2017: The Year in Film

Admittedly, I was unable to see as many new movies this year as I would’ve liked. But of those I did see, here are the ones that stuck out:

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This black comedy crime film, written and directed by the writer-director of In Bruges, is reminiscent of Fargo and other Coen Brothers movies, but with slightly less eccentricities. The plot follows a defiant mother who posts billboard ads outside her town that accuse the local police of not doing enough to solve her daughter’s rape and murder case. I wouldn’t research too much before seeing this movie because certain spoilers would definitely affect the experience. But I will say that the story ebbs and flows with seemingly more, then less, then more complications, and it ends up being an emotional roller coaster. Standout performance from Frances McDormand, who consistently walks that fine line between serious and funny.

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I, Tonya

One of the most engaging biopics I’ve seen in a while, which is no surprise, considering how wild Tonya Harding’s life was. Even before her involvement with the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, she had overcome an unstable family, poverty, and domestic abuse to become one of the world’s top figure skaters of the early 90’s. This documentary-style movie is darkly comedic, largely due to the sometimes unbelievable situations Tonya finds herself in, but I would consider the overall tone to be quirky, which makes the drama even more fun to watch.

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The Big Sick

This romantic comedy is based on the true story of how its writer, a Pakistani-American comedian, and his white-American wife fell in love and struggled with various family and culture clashes before a serious illness ultimately made them realize what was most important. But I hesitate to label this movie as a rom-com because it is actually funny, realistic, and raises awareness of important societal issues. A lot of the humor comes from the couple’s dialogue while they’re goofing around and acting silly, which is relatable. But then there are the scenes in which the comedian’s parents try to set him up with single women or casually assume that he’s going to law school, which are TOO relatable…

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Get Out

This timely comedy-thriller-horror is another film that is funny because it’s just too real. Scenes of racism are instantly recognizable within the satirical situations, and there is truly something for everyone to learn. All I will say about the plot, short of spoilers, is that when a black man meets his white girlfriend’s family for the first time, things take a very dark turn. Props to writer-director Jordan Peele for utilizing the horror genre in a way that can make audiences more uncomfortable and even fearful of systemic racism than of imaginary clowns.

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Lady Bird

Seriously one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It was so delightful and moving to watch such a spot-on, accurate portrayal of what it feels like to transition from adolescence to womanhood and also the complicated relationship that daughters have with their mothers–we are often so close and have so much in common, that we sometimes forget that we are still immensely different people (yes, your mom is her own person, too!). The talented Saoirse Ronan plays a high school Senior in the early 2000’s, and her actions, dialogue, and mannerisms all build into this sense of nostalgia that is not simply used as a crutch for emotional reactions, but is warmly welcomed. Writer-director Greta Gerwig can do no wrong (I especially love her in Frances HaMistress America, and Damsels in Distress), and I only wish that this movie had been extended to 472 hours. You’ve probably heard by now the number of times Dave Matthews’ “Crash Into Me” is featured, but I was also pleasantly surprised by Stephen Sondheim’s role.

For more entertainment options, you can find my 2017 top picks for TV here.

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Favorite Movies of 2013

Critics have been calling 2013 a “vintage year” for films, and judging by the number of remarkable new movies I saw this past year, I have to agree. Here are my favorites (again, in noncommittal alphabetical order):

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Loosely based on an FBI operation in the ‘70s, this film has a little bit of everything—outrageous, yet believable characters, dysfunctional relationships, and endless amounts of smart humor.

MV5BMTc0ODk5MzEyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzI0MDY1OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett impeccably plays an incorrigible snob who completely loses it after discovering that her privileged life and marriage were a sham. Her portrayal has even been compared to Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire.

MV5BMjI2MjIwMDk2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTQ1MzQ5OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Enough Said

Together, the ever-hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus and, in one of his final roles, James Gandolfini comprise the cutest “grown-up” couple I’ve ever observed. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny, which is quite rare for me.

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Hitting dangerously close to home, this black-and-white film follows a 20-something New Yorker, as she experiences a falling-out with her best friend, impersonates a Modern dancer, despite having no talent, and tries to figure out her life before it passes her by. Perfect for all fans of the TV show Girls.

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Based on the rivalry between two drivers in the 1976 Formula One season, this biographical film actually made me care about car racing. Captivating performances, thrilling race scenes, and, again, my favorite era. I’m still shocked by how much I liked this one, though Chris Hemsworth may be partially to blame…

MV5BMTc0MTQ3NzE4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA4NDM5OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Saving Mr. Banks

Based on the events that led to Mary Poppins becoming a book and, evenutally, a movie, this is the most simultaneously sad, yet uplifting story I’ve seen in recent memory. Everyone in my movie theater was in tears (of sorrow or joy or both) for the duration of the film.

MV5BMjA5MTc0NTkzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODEwNjE3OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_The Spectacular Now

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sympathetic towards a high-school couple (both in movies or in real life). The chemistry between Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller is so effortless that their characters’ relationship seems exceptionally real.

MV5BMTU1NzI5MDU3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE0NDMzOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Stuck in Love

This movie follows a family, each member of which is, in one way or another, stuck in love. Not a huge hit with the critics, but I personally connected with the soundtrack (Indie gems), the somewhat excessive literary-name-dropping (the family mostly consists of writers), and the brilliant individual performances by the cast.

MV5BMTY1MDk0MTIzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDM3NzkxOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_What Maisie Knew

Based on the novel by Henry James, this heartbreaking story shows life through the eyes of a six-year-old, caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter custody battle. I’d say the girl who plays the young protagonist deserves an Oscar.

MV5BMTQ4OTUyNzcwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTQ1NDE3OA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Zero Dark Thirty

This dramatization of the events that led to the elimination of Osama bin Laden is more intense and nerve-wracking than most horror films. Instead of bringing relief, the conclusion conveyed the haunting sense that the world was worse off than before.

Honorable mentions: 12 Years a Slave, About Time, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, All Is Lost, Before Midnight, The Bling Ring, Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Mud, Now You See Me, The Way Way Back

Let me know if there are any great movies that I missed. And while this vintage year may be over, the 2014 lineup looks very promising!

Christmas Classics

I think we can all agree that winter weather calls for making tea, snuggling under a blanket, and, most importantly, watching Christmas movies. The older, the better! As much as I love The Santa Clause, Elf, and Home Alone (1 and 2), only the classics have the particular charm and innocence that epitomize the Christmas spirit. The following are my favorites:
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Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

A magazine writer must pretend to be the perfect housewife she claims to be in her articles, when her publisher and a war survivor visit her on Christmas. Highlight: Barbara Stanwyck’s character convincing her guests that a baby boy is her own, when the day before, her baby had been a girl.

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The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Two shop employees don’t get along, not realizing that they’ve been writing anonymous love letters to each other. Highlight: James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan’s characters meeting their matches in each other.

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The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

An angel helps a Bishop fund the building of his new church and resolve his familial problems. Highlight: Cary Grant as the angel.

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Scrooge (1951)

The best film adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic story. Highlight: Alastair Sim as THE Ebenezer Scrooge that all subsequent Scrooges have aspired to be.

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It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)

A homeless crowd moves into a mansion while its owners are away. The owners find out, but pretend to be fellow hobos in order to continue a romance between one of each group. Highlight: The cutest dog!

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Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

After boosting sales at Macy’s flagship store and spreading his joy, Santa Claus must prove to skeptics in court that he is, in fact, real. Highlight: Natalie Wood as an adorable child cynic.

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Holiday Inn (1942)

A performer opens an inn that puts on shows exclusively on holidays, but must compete with his old partner for the same female star. Highlight: Fred Astaire’s tap dance with fireworks.

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Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

A large family experiences good and bad moments, while living in St. Louis. Highlights: Judy Garland singing “The Trolley Song” and a tear-inducing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

A depressed man is shown by an angel what would’ve become of his family and friends had he never existed. Highlight: James Stewart’s character promising the moon to his sweetheart.

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White Christmas (1954)

This film has absolutely everything: singing, dancing, comedy, romance, generosity, irony, amazing outfits… It’s perfect for the holidays! Highlights: Too many to name, but every beautiful song, every phenomenal dance, and Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye actually losing it, as they pretend to perform as ladies.

Many of these films will be aired this month on TCM and AMC, while others can be viewed on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Should I add any other Christmas classics to this list?