2017 Movies – Pezzly’s tops!

Because it’s almost past that time of year, here’s my list of the top pictures from 2017 out of what I’ve seen…

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  • THE SHAPE OF WATER – I fell in love with the characters, the story, the simple plot and the strength of the filmmaking on display. I can’t get enough of Richard Jenkins’s narration, and Sally Hawkins is divine. Please do not miss this one.

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  • GET OUT – A helluva scary / funny / sad / thrilling ride. Jordan Peele is a proven performer, and he’s studied hard to make this feature debut behind the camera a winning film. Unexpected twists and turns, with performances that are deep and real for any movie, not just a horror picture.

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  • I, TONYA – I wasn’t sure if the trailers for this movie were over-selling the style, or the style was too much to contain. But every minute is entertaining, heart-breaking, and well-told. A movie that breaks pretty much every boundary of what-to-do storytelling, and packs a punch.

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  • BABY DRIVER – I love all of Edgar Wright’s flicks and shows, and this is no exception. The practical passion of editing, music, sound, and a lyrical rhythm that graces the first 2/3’s of the picture wash away a mediocre 3rd act to save this one for me, and kept it one of the most entertaining movies of the year.

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  • LADY BIRD – I feel like this one has waves of “should I like it” vs. “did I like it” with not only me, but many friends and film lovers. But at the end of the day, not only did I like it, I think I loved it. All the acting is superb, the tone is constant, keeping us on-edge with the tension in Lady Bird’s house and among her friends as she’s constantly finding herself, trying to decipher her life while also keeping her mother at bay. At the end of the day, the perceptions of her mother are finally recognized, and a key scene tells us that sometimes the clash with parents is more a sign of love than any hugs and kisses will do.

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  • DUNKIRK – A movie that truly celebrates BIG SCREEN storytelling works, for me, on the small-screen as well because it is, at its heart, a kind of pursuit. A run-out-the-clock escape the ‘bad guys’ situation. The chopped up timeline keeps us in check and our characters each have simple goals, even if they feel shallow as people: To get off the beach (get home), to save whoever they can, and to provide protection and cover during the escape. Simple goals, told through cinematic language with very little dialogue. Done.

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  • THE BIG SICK – A relationship movie with the core relationship being out of most of the second act is a challenge indeed, but the special care that Kumail has with each character (friends, parents, girlfriend) is treated with such love that it’s hard not to fall for everyone in this movie. Ray Romano for the underrated win.

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  • WIND RIVER – Came and went for many people, but there is a real, physical environment brought to screen that we rarely see, fraught with tension and despair but the storytelling is solid, the performances nearly flawless, and every step in the snow is felt down to your toes. Chilling and important, try to get to this one.

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  • COCO – Pixar again for the win and the pull of the heartstrings. Beautiful visuals, music, and a plot that stretches a heckuva coincidence to a full-length adventure, but never lets you doubt the sincerity. I love, in this, the family first themes and the understanding that comes together at the end.

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  • CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – I only just recently caught this one, and thought I’d known what to expect but those expectations were overturned pretty quick. What I thought was going to be a melodramatic love story between two men turned out to be so much more — often funny, endearing, and a deep dive into the understanding of love – what it means to love, to be loved, and to discover yourself along the way. Every scene is treated with such a wonderful tenderness. And the photography is neither subtle nor showy, but right where it needs to be.

A few honorable mentions…

  • PHANTOM THREAD – Always a great film experience, Paul Thomas Anderson paints a pretty picture with this, Daniel Day-Lewis’s (alleged) final performance, and the score is just outstanding.
  • WONDER WOMAN – Finally. It’s here. And it’s great.
  • LOGAN – The Wolverine we’ve been waiting for.
  • THOR: RAGNAROK – Plots a possible course for future Marvel movies in terms of tone, this is an adventure worth taking.
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NINETY-SEVEN, 2.0

Evelyn pulled her hand out from the cold feel of Bill’s fingers, grabbed her glass of water and took a sip. Bill smiled his half-smile, the one he’d worn the day they first met. She wished it had the same effect on her now as it did all those years ago. “I’m sorry, I’ve just never seen you so speechless,” he said, waving the waiter down for a coffee refill.

“I’ll admit, shock isn’t something I feel often, but this film, everything I experienced while watching, it was uncanny.” Continue reading

Mouse-X short film

Below, embedded, is a short film entitled Mouse-X by filmmaker Justin Tagg. The concept is simple: A man wakes in a mysterious room, and as he tries to figure a way out he comes upon only the room — and himself. The atmosphere is eerie, the sense of dread lingers despite a faceless authority running this “maze”. The photography, design, and sound are all top-notch, and the fact that nary a word is spoken adds, in my opinion, to the sense of dread.

I’ve been toying with concepts like this myself lately, experiments in concepts and atmosphere over pure A-B-C Hollywood Storytelling. When I write projects, I’m usually on my own, though lately I’ve dealt a lot in collaboration, and things that end up popping up again and again are:

What motivates the characters?

Why do we care about the characters?

Why is this happening to the characters?

In Mouse-X, we care about this guy because he’s as confused as we are, he wants to get out, to be free. WHY this is happening is not entirely clear, and allows the audience to come up with their own conclusions. The WHY is not necessarily as “important” (yes, I put that in quotes) as the WHAT and WHO. WE relate to this character because WE, at one point or another, feel trapped, looking for answers, whether physically or emotionally or in some other way.

Therefore we care about what happens to this guy, despite not knowing anything about him. It doesn’t matter. Whatever answer the filmmaker and actor came up with for the backstory is hidden entirely from the audience. For all we know, this is a bad dude, in a prison, who has done despicable things. Yet we still care, because we’re intrigued by the mystery.

I’m not saying backstory is not important, it’s just not as relevant to the piece itself as the motivation of the character. He doesn’t need a “reason” to escape — just the fact that he WANTS to escape is enough to drive the short. It’s in this way that “Hollywood storytelling” is not always the most effective when inspiring a feeling in an audience.

I suppose.

Or maybe I’m not seeing something you are? Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!

Oscars: Sometimes Right, Never Wrong

Yes, Oscar nominations are here.

Yes, there are good nominations. Yes, there are snubs and overlooked performances, scripts bypassed, over-rated films appearing in multiple categories, and one Bad Grandpa.

But this is the golden crop, deemed “best of the best” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

There was a time, when I was younger, that I looked up at AMPAS with wonder and amazement and thanked them for opening my eyes to the best movies ever made.

And then, in college I studied film history and noticed all the films the Academy had overlooked.

Alfred Hitchcock, arguably cinema’s greatest director, never won an Oscar until an honorary Thalberg award in 1968.

Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon lost the Best Picture Oscar in 1942 to How Green Was My Valley.

When Gone With the Wind grabbed the Best Picture award in 1939, left in the dust were classics Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Wizard of Oz.

Marilyn Monroe, Edward G. Robinson, and Joseph Cotten were never even nominated — just like Harrison Ford(!). Heck, it wasn’t until 2012 that chameleon Gary Oldman was finally nominated, for his quiet performance in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy.

But we haven’t forgotten those actors, those filmmakers, thanks to their stellar work that was produced and in some cases still is produced year after year. The Oscars are not the end of everything creative in Hollywood. There are plenty of other award shows, sure, but also on-demand streaming and the good old-fashioned blu-ray discs to keep us watching forever more.

With any accolades — movies, pulitzers, Nobel — we’re never going to have a perfect year when we all agree “Yeah, that’s absolutely the best this year.” It just won’t happen. While LA Confidential was the best, Titanic took the prize, and when Goodfellas stormed into the nominee ring, Dances With Wolves waltzed off with the Oscar.

But what happened to general appreciation? We still love the majestic Dances with Wolves, we still watch in awe at Joe Pesci’s fists in Goodfellas.

About ten minutes after the nominations were announced this morning the majority of internet stories circled around who was snubbed/ignored/robbed by the Academy.

“Shame on Academy for not nominating Oprah!”

“Spike Jonze was robbed!”

“How could they ignore Tom Hanks?!”

“Emma Thompson was perfect!”

“Travesty that Inside Llewyn Davis was ignored in top categories!”

I have no argument against any of the above. I haven’t seen Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but heard many great things about Oprah’s performance. Spike Jonze did an amazing job with her, which was nominated for picture and screenplay (which he wrote), so where’s the Director love? And Tom Hanks was considered a shoe-in for Captain Phillips since its release date — what happened since? (ahem, Christian Bale.)

McConaughey has had a fantastic year (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, Wolf of Wall Street cameo), and his career has seen many lows and few highs. This might be the time he pulls ahead, or it might be the year DiCaprio finally earns his long-awaited statue. Bruce Dern could get the Best Actor award for Nebraska, and for his age and contribution to cinema, or Christian Bale could earn a second statue to insert into his bulging stomach for his sad-fat New Yorker performance. Chiwetel Ejiofor carries 12 Years a Slave quite a distance through time and emotion, and is the man to beat, in my opinion. All of these performances were great, none of them were failures. And all worthy of the accolades bestowed on them. It stinks that Oscar Isaac or Tom Hanks aren’t within this select group, but you know what? It’s still a fine group, and if Hanks were here instead of DiCaprio, we’d hear just as much jeering as cheering.

For the Supporting Actress category, Sally Hawkins is the surprise nominee from Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence was expected, but joins the record books for having three nominations for an actress by the age of 23 (and one win). Lupita N’Yongo is the very heart of 12 Years a Slave (where Ejiofor is the soul), June Squibb is foul-mouthed yet touching in Nebraska, and I hear (haven’t seen) Julia Roberts acts up a storm vs. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County. We’re missing out on Oprah, here, but again, it’s hard to find someone she would take the place of in this group.

We could go on and on about the snubs, what they mean, how angry we are, and why our opinions are better than the thousands of Academy voters. But at the end of the day, when you look at this year’s nominees, all of them are deserved. Even those we don’t necessarily agree with.

While I think all five of the Director nominees are excellent filmmakers (Steve McQueen, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell), I would rather have seen Spike Jonze in the mix. Also, it is noteworthy that David O. Russell is the first director to have directed TWO films wherein there’s an actor nominated in each of the top four categories (Silver Linings Playbook and now American Hustle).

But what’s the point of making a story about who was “snubbed”, aka “the losers/the reason the Academy is worthless”? I really don’t get the focus on that, I don’t understand. Why not spend the time to celebrate the films that have earned this achievement, at least today, and the fact that 2013 was such a jam-packed year that not even Tom Hanks could get one of FIVE slots?

Then, between today and March 2, let’s talk about all of the “overlooked” films and give them some press:

Short Term 12, Upstream Color, All is Lost, etc. “Hey, these films were snubbed, but you should still check them out because they’re actually good. Also, movies had a great year in 2013, Hollywood had a great year. Let’s keep going to the movies, cheers!”

After all, isn’t that the point of the Academy? To celebrate film from the good to the bad and the overlooked?

Let’s celebrate with them instead of chastising them.

I’ll have a more analytical breakdown of the nominees and my predictions later in February, but for now, get your butts to the theater and see some flicks!