Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 | Favorite Films + TV Shows


Film //

I've never before included films in my annual favorites roundup, in part because though I love knowing about film industry (being a cinematographer was a career aspiration of mine at age twelve), in practice I don't see very many movies that I enjoy each year. I don't like taking the time to watch them on my own and most of my friends and family don't like the same types of films as I do. And, though I see the big blockbusters every summer, I don't often see the types of films I really enjoy watching which tend to be more character focused or technically impressive. Despite this, I did manage to catch a few this year that I really loved, so film finally gets a shoutout.

Image via Las Vegas Review-Journal
La La Land
La La Land -- a film about love and jazz and Los Angeles -- was overhyped during last awards season so there's probably a good bit of reader fatigue hearing about it over and over, but it's still such a good film. I've never been a big fan of musicals and I have a problem connecting with films as I often get bored halfway through, but I was completely and utterly pulled in by this one. I saw it twice in theaters and cried both times; everything about it is perfection, from the casting to the color palette to the cinematography to the sweeping jazz score. I understand many of the complaints about the film, but it's still a dazzling piece of cinema that I get caught up in again and again.

Lady Bird
Lady Bird has been in the press a lot recently for its status as the highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes, and its praise is well deserved. Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig's directorial debut - is a coming-of-age tale of 17-year-old Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a deeply opinionated but utterly loveable Catholic school senior who's trying to navigate life and the prospect of college amongst the struggles of her family's economic status and her attempts to fit in at school. The film wouldn't work half so well if it weren't for the ever delightful Saoirse Ronan as the lead, and Lady Bird explores the otherwise mundane topics of real life with such heart that you can't help but be touched by it.

Image via Sony
Baby Driver
I'm a big fan of Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy, and my excitement over a new Wright film coupled with the early release of the brilliant first scene had me excited for this one. Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, a young getaway driver with tinnitus who must work one last job for a crime boss in Atlanta. The soundtrack is full of sharp selections and is skillfully woven into the plot, as Baby constantly listens to music to drown out his tinnitus, and the sound editing is incredible. Baby Driver is sheer fun to watch, and I don't see myself getting bored of this one anytime soon.

The Big Sick
The Big Sick is a rom-com based on the real life romance of Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani comic, and Emily Gordon, an American grad student, who wrote this film together and explore the period of time when they first meet and and start dating only for Emily to fall into a medically-induced coma. It's as warm as it is funny and it combines many of the universal first steps of getting to know someone new with cross-cultural differences in dating expectations. I watched this one with my brother and we both laughed and teared up in equal measure -- the drive-through scene in particular had us laughing so hard we were gasping for air.

Image via Free Fire Twitter
Free Fire
Released by the indie studio A24, Free Fire is a fun-loving, trigger-happy homage to 1970s action flicks, where gunfire sequences felt personal and weren't lost in the big CGI explosions that characterise more modern releases. Set in 1978 and taking place entirely inside a warehouse, Free Fire covers a doomed-to-fail arms deal between two IRA members and a South African arms dealer, cautiously following the moves of each person as a massive firefight breaks out. Most of the film is a gunfight, with gunshots interspersed between short, snappy takes of dialogue. The sound editing is fantastic and the logistics of the film seem like a nightmare to keep track of (so I'm suitably impressed), and partnered with a star-studded cast with the likes of Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, and Cillian Murphy, it's a delight of a film.

Get Out
Get Out -- the film that inspired a blight of think pieces on race in America and has been strangely categorised as a comedy in the upcoming awards season (though if anything comedic, it's a dark satire). Jordan Peele's directorial debut, Get Out is a psychological horror film about Chris, a black photographer, meeting his white girlfriend Ruth's parents for the first time and the disturbing events that ensue. Not only is the premise thought-provoking and perfectly executed, but it's a well-made, beautifully shot film too.


Television //

Several of my past annual favorites have included different seasons of the same shows, as I haven't been very adventurous with my television selections and usually keep to what I know and love year after year. This year, however, I had more free time on my hands and stepped outside of my Netflix subscription to explore more of what's available. As such, I made an effort to watch more of the shorter shows and miniseries that I always put off until "later" (aka never).

Image via Amazon
Catastrophe
Much as I love a good drama series, my favorite shows are the heartwarming, quirky comedies, and Catastrophe is a perfect example. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan star as an American tourist and Irish schoolteacher, respectively, who attempt to build a life together after their weeklong one night stand results in pregnancy. Unlike most comedies, where marriage is portrayed through unrealistic and overdramatic ups and downs, Catastrophe finds the humor in everyday situations and stays refreshingly, sometimes brutally honest about how people relate to each other. Currently there are three seasons of six episodes each, so it's easy to get caught up.

Brooklyn 99
Speaking of heartwarming comedies -- Brooklyn 99 is right up there with Parks & Rec as an all-time favorite of mine. I've followed this one off and on for several years but made a concentrated effort this spring to catch up on past episodes and quickly fell in love with it. This Brooklyn-based sitcom about a team of detectives is downright hilarious -- I laugh out loud every single episode -- and differentiates itself from other cop shows by its focusing on exploring character quirks through solving police cases. The team feels like one big unconventional family and the show makes for feel-good viewing.

Image via Hollywood Reporter
Halt and Catch Fire
I've talked about this one several times before, but it warrants mentioning again because each season is even better than the one before, and this season -- season four -- is the final one. Originally set in the 1980s as the story of a small team of tech geniuses creating a personal computer, Halt and Catch Fire has now evolved into a show about those characters with tech as the background, with this final season set in the early 1990s (all those glorious 90s clothes) and the dawn of the Internet Age. This is a show that does characters well; each character has a thought-out arc that doesn't feel flimsy or weak, the growth from season one until the ending is astonishingly good, and the bittersweet ending that faces them feels true to real life.

Alias Grace
After the success of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, it was no shock to find that Netflix was  also adapting one of Margaret Atwood's famous books, Alias Grace -- this one loosely based on the real 1843 trial of Grace Marks for the murder of her employer and his housekeeper. Sarah Gadon skillfully plays Grace, who spends most of the series' six episodes telling her life story to Dr. Jordan, a young doctor attempting to determine her ultimate role, with varying levels of truth to her words. Alias Grace is not only a fascinating character study, but also a take on true crime propelled by the female gaze, and as such makes for an insightful, compelling show.


Image via Netflix
Dark
Dark -- Netflix's first German production -- is a sci-fi mystery thriller about two boys that go missing and the drama that ensues among their families. Though it's been compared to Stranger Things, it also has the small town feel of Broadchurch or Twin Peaks with a Fincher-esque color palette, and it makes for compulsive viewing. The casting is exceptionally well done; the plot jumps back and forth in time, and the casting is so well done as to make it relatively easy to tell which people are the older/younger versions of themselves. Tip: The best way to watch is in the original German with English subs.

The Good Place

I've said this before, but this first season of The Good Place was very hit or miss to me, as many of the episodes seemed just so-so until the big reveal came at the end of the season and I was hooked. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, a recently deceased woman who is sent to "the good place" by accident and must try to fit in. With the premise firmly established in season one, season two has taken a turn for the weirder in true Michael Schur fashion, and thus far has promised plenty of fun and surprises.


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