Nick’s 2017 Year in Review

Goaded along in friendly competition by Evan, I saw well more than 220 films this year — although I watched only one Bruce Willis film to his three and zero Antonio Banderas tax shelters to his four. My loss … or is it?

The following includes:

  • My five favorite documentaries of 2017, plus one more
  • My 10 favorite needle-drops of previously recorded music on a film’s soundtrack
  • The 10 movies I will regret on my deathbed
  • 25 solid recommendations
  • My top 25 films of 2017

You can find my formal reviews here, and if you’re so inclined, follow me on Letterboxd for real-time rankings and repartee. As applicable, I’ve included links to my Letterboxd comments on some films. And yes, I reserve the right to add Phantom Thread when I get the chance to see it.

 

TOP FIVE DOCUMENTARIES *

 

5. ICARUS

From a thesis perspective, Bryan Fogel lucked into the international Russian doping plot that drives Icarus, which plays like Super Size Me shifting into Three Days of the Condor. But it’s deftly detailed and delivered with cinematic panache, its conflation of sports prowess and national pride is critical to its unexpected emotional heft, and the bond between Fogel and Grigory Rodchenkov gives human edges to the spy-thriller pacing. By the final images, it has certainly earned the 1984 framing device. (Available to stream on Netflix)

 

4. CITY OF GHOSTS

A fascinating look at Syria’s war as fought through the media and the playbooks from which both sides draw, rife with unspeakable horror and genuine warmth. 2017 had sundry graphic documentaries; this one is most forthright in its depictions of grief while forcing Americans to grapple with our increasingly isolationist policy. In the final, audibly rattling scene, the journalists’ leader questions what his flag means and will represent when all is said and done – a nation they love or an ideology that curdled it. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime)

 

3. LIYANA

Life at a Swaziland orphanage and an animated version of the fairytale these orphans create merge in "Liyana," a documentary playing at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival.

Touched upon this lovely work more extensively here, but what has truly stayed with me is the revelation that this is just a Liyana story, not the Liyana story. That similar trials, tribulations, and redemptions await other Liyanas beyond other hills, rivers, mountains, and caves. The underscored triumph, of course, is that it gets children thinking beyond their own cultural and community confines. With imagination this boundless, where couldn’t they go?

 

2. UNREST

Up there with Dear Zachary as a documentary I unreservedly recommend while withholding any description whatsoever. As all great documentaries are, it’s about everything – history, horror, love and escape, with heroes, villains, betrayals and reconciliations wrapped up into one jaw-dropping package. Not the only 2017 film to make me sad, but the only one to make me cry – for championing everyday resiliency in a couple, for reasons lightly touched upon, already seen as atypical despite a hardship. (Airing Jan. 8, 2018 on PBS)

 

1. LET IT FALL: LOS ANGELES 1982-1992

A banner year for John Ridley. Two of the year’s best TV offerings in American Crime and Guerrilla, and now this stunning tale of ethnography and empathy to track a long fuse that exploded. It takes on urgency in depicting riots without reveling in chaos. Instead, it’s an entry point to astounding insight and personal recollection – a phenomenal, thoughtful and sensitive compendium of helplessness, humanity, cluelessness, compassion, culpability, confessions and collisions from which, sadly, we’ve learned little. (Available to stream on Netflix)

 

* PEARL JAM: LET’S PLAY TWO

Subjectively, my perfect movie. Objectively, Danny Clinch captures the alternating calm and churn of Pearl Jam’s 2016 Wrigley Field concerts and the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series-winning season – the calm of the latter being zen-like anything-goes mentality of that postseason’s fans and the churn being DOWN 3-1 IN THE SERIES AND PULLING IT OUT IN EXTRA INNINGS DURING GAME 7 HOLY SHIT YES. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime)

 

top 10 needle-drops

 

Plenty of great scores and original songs this year, but here, in alphabetical order by song title are the best moments in which existing songs enhanced and elevated the cinematic experience.

Don’t worry. I limited Baby Driver to one.

 

“CRASH INTO ME” by DAVE MATTHEWS BAND in LADY BIRD

The scene(s): Lady Bird and Julie listen together; Lady Bird hears the song again later in a car with others

Key lyrics: “Oh, if I’ve gone overboard, then I’m begging you to forgive me for my haste”

 

“FAMILIAR” by AGNES OBEL in THELMA

The scene: Thelma enters a dance club for the first time with her new friend, Anja

Key lyrics: “And our love is a ghost that the others can’t see / It’s a danger / Every shade of us you fade down to keep them in the dark on who we are”

 

“FATHER AND SON” by CAT STEVENS in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2

The scene: Rocket Raccoon arrives at an existential understanding

Key lyrics: “All the times that I cried / Keeping all the things I knew inside / It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it / If they were right, I’d agree / But it’s them they know, not me”

 

“HOCUS POCUS” by FOCUS in BABY DRIVER

The scene: The Atlanta Police Department’s foot chase of Baby, Buddy and Darling

Key lyrics: “Ôi orôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi ohrorô poPÔ / Yôi orôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi ohrorô PoPÔ / Aaaah aaah aaah aaah / Uuuh oooh oooh ooooooooh”

 

“IMMIGRANT SONG” by LED ZEPPELIN in THOR: RAGNAROK

The scene(s): Thor battles Surtur; Thor, Hulk, Valkyrie and Loki join the people of Asgard to battle Hela

Key lyrics: “So now you’d better stop / And rebuild all your ruins / For peace and trust can win the day / Despite of all your losing”

 

“LOVE MY WAY” by THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

The scene(s): Oliver and Elio dance outside at a party; Oliver overhears it on a street and dances again

Key lyrics: “Love my way, it’s a new road / I follow where my mind goes / So swallow all your tears, my love, and put on your new face / You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race”

 

“THE MAN COMES AROUND” by JOHNNY CASH in LOGAN

The scene: A cross tilts just so

Key lyrics: “The hairs on your arm will stand up / At the terror in each sip and in each sup / Will you partake of that last offered cup? / Or disappear into the potter’s ground … when the man comes around?”

 

SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALRIGHT FOR FIGHTING” by ELTON JOHN in KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

The scene: A pal of Eggsy’s gets his groove back … as does Elton John

Key lyrics: “A couple of the sounds that I really like / Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike / I’m a juvenile product of the working class / Whose best friend floats at the bottom of a glass”

 

“TIME HAS COME TODAY” by THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS in ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.

The scene: Roman J. Israel, Esq. worries about a fellow driver on the road

Key lyrics: “Now the time has come / There’s no place to run / I might get burned up by the sun / But I had my fun”

 

THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS” by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN in PATTI CAKE$

The scene: Patti Dombrowski surveys her Jersey surroundings on her way to work

Key lyrics: “Sometimes I wake up in the morning / And it cuts me like a knife / I come face to face with my longing / For another world, another life”

 

SCREW THESE MOVIES

 

10. HOSTILES

What happened to the Scott Cooper who made Crazy Heart? Now it’s all Statham-esque potboilers spoiled (Out of the Furnace), Johnny Depp vampire-looking mobster whatevers (Black Mass) and this old-West vacillation between nihilistic and narcissistic horseshit. A baby dies five minutes in so you know this movie is Hard, Tough and Not Fucking Around™. Were it not for another film on this list, it would be the year’s most hilariously misguided assuaging of white guilt for atrocities against Native Americans.

 

9. PARIS CAN WAIT

Comment dites-vous “interminable, insufferable, indulgent bullshit” en Français? An embarrassing vanity project built on the idea Eleanor Coppola has anything of interest to say beyond “worst Diane Lane Romantic Comedy ever.” The only saving grace is hearing Phoenix songs (because they’re by Coppola’s son in law). But then you’ll worry if you’re less cool for liking them if they’d allow themselves to let their music be used in a film this terrible.

 

8. SALT AND FIRE

Look, nothing terrible that Werner Herzog makes will ever exclude him from the all-time-hero hall of fame. But because I think he would appreciate an unvarnished calling-out on something terrible, Salt and Fire is an abominable and interminable allegory for a more emotional connection to ecological concerns, wrapped in a scientist learning her lesson only once she must again mother. Gael Garcia Bernal gets the trots. Michael Shannon muses about alien rape. Your will to live diminishes.

 

7. RINGS

This reboot / whatever doubles down on unpleasant seediness without any new idea or note or visual confidence. Unsurprisingly, it’s an Akiva Goldsman joint. Vincent D’Onofrio is (unsurprisingly) the lone bright spot here, as a blind man who puts just enough corn on a quip about “watching over” something.

 

6. THE MUMMY

The second-worst movie Tom Cruise has ever made. (The worst? The one just before this: Jack Reacher: Who Cares?) Cruise can do whatever he wants, so subtext in his selections fascinates me. Why this? Why now? Who knows? Even in his poorest work, Cruise retains a semblance of brand-management force. Here, for the first time, he’s but furniture, arranged with appalling feng shui for (what wound up being a quickly staked) shared-universe franchise and over which a swarm of digital rats can crawl.

 

5. WIND RIVER

Taylor Sheridan’s third film as a screenwriter is also his first directorial effort. If we’re lucky, it’s his last. Boring, pandering, insensitive, distasteful, misogynist, racist, unimaginative, sloppy and pointless, this “thriller” drops villains from the sky, can’t keep narrative details straight, and gives itself whiplash pivoting from mansplaining to whitesplaining. Sheridan has issues with women in authority. Maybe next time, he’ll talk to a therapist instead of directing DTV dipshittery dressed in arthouse clothes.

 

4. OPERATION DUNKIRK

“Pull your balls out of your throats and be a soldier!” If you like watching actors occasionally forgetting they’re supposed to be French — and who probably sell insurance when not starring in community theater productions of Brigadoon — while running around in someone’s Indiana cornfield and pretending they are anywhere near Dunkirk, perhaps you will enjoy this. Otherwise, it’s as if Dollar General started a film studio. And you can at least get reasonably priced candy at Dollar General.

 

3. KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

I think Twitter shifted to 280 characters to free folks from long hashtags that made it difficult to confine the ways in which this film deeply and feverishly sucks to a single tweet. An utter shambles that will make any reservations you had about Antoine Fuqua’s version feel like a trickle under the largest bridge. The only redeeming factor here was a promotional hat I received – with a logo so vague I can wear it without seeming to endorse the worst summer blockbuster in a looooooong time.

 

2. FIST FIGHT

Nothing these people might do with their money — short of public school funding for a decade — is worth this ideological nastiness. Not even a righteous Twitter burn co-star Kumail Nanjiani might lob at the leader of the free world. That seems an out-of-place political jab at a puerile comedy. But Fist Fight embraces the very aggro-bully mindset some have confused for a mandate. It’s the cinematic equal to a certain someone’s awkward, yanking handshake. Plant your feet firmly against it. Don’t get pulled in.

 

1. DADDY’S HOME 2

I thought no comedy masquerading as hapless nonsense could top Fist Fight’s embrace of a horrifying new normal in this nation. One should know to never underestimate Mel Gibson. I mean, really. If you legitimately enjoyed this film, take a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror. And then maybe slap yourself. Hard. Repeatedly. Several hundred times. Fuck this movie.

 

heymin, here are 25 MOVIES that are WELL WORTH YOUR TIME

 

 

BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN: Letterboxd review (Available for streaming on HBO)

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99: MFJ review

COCO: Letterboxd review

A CURE FOR WELLNESS: Letterboxd review

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS: Letterboxd review

FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: A DAUGHTER OF CAMBODIA REMEMBERS: Letterboxd review (Available for streaming on Netflix)

A GHOST STORY: Letterboxd review

GOOD TIME: Letterboxd review

GRADUATION: Letterboxd review (Available for streaming on Netflix)

IT: Letterboxd review

KONG: SKULL ISLAND: Letterboxd review

LADY MACBETH: Letterboxd review

THE LURE: Letterboxd review

mother!: Letterboxd review

MUDBOUND: MFJ review (Available for streaming on Netflix)

PATTI CAKE$: Letterboxd review

PERSONAL SHOPPER: Letterboxd review (Available for streaming on Showtime)

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.: Letterboxd review

ROUGH NIGHT: Letterboxd review

THE SHAPE OF WATER: Letterboxd review

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING: Letterboxd review

SYLVIO: Letterboxd review

THELMA: Letterboxd review

THOR: RAGNAROK: Letterboxd review

WHOSE STREETS?: Letterboxd review

 

TOP 25 FILMS OF 2017

 

25. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)

The totality of Noah Baumbach’s latest leap toward unexpected humanism isn’t as majestic as Adam Sandler’s finest performance yet, Dustin “You’re a Dirtbag, Too? UGH” Hoffman’s best role in years and that flawless first hour. But Baumbach’s screenplay sounds like how an artistic family, and those adrift from that inclination, would truly squabble, and their eventual camaraderie creeps up on them and you. 

 

24. MOLLY’S GAME

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba star in "Molly's Game," an STX Entertainment release written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.
An instance in which to welcome a screenwriter to the director’s chair. Hallowed high priest of hyper-verbalism Aaron Sorkin’s poker film delivers a tough-minded, fascinating and fast-moving treatise on the psychology of desperation, the economics of fleecing and being fleeced, the pathology of addiction, and the elusive, ephemeral highs dancing on the edges of all those disasters. A bit pot-committed to pat contentment at the end, but Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba are third-rail electricity.

 

23. ONLY THE BRAVE

A meditative, measured and ultimately draining character study that illustrates how your work forever alters the way you see the world, yourself and those you love – even if it’s as mundane as collating rather than corralling wildfires. A huge leap forward for director Joseph Kosinski, whom I didn’t think capable of such impressive real-world restraint. Far from hero porn, this is a unique story about the absolution and addiction a job can provide with a uniformly terrific cast.

 

22. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2

The only eight-zero-budget film to end with a Cat Stevens ballad playing over tears of self-actualization shed by a genetically modified talking raccoon. What a delight to see superhero fragility rooted in emotional failings over ideological squabble. Vol. 2 meditates on missed opportunities to connect and contemplates regrets of recognizing something (or someone) too late in life to be a force for good. James Gunn loves these characters and shows here the different keys in which he can work with them.

 

21. DETROIT

Kathryn Bigelow urgently evokes the heat of desperation and despair emanating from a festering, unhealed wound … but also the temporary salve of unexpected empathy at times. The middle hour is a raw nerve plucked repeatedly that pushes you to the edge of a psychosomatic response; I have never heard such high, loud screams in a film. If the third act is a conventional comedown, its untidiness at least works to evoke a real-life mess we are perpetually, and dishearteningly, unable to ever clean. 

 

20. WONDER WOMAN

Big-hearted, compassionate and soaring on Patty Jenkins’ instinct for astonishing action, but also challenging and complex about an impetus to heroism – or even just the right thing to do … and how it’s not always rewarded with what’s right or fair. This may be the only good thing to come from the DC Snyderverse, but Gal Gadot’s perfect mix of confidence, curiosity, conflict and charm can hang around as long as she wants, and even the same old throw-huge-shit-around climax has compelling context.

 

19. THE BIG SICK

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s script avoids easy Apatovian traps into which this could have fallen with an unarguably upbeat ending that still has a little bit of acid in its mouth. Nanjiani also dodges the pitfalls of playing yourself, delivering one of 2017’s finest performative surprises. It’s a robust look at the peaks (yes, peaks) and valleys of grief not only for a person but for the protective bubbles we place around ourselves. Their punctures are inevitable, but still painful. Big ups for the 9/11 joke, too.

 

18. STRONGER

Does “Boston Strong” mean an ability to wipe your own ass without wiping out in the bathroom? Or hiding your post-traumatic stress so it doesn’t inconvenience a photo op? Screenwriter John Pollono and director David Gordon Green’s atypical disability film attacks the notion of tribes and teams, and the corrosive effects of asserting masculinity to mask a malevolent sadness. Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany are terrific here, and Green smart enough to just linger on their grimaces, glances and gestures. 

 

17. HEADSHOT

Iko Uwais is a goddamn treasure, and I cannot for the life of me understand how he’s not a bigger global star. Headshot is Bourne, Wick and The Raid rolled into a fat joint, sparked and splendored in. Add the Mo Brothers to the list of directors whose work has me immediately excited going forward. Everyone here looks like bottom-barrel bruised fruit by the end, and the emotions work in their own exhaustively pummeling way as well. Will there ever be a third Raid film? After this, it may simply not be necessary. 

 

16. LOGAN

Hugh Jackman’s final go as Wolverine exceeds even the most elastic parameters of a new-normal R-rating for superhero films with totemic, poetic, punishing and powerful themes. Props, too, for kills that actually make some visual, visceral sense for once, given the character. Jackman utters a line late in the game freighted with about three layers of joy, sadness and exhalation that’s just about perfect. James Mangold’s black-and-white version is a novelty pip worth perusing, too, even if it rips out the red. 

 

15. I, TONYA

I’ll write more about this closer to its release in the Indianapolis market. But this is a stunning film that, like American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson before it, traces a line to the scum-encrusted sociopolitical hellscape in which we presently find ourselves. How? It addresses, with head-on and head-butting aggression, insidious issues of class, sex and delusion that have curdled so much of culture. It’s also funny without asking you to laugh at its subjects, a high-wire feat of masterful derring-do. 

 

14. LUCKY

Like a game show Lucky loves, there’s always a cliffhanger answer tomorrow to today’s questions. Each day we get closer to a final answer and someday, we all arrive there. As Blackstar was for David Bowie, Lucky is for Harry Dean Stanton – a magnum opus and memento mori from an artist who knows the end is nigh, and not in any raging way but in a calm one. What do you do with the knowledge of what happens? You smile, summon joy and, well, you go ahead and light up where you damn well please. 

 

13. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

The best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road in a year full of credible options. But it also questions how, and if, the titular assassin can separate his fearful-specter rep from the modest, and very mortal, human he seeks to be. At the end, what price delivery? Madness? Death? Legends, after all, often forge posthumously. Sound highfalutin? Fret not. It’s tacky and distinguished, luxuriating in its literary allusions and bodacious lacerations like someone chasing a 10-year scotch with PBR. Bring on Chapter 3. 

 

12. BRIGSBY BEAR

It is possible to discuss this without divulging every detail. What could have been a goofy, Napoleon Dynamite-like lark addresses something trickier and rooted more deeply in empathy over exploitation – that real-world obsessions are not often dissimilar from those in popular culture, that the fascinations that seem to imprison people may instead liberate them (or vice versa), and that curiosity, collaboration and compassion are not, in fact, dead. A stealthily, sweetly inspiring story about the creative process. 

 

11. BLADE RUNNER 2049

Denis Villeneuve’s sequel thoughtfully crumples the concept that men must be “special.” It convincingly crumples the concept that men are useful at all in a story populated extensively by feminine machines struggling to verbalize violence behind the lies of the world that birthed them. Blade Runner 2049 also beautifully exhumes an entropy barely scratched by the original, excavating grand ideas not easily reconciled, namely whether successfully deluding yourself is itself an ultimate badge of humanity.

 

10. THE LOST CITY OF Z

Like David Lean on good-shit hallucinogens, this is a visually woozy, thematically textured, narratively patient, emotionally powerful and expertly existential El Dorado story of a nigh-narcotic addiction to name-making, masculinity and legacy. Not all its characters die in the jungle, but they all lose their lives to it. Its damp melancholy nestles like a rattle in the lung. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp … or what’s a heaven for?” Z tackles emotional anthropology in that quixotic question from all sides. 

 

9. LADY BIRD

Quirky, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age stories are a dime a dozen. Greta Gerwig is wise enough to elevate hers to an uncommon sensitivity to the intersection of independence and compromise. Lady Bird must realize the liberation of adulthood for which she so yearns comes with its own set of inescapable and inevitables. If the film doesn’t conveniently announce that idea early in blinking lights, all the better to mimic the experience of its lead character, its filmmaker and … well, you at that age.

 

8. GET OUT

My first paid screening in a long time after which an audience applauded. Deservedly so. Here’s a clever, compelling, chilling and, as necessary, comic horror film of microaggressive deaths by a thousand cuts and, as the killing blow, appropriation of the social, cultural and physical varieties. Jordan Peele is right to invoke a thin line between comedy and horror. It’s a slight pivot away from a viral skit enjoyed alone but instead a terrific, and challenging, communal experience. 

 

7. THE POST

When a news truck feels like Hans Gruber rolling up in Die Hard, welcome to the master’s hands. Steven Spielberg is at his most visually deft with a smorgasbord of spatial and geometric symbolism to bisect, minimize and magnify its characters. Like Spotlight (with whom it shares a writer), it’s a mea culpa for cajoling with those you cover. But by intertwining history’s annals and apprehension for the future (in a stunning DNA visual), The Post offers its own meaty, momentous meditation on the here and now.

 

6. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

A fairytale complete with deep moats, scary dragons, maidens fair, spooky hinterlands and a closely guarded castle of secrets. We know illusions will shatter, and yet Sean Baker’s painterly eye for composition and pace – and an impeccably cast ensemble – ensures our heart is full when it breaks. Some complain we don’t know why Willem Dafoe’s character devotes his life to this; do you question the errant knight who saves you against his better interests? This is a remarkable study in empathy.

 

5. COLUMBUS

In 2017’s best first feature, Kogonada chronicles a collision of two askew souls wandering and lusting for more in south central Indiana (its people filmed as though in secret, unfettered and unadorned). In addition to seamlessly bridging distinct visual media, Columbus masterfully melds the comfort of complacency and a longing to break free in subtle ways that feel like a window into the imperceptible. Of the many architectural marvels whose form and function Kogonada interrogates, consider a simple gap between brick columns – a diving board into the unknown for both Jin and Casey, there upon which for us to gaze, to consider the spaces between and wonder where they and we fit.

 

4. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Love is, of course, a subjective truth, just as awakening passion is a high-velocity orbit around a heavenly body from which you can only hope to return whole. Call Me By Your Name is both artful erotica and a brittle story of love – anchored by a career-best turn from Armie Hammer, the performance of the year from Timothée Chalamet and a summary monologue of inspiration, regret, tolerance, sorrow, pride and joy from Michael Stuhlbarg that asks why we should fear feeling everything if nothing is the alternative.

 

3. BABY DRIVER

Always worthwhile to make room in a top 10 for a film in which you would happily live. Few such choices are this goddamn fine. Sheer euphoria and believable consequences have rarely felt so sweet. The precision of the action-musical choreography deepens with each repeat viewing, down to 16th-note pinpoints. Edgar Wright’s masterpiece. But then again, he could yet find it in him do a straight musical …  

 

2. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

I know. I’m shocked, too. But it’s a thing of beauty. A work of art. A marvel of moviemaking. God forbid complainers ever encounter anything more complex or challenging than a lollipop-licking sugar rush. Then again, time’s weight is harder to heave than nostalgia’s whimsy. And scarier, too. Rian Johnson understands that, and no matter what fools who poo-poo Canto Bight say, not a second is wasted. Let it come to a perfunctorily boring conclusion. We have Johnson’s fresh-slate trilogy to tide us over in a few. 

 

1. DUNKIRK

Look, Christopher Nolan could have made a visually majestic, predictably mawkish World War II movie in which klaxons might as well sound when hearing about characters’ at-home lives to determine their certain death. It would certainly placate the complainers’ boring grouse that we don’t get enough of these men’s inner lives. I think that complaint is lodged because the ending of Dunkirk is far more challenging (and bleak a la Interstellar … yes, Interstellar … watch it again) than the sort of thing with which with most people care to wrestle.

Marrying Storm Thorgerson’s surreality to David Lean’s scope – and stunning in either 15/70 IMAX or a mall – Nolan brings his contemporaneously unrivaled visual gambits to something far less anonymous. What you see is the comma of compassion in a larger Sisyphean story of war. Not for nothing does it end with the same soldier holding propaganda, suggesting salvation at Dunkirk will only earn you another spot on the front line. The regimented ticking clock and repeated raggedness of Hans Zimmer’s score reinforces this; those sounds make you feel like you’re inside the very genetics of music itself, a synesthetic sonata of stress and snapping tension.

It’s a work of extraordinary composition, clarity and control that could close on a nobly sacrificed plane but instead blips back to a soldier … and his nervous realization that while luck might have saved him at Dunkirk, he might have also expelled every last bit of it before the battles to come in British fields, cities and seas. Humanity came out ahead that day, and the movie certainly earns its soaring moments of triumph. But Nolan hardly pretends that vitriol wouldn’t persist or that these men would not be more than likely crushed at a different battle.

Much like The Last Jedi, here’s a moral story about war – one that perpetuates itself in our real world, well beyond the political specifics of World War II. Screw the continued cries for more traditional WWII movies and the people who demand them because they’d rather not be challenged with concepts and ideas that go against their “greatest generation” comforts. This is magnetic, magnificent and majestic filmmaking of the highest order, and the very best film of 2017.


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An award-winning film critic and features reporter, Nick has professionally written or gabbed about movies for Illinois newspapers, national syndicates, Playboy, The Art Immortal, The Film Yap and Midwest radio stations. He once drummed in a Billy Joel cover band known as Silly Joel and freely presents his Letterboxd page to engage and mock if you wish: https://letterboxd.com/ragekage79/


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