The Best Pics Not Picked for Best Pic
By Julianna Marchant
I’m not interested in playing the Oscars prediction game. If I were, I’d wager that Warren Beatty will accidentally read the title of a movie that rhymes with Free Chill Gourds instead of a movie that rhymes with Wet Drought… but I digress. 2017 gave us too many great movies to keep up with—so many, in fact, that I decided to invest in a Movie Pass (which is the mov(i)e) so that I didn’t have to keep waiting for half price Tuesday to roll around. Some of these 7 movies got an Oscar nod or two, some none at all, but none of these gems got any Best Picture love. In no particular order, here’s my shortlist for the best pics (that aren't Best Pics) of 2017.
Faces Places is a documentary that makes you hungry for a TV spin off, because the dynamic duo it revolves around, French artist Agnés Varda and photographer JR, would make for a great Anthony Bourdain-esque travel show. But that’s not the point; it’s firmly rooted in place, which in this case is rural and industrial small-town France. As the pair road trips and brings art installations to different towns and banter and philosophize with locals, there’s a subtle wistfulness that’s understood from the fact that faces and places come and go as the pair’s van and time drive by.
Though a strong foray into the Academy's radar by its distributor, Netflix, this film was left out of much of the Oscar season hype, which is a shame. Mary J. Blige rightfully landed both a Supporting Actress and Original Song nomination for her stellar performance and songwriting, and DP Rachel Morrison got an Oscar nod for the film’s epic cinematography (and she’s the first woman to ever do so). What’s more, Mudbound, helmed by director Dee Rees, tackles race relations in post-World War II rural Mississippi in a way that feels timely, which can be hard to do with a period piece.
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
French drama 120 battements par minute is a testament to the power of historical specificity in storytelling. Young members of the Paris chapter of AIDS activism group Act Up in the 1990s wrestle with how to fight the endemic, which, for themselves and their friends, is truly life or death. Its pace feels like real life, its dialogue is simple, and the small gestures and furtive glances between characters speak the loudest. Most importantly, it renders the messiness and vitality of finding community and translating pain into public action.
A Fantastic Woman
The Chilean entry for Best Foreign Language Film is a stunning portrait of love, loss, and identity. The film follows Marina, a trans woman, as she fights for the right to mourn the unexpected death of her older boyfriend amidst a suffocating landscape of prejudice, with a distinctive style that blends unflinching realism and noir-inspired visuals. A Fantastic Woman’s centerpiece, however, is Daniela Vega’s precise and indeed fantastic performance.
The Florida Project
There’s perhaps never been such a condescension-free on-screen portrayal of a childhood in poverty. This is a small movie in scope, but sweeping in its place immersion—which is a cheap motel that neighbors Disney World called The Magic Castle—and character depth, thanks to seven-year-old actress Brooklynn Prince’s portrayal of the film’s heroine, Moonee. Seriously, it’s almost frightening how good Prince is.
Its luscious visuals and detailed world-building most directly evoke Hiyao Miyazaki’s classic Spirited Away, and with a similarly deliberate emphasis on empathy and rich character relationships. It’s apt that its super catchy soundtrack highlight up for Best Original Song is called “Remember Me.”
Just really fucking delightful. Name a funnier or more deeply felt film that celebrates the healing power of sisterhood and female sexuality with black women at its center, I’ll wait. Plus, it gave us the great Tiffany Haddish, and one of two of 2017’s iconic cinematic uses of fruit.