After 25 days, the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival finally came to an end this past Sunday. With over 400 films at this year’s festival, there was no shortage of movies to see. However, some films were better than others, so I’m gonna pass along some films you should have on your radar going into the summer. So without further ado, let’s begin.
Columbus (Dir. Kogonada)
Ever wanted to see a film where architecture played a significant role in a film? Well Columbus posturizes beautiful architecture and uses it as a stage to frame its characters. Quick elevator pitch: Jin (Jon Cho) is suddenly brought to Columbus, Indiana when his father unexpectedly passes away. While there, he meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, Edge of Seventeen fame) who finds herself anchored to her home instead of pursuing her passion for architecture. The two cross paths for a brief period of time and subsequently have profound impacts on each other’s lives. The film is the directorial debut of Kogonada (a long time video essay creator for Criterion and Sight & Sound) and his passion, knowledge, and expertise for the medium are well on display with Columbus. A highlight is the film’s breathtaking shot selection which not only emphasizes the architecture of Columbus, but also provides insight into the internal conflicts and emotions of the characters. It’s a slow paced film, but when combined with the visuals, it creates a beautiful sense of tranquility, allowing the audience sit back, breathe, and take in all the film has to offer.
A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery)
A Ghost Story is perhaps the most out-there pick that I saw. Going in you should know that it will be…different, full of long takes, ambiguous characters, and striking imagery (for context, the scene that everyone takes away is a 5 minute shot where Rooney Mara eats pie). After passing away, Casey Affleck’s character returns home as a ghost in a white sheet where he witnesses life continue without him. The ensuing events create a beautifully speculative piece about the grandeurs of life, reflecting on notions of self legacy, meaning, and the passage of time in between. The film feels like a piece of slow moving poetry that gives back as much as you invest, but accepting its oddities yields a very unique experience that will give you something to think about long after you leave the theater.
Wind River (Dir. Taylor Sheridan)
Coming off the heels of writing Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan makes his second directing effort with Wind River: a crime thriller where a fish & wildlife worker (Jeremy Renner) partners with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson) to solve the murder of a young girl on the Wind River Indian reservation. Like Sheridan’s previous work, the film excels in world building, crafting a setting that is dark and brutal, enabling events in the film to carry weight and seem all the more believable . The film’s first two acts build the groundwork for an explosive third act that will have you white knuckling. The direction stumbles at times, but the screenplay’s dark themes and ability to craft genuine moments of tension helps elevate this film above standard crime films.
The Big Sick (Dir. Michael Showalter)
Written by and starring Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), The Big Sick follows Nanjiani meeting his real life wife Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). When the two get together, Kumail’s traditional family doesn’t approve of their relationship, but when Emily gets sick, Kumail must step up to the plate when it matters most. The autobiographical element of the story makes the film feel like a labor of love, one that effectively shows the deliberation between self or cultural identity, successful career or impassioned dreams, and familial belonging or true love. The exploration of Nanjiani’s relationships is at the heart of this movie, and it differentiates itself from other romantic-comedies because of it. It also helps that the jokes land time and time again, resulting in a movie that is not only heartfelt, but also very funny.
Ingrid Goes West (Dir. Matt Spicer)
Any commentary on superficial youth behavior that Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring was trying to accomplish is achieved ten fold with Ingrid Goes West. The satirical tale follows Ingrid Thornburn—a social media addicted millennial played by Aubrey Plaza — who moves to California to befriend Instagram influencer, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olson), but in Thornburn’s attempts to achieve social media fame, she crosses over into insane and irrational behavior. Everything you hate about social media is amplified and embraced by the characters to effectively convey the absurdity of it all. Retaking photos again and again to get the right Instagram look? Check. Using hashtags in an unironic way? Check. Aimlessly scrolling and stalking social media? Check. It’s all there, offering a sardonic critique of the “fakeness” of and obsession with social media. With such relatable subject matter, the film could have succumbed to an annoying confused mess, but it remains focused (for the most part). It’s at its weakest when it takes a serious turn at the end, but it’s at its best for the majority of the film, making it a worthwhile look at modern culture and all its shortcomings. Side Note: special kudos have to be given for rising star O’Shea Jackson whose performance is literally the best part of the entire film.
Brigsby Bear (Dir. Dave McCary)
To give anything beyond a bare bone synopsis would be a disservice to the early-on surprises of Brigsby Bear. Considering how little the trailer shows of the actual film, you should go in knowing that this is a heartwarming comedy that centers around a TV animal called Brigsby Bear, a man-child’s obsession with it, and the actions he takes when he learns the show is no longer on the air. The film is genuinely funny due in large part to its hilarious cast. Staring SNL member Kyle Mooney, directed by current SNL skit writer Dave McCary, and produced by The Lonely Island, the film is in no shortage of comedic talent. Brigsby Bear has all the makings of a bizarre indie film, and it effectively converts its strange premise into a great, comedic movie that mostly delivers. It can be a thematically conflicting at times in its attempt to encompass so many elements all at once, but the comedy outshines the film’s thematic reach, often playing off the naive nature of the main character and using it to create funny and heartwarming moments. If you can avoid reviews and broader synopses, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this feel-good summer movie that is equal parts humorous and sweet.
Better Watch Out (Dir. Chris Peckover)
This one is for horror fans, and again, the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy the film. Better Watch Out follows Ashley (Olivia DeJonge, The Visit) a teenager who is babysitting Luke (Levi Miller), a 12 year old who has a crush on her. When his parents go to a Christmas party, he finally decides to tell Ashley he loves her, but things begin to get out of hand when a home invasion threatens their lives. The best part of this film is its subversion of any and all expectations you have going in, and yes, there is a twist that doesn’t feel gimmicky or forced. Other aspects of the film have a tendency to fall into cliched horror tropes which can feel redundant (namely a scene with spiders), but only on occasion. It’s unexpected, suspenseful, and potent, taking what could have easily been a B rate horror movie premise and turning it into a great horror thriller.
Lady MacBeth (Dir. William Oldroyd)
Lady MacBeth is a drama set in Victorian era England (hold on, I promise it isn’t boring) that follows Katherine, a young woman played by Florence Pugh, who was recently sold into marriage to a land baron. When the baron leaves town, Katherine defiantly begins an affair with one of the servants out of hatred for her spouse, causing a cavalcade of drama, violence, and deviancy. The film’s time period enables commentary on race, gender, and class, but at the heart of the film is Katherine’s defiance and determination for self fulfillment which leads her down a dark path resulting in questions of morality and a sinister transformation. It’s all delicately conveyed with well crafted sets, superb cinematography, and tremendous acting that work in favor of Katherine’s character. Whereas many people may be turned off by slow moving, dialog driven, Victorian era period pieces (I myself am not a fan), Lady MacBeth steps outside the mold and creates a captivating look at a personal transformation and self declaration.
These are just 8 of the films I saw at SIFF this year that I felt were noteworthy. However, there were so many films we didn’t a chance to watch this year, so feel free to let us know what we missed! Hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far, and I hope you have plenty of opportunities to watch great films!