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Running away from reality

Shinji Manlangit - The Philippine Star
Running away from reality

Art by Neal P. Corpus

MANILA, Philippines — Movies have always been reflective of the lives that we lead. Sure, we go to see films to escape, to be taken to galaxies far, far away, but mostly it’s the films that show the human condition that stick with us the most.

This year has been a tough one for most of us. The best way to describe it is that it sucked. Living in a world of Trump and Duterte, seeing and hearing suffering happening all around you, it can be a bit too much. This is why I mostly ran off to watch stories of love, compassion and personal growth in 2017 — narratives that I would like to experience in this sh*t show of a year.

It was a good year for cinema, locally and internationally. This list includes seven of my favorite picks released from the US. We decided not to include Filipino films because that deserves a separate list and, as someone who works in the local film industry, I simply do not want to be rendered as “biased” and “bayaran.” Here are my favorite films of 2017:

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The latest in the Star Wars saga has been branded as “divisive.” You either love it or you hate it. There are hundreds of think pieces online trying to analyze whether or not/where it went wrong, but none of that really matters when the truth is that The Last Jedi got everything right. Throughout the film’s running time, plans fail and characters learn. Everything that you hoped would happen, surprisingly didn’t. This is thanks to Rian Johnson’s careful subversion of the entire Star Wars lore — he was able to put it down, flip it and reverse it. Women are on top, the old generation dies, hope is reborn and the next episode arrives in two years. Good luck, J.J. Abrams. You’re gonna need it.

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright, who is an Aries, made the most Americana film of the year — it’s also the most Aries film of the year as Angela (Frances McDormand) tears Ebbing, Missouri a new a**hole when her daughter is raped and murdered and the authorities choose to beat up black people instead of solving the crime. She sets up three billboards shocking the entire local law enforcement, kicking off an all-out war between her and the town she calls home. But what you might not see in the trailer is that it’s an endearing, tear-jerking tale about redemption and how hope has the ability to save people even in the darkest of timelines. 

5. Columbus

Columbus, Indiana is a small town with big ambitions. Known as a sleepy city with awe-inspiring modern architecture and public art pieces, this is where dreams are made and made limited by poverty and circumstance. It’s also where Jin (John Cho) meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson). Jin’s father falls into a coma and can’t leave Columbus until he is laid to rest because of their Korean beliefs. Casey wants to study architecture but her mother, a recovering addict, pulls her back. In director Kogonada’s juxtaposition of beautiful buildings and the small heartbreaks that people encounter every day, we find out the how love can be built through conversations and shared pains. It’s the Before Sunrise of 2017 — funny, insightful and really f***ing beautiful. The film also features a genuine architectural delight: John Cho’s bare butt.

4. A Ghost Story

Casey Affleck is an a-hole. Thankfully, David Lowery hides him under a kooky white sheet with cut-out black eyes throughout the running time of A Ghost Story. 2017 is the year that post-horror was pushed into the mainstream, where jump scares and obnoxious ominous music cues are replaced with existential dread and five minutes of Rooney Mara sitting on the floor, eating a pie. A Ghost Story is a $100,000 art film that works because it truly is scary. Think about this: you die, your loved one leaves you, and you get stuck for all eternity, repeating the course of mankind’s history and reliving all your painful and joyful memories as if they were a movie playing right in front of you. It’s the loneliness that will kill you, and A Ghost Story delivers that kind of horror.

3. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

How do you measure success and what merits a failure? Director Noah Baumbach explores this idea in his Cannes-nominated, Netflix-distributed, super 16mm masterpiece of effed-up people and the love that they share for each other. Harold (Dustin Hoffman) is an aging sculptor who falls gravely ill, forcing his children Matthew (Ben Stiller), Danny (Adam Sandler) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) to come together to take care of the cranky old man. Baumbach has long made dramas about family trauma mixed with elements of tragicomedy, but in The Meyerowitz Stories, he succeeds in evoking that warm, gooey feeling of being someone you love no matter how much you want to stab them to death. It’s Baumbach’s most hilarious film to date that proves that Adam Sandler is one of the finest, most versatile actors that we have.

2. Call Me by Your Name

We will never look at a peach the same way again after seeing Luca Guadagnino’s lush adaptation of the one true bisexual novel of our time. Call Me By Your Name feels like a dream, as all true romances do. The most notable feat of this adaptation is how it perfectly distills the novel, rendering it in all its gay glory on the big screen. Novels are tough to adapt, but Guadagnino’s choices remain perfect in every beat. The film is an instant classic and one of the finest things that was ever captured on 35mm. There are no antagonists, just the sheer bliss and pleasure of falling in love and accepting heartbreak in its purest form. I have seen this film three out of four times that it played in local cinemas and will probably see it more when it gets released next year. And every time the opening credits roll, I whisper to myself: “I remember everything.”

1. Lady Bird

What you’ve heard is true: Lady Bird is the most perfect film of 2017. Even the tiniest of details in Greta Gerwig’s masterpiece works because it’s real. While it goes through the beats of a coming-of-age story with gorgeous strokes and timely precision, the performances, the screenplay and the soundtrack truly push the film towards a blissful experience. Title character Lady Bird tries to find meaning as she navigates through her final year in high school, but what she ends up discovering is her real identity. Through failed romances, familial pain, issues with her friends and within herself, we see Lady Bird power through adolescence with such conviction. Isn’t this why we go to the movies? To explore how we truly feel? To experience our own truths being reflected back to us? To know ourselves a little better and to make ourselves a little better? With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig succeeds not only in making you feel, it makes you experience everything again all at once. It’s pure cinema.

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