Sophia Takal (“Always Shine”)
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”
C-Span Live: Congressional Hearings
Ondi Timoner (“DIG!,” “Mapplethorpe”)
Courtesy of NEON
Here are a few of my favorite things… Films, series and docs! This list is incomplete because I was too busy delivering a ten-hour tv series and a scripted feature film in 2017 — which I’m discovering also happens to be one of the strongest years in cinema and TV in a long time. It’s been a deep pleasure playing catch up this holiday season. Here’s what I’ve come to thus far:
“Lady Bird”: Saoirse Ronan gives an impeccable and relatable performance as a girl who is struggling to find her identity amid the battle between love and hate for everything that defines her circumstances. Greta Gerwig’s writing is both clever and authentic, and her precise visual construction of the story, often saying everything in a single frame, makes this film tied for tops of those I have seen. The characters are relatable, from the priest to the nun, to her parents and love interests, but they defy stereotype. And there is a sweetness that pervades every scene, even when mother and daughter are angry at each other. The first love montage between Danny and Ladybird was touching and perfect. Catholic school, theater kids, and teenage angst – bouncing off each other in their quest for self-discovery – was so visceral that the film enveloped me completely in it’s world, which is how I judge a great scripted film.
“I, Tonya”: I found the direct to cam doc-style asides and set ups, both in sit downs and in scene, from each character’s competing perspective before taking us back engaging and provocative. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and forces levity whenever it threatens to get sentimental. Director of Photography, Nicolas Karakatsanis’ all-in-one camera reverse of Jeff in the kitchen and then on the floor in living room and then out of the house and down the street is hands down my favorite shot of the year. Margot Robbie is excellent. Allison Janney is a riot. The soundtrack perfectly captures the period. I was thoroughly entertained and inspired.
“Edith & Eddie”: This short documentary captures the simple yet mind-blowingly deep lessons of what it is to be a truly respectful person, and to find real love and partnership… And then the contrast of the carelessness and greed of the authorities in their lives who want to blow their sweet existence to smithereens. It riveted me, made me furious, and moved me to tears.
“Jane”: Greatest live film experience this year: A Hollywood Bowl screening presented by my friend, director Brett Morgen and Jane Goodall, of his beautifully shot & edited,16MM documentary, “Jane,” starring Jane herself and several key chimpanzees who were key to her research was accompanied by a 75-piece orchestra performing the original Phillip Glass score. Watching the first documentary ever to be screened at the Hollywood Bowl, with chimp arms swinging over violins in the night air, we had the feeling we were witnessing history in the making (a history which should be repeated with other films.) Chills overtook me, and I did actually whistle more than once, from the box I shared with my mother and son.
“The Handmaid’s Tale”: I binge-watched the series on Air New Zealand to Melbourne. Can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it ever since. The poor Aussie’s got the worst of my obsession. It’s an important and timely warning shot about how our freedoms can be gradually taken, and we won’t realize until it’s too late, and we are enslaved. Whether or not we are heading for a similarly totalitarian takeover has yet to be seen, however the observation of how those in power justify the abuse of those they lord over, obscuring and often eliminating their subordinates more valuable contributions, can be witnessed in our daily lives and lately in our entertainment news. Oh, it is beautifully photographed by Reed Morano, and Elisabeth Moss kills it every time.
“Stranger Things”: Cuddling up on the couch with my son and watching the second season was like stepping into another world that we didn’t want to leave. The impeccable 80’s treatment and the performances of Finn Wolfhard (“Mike”), David Harbour (“Jim Hopper”) and Millie Bobby Brown (“Eleven”) were particular highlights, but the reason I love it so much is just the pure loyalty and boundary-less friendship.
“Stronger”: Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Jeff Bauman is remarkable, and Tatiana Maslany was wonderfully-nuanced and authentic. I cried a few times, which felt weird in an awards screening environment, but I couldn’t help it. Having been through a sudden disabling accident with my father, I appreciated how the phases of grief that come with a gradual awareness that one’s life has changed forever were so accurately portrayed. David Gordon Greene’s film captured this through the resilience of these characters, as Jake’s “Jeff” manages to spin every negative into a positive, but still finds it challenging to accept that he is a hero for losing his legs, as well as the responsibilities that come with a real, equal love relationship – the greatest test of all.
“Call Me by Your Name”: The film is glorious to look at, and thank god because it’s hard to turn your eyes away from Timothée Chalamet in Luca Guadagnino’s story of the budding romance between young Elio and the visiting Oliver. The film lulled me into it’s rhythm, to the point where I felt like I could smell the Italian summer, the sweat of these young men falling in love, and of course – the peach.
“Get Out”: I think Jordan Peele’s horror film is the best of the decade because of it’s blistering social critique and lack of cheap scares, which are so common and predictable in the genre. I loved Daniel Kaluuya and Catherine Keener’s performances, and was ultimately inspired to watch Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” again, which I also highly recommend.
“Molly’s Game”: Ties with Ladybird for my favorite opening, especially how Sorkin weaves in educational and trivial information, like comparing the angle of the ski slope to the pyramids, or later when Sorkin compares Olympic sprinter Mack Robinson to Jesse Owens and the four second difference between making elite history and heading home to the then-segregated United States. Plus, sometimes it really does come down to a single twig and things don’t happen as they should. The signature speed of Sorkin’s dialogue revived even my nephew, who was falling asleep when we fired it up on Christmas night, and kept us riveted as we bounced between temporal phases of Molly Bloom’s extraordinary life. The flip side of the high-speed storytelling, though, can sometimes be that everyone talks so fast, dropping razor-sharp comebacks, they can at times sound like each other, or their writer/director, which causes us care a little less about them. That said, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner had me loving those characters, and my favorite scene (besides the recurring videotape her dad took on her 12th birthday) is the first time Molly visits attorney Charlie Jaffey to convince him to represent her – loved the dialogue, the performances and Sorkin’s choice of shots to bring home the game of chase they played…
“The Shape of Water”: I was swept away by Guillermo Del Toro’s magical film. To me, it’s an exploration of how we choose what we see and how that defines who we are. Sally Hawkins is perfectly cast and so natural and together with Octavia Spencer they make such a lovely duo. Richard Jenkins is also fantastic as Eliza’s lonely neighbor Giles. I also love the ending.
“Baby Driver” gets a shout out for it’s action-packed, flawless interplay of music and visuals, and Ansel Elgort’s super-slick performance as lovable “Baby.”
“Wonder Woman”: Well Patty Jenkins rocked it, breaking box office records while together with Gal Gadot giving young girls a superhero to root for who stands for loving-kindness and wins by practicing it.
OK, I’m heading back to the couch to continue rolling screeners. Next up: The lauded “Dunkirk,” “The Post,” “Phantom Thread,” “Hired Gun,” “Wait for Your Laugh,” “Hostiles,” “Breathe,” and of course the most polarizing movie of the year: “mother!”
Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”)
My TOP 8.
“Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studio Short films
Roger Ross Williams (“Life Animated”)
In no order:
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“BPM (Beats Per Minute)”
“The Florida Project”
“Last Men In Aleppo”
Adam Wingard (“Blair Witch,” “The Guest”)
Photo Courtesy of Focus Features
All around a fantastic year for movies and television. “Twin Peaks” especially really blew my mind. Episode 8 was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on TV or at the movies or otherwise. I can’t wait to have an 18-hour marathon of the whole season.
1. “Twin Peaks: The Return”
3. “Phantom Thread”
4. “The Vietnam War”
5. “Blade Runner 2046”
6. “The Beguiled”
7. “Get Out”
8. “Kong: Skull Island”
I also enjoyed “The Orville,” “Star Trek Discovery,” and “The Last Jedi.”
Max Winkler (“Flower”)
“The Florida Project”: Pretty close to a masterpiece in my opinion. You have to be patient with it, which I rarely am able to do but if you stick with it, the movie is cinema at is best. There are a couple of scenes that are some of my favorite in recent memory. One including a long tracking shot of Willem Defoe walking an unsavory character to and from getting a soda on a hot day. The way the take builds this unusual sense of tension is brilliant. But last 20 minutes of the film, starting with a hotel buffet feast and ending at the most magical place on earth feels almost like a movement in an opera in scope and scale and emotion. For the life of me, I could not stop weeping and stayed glued in my seat until long after the ArcLight digital Q and A.
“Get Out”: There are so many aspects to marvel at in regards to the writing and filmmaking of Get Out but what I keep coming back to is Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. So much of it is just his subtle reactions to the veiled and unveiled insanity going on around him and he does this pitch perfectly. He feels like a movie star to me in the sense I would watch him do anything.
“Lady Bird”: A perfect movie in my opinion. The section that struck me the most was the transition from Lucas Hedges crying on Saoirse’s shoulder to the great Stephen Henderson confiding about his depression to Laurie Metcalf. Lady Bird now stands above the rest as the definitive movie about what it felt like to graduate high school in the early 2000’s.
“Phantom Thread”: He is the master. That is all. I do think more people need to talk about Vicky Krieps though. She goes toe to toe with maybe the greatest and perhaps at times the most intimidating film actor of any generation and she remains calm and fearless and throws everything right back to him with as little as a look.
“Girls Trip”: Hilarious and also deeply emotional. The scene where they all are praying on the bed is one of my favorite of the year.
“The Last Jedi”: Rian Johnson continues to show his humanity and humor no matter how big his canvas. His latest epic still feels as oddly personal and character driven as “Brick.”
“The Shape of Water”: Every performance in this movie is wonderful. Including the cats. But the thing I can’t get over is that each supporting actor (Spencer, Shannon, Jenkins, Stuhlbarg) all have such intricately thought out backstories and inner lives that exist way beyond the A-story of the film. So much so that you could make an entire movie about with any of them as the central character and it would still be one of the best movies of the year.
“Call Me by Your Name”: Final scene between Stuhlbarg and Chalamet is one of the most beautiful moments between a father and son I’ve ever witnessed. We’ve often watched this scene play out the exact opposite way. Where the father is withholding or cruel. Unable to come to terms with his child’s decisions. But the way this scene is written, directed, and performed… from Stuhlbarg’s love and tender openness to Chalamet’s vulnerability and heartbreak summed up with just a look is stunning.
“Dunkirk”: Can’t think of another filmmaker out there who could come close in attempting to make this movie and pull it off the way Nolan does who i stlI think doesn’t get all the credit he deserves. I still feel the need to defend Interstellar to people. Tom Hardy is sneaky brilliant as the indecipherable but truly heroic pilot…. Farrier!
“Brad’s Status”: Mike White’s love letter to his dad (I dare you to listen to his Fresh Air interview about this and not projectile weep) feels criminally underrated and under seen. There are a couple of scenes including one in which Ben Stiller tickles his son Austin Abrams that made me laugh the hardest I did in a theatre this year (sans “Girl Trip”). The last scene between the two of them in the hotel room is deeply emotional and beautiful.
Other notes: I also loved seeing “Wonder Woman” in theaters, “Fleabag” on Amazon, the Papyrus sketch on SNL, and I really, really, miss seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman on screen.
Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”)
10 Favorites from 2017 (No order)
“The Shape Of Water”
“The Big Sick”
“Call Me By Your Name”
(And here’s another 10 that I could easily swap out any of the above)
“The Florida Project” / “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” / “Brad’s Status” / “Foxtrot” / “Wind River” / “Jusqu’à la garde” (“Custody”) / “Split” / “My Life As A Courgette” / “Lady Macbeth”
Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah”)
First off, there were actually a bunch of need-to-see films I’ve yet to catch up with, like “The Square,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” or “Call Me By Your Name.” But there were a million impressive films out this year, from “Get Out” to “The Disaster Artist” to “mother!” (the latter of which I still don’t know what to make of, but certainly thought about a lot).
“Lady Bird” and “The Florida Project”: However, I’m just so excited about Greta Gerwig and Sean Baker having such great years. Not only are both films awesome, but they were made by such cool human beings. That Greta has the highest reviewed film comes as no surprise. And I’m happy that Sean’s ethnographic filmmaking hasn’t wavered throughout all his projects, but now has gained the acclaim it’s always deserved. I’m embarrassed to say that I also haven’t yet caught up with “Good Time” before writing this list, though that is the film I most look forward to seeing. That the Safdie brothers also had a slam dunk year means something is going right in indie film.
“The Post”: I have been re-watching various old Spielberg films all year, for whatever reason: I watched “Bridge of Spies,” “Munich,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Raiders,” “Close Encounters,” “Jaws,” and “Sugarland Express.” So it was personally a noteworthy 2017 film moment for me to watch “The Post.” It’s definitely one of his better films, and I loved the look of that movie so much. So nice to see after, you know, “The BFG” (which maybe you all liked? I didn’t).
“Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour”: I was surprised that enjoyed getting to watch both of these films this year. I’m not particularly invested either way in war films, and knew nothing about the Battle of Dunkirk other than its long fluid master in Joe Wright’s “Atonement.” Christopher Nolan’s film seems to be looking at “Atonement” and going, “No, this is more authentic.” While Wright’s film was instead singularly interested in what it takes to become one of history’s best orators. I found both movies great, but more so in their connection to each other: it was fun to see two impressive dudes tackle the same event with completely different perspectives.
Best of TV: Since I’ve been making TV recently, I’ve mostly watched a lot of that. I think “Atlanta” —and Hiro Murai’s work in general — is some of the most original stuff out there. I never woulda anticipated “Big Little Lies” being my jam, but Jean-Marc Vallée hooked me. (Also, this year I was first exposed to his film “Café de Flore,” which should be watched.) “The Good Place” snuck up to become some of the best comfort TV I’ve seen in a while. And that eighth episode of “Twin Peaks”… whoa.
“The Leftovers”: Though I worked on it so it should not be in this list, I just really love and will terribly miss the world of “The Leftovers.” Everyone from Mimi Leder to Nicky Kassell to Keith Gordon did amazing work with Damon Lindelof and his team’s story—but I would single out Carl Franklin’s episode, “Certified,” as my favorite of the year. Remember Carrie Coon standing on that bluff talking about the person whose job it is to puncture beach balls at baseball games? So good…