best film: Dunkirk from Christopher Nolan
- Dunkirk is a watershed film in the history of film editing. Nolan not only handles the three narratives in a completely distinctive and inventive way (here it may not be Rashomon or Pulp Fiction exactly but in the same class) but Dunkirk is also edited masterfully in-scene (with countless wonderful manipulations of space and time) as well as any film for maximum dramatic effect. Throw in as a bonus that it is all handsomely mounted on gorgeous 70mm photography– resulting in a giant capital M- Masterpiece.
- It is a walk-out-of-the-theater masterpiece – grand ambition and perfect execution.
- Nolan is smart to fill many frames with extras—it not only helps add realism to the dire situation in the narrative but, visually it gives such an epic scope and multiple visual focal points to the large landscape, establishing shots, and 70mm/Imax longer lens.
- For the beauty of the aerial shots the comparison might be the luminous work in Out of Africa and The English Patient (both of whom went on to win best picture and best cinematography in 1985 and 1996)- I kept thinking of the Howard Hughes line from Leo in The Aviator about how the plane battles needed clouds for context and scope–wrong sir— undoubtedly, clouds are no match for the horizon and handsome open sea as a backdrop from cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and Nolan.
- The film’s straight narrative is really a series of deadlines and breathtaking manipulation of space and time through editing—this may bother some diehard Nolan fans who fell in love with him because of his clever ideas on memory and perception. This is a discussion of form versus content.
- Brilliantly, Nolan chooses to go at this film from land, sea and air- and manipulates the time—it is such a calculated use of narrative structure (would you expect anything else from Nolan?)- very unlike other ingenious narrative restructuring efforts like Rashomon, Tarantino’s work or Iñárritu work.
- It is much closer to a pure exercise in cinematic style then Nolan has ever been before (or since to this point). There is no story set-up here aside from the some tangential comments along the way and the opening title card preface—the entire film does not really need a exposition (sort of the opposite of poor Tenet) actually.
- It could be Hans Zimmer’s greatest achievement with the musical score and he has done some astonishing work before Dunkirk with Inception, Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, Rain Man, The Lion King… and since Dunkirk with Dune – he belongs on the short list of the all-time greatest in this category now.
- Nolan’s greatest strengths are (secondarily) his establishing shots and (mainly) his cross cutting (particularly with multi-threaded narratives) and this film is basically this for the entire running time instead of an elaborate and complicated story exposition set-up with some of this editing between and in a big finale.
- There are many films to compare it to- the work of Leone (another great all-time montagist like Nolan) – the way the three threads start separate get progressively closer together has to be compared to Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—but, perhaps the main lineage goes back to Intolerance with how Griffith weaves his stories together slowly at first and then ramps up the pace—marvelous.
- a clear masterpiece here that is not all about camera movement (a la Birdman, La La Land).
- The performances are not the headline here but they are all very good. Kenneth Branagh comes off the best- his face and reaction is an example of the Kuleshov effect but he sticks the landing.
- It is an all-time great war film but remains certainly true to Nolan as an auteur and stylist – in that regards it is reminiscent of The Thin Red Line in that way where the canvass of the war is just a launching point for Malick and Nolan’s unique expression of cinematic style.
- The best edited film in years
most underrated: The closer we get to today’s date the more the consensus is going to struggle ranking films and that is normal. It takes time for critics to reevaluate– and sadly, it can be years if not decades before they start to correct themselves. Columbus from director Kogonada (a miracle of a debut) is the most egregiously underrated film from 2017 but it is not alone. The TSPDT consensus cannot find a spot for it amongst their 38 best films of 2017 (I am guessing many cinephiles still have not seen it). Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is not far behind Columbus and The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Atomic Blonde are also big time misses from the consensus.
most overrated: With only one viewing under my belt I hesitate to mention it but Zama as the #2 consensus film from TSPDT for 2017 feels unwarranted.
trends and notables:
- Christopher Nolan at the height of his powers is undeniably the headline in the world of cinema in 2017. It is as if in Dunkirk he crystalized what he excels at- isolated that- and cut out everything else. This is Nolan’s fifth top ten of the year quality film.
- Denis Villeneuve is right there below Nolan and both directors make popular films on a massive scale. This is Villeneuve’s third top ten of the year film in the last five years.
- If one was worried about the next generation of filmmakers- there is no need to be. This next generation seems poised for great things led by first time archiveable filmmakers like Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Jordan Peele (Get Out) Kogonada (Columbus), Chloe Zhao (The Rider) and The Safdie Brothers (Good Time). Good Time is drenched in style. The film features a penchant for close-ups (apparent right from the opening), features a hypnotic score that could be written by John Carpenter himself, fantastic editing, and a great use of neon light, Time well tell but this crop of young filmmakers definitely looks promising.
- Star Wars continues the box office dominance- and Disney increases its lead in this area with Beauty and the Beast coming in second in box office in 2017.
- Also, although I am not one for getting too sentimental about stuff like this, I think it should be noted how enjoyable it was to see the great Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks acting together for the first time in The Post. They are both so justifiably revered- they are national treasures. It seems strange they have not worked together before 2017.
gems I want to spotlight: I, Tonya, A Fantastic Woman and Wind River are three films to seek out here from 2017 after the top ten. I, Tonya has a very entertaining storytelling style—clearly influenced by Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino) and late David O. Russell (American Hustle). In A Fantastic Woman there is enough here visually to put Chilean director Sebastian Lelio on the list of directors to keep an eye on- from the very outset the visual patterns are set with the heavy gorgeous colors during the massage scene- heavy purples, blues- a visual tone and form set early. As for Wind River, Taylor Sheridan has quickly become one of the greatest writers working in cinema today with Sicario, Hell or High Water and then this- which he directed. He is not nearly as good a director as Villeneuve or Mackenzie though so the film is in the archives based on that great screenplay and the performances—mainly—Jeremy Renner. Sheridan’s films are modern westerns and this is one I could easily watch once a year.
best performance male: This category has quality depth in 2017. Ryan Gosling is right there at or near the top for his work in Blade Runner 2049. Gosling is on fire with this and La La Land in back to back years in 2016 and 2017 and his run going back to his work with Refn earlier in the decade and Blue Valentine in 2010 really makes him a candidate for actor of the decade. He has four mentions in eight years. It may not be quite on that level- but look back at Nicholson and Pacino in the early to mid 1970s. Speaking of Pacino, Gosling gets his train whistle Pacino moment in The Godfather when he finds the horse at the orphanage in Blade Runner 2049. It is a spectacular moment for Gosling aided heavily by Villeneuve’s astute direction. Young Timothée Chalamet has to be next for his work in Call Me by Your Name. He gets the final long take close up as he stares into the fire– the devastation he feels comes across powerfully. Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement and said Phantom Thread would be his final film. If this is indeed his final role- he ends on a wonderous high note. His portrayal of Reynolds Woodcock is yet another feather in the cap for a storied career- rivaling cinema’s all-time greats. Ethan Hawke is getting closer to the Daniel Day-Lewis echelon than you may think. First Reformed is a major achievement for Hawke. He excels here even being cast against type and he excels working outside of the universe of Richard Linklater- both important for his resume. Gone is his flippant Generation X’er perfect-hair handsome looseness you often see in his Linklater films. He is gloomy here, severe- he has aged. There is a line down the middle of his forehead emphasizing the ware of a stressful life lived. He has Gunnar Björnstrand sternness and intelligence from Winter Light and even lights up his female admirer (Victoria Hill’s Esther looking just like Ingrid Thulin’s Marta with the glasses) by saying “I despise you.” Robert Pattinson does the best work of his career to date in 2017’s Good Time. He plays Connie- a fascinating character- a pariah, a leech. Harrison Ford‘s achievement in Blade Runner 2049 is worth mention here as well. If this is indeed Ford’s walk off into the sunset after such a legendary career then what a fitting way to go out. In the film Ford has multiple scenes of silence that are very well acted- and one with Gosling when he is drinking– and then he gets the moment on the glass. Daniel Kaluuya is superb in both Get Out in 2017 and Widows in 2018 and his strongest of the two performances is in Get Out from 2017 so he is getting recognized here. Kogonada’s Columbus falls apart if John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson do not compel in the foreground action (or discussions- “action” might be misleading). Michael Stuhlbarg does not have much screen time in Call Me by Your Name but this category has to have room for performances such as his in one of the year’s best films. Stuhlbarg’s monologue at the end of the film may be his finest moment on screen.
best performance female: It is not the strongest of years here in 2017. Haley Lu Richardson is a revelation in Columbus. Kogonada’s film requires Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke-like (from Linklater’s “Before” trilogy) work from Richardson and Cho- and they deliver. The Shape of Water has solid work from Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon– but it is Sally Hawkins who stands above the rest and deserves mention here.
- Blade Runner 2049
- Call Me by Your Name
- First Reformed
- Good Time
- The Shape of Water
- The Beguiled
- Phantom Thread
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Fantastic Woman – Lelio||R/HR|
|A Ghost Story – Lowery||R/HR|
|All the Money in the World – R. Scott||R|
|Atomic Blonde – Leitch||HR|
|Baby Driver – E. Wright||R/HR|
|Battle of the Sexes – Dayton, Faris||R|
|Beast – Pearce||R|
|Blade Runner 2049 – Villeneuve||MS/MP|
|BPM (Beats Per Minute) – Campillo||R|
|Brawl in Cell Block 99 – Zahler||R/HR|
|Call Me by Your Name – Guadagnino||MS/MP|
|Columbus – Kogonada||MS/MP|
|Darkest Hour – J. Wright||R/HR|
|Dunkirk – Nolan||MP|
|First Reformed – Schrader||MS|
|Foxtrot – Maoz||R|
|Get Out– Peele||HR|
|Good Time – Safdie||MS|
|Happy End – Haneke||R|
|I, Tonya – Gillespie||HR|
|It Comes at Night – Shults||R|
|Lady Bird – Gerwig||R/HR|
|Lean on Pete – Haigh||R|
|Logan Lucky – Soderbergh||R|
|Logan – Mangold||R|
|Mother! – Aronofsky||R/HR|
|Okja – Bong||R|
|On Body and Soul – Enyedi||R|
|Paddington 2 – P. King||R|
|Phantom Thread – P.T. Anderson||HR/MS|
|Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Johnson||R|
|Super Dark Times – Phillips||R|
|Sweet Country – W. Thornton||R|
|The Beguiled – S. Coppola||HR/MS|
|The Big Sick -Showalter||R|
|The Current War – Gomez-Rejon||R|
|The Death of Stalin – Iannucci||R/HR|
|The Florida Project – Baker||R|
|The Guardians – Beauvois||R|
|The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Lanthimos||HR/MS|
|The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Baumbach||R/HR|
|The Other Side of Hope – Kaurismäki||R/HR|
|The Post – Spielberg||R|
|The Rider – Zhao||R/HR|
|The Shape of Water – del Toro||MS|
|The Square – Östlund||R|
|The Wife – Runge||R|
|Thor: Ragnarok – Waititi||R|
|Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – M. McDonagh||R|
|War for the Planet of the Apes – Reeves||R|
|Wind River – Sheridan||R|
|Wonder Wheel – Allen||R|
|You Were Never Really Here – Ramsay||HR|
|Zama – Martel||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives