I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. It isn’t that there aren’t things in my life that I’m thankful for; there are. It’s not that I don’t have people I love who wouldn’t bend over backward to show me to their table; I do. The problem is, the person who should be there sharing it with me passed away a few years ago. Holidays are the traditions we make with the people we love, but what happens when the people die? I suppose the traditions could live on if there were more people to see them through, but mine died with my wife. The first year, I just survived the holidays. The second year they made me miserable. By the third year, I’d had enough so I decided to invent new traditions. I didn’t want to spend another Thanksgiving immersed in the routine (and to be honest….I hate turkey), so thus was born FILMSGIVING!
FILMSGIVING is a movie-going mini-Olympics. One man. One day. Four movies. Back-to-back-to-back-to back. All must be first viewings. At no time may you leave the theater until the quad is complete. It’s the steel cage match of cinephiles. FILMSGIVING 2016 was an astounding success. I burned noon to midnight and escaped all the triggers and reminders of Thansgivings past. Plus, I saw four films that ended up in my top 25 for the year (three in my top 10) in Arrival, Moana, The Edge of Seventeen, and Hacksaw Ridge. This year, I stepped back into the octagon a toned veteran of the quad, wise in its ways for FILMSGIVING II: FILMSGIVING STRIKES BACK.
2017 has not been in any way the movie year that 2016 was, so I knew going in, that I was not going to get a quad to repeat my experience the previous year. However, tradition had been established. Again, I burned 12 hours in my movie theater (for free this year thanks to banking Regal points for a solid year), saw four new films, and left pleased with everything except the new shape of my lower back which now resembles a movie throne. I’m not going in-depth in my reviews, and the quad wasn’t even half the quality this year, but here’s a lightning round review of this year’s four films in the order of their viewing.
Roman J. Israel Esq.
Roman is a perfect example of what I was talking about in Denzel Washington’s Top 10 Movies List that I recently compiled. He has the ability to raise a poorly scripted and-in parts-dull film and raise it through the power of his charismatic acting. For his role as the nebbish legal savant, Washington uncapped his teeth and gained weight, becoming almost unrecognizable. It is a phenomenal performance in a movie that does not earn it. You never take your eyes of Washington, but you never get invested in his journey until perhaps the very end, and that’s a win for Denzel, but not the picture.
There are few films that I would feel totally comfortable taking a child to the theater to see these days, sadly. The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Stephen Chbosky writes and directs the adaptation of the best-seller about a fifth-grader (Room’s phenomenal Jacob Tremblay) with facial deformities joining public school and the world. The film is barely PG, and the lesson it imparts is one all parents should expose their kids to in this age where bullying has become a sick national pastime. Anyone who survived high school knows the pretty people are the evil ones, and that the odd and the singular souls are often in the strangest vessels. As a single guy, I can appreciate that and wholesale recommend it to parents, but it does wax precious and a little saccherine at times. I also have never been a fan of either Julia Roberts or Owen Wilson, but neither really has much of an impact in the film; it’s Tremblay’s show, and he proves Room no fluke.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I do not think there could possibly be two more tonally different films to watch back-to-back than Wonder and Three Billboards. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), the film tells the story of a grieving mother who puts up three billboards outside a small Missouri town, calling out the local police for failing to solve the brutal murder of her daughter months later. I don’t know how McDonagh can go into the darkest recesses of humanity and find laughter there. It’s probably wildly inappropriate and offensive, but so is the offense that predicated the situation. Grieving people do crazy things, and Frances McDormand jumps into the leader’s seat for Best Actress as the grieving mother who does a metric ton of crazy things. Matching her are the police chief (Woody Harrelson) and hist deputy (Sam Rockwell), who take offense at the billboards and begin a chain of events that will break your heart, make you laugh and make you think. It’s the darkest of even McDonagh’s films, but he somehow manages to not make them depressing slogs. Rockwell and Harrelson (if he isn’t already nominated for War of the Planet of the Apes) also deserve Oscar consideration. This was, by far, the best film of the quad. Harrelson, with his second standout Filmsgiving performance in a row (Edge of Seventeen) , is now the official face of my unoffical holiday.
Coco is a feast of imagination (at this point we expect nothing less from Pixar) and a primer on Dia de los Muertos and its mythology for those who don’t know anything about the celebration of the The Day of the Dead. The subject matter is as dark as anything as Pixar has dealt with, but their specialty is managing to work adult topics into films that aren’t remembered for them. Nobody thinks of the miscarriage in Up; you think of the balloons and talking dogs, but Pixar has one in there. Coco’s problem isn’t it doesn’t look fantastic or lack imagination; it lacks great Pixar characters. Miguel, the body who travels to the land of the dead to seek the blessing of his ancestor to become a musician, isn’t a memorable character, nor is the supporting cast. It’s a fantastic world-building exercise from director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), but it’s mid-level Pixar, not reaching the upper echelons of the company’s triumphs. However, in this year, that should be more than enough to win Coco Best Animated Feature come Oscar night.
If you, like a lot of people, find the holidays to be an empty reminder of traditions lost; get creative and make some new ones even if they’re just for you. Keep it a special time of year, just change it to make it something that reflects your present and your future rather than your past. It’s not easy. I’m still working on surviving Christmas. But FILMSGIVING III is only a year away!