It’s that time when we approach the end of the year and I feel immense pressure to catch-up on as many 2017 movies as I possibly can before putting together an end-of-year “Best Of” list that has a wide enough sample to be somewhat legitimate. Spoiler alert however: The list I put out in December will not be the final “Best Of” list because as Hollywood is wont to do, they dump a whole bunch of movies and most of them with limited release dates at the end of the year just to get them eligible for awards consideration. And as I have already discussed before, there is no way that I, as an amateur and more importantly non-paid film critic who has two kids and lives in a non-premier film market am ever going to get to see all those end of year releases in time for the December “Best Of” list. So in case you’re wondering, my actual final “Best Of” list for 2017 will be published post-Oscars.
But that still doesn’t change the fact that at around this time of the year I enter “cram”-mode. And here are the fruits of my latest ventures:
IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) dir. Trey Edward Shults
Earlier this year I heard that this movie was one that audiences generally didn’t like because the trailer seemed to suggest a different movie than what they saw. With that in mind, I decided to not watch the movie for awhile so that it could disappear out of the public consciousness and I could instead watch it on its own terms. Seeing this horror movie, which is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which most of the population has died from a mysterious disease, it is easy to see exactly why audiences felt wronged by the trailers. It is not the jump-scare horror fest the trailers made it seem but instead is an atmospheric and grim tale where the horror is much more psychological and inter-personal, which decidedly lands it in the realm of art-horror. And while there is nothing wrong with that, It Comes At Night suffers from being a stereotypical art-film where form replaces substance. It is also horrifyingly grim, which is not a knock on the film at all, but bears warning nonetheless.
LADY MACBETH (2016) dir. William Oldroyd
The seminal TV series Braking Bad has often been described as a litmus test of morality as viewers triy to pinpoint exactly when their opinion turns against the anti-hero Walter White. For a much briefer runtime, Lady Macbeth functions the same way. Breakout star Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman who finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience and stripped of her dignity and independence by her husband and his controlling father. When both her husband and her father-in-law leave the family estate on business she finds herself drawn to the stable-hand Sebastian and out of boredom begins an illicit affair with him. This sets in motion a dire series of events, leading to the aforementioned litmus test. Pugh owns this tense and austere movie even if she is aided by some stunning cinematography and assured direction. It is truly one of the breakout surprises of the year, a chilling tale of controlled rage.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017) dir. Luc Besson
What nobody is ever going to accuse Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets of is being safe, boring, or formulaic. Instead it is a visual fest of sheer lunacy that drops you into a fully realized and colourful world with barely any context and just expects you to keep up. There is something incredibly refreshing about that approach especially in an age where mega-blockbusters aim to play it safe and right down the middle to appeal to the widest possible audience. It is safe to say that with the right attitude going in, this film will never bore you as the wild and wacky vision of Luc Besson flings our heroes (deadpan experts Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne) down a frenetic and kinetic adventure that never lets up long enough for you to realize that the plot doesn’t make too much sense. But as with most wild rides, the plot is entirely besides the point. It is the perfect movie for genre fans (like myself) longing for something other than the monolithic mega-franchises we’ve been inundated with.
WIND RIVER (2017) dir. Taylor Sheridan
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) makes his directing debut with an assured neo-Western that is as dark as it is narratively satisfying. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is an expert tracker for the Fish and Wildlife service who comes across the body of a murdered teenager in the frozen wilderness on Indian reservation land. His discovery sets in motion an investigation that brings Vegas-based FBI rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to the frozen mountaintops of Wyoming as she finds herself immediately out-of-her-depth and she recruits Lambert to help her navigate the terrain. While the movie is admirable for how it portrays the realities of reservation life in a humanistic way, it has little to say about the specific inequalities that continue to plague Native American communities in law enforcement. Instead the Native American story simply provides a (very compelling) backdrop to a hard-boiled crime mystery that is one part Fargo and another part Unforgiven. This movie also should be celebrated for the performances of Renner and Olsen who, freed from the constricting requirements of their more famous Marvel roles, let loose to display their deep acting chops that they’ve not truly been able to display in the MCU. It almost make one wish that Marvel will kill their characters off in the next Avengers so we can be blessed with more performances such as this.