Netflix secretly made three of the best films of 2017
Last year was a great year for film. From future indie classics, including “Lady Bird” and “Get Out,” to masterful franchise reinventions, including “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (fight me) and “Logan,” storytellers proved they could develop powerful original stories and innovate new techniques to tell them. Lost in this creative flourishing, however, were three easily accessible gems that have not found the praise nor audience they deserve. Netflix released 26 films in 2017—here are three that are definitely worth your time.
“Okja” is your basic “girl meets genetically modified pig named Okja, girl falls in love with Okja, company takes Okja, and girl fights to get Okja back with help of radical animal rights organization” film. If it sounds strange, it is.
Bong Joon-ho makes his film about friendship, capitalism, and ethics with tremendous heart. Most admirably, he stays true to his story and boldly goes where few adventure/action films like “Okja” are willing to go. The film is rated R, is bilingual and features biting corporate satire.
The cast is also excellent. The film features Tilda Swinton (in a double role…don’t worry, both roles are weird as hell), Jake Gyllenhaal (you can’t spell sadistic without sad), Paul Dano (love this man) and Giancarlo Esposito (wait—is that Buggin’ Out from “Do the Right Thing?”). Despite the big names, the film belongs to Ahn Seo-hyun, whose Mija (wonderfully un-anglicized) is innocent and strong. Joon-ho rightfully focuses his film on her and sympathizes with her unrelenting efforts to save her friend.
Watching “Okja” is a fun, thoughtful and bittersweet experience. It can occasionally feel cluttered by juggling too many storylines and ideas, but the film never loses its momentum or spirit. A chase through Seoul will keep you gripped; a visit to a factory, repulsed; and a quiet moment in the hills, blissful.
Full of action, drama and comedy, “Okja” is the ideal summer blockbuster. It reminded me a lot of Spielberg’s “E.T.”
“Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”
The opening title card reads, “Danny Meyerowitz was trying to park.”
Adam Sandler’s Danny circles Greenwich Village with his daughter looking for parking. He misses a few open spots. His anger builds. This about parking but it is also about something else. Danny feels powerless. He worries his daughter sees him the same way he views himself: a failure. Someone honks at him. He starts to scream. Before he can finish, director Noah Baumbach cuts away. The interruption is funny but ultimately unsettling. Baumbach leaves Danny’s feelings unresolved and unexpressed.
How does one find true catharsis?
That question haunts the characters in Baumbach’s latest effort.
The characters in “Meyerowitz Stories” run away, fight, yell, scream, cry and destroy property, but they can never truly escape their trauma. Maybe they don’t need to anyway.
“Meyerowitz Stories” follows the equal parts hilarious and melancholy episodes in the life of a dysfunctional family. Dustin Hoffman plays a bitter patriarch and Emma Thompson, his drunk third wife. Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel and Adam Sandler (so good you might just forget—but not quite—basically every other film in which he has acted) all play his emotionally broken children from his first two marriages. The characters are a little far-fetched but their feelings and problems are painfully real.
Working with his own intelligent script, Baumbach creates a careful study of familial relationships and human behavior. His film reveals an understanding of how people communicate in roundabout ways and rarely give voice to the deepest insecurities which shape their every behavior.
Occasionally, Baumbach missteps: Some moments seem too preposterous, an early montage lacks the emotional impact it desires, and Elizabeth Marvel deserves a lot more screen time. The end product, though, is still powerful filmmaking.
In “Meyerowitz Stories,” Baumbach wounds hearts and then makes them laugh. Sometimes, he does both at the same time. Baumbach’s film is a tragicomic delight.
“Mudbound” addresses the pervasive and inescapable roots of American slavery. It captures a difficult story with grace and dignity, in an egalitarian matter.
Set in Mississippi during and after World War II, “Mudbound” follows a white family (Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund and Jonathan Banks) that owns land and a black family (Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan and Jason Mitchell) that sharecrops on it.
Director Dee Rees tells her story unhurriedly and with tremendous confidence. Watching
“Mudbound” compares viscerally to watching a tree burn. The tree first darkens and then succumbs to the flames. Slowly, much of the tree turns to ashes.
Watching Rees’ latest film is an arduous experience. The film explores racism, PTSD and sexism, culminating in a climax containing intense heartbreaking racial violence. And yet, the film is quietly and stubbornly hopeful. “Mudbound” is a revelation and its final moments, revolutionary. From the ashes of the burnt tree, Rees cultivates a strong and beautiful flower stretching out to the sun.
At Sundance Film Festival, actress Carey Mulligan spoke about Rees. “If Dee Rees was a white man she’d be directing the next ‘Star Wars,’ she’d be nominated for an Oscar without question.” I agree with Mulligan.
The Academy has never nominated a black woman for best director and they did not this year. That reflects more on the Academy than Dee Rees. Her lack of nomination is a true shame. “Mudbound” is one of the best films of 2017 and Rees is indubitably one of the best directors.
“Mudbound” reminds us that the fight for progress is painful and harrowing, but that fight will continue undeterred. Directors like Rees are leading the charge.