A Year in Film

From 'Get Out' to 'The Shape of Water,' films in 2018 reminded us of our humanity, cruelty, capacity for love
Perhaps the most zeitgeisty film of the year was Jordan Peele's allegorical horror.

In the comedy The Square, a pair of whip-smart idiots from the marketing department are pitching a viral campaign for an exhibition at a huge Stockholm art museum. They're sketching in the details, but their idea is that the ad will feature a crying homeless child blown up by a time bomb. Art museums don't compete with other art for the eyes of the viewers, the two hucksters argue—it competes with the spectacles of the time, the disasters, the wars.

To sell art, you've got to use violence.

They may be right—as a friend says, violence is the universal language. There were few movies so eye-popping and action-packed in 2017 that audiences weren't watching them with one eye over their shoulders. Maybe one, Wonder Woman, with its Don Quixote approach to war—the gods delude men into fighting, so let's go kick Mars' ass! Watching that film was the first two hours since the Inauguration that made me forget about Trump. David Lynch's return on TV unspooled one episode at a time, so one could check the news-feed for fresh disasters, even while the fabric of reality disintegrated into a whirl of electronic static, time loops and doppelgangers.

Most of the time, 2017 was "The Sunken Place," in the parlance of Get Out—the zone of helplessness in which one can only observe and hope for deliverance. In some respects, Get Out was the most zeitgeist-ridden movie of the year, this mousetrap of a film about horrible science fiction skullduggery carried out by good white people. War for the Planet of the Apes and Wonder Womanwere vaster and more detailed with revolutionary fervor.

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water had the texture of classic cinema, from its yearning for the red-velvet lined movie theaters of the old days, to its sensational color (someone should pen an essay on the use of green in this movie). It could be said that The Shape of Water had a simplistically vicious villain. But Shannon knew his enemy, the Bannonoids, well, just as well as Del Toro seduced us with a strange forbidden body, and the lure of escape and the sea. Sally Hawkins' performance sums up one odd aspect of 2017 in film—there were so many fine mute performances: Hawkins (the best), the delightful Millicent Simmonds as a girl of 1927 in Wonderstruck, and Amiah Miller's Nova in Apes.

The Florida Project's endearingly hopeful study of the ground-down poor was unique. The street kids were ingenious, hustling, sticky, and mischievous, in this tribute to the Our Gang series set in Florida welfare-land motels. It couldn't have been a different approach from The Square's video—not a guilt-whipping over a homeless kid, but a fun if grotty vacation. Lady Bird could have been as facile as John Hughes' Pretty in Pink—but there's a difference in the way it savors the reverse angle of the hard-working, weary mom (Laurie Metcalf) driven nuts by her daughter's fancies.

Whose Streets?, a documentary made under the noses of the police in Ferguson, Missouri, introduced us to people drastically different than the rampaging thugs in the news. We need visions of heroism—real, as in the neighborhood guardians in Whose Streets?, comic book style, as in the gallant Gal Gadot, or just plain comic, like Lil Rel Howery's TSA agent in Get Out. Peele's faith in the TSA, like David Lynch's faith in the FBI, are demonstrations that we still have some trust in our institutions yet—but the time is running out on how long we have left to learn to understand one another.

As for the worst: American Assassin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword were close enough to the bottom of the barrel. I'd rather not get splinters by clawing farther down.

RvB's Top 10 of 2017:
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
The Square
Twin Peaks: The Return
War for the Planet of the Apes
Whose Streets?
Wonder Woman
I Am Not Your Negro
Last Flag Flying
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