Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies of 2017 Part 1

2017 was a very weird year, so it’s fitting that many of its movies were pretty damn weird too. A lot of franchise films flopped (this is despite the fact that over half of the years top 10 at the box office were sequels), a STAR WARS movie was divisive between critics who loved it, and longtime fans of the series who hated it; and there were a number of films with strangely similar titles like LOGAN, LUCKY, and LOGAN LUCKY, and WONDER, WONDER WHEEL, WONDERSTRUCK, WONDER WOMEN, and PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN. 

Then there were WTFWT (What the F*** Was That?) movies like A GHOST STORY and MOTHER! So yeah, it was one weird year.

A lot of the movies of the last year blur together in my head. I mean, I had forgotten about such dreary titles as THE CIRCLE, THE BEGUILED, and BEATRIZ AT DINNER until looking at a list of 2017 releases just now. And there were also a few films I only liked the first halves of like DOWNSIZING, and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, that are also fading in my memory.

But nows the time to concentrate on the cinema I best responded to, and I thought I’d do what I did a few years back and add what quotes stuck with me as well to the list.

So here goes Part 1 of my picks, in descending order, with their key lines or exchanges, and some links back to my reviews (click on select titles):

10. THE POST (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep): “You know what my husband said about the news? News is the first rough draft of history.

9. LAST FLAG FLYING (Dir. Richard Linklater)

Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston): Every generation has their war. Men make the wars, and wars make the men. It never ends!

Reverend Richard Mueller (Lawrence Fishburne): Maybe one day well try something different.

8. DARKEST HOUR (Dir. Joe Wright)

Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman): “Please tell the Privy Seal that Im sealed in the privy and I can only deal with one shit at a time.”

7. LADY BIRD (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf): I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.

Christine Lady Bird McPherson 
(Saoirse Ronan): “What if this is the best version?

6. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Dir. Sean Baker)

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince): I can always tell when adults are about to cry.

So thats 10-6 of my favorite films. See 5-1 at Part 2.

More later…

LAST FLAG FLYING Gets Just About Every Last Detail Right.

Now playing:

LAST FLAG FLYING (Dir. Richard Linklater, 2017)
Richard Linklater’s latest is and isn’t a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 cult classic THE LAST DETAIL. The three lead characters names have changed but they’re basically the same archetypes as the three military cohorts in the original, with Bryan Cranston’s Sal Nealon mirroring Jack Nicholson’s Billy L. “Badass” Buddusky, Steve Carrell’s Larry “Doc” Shepherd stepping in for Randy Quaid’s Laurence M. “Larry” Meadows, and Laurence Fishburne’s Richard Mueller taking on Otis Young’s Richard “Mule” Mulhall.

In THE LAST DETAIL, Navy lifers Buddusky and Mulhall escort court-marshaled Meadows to prison in Maine for petty theft, and take drunken detours along the way. In LAST FLAG FLYING, our trio are vets who re-unite to accompany Carrell’s Doc to the funeral of his son who was killed in Vietnam.

The film begins with Doc showing up at Sal’s dive bar in Norfolk, Virginia, after decades of non-communication, and after a night of drinking, Doc takes Sal to see their old pal, Richard, who became a Christian priest.

The film takes place in 2003, so there are running gags involving the internet and cellphones being new things, and footage of Saddam Hussein on TVs in the background.

Like its predecessor, it’s largely a road trip movie with a lot of buddy comradery, but in this story that happens after they reach their first destination – Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where they learn that Doc’s son didn’t die the heroic death that the army’s official statement reported. They then take his son’s body to bury in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, first by rented truck, then by train after a brush with homeland security with a lot of lively conversation fueling every scene.

THE LAST DETAIL was famous for having large amounts of profanity – it contained more uses of the f-bomb than any previous film when it was released in the early 70s – but it’s no big thing these days for a film to be filled with such dirty dialogue so it’s barely noticeable when it’s used here. Maybe that’s from my being desensitized by many viewings of Scorsese movies or frequent listens of Richard Pryor albums, I dunno.

Alongside the strong performances of the main protagonists, is an excellent supporting cast made up of Yul Vazquez as Lt Col. Willits, who tries to stop Doc, Sal, and Mueller from transporting the body themselves; J. Quinton Johnson stars as Marine Charlie Washington who breaks the news to the guys about how Doc’s son died, and especially Cicely Tyson as the grieving mother of one of their fellow Marines, who died in Vietnam.

Despite its sometimes weary depiction of distrust of the Government during the George W. Bush era, there’s a lot of warmth in LAST FLAG FLYING. Linklater handles the pathos superbly, and gets us to care about these very verbal vets. Its dialogue, co-written by Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan (who wrote the 1970 book, “The Last Detail and its 2005 sequel that’s the basis for this film) is rich and real feeling.

Cranston stands out as the grizzled, cynical Sal – it’s one of his most fleshed out characters since Breaking Bad – Carrell’s sad sack succeeds in getting our sympathy, and Fishburne conveys dignified grace, that is except for the funny bits where his Reverend Mueller loses patience with Sal and regresses into his old profane self.

Linklater’s loving update deserves Oscar action, but more so it deserves big audiences who no doubt will appreciate its affable yet profound sensibility. LAST FLAG FLYING gets just about every last detail right.

More later…

Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard Talks SLACKER For Film Acoustic

arlier this week, The Modern School of Film’s series, Film Acoustic, moved its program from the Carolina Theatre in Durham to the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh for a screening of Richard Linklater’s 1991 breakthrough debut SLACKER.

The film was the choice of Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard, who, in the tradition of the series, took part in a discussion after the screening and performed a few songs for the folks in attendance. MSOF founder and moderator Robery Milazzo told the audience in his intro at the Museum’s open-air theater that “this is our first-ever outdoor event,” and that he “absolutely hates watching movies outside,” but that “tonight’s movie is right in the pocket of a movie that screens really well outside.”

Milazzo was right, SLACKER did indeed screen really well, except for the fact that it was really cold that evening. Linklater’s film, which concerns a day in the life of Austin, Texas with the roaming camera going from eccentric character to another, was well received by the crowd, some of who were smarter than me and brought blankets, but I could tell from the vibe that they were more there for Gibbard.

After the film ended, Milazzo brought out his guest of honor with these words: “It’s really amazing that for a movie that quotes Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and Madonna, to have with us someone that Spin Magazine called ‘the poet laureate of the young and hopeful.’” The audience applauded and wooed “Professor Ben Gibbard,” as Milazzo called him, as he walked onstage to talk SLACKER, and various other related, and non related, topics.

Here are some highlights:

On why he choose SLACKER:

Gibbard: “It was a movie that I saw when I was going to college in Billingham, and it really resonated with me because I recognized so many of these characters in my friends and myself. Conversations that are happening throughout this movie are the kind of pseudo intellectual college conversations that you have at the time feel really deep, but once you kind of remove from them you recognize how silly some of them were.

But I just love the fact that this movie takes place over 24 hours in Austin, Texas, and it does such a great job of putting forth the minutiae of what happens in a college town. The absurd, but also kind of beautiful moments as well; the humor. It really resonated with me when I saw it and I come back to it every couple of years, and still really enjoy it.

How SLACKER has served as inspiration:

Gibbard: “To come back to that word ‘minutiae’ I’ve always enjoyed focusing on small moments in life and tried to blow them up and make them something larger than they actually were, and I think that in this movie you have all these little vignettes that flow fairly seamlessly as one character passes another then the camera follows them. And, you know, there are obviously some kind of funny, silly moments in it, but there are also some kind of beautiful moments there. 

Like I love that scene with the elderly man walking at the end of the movie, and we’ve actually been using – without permission – the audio from that as an opening track when we walk out on this tour because I just love that. I just love that, it’s kind of a wonderful way that encapsulates the characters in the film by having this older gentlemen at the end talk from a place of authority, and experience about a lot of the smaller moments that have happened throughout the movie. And some way or another, I just think that’s really a beautiful little soliloquy he has in there.”

On the Austin, Texas locations of SLACKER:

Gibbard: “The thing that’s interesting about watching this film now, 25 years after it was shot, is seeing how much Austin has changed. There’s the scene in the little dinner where the woman is like ‘you should quit, you should quit…’ and I remember making a pilgrimage to that diner one of the first times I went to Austin because I really wanted to see it and I walked in and that same guy was working there. This was like 2001…the guy who comes over and says ‘smarten up’ or whatever. I walked in and it blew my mind that he was standing right there, but across the street…

Milazzo: “Did he say ‘keep it down?’ I think that’s what…”

Gibbard: “No, he didn’t – he just kinda looked at me and I walked out. But, no, I remember in the movie as the guy is walking into the diner, you can see it’s just like the skyline of Austin in the background, and nothing, just some warehouses. Now, there’s like a massive Whole Foods and condos, and it’s been interesting to see, you know, as I watch this movie I’m aware of where a lot of it was shot, just how much the city has changed. It’s the same when I see movies that take place in my hometown of Seattle, how much the city has grown and changed.

Milazzo: “We’re here in Raleigh, North Carolina, and there are a lot of those sort of cities – smart cities, smart communities, uh, I guess when you watch this movie, is this an inspiring vision of America? As awful a question as that sounds – is there any melancholy in this change for you when you watch this film?”

Gibbard: “Uh, it’s not really melancholy, I think that these kind of conversations and characters still exist in every college town in America, you know? For me, I see this film and it reminds me of a time in my life where these things were of the utmost importance. 

I look back at that time in my life fondly, that these conversions and these characters and the people that I knew in my own version of this were kind of like folk heroes of my college experience. You know, the townie who worked at the bar, the guy who’s in 15 bands, all that stuff, these people – you knew ‘em. And I think these people still exist, they’re just that age now.

Milazzo: “It funny, if you cast actors here you’d think ‘ah, those people don’t exist.’ But the fact that he used real people brings it to life in this kind of cool way.”

Gibbard: “I actually have an interesting story about that. Years ago, this was 2000, and we were playing a show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we had been warned that the sound guy at this particular club was kind of ornery, but we kind of warmed up to him, we kind of hung out with him, and he seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He was kind of a heavy set guy, kind of balding. I was like ‘I know this guy from somewhere.’ We were going home later, going back to a place we were staying with this person, and I was like ‘man, that guy looks so familiar!’ And she was like ‘you, know he’s Steve with a van from SLACKER.’ And I was just like, ‘what?’ It was like the first movie star I met. I was like, ‘I can’t believe it!’ I was almost glad that I didn’t recognize him because I would’ve like bothered him all night.”

With a little prompting by Milazzo, Gibbard picked up his guitar and played a few songs between the chit chat starting with “Title Track” off of Death Cab for Cutie’s 2000 album “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.” 

After some strained talk about the writing process (move it along, Milazzo!), Gibbard fittingly tackled “A Movie Script Ending,” from 2002’s “The Photo Album,” took a stab at Nirvana’s “All Apologies” (he started playing the riff then said “I’m not gonna be able to do this”), did a rough but still solid version of “Steadier Footing” (also from “The Photo Album”), and concluded his appearance with a stunningly superb rendition of “I Will Follow You into the Dark” from 2005’s “Plans,” which you can watch a crude video of his performance that somebody recorded on their phone.

A final anecdote, in response to an audience member’s question about what is a favorite song of Gibbard’s that he has returned to again and again:

Gibbard: “It’s not so much because of the lyrical content, and it might seem like a strange choice, but I really believe that “There She Goes” by The La’s is like the most perfect song ever written. It’s a perfect song – it’s short, it feels like you’ve heard it before but you haven’t. 

And someone might hear that song and go like ‘that’s just a light pop song – like, I could write that.’ Well, no you couldn’t…because you would’ve written it if you could. And that entire record is like that for me, but that song in particular, like you know there’s a lot of covers of it in the world, it’s kind of a ubiquitous song, but whenever the original comes on I have this moment like ‘God, this is like an amazing song.’

I had this moment, this is name dropping so forgive me, but years ago, Death Cab was playing a festival in Japan, and Teenage Fanclub is my all-time favorite band, they were playing…it was us, then Teenage Fanclub, then The La’s – they were doing a reunion. 

So it was really crazy, and I’m standing next to Norman (Blake) from Teenage Fanclub, he was like one of my heroes from the time I was 14, and they go into ‘There She Goes’ and he turns to me and says ‘Man, classic pop song, right?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘It’s crazy that it’s about heroin, right?’ 

And I was like ‘what?’ I never thought of that angle on the song. And it just changed it all for me. This moment where somebody, who’s one of my heroes, was giving me information that I hereto did not have and it’s changing the whole song for me.”

More later…