Two Great Movies of 2017: “Phantom Thread” and “Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri”!
It is Oscar time. You start to see all kinds of ads and articles professing that one or another film or actor/actress is the “best”. I try not to argue with anyone regarding their own subjective tastes.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, right?
In a year where Amazon Studios proved to be a complete dud in producing/creating entertaining films, I discovered two unusual films about which little is known.
Let me start with the completely American film-noir [albeit comedic] entitled “Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri”. It has personified Americana at its best, or it’s worse.
The extremely talented Martin McDonagh wrote, produced and directed this film starring the incomparable Frances McDormand. The story is about a mother who purchases three billboards in order to embarrass the town sheriff, Woody Harrelson, so that he will find the rapist who killed her daughter.
Ironically, Martin McDonagh, an Irish/British subject has brilliantly captured both the tenor and the underlying violence of a small American town rife with angst, prejudice, and violence. Presumably, it is a comedy but a dark one. The film is a serious indictment of the corrupt officials who had been elected to public offices at both the local and our national levels. At the same time, McDonagh affords the talented Frances McDormand who plays the grieving mother, an opportunity to demonstrate her panoply of comedic/serious acting skills.
Sam Rockwell, the mother’s initial antagonist, transforms into a engaging protagonist through a series of dramatic twists that afford this talented actor an unusual transformation from the caricature of a ‘redneck cop’ to a genuine, literally scarred hero. Congrats to the actors and director/producer/writer!
On the other side of the ocean, we have a finely sketched art work by the talented duo of British actor, Daniel Day-Lewis [acting as the renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock], and his American artistic co-conspirator director/writer/producer, Paul Thomas Anderson. Some of you may have remembered that this unusual twosome had created the Oscar-nominated movie, “There Will Be Blood” . For those of us who are Daniel Day-Lewis fans, this film is his very last one before his unfortunate, premature retirement.
The story line is one of the more simple narratives I had ever seen. The beautiful, beguiling Luxembourg actress, Vicky Krieps, arrives unexpectedly to a British household of high couture in the 1950’s, disrupting the life of the extremely sadistic, self-controlled Daniel Day-Lewis, protected by his equally destructive sister, Lesley Manville.
What made this two hour film engaging for me is the highly detailed, deliberately slow unravelling of the character Daniel Day Lewis plays and the subtle psychological manipulations of his soon-to-be-betrothed seamstress. At first, she is intimidated by both the characters and setting of this austere high couture fashion house. Eventually, she learns to take it apart and reconstruct it into something akin to her own vision. Like the dresses Lewis designs, Krieps learns the tools of becoming both his lead seamstress as well as his sole paramour.
Not a lot of action in this film.Yet, this California-born director, Paul Thomas Anderson, has skillfully deconstructed the highly contrived lives of these eccentrics, like “Boogie Nights” [ San Fernando Valley porn mill], as well as the “The Master” [Scientology]. He then slowly reconstructs the parcels of emotional dystopia into a fabric of cohesion and emotional coalescence, usually ending up to become a family unit.
As someone attuned to the actions lines of adventure films, the deliberately slow pace of “Phantom Thread” really surprised me. For the first time in a very long time, I could perceive the subtle lines of difference in Daniel Day’s highly contrived facial expressions and refined mannerisms which spelled out another form of artistic movement. The entire film revolves around the exceedingly subtle movie acting guided by the crafty hands of an equally controlled, wily director.
Both this British actor and this American director define the craft that is often referred to as “movie making”. In age when fewer actors demand greater CGI actions of improbable proportions, it is a pleasure to uncover this unpretentious jewel of a film.
May “Phantom Thread” go on to receive its proper adulations at whatever festivals might exist in its arc to eventual anonymity. Even if this film does not win an Oscar, it should remain as a benchmark for all future film makers/actors who might have the slightest pretense to acting, writing, directing, or producing a film.
Robert Redford, the American actor, said the following:
“The technology for film-making is incredible, but I am a big believer that it’s all in the story [directing].”