Joe’s Top Films of 2017: 20-11

By Josiah Wampfler


20. Gook

Directed by Justin Chon

Gook was a complete surprise that came out of nowhere. Starring Justin Chon, someone who I knew very little about, and directed by him as well, Gook is not only a great film, but a miracle and an inspiration. Made for pennies compared to most Hollywood productions (sub $100,000), Gook looks like it was made for several million dollars, is filled with wonderful performances and manages to authentically tackle an event from a point of view that we’ve never seen before. Telling the story of a wonderful friendship that crosses racial boundaries, Gook is set on the day the L.A. Riots broke out in 1992. As two Asian-American shoe store owners and a young black girl bond, we see a complexity to the issue of race and the city of Los Angeles that rarely gets shown in films.

One of Gook’s main selling points is how damn good it looks. Brilliantly captured in crisp black and white by cinematographer Ante Cheng (Who isn’t even out of film school yet), Gook, impressively, was one of the most visually stunning films I saw last year. It is not overly flashy with its camera movements, but when Cheng and Chon appropriately decide to get a bit more creative and artful in their composition, that is where the film truly shines.

What really anchors the film though are its performances and its wonderful story. Chon plays a man who took over his father’s shoe store when he died and is serious about running the place, but tortured by it. He did well casting himself in the role, because he is brilliant. David So plays his brother and brings an interesting counter point to Chon’s character as a man who knows he wants to get out of the shoe business by being an R&B Singer (An interestingly ludicrous dream). But, the performance that steals the show is from young Simone Baker as Kamilla, the young black girl who loves hanging out at the store. She is strong-willed, precocious and a delight to watch. She, along with her brother in the film (Curtiss Cook Jr.) are going to be two actors to watch in the coming years.

Gook is a triumph because it brings us a story that simply never gets told. It does not water-down the issue of race like so many films do, but presents us with a clear and realistic picture in all its messy complexity. The emotional core of the film is the friendship between Chon and Baker’s characters, but that is just what grounds all of the other interesting issues the film is dealing with. I’m so glad that this film was made and that I was able to watch it. It not only is Gook a wonderful film worth your time, but, as a filmmaker, it is also extremely inspiring. I can’t wait to see what all those involved do next.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

19. Good Time

Directed By The Safdie Brothers (Josh & Benny)

Robert Pattinson is a great actor. I unfortunately had not been paying much attention to his career after the Twilight films, but he clearly proves he has shed the vestiges of the sparkling vampires of those films with the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. In a completely tranformative role, Pattinson plays a New York City criminal named Connie who decides to rob a bank with his developmentally disabled brother Nick. When the robbery goes awry, the brothers are separated and Nick is arrested and sent to Rikers Island. Nick will not be the last person harmed by being involved with Connie as the older brother searches for a way to get his brother out of jail, leaving a path of destruction behind him for anyone whom he meets.

Good Time is electric. It has a interesting 90s feel to it, with its incredible helicopter shots of Connie racing through the city and the incredibly vibrant neon lighting (And a great electronic score to boot). It has this unique beauty to it, yet New York City also reflects the grimy and grungy state of Connie’s soul. It is thrilling, but it takes time for the little moments to build character and a real emotional core to the film. The Safdie Brothers throughout the film are able to walk a tight line in many different ways. They make some quite poignant commentary on race and our criminal justice system throughout, are able to deliver on some truly surprising twists and turns and brilliantly handle the issue of Nick’s disability in a way that is respectful and truly unique. Though Ben Safdie, who plays Nick, is not developmentally disabled, his performance is not a characiture and by the end of the film we realize that the film is more Nick’s story than Connie’s.

Through a knockout performance from Pattinson that slowly reveals his Connie to be less anti-hero and more villain, Good Time delivers on the complexity it is after. It is a dark and disturbing thriller in all the right ways. I was unaware of the Safdie’s and fairly ignorant of Pattinson’s brilliance before this film, but now I can’t wait to watch more from them. Good Time is certainly just a taste of what is to come for these men.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

18. Lady Macbeth

Directed by William Oldroyd

Both empowering and revealing, Lady Macbeth is the perfect twist on the period drama. Under the careful direction of newcomer William Oldroyd, Lady Macbeth starts in a fairly familiar place making you believe that it may just be a traditional period drama. But, very quickly, we discover the darkness underneath the surface. Buoyed by an incredible lead performance by Florence Pugh as Lady Katherine Lester that feels like watching a major star be born, Lady Macbeth brilliantly shows the complexity of oppression and how quickly the oppressed can become the oppressor. It is a slow descent into the darkness of Katherine’s soul as she attempts to gain her freedom in an oppressive 1860s England. Unfortunately for those around her, she will stop at nothing to fulfill her own desires and she doesn’t care who she has to hurt in the process. With a devilishly entertaining performance from Pugh and the thought-provoking way the film deals with oppression and race, Lady Macbeth easily rises above the rest.

Read Full Review Here

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

17. Strong Island

Directed by Yance Ford

Strong Island is such a striking film because, even though it revolves around a murder, it is not your typical crime documentary. In the film, first-time director Yance Ford investigates his brother’s murder, but we never see the killer’s face and his name is never spoken. When William Ford was shot and killed in 1992 by a white man, the case never even went to trial, and it has haunted the Ford family for years. Through extremely emotional and powerful interviews with his family and friends, Yance Ford explores the racial dynamics that led to the murder and the ultimate failure for the grand jury to indict. And though William’s case, we see parallels to more recent incidents of racial bias and the toll unjustified deaths like these take on families.

Strong Island, because it is so personal, hits home more than almost any other documentary I have seen. It is completely heartbreaking and incredibly revealing, really showing us the aftermath of a situation like this. It is as frustrating as reality, never giving us the answers and justice we desire. Yance Ford has crafted a visually unforgettable and incredibly emotional cry for justice for people of color in this country and the many families that have lost loved ones to racial violence. Hopefully, that cry will be heard.

Read Full Review Here

Currently streaming on Netflix

16. Dunkirk

Directed By Christopher Nolan

If Christopher Nolan hadn’t proven he was a complete master of the medium of cinema already, he certainly does so with Dunkirk. A visual feast and an insanely immersive experience, Nolan has crafted a surprisingly subversive war film in which our heroes are not the ones mowing down hundreds of people, but men just trying to survive. In Dunkirk, survival is its own type of heroism.

On every level Dunkirk is impressive. That starts with some wonderful performances from Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and Fion Whitehead that really help to bring a good deal of emotion into the film. Nolan is able to completely immerse us in the experience of these characters, despite there being very little dialogue. That immersion is buoyed by all the other technical aspects of the film. Hans Zimmer’s incredible score completely melds with some of the best sound design I’ve ever heard in a war film. The score drives the entire movie forward, seemingly ascending upward infinitely and it uses and reacts to every explosion, gun shot, and footstep in the soundscape. All of this comes together with incredible visuals from Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. I have only seen Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX and it is a film that makes the case loud and clear for the importance of the theatrical experience. Through great CGI and insane practical effects, Nolan is able to create incredibly authentic war scenes all captured on a gigantic canvas with a beautiful color palette. With Dunkirk, Nolan finally received his long-waited Best Director nomination from the Academy and damn… It is well deserved.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

15. mother!

Directed By Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a film that is many things to many people. Interpretations of its meaning are myriad, as are reactions to its content. It is sad that it did not perform better in theaters because it was easily one of the best theatrical experiences I had last year. Part horror, part comedy and all batshit insanity, mother! is one of the most original films I have seen in years. Both in its plot and its presentation, Aronofsky has crafted a film that is maddeningly ambiguous and downright uncomfortable. I could not love him more for it.

Laughter is how I greeted the credits when they rolled on mother!. I wasn’t laughing at the film in a disparaging way, but because I needed to. Comedy comes from building up tension and anticipation that ends in a cathartic release. For two hours, Aronofsky builds that tension and the credits are his punchline. Much of that tension comes from one of the biggest horror aspects of the film, which is how damn uncomfortable it is. Through much of the film, people just keep on walking into the house and Jennifer Lawrence’s character is as confused and annoyed with them as the audience. These uninvited guests keep messing with her house and this affront to common courtesy feels as horrifying as any monster or demon in any other film. And besides the guests, the way Aronofsky chose to shoot the film is also a major part of what makes us feel unease. For much of the run time of the film we are in extremely tight closeup on Lawrence. So, not only are we connecting with her every feeling about all these people invading her space, but we also start to realize that we are invading her space as well.

The film is buoyed by some incredible performances as well. Javier Bardem is maddeningly likeable as a character we really want to hate. Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a deliciously catty and playfully devious performance. But, Lawrence is the one who sells the film. She gives what I believe is the best performance of her entire career in, easily, the strangest film she has ever done. She should have been nominated for all the awards for this one, because she is next-level incredible. From start to finish, Lawrence’s performance and Aronofsky’s intruding eye make mother! one hell of a ride. It is one of the most unique film experiences of last year and, I daresay, one of the most unique films of all time.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

14. I, Tonya

Directed By Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya doesn’t fit neatly into any categories. Neither a biopic, conventionally speaking, or a full-on comedy, the film smartly eschews most conventions and does its own thing (Much like its main character). From the very start, director Craig Gillespie makes clear that this is based on true events, but the truth of the matter is very much in question. Taken from various interviews, no one may ever truly know what happened leading up to the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident and I, Tonya is comfortable with that. That’s because Gillespie isn’t after the truth of the events, but a higher truth about how Tonya Harding became both the first American woman to land a triple axle jump and a woman accused of having a fellow competitor injured. All of this centers on a truly revelatory story of abuse.

Through a powerhouse performance from Margot Robbie, I, Tonya shows a surprisingly realistic portrait of the cyclical nature of abuse. From the abuse Harding receives at an early age from her mother (played by an incredible Allison Janney) to marrying the abusive Jeff Gillooly (An equally impressive Sebastian Stan), we see a presentation of abuse that is surprisingly able to use both comedic and dramatic elements. The use of comedy is respectfully restrained and does not minimize the abuse, but instead makes a line from Harding later on in the film cut even deeper. After we have seen the full extent of the abuse she endured, Harding addresses the audience directly, telling us that we were her abusers too. Through experiencing the rush to villainize and make fun of Harding in the media through her eyes, we see how true that statement really is. The film may take Harding’s side a little too much in regards to the truth of the actual incident, but it gets at a larger truth about celebrity and abuse that rings quite true.

I haven’t even gotten to the technical achievements of the film, but suffice to say I, Tonya presents this insane story in an incredibly engaging and visually dynamic way. If NBC filmed Olympic figure skating like I, Tonya does, I would watch every single second of coverage. The skating scenes (mainly accomplished through literally having a cameraman skate with Robbie and her doubles with a 35mm camera on his shoulder) are some of the most dynamic sports scenes I’ve ever seen. And editor Tatiana Riegel got an Oscar nomination for a reason. With wonderful performances, a tight script and an exciting visual presentation, I, Tonya is the rare biopic that feels like it brings something new to the equation.

Currently In Theaters

13. War for the Planet of the Apes

Directed By Matt Reeves

War for the Planet of the Apes is an astounding achievement in filmmaking and the best finale to a trilogy I’ve seen since Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. And much like that trilogy capper, War also features an astounding motion capture performance from the great Andy Serkis. Director Matt Reeves renders the world in lush colors and brings a type of controlled, sure-handed cinematography rarely seen in modern blockbusters. The action is electric, but not chaotic. It is a type of filmmaking and a type of story that we simply don’t see on this scale anymore where every single frame is deliberate and every camera move is purposeful. With War, Reeves has crafted a modern biblical epic with apes at its core and, though the filmmaking is clearly inspired by cinema of old, it couldn’t feel more fresh. With War, Matt Reeves has made the new Apes trilogy one of the best of all time.

Read Full Review Here

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

12. BPM

Directed By Robin Campillo

There were only a handful of films that I cried during last year. There were only two I full-on ugly cried during: To The Bone and the French film BPM. Set in 1980s Paris during the height of the AIDS epidemic, BPM focuses on two men involved in a protest group fighting against the disease. The men, Sean and Nathan, fall in love and form a relationship despite their differing diagnoses (Sean has AIDS and Nathan does not). With incredibly engaging cinematography and wonderful performances from the two leads, BPM captures the hard work that political action requires and shows a loving, vibrant relationship between two gay men despite the complication of the disease. The film does not shy away from showing the joy that these two men experience together, thus making the inevitable darkness that comes for them all the more devastating. Most importantly though, the film pays tribute to the men and women who took a stand against corruption and indifference during a time when thousands of marginalized people were dying. It gives these braves souls their full humanity and tells their story to a world which, especially right now, could stand to hear it. BPM is not an easy film, but it is a vital, beautifully made story that needed to be told.

Read Full Review Here

Currently Available on VOD

11. First They Killed My Father

Directed By Angelina Jolie

First They Killed My Father was one of the most beautiful, devastating experiences I had with a film all year. Through the eyes of five year-old Loung Ung, it shows the horrors of the Cambodian genocide, the love of family, the tragedy of war, the beauty of Cambodia and the resilience of its people. Sareum Srey Moch as Loung gives one of the best child performances of the year and, because director Angelina Jolie cast the film locally, you can feel the authenticity from the rest of the cast as well. That it is also told entirely in the Khmer language adds to that.

Jolie herself was deserving of awards recognition for her direction. The way she captures the experience of this girl, literally putting the camera at her height and viewing the world as she would, it is incredibly immersive and strikingly beautiful. And her clear respect for the Cambodian people and this story shines through. With First They Killed My Father, Jolie and her crew managed to make a film that is not only engaging and technically impressive; They made a film that is important.

Read Full Review Here

Currently Streaming on Netflix

Honorable Mentions

 

For my Top 10 films of 2017, please listen to the Cinema Bros’ Top 10 Podcast HERE

Jake’s Top Films of 2017: 20-11

By Jacob Wampfler


20. Wheelman

Directed By Jeremy Rush

wheelman

Jeremy Rush’s film debut is nothing short of spectacular. I mentioned the film in out best new directors article and our top shots round-up, but even that seemed hollow to me. To neglect Wheelman as an entire film would be a mistake. It’s a brilliant, economic, heart-pounding thrill ride, and I loved every moment of it’s getaway driver insanity.

Since I’ve already addressed the camera work and direction elsewhere, this is my ode to Frank Grillo. In true getaway driver fashion, we only know Grillo as the titular wheelman. He’s enigmatic, timeless, and he carries the world on his shoulders. Restricted to his car as the primary conceit of the film, Grillo conveys the quiet panic of a man who will protect his family by any means necessary. Wheelman establishes Grillo as a more than capable leading man, and I truly hope that other filmmakers and studios are paying attention. His range in the film is impressive. He goes from sadness to rage to iron resolve on a dime throughout, and he does it all behind the wheel of his BMW. I hope other studios are taking note of this new distribution model set forth by Netflix. Low to mid-budget genre films are on the rise thanks to the streaming giant, and I would love to see more films like Wheelman in the future.

Currently Streaming on Netflix

19. Win it All

Directed By Joe Swanberg

Win it All

As I think back on this film, I can’t help but smile. I love Jake Johnson, and Joe Swanberg gave him the perfect vehicle with Win it All to be the most Jake Johnson-y he has ever been on-screen. Eddie, the recovering gambling addict, is a disheveled, train-wreck of a guy throughout the entire film. But we love him for it. In Eddie, Swanberg gives us someone to root for, someone that we truly hope can get a handle on his addiction. With this film and To the Bone, Netflix gave us two fantastic films in 2017 about what we struggle with as human beings. Win it All has the right balance of levity and honesty, while also leaving us with hope for those who struggle with addiction.

In addition to Johnson, Swanberg pulled out his seemingly endless contact list to get Keegan-Michael Key and Joe Lo Truglio on board as Gene and Ron, Eddie’s sponsor and older brother respectively. As with all of Swanberg’s films, Win it All has a lived-in mumblecore vibe despite it’s top notch cast. We feel the conflict and sheer hilarity of situations in which Eddie puts himself. Yet we also feel his sadness as he goes to a gamblers anonymous meeting and shares his struggles with fellow addicts. Swanberg affords Eddie a humanity that is oddly rare for films about addiction. Eddie is a normal guy, trying to get through the day like the rest of us. With Win it All, Swanberg gave us a hidden gem of 2017 and a delightful optimism sorely needed in our world today.

Currently Streaming on Netflix

18. It Comes at Night

Directed By Trey Edward Shults

It Comes at Night

Words can’t even begin to describe It Comes at Night. I’ve tried to bring myself to re-watch this film a few times since I originally viewed it in 2017. I have it ready to stream, all I need to do is push “play”…and I can’t do it. To watch this film is a descent into darkness I have rarely seen elsewhere. However, it’s a darkness that is all too real in our world. The paranoia and madness with which these characters treat one another is so familiar that it’s nauseating. I’m avoiding plot details for obvious reasons; It Comes at Night is not what you think. Poor marketing is somewhat to blame, but I kind of enjoyed the head-fake with all things considered. However, be warned. This film’s ending is so bleak, so merciless in it’s view of humanity that it left me speechless. Trey Edward Shults is a new director to watch, and It Comes at Night is one hell of a calling card.  

Currently Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

17. Lady Bird

Directed By Greta Gerwig

lady bird

It’s confession time for this Cinema Bro. I wanted to hate Lady Bird. With all the positive buzz and (in my assumption) hipster Greta Gerwig in the director’s chair, the old curmudgeon that resides within me walked into this films with arms crossed. My bad attitude and close-mindedness is precisely why Lady Bird triumphs. It softens even the hardest of hearts, in my estimation, and it shows us a picture of youth that is nearly universal. I laughed and cried throughout, and I am so thankful that this film was made.

For me, Lady Bird is also very personal. I graduated from high school in 2005, and the entire film takes place in the early 2000’s. As Lady Bird tries to use the dial-up internet she also sees images of the war in Iraq on her TV screen and hears Justin Timberlake’s music at a party. Both sadness and hopefulness permeate the entire run-time of the film, and Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother hit close to home for me. Laurie Metcalf’s performance, especially in a scene toward the end of the film, cut right to my heart. Friendship, hope for the future, and teenage bitterness are conveyed with the accuracy of someone for whom these experiences are still fresh and real. Gerwig has established herself as a fantastic young talent, and Saoirse Ronan delivers yet another fantastic performance in one of the most wonderfully joyful films of 2017.

Currently in Theaters

16. Lady Macbeth

Directed By William Oldroyd

Lady Macbeth - Still 1

It occurred to me after watching Lady Macbeth that this film is 2017’s version of The Witch. Indie studio A24 specializes in delivering these dark, twisted tales that are hardly what they seem at first glance. Lady Macbeth does not disappoint in this respect, and it adds another complicated layer to the story of a young woman pushing back against those who oppress her.

Director William Oldroyd has a significant background in stage production, and he exercises that to great effect in Lady Macbeth. The camera is static and the estate in which Katherine lives is maddeningly creaky and old. Oldroyd uses this to his advantage though, and he makes it clear that Katherine’s activities in and around the mansion do not go unnoticed. No matter to Lady Katherine though. She doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of her. As such, Florence Pugh gives a startling performance as the lead, so much so that she eclipses nearly every other performance in the film. This is by design however; Katherine’s dominance is the central theme of the film and she will not let anyone stand in her way. This period piece left a lasting impression on me, and I simply cannot wait to see what Oldroyd and Pugh do next.  

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

15. Good Time

Directed By Benny and Josh Safdie

Good Time

I would be hard pressed to describe precisely why Good Time resonated with me so much when I watched it last year. It’s an exceedingly rare film, one that defies genre in some respects and also features only a couple actors that you’ve ever seen before. It’s certainly not fun viewing either. After all the film is about a young man, Connie, who brings his developmentally disabled brother with him to rob a bank. As the story unfolds, however, this becomes more than your average New York crime film. There’s philosophical depth to its message, and the Safdie brothers set out to highlight societal issues while also not letting Connie off the hook.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Robert Pattinson’s performance in the film. It’s honestly the glue that makes everything stick together. It would be very easy for a film like this to unravel quickly without a strong, anchoring central performance. Pattinson gives us that anchor and then some as he cons his way through the seedy New York City nighttime. As he desperately tries to rescue his brother, Nick, from prison we quickly realize that he will do anything and use anyone to accomplish his endgame. Pattison’s performance combined with an audacious visual aesthetic and pulsing score make Good Time a rare cinematic experience, one that I will be sure to revisit in the near future.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

14. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed By Martin McDonagh

Three Billboards

When I found out this film was being made over a year ago, I knew it would make my year-end list in whatever year it was released. I am an unabashed film disciple of Martin McDonagh (and his brother, John Michael) and I love nearly all of their films. When I first saw Three Billboards, I knew that it was certainly the most ambitious film I had seen from either of the McDonaghs. That’s actually somewhat impressive given that Martin’s previous film, Seven Psychopaths changed my definition of the term “meta” and made me look at film and storytelling  differently than ever before. Fantastic performances set aside, I truly believe that Three Billboards is a flawed, zealous masterclass in storytelling, and I hope it might be looked upon with a bit more grace as time goes on.

It’s no secret that Three Billboards has been embroiled in controversy since it started receiving awards. The two main criticisms are it’s treatment of the racist police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and the lack of agency given to the film’s characters of color. I won’t defend those things outright, because those concerns are valid. There are certainly problematic elements contained within this film. However, I will propose that McDonagh actually created the film to be problematic on multiple levels. Recently breaking his silence on the critical backlash to Three Billboards, he said outright, “It’s supposed to be a deliberately messy and difficult film….” McDonagh has never been a filmmaker to care much about his audience’s feelings, and he continues that trend with Three Billboards. Is it offensive? Absolutely. However, it’s in this offensive, messy tale of an enraged mother and a racist police officer that we see bridges built and old wounds being healed. Forgiveness is possible in McDonagh’s Ebbing, Missouri and it doesn’t mean you have to forget the damage that came before it.

Currently in Theaters

13. The Lost City of Z

Directed By James Gray

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is an exceedingly special film. It was shot on 35mm film by a filmmaker who revels in old school Hollywood. James Gray began his career with a handful of crime films and then pivoted his attention with The Immigrant to period dramas. The Lost City of Z is said to be his finest film to date, and I can absolutely see why. It’s a sweeping, epic adventure of a day gone by, and one can’t help but get caught up in it’s magical beauty.

When Gray set out to make this film, he had a difficult task in front of him. History tells us that the British explorer Percy Fawcett went on eight expeditions to South America over the course of almost 20 years, 1906-1925. On his final expedition, Fawcett vanished along with his oldest son, Jack. It stands to reason that Gray had to get creative with his script and the way in which he told this story. What unfolds for the viewer is a slow, deliberate tale of a man obsessed with the unknown. Fawcett was after a lost city that he dubbed “Z,” and we will likely never know what became of him after his disappearance.

Charlie Hunnam was brilliantly cast as Fawcett in this film, and Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland log fantastic supporting performances as Fawcett’s fellow explorer and oldest son respectively. Hunnam conveys the determination and loneliness of a man searching for life’s greatest mysteries, and it’s one of the best performances of his career. Sienna Miller also stands out as Fawcett’s long-suffering wife, ultimately left behind a widow. Despite its sheer wonder, the film is tinged with deep sadness throughout. Although we may not know what happened to Fawcett in the end, we can yet hope that he ultimately found that for which he was searching.

Currently Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

12. The Shape of Water

Directed By Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water

With The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro has given filmgoers a movie that is desperately needed in multiplexes and art-house theaters everywhere. This film is poignant, intelligent, and heartfelt, and it also addresses a number of societal issues that still plague our culture daily. It’s also a science fiction film – but it’s not a sequel, reboot, rebootquel, or anything of the sort. In addition, it features knockout performances from stellar actors. If you had told me 2017 would give us Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer in the same film, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. The Shape of Water is currently nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, and if it won all thirteen it would be one of the most deserving films to do so.

And then there is Sally Hawkins. Before The Shape of Water, I had only seen her in a handful of films. Here, she gives one of the best performances of 2017 (if not the last decade), all without saying a word. We feel her longing for love and meaning as she emotes with her eyes and body language. Sometimes she is gleeful and almost childish. At other times she is fierce and determined. All things considered, she makes this film exactly what it is. Del Toro and his screenwriting partner Vanessa Taylor gave their talented cast a wonderful script, and cinematographer Dan Laustsen brings it all together with nothing short of dazzling camerwork. This film is the whole package, and I am supremely glad that Del Toro set out to make this enchanting tale of love and sacrifice.

Currently in Theaters

11. Colossal

Directed By Nacho Vigalondo

Colossal

Colossal is one of my most beloved films of 2017. That may seem odd, given the subject material, but let me explain. It’s defies just about any genre tag you could try to give it. Is it sci-fi, drama, romance…what is it? There is no way this film should actually work, by any stretch of the imagination. Even thinking back on the plot, this becomes immediately apparent to me. An alcoholic woman is kicked out by her boyfriend and moves back to her hometown only to find out that she has a mysterious connection with a kaiju monster terrorizing South Korea…huh?!?!? However, it’s in this sheer insanity of a story about kaiju, addiction, and abusive relationships that we are pulled in and reminded of our own demons. We hurt others and we are wounded by others just the same. Don’t let the skyscraper-sized monsters fool you – this is a film about all of us.

One thing that still sticks with me long after viewing Colossal is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Gloria. She is a complicated, loveable mess who keeps falling into the same destructive patterns over and over again. I’m truly upset that she was never considered for any awards for this performance. She completely and wholly sells Colossal as a serious film about addiction and toxic relationships, and I loved every second of her performance. I won’t say much about Jason Sudeikis as Gloria’s childhood friend Oscar. Let’s just say he plays against type in this film, to say the least. I don’t know how director Nacho Vigalondo got this film made, and quite frankly I don’t care. We need more creative cinema like Colossal, and I truly hope that we see more of the same from Hathaway and Vigalondo very soon.

Currently Streaming on Hulu

 

For Jake’s Top 10 films of 2017, please listen to the Cinema Bros’ Top 10 Podcast HERE

 

 

Sam’s Top Films of 2017: 20-11

By Sam Wampfler


20. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Three Billboards may not be my favorite Martin McDonagh film, but I still felt that it had to make it onto my top 20. It is a wonderful piece of satire that delves right into so many societal issues that our world is facing, such as racism, sexism, and basic prejudice. It doesn’t handle all of these matters perfectly, but the mere fact that it is trying to comment on them sets it above many other films.

What really makes Three Billboards great are its fabulous performances. Frances McDormand, always fantastic, excels in her role as Mildred, a mother trying to get justice for her murdered child. She is downright hilarious in some scenes, especially when she is screaming in righteous anger at the idiots on the news covering her story, but it is in her moments of mourning her daughter that she obtains her most heartbreaking and poignant moments. Sam Rockwell is also notable as the racist cop who starts off as a problem for Mildred and ends up as her only supporter. He also spans the spectrum between hilarity and sadness, giving one of the best performances of his career. Three Billboards can be a rough watch at times, but it remains a relevant and entertaining film.

Currently In Theaters

19. Brigsby Bear

Directed By Dave McCary

Brigsby Bear was the last film I watched from 2017 and I am extremely glad I was able to fit it in. The plot of this film is super quirky as it deals with the uniquely millennial issue of pop culture addiction. No other generation has obsessed as much over different forms of media and this is expertly portrayed through James’ (SNL’s Kyle Mooney) love for his childhood TV show, Brigsby Bear. Mooney does a great job in his first big film acting role and really brings a heartwarming quality to the character.

Director Dave McCary’s greatest accomplishment in the film is creating the world of the Brigsby Bear show. We see clips from the original episodes of Brigsby Bear that are complete with a retro VHS effect. These clips are brilliant and have great voice acting moments by Mark Hamill. We then see James’ updated final episode of Brigsby Bear and it is a sight to behold. It contains some of the best shots of the entire film, including some paying homage to shows of the past including Star Wars and Star Trek. For his first feature film, McCary definitely created a lovely and visually entertaining tale.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

18. I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya reminded me a lot of The Big Short. They have the same frenetic energy and they both tell a not so happy true story in a comedic and lighthearted way. I knew next to nothing about Tonya Harding before this film and I found the whole story completely fascinating. It took its source material, conflicting interviews, to heart and really showed all of the sides of the story without demonizing any of the characters.

What really makes this film work is the amazing performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie was perfect for the role of Tonya Harding. She played Tonya during multiple stages in her life and she nailed every age perfectly. Janney, who plays Harding’s mother, completely transforms herself. Her performance is wonderful and you often find yourself laughing at many of her lines, even the terrible ones that you shouldn’t find funny. Her mother was a terrible person and Janney really leans into the role. The rest of the cast is great as well and they all help to make I, Tonya a truly delightful biopic.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

17. The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro has a knack for creating fantastical worlds that dazzle the minds of viewers. The world in The Shape of Water is no exception. On the surface it is merely a quaint 1960’s town, but, besides the fish man that we are introduced to, there is a particular sense of magic that the town exudes. It has a certain glow to it that makes you believe that anything could happen. This glow also seems to emanate from the main character Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute maid at a secret government facility. Hawkins plays Elisa brilliantly. She is absolutely charming and completely elevates an already incredible film.

Two of the most impressive technical aspects of The Shape of Water are the design of Doug Jones’ fish man and the underwater scenes. The makeup artists that created the fish man design and completely transformed Jones deserve much more credit than they have received. Jones himself is and always has been great at bringing his non-human parts to life in a very unique way, and the Shape of Water is no exception. Visually, the underwater scenes are phenomenal because most weren’t shot in water at all. It is uncanny how perfectly they captured how the character’s hair and clothes would flow underwater. The Shape of Water is definitely a technical and visual masterpiece.

Currently In Theaters

16. Blade Runner 2049

Directed By Dennis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 is a long but film but it never feels long. Every shot and every scene is so enthralling, which is partially due to some amazing visual effects and production design and partially due to the terrific performances of an amazing cast. Ryan Gosling, as usual, gives a wonderful performance. It may even be one of the best of his career. Harrison Ford is also great, giving his signature grumpy old man performance, as he reprises his role as Rick Deckard.

The best aspect of the film, though, is how it not only continues the Blade Runner story but also updates it. It is the same world, but much has changed since the original. The most fascinating elements are the scenes where we see the cityscapes from the original now abandoned and surrounded by pollution. The society of the world has also changed, and not for the better, even though film’s antagonist would have you think so. Parallels can be made to our own world in this way. Blade Runner 2049 is not only a work of art, but also a great piece of social commentary.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

15. Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By Taika Waititi

It is rather astounding that it took three tries to get a good Thor film, but it finally happened. With Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi gave us a funny, epic, and visually stunning comic book tale. One of his best moves was finally letting Chris Hemsworth unleash his comedic wit as the God of Thunder. Past films had him acting all grim and straight faced for much of their runtime. In Thor: Ragnarok he becomes one of the main driving comedic forces, along with Waititi’s ability to subvert audience expectation to a hilarious degree.

This is also one of the most visually stunning films that Marvel has released. Two scenes in particular stand out as exceptional. One is an homage to Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where in Thor is driven through a psychedelic tunnel, and the other is a flashback of Hela versus the Valkyries. The Valkyrie scene may be the most brilliant footage ever to come out of a comic book movie. Thor: Ragnarok is more proof that Marvel knows how to craft high quality entertaining films.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

14. Logan Lucky

Directed By Steven Soderbergh

 

Steven Soderbergh’s directing credits are somewhat all over the place. He has made dramas like Traffic, documentaries like Gray’s Anatomy, and more comedic fare like Magic Mike. For most mainstream moviegoers though he is best known for the Ocean’s Eleven series. With Logan Lucky he asks “What if they robbed NASCAR instead of Vegas?” It turns out that this was a question that had a hilarious answer.

Most notable for their comedic performances in the film are Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. Both of them transform themselves for their roles and give incredible performances. Besides being hilarious though, Logan Lucky also takes times to slow its pace and get in some very heartwarming character development. Some of this is between the two Logan brothers played by Driver and Channing Tatum, but the best example is the building of the relationship between Tatum’s character and his daughter. It is a running theme that he is not always around for her but the two care a great deal for each other. The opening scene is simply a conversation between father and daughter about their favorite country songs and the daughter’s upcoming pageant. It is a lovely moment and completely sets Logan Lucky a step above most traditional comedies.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

13. John Wick: Chapter 2

Directed By Chad Stahelski

The first John Wick was incredible in many ways. It had some of the most incredible action sequences ever put to film and Keanu Reeves as one of the most badass action stars of all time. It was hard to say if the second chapter would be able to live up to its predecessor, but it absolutely did in every way possible. The guns are bigger, the fights are more intense, and the cast includes some even bigger names, including Laurence Fishburne and Common (who gets in an epic physical brawl with Reeves).

John Wick Chapter 2’s most important addition is its world building. In the first film we are introduced to a hotel where no hits are allowed to go down. In this new chapter we find out there is a whole organization of hitmen with distinct rules, a weapon sommelier, and a group of phone operators all dressed in pink that are able to to put out hits with the touch of a button. In a sense we find out that this is a world that may be inhabited entirely by hitmen. It is a wonderful premise that really builds up a lot of excitement for the third chapter.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

12. Dunkirk

Directed By Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is exceptional as a war film because, unlike others of its kind, it does not rely on a lot of normal war film tropes. There aren’t any sprawling battlefields. There are just soldiers on a beach. You barely even see the enemy forces. Dunkirk instead relies on its non-linear timeline, intense and driving score, and powerful performances to immerse the viewer in the experience of thousands of soldiers who were stranded in enemy territory waiting for what seemed like an almost impossible rescue.

Dunkirk’s non-linear timeline was confusing at first, but when it started to make sense it also became its most genius aspect. At this point, there have to have been hundreds of war films made and without a doubt Dunkirk is one of the most creative and moving of all of them. We get the stories of the men on the beach, the civilian boat owners, and the pilots trying to protect all of them at different yet interlocking speeds. All while a watch ticking effect accompanies the score and drives the action and the tension. It is truly one of Nolan’s most breathtaking achievements.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

11. Colossal

Directed By Nacho Vigalondo

Normally, films that involve giant monsters attacking cities don’t delve into any deep and emotional themes. Colossal goes against the norm and jumps straight into some very impressive commentary on addiction and abuse, both verbal and physical. Even with these dark themes, the film still remains funny, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable. Much of this is due to excellent performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

Hathaway, in particular, is extremely intriguing as the main character Gloria. She wholly transforms herself for the role and she is the main source of both the comedic and dramatic moments in the film. Her progression through the stages of addiction are hard to watch at times, but there is a unique charm to her performance that really make you feel for her. She also has some of the most hilarious moments when she discovers how she is linked to the monster in Seoul, South Korea. Colossal is a wonderful example of how you can take a common film genre and transform it into something meaningful, fun, and new.  

Currently Streaming on Hulu

 

For Sam’s Top 10 films of 2017, please listen to the Cinema Bros’ Top 10 Podcast HERE

“BPM” – A Vital Film About Love, Death and Political Action

By Josiah Wampfler


“[I]t is IMPORTANT AS HELL, especially right now, to see a film based on factual events featuring YOUNG PEOPLE literally fighting for their lives, fighting for all our lives honestly, against bigotry and bigoted bureaucratic policy (not to mention corporate greed).”

– Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight.


I decided to see the French film BPM off of this recommendation and, much like Jenkins, the film utterly destroyed me. The realistic ways it dealt with death, love and political action completely floored me. It is something I have really never seen before. Strangely enough, the best review quote that summed up many of my thoughts on the film was found in a mixed review from critic John Bleasdale. He writes, “[Director Robin] Campillo doesn’t edit for our comfort and we feel both the tragedy and the boredom of death.” And this is exactly what makes BPM so profound.

BPM is set in 1980s Paris during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The film revolves around an AIDS political action group called ACT UP PARIS who are fed up with how the government and pharmaceutical companies are ignoring marginalized people affected by the disease like drug users and the LGBTQ community. More specifically though, BPM is about two men (one who has AIDS and the other who doesn’t) who fall in love amidst this group.

This relationship is the driving force behind the film. Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) contracted the disease when he was in his teens from a school teacher he had a relationship with. Nathan (Arnaud Valois) has had lovers he found out later were diagnosed, but he has been fortunate enough to remain negative. Sean has been intimately involved in the group for awhile when Nathan shows up and they hit it off almost immediately.

What makes BPM so wonderful and unique is how this relationship plays out. Sean and Nathan, despite having different statuses enjoy a loving relationship filled with safe sex. And despite the dark turn that inevitably comes for the two of them, BPM does not shy away from showing the utter joy they experience together, and that includes some explicit sex scenes that are tender but also as sexy as heterosexual sex scenes we’ve seen in film. The joy that is shown throughout the film gives these men their full humanity, refusing to reduce their stories to merely tragedy, but it also makes the pain that comes that much more devastating

Though the film is set in the 1980s, it could not be more relevant or vital for today. BPM painstakingly shows the hard work that political action requires. Much of the film takes place in a classroom where ACT UP PARIS meets, showing the members vigorously debating what actions to take. Most importantly, the film shows us both the value and difficulty of compromise. As Jenkins’ quote at the top of the page says, it is incredibly important for people right now to see the work that is required for political change. To see that work being done by queer folks is even better.

Bringing together all of these elements is some truly beautiful cinematography (One of the main reasons the classroom scenes feel so vibrant and kinetic) and incredible performances from the entire cast, but specifically Biscayart and Valois. The chemistry between these two men jumps off the screen and it is the work that they put in toward the end of the film that had me in full ugly cry mode. BPM is not an easy sit. It certainly takes its time showing us the lives of these characters (Both the tragedy and boredom are in there). But, it is a beautiful, raw story that needed to be told, especially now.

BPM is currently available to rent through Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes.