I’m always late to the party when it comes to awards season. I simply don’t make it to the theaters enough to see all the big movies let alone the small ones. I eventually catch most of the buzzy, acclaimed films but not usually until long after all the golden statues have been handed out.
This time I’ve managed to see 28 films released in 2017 many of which have been nominated for big awards. That’s still a long ways from all of them (and miles away from the 12,000 films released last year (according to Letterboxd anyways) but for me its pretty good. This past week I caught a couple of films that will surely continue to be talked about this awards season plus a big winner from a couple of years and some other cool things. So lets get to it.
When I see the name "Judd Apatow" on a film, I usually turn and run the other way. I’m just not a fan of his typical obnoxious bro comedies. But The Big Sick was getting a lot of buzz and awards nominations and the trailers made it look like something different so I gave it a shot.
Loosely based upon the real story of Kumail Nanjiani meeting his wife Emily V Gordon and the life-threatening illness that nearly killed her, The Big Sick is a big-hearted comedy with some great performances and some very well written drama.
Ray Romano is a revelation. If you only know him from his sitcom from a few years back, you will be quite surprised with the depth of his performance. Holly Hunter is as wonderful as ever. Kumail (who plays himself) and Zoe Kazan (who plays the girl) are quite lovely as well.
The comedy doesn’t always land and it keeps some of those familiar Apatow beats, but it's a really nice little film.
It has been nearly a week since I watched this film and it is still with me. Haunting my dreams. Gnawing at my soul.
Brie Larson (in a subtle and incredible performance for which she won the Oscar) stars as a young woman who was kidnapped by a man and locked into a tiny shed seven years ago. She can not leave. She is raped every night. Five years ago, she gave birth to a baby boy (Jacob Tremblay in an astonishing performance). Now she lives for him. She pretends that the room is all there is. There is Room and there is TV world. Nothing really exists outside Room.
About halfway through the film, something changes, I wont give it away but it is as thrilling and terrifying of a scene as I’ve seen in a long time. From then on, the dynamics of the film are different but remain heart-breakingly breathtaking. I don’t want to say more to keep the spoilers down, but if you have the heart for it (and a fresh box of tissues), Room is a beautiful piece of cinema.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I went into this film almost completely blind. I knew it had a great cast (although I had no idea how deep and how brilliant the cast list went) and was getting critical buzz, but I intentionally paid as little attention to it possible. I assumed from the cast, that precious title, and the buzz that it was going to be an arthouse drama. I was completely surprised when it turned out to be a deliciously dark comedy.
I probably would have guessed that were I to have realized it was directed by the same guy who did In Bruges. It has that same kind of profane comedy mixed with real emotion. Frances McDormand plays a mother struggling to come to terms with the brutal rape and murder of her daughter. She rents the titular billboards and in big, bold type uses it to remind the town of the crime and accuse the sheriff of not fulfilling his civic duties and capturing the perpetrator. She gives the performance of her life. The sheriff, played with astonishing skill by Woody Harrelson, is a tragic figure in his own right. Sam Rockwell plays a violent, angry, racist cop who doesn’t exactly find redemption but eventually moves in that direction.
It tries to do a little more than its allotted time will allow and it's sometimes a bit too writerly to be realistic (director/writer Martin McDonagh got his start as a playwright and it shows) but there are some terrific lines delivered by some terrific actors at the top of their game. It blends really quite hilarious comedy with some powerfully emotional drama in nearly perfect ways. It deserves every bit of praise its getting.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Macon Blair’s directorial debut (he’s acted in numerous films including a star turn in the wonderful Blue Ruin) is part mopey drama, part Coen Brothers-inspired black comedy, and all wonderful.
Melanie Lynskey (the other half of the murderous duo opposite Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures) is a depressed, shy, little nobody going about her sad little life dealing with all the obnoxious, annoyances of life and barely keeping it together. When her house is robbed and the police are indifferent to it, she teams up with her strange, nerdy, nunchuck-using neighbor (Elijah Wood) and tries to find the culprit.
Bad decision after bad decision lead them to a quickly escalating and surprisingly violent climax. Full of dark humor and truly unexpected twists, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a delight to watch.
My Life As A Zucchini
The saddest animated film I’ve seen since Grave of the Fireflies or maybe the first 15 minutes of Up. My Life as a Zucchini is about a young boy who after a tragic accident involving his alcoholic, abusive mother is sent to an orphanage. This is not the scary horrific orphanage of Little Orphan Annie or any number of American stories. No, this film is a Swiss/French co-production and as such the orphanage is run by kind, loving people who want the best for the kids. It's the family members who are evil here, or at least troubled and disturbed. Or just lost, but rarely helpful.
The kids are broken in so many heart-wrenching ways I just wanted to curl up in a ball, holding my daughter in my arms, whispering to her calming words of love. But there is hope too. And tenderness. The boy, nicknamed Zucchini, meets a girl who is spunky, fun and strong. She brings a light to the story and their lives. There is a cop as well, and like the adults at the orphanage he is a beacon of kindness.
The film has drama and laughter. And lots of heart. It's a sweet film that treats children as kids, not miniature adults. It allows them to ponder questions of life and death and sex and love without sugar coating it or lathering it in heavy-handedness. It shows the hardness of life, but bubbles over with hope.
Duncan Jones' Mute
After completely bombing with Warcraft, Duncan Jones seems to be going back to his far more interesting roots with Mute, a film that apparently lives in the same world as his excellent first film Moon. I can’t really tell what’s going on in this trailer, but it looks very Blade Runner-y and it stars Alexander Skarsgard and Paul Rudd so I’m totally on board.