I hate the term “snub.” The idea that Oscar voters gather in a big tent and decide to ostracize a film or filmmaker is absurd. But when the votes are counted, it’s inevitable that some good movies are overlooked. In some cases, they never found the audience they deserved. This seems like a good moment to recommend some of my favorites from 2017 and remind you to check them out.
Wind River was shut out by the Oscars, alas. Jeremy Renner has never been better, as a professional hunter-tracker who lives and works in Native American territory. He is surrounded by a first-rate cast led by Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan draws three-dimensional characters and creates a vivid environment for this violent thriller. It is still in theatrical release and also available for streaming on iTunes, Amazon, and VUDU. You can read my original review HERE.
Lucky serves as a living testament to Harry Dean Stanton’s powerful screen presence. The film was written specifically for him by Logan Sparks (his longtime assistant) and Drago Sumonja, little dreaming that he would pass away on the eve of its theatrical debut. A meditation on aging and the meaning of life, the film also features poignant vignettes and monologues by an array of fine actors who were directed by one of their own, David Carroll Lynch. Their official website lists all of your streaming options, and you can read my original review is HERE.
The Lost City of Z was a passion project for writer-director James Gray, and it shows. Charlie Hunnam delivers a remarkable performance as a real-life explorer who doggedly pursued his dream of finding a fabled lost civilization along the Amazon in the 1920s. Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, and Tom Holland are equally good in this return to a kind of moviemaking we don’t see nowadays—a genre once referred to as “high adventure.” The film is long-ish but exquisitely made and offers many rewards. If you have Amazon prime you can watch it for free; it’s also available on iTunes and may still be playing in some theaters.
My Life as a Zucchini is a disarming Swiss stop-motion animated feature about a boy who finds happiness at an orphanage with other neglected and abused children. I can’t think of another animated film that touches on such sensitive material so winningly. This film qualified for the Oscars last year but was actually released in the U.S. in 2017. Read my full review HERE.
The Other Side of Hope is the latest effort from the always-unpredictable Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki, whose work defies categorization. He manages to dramatize the plight of a Syrian refugee with a deft touch and infuses the story with his unique, deadpan brand of humor. I briefly covered this film in my article about the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. It’s still playing in theaters (even in 35mm) but keep an eye out this spring for its release on a Criterion Blu-ray disc, the Filmstruck channel, and iTunes.
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe is a moving, masterfully-rendered period piece about the brilliant Austrian author who fled from the Nazis in the 1930s and never found another true home. I became enamored of Zweig after seeing Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hoteland have been reading his work ever since. Perhaps that’s why I responded so strongly to Maria Schrader’s melancholy film, which opens with a scene I’ll never forget: the meticulous preparations for a celebratory luncheon. It instantly sweeps you back in time eighty years, and the rest of the film maintains that authenticity one hundred percent. This Austrian import is on DVD from First Run Features and Amazon, or download it from iTunes.
My Journey through French Cinema is a rare treat for cineastes: an engaging and personal diary of French filmmaking by one of its masters, Bertrand Tavernier. He not only recalls his first encounters with the work of many great directors but shares stories of his own experiences as an assistant to Jacques Becker and Jean-Pierre Melville. Three hours fly by and leave you wanting more. This majestic documentary is available on Blu-ray from Cohen Media and viewable on iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu. My full review is HERE.
Paris Can Wait marks the narrative feature debut for 80-year-old director Eleanor Coppola. It may not appeal to action-movie aficionados but I was thoroughly charmed. Diane Lane is perfectly cast as the wife of a movie producer who shares a meandering drive with a flirtatious French colleague of her husband. If you love beautiful scenery, luscious-looking food, and/or Ms. Lane, I’d encourage you to go along on this journey. It is still playing in some theaters (visit http://sonyclassics.com/pariscanwait/) or you can watch it at premium prices on iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu. My full review is HERE.
This is only a partial list. There are so many fine documentaries like Gilbert, California Typewriter, I Called Him Morgan, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Chasing Trane, and Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. And there’s Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder, which asks us to “choose kind.” I can’t think of a timelier message to impart—or a sweeter movie to do the job.