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Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2017, By Patrick McDonald

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The Hero
Photo credit: The Orchard

The word “elegy” is often used to describe the poignant last days of a person or event. And that is all encapsulated in THE HERO, as Sam Elliott – who in his career has portrayed heroic cowboys – creates an elegy for his character (an actor and voiceover artist), his situation, the cowboy and himself… as a veteran performer. The story builds truthfully as it occurs, because it lives in modern life, and doesn’t press upon anything phony. There are no last minute reprieves for Elliott’s character, but there are small patches of hope, which really is a reflection of how life operates. Director Brett Haley, who also helmed the excellent “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” tells the story on a very expressive level (co-written with Marc Basch), with all the themes of regret and the last ditch efforts that dissipate those regrets. Sam Elliott deserves an Oscar Best Actor nomination.

HIGHLIGHT: Besides the surprising and open performance from Elliott, Laura Prepon (everyone’s girl-next-door from “That ‘70s Show”) also kills it as a stand-up comic who uses too much of her life as material.

Click here for the full review of “The Hero.”
Click here for an interview with director Brett Haley of “The Hero.”


The Florida Project
Photo credit: A24

The poverty class in America is obviously underrepresented in film, and writer/director Sean Baker focuses on the “hidden homeless” in THE FLORIDA PROJECT through a young mother (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter (the remarkable Brooklynn Prince) who live in a “weekly motel” in Orlando, Florida. Monitoring their situation is a well worn building manager, portrayed to perfection by Willem Dafoe. What was extraordinary about the story was the child’s survival instincts and life force (she doesn’t realize her circumstance, she just lives) combined with the mother’s delusions. The film is raw and very sad at times, but there is also glimmers of humanity, expertly personified through Dafoe.

HIGHLIGHT: A stunning ending, jaw dropping in its symbolic audacity.

Click here for an interview with director Sean Baker of “The Florida Project.”


Get Out
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

2017 was the 50th anniversary of the extremely dated film GUESS WHO IS COMING TO DINNER, and who better than Jordan Peele (of the comedy team Key and Peele) to write and make his directorial debut with this stunning reworking of an interracial couple going “home” to meet the white girl’s parents. The horror/comedy elements of the story (exquisite) masks a history of race relations in America, the hotbed that never cools down. Peele created a masterwork of multiple layers, and still manages to evoke great belly laughs and uneasy scares. The most significant director debut in the last generation.

HIGHLIGHT: Got to give a shout out to the spectacular comic relief of Chicago comedian LilRel Howery, who takes the movie occupation of TSA Agent to the next level of security.

Click here for the full review of “Get Out.”


Lady Bird
Photo credit: A24

Writer/director Greta Gerwig leads the way in the 2017 Year of the Women Filmmaker with her own autobiographical story, with a truth so direct and affecting it feels like a staged documentary at times. Lady Bird is a nickname, which the main character Christine confers upon herself, just to shake up the impeding routine of her Senior Year at a Catholic High School in Sacramento, California (the “Midwest of Cali). Saoirse Ronan portrays the title character, and mimics the Greta Gerwig-style of eccentric detachment with charm and empathy. Chicago is represented through Steppenwolf Theatre alumni Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts, who portray Lady Bird’s parent with heart-melting authenticity. The small triumphs that occur in the film seem much bigger when presented in a context that mimics how we live. The film is a total winner.

HIGHLIGHT: When Lady Bird achieves her college goal, the film could have faded to happy black… but Gerwig had something else in mind.

Click here for the full review of “Lady Bird.”


The Shape of Water
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The movies are fairy tales in essence, set in motion through a light source at 24 frames a second. If that sounds magical, then writer/director Guillermo Del Toro captured the light and conjured his own wizardry in THE SHAPE OF WATER. On the surface, it is a simple “Beauty and the Beast” theme, as a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins, transcendent), who works in a Cold War-era science facility, falls in love with a captured lizard man, who looks like The Creature From the Black Lagoon. The main theme is about outsiders in 1962, Elisa’s African American co-worker (Octavia Spencer), her gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and an undercover Soviet Agent (Michael Stuhlbarg). They are all defending themselves against the patriarchal authority, represented through U.S. Special Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon), whose main objective is destruction. All the motifs unfold at the highest levels, but at its core is the year’s best love story. This is an old-fashioned must see celebration.

HIGHLIGHT: This all takes place in October of 1962, while the world came to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Click here for the full review of “The Shape of Water.”
Click here for an interview with actor Michael Stuhlbarg of “The Shape of Water” (he talks about it in the audio portion of the interview).

To directly access the reviews, interviews and writings of Patrick McDonald, Writer and Editorial Coordinator of HollywoodChicago.com, click here.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2018 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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