We’ve all been talking to each other. 2017 has not been a very good year for films. The dismal summer cartoon/comic book tentpole season has been over for two months, and where are the Oscar contenders that are supposed to be peaking their heads over the hill by now and our interest in cinema?
Few and far between.
“Florida Project”? Really? Yeah, quirky, fun for a while, but where’s the story? It felt like a documentary that escaped the film can, and after thirty minutes I was thinking, someone lock that mother up and rescue those kids before they become a gruesome headline.
“Dunkirk”? Please. How can an accomplished filmmaker make one of the most intrinsically exciting moments in civilian/military history boring? Yes, boring.
There have been some interesting foreign films (to be honest, I’m a little behind there), but even a friend on the Oscar Nominating Committee for Foreign Films is underwhelmed. I’ve seen some documentaries I liked, particularly “I Call Him Morgan” and “A River Below,” but what I’ve been waiting for, honestly, is that combination of production value, peerless acting, meaningful story, and emotional gut punch. Exhilarate me, or make me cry, goddammit! Do something!
So, when “Lady Bird” came along, I said to myself. Well, maybe this is it for this year. A sweet, what-passes-for-edgy little movie, engaging, etc. But frankly, it was November, and I was beginning to give up hope.
Then I saw “LBJ.” I admit, I almost passed on it. Okay, what can they tell me about that sorry, lop-eared Texan for whom I actually ran out into the street screaming in joy, in front of my parents’ home where I was on Spring Break, when I saw him announce on TV he would not be rerunning in 1968. But prosthetic ears and all, Woody Harrelson was great; and a story I lived through was presented with such finesse and power, so well-written, that I watched as if living it for the first time. And I cried. Yeah, I teared up, for the loss of JFK and everything it meant, even if both he and Johnson would have been hounded out of the known universe today by the #MeToo crowd.
This was followed by “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.” This was a step up from “Lady Bird.” Emotional, edgy, a little nuts, writing that crackles, and probably delivering a couple of Oscar nominations for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell (who is long overdue for the nod). I enjoyed it; I admired it, even it did require suspending a little logic here and there. I mean, what’s with the new police captain ignoring a deputy throwing a guy out the window and then kicking the guy in the head in the middle of the street? However, I was encouraged. Things were beginning to accumulate at the top, moving in the right direction.
Today I saw “The Darkest Hour.” Okay, so maybe I’m a sucker for historical drama, but I was blubbering like a baby. You know what’s coming, “We will fight them on the beaches…,” but you’re so caught up in Gary Oldham’s performance, in the dark and desperate drama of it all (and you realize we’ve never faced anything like the English faced in May of 1940; they were literally, the last lifeline of the free world), that you don’t know how it’s coming and you’re primed for the waterworks when it hits.
Both “The Darkest Hour” and “LBJ” showcased momentously positive turns of history coming out of horror and the meticulous behind-the-scenes feel of events, and both delivered on the money. Not easy to do. And to boot, in the former, you got the naked excitement of Dunkirk, with twenty seconds of screen time actually devoted to boats, unlike the two wasted hours of its eponymous and ponderous rival.
But mostly, these films reminded me why I love the movies, and why I got into this business – to make someone feel that way, if only just one person, one time.