Movie theaters always offer a necessary refuge from the day-to-day insanity of the outside world, but this year they really stepped up to the plate. Locally everything continued more or less as usual – the biggest movie news was that the Barrington Public Library reopened its second floor to continue its weekly classic film series, at least for those of you who can get away at 1:30pm on a Wednesday. Movies On The Block had a particularly good program this year – I never thought I’d see Robert Altman’s Nashville in public! – although I wonder what the fate of that series will suffer once the construction starts on the condos or whatever they’re doing on that block. The Columbus Film Club, Warwick Library, and various departments at Brown all put together intriguing series over the course of 2017. Thanks to those screenings I saw a number of movies (Elaine May’s 1971 comedy A New Leaf; 1924 Soviet sci-fi epic Aelita Queen of Mars) that I’d never even heard of before.
I certainly didn’t see everything that was out there, or even half of the movies I wanted to see, but that’s nothing new. Here were my ten favorites:
1. It Comes At Night (Trey Edward Shults)
Audiences despised the second feature from Krisha director Trey Edward Shults. Well, at least the few audiences who actually saw it. When I saw it at the mall there were only two other people in the theater, and that was on the opening weekend. Nevertheless, it’s a claustrophobic, apocalyptic nightmare that opens with a crying woman killing her own gravely ill father. It only gets more unsettling from there.
2. Logan (James Mangold)
An aging Wolverine has to save his daughter from some truly bad guys in Hugh Jackman’s (supposedly) final outing as Wolverine. Young Dafne Keen is a scene-stealer as she sulks and then slaughters with her powerful claws. It’s bloody and sad and maybe the best movie in the whole X-Men franchise. For some reason I didn’t review this one – it was such a hit, though, that maybe I thought everybody already knew about it? I can’t remember.
3. My Life As a Zucchini (Claude Barras)
Claude Barras’ dazzling animated feature opens with the title character accidentally killing his abusive alcoholic mother. Destined for a kooky orphanage, Courgette (French for zucchini) finds himself among other misfits and teachers that refreshingly aren’t sadistic monster people. (This PG-13 stop-motion feature was technically a 2016 release – it got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature last year – but it technically opened in March and premiered locally at the Providence Children’s Film Festival a few weeks before that.)
4. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
Sofia Coppola has her detractors, and she was unlikely to win over any new fans with this remake of an obscure 1971 Clint Eastwood thriller. Colin Farrell is an Irish mercenary and Nicole Kidman is a Virginia schoolmarm and the sparks fly. (Compare this to Farrell and Kidman’s marriage in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.) It’s an unexpectedly twisty chamber drama that shows Coppola at her most comfortable – teenagers, manners, Kirsten Dunst and all. (I saw this one at the Avon although it played around a few different places.)
5. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
It’s fine if you don’t want to see Kevin Spacey’s face ever again, but this summer action blockbuster was a lot of fun, with a tight script, a million frantic car chase scenes, and the kind of song-based soundtrack (The Damned, “Radar Love”) that you rarely find anymore.
6. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
I really liked a lot of things about Lady Bird – Laurie Metcalf and Saorise Ronan are both great, and on a personal level I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a character whose upbringing mirrored my own so closely. But then there’s the part of me that’s like “Okay, fawning critics, but where were you last year for Edge of Seventeen and where were you two years ago for Diary of a Teenage Girl?” (This one recently wrapped up its local run but I’m guessing it’ll be back during awards season.)
7. The Square (Ruben Östlund)
This prickly Swedish art world satire posed simple but timely questions: is it possible for a good man to do awful things? Is it possible for an awful man to do good things? (This film kicked off this year’s Art and Design Film Festival and later played for a week at the Cable Car.)
8. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
Everyone is talking about Willem Defoe for some reason, but this film features far more interesting performances by six year old Brooklynn Prince and first-time actress Bria Vinaite, the 24 year old Instagram sensation previously known for her weed-themed clothing line. (I caught a free screening at the Granoff Center via the Ivy Film Festival, which periodically does free previews of upcoming indie releases. Now in East Providence and the Route One Cinema Pub, it’s the only movie on the list that’s currently still playing.)
9. Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (Tsui Hark)
As goofy as it was mesmerizing, the plot of this CGI fantasy is largely irrelevant. There’s a monkey god and an infantile king and some beautiful women who are actually one giant spider demon. You get the idea. (This one played briefly in February at Providence Place.)
10. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Osgood Perkins)
Oz Perkins – son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins – made his directorial debut with a creepy under the radar film about Satanic happenings over a snowy winter break at a New England prep school. (This played in East Providence for a week in March and then quickly disappeared.)
You can’t see them all
This is a tough time of year for movie nerds in small cities. There’s always a few greatly hyped titles that you want to see that won’t play locally for months yet. Last year it happened to me with Jackie, a movie that I loved so much that I eventually saw it in the theater twice; the year before that it happened with Carol. Continuing with the Female Name Movie Title theme, I guess right now I’m most excited about I, Tonya, the biopic about disgraced figure skater/cult icon Tonya Harding. It’s allegedly coming to the Avon eventually, but I might trek up to Boston to see it before that.
Let’s pretend it never happened
I know that a lot of people love the Avon for reasons both nostalgic and practical, but I’m about done with the expensive tickets, the uncomfortable seats, and the outdated sound system, particularly when you can usually see the same movies in the much more luxurious environs of Bald Hill Road and/or the Lincoln Mall. I hate to single out a small movie theater, but co-owner Kenneth Dulgarian deserves no sympathy; a commercial property developer who owns large chunks of Thayer Street and Wayland Square, he’s the same guy that forced used bookshop Paper Nautilus out of their Wayland Square home earlier this year. Though the Avon occasionally pulls in smaller films – Menashe, The Nile Hilton Incident, Thelma – I avoid it whenever possible.