Sony / The Orchard / Funimation
The year has flown by, and even though I’ve only been at the Tracking Board for a third of it, I haven’t been able to write nearly as many reviews as I normally would, other than my weekly Under the Radar column on Saturdays. Not sure I need to say much more in the way of introduction, but if you read my year-end Under the Radar about movies that deserved more love, you’ll probably already know about roughly half the films on this list.
- Franz (Music Box Films) – François Ozon tries his hand at a real period piece with this post-WWI tale of a French soldier who travels to Germany to meet the family of a friend who died in the trenches. The film was mostly done in black and white, but Ozon found a fluid way to switch to color for a few scenes that were extremely effective in creating emotions using the color. Overall, it was a beautiful film which sadly didn’t get much attention when it was released earlier this year.
- Darkest Hour (Focus Features) – Obviously, Gary Oldman is amazing as Winston Churchill, but I loved the entire cast and the tone of Joe Wright’s inadvertent Dunkirk prequel just because it forces you to learn about the difficult nature of British politics in the time leading up to WWII. I think Americans think Churchill is the most beloved British Prime Minister ever, but as we learn, it took him a long time to win the trust of the people, so this is a great warts-and-all biopic, beginning with Anthony (The Theory of Everything) McCarten’s screenplay. I was hoping this movie might get more awards love, but it just doesn’t seem to have the critical support it needs compared to other films.
- The Journey (IFC Films) – A seriously underrated film from director Nick Hamm that stars Timothy Spall and Colm Meany as the heads of the two factions caught up in the Northern Ireland war, as they try to work out their differences on a shared car drive to the airport. The film could have been a highly-regarded stageplay based on Colin Bateman’s screenplay, but the fact that most of the film is set in a car or outdoors with these two great actors going head-to-head made it one of better films about “The Troubles.”
- Wolves (IFC Films) – Not to be confused with the Israeli film of the same name, Bart Freundlich made the best film of his career, it played at Tribeca last year, IFC Films picked it up and gave it such a low-key release that few people ever saw it. Freundlich’s film is about a high school basketball star named Anthony (Taylor John Smith) who is having domestic issues due to the gambling problems of his father (Michael Shannon) which could derail his college career. It’s an amazing sports film but it also combines that with a coming-of-age and family drama. Carla Gugino is also terrific as Anthony’s mother.
- Gifted (Fox Searchlight) – At least more people saw Marc Webb’s family drama about a 7-year-old math prodigy (McKenna Grace, who also played the young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya) who get caught up in a custody battle between her uncle (Chris Evans – once again proving what a fantastic dramatic actor he is) and her grandmother, played by Lindsay Duncan, who gives an unforgettable performance.
- The Hero (The Orchard) – Brett Haley’s film about dealing with age and aging from the viewpoint of a former Western hero (Sam Elliot) was really quite perfect mainly because it was written specifically for Elliot, who is being sorely omitted from the “best actor” love this year. Haley’s previous film I’ll See You In Dreams was also very good, and I’m psyched to see his upcoming Sundance movie Heart Beats Loud.
- Baby Driver (Sony/Screen Gems) – I’m not even remotely surprised Edgar Wright managed to get a third movie into my year-end Top 10 after Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim, because I loved everything about this hybrid action-comedy-romance-musical. Clever and romantic with some of the best car chases and action scenes of the year.
- Your Name. (Funimation Studios) – I watched the blockbuster Japanese anime quite a while after it opened in the States, but I love the way it used the “body swap” comedy mainstay as part of a time-spanning sci-fi film that seems so perfect for JJ Abrams to remake. But as far as animated films this year, this was head and shoulder above anything else I’ve seen. (Granted, I haven’t seen Coco and The Breadwinner, both of which I’ve heard good things.)
- Novitiate (Sony Pictures Classics) – Maggie Betts’ first narrative feature really connected with me in a big way, maybe because I spent many of my younger formative years trying to figure out my faith and beliefs. Betts created a coming-of-age tale within the confines of an abbey where Margaret Qualley’s Catherine goes through training to become a nun while dealing with the oppressive Mother Superior, played by Melissa Leo in another revelatory performance.
- Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics) – Yeah, I was an early boarder of this bandwagon after seeing it at Sundance, and it has continued to stick with me after a second and then a third viewing. I just love how Luca Guadagnino paces this lovely coming-of-age first love story which introduced the world to TImothée Chalamet, who hopefully will get more great roles like Elio, the young man who experiences an awakening thanks to an older American, played by Armie Hammer. I loved what Hammer brought to the mix, and I loved the musical choices, all of which made this my favorite film this year.
Since it was tough to cut this list off at just 10, here’s a couple other movies that really impressed me this year: The Shape of Water, A Ghost Story, The Big Sick, Folk Hero and Funny Guy, Dunkirk and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.
A Trio of Cool Docs:
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene – Like Call Me By Your Name, Alexandre O. Philippe’s doc dissecting the shower scene in Psycho was one of the first movies I saw this year at Sundance, and it’s one of the docs that had me captivated, even on a second viewing.
Kedi – Although I don’t own a cat, I do love cats, and Ceyda Torun’s look at the street cats of Istanbul played like the world’s most “awwwww”-worthy 79-minute cat video ever made. It was no surprise when it became Oscilloscope Labs’ highest grossing release.
Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story – I have to include at least one music doc here because there were so many great ones this year. As a life-long Bowie fan, this film made by one of his former managers really shows you the contribution that Ronson made to all those early records even though he really was only playing with Bowie for a couple years. (My interest in Ronson was expanded by seeing a 35mm print of Ziggy Stardust earlier in the year, in which Ronson is absolutely amazing.)
Honorable Mention: RUMBLE: The Indians That Shook the World, Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s doc about Native American musicians who have contributed so much to the history of rock, was another doc I saw at Sundance in January and aired on PBS later in the year.
That’s it for this year. Don’t forget to check in on Thursdays for my weekly movie and box office preview and on Saturday for Under the Radar and all sorts of other fun film-related stuff.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor