A collection of some of my publications (movie reviews, essays, book excerpts, year-end lists, etc.) from August to December, 2017.
I maintain a Google document going each year that keeps track of the best music, movies, books, and TV I've enjoyed that year. Sometimes I even take note of best restaurants and food experiences. As we close the book on 2017 and as I prepare to create a blank 2018 Google document in a few days, here's a look at what made the cut in my favorites of 2017.
Cinema is often framed as escapism, and indeed it has that quality. We watch movies to visit far away places and times, and to understand the experiences of others. But cinema at its best, and certainly Columbus fits that bill, doesn’t stop at escapism; it helps us return well to reality, with new eyes to see and love the world beyond the screen.
Though The Beguiled feels initially like something new for Coppola (and in many ways it is), the film has definite resonances, both thematically and stylistically, with the director’s prior work. One of the ideas Coppola often explores is the intersection of innocence and danger, the ways that bourgeois “play” often flirts with transgression and rebellion.
Inspired by the New York Times' recent list of the "25 Best Films of the 21st Century," and because it's always fun to draw attention to masterpieces of cinema that everyone should see, I decided to compile my own list of the best films of the century so far. I limited my picks to 17, since we are 17% of the way through the century thus far. There were three main criteria for me as I considered which films to include in my top 17.
I've been thinking about Personal Shopper a lot since I saw it last month. The film, the latest from talented French director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, The Clouds of Sils Maria), is haunting in multiple senses. It's haunting not primarily because it is a ghost story (literally... the opening scene is a haunted house sequence more chilling than anything in the Paranormal Activity films).
If history is any indication, it's unlikely that Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony will end with the most deserving nominee going home with the "best picture" Oscar. This is common sense for anyone who cares about cinema and has been paying attention in recent years. How did The Artist beat out The Tree of Life in 2011? How did Argo beat out Zero Dark Thirty in 2012? How did Birdman beat out Boyhood in 2014? When will Hollywood stop its self-congratulatory streak of crowning showy movies simply because they are meta commentaries about show business? (A trend that looks like it will continue with La La Land.)
My top 10 list this year contains a 45-minute IMAX film and an 8-hour ESPN documentary. My list also includes films from some of my favorite directors: Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Kelly Reichardt, Andrea Arnold, Denis Villeneuve, Jeff Nichols, Jim Jarmusch. It was a year in which established directors took risks and up-and-coming directors reached new heights. It was a year which saw a first in the history of cinema: two films by Terrence Malick released in one calendar year. It was a year that gave us not one but two nostalgic musicals (Sing Street and La La Land)
If you're lucky enough to live in one of the few places where Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is playing, do yourself a favor and go see it. Take your kids, your church small group, your fellow lovers of cinema and nature and awe-inspiring beauty. The 45-minute film (a 90-minute, non-IMAX version is set to release in 2017) is a perfect example of the sort of liturgical cinema Malick has mastered
You can't watch Sully without thinking about Sept. 11. Not just because Clint Eastwood's film was released the weekend of the 15th anniversary of 9/11/01, and not just because it's a film about a plane crash in New York City (including dream sequences of planes crashing into skyscrapers). Sully brings to mind 9/11 mostly in its somberly humane celebration of people united by survival and heroism in the midst of trauma.
Richard Tanne's Southside With You, a compelling cinematic depiction of the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama (played brilliantly by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter), is on one hand a smart romance in the vein of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy or James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now. It's a quiet, simple love story that captures the innocence, awkwardness and impermanence of the early days of relationships. Southside is a snapshot of a couple of lawyers in 1989 Chicago who two decades later would be ruling the free world in the White House. That's the obvious hindsight angle that makes the film interesting as narration of a particular m
How are we humans actually different than animals? In The Lobster humans are mostly Darwinian creatures fighting simply to survive natural selection. The film is full of Hunger Games-style hunts. When characters die there are no tears. Sex is very urge-driven and emotionless. Even the characters who do find “matches” do it merely for their own survival. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, in more ways than one.
One of the funniest lines in "Love & Friendship," Whit Stillman’s hilarious and endearing new film adaptation of Jane Austen's "Lady Susan," find the conniving Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsdale) lamenting that “facts are horrid things.” It’s a philosophy perfectly at home in 2016, a year in which more than one commentator has declared our world to be “post-truth,” courtesy of the impervious-to-facts success of Donald Trump’s campaign.
The predominance of pop cultural narratives of confined spaces and solitary prisons has got me thinking: Why is our culture so anxious about being boxed in? Isn’t western culture today the freest it has ever been? Isn’t America in the 21st century the place where you can literally be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, as long as it is an authentic expression of your true, autonomous self?
It may be true that “You cannot conquer Time,” but the attempt to conquer it through moment-capturing art and particularly cinema can be quite beautiful. This pretty much sums up Richard Linklater’s "Before" trilogy, his "Boyhood" masterpiece and his just-released "Everybody Wants Some." Linklater is a filmmaker who knows well the powerful potential that cinema has to capture that peculiar, elusive mystery of time.
Never have I seen a movie so full of beautiful imagery and sound, yet so simultaneously empty, unsatisfying, and downright sleazy, as Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. But this is precisely its point. The film’s 118-minute parade of bodies, beaches, and landscapes, accompanied by painfully brief snippets of Grieg, Debussy and Vaughan Williams, provides a glut of beauty that is also a deprivation.
When it comes to Quentin Tarantino, one of the things I've long pondered and have recently been writing about, is the way his films exemplify an "incarnational aesthetic." It's not that they are about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ explicitly; but that their bodily, sensory, cultural preoccupations reveal a reverence for incarnational, embodied existence in a manner that helps the viewer re-sensitize to the physical, fleshy world in which Christ lived, breathed, died and rose.
In honor of the late Haskell Wexler (1922-2015), I thought I would post this essay I wrote in UCLA film school on Wexler’s iconic film “Medium Cool. Famous for its blending of fiction and reality against the backdrop of the 1968 Chicago riots, "Cool" was at once a forerunner of the “unscripted” reality TV genre and also a prophetic jeremiad in the vein of media critics Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan.
When I put together my annual top 10 movies of the year list, I consider a few things: the quality of a film upon first viewing, the extent to which it lingers (or doesn't), the beauty and truth it unveils and relevance it has in today's world. My top 10 list this year contains four films set in the past, four films set (more or less) in the present, and two set in the future, but they all have something to say about our world today.