Monday, July 16, 2018

And What Didn't Make My 2017 Top Ten List

As a companion piece to my Top Ten list, every year I write a post to discuss some of the other major films that got a lot of attention, in order to give some context to my own choices. I find that writing this type of analysis piece helpful when working out how I feel about my list and the year in film as a whole. It's also usually a lot of fun. Please note that I will not be writing about films listed among my honorable mentions like "I, Tonya" and "Mudbound."

So let's start with the Oscar favorites. I've already mentioned in other posts that I was surprised that this year's frontrunners were the films I considered to be the weaker nominees in the Best Picture race. While I was overall positive on "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and "The Shape of Water," I thought both had significant weaknesses and were nowhere near the best work of their directors. "Three Billboards" was admirably ambitious, but also clunky in its execution and full of unforced filmmaking errors. "The Shape of Water" got a lot of things right, but its attention wandered in the second half, and I felt like important scenes were cut or missing. Also, some of that dialogue was very unfortunate.

Now, "Call Me By Your Name" was much higher in the ranks, but I found it awfully slow going, and only the last half hour or so proved very compelling. There are things that it does very well, but frankly this just isn't my kind of movie. "The Post" was full of wonderful things, and managed to utterly fail to live up to any of them. It's a shame, because there are a lot of little moments that I really loved in that film, but overall it's so unfocused and oddly derivative of better films. I have no complaints about "Darkest Hour," not even the subway scenes, which fit perfectly well into the kind of patriotic, larger-than-life Churchill lionizing that Joe Wright was aiming for. I just wasn't a fan of what he was aiming for, beautifully executed as it was.

The big mainstream hits turned up some interesting titles. However, as much as I appreciate the success of "Wonder Woman," I thought it was a perfectly average film. "Spider-man: Homecoming" was my favorite superhero flick this year, with "Logan" a respectable second. "The Last Jedi" is my favorite "Star Wars" film in a long time, but it's so uneven that there was no way I could justify putting it anywhere on the final list. Meanwhile, the new adaptation of Stephen King's "It" came out better than I expected, but I wouldn't call it a great film by any measure. I also found that it was largely overshadowed by a very satisfying second season of "Stranger Things."

I'm still in the process of watching the notable foreign films of last year, and there have been some interesting finds. Sadly, it was difficult for me to find much empathy for the central characters of "BPM" and "Nocturama." "Raw" was an interesting take on genre themes, but I found the ending kind of a mess. I liked parts of "The Square," though I'm not sure that I was ever on the same page with it. Finally, I was totally unable to wrap my head around what Bong Joon-ho was trying to do with "Okja," which was weird to the point of off-putting.

It wasn't a very good year for animation. "Coco" was groundbreaking in many important respects, but Miguel gets more and more exasperating on rewatches. Meanwhile the two highly touted independent animated features in the awards race, "Loving Vincent" and "The Breadwinner," both failed to impress. I'm very surprised that "Mary and the Witch's Flower" didn't get more attention, even if I wasn't all that enamoured with it.

And very quickly, "Wind River" miscast a major role and chose the wrong POV character, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" felt like Lanthimos repeating himself and was too absurd to take at face value, "The Disaster Artist" was way too self-congratulatory, "The Beguiled" suffered in comparison to the original film, "Baby Driver" ran out of gas too early, and the Safdie brothers' "Good Time" went over my head.

Movies that almost made the honorable mentions list include "The Big Sick" and "Norman." Also, big kudos to the crew of "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" for delivering the best surprise of the year.

But oddly, the film most representative of the year may be "The Greatest Showman," an old fashioned original musical about P.T. Barnum's circus. It premiered seven months after Barnum's real circus closed for good, and a week after it was announced that the producing studio, Twentieth Century Fox, would be acquired by Disney. Times are changing, and changing fast.

And that's my 2017 in film.

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