing. In one scene he uses what appears to be a normal pull out shot to create one of the film’s first jump scares that also doubles as a warning to the viewer of the danger that awaits Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) at his girlfriend’s parents house. Peele also relied very heavily on close ups and uses them often to show the existential horror that Chris is being subjected to.
The most impressive feat that Peele accomplished was to use the horror genre to create a very convincing and relatable allegory for the hardships that the black community faces. The film really reveals how tough that world can be and it shows how blind to it white people can be. It also shows the more subtle sides of racism and how damaging they can be even if the perpetrators don’t see what they are doing as wrong. Peele made an absolutely fantastic film in a time when it is needed the most.
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
By Josiah Wampfler
Everything you’ve heard about Lady Bird is true: It is astoundingly great. Director Greta Gerwig, like many of the other directors on this list, is a writer/director, and the greatness of Lady Bird starts on the page. Showing how completely she understands the craft of cinema, Gerwig weaves together a film that you would expect was found in the edit room. The way the film cuts throughout Lady Bird’s senior year of high school is so seamless, it is kind of insane that it was like this on the page. But it was, and not only is Gerwig to credit for writing it that way, but she was able to deliver on that impressive vision perfectly.
I say perfectly because, though no film can probably ever meet the definition of perfect, Lady Bird seems to be as close as one can get. Gerwig put together a stellar cast (Saoirse Ronan is spectacular), filled her film with wonderful music choices, designed a unique look for the film with her cinematographer Sam Levy (Seriously, the cinematography decisions were gutsy as hell) and delivered a brilliant debut film that is likely headed for several Oscar wins. Though the film is based in a “genre” that is often overdone with little variation, Gerwig manages to make Lady Bird so much more than the average coming of age films. She smartly recognizes that for every young person’s coming of age, it is also a difficult transition for their parents as well. So unlike many of these other films, Gerwig doesn’t make Lady Bird’s parents the obstacle she must get past. The film is as much the mother’s (a brilliant Laurie Metcalf) film as it is Lady Bird’s.
With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig demanded the world take notice of her as a filmmaker. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she brings us next.