It’s no secret the Academy Awards are elitist and out of touch with the general movie-going populous. On one hand, there’s value in honoring art that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as “Moonlight’s” big wins at 2017’s awards.
However, when there’s such a disconnect between the films people are seeing and responding positively to and those that are actually up for awards recognition, there’s a problem.
It’s tradition for many people to turn to the Academy Awards’ big winners post-Oscars in an effort to check out some of the best films of the previous years, but what’s the point when the Academy as an institution and voting body is so painfully outdated?
In the face of the 2018 Best Picture nominees representing one of the weakest sets of nominees in recent memory, I’ve picked out some of my favorite 2017 films for a “Must Watch” list that’s not exclusively based on genre, scope or subject matter.
Call Me by Your Name
Okay, so maybe the Academy did get it right by nominating this one. I first saw “Call Me by Your Name” at the beginning of winter break, when it was still playing in a painfully limited release and couldn’t be seen in local theaters. I fell head over heels in love with it and saw it again as soon as it finally opened here. And again the week after.
It’s a breathtakingly sumptuous portrait of first love, one that encapsulates the ethereality of innocence and the fleetingness of youth and that perfectly sums up the beautiful sensuality of the way we interact with one another and experience the world.
Director Luca Guadagnino brings together an exceptional team of filmmakers with standout work by songwriter Sufjan Stevens and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, and uniformly excellent performances by an exceptional cast. Newcomer Timothée Chalamet is a revelation as the lead, and veterans, including Michael Stuhlbarg and Armie Hammer deliver stunning turns, as well.
“Call Me by Your Name” is a genuinely intoxicating film and a romance for the ages. I’ll be rewatching this one every summer, and I can’t imagine ever growing tired of it.
Still curious? Here’s my review.
Easily one of the most vital works of 2017 was first-time director Greta Gerwig’s charming coming-of-age story, “Lady Bird.” Gerwig has been a big name in independent filmmaking for a while. It was only a matter of time before she broke out. But what a breakout this was.
Drawing inspiration from the universality of Malick and the charm of “Frances Ha,” Gerwig’s film offers a portrait of youth that is unexpectedly touching and occasionally tear-jerking, but always charming, hilarious and universal. It’s a film that just about anyone can relate to, and the characters, especially Saoirse Ronan’s lovable protagonist, feel immensely genuine.
The film perhaps falters in some of its engagement with familiar tropes, but it represents a standout introduction to director Greta Gerwig, who is sure to be a powerful voice in Hollywood for years to come.
Twin Peaks: The Return
Though it is, technically speaking, a special limited series, writer and director David Lynch said he approached "Twin Peaks: The Return" as a film. It might be 2017’s longest film, but it’s also the year’s most breathtaking works.
With the — sort of — revival series of his ‘90s soap opera, “Twin Peaks,” Lynch takes everything he’s ever created or been fascinated by and weaves it into one riveting and surreal ideological tapestry. In the process, he forgoes some of what made viewers of the original series fall in love with it.
“Twin Peaks: The Return” presents an engaging, terrifying and often hilarious journey through American iconography, but also a relentless and all-encompassing exploration of nostalgia, the dramatic changes in America’s social, political and cultural climates since the ‘90s and the present state of the art world.
It’s a long and brutal ride, but one that’s well worth it. Thanks to whatever genius at Showtime greenlighted the idea to throw millions of dollars at Lynch and let him do his thing.
The Florida Project
The most shocking snub of this year’s Oscar nominations was Sean Baker’s beautiful sophomore feature, “The Florida Project.” The film follows a group of children as they spend their summer adventuring as their parents struggle to stay afloat, living in budget motels.
Baker performs a stunning tonal balancing act, positioning the wonderment of childhood innocence against the realities of poverty in America. It’s the type of film that’s perfectly content making narrative out of the ordinary and letting little moments do the heavy lifting.
“The Florida Project” is as much a film about growing up in poverty as it is about the childhood joys of getting ice cream or spending an afternoon romping through the woods with friends. Baker uses that to build sympathy and affection for his characters, letting small moments linger and radiate rich emotions until he delivers one of the year’s most powerful, hard-hitting memories.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Leave it to the organization that snubbed the groundbreaking original “Star Wars” for Best Picture, to a Woody Allen movie, no less, to leave the franchise’s best installment out of the mix altogether.
It’s exciting to see a “Star Wars” movie willing to question decades-old tropes and deconstruct the myths and archetypes the franchise, and most of contemporary blockbuster cinema, was founded on.
Director Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” takes the strongest elements of “The Force Awakens” and runs with them, blazing itself a new path previous installments have been too timid to follow. It’s a riveting and invigorating film that spotlights excellent performances by its entire cast with standout turns by Laura Dern, Adam Driver and Mark Hamill.
Though it divided fans and critics, “The Last Jedi” undeniably pushes the decades-old franchise in bold new directions, and that’s worth respecting. The as-of-yet untitled “Episode IX” can’t come soon enough.
Perhaps I was predisposed to adore director Kogonada’s quietly beautiful romantic drama “Columbus.” I grew up in Bloomington, only an hour away from the titular town where the film was set and shot, and I’ve been to Columbus more times than I can count.
It’s a film that’s as much about our innate inability to prioritize self compassion over the wellbeing of others as it is the comfort of a particular place. In both regards, and many more, Columbus lends the film a perfect setting.
It’s a quiet, gentle town whose atmosphere vibes perfectly with the film’s generally subdued, understated mood. It’s also a middle-of-nowhere, I-don’t-want-to-be-stuck-here-get-me-out sort of place. It’s alluring in its comfort but alienating in its isolation, making it the perfect backdrop for a romance about prioritizing one’s own growth.
“A Ghost Story”
David Lowery’s haunting drama, “A Ghost Story,” debuted at 2017’s Sundance Film Festival to glowing reviews and a whole lot of bewilderment. It seemed like a potential Oscar hopeful, but its premise damned it to the canon of arthouse cult hits.
The film follows the deceased husband of a young woman living in rural Texas as he navigates a surreal, isolating afterlife, desperately trying to cope with the impermanence of human life and the enormity of time.
It’s a beautiful subversion of traditional horror tropes and a haunting, sorrowful meditation on our insignificance in the endless expanse of time and space. And yet, it’s also rarely bleak. Lowery saves the film from dour self-importance and rampant nihilism by wallowing in deep-seated emotions, allowing the humanity of his leads to seep into the cracks to lend warmth.
"A Ghost Story" is a film that finds solace in the comfort of human connection and meaning in the pain of loss.