I know I usually do five things, but I wanted to write about all these movies and so I did six. It’s my list! Fight me!
Also John Wick 2 is great, but I don’t have much to say about it.
Also I liked The Last Jedi a lot, but my mind was poisoned by discourse and I don’t know what I think of it anymore.
Anyway, here goes! As usual, the films are in alphabetical order.
Blade Runner 2049
Like its predecessor, this is complicated film to love. It deconstructs patriarchal notions of power and restrictive notions of what it means to be human, even as it lends few, if any, of its female characters agency. It borrows the iconography of asian cultures, even as people of color are pushed to the margins of its narrative. It is a story of the oppressed, largely without their image. Nevertheless, few films have brought me to as much contemplation as this has. It has produced some of my favorite film writing of the year (including this piece by Priscilla Page and this one by Carolyn Petit.) The exploration of what it means to choose to be human is fulfilling and enriches the source material. Its gorgeous, monochrome world is an wondrous vision of dehumanizing beauty. Blade Runner 2049 shows the very real cost of denying the humanity of others. Even as it mires in that world, it begins to show us a way out. It’s a film with something beautiful to say, and even as it stumbles, it says it well.
Through tense, enveloping sound design and meditative cinematography, this film creates a tension that chews at the edges of your mind. It builds, growing loud and raging. Until it explodes, in an ending that is equal parts shocking and triumphant. It’s a film that unveils the often hollow nature of white allyship. It gives voice to places that need it. Get Out is a remarkable technical achievement. If this is a horror film that breaks through to awards season, it would more than deserve it.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I toyed with not putting this on the list, but realized I would be lying to myself. It’s a film that relentlessly cares about its characters, enough to give almost every single one of them a complete arc. The film is, both subtextual and textually, about trying to find God. The slow unveiling is that the stories that we told ourselves might hold harm and danger for those around us. God might be lost. The epiphany at the end of the film is that God was always there. They are the people who surrounded us.
This could be the only X-Men film. This feels significant because the X-franchise’s focus on Wolverine is largely unfortunate. He works better as a side figure, acting a counterbalance to the diversity and optimism of the rest of the team. Logan, however, is largely about that. The title character has lost all hope in vision of the future that his friends shared, and while he still helps Xavier, he is just looking to survive. The film is about him regaining that hope and passing it on to those who need it. Through with the extraordinary Dafne Keen, as a young girl given Wolverine’s powers, Logan realizes how he is letting the world that abused him define his existence. At the end of the film, he repeats that lesson back to Laura, “Don’t be what they made you.” For a gritty, grounded, r-rated superhero film, Logan has pulsing optimism and it gloriously and triumphantly, lets the old die to bring in the new.
I kept thinking about the first Captain America when I was watching Wonder Woman. They are similar films, both about heroic figures trying to make the world more like them. Both war films, that take place far in the past. The difference is in complexity. Most Marvel films bring up complicated moral issues that they then drop. Iron Man’s solution to military intervention is giving a rich, wealthy person more power. Captain America masks its criticism of American nationalism with fictional nazis. Wonder Woman introduces its moral problems and then stares them down. Diana’s questioning of the source of evil is human and powerful. Its ultimate belief in the goodness of mankind, despite all evidence to the contrary, is astonishing and vivid. It is not exactly a feminist film, but Diana is a female hero that this patriarchal world needs. And she teaches us to do good with no hope of reward.
Seeing this miracle film in a theatre with a bunch of rambunctious college students was one of my favorite film experiences ever. A supernatural romance, Your Name grounds itself in the human choice to love. It is awash in both benevolent and destructive cosmic forces, and despite the implied and explicit reincarnations, and the ways in which those forces bring the two characters together: It is shown that they must choose to believe they are connected. Love is a wondrous choice; not the decree of fate or destiny. Wrapped in a gorgeous and funny package, Your Name is a profound story of persevering.