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Aug08

The Best of 2017 So Far

As summer closes, studios prepare to debut their Oscar hopefuls at  fall film festivals and then to audiences, which makes now a good time to look back on the year so far. These are the films not to be missed before the heavy hitters of fall and winter are released.

10. Alien:Covenant

Alien:Covenant has all the same beats of many movies in the space horror genre. A likable group of explorers divert from their plan and find themselves in circumstances more horrible than they ever could have imagined. What sets this film apart is Michael Fassbender. The film opens on a flashback of his character David, an AI, speaking with his creator about God before it jumps to the crew that we know is marching toward their doom. Part of that crew is another AI played by Fassbender, Walter, who has been updated to be less emotional. The movie’s strongest points are scenes starring Fassbender opposite Fassbender, who, especially in his portrayal of the villainous David, is not afraid to play it with a little camp, something that the film as a whole could learn from.

Available to own August 15

9. Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is easily the darkest movie I have seen this year. Borrowing only the concept of a woman with murderous motivations from Shakespeare, newcomer Florence Pugh stars as Katherine, a 17 year-old girl who has been sold to a cold nobleman in order to produce an heir. She lives with him and his even crueler father in a house that she is not permitted to step outside of. When the two of them leave on business she falls in love with one of the workers at their home. She commits worse and worse crimes in the name of them being together, but every time she thinks they are safe, someone else shows up to tell her what to do. One of the most interesting layers to the film is the casting of an African American woman as Anna, her servant. It would be expected for the two of them to bond over their oppression at the hands of Katherine’s husband and father-in-law, but cruelty is learned and Katherine exercises harsh control over Anna, the only person she has any control over. Lady Macbeth is the first film by theater director William Oldroyd. Made on a miniscule budget of 500,000 pounds, Oldroyd’s strength is creating memorable images which makes the film look much more expensive than it was. Pugh is the true standout, however. We see her as a victim from the beginning which, combined with the strength that Pugh gives her, makes us root for her, even when she is being revealed to be more and more of a psychopath.     

Now in theaters

8. Win It All

Win It All is the third collaboration between mumblecore director Joe Swanberg and New Girl’s Jake Johnson. Johnson plays a man, Eddie, with a gambling addiction who is tasked with watching money belonging to an acquaintance while he is in prison. If Eddie can resist spending it, the man will give him $10,000 when he is released. Of course, after a few days, he gambles it. After losing a large portion of the money, he falls in love and wants to make an effort to get his life right. The film culminates with a thrilling sequence as Eddie tries to win his money back at a private high stakes poker game in the Chicago suburbs where he can either win the money back or he will have to leave town. Johnson has a warm presence that makes him easy to root for and the rest of the cast is rounded out by Keegan Michael-Key of Key and Peele as Eddie’s sponsor and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Joe Lo Truglio as his brother.

Available to stream on Netflix

7. Beatriz at Dinner

Written by Mike White, (Enlightened, School of Rock), Beatriz at Dinner stars Salma Hayek as the titular Beatriz, a healer and masseuse, who after making a house call to a wealthy client, ends up stuck there for an important dinner with her client’s husband’s boss, a famous developer, Doug Strutt, played by John Lithgow. Over the course of the night he becomes Beatriz’s adversary. Beatriz thinks that he may be the man who built a luxury hotel that promised jobs to the locals in her hometown in Mexico but only served to displace people. Strutt asks her offensive questions about her legal status and shows off pictures of his trophy hunting in Africa, which upsets the sensitive Beatriz. The film’s surreal elements and Beatriz’s poetic voicemails, left to family from Mexico, take it beyond a dinner party drama.

Available to stream August 29

6. The Beguiled

Based on a 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name, The Beguiled, directed by Sofia Coppola, turns the earlier film, which focused on the perspective of Eastwood, toward the women. A Union soldier has run away from the fight and finds himself injured and alone near an all girls school in the Confederacy. They reluctantly take him in, vowing to turn him over to the Confederate soldiers once he is able to walk. However, the women have not had the presence of a man in a long time and it sends a stir through the house. The soldier, played by Colin Farrell, plays the women against each other, juggling the affections of the head of the school, played by Nicole Kidman, channeling a protective iciness, a meek Kirsten Dunst as a teacher he claims to want to marry, and one of the young school girls played by Elle Fanning who has a particular strength at being all-knowing and naive at the same time. The movie finds its darkly funny groove when the women catch on to his schemes and band together against him.

5. It Comes at Night

Filmed mostly in one location, we are dropped in on a family in intense survival mode. They are trying to keep from catching a disease that they know little about. Unlike most survival movies, we are given little to no background on what events transpired to get them to this point. We only know what the characters know and society seems to have collapsed long before a scientist could explain what was going on. Their routine is disrupted when a man thinks that their house is abandoned and tries to break in to find supplies for his own family. They become friendly and move the other family into their home. What begins as an idyllic microcosm is undone by paranoia and the instinct to protect. The patriarch of the family is played by Joel Edgerton, of last year’s Loving, who never seems to be acting so much as living as his characters. It is the second film from 28-year old Trey Edward Shults whose biggest strength is his ability to build tension with an artful flair. The final shot of the movie hits like a punch.

4. Logan

Having appeared in eight films prior, Wolverine is one of the more established characters in the superhero universe. For his final act, the character is taken out of the world he has appeared in and dropped into a western. Shot in oversaturated colors, we are introduced to an older Wolverine working as a driver and taking care of the aging Professor X, who is suffering with brain disease that combined with his powers, wreck havoc on his surrounding area. They find themselves on the run along with a ten year-old girl with Wolverine’s powers who was created in a lab using his DNA. The film’s fights occur on a much smaller scale than most films of the like. The strongest point of the movie occurs at the home of a kind farmer that takes them in as they face off against men from the corporate farm on the same land. Most superhero films show a stylized and distanced violence. Logan never flinches away from it, showing you what Wolverine’s claws could actually do to a person. Its superheroes with real world stakes.

Now available to stream

3. The Big Sick

The biggest casualty of the age of the tentpole is the rom-com. The film that dominated the 90’s has gone mostly extinct. It has started to make appearances in independent cinema and on television under the guise of the prestige comedy, but it’s been awhile since a true romantic comedy has seen major success at the box office. The Big Sick, starring comedian Kumail Nanjiani, has been an exception. Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V Gordon, the film is inspired by their unusual love story. Nanjiani plays a Pakistani immigrant and comedian from a traditional family who expect him to get an arranged marriage. They don’t know that he is in a relationship with a white woman, Emily, played by Zoe Kazan. Kazan is one of the people keeping the rom com alive, having previously starred in the charming What If with Daniel Radcliffe and wrote and starred in Ruby Sparks opposite her real life partner Paul Dano. Kumail is unable to see a future between the two of them until Emily is put into a coma after becoming ill with something the doctors don’t understand. While she is in a coma, Kumail bonds with her parents, played with warmth and humor by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Nanjiani’s Pakistani background gives the film a new angle, however Nanjiani’s favorite film is Notting Hill and his love of classic rom coms is evident in the plotting and tone and is what makes the film really shine.

Now in theaters

2. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is one of the most beautiful and most intense movies I have seen. Weeks after seeing it I still can’t stop thinking about Tom Hardy standing bravely on the beach with a fire blazing in front of him or seeing planes in danger sweep through a pink sky or Hans Zimmer’s clock ticking score counting down the seconds until another attack from the Germans. Christopher Nolan made a film about the terror of war without having to show us anyone’s overly sentimental backstory. We don’t know who is waiting for them at home, but we want them to get there all the same.

Now in theaters  

1. Get Out

No other film this year has become a part of culture like Get Out. It turned Childish Gambino’s Redbone into a hit after playing in one of its opening scenes and the sunken place has been referenced in everything from sketches at the NBA awards to political think pieces. Director and writer Jordan Peele, of Key and Peele, not only showed audiences something unlike they had ever seen before, he created a new genre, the social thriller. By becoming the most profitable movie of 2017, with a 630% return, hopefully Hollywood takes note that there is no formula for a hit film. Audiences just want to see good stories.

Available to stream and own

– Chandler Ferrebee, Light House Program Support Intern

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