It was a happily eclectic year for filmmakers and goers. I only got to a fraction of them, but what I did choose turned out to be memorable and told me a lot about myself. I was ready for things different, controversial, funny and fun.
For me, 2017 started with Hidden Figures. I loved it, especially Teraji P. Henson’s vitality and the refreshing truth about the women who helped make NASA reach its goals.
Wind River was satisfying on many levels, its frank exposure of yet another abuse this country has dumped on Native Americans, the vivid cinematography that captured the bleakness of the theme with the brutal reality of a frozen winter, the viscerally controlled performances, solid writing, and seeing roles about Native Americans played by the same.
I’d heard that The Mountain Between Us was about an interracial romance thingie, but I didn’t get that at all. Watching it was more like viewing the unraveling or unfolding of the flower of inner selves, facing delusions, the acceptance and release of heartaches present and past, the power of trust in oneself and in friendship.
OK, so I’m not the biggest fan of CGI filmmaking, but the genre gets my praise if it’s well done. Wonder Woman was a delight until the overdone CGI confrontation extravaganza at its end. But I, like many women, admire guys who are secure enough to let Diana lead. They are my kind of manly men. Plus her wild theme music on electric cello ,introduced in Batman v Superman, gives me chills.
I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok so much I went to see it twice, mainly because of the humor.
Then there was the fantastic Baby Driver, its mind-blowing editing that choreographed music with spectacular feats of car driving. Add to that excellent ensemble work, each actor’s performance a bit of perfection.
Not a great movie, but an important one, was Only the Brave about the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The recent devastation in California magnified what these men and women endure to save others and necessary forestlands.
Into the chaos of smash’em up of holiday action movie fare came an eerily charming love story. I constantly long for the romance of the golden days of filmmaking. The Shape of Water supplied it without the layers of schmaltz or the grimness of noir. I especially admired the color conscious production design—the hideous sterility of the government facility in contrast to the warmth of the artist’s cluttered apartment and Sally’s neat, bleak environment, a reverse mirror to the lush richness of her inner life. And what’s not to like about a girl who loves shoes? Lovely way to end the year. But never let us overlook Octavia Spencer’s beautiful black eyes that can snap out reams, her ability to project silent screams of internal struggle. Instead of running Dorothy Parker’s gamut of emotions from A to B, Spencer can cram pages of narrative into a glance.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri had me gasping and laughing at the same time. I can’t recall anything in which Frances McDormand was not brilliant. Martin McDonagh’s shocking and brutally acerbic writing needed McDormand’s intelligence to be carried off in the way it is meant to be portrayed. Woody Harrelson and Peter Dinklage were wonderful, but McDormand and Rockwell are the standouts, because they inhabited their characters.
It’s very rare in films to see an actor totally become the personality they portray. What we usually get is the superficial star “doing” the character. This total immersion, “method” technique is more often seen on stage. Perhaps it has something to do with the inclusiveness of performing behind the imaginary fourth wall. In movies, the camera is literally right in your face. But between the embittered Mildred (McDormand) and the vulgar Dixon (Rockwell), Sam Rockwell had the more difficult task. He must somehow make a disgusting, and all too familiar personality, an enthusiastic and violent racist, accessible to himself and the viewers. Rockwell embraced the swine Dixon so completely that there is no sign of Sam Rockwell. Even more admirable, he made us understand and forgive Dixon, bringing the story arc to its fulfillment and conclusion. How delicious that he won the Golden Globe. He deserves to win across the board.
And yet…my sister mentioned that there were complaints that a thoroughly unlikeable character like Dixon shouldn’t get an award. I’ve heard stupid opinions but that has to go into my book of the stupidity typified. It’s so vastly idiotic that it warrants no discussion.
M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)
Follow on Twitter @RigdonML