My Best of Best of 2017 Lists

Posted on December 19, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017
I often say, to use the words of Jan Struther on another subject, that rankings are “indefensible but irresistible.” (Struther is on my own list of favorite writers, or, I should say since she is very British, favourite.) I don’t spend much time on my own end of the year best/worst lists, but I really enjoy reading other people’s. As usual, this year’s top ten movies of 2017 lists have a lot of overlap (“3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” “Lady Bird,” “Mudbound,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “The Big Sick,” “Get Out,” and “The Florida Project” showed up on most lists) and a few titles that turned up on some best lists AND some worst lists, primarily “mother!,” “Killing of a Sacred Deer,” and “Phantom Thread.” (All were on my worst list.)

One I look forward to every year is the list from The Atlantic’s Chris Orr. He always had great descriptions of the films he loved, but what puts him at the top of my best list of bests list is his shrewd and very funny list of other bests and worsts, for example:

The Aaron Taylor-Johnson Award for Repeated Failure to Become an Actual Movie Star: Charlie Hunnam (The Lost City of Z; King Arthur: Legend of the Sword)

The Sienna Miller Award for Perpetual Widowhood: Sienna Miller (The Lost City of Z)

The “Tony Soprano in Holsten’s Ice Cream Parlor” Award for Most Ominous Door Chime: mother!

Funniest Stone-Man: Thor: Ragnarok
Sexiest Fish-Man: The Shape of Water

Trends of the year I noted: poison mushrooms (two movies), retreat framed as victory (at least five movies), different characters’ points of view (at least two movies)

Other top ten lists worth reviewing: David Edelstein, Dana Stevens, and the list of the year’s best performances from my friends at

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Orr and Jenkins on ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

Posted on November 13, 2008 at 6:59 pm

Slumdog Millionaire” is a Dickensian story of orphans in India. The movie is not for everyone. It combines the most harrowing abuse, betrayal, and tragedy with a piercingly romantic fairy tale. It is the story of a young man who is accused of cheating when he wins “Who Wants to Be a Millionare?” because he has no education and lives in the slums. In flashbacks that reveal his whole life to that point we learn how he knew the answer to each question. The movie has one of the most transcendently romantic moments of the year and concludes with a rousing dance number under the closing credits.

Mark Jenkins has an illuminating interview with director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later,” “Millions”), putting this film in the context of favored Boyle themes like sudden riches and the guerrilla filming style in the streets of Mumbai (Bombay).

Jenkins: How difficult was it to shoot in Bombay’s slums?

Boyle: The slums are great! You have to contact the right people to go in there, but once we were there and got to know the people, they’re extraordinary. They’re so resourceful, considering how little they’re given by the state. There’s no toilets, there’s no running water, no electricity. It looks filthy and disgusting, and it is around the edges, but you go in the homes and they’re absolutely spotless.

I think the energy of the film is a tribute to the slums. Everybody imagines people just hanging around, sleeping in the sun and not working. They’re incredibly industrious! Working in these cottage industries, and trading. That’s why they don’t want to move out of these places. Because the land is so valuable now, the municipal councils want to move them out to these tower blocks they built in New Mumbai. But they don’t want to go there. They do forcibly move them, but the people come back. They want to live amongst their own kind. Because what they get from their own kind more than compensates for the bricks and mortar that’s on offer out there. To be in the hub of the city, the maximum city, is priceless.

And Chris Orr’s superb review of the film appears in “The New Republic.”

Working from a script by Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”), Boyle stages every scene with verve and brio, confidently flashing forward and back from Jamal’s boyhood to his quiz-show appearance to his mid-game interrogation by a police inspector (Irrfan Khan) who suspects him of cheating. Throughout it all, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s camera bounces giddily through the tin-roofed shanties of Mumbai, while Indian superstar A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack throbs seductively. Not since Fernando Mireille’s “City of God” has a film about poverty and violence been told with such extraordinary panache.

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