By: Evan Paszamant ’18
For those who do not know me, I am very critical when it comes to art. In my opinion, some things in art work well and some things simply fail. This assessment of art might sound harsh, but as a film critic who writes for sources outside of FCS, it is my job to state my opinion of certain films. I think of it this way: if every movie were valued the same, would there be any progression in the film industry? In my opinion, the answer to that question is no. So that is why I am here! I have watched almost every movie that has been released theatrically this past year, and I have carefully picked my Top Eight Films of 2017. This list is meant to start a conversation. If a film critic doesn’t start an argument or a conversation, then that individual simply isn’t fulfilling their job description!
I will warn all of you that this top ten list does not include Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece, Get Out. This list also does not include Dunkirk or Coco. While all three of those movies are wonderful, I personally believe they are overrated and are not as incredible as those on my list. Also, I do not order my favoritism of films. If they made it to my top eight list, that’s enough of a ranking in my eyes!
So, if you all are done complaining about Get Out (I’m keeping it real here!), here is the Evan Paz Top 8 Films of 2017!
#8 Okja (Netflix)
Last year, we all found out that Amazon can make quality award winning films with the Oscar Winner Manchester By The Sea. Starting off this list is a movie that proved to me that Netflix (who has recently increased their price) can actually make a high quality movie too. Unfortunately, because this is a Netflix movie, it probably will not be nominated for any awards this season. But you know what? Who cares! In my opinion, this film is better than at least half of the Oscar-bait films that this award season has to offer.
In short, Okja tells the story of a genetically-modified pig (that looks more like a hippo) and her “owner” who desperately wants to rescue her from an American Corporation. Personally, one thing I often dislike about movies that preach activism is that they claim that activists are always saintly when in actuality they too have their darker sides. What frustrates me about movies that preach that corporations are evil is that corporations also have innocent, compassionate, humane sides as well. After all, humans are the ones running the corporations. With this in mind, it came as a surprise to me that Okja took into account all of these factors! This movie shows that there are grey areas on both sides of an argument, which is probably one of the boldest moves I have seen in a movie all year. Between the incredible acting and the perfect natural scenic backdrops (South Korea is truly gorgeous!), Okja conveys a disturbing and piercing story from beginning to end. As a fun little side note, Okja was made on a $50 million dollar budget and the graphics are impeccable. The third worst film of the year, Justice League, was made on a $300 million dollar budget and had some of the crappiest graphics I have ever seen in a movie! Money doesn’t always mean better!
#7 Beach Rats (Neon)
“Evan, what the heck is this movie?” I’m so glad you asked. Not a lot of people have heard about this film which is such a shame because it’s really good. Throughout this year I have noticed a trend with the award contender films. Last year, the theme that was heavily pushed during the awards season campaign trail was movies about the black youth experience (for example: Moonlight, Dayveon), and this year the trend is shifting to strictly focus in on youth questioning their sexuality, going through relationships, and how that impacts those surrounding the central character. While some might argue that Moonlight is about sexuality as well, which it is, most would agree that the central focus of the film is not Chiron’s realization of his sexuality. This year, Beach Rats and Call Me By Your Name entirely center around the gay coming of age story. I’ll get to Call Me By Your Name in a second but first let’s talk about Beach Rats.
Beach Rats centers around a young adult growing up in a white middle class household in Brooklyn, New York. Frankie is addicted to drugs that are prescribed for his dying father, vapes often, and is a member of a “gang” if you will. Right off the bat, the film immediately reveals to the viewers how the central character is questioning his sexuality. He goes onto cam dating websites and “hooks-up” with older guys in the woods. This film is very graphic but not graphic in a distasteful way like Game of Thrones where there needs to be a sex scene every fifteen minutes. Beach Rats uses these scenes as a means of showing a shift of the boy’s discomfort with his sexuality to ultimately becoming one with the notion of being gay. This movie is done in a risky way, but it really paid off. In my opinion it is possibly one of the best “questioning sexuality” films of all time.
#6 Logan (20th Century Fox)
A few years ago, my husband Hugh Jackman (I wish) stated at a press conference that he would be in one final X-Men movie as Wolverine. As the world mourned, director James Mangold created what could possibly be one of the greatest closure movies to a character yet. There is one movie on this list that beats it though! Honestly, if the Oscars would look at superhero movies more seriously, this film would be nominated for many awards and in my opinion, Patrick Stewart would probably win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I am not going to spoil anything I promise! All I will say is that his last monologue is one of the best delivered and written monologues in a film that I have heard in a long time.
Logan takes place in the near future where the X-Men have disbanded. Wolverine (Logan) surrenders to alcohol as his powers to self-heal dwindle, and Professor X is hidden away in a desert as his memories fade away. One day a woman shows up and asks Wolverine to transport a girl to the Canadian border so she can be safe. Ultimately, it is revealed that she has powers quite similar to Wolverine. And it wouldn’t be a superhero movie without the protagonists being chased! However, even though I write down that Logan is a superhero movie, in actuality it is very relatable and very human. Logan, very similar to The Dark Knight, takes the aspects of a standard superhero film and brings them to a new level of realism where you can visualize the hero’s walking amongst you and can strongly relate to them. With the exception of the last ten minutes of the movie, which I personally thought was unnecessarily political, Logan has a heart and a life of its own that bends the concept of what a superhero film is supposed to be. Maybe the greater picture of this film is for us to look at ourselves as being the heros in our own lives. Oh, and to finally settle the Wonder Woman vs. Logan debate, Logan is definitely better.
#5 The Promise (Open Road)
I’m not going to lie to you. This film initially flew very low on my radar of films to see. I didn’t plan on writing a review of it, and I didn’t plan on spending money to go see it. I support the Armenian community and I strongly push the fact that the Armenian Genocide happened even though many to this day doubt it. I just didn’t think that I had to see this movie. Thankfully, Soseh Yepoyan invited me to go see The Promise with her. The Promise not only gave me an outsider’s understanding as to what the Armenian Genocide was, but it gave me a glimpse as to what horrors a genocide can cause an innocent group of people. As a Jewish person whose great grandparents escaped the Nazis in Poland and Germany, I have watched films such as Schindler’s List and felt deeply connected to that film on a personal level. In the film I bear witness to piles of dying individuals rotting away along a creek side, a horrifying image that gives us the viewers a reality check. As I watched The Promise, I could feel the same emotions in this movie as well. While The Promise was attacked on social media and at the box office by Anti-Armenian Genocide Groups as they blocked screenings and purchased seats so others could not see the film, the truth of this movie still pushed through.
I am not going to go into what The Promise is about, as if I did I would be diluting the shock and eye opening effect of the film. Between the story, the acting, and in particular the writing and visualization found in the script, The Promise exposes a piece of world history that is still ignored by many to this day. If you can find this movie, watch it. It is an honest, heartbreaking, and, more importantly, meaningful experience.
#4 Baby Driver (Sony Pictures)
It has not been since Mad Max: Fury Road that I have watched a movie and smiled like a kid in the candy store throughout the film out of pure excitement and amazement. To me, from the trailers, Baby Driver looked like a cheap Fast and Furious/Oceans 11 type of movie that would be action-focused without a soul. But oh was I wrong! The artistry through the usage of music and color in Baby Driver is so beneficial to the appreciation of the movie. The film uses music as a means to drive (no pun intended) the story forward. When there was a car chase, the music would not drown out the natural sounds of the cars. By using music sparingly, the impact was even greater.
I seriously could not stop smiling throughout the whole movie as I grabbed onto the arms of my seat.
Baby Driver tells the story of Baby, a getaway driver with a traumatic past that prompts him to listen to his iPod constantly. Throughout the film, he is trying to escape his life being a getaway driver while falling in love with a waitress. The movie not only has incredible action sequences, but the usage of color in subtle places truly shows that the film has been thought out in great detail. When you can see that a director looks at all the details of the film (the colors for example), you know that the director has created a masterpiece.
#3Call Me By Your Name
I always find it interesting that when we talk about diversity and how we need more in Hollywood, often the only groups that are spoken about are women and people of color. While I believe that people should be nominated solely because of their talent and the work they create, I also do believe that everyone should be given the same chance at success. But in this age of Hollywood movie-making, it seems like the notion of diversity excludes quite a few groups, including but not limited to hispanics, asians, members of the LGBTQ community, and those who are differently abled. The fascinating thing about the recent Golden Globes is that a Spanish director was nominated and actually won! But for some reason the tabloids and general public, including Natalie Portman, perceived the directing category to only feature white men. Does race and gender determine what defines diversity in Hollywood? In my opinion, the LGBTQ community should also fall under the diversity categorization, and Call Me By Your Name further emphasizes my point.
Set at an Italian Villa, Call Me By Your Name is a coming of age story that follows a young Jewish boy as he confronts his sexuality when a graduate student of his father studies at the Villa over the summer. First off, if anyone ever wants to become a director, this film is the perfect place to start because from the opening montage of the film to the very last scene of dialogue, everything that is shown in this film aids to move the story forward. Most of this has to do with the choices that director Luca Guadagnino has made such as the opening where the photos in the background actually tell the story of the film. A subtle moment that is pure genius. Luca Guadagnino, one of a few out gay directors in Hollywood, in my opinion was completely robbed from being nominated for the Golden Globes as well as the Oscars. Another director, Dee Rees, who directed the slightly boring film titled Mudbound is also a member of the LGBTQ community and to most people she was robbed of being nominated for the directing categories as well. In the case of the Oscar directing category this year, I strongly believe that there were there were two directors who were nominated for the sake of checking off “diversity” boxes which is truly a shame. But set aside all of that, Luca Guadagnino has created a pristine love story that opens everyone’s eye to finding love and finding yourself in the gay community.
#2 Darkest Hour (Focus Features)
The quote on this movie poster is the perfect way to sum up my second favorite movie of the year, “A Masterpiece.” Back in 2012, visionary director Steven Spielberg created a masterpiece in filmmaking titled Lincoln which starred Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field. These days, so many movies rely on action, computer animated effects, and 3D to both advertise the film as well as cover up the fact that the movie may not be that great. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well done action movie and when CGI and 3D is used correctly the movies tend to be spectacular. But there is something about watching a movie without any bells or whistles. Just pure acting, set designs, costumes, and most importantly the camera. When I saw Lincoln for the first time in theaters, I was blown away by the storytelling through the camerawork and the breathtaking acting by everyone. When I saw Darkest Hour, I left the theater the exact same way, only this time I believed that Darkest Hour was the superior film.
In my opinion, director Joe Wright has created a perfect movie. You will rarely ever hear me say that, but everything in this movie gave me the chills of excitement. The cinematography, which was robbed of an Oscar nomination, is some of the best I have ever seen. In one particular scene, Winston Churchill (Played by the legendary Gary Oldman), is traveling up an elevator shaft. The entire screen is completely pitch black but in the right third of the screen an elevator with a metal gate at the front travels up the screen. The shot is one of many mesmerizing moments in this movie that makes you realize what filmmaking is about. Filmmaking has survived the test of time strictly because of the actors and the camera. Sure other things have come into play like sound and special effects, but in the end it is this connection between the actor and the camera that reigns prominent. This movie is now easily in my top 10 films of all time and I cannot express enough in words how badly you need to see this film.
#1War For The Planet Of The Apes (20th Century Fox)
Six years ago, 20th Century Fox announced that they were going to reboot the Planet of the Apes Franchise with a new trilogy. The first movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was a pretty good movie. The visual effects, such as the motion capture work (think the blue aliens in Avatar), were very well done and the movie was overall very enjoyable. The second film changed everything. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes told the story of humans vs. apes but with a depth that made the audience realize that the there are both good and bad humans and the same for the apes. The believability of the apes in this movie was so shocking and revolutionized what an actor can do in film. This year, War for the Planet of the Apes introduced the world, in my opinion, to the greatest closure film to a film series ever. That includes films such as Return of the King, Deathly Hallows Part 2, and Logan. I’m not including Star Wars in this listing because Disney is pumping out more movies than we can keep track of, let alone want.
War for the Planet of the Apes, my favorite film of the year, follows Caesar as he leads the apes to a place of safety, similar to Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt. Director Matt Reeves and Screenwriter Mark Bomback have tied in the biblical stories of Exodus, themes and moments from Schindler’s List and the Holocaust, all to tell a powerful story of a survival and the treatment of others. It is best to view this film with little to no knowledge of what lies ahead, so I will leave you with this. In my opinion, this movie gives the world a wake up call as to what happens when we decide to treat something or something differently just because of appearance and ability. This movie brought me to tears and I hope you have the chance to experience this extraordinary film that is now in my top ten movies of all time.
So what do you think of my Top 8 Movies of 2017? Make sure to keep the conversation going and keep on watching movies my Friends!