There’s little doubt that 2017 will go down in history books for far different reasons than its cinema.
Films that changed the landscape of moviemaking as we know it were few and far between this year, but several – three to be exact – made game-changing impact on the possibilities big screen theatrical releases could become moving forward.
Despite emerging sexual harassment and abuse scandals surrounding Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and a growing number of prominent actors, online streaming outlets like Netflix and Amazon haven’t made significant strides to curb quality films from hitting the big screen…. yet.
As a whole, the cinematic class of 2017 is special at the top and sharply dives towards the dumpster pile after about 25-30 movies. Big budget spectacles like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Mummy” feel like even bigger cash grab opportunities from studios trying to bait audiences into the theater.
Yet, the 10 best films of 2017 – and probably a dozen or so more – offered moviegoers great value on their cinematic investment every time they traveled to the local cineplex.
This year’s recap is later than normal as I tried to catch every possible contender prior to writing, though you won’t see these lackluster, misguided movies that are the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry on this list. All apologies to typically great filmmakers like Alexander Payne and Matt Damon (“Downsizing”), Sean Baker and Willem DaFoe (“The Florida Project”) and especially Paul Thomas Anderson and the retiring Daniel Day Lewis (“Phantom Thread”).
Best supporting actor – Adam Driver, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Given more to work with in his second time as the heir apparent to Darth Vader, Adam Driver does the best work of the entire film as the eternally conflicted, yet increasingly evil son of Leia and Han Solo.
Director Rian Johnson serves his film well by removing Kylo Ren’s Vader-inspired mask, allowing audiences to see the external and internal scars on Driver’s face. There’s so much rage in pain within Driver’s eyes; his complex performance leaps off the screen at every turn.
While Ren projects strength and brash self-confidence, the conflict within betrays him. The nuance displayed by Driver, especially when paired against Ridley is stunning. It could very easily be the best cinematic villain since Heath Ledger’s sinister Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”
Also considered were Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Jason Mitchell (“Mudbound”), Patrick Stewart (“Logan”) and Michael Stuhlbarg (“The Shape of Water”).
Best supporting actress – Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Margot Robbie’s terrific turn as disgraced former figure skater Tonya Harding is heavily influenced by the outstanding work of Golden Globe winner Allison Janney, who verbally and physically brutalizes her way through the script as Harding’s no-holds-barred mother LaVona. With the tact of a wrecking ball, Janney eagerly devours each scene with an indignant self-righteousness that implies her cruel-hearted parenting style to be the best way to rear a champion.
Janney’s LaVona perfectly sums up the “she gets it from her mother” notion the film intends. Little inflections in LaVona’s speech and tone work their way into Robbie’s performance as the two dynamic actresses syncopate their work.
Also considered were Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”).
Best actor – James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Far from a traditional pick, James Franco’s seemingly ridiculous, made up performance as “The Room” director Tommy Wiseau, a man of unknown origin and wealth that either aspires to or thinks he is the next James Dean, is better than you could possibly expect. Shockingly, everything about Franco’s turn is 100 percent authentic from the cadence to the walk to Wiseau’s too-obscure-to-be-faked accent.
While Franco is expertly versed in maximizing the humor of Wiseau’s antics, he’s equally as impressive showing off Wiseau’s emotional softer side. Franco creates a man deeply wounded by the slightest criticism and yet exceedingly resilient to bring his masterpiece to life at any cost.
Among male actors in 2017, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more nuanced, multifaceted character brought painstakingly to life by a performer who stayed in character even while directing a film about a man he stars in.
Also considered were Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Stronger”), Hugh Jackman (“Logan”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
Best actress – Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Irish-American actress Ronan, best known for her Oscar-nominated work in the 2015 film “Brooklyn,” dazzles as the charismatic yet rebellious Lady Bird. Ronan brings a mesmerizing confidence to the role, charming your way through scenes where whether or not the audience should like her remains ambiguous.
It’s a daring role for the 23-year-old actress, playing against type is the girl with a constant attitude. Yet Ronan embodies a rich livelihood within the character, compelling the audience become deeply invested in her loves and losses.
Also considered were Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”), Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) and Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”).
Best director – Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
While the film’s actors are spectacular, “The Shape of Water” makes its mark on the cinematic landscape due to the deeply innovative, vivid world handcrafted and molded by del Toro. Each nook and cranny in the storytelling, every minute detail in the background or subtle shadow feels uniquely commanded from del Toro’s brushstroke.
“The Shape of Water” marks the pinnacle of the Mexican auteur’s career as if every lesson, note or idea del Toro has had over the past 25 years culminated in a two-hour spectacle that has to be seen to be believed.
Also considered were Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”), Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”).
Top 10 films of 2017
Finishing just shy of the top 10 were (in alphabetical order): “Baby Driver,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Detroit,” “Last Flag Flying,” “Logan Lucky,” “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” “Molly’s Game,” “The Post,” “Stronger” and “Wind River.”
10. “Blade Runner 2049” (directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford)
“Blade Runner 2049” is a movie drenched in frills, crafted with a discerning eye and a work of art that will be long debated years from now as one of the best films in 2017 and in the sci-fi genre in general.
Coming off a Best Actor Oscar nomination last year for “La La Land,” Gosling delivers a more reserved, internal turn as a young “blade runner” known simply as K. It’s a performance that won’t blow audiences away on a first viewing; there’s too much happening on screen to notice the nuance in Gosling’s somber, emotional work.
With closer examination, viewers will appreciate the subtle changes Gosling brings out in K as the plot twists and winds towards its conclusion. K’s conflict as he struggles with his humanity and the job required of him is delicately unwoven by Gosling in a performance rarely matched in science fiction filmmaking.
Thirty-five years after starring in “Blade Runner,” Ford returns in “2049” with a decidedly smaller, but equally intriguing performance as now-retired blade runner Rick Deckard. While it may seem at first glance that Ford lacks interest in revisiting old roles, he invigorates Deckard with a well-worn weariness that hides deeper emotion.
Villeneuve takes his time with a deliberate, metered film that allows “Blade Runner 2049” plenty of room to breathe. This lingering in and out of scenes will thrill viewers mesmerized by the vibrant cinematography and will infuriate audience members longing for the film to shave off 20-30 minutes off its running time.
But “2049” would be such a dramatically different, lesser film if constrained by time that its slight excesses become wholly justifiable and necessary to the overall success of the film.
Visually, “Blade Runner 2049” is one of the most dynamic, spectacular pieces of cinematic art you’ll find in a long time. The care, craft and artistry taken to frame, light and shoot each second of “Blade Runner 2049” is so meticulously designed that the film stands as a 160-minute advertisement advocating for the continued longevity of cinema as an art form best seen on the big screen of a movie theater.
Dynamic and captivating, “Blade Runner 2049” is without question one of the best films to arrive in theaters in 2017. Its picture-perfect cinematography and terrific performances combined with a complex storyline and lengthy running time make “2049” a must see or a must skip film depending on what kind of moviegoer you are.
9. “Logan” (directed by James Mangold, starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart)
Hugh Jackman has been synonymous with the comic book hero Wolverine since his debut in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” arrived on screen in 2000.
Seventeen years later, Jackman takes his final bow as the claw-wielding, self-healing mutant in James Mangold’s “Logan,” a brutally daring epic that wows audiences from start to finish with its dark tone and ruthless efficiency.
The haunting, heartfelt character-driven drama is the first real attempt at prestige cinema in the superhero genre since 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” cementing its place as one of the all-time greats among comic book movies. “Logan” is unquestionably the definitive X-Men film and a career peak for both Oscar nominee Jackman and “Star Trek” heavyweight Patrick Stewart, now in his fifth turn as Professor Charles Xavier. The film bears a striking resemblance in tone to classic westerns like “Unforgiven,” “True Grit” and “Shane.”
Performances in comic book adaptations rarely aspire to noteworthy – let alone award contending – turns, but Jackman turns in a powerful, nuanced performance as the titular Logan that will ultimately rank in the top three acting efforts in the history of not only the superhero genre, but of Jackman’s career as well.
While Jackman has always given the Wolverine character a rough, primal exterior, his inner turmoil bubbles to the surface like never before in the most intriguing ways in “Logan.” The pained, exhausted grimace his character radiates on screen from start to finish invokes the weary gunfighter motifs made famous by cinema’s most heralded westerns. His weapons may be adamantium rather than steel and stab rather than shoot, but Logan carries emotional and physical scars from decades of battles on his chest like a badge of honor turned into a constant, painful reminder of the hellish journey.
The entire film lives and dies on Jackman’s every movement, with the film’s harrowing action sequences only serving to reinforce the brutality and pain Logan has endured. In the hands of a lesser actor, the character as written on the page could have been woefully mishandled, but Jackman approaches each scene, each moment in time with such care and precision that a complete fantasy tale is enveloped with deep, rich humanity.
Thespian extraordinaire Stewart also rises to the challenge in a wonderfully compelling turn as Xavier, Logan’s mentor and the world’s most powerful telepath suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. The performance ranges the gambit from beautifully neurotic to outlandishly mad and back again to a warm kindness that belies just how perfect and secretly charismatic Stewart is in the role.
It should be noted that, unlike nearly all other films in the genre, “Logan” earns a hard “R” rating for deep, bloody violence true to the Wolverine character from the comic books, but largely missing from superhero movies in general. Whereas in most previous X-Men installments the camera cuts away as Wolverine stabs a bad guy with his claws, “Logan” forces audiences to face the brutality of the character head-on.
Mangold uses this bloody, graphic imagery not to engage the bloodlust of his audience, rather to reinforce the emotional stakes of the film by putting Logan’s visceral nature (and the toll that comes along with it) on display. Audiences are forced to feel the deaths Wolverine causes on an emotional level as the character does, further rooting Logan’s struggle in a more human context.
Visually, “Logan” is a dynamic, spectacular film that takes its lead character’s gritty persona and captures that same tone frame to frame with a sandy, worn hue. Fight sequences rely on expertly designed choreography instead of budget-bursting computer graphics and further accentuate the realistic tone Mangold sets out to achieve in the film.
Without question, “Logan” is an instant classic and one of the most intriguing, impactful performances in Jackman’s career. While some cursory background knowledge of the X-Men universe is certainly helpful in understanding “Logan,” it isn’t necessary to enjoy Mangold’s brilliant piece of cinema.
8. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (directed by Rian Johnson, starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley)
“The Last Jedi” isn’t the “Star Wars” installment anyone wanted. It’s the one we all deserve.
Everyone from casual moviegoers to hardcore sci-fi nerds has an opinion on one of the most talked about films this decade.
It’s easy to nitpick such a broad, bombastic film series, but “The Last Jedi” seeks to please many masters, most of whom have widely varying opinions about what a “Star Wars” film should be. As moviegoers, we are allowed – and outright expected – to make each and every installment our own, that there is a place for all of us in the “Star Wars” universe.
It’s the same notion that makes us question whether or not we like “The Last Jedi” because it isn’t what we dreamed it would be. And that’s okay.
Many of Johnson’s unique visual choices will soon go down as iconic moments in the history of the franchise, most notably a stunning battle sequence inside a First Order ship and the film’s climatic ending, which may leave viewers simultaneously in awe and in tears.
It’s highly doubtful that “The Last Jedi” will make much of an impact come awards season, though this doesn’t mean at the latest Star Wars film isn’t a contender for one of the year’s ten best. In the hands of a decorated auteur like Johnson, “The Last Jedi” is proof positive that cinematic creativity in blockbuster filmmaking can enhance a film’s quality without jeopardizing the bottom line.
Audiences will laugh, they’ll cry and they may even complain a little (or more realistically, a lot). But this isn’t to say that “Star Wars: Episode VIII” doesn’t deliver on the promise that “The Force Awakens” started.
7. “The Disaster Artist” (directed by James Franco, starring James Franco and Dave Franco)
Movies about making movies seem to come along all the time, so what makes director/star James Franco’s bombastic biopic “The Disaster Artist” special?
Amid all of the crude, avant-garde humor one might expect to find in a Franco film, “The Disaster Artist” layers a vibrant amount of drama and offers perhaps the most heart of any 2017 film.
If you haven’t seen 2013’s “The Room,” writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic film, don’t. “The Disaster Artist” offer an unique and mesmerizing cinematic journey that would almost be stunted if audiences know too much going in.
The film’s hook is obvious. A crazy man with way too much time and money on his hands makes probably one of the worst movies this century.
Yet his motives are so well-intentioned – a point “The Disaster Artist” lovingly hammers home – that it’s impossible not to be carried away by Wiseau’s charismatic, electrically eccentric personality and the show stopping portrayal of Wiseau by Franco.
6. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson)
There is no such place as Ebbing, Missouri, regardless of how ripped straight out of current-day America it might be. In Martin McDonagh’s latest film, the Midwest rarely feels as vibrant on film.
Potential audiences will want to approach this movie with caution as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of the year’s most provocative, colorful films. It’s a divisive endeavor where characters are just as liable to get thrown out of a plate glass window as have deep, meaningful conversations.
Frances McDormand delivers one of the most outstanding performances of her career with “Three Billboards,” certainly the best since her Oscar-winning turn in 1996’s “Fargo.” McDormand layers Mildred with a sly wit and a devil-may-care intensity, while not so subtly hiding deep emotional scars within. Her complex performance makes Mildred a character viewers can easily empathize with despite the exceedingly bold, radical decisions Mildred makes over the course of the film.
Veteran character actor Sam Rockwell has the most to play with slightly incompetent, mostly racist Officer Dixon and does not disappoint with an equally charismatic yet disturbing performance. His Dixon is the personification of the simple-minded law enforcement officer turned on its head, riddled with insecurity in spite of glimmers of potential. Rockwell’s natural charm prevents Dixon from becoming too unlikable and the actor’s gradual turn over the course of the film is textbook character acting.
Woody Harrelson also shines as the exceedingly likeable sheriff who may or may not have done enough on Mildred’s daughter’s case. In limited screen time, Harrelson propels the film forward with a metered, even-keeled performance that resonates throughout the entire two hours.
“Three Billboards” isn’t the most interesting of McDonagh’s films. That honor goes to the hyper violent, cynical comedy “Seven Psychopaths,” also starring Rockwell. Ironically in spite of its quirks, “Three Billboards” might be McDonagh’s most accessible film thanks to its sharp writing and bevvy of layered performances.
The film is expertly paced, shifting gears from high octane action to sombering melodrama with ease and always keeping audiences on their toes guessing what will come next.
Deserving of its R rating, “Three Billboards” is a brash, crude film that refuses to hold back at any point. McDonagh carefully crafts an enchanting, sadistic piece of cinema that some viewers might find excessive or offensive and yet struggle to turn away.
Sometimes in spite of itself, “Three Billboards” is a film that demands to be seen no matter how off color or outlandish things get. British writer/director McDonagh colors the world of small Ebbing, Missouri with rich, interesting characters that compel audiences to watch just a little bit longer in spite of themselves.
“Three Billboards” is a film audiences will be talking about for months to come and can’t miss piece of cinema.
5. “I, Tonya” (directed by Craig Gillespie, starring Margot Robbie, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan)
Born from a pair of highly contradictory interviews, director Craig Gillespie’s outlandish tale from the wrong side of the tracks who just wants to figure skate has unsurprisingly become one of the year’s most side-splitting comedies.
“I, Tonya” follows the roller coaster life of an elite sport’s most blue-collar athlete whose rise to fame in the early 90s became forever marred by an attack on her figure skating rival that Tonya Harding may or may not have been complicit in planning.
The film packs a lot of punch within its two-hour running time even offers those familiar with the events new, personal insight into the hows and whys.
“I, Tonya” is blessed with an incredible, richly constructed script from Steven Rogers, which balances a whole host of unreliable narrators in an attempt to explain and give context to the rise and fall of Harding. Based on extensive interviews Rogers conducted with both Harding and Gillooly, “I, Tonya” fondly evokes the hysterical chaos of “Goodfellas” while maintaining a casual earnestness that could come across as a way to seek redemption for Harding’s shortcomings.
Gillespie keeps the action flowing at a constant, rapid fire pace that rarely gives the audience time to breathe. This allows viewers to remain engaged and connected to the story during the film’s more outlandish, unbelievable moments and maintain some semblance of authentic plausibility.
A tragic laugh riot from start to finish, “I, Tonya” builds off a strong script with a pair of outstanding performances to deliver one of 2017’s most engaging, exciting films.
4. “The Big Sick” (directed by Michael Showalter, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan)
Falling in love with a girl in a coma sounds like a corny premise for a romantic comedy.
But “The Big Sick” isn’t simply a knockoff of “While You Were Sleeping.” It’s something much, much more.
Based on the true romance of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, “The Big Sick” is one of the most honest, straightforward, quality pieces of American cinema this decade. There’s nothing flashy; no gimmick cameos or mindless dirty comedy bits.
“The Big Sick” is a story of boy meets girl, refreshingly simple and genuine. It’s one of the best movies of 2017 and you have to see it as soon as possible.
Though it helps that the “Silicon Valley” actor is playing himself in a film he co-wrote, it never truly feels like Nanjiani is acting in “The Big Sick.” The performance is so effortless and genuine that it often feels documentary in nature, making Kumail easy to root for in spite of some of the admittedly stupid things he says to Emily. His performance encapsulates everything that makes “The Big Sick” a special film: casually charming, simple and straightforward in nature.
Even though Kazan’s Emily is in a coma for a large portion of the movie, her work is so radiant and enjoyable early that Emily always feels present in every scene despite Kazan not being on screen. Her natural chemistry with Nanjiani carries the day in a film that could easily fall off the rails. Audiences want Kumail and Emily to make it as a couple just as much for Kazan’s endearing performance as they do for Nanjiani’s simple honesty, a true testament to both actors.
The biggest strength of “The Big Sick” is how perfectly the film turns on a dime from traditional rom-com to something much deeper, a credit to director Michael Showalter for bringing Nanjiani and Gordon’s script to life in an organic, authentic way. There’s never a “this is the time to get sad” moment in the film. Events flow naturally and progress as real life impacts Kumail, Emily and their families.
Producer Judd Apatow, well known for raunchy coming of age comedies like “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” has carved out a niche in recent years helping comedians make honest, layered comedies from 2009’s “Funny People” to to 2015’s “Trainwreck” to the 2016 Netflix miniseries “Love.” As the driving force behind getting “The Big Sick” made, Apatow pressed Nanjiani to hone the film’s script over four years. The result is one of the best written comedies in more than a decade.
“The Big Sick” turns the corner for the romantic comedy genre, hopefully leading Hollywood to develop more honest, original films. Nanjiani’s film is the new standard by which rom-coms heading forward should be judged and it’s a film that audiences should seek out.
3. “Dunkirk” (directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance)
Films like “Dunkirk” are why we go to the movies.
Christopher Nolan, famed British auteur of award-winning movies like “Inception” and “The Dark Knight,” cements his directorial seal on the historical drama genre with “Dunkirk,” a sweeping World War II film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Audiences will have to pay careful attention to the nuances of how and why Nolan weaves these three plotlines into one cohesive story.
Better still, “Dunkirk” is a film that begs repeat viewing; first to become fully immersed in the captivating grandeur of Nolan’s spectacle and then later to capture all the subtlety required to completely understand the film’s brilliance.
A true ensemble piece, “Dunkirk” has a bevy of veteran and novice actors offering poignant, stoic performances that blend together flawlessly. Whether it’s Oscar winner Mark Rylance at the helm of a small yacht headed towards war or newcomer Fionn Whitehead becoming overwhelmed on the beaches, there are no stars here. Not Tom Hardy and surprisingly not even former “One Direction” band member Harry Styles feel too big for “Dunkirk.”
By keeping character development intentionally minimal and using a large number of relatively unknown British actors in major roles, “Dunkirk” thrives on the intense urgency of war as anyone involved in the conflict could die at any moment.
Words are spoken only when absolutely necessary and names are even less important in “Dunkirk,” perhaps the most intriguing and avant-garde way Nolan tells a conventional historical drama in the least conventional way.
For his rousing turn as a shell-shocked sailor pulled from the water, Cillian Murphy is credited simply as Shivering Soldier. It’s a mere example of just how insistent Nolan is in making “Dunkirk” about thousands rather than a tale of a single individual or small group of soldiers. The focus is on the bigger picture – rightfully so – and often driven home with iconic, wide sweeping shots.
Watching Nolan movies on the big screen has always been a must-see cinematic experience, but where audiences see his latest film matters more than ever. Nolan and director of photography Hoyte von Hoytema shot “Dunkirk” using primarily IMAX cameras on 70mm film, a rarely used format that makes panorama shots feel like intense close-ups. Watching “Dunkirk” on a regular movie projector dulls the film’s vibrancy and prevents audiences from feeling the full weight of the tension Nolan seeks to create on screen.
The remarkable claustrophobia that pervades many of Nolan’s most intimate scenes, combined with an Oscar-worthy score from legendary composer Hans Zimmer, gives “Dunkirk” a colossal feel that no amount of computer generated imagery could replicate.
With “Dunkirk,” Nolan continues to prove why he’s a true cinema master with his most personal and tightly composed feature to date.
2. “The Shape of Water” (directed by Guillermo del Toro, starring Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer)
It feels counterintuitive to suggest that a dark, melancholy monster movie could turn into a landmark piece of cinema.
But in the hands of Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water” elevates beyond genre expectations in transforms hearts and minds of cynical moviegoers with an unexpected, deeply personal adventure that will captivate any audience willing to give it a chance.
This avant garde, stunningly beautiful film melds 1960s Americana with classic monster movie and Cold War spy thriller. At its core, “The Shape of Water” is about a mute woman whose mutual infatuation with a monstrous prisoner locked inside a government research facility.
Part museum painting come to life and part “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” the film’s genre-bending execution twists “The Shape of Water” into a darkly complex, richly layered fairytale that will antagonize and intrigue audiences.
Freed from the constraints of dialogue, Sally Hawkins is given the rare opportunity to wholeheartedly emote as the shy, naive Eliza. Hawkins’ natural expressiveness speaks volumes with her eyes and hands painting a picture far more vivid than words would allow.
Actions on the script page and instructions from the director inform her choices, but Hawkins is fully able to create Eliza without limitations. This provides audiences with an unusual, yet intriguing lens to experience del Toro’s imaginative world construct.
Perhaps the most stunning performance in the entire film comes from Doug Jones, a six-time del Toro collaborator who melts into an athletically challenging, nuanced turn as the mysterious creature known simply as “the asset.”
It’s easy to overlook Jones’ work because of the captivating, detailed costume that transforms the wiry, unassuming man into a hulking monster. But for as good as Hawkins is as Eliza, the film’s central romance simply doesn’t work without Jones’ careful, emotional physicality to balance out the story.
“The Shape of Water” revels in its exemplary supporting performances with memorable, challenging turns from Michael Shannon as the film’s primary antagonist and Golden Globe-nominated efforts from Richard Jenkins as Eliza’s closeted neighbor and Octavia Spencer as her co-worker and de facto guardian angel.
It would be a mistake to passively watch “The Shape of Water,” opting to wait until del Toro’s cinematic opus is available for rental or streaming. On its technical merits alone, “The Shape of Water” to be seen on the big screen where viewers can be completely engulfed by the film’s magical sights and sounds.
“The Shape of Water” is not for everyone. Its roots firmly placed in 1960s nostalgia and unconventional examination of love and sexuality make it a difficult watch for some viewers.
If you can allow yourself to be transported inside del Toro’s mind as he intends, “The Shape of Water” is a rare cinematic experience that might only come along once every decade or so.
1. “Lady Bird” (directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf)
“Lady Bird” represents something more dynamic and changing within modern filmmaking, a new pinnacle for female-led and female driven cinema that transcends genre and becomes something much more unique and revolutionary. It’s “Wonder Woman” on cinematic steroids, without all that CGI muddling the frame and one of the year’s three best screenplays.
You’d be hard-pressed to find more vivid, authentic female characters than in “Lady Bird,” writer/director Greta Gerwig’s deeply personal drama about an outcast high school senior growing up in Sacramento, California in late 2002. Though not based on a real story, Gerwig’s vibrant, natural tale of a young woman who insists on being called Lady Bird in order to stand out feels immensely biopic in nature in spite of how different the titular character might be from Gerwig’s own life experiences.
It may be difficult to tell at first glance, but Gerwig’s directorial debut has her unique signature stamped all over the film. While many writer-directors allow more free flowing improvisation and ad-lib, Gerwig stresses strict adherence to the written word on the page. This ironically gives actors more freedom to find the characters’ inner voice rather than its literal one and the result is deeper, more intense character study.
There’s also a deep richness to the cinematography, which feels ripped out of the late 60s or early 70s despite its 2002 setting. Cinematographer Sam Levy gives Lady Bird a distinct, vintage hue as if a slightly transparent paper covered the camera lens at all times, filling the screen with a lightly faded, yellow tone.
It’s difficult to adequately describe the feeling you get while watching “Lady Bird” for the first time in theaters. There hasn’t been a film that more accurately depicts the transition out of adolescent life since Mike Nichols’ 1967 powerhouse “The Graduate.”
“Lady Bird” is that good. Be sure not to miss out on one of the decade’s ten best movies. You’ll be doing yourself a major disservice if you don’t see this transformative film at least once.