2017 may be done, but I’m not done with it.
Landline (Gillian Robespierre, 2017)
The previous Gillian Robespierre/Jenny Slate collaboration, 2013’s Obvious Child, was a fresh, funny, female-driven character study, and the second, Landline, is an improvement in nearly every way. The script (courtesy of Robespierre and returning Obvious Child producer Elisabeth Holm) is sharper, and the relationships feel more fleshed out. It helps that this is an ensemble anchored by Edie fucking Falco and John god damn Turturro, who both excel as the parents of the Jacobs clan; she appears to have no interest in him anymore, and he is suspected of having an affair by his daughters. The eldest of the two is played by Slate, who continues to be one of the best actresses no one seems to bring to the table when we talk about great actresses, armed with a winning snort-laugh and impeccable comic timing. Holding her own among them as the youngest daughter is newcomer Abby Quinn, funny and dynamic in her own right in her first film role. All first-time actors should be so lucky as to be working from a script of this quality right from the jump. In fact, screenplays of this level of warmth and complexity and sweetness and just straight-up great gags about how languid and fraught the emotional relationships we’re in can be are few and far between. A nitpick, because there’s always one: I will say that I prefer Obvious Child‘s Jake Lacy to Jay Duplass here as the nice schlub, but I know why they went with him. Duplass just exudes pure norm-core, the air of kind of guy who’s biggest crime is being phenomenally lame, which is sort of key here in a story about the slipperiness of allure.
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)
Over the course of his career, Guillermo del Toro has proven time and again that he is a true believe in the magic and romance, literal and figurative, of genre movies. Creature features, sci-fi, melodramas, musicals, spy movies, you name it, they’re all jumping points for his specific brand of ornate fabulism. And here, all of those disparate strands come together in a sumptuous package anchored by an elemental, almost fairy tale-like relationship between a mute woman and the humanoid amphibian she loves. Obviously, it helps to have six or seven of the best actors alive to help sell your lush inter-species romance (and yes, I am including Doug Jones among them; he is one of our great underrated physical performers who, like Andy Serkis, will be recognized as a master of the craft entirely too late). Every aspect of the film is tailored to del Toro’s skill set to the stitch. If anything, The Shape of Water is the work of a man who knows exactly what kind of film he wants to make and leans hard into every turn, to the point where it can be almost aggressively cinematic or precious. But it’s so damn lovely and evocative and engrossing, all the while commanding respect as the kind of movie that no one else would even think of making, as if del Toro challenged himself to double down on his fantasy-Goth-phantasma-perv predilections. The result is a thing of beauty. A swamp thing of beauty, if you will.