I’m not going to proclaim to be a professional movie critic in any sense imaginable. However, I will assert that I have developed a great appreciation for the capacity of film to carry emotional and thematic weight, immerse oneself in its universe, generate excitement, and reveal greater truths about humanity as a whole. And it is when a movie demonstrates the passion of an entire crew that its content shines brightly from the screen and captivates its audiences.
Looking back onto 2017, I had the chance to see a few films but regrettably missed out on some of the hits from the year, including Blade Runner 2049, Lady Bird, and Call Me by Your Name, so if there are certain movies someone might have expected to be listed here, it is likely I haven’t viewed it. However, I am personally confident in the selection that I have chosen to highlight, whether it be for pure enjoyment or personal connection.
Anyway, I have chosen to highlight four films this time around. These descriptions will generally be brief and cover the main elements that make each film distinct in its own right. While my thumbnail might say otherwise, there is no particular order that I have ranked the films in.
The Shape of Water
At the time of writing, it’s only been about eight days since I saw the film in theatres, but from the beginning until its ultimate conclusion, I was utterly captivated by its visual beauty, accomplished by a surreal, monotone palette of varying blues and greens that serve to doubly emphasize its aquatic elements and mystique. Just as many have already pointed out, it truly feels like a provocative fairy tale, a Beauty and the Beast (not the 2017 one of course) for a new age.
Of course, the performances themselves are equally fascinating, especially the role that Sally Hawkins fulfills as Elsa, one-half of the brewing relationship that rises between her and an aquatic creature kept within a top-secret facility. Despite the fact that her character is mute, Hawkins effectively manages to express thoughtful emotions, driving the film forward and retaining my engagement with her character and her experiences, not to mention that she compliments well with the personalities of both Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer.
There were several creative decisions that I feel culminated into the perfect setting for the entire film. Taking place during the Cold War amidst fierce hostility abroad with the Soviet Union alongside social tensions domestically, the film, The Shape of Water examines how essential communication is in shaping our perception of the world, our interactions within it, and our connections with those around us in such exquisite detail. Overall, it’s a true-to-form yet magical tale that realizes the spirit of Guillermo del Toro in its fullest and worth the watch for those looking for something alluring and compelling in a unique fashion.
There was always a strange love-hate relationship I had with anything concerning Thor. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor and Loki remain my favorite characters due to the quintessential performances of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston respectively, and I have a genuine interest in their world. However, I find both films starring Thor to be less spectacular, and Thor: The Dark World especially boring. For a few years, I found this strange amalgamation of feelings clouding my mind, unable to distinguish the good elements from the bad, unable to pinpoint a solid foundation for enjoying Thor and his realm.
Thankfully, Thor: Ragnarok blew away every trace of the fog, flipping everything we knew about Thor’s film series upon its head to create an explosively fun bundle of superhero goodness. It was extremely refreshing to witness a new “interpretation” of the character that fully embraced his comical side, which is amplified by the progression of events in its main plot. While nothing atypical of a superhero film from Marvel Studios, the witty humor/banter, and clever references shifted the focus away from the story onto the interactions of its characters and their significance within the entire universe. In particular, there is a portion of the inevitable clash between Thor and Hulk that harkens back to events from previous films that I found served to demonstrate the current state of Hulk in the context of the MCU and the lingering insecurities of Loki.
Most of all, I have renewed confidence that Marvel aims to create films that bring out the best qualities of its immense roster of heroes and villains in full force. While Thor and Thor: The Dark World was chained down by a relatively uninteresting support cast that served to ground Thor within familiar territory, Thor: Ragnarok breaks free to travel across the edges of the galaxy and provide a small expansion of the universe desperately needed for the almighty god of thunder.
More often than not, someone will direct criticism towards a medium of entertainment for being “generic”, “run-of-the-mill”, “unoriginal”. More often than not, such comments are levied at the films within action-comedy and crime genres, which tend to have the greatest numbers in raw film output. More often than not, a significant portion of these movies can be labeled as such for their lack of inspiration or memorability.
These were some of the observations that I noticed around me whenever I brought up Baby Driver. When I brought it up in conversation, I was surprised how many initially jokingly dismissed it for reasons including, but not limited to “it’s another typical heist movie” and “it’s a low-budget Fast and the Furious ripoff” without every viewing the film.
I admit that throughout the film, certain aspects of the film are undeniably conventional elements from the genres I mentioned above. However, I find that it is the execution that truly distinguishes one film from another; the directing, the creative, cinematography, and stunt teams amongst others can all contribute to such notions.
And it’s this approach to filmmaking that makes Baby Driver not only one of the most wholly original experiences of the summer, nor the entirety of 2017, but within the genres that it elegantly fuses through heart-pumping vehicle action, unparalleled visual composition, and a slick infusion of music and humor. It’s a magnificent demonstration of pure fun, crafted genuinely through the lens of an equally awesome director by the name of Edgar Wright whose style permeates through anything he touches. The choice to choreograph the soundtrack with the actions taking place in the film was pure genius, triply acting as a way to maintain the audience’s engagement, set the tone for the movie’s narrative events, and act as a manifestation of Baby’s thoughts and emotions.
Outside of its creativity, the rest of the film remains solid in its other departments, especially the superb performance Ansel Elgort as the titular Baby. However, I don’t want to dive too much into the other outstanding features scattered throughout the movie, as I feel that viewing the film for the first time without too much background heightens the experience of the initial watch. And I know that my utmost praise can only go so far. Therefore, if I haven’t convinced you that Baby Driver is a must-watch, then I’d recommend checking out the opening scene of the film right here:
And don’t worry: the opening scene NEVER gets old.
A Silent Voice
“A Silent Voice didn’t necessarily demand to be an animated feature.” (Moore, 2017)
The quote from Michael Moore’s review of A Silent Voice perfectly encapsulates my thoughts prior to viewing the film in theatres. Moreover, I merely expected it to be a touching tale acting as a commentary on bullying, communication, and redemption that would generally satisfy me. After all, I went to see this film on a Tuesday immediately after a cross-country practice in spite of the fact that I had several major assessments for school the next day. In all honesty, there was so much going on throughout that week that I almost contemplated skipping the film altogether despite its limited release, but my lingering curiosity ultimately drove me to the theater. Paired with my fair expectations, what value could I possibly gain from this?
Too much value.
Put shortly, it’s been a severely long time since any form of entertainment took me on such an emotional roller coaster ride unlike any other. I found my heart striking vigorously against the inner surface of my skin, my tears streaming down my face onto the small valley of my neck, my head compressing as memories both pleasant and depressing dominated my thoughts.
However, it wasn’t simply the exceptional quality of the film’s overarching narrative, its thematic messaging, or its visual presentation. No, it was simply the presence of one character, the main protagonist Ishida Shōya, that triggered such an intense emotional response. While I cannot identify with his actions as a child when he was considered a bully, it was his personality shift, his morphing outlook on the world, his social anxiety, and his thought process that resonated so strongly; I frequently thought I was viewing a striking mirror image of myself. This can only be contributed to the stellar cinematography that extenuates these specific aspects of his character and conveys a wealth of important details without diving into lengthy exposition.
Another aspect I want to highlight quickly is the intricate character animation and production value on the whole. The entire team at Kyoto Animation seemed to put their best foot forward, ensuring that every individual had signature movements that complement their personalities and beautifully express their actions.
Within such a complex film that attempts to convey a poignant, astute tale, weaving in depictions of disability, bullying and mental illness to push forth its messages about self-worth and affirmation, A Silent Voice feels meaningfully crafted in a way that placed me within the grasp of its universe and exposed me to a groundbreaking take on the subject matter that forever remains a cherished experience.
Put simply, I hope that I demonstrated the potential of film to captivate us in ways both imaginable and unimaginable and the ability for everyone to find meaning or love in any medium of entertainment that profoundly impacts our lives. Looking ahead into 2018, I only desire to find more experiences that surprise, challenge, provoke, and influence, just as the four films I featured managed to do for me.
For those that have read until the end, I hope that if my descriptions interested you enough, that you check out the films I have listed above sometime in the near future. The Shape of Water has a limited release at the time of writing Baby Driver is currently available for purchase on DVD, Thor: Ragnarok should be headed to home media soon, and A Silent Voice can currently be imported from Europe or Australia, but should see a North American DVD release soon.
UPDATE: A Silent Voice will be hitting theaters again for a limited starting February 2nd to premiere the dubbed version of the film. You can click here to see the theaters it’ll be showcased in thus far.