Top 10 Films 2017

Cinema is God’s way of making me care. On the days when I feel on top of the world, film is there to remind me that existence is so much more than my emotions. On days when I’m drowning in despair, film lets me know that I should fight on, be brave, for there is yet hope. Above all, cinema works as a mirror in which I discern the version of the man I want to be, the one I should not be, the one I am grateful I left behind. When I think about the movies I think about God, forever grateful that He’s allowed me the privilege to watch, dissect, enjoy and live the greatest art form of all.

Here are, in descending order, my 10 favorite movies of 2017, an absolutely incredible year:

  1. CAFÉ SOCIETY

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Were it not for the jazz score consistently playing in the background of near every scene, Woody Allen’s Café Society would feel like a tremendously sad film. An American fable of a New Yorker traveling to Hollywood only to get his heart broken, Café Society name drops ancient celebrities, features a visual gag or two and characters the audience is meant to laugh along to, or at. Had it been played a little bit more straight, comparisons to An American Tragedy and The Great Gatsby would not have been out of place. Indeed, the film features a narrator who recounts even the most awful of episodes—when main characters die, for instance—in the same casual tone of voice he employs throughout the entire proceedings. And yet no amount of lightheartedness can make that final, memorable shot hurt any less.

  1. AMERICAN HONEY

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It must say something about the Hollywood production system that the most damning indictment of contemporary middle America was a film written and directed by a British woman. Andrea Arnold’s film is a poignant tale of lost youth, of its wild enthrallments of the new, of rebellion not only against adults but against the very social mores that raised them, of its frantic attempts at encountering meaning in the mundane, of its doubts masked by the confidence that only irrepressible hormones provide. But if American Honey seems to condemn anyone, it’s not the young, but the old. Shots of dilapidated homes, wretched cities, a thriving drug scene, all seem to indicate that kids must stick together or perish in the hopelessness of their forbears.  

  1. EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS

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If reading certain novels makes it easier to visualize them on the screen, then this Argentinian wonder makes me feel as if I am in my bed, reading about the mystery of the murder of a young wife. The film works like a novel, from its opening voiceover narration, to its various flashforwards and flashbacks, to the dual romance at its center. One romance belongs to the victim’s husband, eyes peppered with longing; the other belongs to the detective assigned to the case and his boss. Above all, it manages to convey regret. Its lingering shots on door knobs, characters eyes and old photographs provide a sense of opportunities not taken, of wistfulness and a desire to love that went unfulfilled until the day bravery overcomes our fears.

  1. MULHOLLAND DR.

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Overwhelmed by the sheer ecstasy of the picture, I drove to Mulholland Drive a few days after watching it. I got my car towed, and a parking ticket. Thank you David Lynch!

6. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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I watched 162 movies in 2017, and none could break my heart quite as spectacularly as the three minute conversation between Lee (Casey Affleck) and Randi (Michelle Williams) near the end of the film. I dare you to watch it and not feel something, anything, swelling inside you, not only for the on-screen couple but for everyone out there who exists solely for the burden of their unforgiven sorrows.

5. MUNICH

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Munich will continue to feel timely not only for its even handed, impartial approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for how it portrays vengeance. In horrific events such as the one depicted here, vengeance is not only clamored for, but necessary. A couple of flashy executions later, however, and the full picture starts coming into view. What is the true purpose of revenge, if not seeing others suffer the way you have? And if we want to see others suffer, what does that say about us? “There is no peace at the end of this”, somebody says, and no truer words have ever been spoken. Munich is as bleak a film as they come, yet the lessons it imparts have the potential to change the world.

4. CIDADE DE DEUS

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Beyond its unstoppable kinetic energy, more than the flawless union of humor and carnage, greater than the pirouettes the camera engages in, City of God remains with me for a very distinct reason: it reminds me of the madness of El Salvador, my home country. Until the day national cinema catches up to the greats, I’ll always have this picture as a document of what’s going on in my country.

3. 25th HOUR

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Sometimes I felt as if 2017 was too stacked, too much of a good thing. As this list makes clear, I was fortunate enough to catch many sublime films, which are among the best, if not the very greatest, of all the director’s oeuvre. It was not a problem until now, in which I had to go over all the fantastic films and settle on a mere ten. I settled on 25th Hour because there was no way around it: this is a monumental piece of work, Spike Lee’s crowning masterpiece.

2. SILENCE

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The most hauntingly despairing moment I’ve ever witnessed in a motion picture occurs 140 minutes into Silence. After suffering a series of horrendous torture rounds, father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is led to a courtyard where six people are hanging upside down, their heads stuck in a pit, blood slowly dripping out of their skulls. If Rodrigues does not recant faith in Christ, they will remain there for days, until the blood runs out of their bodies. I know what my response would have been, and have been asking God for answers as to why life forces some to pits of hopelessness and cruelty, while all you hear from the heavens is silence.

1. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

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As a whole, the Planet of the Apes trilogy illustrates why the human race will never know peace. It doesn’t portray humans as naturally bad and apes as naturally wrong; by favoring a more shaded approach, the series is empathetic to all sides of a conflict, recognizing good and evil is not as clear cut as black and white. War for the Planet of the Apes features a flawless motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, conveying more heartbreak, regret and anger with one mere glance than most actors do in entire monologues. The picture belongs to him, and he will go down as one of my favorite film characters ever. It is through Caesar’s eyes that we understand the dangers of not letting go of our grudges; the decision to not forgive unleashed a series of events that culminated in doom not only for his people, but for the humans as well.
Caesar, weary and exhausted from a lifetime of conflict, becomes a hero the moment he admits to his flaws and recognizes his mistakes; yet he is not the only one. The picture is littered with many small moments of beauty, of selflessness and reflection that you start to wonder how the heck something this meditative and thoughtful ever made it out of the Hollywood blockbuster system. When you realize this tale of tragedy, betrayal and redemption is not really about monkeys but about us, about our ancestors and our children, about our apparent inability to let bygones be bygones and focus on the beam in our eye instead of on the speck on our brother and sister, the only appropriate response is admiration.

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The English Patient

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This morning I woke up thinking of her. Although I will think of her at least once during my day, be it by being reminded of her scent by a quick passerby or something she said by something I see, this memory was much more immediate. As the hours progressed I realized it was because I had dreamed of her the night before. The realization made me miserable. There I was, thousands of miles away, months removed from her kisses and completely unaware of the state of her life, and yet in my dreams she was as vivid as the cool breeze that swept the university campus at 11:30am. I sat down and cried for a while.

There are similar moments peppered throughout The English Patient. Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) lays in bed, burnt to a crisp, and gazes at nothing as he recalls fond memories of the woman he loves. And I thought to myself, “what that poor man must be feeling! what utter sadness his heart is drowned in!”

B+

Midnight Special

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I think I blog because I want to be heard by someone who cares. Because there are feelings that I cannot express to someone but that I still need to share. So I write. Although the sole purpose of this page is movies, faithful readers know I rarely write movie reviews. I babble about what a film made me feel, or go on tangential thoughts regarding a particular theme, or something that a movie reminded me of. And right now, I want to write of how sad I am.

I watched this movie with a girl. I was extremely nervous, made a fool out of myself, made her uncomfortable and embarrassed myself. It has been one of the most painfully awkward experiences I can recall. I am sad, not for myself, for I already know I am weird, but for her. It was the look on her face as she said she was disappointed in me. It was that she does not deserve anything but the very best. And I failed her.

B

The Rewrite

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This week I asked one my coworkers whether or not she believed in romantic love. When she said she did not, I wanted to high five her in agreement, but I held my peace.

Immediately after my last girlfriend left, I renounced any and all ideas of love. I figured that if three years was not a strong enough bond to keep us together forever, then love had to either be a social construct or a delusion to keep people from not going insane when they are alone. I tried to convince myself that all the kisses given and smiles shared were just that, and they did not represent a higher plane of existence nor a happier state of being. Love is not real.

It’s been almost 4 years since my last relationship, and now, more than ever, I am convinced that love is real. One of the greatest joys of watching romance blossom in movies is how happy I get when a couple finds it. I am there with them, in the awkward hand holding and passionate kissing; I am grinning from ear to ear when they confess their love to each other, and feel the life go out of me when their relationship crumbles. I believe in love because I think it makes people happier. It doesn’t necessarily turn a sad person into a happy one, but it does bring things into their lives which make it feel more exciting. And if your life has more excitement, there is a slight chance you will go to your work nervous or giddy, which is much better than the monotony which we fall prey to far too often.

So I told the coworker I disagreed. I believe in love.
I may not have it yet, and perhaps I never will again. I am learning to live without it, and while admittedly difficult from time to time, I think it’s perfectly possible to remain single for the remainder of your life.
But don’t get me wrong. Love makes it better.

C+

How To Be Single

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Hollywood has so romanticized love that I no longer know if my idea of an idyllic date was born in my mind, or if I gathered it from different scenarios present in several Hollywood pictures which show lovers on the beach, bench, bed, street, bar or back of a car.
The two are intertwined, and I might not be the only one affected by this ailment; Instagram and Tumblr, for instance, are filled to the brim with comments that praise the depictions of romantic love present in John Green adaptations and heartwarming quotes delivered by the guy/girl of the week.

With love now being mandatory instead of a choice, being single is viewed not as a natural part of life, but as a disease, whose host needs to either be cleansed or banned from the world of Hallmark cards and heart emojis.

How To Be Single then, is not only a breath of fresh air, but a shower in the desert. Or at least its potential is. As it stands, its half a sex comedy, half a find yourself inspirational. And while something memorable could have come from that, like the recent Sleeping with Other People so proved, this movie only confronts its heroine about the crux of the plot-she seeks her worth in others by being in love with the idea of love-during the final twenty minutes of the picture, with almost everything that preceded being wacky moments that happen to three different characters.

And yet, it is Valentine’s Day weekend. And I could have watched something that made me pine for what I do not have, instead of cheering for what I do.
That’s always a good day for me.

B-

Sleeping with Other People

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I find it humorous that a quote I think encapsulates the dilemma at the heart of this picture comes from an episode of Community, the postmodern comedy masterpiece which stars, coincidentally, Alison Brie.

“No woman, none of us have to go to anyone. And the idea that we do is a mental illness we contracted from breath mint commercials and Sandra Bullock.
We can’t keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves. Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else’s job and just stop hating ourselves.”

What hurts the most about returning time and time again to somebody or something that is toxic to you is not the harm said someone gives you, but the realization that you are powerless to stop it. It’s not enough to be aware that you need to stop doing something, but figuring out where you are possibly going to acquire the strength to do it.

That scenario is very realistically portrayed here, and I really liked it.

B+