Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ed's Top 25 Films of 2017

mother!, a film which will definitely not be appearing on this list
Now that 2017 is over and done with, it's time to take stock, and figure out what kind of year it has been. As is often the case, I thought it was a pretty great year for cinema, and I found something to love in lots of films I saw this year, from huge blockbusters that found time to ruminate on the nature of mythmaking, to heartfelt coming of age stories that also managed to be utterly horrifying. It was a good year, and while there are still some blindspots here and there - for example: I have yet to see Call Me By Your Name, which definitely seems like a movie I would like - I'm very happy with this list of the 25 films that stuck with me over the last year.

The Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2017

I'll be putting together my top films of 2017 list over the next day, so it's as good a time as any to look back at the older (i.e. pre-2010) movies I watched for the first time this year. I didn't watch as many movies this year as I would have liked, but I saw plenty of great ones, and here are the twenty that really stuck with me, presented alphabetically.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Movie Journal: November

Awards season is in full swing, so I've spent most of this month frantically trying to catch up on films I missed earlier in the year, or ones that are only now starting to make the rounds. It's one of my favourite times of the year, as well as one of the most exhausting, since the conversation about what are the best movies of the year hasn't been winnowed down to four or five names yet. There has been a little winnowing, admittedly, but besides from Get Out, Lady Bird and Call Be By Your Name, there aren't that many movies that are completely dominating the conversation or feel like locks for Oscar nominations.

Before we get to the best movies I saw in November, let's dispense with Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya, easily the worst movie I watched this month and one of the worst movies I've seen all year. I went in hoping for it to be good, since the story of Tonya Harding could make for a great character study, and its mix of ambition and class is so quintessentially American. Plus, Margot Robbie is a bona fide movie star and it felt like a great vehicle for her (her performance is admittedly very good). At its best, the film recalls the blistering faux-hagiographies of Goodfellas or Chopper, but for the most part it displays the kind of purposeless kineticism that has characterized some of David O. Russell's more recent work; a lot of fidgety energy, constant voiceover and beyond blunt musical choices that add up to nothing of any real value. Good Allison Janney performance, though.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Film Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Even though she made her first appearance in 1941, thereby being part of the comics canon almost as long as fellow Justice League members Superman and Batman (who debuted in 1938 and 1939, respectively), Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, a.k.a. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, had never graced the silver screen until last year, when Gal Gadot briefly enlivened the slurry shipped to theatres as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, the character had appeared in various iterations of the D.C. animated universe, and she was brought to life on television by Lynda Carter in the iconic series from the 1970s, but film eluded her, even as Hollywood burned through six big-screen Batmen (including the late Adam West), three Supermen, two generations of X-Men (and three Kitty Prydes) and an ever-lengthening roll call of minor or cult characters who now find themselves household names.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

One of the riskier unforced errors a film can make lies in referencing a better movie, since it runs the risk of making the audience think about what they could be watching instead. Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 2 makes it twice in its first ten minutes.

First, it features a brief glimpse of Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (specifically the thrilling scene of Keaton nearly being hit by a train while riding a motorcycle) projected against the side of a building during a car chase through the streets of New York in which Wick (Keanu Reeves) pursues a henchmen working for Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), the brother of the antagonist from the first movie. Stahelski certainly gets points for boldness, since not only does the scene serve as an introduction to the action, but he also has the sound of the chase sync up with Keaton's film. It's a clever distillation of the remixing and recontextualising of cinematic references that marks both John Wick movies, an ethos which extended to the film's brilliant poster, and it's hard not to admire the chutzpah.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Movie Journal: December

Hidden Figures
Unsurprisingly, since December coincides with the end of year list-making and awards-voting seasons, I spent most of the month frantically trying to catch up on films that I had missed, or which I finally had a chance to see thanks to expanded theatrical releases or screeners. I watched 28 films in December, the overwhelming majority of which were 2016 releases, with very few older films getting a look in. As a result, there's a lot of overlap between thes list and my Top 25 Films of the Year, which was radically reshaped throughout the month as I tried to see as much as possible.

The worst film I watched in December was Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. I was a big fan of Ford's A Single Man, which I found to be an aesthetically gorgeous and emotionally rich study of grief and loneliness, and while Nocturnal Animals was, if anything, an improvement in terms of achieving a better balance between story and style, the story it's telling is utter horseshit. A multi-stranded, multi-fictional narrative about an art dealer (Amy Adams) who receives a book written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), the violent plot of which she suspects is a form of revenge for past wrongdoings, it's a film whose overwrought cynicism winds up being completely laughable thanks to Ford's unceasing ponderousness. There are some good performances - Michael Shannon, unsurprisingly, is fantastic as a character in Gyllenhaal's book - but it's all in aid of a pointlessly mean movie which doesn't even find fun in its meanness.

Among the crush of new releases, work and Christmas, I found time to rewatch two Coen Brothers movies which I had underestimated on first viewing. First, Burn After Reading, which I didn't like when I saw it in the theatre back in 2008 because it felt aimless and incomplete, two of the main reasons why I liked it this time. It's not their funniest movie or their best comedy in terms of structure and intent, but it's a charming bit of nonsense filled with great actors having a lot of fun. Taken out of the original context - i.e. coming mere months after they won Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for No Country For Old Men - it's much easier to enjoy as a lark, a way for the Coens to unwind after making such a heavy drama. It also felt weirdly appropriate to watch a movie in which two of the most repeated refrains were "The Russians?" and "What the fuck?!"

I also watched Hail, Caesar! which I started an hour or so before midnight on New Year's Eve, so it was the last film I watched in 2016 and the first I watched in 2017. Unlike Burn After Reading, I enjoyed Hail, Caesar! on first viewing, but came away from my second with an even greater appreciation for it. Like the earlier film, its story is pretty superfluous to the jokes, but what becomes more apparent with each viewing is how lovingly the film views its motley crew of film industry types, and the appreciation it has for their skill and craft. From Eddie Mannix's (Josh Brolin) ability to somehow keep a studio running (even if it requires threats and manipulation) to Hobie Doyle's (Alden Ehrenreich) knack for lasso tricks, it's an oddly touching tribute to people who find comfort and fulfillment in their work, even if the work itself doesn't amount to much more than gossamer.

Let's dig in to the good stuff. Here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in December of 2016.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Shot/Reverse Shot: 167 - 2017 Preview

There's a brand new year stretching out ahead of us, which means 12 months of films good and bad to sift through. To help sort the wheat from the chaff (except in the instances where the chaff sounds weirdly fascinating), I'm joined by John Hunter to discuss the films and TV shows that we're most intrigued by between now and when awards season kicks off in September.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ed's Top 25 Films of 2016

Suicide Squad, a film which will definitely not be appearing on this list
While 2016 was probably the worst year for mainstream cinema in ages, with a dearth of good, or even passable blockbusters to justify the big-budget model (and certainly nothing on par with Mad Max: Fury Road), it ended strongly thanks to a bumper crop of award season contenders. Even before that, 2016 reaffirmed my belief that every year is a good year for film if you're willing to look hard enough, and the ever increasing variety of distribution options available means that it's easier than ever to sample the best films any given year has to offer, even if you can't see many of them in a theatre.

Since it was, in my estimation, a really good year, I've expanded my usual top 20 to a top 25. As with any list, I'm already unhappy with it, and if you'd like to see what movies just missed out (and which might have been included if I had put this list together on another day) then you can see the full rankings on Letterboxd.

Now, let's begin.

What I Have Learned From #52FilmsByWomen

Chantal Akerman
I'm not one for making New Year's Resolutions. On the rare occasions that I do make them, they tend to be fairly vague like "lose weight" or "keep in touch with friends more", things that I already do, or would probably do at any time of the year, or which I can carry over from year to year, so notions of success and failure are pretty much negligible.

This year was different. After looking over the list of books I read in 2015 and realising that the majority of them were written by men (specifically straight, white men) I resolved to consume art made by more diverse voices in 2016. To that end, I decided to make two broad changes. First, I would try to read an equal number of books written by men and women, something which I more or less stuck to, though in the final count I read 22 books written by men vs. 19 books written by women. Secondly, inspired by Marya Gates' A Year With Women project, in which she only watched films directed by women for a year, I committed myself to watching more films directed or co-directed by women in 2016, using Women in Film's 52 Films By Women pledge to give myself a goal and structure.

With 2016 about to disappear into the rearview, I wanted to share what I learned from making this admittedly very small change to my viewing habits, what it has taught me about the film industry, myself, and how I'll try and carry these lessons into 2017 and beyond.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016

Only Angels Have Wings
Over the last two years, I have been maintaining a movie journal as a way of keeping track of the best new and old films I watch in a given month. This is partly an administrative task - it's a lot easier to make end of year lists if you already have a bunch of lists to work from - but it's also part of an ongoing desire to watch more, and more varied, films. If I get to the end of a given month and I see that I've watched a lot of French or Japanese films (or not enough French and Japanese films, for that matter), or if I've watched a lot of films noir at the expense of everything else, that gives me an impetus to seek out films from other eras, countries or genres in the immediate future. It's an awkward self-correcting system, but it more or less keeps things balanced.

To put a cap on a year in which I watched around 250 older movies (i.e. ones released before 2016), I looked back and picked out the ones that have stuck with me the most over the last twelve months. Since it's hard to rank them all against each other, I have ordered them chronologically by release date (though I will call out the very best older film I watched because it also happened to be the very best thing I watched all year) to give a sense of what my film watching year looked like away from the 2016 treadmill.

In some cases these films lingered because they led me to discover others films from a specific filmmaker or movement that I hadn't considered before, in others it was because they were just great. In several cases, it was because they were among the stranger films I've ever seen, and featured images that I won't forget any time soon. For whatever reason, these are the twenty older movies that had the biggest impact on me in 2016.