Happy New Year!
2017 was a great year for movies. In fact, I had a somewhat difficult time choosing my top ten favorite films because I liked so many movies this year for so many different reasons. They were all diverse in tone, subject matter, and theme.
On the flipside, there were also several movies I disliked immensely, therefore my Bottom Five were easy to discern from the pack.
So this year, there is a Top Ten and Bottom Five, with honorable mentions for each category – films that I thought, for both good and ill, were deserving of being listed but weren’t good/bad enough to be on the list itself.
First up, the Bottom Five!
Eighty years ago this month, Walt Disney revolutionized the art of animation with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In the span of only a couple years, Walt had pushed himself and his artists to creative heights they never dreamed of and created a film that broke the feature barrier for animation forever.
It’s hard for moviegoers today to imagine a world without animated features. Animation is such a lucrative segment of the box office that it seems like there’s a new film coming out every few weeks. Both adults and children flock to the latest efforts from studios like Pixar, Blue Sky, Illumination, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
All of today’s animation powerhouses owe their very existence to the success and appeal of Disney’s first princess. So for its 80th anniversary, I thought it might be worth looking back at this truly timeless animated masterpiece. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of my favorite films of all time – not just because of its place in film history, but because the care given to its artistry and storytelling has been rarely surpassed. And its moral center connects to something spiritual within us.
Coco, Pixar Animation Studios’ 19th animated feature, is another solid, delightful masterpiece for the hit-making studio. Like most of Pixar’s best films, Coco hits all the notes to make it an amazing piece of storytelling: a compelling plot, great characters to follow, a wonderful universe to explore, and themes about life that appeal to everyone.
Director Lee Unkrich (who also helmed the amazing Toy Story 3) has crafted yet another compelling and sincere family adventure, and all of Pixar should be very proud.
Coco is rich in themes and tropes that resonate with every person on the planet, which is the reason why I think this film will have lasting universal appeal. The themes are deep, and it’s very difficult to discuss all of them in this review. However, I will discuss what is probably the film’s most prominent thematic string: the importance of family.
The infamous “shower sequence” in Psycho takes place in less than five minutes of screentime. The purported heroine (and headlining star) of the film was brutally murdered before the eyes of the audience in one of the most vulnerable positions imaginable, leaving the crowd narratively disoriented, without a sympathetic character to follow (for now).
That is the genius and historical significance of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece. That scene literally changed how movies were made and ushered in a completely new subgenre of horror films (though the latter was not Hitch’s intention). And the shower scene is the subject of a new documentary called 78/52 – taking its name from the 78 shots and 52 cuts that comprise that scene.
This film takes the scene apart, sometimes frame-by-frame, and has an interesting panel of film experts and Hitchcock admirers analyze the scene on an artistic, stylistic and cultural level. For fans of Hitchcock, and film generally, this is a must-see. 78/52 goes into a lot of detail to help the viewer understand why that five minutes of the film changed things so much – both for the better and worse.
What interested me the most about 78/52 were the thematic insights I heard. The experts interviewed looked at the shower scene as a reflection of American culture’s impending fragmentation, as well as the Master of Suspense’s uncompromising vision of justice.
There are fewer eras in American history that are fraught with more controversy and consternation that the Vietnam War. It was a time of social and cultural change – most of it for the worse, in this author’s humble opinion. And even 40 years after it ended, the wounds of that era are still fresh for many.
This time period has also produced classic films that are revered today – Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and the like. This films, for the most part, have a definite slant on the war and it’s a mostly negative one that usually leans left.
This is what made me initially apprehensive about Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s latest documentary series, The Vietnam War. While Burns’ early works are indeed fair and balanced to the subject matter they study (specifically his magnum opus, The Civil War), his more recent films have been glaringly biased to the left, with the worst being 2009’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
I’m very happy to report that The Vietnam War is Burns’ best film in a while. It is a fair and comprehensive look at the war…to a point. Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick have crafted an excellent narrative of the events surrounding the war, providing much-needed context, set-up, and thoughtful analysis – allowing those who lived the war from all sides to have a say. However, the film still has some annoying biases, even though both Burns and Novick assured us there wouldn’t be any.
In The Vietnam War‘s narrative, all sides of the conflict were culpable in some way for its disastrous outcome. I believe the war began with sincere purposes and devolved into a quagmire. This is a reflection of the arrogance on all sides – the arrogance sometimes inherent in humanity itself.