With The Florida Project, Sean Baker continues his tales-from-the-underclass directing career. As a follow-up to his trans prostitute film Tangerine, Baker’s latest contains the same desperate poverty and the same utilization of non-professional actors. Set in the shadow of Disney World, the denizens of The Florida Project live day to day in a flophouse motel, painted purple to distract bypassing tourists from a region that’s supposed to contain the happiest place on earth. Tellingly, the only character that comments on the general crappiness of the Magic Castle motel is a well-off Brazilian woman, baffled that such a place exists and that she might have to spend the night there. While foreigners might be surprised at this kind of poverty in the wealthiest country on the planet, Americans are increasingly accustomed to it. Baker uses his child protagonists to get the viewer to the high of how children can find happiness and adventure in almost any setting and to the low of wondering why they have to do so in such a decrepit setting.
Current television shows have plenty of options for depictions of female friendship. From Insecure to Orange is the New Black, women writers have put what they know best onto the small screen, demonstrating that hang-out TV is entertaining regardless of gender. One of these shows is Comedy Central’s Broad City, a wacky two-fer on the streets of New York. Girls-behaving-badly film Rough Night is driven by much of Broad City’s creative cast. Director Lucia Aniello has helmed and written several episodes, and writer/stars Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs play major roles. As it shares all this personnel with Broad City, the expectation is that Rough Night will also share Broad City’s drug-fueled hijinks and lived-in camaraderie. Instead, the tone in this film is out-of-control and unfunny for long stretches. Television might’ve figured out how to tell these kind of stories, but, using Rough Night as an example, cinema’s got a ways to go.
There’s documentaries that have grand scopes like 13th or No End in Sight and then there’s I Am Another You, a film about one man living on the margins. Made by Nanfu Wang, who injects herself into the proceedings and narrates over much of the film, the film follows a homeless young man named Dylan. For 80 minutes, Wang peels back Dylan’s layers, fooling both herself and the viewer about who this guy really is.
Gender pay gaps, boys’ clubs, and blatant misogyny run rampant in Battle of the Sexes, a film that has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the present day. Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton turn their indie sensibilities to a famous sports incident, playing things largely straight where they’d earlier been more inventive. Little Miss Sunshine practically invented a new subgenre while Ruby Sparks undermined the trope of the manic pixie dream girl that so many indie films rely on. Battle of the Sexes isn’t breaking new ground in the same way. Instead, Faris and Dayton found a fertile piece of history and put charming actors in it. The film works because it can’t really fail.
In a year where escapism from the news cycle was desperately needed, escapism in the best films of 2017 took the form of extreme emotional catharsis. Whether that meant the unleashed ecstatic nightmare of mother! or Raw or the free-flowing tears induced by Logan Lucky or Coco, the biggest reactions from the year's best worked on a primal, gut level. Quieter intellectual films like Phantom Thread or Lost City of Z didn't take up nearly as much air as the reaction to the more elemental Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That gap between what works subjectively in the moment and the objective feeling of certainty that one's watching masters at work means that the year might not have as many all-timers as other years. Revisiting Logan in the future might dull its sharp edge and bring out more of its flaws, but in the year that was, the heart needed some reinforcement, whether it came from animated orphans or mutant Mexican girls.
By Jon Kissel
The following are five each of my favorite male and female performances in 2017. There are plenty more to choose from, but Daniel Day-Lewis seems too obvious.
By Jon Kissel
As the MMC's Best of 2017 week continues, we move onto the year's best scenes. Some of these weren't in the best films, but the spark of genius can show up in a movie made by my favorite director or in a film that gave me a rage headache. The more spoiler-y these get, the further down the list they are.
By Jon Kissel
As the first full year without cable, TV watching in 2017 was made slightly more difficult. While cord-cutting meant that staples like Fargo and Better Things went unwatched (along with Better Call Saul and Top of the Lake: China Girl), streaming services like Netflix and Hulu compensated with an ever-expanding amount of options, some immediately great from their first episodes. With half the shows on this list debuting in 2017, the Golden Age of Television continues to renew itself even as critically acclaimed shows like The Leftovers end and Veep and The Americans plan their end in the coming months. When the supply of new shows from ambitious and intelligent creators seems unending, previous favorites Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black can have off-years. With TV, there's always something great ready to take the place of slouchers.
(Other unseen shows that might've made the list: The Deuce, Mindhunter, The Keepers, Alias Grace, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Random projects from the MMC Universe.