2018 – The Year in Review – Film & Television

[This was an unpublished draft I’m dusting off… and almost in time for the compilation of my 2019 Year in Review 🤦🏽‍♂️]

Increasingly, the lines between entertainment mediums are being blurred and new forms are emerging. From the entire-season-all-at-one-time binge-fests facilitated by the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, to the evolution of the “mini-series” or “limited” series on HBO, FX and Showtime, etc. The ubiquitous nature of visual entertainment these days means a glut of content, comprised of new material jostling for eyeballs amidst a pantheon of classics.

2018 found me visiting a number of classics for the very first time in my life, while also trying to keep up with the water cooler conversations about whichever comic book character had a CGI monster battle last week.

They have a saying at Pixar, “Story Is King.” Which means, in essence, that it’s far more important for an audience member to walk away from a film feeling something rather than to simply show a barrage of eye-popping visuals or reveal some kind of logic-bending twist surprise at the end. If the effect is powerful enough it is even possible for a good story to completely alter an audience member’s worldview.

Every film on this list told a story with characters that made me feel something real.

So, without further ado, here are Joel’s Best Films viewed (for the first time) in 2018:

10 Key Largo

10. Key Largo (1948)

Owing largely to my subscription to FilmStuck (R.I.P.), I was able to watch a whole slew of classic Hollywood films this year. Dominating my watchlist in 2018 were the films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, 3 of which are on this list.  First up is the Noir Thriller Key Largo, a taut, gripping screen adaption of the stage play by the same name originally written in blank verse by Maxwell Anderson. Bogart gives an understated performance as a WWII veteran who is undergoing a personal crisis of confidence. Supporting him in the cast are Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall (Bogart’s real-life wife), and Lionel Barrymore, et al. The heart of the story revolves around concepts of heroism and machismo, the nature of valor and honor and what real courage looks like. When tested, what man can truly claim to have given his all?

09 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

9. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Huston and Bogart teamed up again in 1948 to make The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, adapted from the novel of the same name, written by B. Traven, an author whose true identity remains unknown to this very day. This time around, Bogart shares the screen with the director’s real-life father, Walter Huston, who steals every scene in his role as Howard, the grizzled, old prospector who is hired by Bogart’s character, Dobbs, and his partner, Curtain, played by Tim Holt.  The film is a masterful case study in avarice, greed, and the soul-corrupting effects of selfish ambition.

08 The Maltese Falcon

8. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

A re-adaptation of an already-well-known story, The Maltese Falcon was also a collaboration between Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. Once again, the big themes are avarice and deceit. I definitely was on a noir kick in 2018.

07 Lawrence of Arabia

7. Lawrence of Arabia

An epic oft-cited as the greatest film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia exists on a plane of filmmaking all its own. There are no matte shots. No glass plates. Every performance is a revelation. Even though it can be a bit weird to see Anthony Quinn and Alec Guinness pretending to be Arabs. Peter O’Toole puts out a match. An inimitable film.

06 Thor Ragnarok

6. Thor: Ragnarok

I watched this movie FOUR TIMES. Not much else to say about it except that Taika Waititi is a joyously-talented film maker who manages to execute at a very high level in his craft while maintaining a wry sense of self-deprecating humor. A perfect director to rehabilitate the foundering Thor franchise.

05 The Trip to Spain

5. The Trip to Spain

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon returned in the latest installment in, “the only movie franchise that matters” back in 2017. The ending took me off guard. They could keep making these films forever, and I’ll show up for each and every one.

04 Loving

4. Loving

Based upon the true-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose arrest for interracial marriage, then illegal in the state of Virginia, led to a legal battle that culminated in the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision. A powerful and effective portrayal by Jeff Nichols and his excellent cast.

03 A Ghost Story

3. A Ghost Story

A metaphysical journey into the big questions of life, death and the hereafter from the same guy who directed the live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon? OK. David Lowery’s film is mostly dialogue-free, and exists in a realm of pure cinema. Featuring my second-favorite Bonnie “Prince” Billy acting performance (after Old Joy).

02 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen Bros., like many modern, “auteurs” have a distinct palette with which they weave the tapestries of their art form. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, in many ways, is a kind of buffet line of their favorite tropes, archetypes, musical stylings and the ever-ready ensemble of talent they’ve accrued in their peerless careers. Each vignette in this anthology-as-film has a distinct story to tell, and most of them are tragic.

01 The Best Years of Our Lives

1. The Best Years of our Lives (1946)

William Wyler returned from service in WWII to make the best film of his entire career:  A weaving together of the stories of three war veterans returning home after the conclusion of the war to find that they no longer understand and fit in with the society they fought to preserve and protect.

I am not a veteran, and thus lack the basic concepts of what the experience of serving in the United States Armed Forces is like, much less what the psychological, physical and spiritual toll of going to war feels like. However, after I finished The Best Years of our Lives, I felt I had come as close as possible to having the ability to fully empathize with those who’ve served, and to begin to have an inkling of the sacrifices they are asked to make for their fellow countrymen.

The Best Years of our Lives is a supremely humbling film. It features incredible performances from each of its leads, two of whom were real-life veterans. Frederic March served in WWI. Harold Russell served in WWII. The kind of film I will never forget. Steven Spielberg has said that he makes a point of watching it at least once a year.

And that’s my list! From 2018…

Honorable mentions: Dunkirk, The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Endless, Incredibles 2, Look Back in Anger (1959), War for the Planet of the Apes, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Florida Project, Six Shooter, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Kimi no na wa. (Your Name.), Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Whiskey Galore! (1949), Room, Revolutionary Road, Stay Hungry (1976), The Ladykillers (1955), Planet of the Apes (1968), and First Reformed. Someday I’ll write more about First Reformed.

Complete viewing list from 2018:

Regular = movie watched on a TV or other small screen device
BOLD = denotes theatrical viewing
Italic = denotes a “television series” or “mini series”
Underlined = denotes a short film (30 minutes or less)

  1. 20th Century Women
  2. Across the Pacific (1942)
  3. The Adjustment Bureau
  4. Adventure Time: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10
  5. Altered Carbon: Season 1
  6. Alien
  7. Alien3
  8. Alien Versus Predator
  9. Aliens
  10. Alien: Covenant
  11. Alien: Resurrection
  12. An American Tail
  13. The Animation Show of Shows
    • Can You Do It by Quentin Baillieux
    • Tiny Big by Lia Bertels
    • Next Door by Pete Doctor
    • The Alan Dimension by Jac Clinch
    • Beautiful Like Elsewhere by Elise Simard
    • Hangman by Paul Julian & Les Goldman
    • The Battle of San Romano by Georges Schwizgebel
    • Gokurosama by Aurore Gal, Clementine Frère, Yukiko Meignein, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, & Roman Salvini
    • Dear Basketball by Glen Keane
    • Island by Robert Löbel & Max Mörtl
    • Unsatisfying by Parallel Studio
    • The Burden by Niki Lindroth von Bahr
    • Les Abeilles Domestiques by Alexanne Desrosiers
    • Our Wonderful Nature – The Common Chameleon by Tomer Eshed
    • Casino by Steven Wolosehn
    • Everything by David O’Reilly
  14. Asparagus (1979)
  15. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 & 11
  16. Avengers: Infinity War
  17. The Aviator
  18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  19. Barry Lyndon (1975)
  20. Ben-Hur (1959)
  21. The Best Years of our Lives (1946)
  22. The Big Sleep (1946)
  23. The Big Sleep (1978)
  24. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
  25. Black Mirror: Seasons 1, 2, 3, & 4
    • Season 1
      • The Entire History of You
    • Season 2
      • Be Right Back
      • The Waldo Moment
      • White Bear
      • White Christmas
    • Season 3
      • Hated in the Nation
    • Season 4
      • Arkangel
      • Crocodile
      • Hang the DJ
      • USS Callister
  26. Black Panther
  27. The Burning Hell (1974)
  28. Cars 3
  29. Children of the Whales: Season 1
  30. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  31. The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
  32. Coma (1978)
  33. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 4
  34. Crazy Heart
  35. Darkest Hour
  36. Dave Chapelle: The Bird Revelation
  37. Dave Chapelle: Equanimity
  38. Dead Ringers (1988)
  39. Dear Basketball
  40. The Disaster Artist
  41. Disenchantment: Season 1
  42. Dude, Where’s My Car?
  43. Dunkirk
  44. Early Man
  45. The Endless
  46. Evan Almighty
  47. Evil Genius
  48. The Exorcist
  49. The Expanse: Season 1
  50. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  51. Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
  52. Felix Comes Back (1922)
  53. First Reformed
  54. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
  55. The Florida Project
  56. Game of Thrones: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
  57. A Ghost Story (x2)
  58. The Good Place: Seasons 1 and 2
  59. The Greatest Showman
  60. Grey Gardens (1976)
  61. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (x2)
  62. Gulliver’s Travels (1996)
  63. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
  64. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  65. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
  66. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  67. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  68. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
  69. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  70. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  71. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  72. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  73. The Hobbit: Bilbo 3.1 Final Edit
  74. The Hudsucker Proxy
  75. I Am Not Your Negro
  76. Incredibles 2
  77. Incredibles 2
  78. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  79. Innerspace (1987)
  80. It: Chapter One
  81. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
  82. Key Largo (1948)
  83. Majo no takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service)
  84. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
  85. The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)
  86. Knights of Sidonia: Season 2
  87. Kong: Skull Island
  88. Lady Bird
  89. Ladyhawke (1985)
  90. The Ladykillers (1955)
  91. Lawrence of Arabia
  92. Lightning Sketches (1907)
  93. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
  94. Little Dorrit (2008)
  95. The Little Hours
  96. Look Back in Anger (1959)
  97. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
  98. Funny or Die Presents: Lost Masterpieces of Pornography
  99. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)
  100. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  101. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition)
  102. Loving
  103. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  104. Man on the Moon
  105. The Man Who Invented Christmas
  106. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
  107. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  108. Meari to majo no hana (Mary and the Witch’s Flower)
  109. Meet the Happiest Guy in the World
  110. The Mist
  111. The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
  112. Moon
  113. Moonlight
  114. MST3K: I Accuse My Parents
  115. MST3K: Time Chasers
  116. Murder Ahoy (1964)
  117. Murder at the Gallop (1963)
  118. Murder Most Foul (1964)
  119. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
  120. Murder, She Said (1961)
  121. My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes
  122. Neko no ongaeshi (The Cat Returns)
  123. Network (1976)
  124. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman: Barack Obama
  125. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman: George Clooney
  126. The Ωmega Man (1971) 
  127. The Omen (1976)
  128. One Punch Man: Wanpanman (One-Punch Man): Season 1
  129. Oscar
  130. Pacific Rim
  131. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  132. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams: Season 1
    • “Autofac” based on “Autofac”
    • “The Commuter” based on “The Commuter”
    • “Crazy Diamond” based on “Sales Pitch”
    • “The Father Thing” based on “The Father Thing”
    • “The Hood Maker” based on “The Hood Maker”
    • “Human Is” based on “Human Is”
    • “Impossible Planet” based on “The Impossible Planet”
    • “KAO” based on “Hanging Stranger”
    • “Real Life” based on “Exhibit Piece”
    • “Safe and Sound” based on “Foster, You’re Dead”
  133. The Pink Panther Strikes Again
  134. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  135. Planet of the Apes (1968)
  136. The Post
  137. Ready Player One
  138. Ready Player One
  139. ReBoot: Season 1
  140. Regular Show: Seasons 3 and 4
  141. Revolutionary Road
  142. Requiem for a Dream
  143. Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants
  144. The Road to El Dorado
  145. Robin Hood: Men in Tights
  146. Room
  147. The Running Man
  148. Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (1957)
  149. The Shining (1980)
  150. Shocker (1989)
  151. Six Shooter
  152. Sonic the Hedgehog: Season 1
  153. Speed Racer
  154. SpongeBob SquarePants: Seasons 1 and  2
  155. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
  156. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 7
  157. Star Vs. the Forces of Evil: Seasons 1, 2 & 3
  158. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  159. Stay Hungry (1976)
  160. Tales from the Script
  161. Thor: Ragnarok (4 times, yes… FOUR TIMES)
  162. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  163. Time of Day
  164. Tom Jones
  165. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  166. The Trip to Spain
  167. Trollhunters: Part 2
  168. The Twilight Zone: Seasons 1, 2, 3 and 5
  169. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  170. War for the Planet of the Apes
  171. WarCraft
  172. Watership Down (1978)
  173. We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story
  174. Westworld: Season 2
  175. What We Do in the Shadows (x2)
  176. Whiskey Galore! (1949)
  177. Wind in the Willows (1987) (x2)
  178. Wonder Showzen: Season 2
  179. Kimi no na wa. (Your Name.)

 

The Devils (1971)

the-devils-film-2

I just finished watching Ken Russel’s film The Devils (1971), currently streaming over at The Criterion Channel.

The film is itself an adaptation of a 1960 play of the same name by John Whiting, as well as the 1952 non-fictoin novel by Aldux Huxley, entitled, The Devils of Loudun.

Criterion is streaming the 108 minute cut of the film, which is not the uncut version.

The events depicted in the film are based on true events which occurred in Loudun, France in the year 1634. Interestingly enough, Cardinal Richelieu (of Three Musketeers infamy) figures in the story as a kind of distant antagonist.

Without giving too much away, the story centers on a French Catholic Priest, Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), and the Mother Superior of Loudun’s Ursuline convent, Sister Jeanne of the Angels (Vanessa Redgrave). The titular “Devils” go unnamed for most of the film, although an Exorcist eventually puts his finger on them. They are Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, Astaroth, Leviathan, and Elimi.

The document their pact is scrawled upon doesn’t make an appearance in the film. Indeed, the presense of a diabolical, supernatural force of evil is all but absent from the proceedings. At the end, the viewer is left to wonder just *who* the devils really are.

After viewing the film, I did some searching and came upon famed movie critic Roger Ebert’s review of an 111 minute U.S. theatrical cut he viewed in Chicago around the New Year in 1971. He seems to have been either offended or fatigued (or both) by the depiction of the events of the film and his entire review kind of just sounds as though he really hated even having to write about the film. Nevertheless, as with all of his writing, it stands apart.

Now truth, as I’ve explained before, is what’s real. If it isn’t real, it isn’t true, which is why a stone is better than a dream. If it isn’t reality, who needs it? Or could lay hands on it, anyway? And everything on the list above really happened, yes it did. All the events and persons depicted in The Devils are intended to be confused with actual events and persons. How do I know? Ken Russell tells me so.

He gave the film zero stars. AKA, a thumbs down. If memory serves, Ebert was Catholic. That may have factored into his rating.

Speaking about the controversy over the film’s graphic depictions of, well, everything, Oliver Reed is reported to have quipped, “We never set out to make a pretty Christian film, Charlton Heston made enough of those… The film is about twisted people.”

vague-visages-of-love-and-other-demons-the-devils-one

Elsewhere, in an interview conducted last year for the now-defunct FilmStruck (which has been more or less reborn as The Criterion Channel), Kevin M. Flanagan discussed the film and remarked that some critics thought of Huxley’s novel as having been influenced by the HUAC hearings in the US at the time he was writing the book.

My own impression is that the film is an arresting visual achievement that manages to encapsulate the profound and boundless heights and depths to which human beings are capable of going in the name of religion. Some basic themes I found were individuality and freedom versus tyranny and collectivism, faith and conviction versus invective and hysteria, and purity versus impurity.

All graphic depictions and artistic liberties aside, against the backdrop of the French Renaissance and Richelieu’s systematic persecution of the Protestants, I found the story to be hopeful. That a man can choose to give himself over to various powers in recognition of their authority, or he may choose not to do so. Furthermore: that a man’s ability to recognize the primacy of an authority is directly informed by the nature of his relationship with it, and contingent upon his acknowledgement of its reality, or alternatively, his repudiation of its paucity and fraudulence.

Perhaps, though, it is easier to go around looking for devils behind every misfortune than it is to step into the potential of one’s own free will.

2017 – The Year in Review – Film & TV

In 2017, I watched something like 132 films, short films and television series and miniseries. Of those, only 9 were viewed in the theater. Movie-going, as a general recreational activity, seems to be waning in this age of all-streaming-everything-everywhere. Everyone wants to hook up a vacuum tube to the contents of your wallet with their own, proprietary streaming service. For my part, I subscribe to Netflix, HBONow, FilmStruck, Mubi, and Prime Video. Sheesh. Of those, FilmStruck has got to be my favorite, if only for its wide array of hard-to-find, classic art-house cinema. Oh, and they’ve got Criterion, so there’s that!

2017 was also the year in which I finally watched James Cameron’s box-office shattering epic Titanic for the very first time. I sat though it twice. Subsequently, I watched Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember, but that’s going to be fodder for a different piece of writing another day…

Without further ado, here are 15 of the best films I viewed for the very first time in 2017:

15. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

15 It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

When, in 1962, Stanley Kramer set out to shoot this insane, star-studded, comedy-chase-caper with nearly every famous comedian alive, few people would’ve predicted that he could pull it off. The original cut of the film clocked in at somewhere around 5 hours… I viewed the Criterion Collection edition which is only a paltry 197 minutes long. Shot all over the place in Southern California, the film contains a collection of comedy and action set pieces that I defy any modern film maker to replicate without leaning heavily on CGI.

Unwisely, the film was remade in 2001 by Jerry Zucker as Rat Race. While the original shines with the brilliance of a thousand dying suns… when pitted against Zucker’s re-imagining, the later film winks like the power light of a VCR in standby mode.

I hope they screen it again in 70mm someday. Jonathan Winters’ scene at the gas station is the stuff of legend.

14. The Trip

14 The Trip

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon “play” themselves on a cross-country trip to the north of England to review a number of local, high-end restaurants. With the framing of a documentary / film essay, the talents of Mr. Coogan and Mr. Brydon are put on full display as they get on each others nerves, chat about poetry and the dramatic arts, and compare career moves. Ultimately, the film seems to be a meditation on the idealistic fantasy of a poet, or so-called “romantic” person leading a lifestyle unfettered by trivial concerns, giving way to the realization that relationships are more important than professional accomplishment.

There are two sequels to this film, The Trip to Italy and The Trip to Spain. I also watched the former during this year and very much look forward to viewing the latter as soon as I can.

13. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

13 The Last Jedi

The eighth entry in the ongoing commercial saga that is Star Wars is one of the best films in the entire franchise. Drawing obvious comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back, Rian Johnson’s singular foray into a galaxy far, far away as both writer and director is many things, but I fear the audience will likely be split on how “satisfying” the story is for all of the fans who imbue every corner of every frame with deep, speculative significance.

In many ways, the whole point of The Last Jedi seems to be to demystify The Force and wrest it from the grasp of the dualistic orders of the “Jedi” and the “Sith,” choosing to restore it to its original place: in the hands of everyone. Please note the broom. The Force isn’t some magical essence that you can ‘get’ or that some people are just ‘born with’ – The Force is a great equalizing force that anyone can wield, if they practice at it. Sure, there are wise old ‘masters’ with esoteric knowledge of the many powers granted by The Force, but that doesn’t mean they get to hold some kind of metaphysical monopoly over it. TLJ seems to be most concerned with removing all of the scaffolding supporting maniacal fanbase expectations so that the audience well and truly will have no idea what to expect next.

Perhaps people rely too much upon popular culture to give them an identity.

12. Phantom Thread [in 70mm]

12 Phantom Thread

In what is reported to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film, he reunited with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson to tell the fictional tale of a renowned designer of ladies dresses in Postwar London.

Reynolds Woodcock is the character Day-Lewis brings to life, and he may perhaps bear a mysterious curse, a spiritual mark left on him by his late mother, for whom he designed a wedding gown.  Also starring Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps, this is a film of quiet power and a surprising quantity of amusing moments which never failed to elicit audible laughter from the audience I saw it (presented in 70mm) with in Los Angeles.

This may be Paul Thomas Anderson’s most straightforward narrative endeavor since Punch Drunk Love. There are many similarities between the two films, and cinematic homage is paid to Altman, Hitchcock and Kubrick.

11. La tortue rouge (The Red Turtle)

11 The Red Turtle

A remarkable animated film from the Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit. Produced by Studio Ghibli in Japan, this fairy-tale unfolds with almost no dialogue of any kind. A hypnotic experience.

10. Stalker

10 Stalker

A major restoration of this film was released by Criterion in 2017. Andrei Tarkovsky’s final Soviet film is a mesmerizing, deeply philosophical journey into the unknown… but perhaps not the unknowable. Stalker is a technically impressive feat, containing numerous inventive techniques. The film has been a major influence on cinema since its release.

The through-line of Stalker, we might surmise, is emblematic of a schism between East and West, yet at the heart, lies The Zone – a place of truth and revelation. Can anyone be willingly led to it? Or does the journey offer too many opportunities for self-aggrandization and despair?

This film is best watched alone. And uninterrupted. Cinema at its finest shows the audience themselves.

9. The Big Short

9 The Big Short

Films can bring to light issues in ways that newspaper articles, judicial inquiries, and Police investigations simply cannot. In the case of The Big Short, this amounts to encapsulating the nucleus of the recent financial crisis in the US and presenting it in a way that is all at once sardonic, hilarious, and sobering.

More than anything, though, this film underscores what happens when people PAY ATTENTION. There are constant happenings in day-to-day life which deserve our undivided attention, however, we allow ourselves to dismiss or ignore them and rationalize that no one person has the mental capacity to grasp every current event as it unfolds. The Big Short provides the welcome reminder that, for every 999,999 people going about their business in abject oblivion, there is 1 who has taken a moment to stop and PAY ATTENTION.

8. Midnight Special

8 Midnight Special

Jeff Nichols’ 4th directorial effort is a heart-pounding sci-fi road-trip epic that culminates in a thought-provoking way… perhaps an allusion to the eternal nature of the human soul which is encased in the mortal flesh of the human body.

Nichols’ prowess as a filmmaker and storyteller is on full tilt as the story unfolds. This is what Hollywood needs more of: skilled filmmakers who are deft with their thematic elements and don’t beat the audience over the head with sentimentality and preachy, dogmatic suppositions. If you have a sensitive spirit, this film will touch you. And you won’t need it to validate your opinions or core values.

7. Coco

7 Coco

Having explored the nooks and crannies of childhood nostalgia with the Toy Story series of films, and shown us the post-human landscape of Wall-E and delved into the nature of memory and human emotions with Inside Out, Pixar has turned its attention to a new, kid-friendly subject matter: death.

Yes, death, that cold eventuality that will come to claim us all, Ebenezer Scrooge-style. Except, with Coco, we have the colorful, cultural veneer of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) ~ a distinctly Mexican holiday that may even trace it’s origins all the way back to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl (say that five times fast) ~ to stave off the macabre nature of the subject matter.

No, really, Coco, isn’t about death, per se. It’s about memory and the power of familial bonds (or lack of familial bonds). This film is impossible to view without shedding real tears. If you find that you can watch it without crying, then I think you may need to go see a psychiatrist or something, because you’re goofed up if this doesn’t get your water works flowing.

6. The Fugitive

6 The Fugitive

This is a list of films I’ve never seen before, jeez. Stop saying, “I can’t believe you’ve never seen it!” and go get a dribble cup.

Yes, up until Anno Domini 2017, I hadn’t ever seen The Fugitive. Blame my parents. They were super restrictive and judgmental about what I could or couldn’t see growing up. And then… blame me for not bothering to pop this one in the old trusty DVD player for a solid 10 years after moving out of the house. It has Harrison Ford in it, for crying out loud! How could it NOT be incredible!?

5. A Face in the Crowd

5 A Face in the Crowd

Elia Kazan’s film, based on the screenplay by Budd Schulberg, is a riveting tour de force. Andy Griffith, yes, Sheriff Andy of Mayberry, in his first film role, plays Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, an Arkansas drifter who is propelled to the heights of national fame. As his fame and power expand exponentially, Rhodes is gradually revealed to be a narcissistic megalomaniac, drunk off his own celebrity.  Believing he can do or say no wrong, he ascends higher and higher.

This film has obvious and bone-chilling parallels to our present circumstances in America. Yet, I don’t think even Budd Schulberg could have predicted the measure of the ambivalence and self-assured ignorance of large segments of the American public. Lonesome Rhodes may be a despicable, selfish, evil human being… but who in the American public ever truly cared about moral character or personal integrity? Surely there are other criteria which matter more, when assessing the value of a public figure? He’s popular and speaks out on what people want to hear, right?

I think he’d be right at home, here today.

4. Time Piece (1965)

4 Time Piece

Jim Henson made a short film in 1965 and it was nominated for an Academy Award. I had never even heard of it, until this year.

Time Piece is a Kafka-esque short film about being trapped in the mundane prison of daily life. Told in a series of syncopated edits, set to the rhythm of a ticking clock and sometimes the beating of a human heart, this is one of the most highly-creative, unique and unsettling short films I have ever seen. Jim Henson has long been one of my childhood heroes, but here, 52 years later, he has shown me his ingenuity and bravery as an adult. Inspiring.

3. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

3 I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey reunited on-screen for the first time since Over the Garden Wall for Macon Blair’s directorial debut, a Netflix exclusive (yay, Netflix).

The premise is simple enough: a woman’s house is burglarized. The woman vows revenge upon the burglars. She enlists the help of her neighbor in finding and exacting justice upon them. Things don’t quite play out the way she has fantasized that they will, though.

With this film, Macon Blair has established himself as one of the filmmakers who may claim themselves to be heirs apparent to The Coen Brothers. Here, he tackles concepts of trespass, malcontent, violation and fear, all within a cinematic construct which is by turns humorous, quirky, melancholy and horrifying. Is this world merely a shadow realm through which we all must pass? Does anything we do here truly matter?

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

2 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s third full-length feature, starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, is a charming, offbeat tale of two fugitives on the run from the short, stubby arm of kiwi law. This is the kind of picture that pushes every button in seemingly random fashion, until the entire elevator panel is lit up like a Christmas tree. The cumulative effect is a heartwarming story of love, sacrifice, and unassailable machismo. I haven’t seen Waititi’s 4th film, yet… a little indie feature called Thor: Ragnarok, but I’m keen to do so.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return

1 Twin Peaks 1

1 Twin Peaks 2

As the old adage goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ~ often attributed to Edmund Burke, although it may be a paraphrase of various other famous persons from history…

Twin Peaks: The Return could be described with an inversion of that quote, something like this, “For evil to be defeated, all that is necessary is for good men to be unwavering in doing something about it.”

For anyone who was a fan of the 1990 television series that only ran for two seasons, spanning 30 episodes before it was canceled, the news that original series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost had been given a truckload of money by Showtime to bring the series back to life was a huge surprise. Expectations certainly ran high. Lynch took more than 4 years to write, cast, shoot and edit the “third season,” as it came to be known, of a show that originally began airing more than 25 years ago.

Finally, the release was set for 2017. Many of the show’s original cast returned to reprise their roles in the new season. As Laura Palmer told Agent Cooper in backwards-speak in the Red Room, “I’ll see you in 25 years.”

Not less than three cast members who appear in the third season died before the first episode aired, including:

  • Catherine E. Coulson (Margaret Lanterman, “The Log Lady”)
  • Miguel Ferrer (Agent Albert Rosenfield)
  • Warren Frost (Dr. Will Hayward)

Additionally, Harry Dean Stanton, who reprised his role as Carl Rodd, a character who appeared in the feature-film prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, died on September 15, 2017, less than two weeks after the last episode aired on September 3, 2017, at the age of 91.

The themes on parade over the 18 hour arc of Twin Peaks: The Return are varied and multi-faceted, and the show never loses its mystique or charm, nor its palpable sense of dread.

For me to describe anything in the show is really going to be a fool’s errand – you have to watch the original series, then watch Fire Walk with Me and The Missing Pieces (if you can), in order to be able to fully appreciate what Lynch has done with The Return.

Dozens of scenes occur over the course of the show which could be plucked out and showcased as vignettes or short films all their own. Mulholland Drive feels more like an extended side-story episode from Twin Peaks now, after seeing this.

Alright folks, those are my top 15 “films” of 2017. Here’s looking forward to unearthing more great gems from the past in 2018!

Full List of Joel’s 2017 viewing:

Regular = movie watched on a TV or other small screen device
BOLD = denotes theatrical viewing
Italic = denotes a “television series” or “mini series”
Underlined = denotes a short film (30 minutes or less)

  1. 7 Days in Hell
  2. Adventure Time: Seasons 8 & 9
  3. Affliction
  4. Alexander the Grape (1965)
  5. Anne with an E: Season 1
  6. Archer: Seasons 6 & 7
  7. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Seasons 1, 2, 3
  8. Bernie
  9. La belle et la bĂŞte (Beauty and the Beast) (2014)
  10. The Big Short
  11. Black Mirror: Seasons 1, 3
  12. Blade Runner: 2036 Nexus Dawn
  13. Blade Runner: 2048 Nowhere to Run
  14. Blade Runner 2049
  15. Blade Runner: Blackout 2022
  16. Blood Simple.
  17. Carnal Knowledge
  18. Cat and Mouse (1960)
  19. Central Intelligence
  20. Coco
  21. Coda
  22. Cube
  23. The Dark Knight
  24. David Lynch: The Art of Life
  25. Death of a Salesman (1985)
  26. Death Note (2017)
  27. Denial
  28. The Discovery
  29. Doctor Strange
  30. Documentary Now: Season 51 (Season 2)
  31. Dog City (1989)
  32. A Face in the Crowd
  33. Fantastic Planet
  34. Five Came Back
  35. The Fugitive
  36. The Gang’s All Here
  37. Game of Thrones: Season 7
  38. Genius
  39. Get Out
  40. Gravity Falls: Seasons 1 & 2
  41. The Great Dictator
  42. The Great Muppet Caper
  43. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  44. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
  45. Heaven’s Gate
  46. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle)
  47. The Hudsucker Proxy
  48. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  49. Hymyilevä mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki)
  50. I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore
  51. I’m Not There
  52. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  53. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
  54. The Keepers
  55. The Kid Stays in the Picture
  56. Kubo and the Two Strings
  57. The Last Man on Earth: Season 1
  58. The LEGO Batman Movie
  59. The Leftovers: Seasons 1, 2, and 3
  60. Lighthouse Island (1989)
  61. Living with Dinosaurs (1989)
  62. Logan
  63. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)
  64. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  65. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition)
  66. The Man in the High Castle: Season 2
  67. The Man Who Knew Too Much
  68. Masterminds
  69. Midnight Special
  70. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  71. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  72. Moana
  73. Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
  74. Monster Maker (1989)
  75. Mr. Pickles: Seasons 1 & 2
  76. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  77. Muppets from Space
  78. The Nice Guys
  79. A Night to Remember
  80. No Country for Old Men
  81. Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog [1956])
  82. Pete’s Dragon (2016)
  83. Phantom Thread [in 70mm]
  84. Platoon
  85. Porco Rosso
  86. The Prestige
  87. La tortue rouge (The Red Turtle)
  88. Rick and Morty: Season 3
  89. Ripples (1967)
  90. A Room with a View
  91. Run, Run (1965)
  92. Sausage Party
  93. The Secret of Kells
  94. A Series of Unfortunate Events: Season 1
  95. The Shape of Water
  96. Sicario
  97. Silicon Valley: Season 4
  98. Something Wild
  99. Song of the Sea
  100. Speilberg
  101. Spotlight
  102. Stalker
  103. Star Trek: Voyager: Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7
  104. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  105. The Station Agent
  106. Superjail: Seasons 1 & 2
  107. T-Men
  108. TenkĂ» no shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky)
  109. Time Bandits
  110. Time Piece (1965)
  111. Titanic (twice)
  112. Tour de Pharmacy
  113. The Trip
  114. The Trip to Italy
  115. Trollhunters: Season 1
  116. Twin Peaks: Seasons 1 & 2
  117. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
  118. Twin Peaks: The Return
  119. U.S. Marshalls
  120. The Visitor
  121. Wedding Crashers
  122. Welcome to Collinwood
  123. Wheels That Go (1967)
  124. The Wind in the Willows (1987)
  125. Wonder Showzen: Season 1
  126. Wreck It Ralph
  127. Xavier: Renegade Angel: Seasons 1 & 2
  128. The X-Files: Season 6
  129. The Year Without Santa Claus
  130. Zero no Tsukaima: Season 1
  131. Zero no Tsukaima: Season 2
  132. Zoolander 2