FlixChatter’s TOP 10 Films of 2017

Ok let me preface this with a confession that there are still a ton of critical darlings I haven’t seen yet… Get Out, Lady Bird, Mudbound, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, etc. 2017 proved to be one of the busiest, craziest year ever for me. In fact it’s been a pretty crazy whirlwind ride for me. So being a first-time filmmaker meant your priority had to shift a bit (or a lot) and for the past year, my life as a blogger kind of took a backseat.

In any case, everyone’s list is going to be different anyway, even if we all saw the same movies in a given year. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so sometimes I feel like a film deserves to be on my list because it was masterfully-crafted, whether or not I connected with the story. But generally, my criteria is that a film makes a lasting impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Replay-ability is a factor I take into consideration as well, though I don’t necessarily want to rewatch every single film on my list.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. Lost City of Z (full review)

Charlie Hunnam & Tom Holland as father and son

This film opened the Minneapolis St Paul Film Festival and I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen. I think it’s a massively-underrated adventure drama about a British explorer who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s. I also think Charlie Hunnam is a terrific actor and here he truly shows his dramatic chops. I like that the focus is on his psychology as he grew more obsessed with finding Z, taking a toll on his family despite the support of his loyal wife (Sienna Miller). Director James Gray‘s biopic feels authentic and involving, and the jungle visuals are appropriately lush and gritty, both stunning and dangerous. I also enjoyed Tom Holland‘s performance, memorable despite his brief screen time.

9. Thor: Ragnarok (full review)

This isn’t the first time I have a movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe on my top 10 list. I think the fact that Taika Waititi took on the third installment of a so-so franchise in the behemoth MCU and pushed it to forefront in terms of critical + audience reception AND box office take is something to be admired. I’ve been a huge fan of Taika’s work since What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople and he brought his zany sense of humor to Thor as well. The brilliant cast are all fun to watch and they looked like they had such a fun time doing it that’s contagious. Cate Blanchett relished in her naughty, playful side, as did Chris Hemsworth who showed off his comedic chops. But it’s Taika’s witty humor that made the film, even his own character Korg deserves its own spin-off. There’s so much to love about this movie, including the rousing 80s music and the hilarious cameos!

8. Their Finest

Interesting how the Brits suddenly keen on telling the Dunkirk story all within a single year. We’ve got Dunkirk of course, then The Darkest Hour specifically from Churchill’s perspective. But one that’s the least flashy of them all is a pretty brilliant film with a charming cast led by Gemma Arterton. She played Catrin, a newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films during the London Blitz of WWII. I always enjoy stories involving a film within a film and this one has both joy and pathos mixed together given the wartime setting. The sexism Catrin faced in the misogynistic workplace and how she stood up for herself feel quite timely. There’s also a sweet-but-not-saccharine romance in the air that’s well-handled, and fun humor courtesy of Bill Nighy as a famous actor whose fame is eluding him. It’s perhaps my favorite film from Lone Scherfig to date, beating even the terrific An Education.

7. Wonder Woman (full review)

Another female-directed movie of 2017 that left a lasting impression on me. Even in a year with a plethora of superhero films, Patty Jenkins‘ movie stands out because it’s fun & entertaining as well as heartfelt and inspiring. It’s also visually striking, especially the scenery in sunny Themyscira before Diana sets foot in a gritty urban setting in WWI London. And that fight scene of the Amazonians vs German forces took my breath away every time!! Gal Gadot absolutely rocks as the mighty heroine, balancing her earnest, valiant, yet compassionate side. I also love Chris Pine‘s casting as Diana’s sympathetic comrade/love interest, and their scenes together could make the best superhero rom-com. This movie couldn’t have come a better time too given the surging women empowerment in Hollywood fighting for gender equality.

6. War for the Planet of the Apes

Who knew that the ‘Apes’ movie trilogy ended up being one of the strongest trilogies out of Hollywood. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was on my Top 10 list of 2014, which was also directed by Matt Reeves. Glad he’s back to helm this one again, what a terrific conclusion to the Apes’ charismatic leader Caesar (Andy Serkis in another phenomenal mo-cap performance). His struggles to avenge his kind while being torn to his loyalty to humans is heart-wrenching. This time we’ve got a genuinely hilarious addition to the Apes’ cast with Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), plus a tragic villain The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). I look forward to rewatching the entire trilogy once again, but the last two sequels under Reeves are definitely the most brilliant.

5. Phantom Thread (full review)

I’ve just reviewed this one and it’s also the last film I saw that ended up on this list. Though it’s an emotionally cold film, I still think it’s masterfully-crafted and brilliantly-acted. One thing I should mention about this film is its intimate feel, it’s as if you’re getting a sneak peek into the life of an artistic genius. It’s a gloomy and twisted affair, but also tantalizingly honest. Daniel Day Lewis is superb as always, but it’s Vicky Krieps who’s quite a revelation as his unlikely equal. With Lesley Manville as her headstrong loyal sister, the three actors makes quite a fantastic trio. I mentioned that I didn’t quite fall in love with this film, but undoubtedly I admire it greatly.

4. Blade Runner 2049

It’s a bummer this film didn’t do well at the box office, and puzzling too given the buzz surrounding it. It may not be as iconic as the original by Ridley Scott, but it’s still one heck of an epic film. Denis Villeneuve is becoming one of my favorite filmmakers since Sicario. Though his films are always so beautifully-shot, it’s never style over substance. I’m glad I saw this on IMAX, man I hope Roger Deakins gets his overdue Oscar this year! As the quintessential sci-fi that ponders what it really means to be human, the story lingers for days after you watched it. Ryan Gosling delivered a quiet, soulful performance, while Harrison Ford reprised his role memorably with endearing curmudgeon-ness he’s famous for.

3. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is one of the rare filmmakers whose complete work I have seen and this is perhaps one of his ambitious one yet. He set out to create an experience rather than simply showing what happened on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Instead of just telling the narratives in a linear way, Nolan told the story from three different perspectives: land, air and sea. There’s no huge movie stars in this film, the most famous one is Tom Hardy in a practically wordless but charismatic performance as a pilot. Fresh out of an Oscar-winning performance in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance once again did an outstanding job as a common sailor who became one of many unlikely heroes. An immersive experience that truly made us feel the horror of war, as intense and thrilling as a war film could be, without resorting to blood and gore. This memorably tense film is not your average blockbuster.

2. Logan

My hubby and I just rewatched LOGAN this weekend since we’ve bought the Bluray a while ago. This time we opted to watch the b/w noir version. WOW we’re blown away once again, this film is actually better on second viewing! James Mangold redeemed himself after his oh-so-promising-but-turns-out-meh The Wolverine as writer/director. He and his co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green scored a groundbreaking Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, a unique landmark for superhero stories, as it became the first film based on superhero comic books to be nominated in that category! Well it’s so well-deserved as the writing is truly amazing and it doesn’t feel much like a superhero film at all. It’s a character-driven piece that relies heavily on the relationship between three key characters: Logan, the now ailing Professor X (the venerable Patrick Stewart) and a new young mutant girl Laura (Dafne Keen, sensational in her debut role).

It’s also a very emotional film albeit perhaps too violent at times. The fight scenes definitely made you wince, not only because of how brutal they were, but because what each of the beating meant for the once-invincible hero. Hugh Jackman‘s portrayed the tortured soul for seventeen years, but you’ve never seen him like this before. Every line on his face, every bloody wound, brings Logan closer to what only mere mortals get to experience. That last dialog between him and Laura is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve seen this year. This is not a happy and fun superhero movie, but not somber & dour for no reason (*cough* Justice League *cough*), but it’s one I know I’ll remember for ages. What a spectacular farewell from Jackman to a role that made him famous, he’ll be sorely missed.

1. Shape of Water (full review)

Once in a while came a film that tickled your fancy and ended up sweeping you off your feet. This year that film is The Shape of Water. Yes it’s perhaps it’s the romantic in me, stories of star-crossed lovers always gets me and it doesn’t get more unlikely-matched than a human + sea creature. But Guillermo del Toro could inject so much humanity into his monsters. In fact, the real ‘monster’ in the film is the human who wants to keep the two lovers apart for his own gain.

A dark fairy tale of a beautiful love story and friendship that’s gorgeous to look at. Led by an empathetic performance by Sally Hawkins as well as a slew of terrific supporting cast, The Shape of Water is emotional, thrilling, funny, suspenseful… everything one would want in a period romance, and then some. On my review I also mentioned how there’s such a dreamy quality to the whole production, yet something I can connect with it emotionally. All in all a superb film I’m glad I got to see just before 2017 was done!


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I always make room for those that didn’t quite make it to my Top 10 but still made a lasting impression on me. Some of these actually came very close to being on my top 10. Thanks to Twin Cities Film Fest for screening some of the films that ended up being some of my faves of the year, Darkest Hour (w/ phenomenal Gary Oldman as Churchill), Breathe (wonderful directorial debut of Andy Serkis featuring sublime performances from Andrew Garfield & Claire Foy), Last Flag Flying (what a cast!), Walking Out (Matt Bommer is more than a pretty face), and The Bachelors (Josh Wiggins is a fantastic young actor, the world shall know who he is soon!).

  1. Darkest Hour
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. A United Kingdom
  4. Last Flag Flying
  5. Let Me Go
  6. Baby Driver
  7. John Wick 2
  8. Colossal
  9. Loving Vincent
  10. Breathe
  11. Walking Out
  12. The Bachelors
  13. Logan Lucky
  14. Pilgrimage
  15. What Happened To Monday

So what do you think of my Top 10? Which of these are YOUR faves of the year?

FlixChatter Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Ok, firstly a confession: this is my intro to Paul Thomas Anderson (known as PTA to cinephiles). Secondly: It’s a film I appreciate but not love. Wait, what? Yes I know, this film has garnered unanimous adulation. Critics as well as fellow filmmaker I know (including my short film director) calling it exquisite, masterpiece, sublime.

Now, I don’t disagree with them. On a technical level, the film is superb. Even the story is intriguing, impossibly elegant and mysterious. The painstaking attention to detail is amazing and amazingly-stylish, which is fitting considering it’s a film about an obsessive fashion designer.

On an emotional level however, it just doesn’t resonate with me. It feels like a cold film. Perhaps it’s intentional and perhaps PTA himself intentionally kept viewers at arms’ length, as that’s how the film’s protagonist Reynolds Woodcock keeps his lovers. Played with elegance aloofness by Daniel Day-Lewis, it made me wish he isn’t serious about retiring.

Even playing such an unlikable character, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing. There’s something so precise about his acting, and being a method actor that he is, he makes you believe he is whoever he is playing. But equally mesmerizing is Vicky Krieps as Alma, who’s pretty much Day-Lewis’ equal. It’s fitting given that Alma’s pretty much Reynold’s equal despite her initial meek demeanor. I haven’t seen miss Krieps before, but the Luxembourg-born actress has quite a resume. I just wish there’s more to her character, it’d be more interesting to see more of her backstory.

This is the kind of film that makes you ponder for days. What is it about exactly? There are many themes being explored here, and one that comes to mind immediately is obsession, specifically Reynold’s obsession with perfection. But he’s also a narcissist, a mama’s boy and frankly, a demanding big baby in terms of how he conducts his work. Everything has to be just so–no noise on the table as he eats his breakfast–or his entire day would be ruined.

He seems obsessed with Alma likely because she’s nurturing, yet she’s also headstrong like his loyal sister Cyrill. The always-reliable Lesley Manville is perfectly icy cool as Cyrill. There’s one particular scene between Cyrill and Reynolds that’s quite funny. The few darkly comedic scenes didn’t exactly offer respite from the gloomy spirit of the film however. I likened it to a chilly, windy, foggy day in London, perfectly tinged with melancholy.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy this film as much was because I sat on the front row at the screening, so it was uncomfortable having to tip my head back the entire time to watch it. I don’t know if I would feel differently on second viewing, this isn’t something I’m keen on rewatching. Though it may appear like a romance drama, the film isn’t particularly romantic. It’s elegant yes, and tantalizing at times, but not really romantic. As I mentioned in my Shape of Water review, I love films that connect with me emotionally and this one didn’t really do that.

Despite my quibbles, I still give it high marks because I think it’s competently-done. PTA also did the cinematography on this and shot it on 35mm hence the rather-grainy quality. There’s not a lot of action in the film, but yet PTA made even the seemingly mundane act of sewing, cutting fabric, and especially cooking, so intriguing… and suspenseful. You won’t ever see mushroom the same way again after this. The style and camerawork suits the narrative and period well, complemented by Jonny Greenwood‘s evocative score. He’s a composer I’m also not familiar with, but his music here adds a hypnotic quality to the film.

So yeah, I can see why people admire PTA’s work and I’m glad I finally got to see one of his films. My film friends have all suggested that I check out his previous films, so I’ll do that eventually as I’m especially intrigued by Magnolia. As for this one, well I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, it’s certainly a good looking film.


So did you see Phantom Thread? Let me know what YOU think!

Trailers of Movies I Can’t Wait to See… from arthouse indies to blockbuster movies

Hello everyone! Remember me? 😉

Feels like it’s been ages since I posted trailers on this blog. It’s truly been a whirlwind year for me. You already know about my short film which consumed the first 2/3 of 2017. As if that wasn’t busy enough already, I also still blogged for TCFF, my hubby and I became US citizens 🇺🇸 in late November… aaaand we’re moving to a new home! 😮

Suffice to say, not only do I not have any time to blog these days…  I barely have time to watch things either. But I do make time to watch trailers! I’ve always enjoyed trailers and they always make me excited about movies even when life is extremely hectic.

In fact, since I was home sick today, I watched a ton of trailers as I sat on my bed… and so I thought why not make a blog post of it. In any case, I like to mix up arthouse indies with huge blockbusters, so let’s start with this one…

A Wrinkle In Time

After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.


An intriguing scifi adventure by a female director (Ava DuVernay) w/ an all-star (mostly female) cast (including my girl muse Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Can’t wait to see this next March!


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Based on Peter Turner’s memoir, the film follows the playful but passionate relationship between Turner (Bell) and the eccentric Academy Award®-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Bening) in 1978 Liverpool.


I remember hearing the title but just finally saw the trailer last night and was swept away by it!! I had never heard of Gloria Grahame but I do love Annette Bening and she looks phenomenal here. I haven’t been impressed by Jamie Bell since Billy Elliot but he looks good here. I love stories about star-crossed lovers and a reverse May-December romance where the woman is older.


Phantom Thread

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Ok so interestingly enough, Andrew Llyod Weber’s Phantom of the Opera also opened around Christmas time (2004), a movie I still unabashedly love despite what the critics say. Now this one is likely gonna be known as Daniel Day Lewis‘ last film as he’s reportedly retiring. It looks pretty intriguing but given December’s packed schedule, I probably end up renting this one.


The Shape of Water

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

Ohhh this trailer always gives me goosebumps from the first time I saw it in a theatre. The more I read about this film and all the rave reviews about Guillermo Del Toro‘s magical touch, I’m even more intrigued. Talk about the ultimate unconventional love story… starring the reliable Sally Hawkins (who I loved as Anne Elliot in BBC’s Persuasion), this one will run my tear ducts dry for sure.


Downsizing

A social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.

I LOVE the premise of this movie and I sure hope the movie will deliver. But I enjoyed The Descendants and Nebraska from Alexander Payne, and he seems like the right filmmaker to do such a quirky dramedy. Yeah it’s yet another Matt Damon flick (this guy is everywhere!) but the story is pretty intriguing I’m still curious to check this one out.


Black Panther

T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

Woo wee!!! Forget about what I said about superhero fatigue, I’m still very much in the mood for the genre (and guys in tight-fitting outfit), especially when they look as good as Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther! [meow!] The cast is pure awesomeness…  I mean, yes the boys are cool and all that, but I’m all about Angela Bassett & Lupita Nyong’o in the same movie!! Marvel Studios taking a chance on an another indie filmmaker, this time it’s Ryan Coogler and judging from the second trailer, this is gonna be epic!! February can’t come soon enough.


Avengers Infinity War

DC sort of have ‘ruled’ 2017 with Wonder Woman and Justice League. Ok so not exactly ruled the box office given all the talks about how JL underperformed. Well, 2018 will likely bring Disney even more s*&$-load of cash (but then again every year is ‘Disney just take my money’ year since they owned EVERYTHING).

Just three months after Black Panther, we’ve got the whole gang back together. Everyone’s got their faves, but for me I’m most excited to see T’Challa and Capt (sporting longish hair and rugged beard, yowza!!)

Heh I think DC is missing out with the whole Henry Cavill mustache-erasing fiasco, methinks Supes looks pretty darn sexy unshaven… a la Chris Reeve in Superman III 😉

Dayum, that Alan Silvestri‘s score in that last slo-mo scene promises us SO much epic-ness. I rolled my eyes when they’re gonna do the last Avengers in two parts (of course, why not stretch those mighty dollars right?) but heck I trust the Russo brothers to bring us something truly worth watching, as the last two Captain America films are on the top list of fave superhero films ever!


Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.

I can’t believe I didn’t include this one. I was actually watching it (three times in a row) as I wrote the post, then got sidetracked by the Jimmy Kimmel episode with ALL of the cast from the new flick (including Laura Dern!). So yeah, even though I wouldn’t call myself a SW fan but I’m actually really looking forward to Episode VIII more and more. Glad I don’t have long to wait (seeing it this Monday, yay!!)

I’ve only seen Looper from director Rian Johnson, which I quite like. I always like the idea of having indie filmmakers joining big franchises (a la Marvel) so hopefully it’ll pay off once again. The trailer certainly promises more drama in the epic saga of the most dysfunctional family in space 😛


Ok last one… I know this one is just a teaser and the movie isn’t out ’til next June! But man Deadpool‘s marketing team ought to win some awards for creativity and pure silly good fun! I hadn’t even heard of Bob Ross before but the teaser made me search for clips of him on youtube and it’s freakin’ hilarious!! I’m not a huge Ryan Reynolds fan but he totally owned this character! Nice to see that kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Julian Dennison, making an appearance in this flick!


Ok these are just a sampling of stuff I’m excited about… what are some recent previews that got your heart pumpin’?