8. Call Me By Your Name – Luca Guadagnino
This is another movie where the setting plays an important, catalytic role. Both nature and constructed landscape are among the protagonists of this bitter-sweet romance and ‘coming of age’ movie, set in a small town in Lombardy.
Elio lives with his parents in their mansion, in a small north Italian town. His parents, a university professor on Greek and Roman civilization and a translator, are cultivated and open-minded American Jews who raise him with love, understanding and tolerance. One day, in the summer of 1983, Oliver, an American student, comes as a guest of Elio’s father to stay for the summer and takes Elio’s room.
Though Elio has a settled life, with his music and his French girlfriend, adolescence plays its games with his sexual orientations and he wildly falls for Oliver, a feeling that gives him both joy and guilt and they both end having a short but very intense affair.
The film roams around idle landscapes of Italian countryside, the tranquil beauty of stone-built towns and the 17th century villa, the easy living of the villa’s inhabitants, a calm life full of charms that is contradicted by the inner conflict of Elio about the unconventional nature of his passion. When feelings burst out they attune with the beauty of the landscape in an enchanting and deep love story.
It is the first love (of Elio) that is celebrated by the movie, this love that we know will remain inculcated in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Set in a supurb surrounding, letting no other problem interfere in the story – the life of Elio and his folks seem to be in perfect harmony – the story focuses in the love story with tender intercourse scenes and night confessions that smell Mediterranean summer.
7. Beach Rats – Eliza Hittman
As told above, Sundance is much friendlier to women than the Oscar awards. Eliza Hittman’s second feature, that left Sundance with Best Director’s award, is a dark look on the wild side of New York, the unhip side of Brooklyn. Teenagers who aimlessly roam on the beach, smoking weed and try to pass the day, penniless as they are. A life that leaves no hope, no space for dreaming and planning. A life of poor.
It’s summertime. Frankie’s father is in hospital, dying of cancer, his mother at his bed’s side obviously has lost any control over young Frankie, who wanders around Connie island with a bunch of ‘macho’ young friends of his age, looking for grass, lying on the beach, watching fireworks, looking how to steal some money to have good time. He flirts and has an affair with Simone, who is estranged by his atypical behavior.
What neither she, nor his friends or mother know, is that Frankie chats every night with older men and meets them to have drugs and sex with. Sentimentally pressed by his contested sexuality and the need to be ‘weaned’ from his mother, he follows a path that brings him more pain and no relief.
Both crew and cast are brand new in the cinema business. Some of the supporting actors are amateurs. This can be felt in the authenticity of the movie. Hittman plays in ‘the European way’. She takes close-ups of her heroes, lets the camera feel for their bodies, she’s not afraid to take shots of homosexual intercourse that reminded me of Fassbinder’s Querelle, decades ago. She lets them speak by their bodies and looks, by their actions. She lets the audience understand what she insinuates.
Highly praised by critics but lowly received by American audience – and not distributed largely across the globe – this film, I believe, will be one of the 21st century classics when the time comes to appreciate its value.
6. Columbus – Kogonada
Kogonada was born in Korea and brought up somewhere in American mid-west. He is an ist who has written important works on iconic directors and loves modernistic architecture. When he decided to stand behind the camera, he just combined all the above and made a simple and simply touching story.
Colombus is the capital of Indiana, renowned for its buildings designed by famous modernist architects. Jin’s father, a Korean architect who teaches in the university, falls in a coma and Jin has to travel to Columbus and stay in his father’s room in a pension, waiting for his father to wake up or die.
In one of his walks through the city he meets Casey, a 19 year old librarian who is an architect fun and daughter of a drug – addicted mother, now in a rehab program. As soon as she realizes he is the son of the famous architect, she offers to show him the architectural history of her town, revealing with every building a part of her own, personal history. Day after day, they build a strong bond by which they can both deal with their own inner family problems – an estranged father who is about to die, a mother who strives for her life and doesn’t leave enough space for her daughter’s aspirations.
This film, whose stunning beauty lies on its calm and slow pace narration, obviously focuses on parent – children relationships. Two people coming from totally different backgrounds – an affluent Korean, son of an academic, the daughter of an outcast, that has to take responsibility of her mother and herself- find a unique way to communicate, revealing to each other aspects of their very personal life. The film, mostly based on masterfully written dialogues and inspired shots of architectural masterpieces, shows how Jin helps Casey to overcome her guilt for her mother and set for conquering her dreams.
5. Good Time – Bennie Safdie, Josh Safdie
Frenetic- that might be the word that could best describe the movie. Frenetic action, frenetic change of setting, of mood, everything moves at dazzling speed you are never really sure you understood what just happened and you are pressing you feasts on the chair waiting what will happen next.
Twenty four hours in the life of Connie Nikas, the worst in his life probably. Connie enters a day-care institution for mentally handicaps and ‘kidnaps’ his retarded brother Nick, who is there on a program with the consent of their grandmother. Connie loves Nick very much and he wants the best for him, but he wants it the wrong way. He convinces him to pull off a heist.
They manage to do it, despite Nick’s incapacity to grasp the situation – Connie believes he has enough intelligence for both of them – but as soon as they get out of the bank things get worse and worse. Connie’s capacity to deal with various incidents won’t save Nick from getting arrested and sent in a prison he has few possibilities of surviving. Connie knows that and he decides to set his brother free in the next few hours.
In an almost stopples motion, Connie does everything he could without considering the consequences. Obsessed with what he feels it’s love for the younger and wicker brother, he exploits every human being standing on his way and trying to help him, turning to be one of the most obnoxious villains I’ve seen in cinema.
For those who love crime movies and thrillers that cut your breath, for the ones who appreciate masterful quick shooting that focuses on faces and expressions, for those who prefer the darkest sides and the darkest hours, this is a film to watch!
4. The Big Sick – Michael Showalter
A heart-warming melodrama, based on the real story of the relationship between American citizen Emily V. Gordon, a post-graduate student of psychotherapy, and Pakistan – born Kumail Nanjiani, a taxi driver and aspiring stand-up comedian, pointing at the difficulties produced by the cultural gap between them but, mostly, between their families.
How can Kumail explain to Emily that his parents insist on him being married to a Pakistani girl by matchmaking, otherwise they will expel him from the family? How will he get along with her parents when, even separated, stays with them in her side at the hospital, during a very perilous infection incident?
Emily has written the script, as a gift of the 10th anniversary of their marriage, and Kumail plays himself together with the granddaughter of Elia Kazan. Along with them there is a fistful of smart, original and highly- convincing young and older actors – well, the only one I knew before was Holly Hunter, but that’s OK, all of them were really cool.
Dealing with a very poignant issue of after 11/9 U.S., that is the interaction of Muslim citizens with their Anglo-Saxon environment, the film subtly and gently depicts cultural and personal stances not abiding in stereotypes but with a fresh, both sentimental and humorous approach, that sees through the appearances to the real profile of the protagonists.
People may be attached to the way they learned to behave, to what their traditions or beliefs dictate, but they are all, we are all, people who need love, acceptance, tenderness, geniality, friends, a hug, someone who cares. And always comes the time when we radically change our way of seeing things.
All those are told through an affective love story that both makes us laugh and, at some moments, chills us with emotion.
3. Lady Bird –Greta Gerwig
Everyday life of a middle-class family can be so ….witty. All the drama and the tension of this world can be easily found inside the walls of a house.
Christine is a 17 year old girl and she is growing up. She is changing. The first thing that has to be changed is her name. From now on she’s Ladybird, she declares to her exasperate mother, as the latter drives her to school. After having a fierce fight about whether she will apply to a College near Sacramento, where the family lives, or she will go to East Coast, where culture is – but the family can’t afford – Ladybird opens the door of the car and falls to the street, in front of her terrified mother, resulting with a broken arm.
The camera follows Ladybird during her last year in high school, a strict, catholic – supposed to be – good school, as she goes to the classes, fights with her mother, makes friends, fights with her mother, falls in love, fights with her mother, falls in love again, fights again with her mother. The mother – daughter relation is the backbone of the movie, an explosive relation that causes pain to both parts because they cannot express the love they feel for each other. It takes time, and distance, to get to understand what you really feel for the most significant others in your life.
Directorial debut for Greta – Francis Ha – Gerwig, Lady Bird is not a realistic, it is a truthful story. It is the story of how the impoverished middle class tries to grow up their children as good as they can and how those children manage to cope with a world that is cruel and cuddling at the same time. And this story is so beautifully, humorously, genuinely told!
2. Wind River – Taylor Sheridan
Sheridan loves to write about women officers of FBI facing challenging situations. He loves to direct them too. He also loves stories that take place in the boundaries. The boundaries between countries, man and nature, the boundaries set between Anglo-Saxons and Indian Americans.
The first film he directs is a well built thriller, alias revisionist western, which takes place on the fringes of Yellowstone National Park, in the Indian Reservation of Wind River. A young Indian girl is found dead on the snow, miles away from the nearest house, by a veteran Reserve tracker.
The first available FBI agent, a young woman from Las Vegas who happens to be close and knows nothing about the area, is determined to clear the case against all odds set by government ruling of 1978, that permit many of the non – Indian wrongdoers to get along with crimes committed in Indian territory. She asks help from the tracker and together they start a deep voyage into white wildness, racist injustice and heart-wrenching memories.
In his directorial debut, Sheridan plays with color – the blatant, threatening white of snow that covers everything – with human faces – their expressions, their racial characteristic, the fear and the hatred in their eyes – with the captivating beauty of Wyoming’s wilderness – long shots of the forest and the surrounding mountains during storm, night or sunshine. Nature imposes on man with a force that freezes the breath to death. Out there in the silent forests, in the end of man’s world, kindness and brutality are set in an uneven battle.
Received with prolonged eight minutes applause after his premiere in Cannes, a definitely good start for Sheridan behind the camera, a movie that tells so much!
1. The Florida Project – Sean Baker
I must confess that it was quite difficult to choose among the three first of this list as to which will be the first one. Hard it might have been, I decided Baker’s movie for a series of reasons.
First of all he is a director who faithfully films the life of American dream outcasts. Hookers, pimps and illegal immigrants are the heroes and heroines of the stories he writes and directs. When, traveling to Florida, he pumped into some kids playing in an open parking close to Disneyland, he hired a room in a motel and stayed around to see what is happening. And then he made Florida Project, titled after the famous name Disney gave to the construction plans of Disneyland.
Then, it is Brooklynn Price and Bria Vinaite. The first one is 2017 revelation in acting. A six year old accomplished artist that enchanted everyone, gained 8 wins in international festival and is probably an Oscar nominee. The second just happened and proved to be a very wise choice. She was a natural. OK, William Dafoe was great too, but of him we know.
It’s also the script, the story told. Original and moving. The young by-siders who live at the fringes of the world’s most famous – and expensive – Entertainment Park, knowing that they will never get into it, they make their own distorted Disneyland, a place where everything is allowed and no limits are set by adults, least of all the mother of Mooney, a very young homeless, unemployed, single parent who tries on her own to make ends meet in the most inconvenient ways.
It’s the cinematography, too. In a very subtle, ironic way, Baker films a dark story of dead-ends and despair with stunning pastel colors that, seen outside the story context, could perfectly fit in a poster on summer vacations. Never before had been filmed such a bright, yet dark fairytale of barefoot princes and princesses!
If all the above haven’t convinced you to watch it, you might miss one of the best movies of 2017!