Lightning Round Reviews, Part 2: More Films From 2017

I’m back with the next batch of mini-reviews from the movies I saw last year (so far that is, still catching up). I thought I could do it in two parts, but hey, it turns out there’s going to be a Part 3! Stay tuned:

DUNKIRK * *

The retreat from the beach through the eyes of Christopher Nolan

The retreat from the beach through the eyes of Christopher Nolan

I almost feel guilty for not getting into this movie, like I’m too much of a novice to appreciate the filmmaking achievement that it was. But I’m not- I recognize that Christopher Nolan made a sweeping, visionary war film that for many was thrilling and unconventional in its non-linear structure. I just wasn’t moved by it. I felt detached from the action, uninvested in the anonymous characters, as if I was watching a technical exercise that had no emotional stakes. The technique is undoubtedly impressive, but the effect left me cold in spite of it. 

 

MOTHER! * * 1/2

Jennifer Lawrence gives it her all in this crazy allegory

Jennifer Lawrence gives it her all in this crazy allegory

I’ll give this one the extra half star for the audacity alone, but it didn’t completely work for me either. It was advertised as a bonkers head trip from a studio that had no idea who to market it to (Paramount deserves some credit for taking a risk and putting this in wide release at all), and it’s certainly that. But the biblical metaphors are so unsubtle and the last act so relentlessly unpleasant to watch that I can’t say this was an experience that I enjoyed in any way. On the other hand, it does give you a lot to think about and try to dissect after it’s over, and no film that does that is completely worthless. A mixed bag.

 

BATTLE OF THE SEXES * * *

Has anything changed since the 70's?

Has anything changed since the 70's?

A pretty straightforward retelling of the 1973 exhibition match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, but it works best as a biopic of Billie Jean King that depicts her experience coming out (to herself) as a lesbian. It’s boosted by what was Emma Stone’s best performance of her career so far (much better than her Oscar winning one for La La Land), and Steve Carell was quite good too, but the film felt like it wanted to be Billie Jean’s story through and through. It also hit a very timely nerve in the depiction of what has and really hasn’t changed at all since the overt sexism of the early days of the women’s movement. King was and is a feminist icon to be celebrated for the barriers she fought to break down and the frustration speaks to us all every day- this is a battle that’s still being fought.

 

BLADE RUNNER 2049 * * * 1/2

Roger Deakins makes every scene a work of art

Roger Deakins makes every scene a work of art

The astonishing cinematography and direction from Roger Deakins and Denis Villeneuve alone is enough to recommend this film, to be honest. If you’re a fan of the original 1981 classic, this is a true sequel, a faithful tribute to that influential film and the cult following it has inspired ever since. But the world created in this one, from the incredible production design and look of the film feels like something else, something genuinely new, with a languid pace and hypnotic storytelling. It almost feels too big for the script itself, which turns out to be a relatively small scale story, one that ties very closely (too closely?) to some of the characters from the original movie, when this is the kind of unique sci-fi universe that demands something truly its own. But it remains mesmerizing nonetheless and is frankly superior to the Ridley Scott film.

 

THE FLORIDA PROJECT * * * *

Mooney and pals left out of the American Dream

Mooney and pals left out of the American Dream

Sean Baker directs a neo-realist look a the impoverished life of a 6-year old girl who lives with her very young mother in a motel on the rough outskirts of the Disney World resort in Florida. The residents of this motel endure life the best they can, and though we don’t get the backstory of little Mooney and her mom, we see through her eyes (and that’s what makes it bearable) the hardships and occasional pleasures that entail simply surviving from one day to the next. Willem Dafoe shines as the hotel manager in a thankless job, while the kids do what they can to pass the time as their parents either manage to get by or fall off the fringes of society. Where will Mooney’s fate lie? An instant classic.

 

THOR: RAGNAROK * * *

A wacky 'Thor' movie is loads better than a regular one

A wacky 'Thor' movie is loads better than a regular one

I ended up liking this movie in spite of myself, which is pretty crazy because I hated (and I mean HATED) the first two Thor movies. But I think I can say with relative certainty that the people involved in them probably did as well, because this third entry is nothing like the previous two. Director Taika Waititi comes in and flips the franchise on its head, throwing in some Led Zeppelin, chopping off Thor’s hair and turning him into a wisecracking motormouth, adding Cate Blanchett at her campy best with some gothic headgear, and upping the overall comedic ridiculousness of it all. And it kinda works? I did laugh a few times, the pace was smooth, and all the time spent on a colorful non-Asgard planet with Jeff Goldlbum and the Hulk was so weird that I found myself enjoying it. Plus, I liked seeing Loki with the good guys and Hulk fighting a giant wolf. 

 

LADY BIRD * * *

Saoirse Ronan turns in another charmer of a performance

Saoirse Ronan turns in another charmer of a performance

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical comedy about a Sacramento teenager’s last year in high school circa 2002. It’s a cute, well acted and very likable movie centered on an unsettled young woman (Saoirse Ronan) who desperately wants to leave her hometown and has a difficult relationship with her mom (a really great Laurie Metcalf), but it’s not drastically different from other coming of age stories of its kind (it actually reminded me a little bit of Juno, which I liked better at the time and thought distinguished itself more with the stylized dialogue and teen pregnancy story). Still, it’s a solid and very sweet entry in the genre and a highly assured directorial debut.

 

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI * *

Angry white people in Missouri

Angry white people in Missouri

This is one that probably warrants a longer review, because it’s hard to summarize the conflicting feelings I had about it, and that continued to grow as the film sat with me. First of all, it’s incredibly well-acted from Frances McDormand to Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, who are always reliable and can elevate anything they’re given. But the movie is confused in its storytelling and very muddled in its messages. Rockwell’s character is a cop who’s said to torture black people with impunity, yet writer-director Martin McDonagh is too afraid to show any of that onscreen because 1) he wants to make light of it with dark comedic jokes about police brutality and racism, which is a lot harder to do if you actually depict the racism you’re referring to, and 2) he wants to redeem his character by having him become determined to help solve the rape/murder of McDormand’s daughter (which has nothing to do with why we’re told he’s such a bad guy). The whole thing left me confused about what he was trying to say, and suspicious that this particular British white man has any idea what he’s talking about when trying to tackle rural American racism, which is why he pulls back from it and changes direction entirely. So yeah, I really wasn’t a fan of this one, but the acting IS superb, I’ll give it that.

 

MUDBOUND * * * 1/2

A tragedy that's all too American

A tragedy that's all too American

Dee Rees directed this sweeping saga about two families in the South circa World War II, one white and one black, who live on the same farmland and whose lives intersect in ultimately tragic fashion. Based on a novel, it’s a sensitive, intimate look at how the unending, firmly ingrained racism at the root of America’s core poisons even the best intentions of decent people who try to transcend it through personal connection and experience. I was more moved by the places this film took me than anything else I’ve seen this year. With standout performances from a terrific ensemble cast that included Garret Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Cary Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, and Jason Clarke.

Golden Globe Movie Predictions

I don't feel comfortable about my predictions this year. The race is really scattered and the Hollywood Foreign Press is, as usual, all over the place most of the time. But it's tradition, so I have to do it. Here goes!

BEST MOTION PICTURE- DRAMA

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  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Dunkirk
  • The Post
  • The Shape of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a really tough one this year. The HFPA seemed to like The Shape of Water a lot, giving it the most nominations, with seven total. I could see that winning. Then again, Three Billboards also seemed popular with them, even as it seemed an unlikely film for them to grab onto. I think I’m going to go with Del Toro’s film, but this one’s shaky.

Winner: The Shape of Water

Alternate: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST MOTION PICTURE- MUSICAL OR COMEDY

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  • The Disaster Artist
  • Get Out
  • The Greatest Showman
  • I, Tonya
  • Lady Bird

I think this one goes to Lady Bird, but Get Out is a possibility as well. I think Lady Bird’s a tad stronger with them, since it got a screenplay nod, so I’m leaning towards that one.

Winner: Lady Bird

Alternate: Get Out

BEST ACTOR- DRAMA

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  • Timothee Chalamet, Call My By Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  • Tom Hanks, The Post
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

I sort of assume that Gary Oldman is going to end up walking through this whole awards season, as a kind of career prize for his Winston Churchill performance. Guessing it’ll start here.

Winner: Gary Oldman

Alternate: Timothee Chalamet (I guess? Hard to know who’s even the runner-up here)

BEST ACTRESS- DRAMA

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  • Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
  • Meryl Streep, The Post
  • Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Oof. This one’s tough! I think it’s between Sally Hawkins and Frances McDormand and it’s probably really close. I’m gonna go with Sally (the HFPA actually likes her and awarded her Best Actress nine years ago for Happy Go Lucky), but McDormand’s right on her heels.

Winner: Sally Hawkins

Alternate: Frances McDormand

Dark Horse: Meryl Streep (Because she’s Meryl Streep and the Globes seemed to like The Post as well)

BEST ACTOR- COMEDY/MUSICAL

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  • Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
  • Ansel Ellgort, Baby Driver
  • James Franco, The Disaster Artist
  • Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Oh, man. This one’s really hard too. Could easily be Franco, Kaluuya, even Elgort, honestly. I guess I’ll go with Franco, since his performance was the most out there and singled out critically (although that hardly matters to the HFPA). It’s a toss-up.

Winner: James Franco

Alternate: Daniel Kaluuya

Dark Horse: Ansel Elgort

BEST ACTRESS- COMEDY/MUSICAL

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  • Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul
  • Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  • Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes

I think this is Soairse Ronan’s, pretty easily. Lady Bird is the frontrunner for film in this category, so it should be hers.

Winner: Saoirse Ronan

Alternate: Margot Robbie

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  • Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards

Dafoe has taken the majority of critics prizes for this category, with Sam Rockwell as runner-up. Going to assume that the Globes go with that as well, although they could go in a different direction entirely, with either Plummer or Jenkins. Sometimes they do wacky stuff like that out of nowhere. Dafoe is the safe bet though.

Winner: Willem Dafoe

Alternate: Sam Rockwell

Dark Horse: Christopher Plummer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  • Hong Chau, Downsizing
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Laurie Metcalf has been the critics favorite on this one, so I’m going with her, but Janney is a real threat too.

Winner: Laurie Metcalf

Alternate: Allison Janney

BEST DIRECTOR

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  • Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
  • Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
  • Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World
  • Steven Spielberg, The Post

I think this is between del Toro and Nolan, and I’m really not sure what the Globes will go for. I feel like flipping a coin on this one, but I’m gonna go with del Toro. 

Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Alternate: Christopher Nolan

Dark Horse: Martin McDonagh

BEST SCREENPLAY

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  • The Shape of Water
  • Lady Bird
  • The Post
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Molly’s Game

Eek. I have no clue in this category. They do like to spread the wealth occasionally…then again, they didn’t do that at ALL last year with La La Land. This group is a tough nut to crack- they could easily want to spread the wealth or fall for one movie in everything. I’m taking a shot in the dark here.

Winner: Three Billboards (it’s a guess- mostly because I haven’t picked it for anything yet)

Alternate: The Shape of Water

Dark Horse: The Post (or hell, Molly’s Game could win this because of their love of Aaron Sorkin- it’s a true crapshoot)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

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  • Three Billboards
  • The Shape of Water
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Post
  • Dunkirk

Ummm…I think The Shape of Water. But Dunkirk had memorable music too.

Winner: The Shape of Water

Alternate: Dunkirk

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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  • “Home,” Ferdinand
  • “Mighty River,” Mudbound
  • “Remember Me,” Coco
  • “The Star,” The Star
  • “This is Me,” The Greatest Showman

I think the Coco song will probably take this, right? Either that or Mary J. Blige’s from Mudbound.

Winner: “Mighty River” (Gonna hope Mudbound can win something)

Alternate: “Remember Me”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

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  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand
  • Loving Vincent

I think Coco takes it easily.

Winner: Coco

Alternate: None

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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  • A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
  • First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)
  • In the Fade (Germany/France)
  • Loveless (Russia)
  • The Square (Sweden/Germany/France)

I think this is either The Square or the Angelina Jolie movie. I haven’t seen any foreign films this year, sadly, so I can only go on hype at the moment.

Winner: First They Killed My Father

Alternate: The Square

Dark Horse: A Fantastic Woman