You could see fireworks through the plane windows as we landed in Kahului on Sunday night. At midnight, from our deck Upcountry, both coasts erupted in colorful pyrotechnic showers, outlining the island.
It was Maui’s spectacular way of welcoming 2018, and was a great welcome home, too, after four months away.
Here’s hoping you all a happy new year, but first I’ve got to finish up the last one.
Yes, we’re talking about our annual best-movie list.
Back before there were DVD screeners, or the Maui Film Festival’s FirstLight Academy Screenings, studios would set up special showings for critics to make such lists, in the course of million-dollar marketing campaigns for their Oscar contenders.
Such campaigns were the forte of one particular pugnacious producer, whose fall from grace after decades of abusing young actresses opened a floodgate of revelations that became the biggest movie story of 2017. It’s not just about movies, and promises to keep changing our culture for years to come.
The biggest industry trend last year continued to be the upheaval in how movies get made and seen any more. Digital empires like Amazon and Netflix are replacing studios, producing more and more “product” you can watch on a screen of your choice, from a cinema recliner at the mall to a handheld device.
The number of us who still think movies should be bigger than we are, and seen with an audience, is shrinking.
Locally, Brian Kohne’s mystery-drama “Kuleana” was the movie event of the year. It created a community to get it made almost entirely on-island, then premiered triumphantly at last June’s Maui Film Festival at Wailea. The festival provided more delights, with live interviews with Connie Britton, Freida Pinto, Pierce Brosnan and Karen Gillan, on the big Celestial Cinema screen.
But meanwhile, back to the list. I’ve finally learned to stop worrying about whether it’s right or not. The first step was to stop trying to name “the best,” and instead offer up My Favorite Movies of 2017. Here they are, sort of in the order I saw them:
“The Glass Castle” — Not just for all the Maui connections (stars Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, director Destin Daniel Cretton), but for its lesson about the resilience of children, no matter how irresponsible their parents may be.
“The Trip to Spain” — Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon remain the funniest traveling companions you could ever share a car with.
“Dunkirk” – Christopher Nolan’s almost real-time World War II sea-and-air saga is the epic action adventure of 2017.
“Battle of the Sexes” — Emma Stone and Steve Carell make Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs soft and cuddly in this gentle satire that shows how far we’ve come, and how far we haven’t, on the gender front.
“Lady Bird” — Actress Greta Gerwig’s writing and directorial debut is assured and wise in this mother-daughter comedy propelled by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf’s great performances.
“Get Out” — Jordan Peele goes solo in this impressive writing-directorial debut that turns a sly satire about contemporary American race relations into a horror show.
“Coco” — Mexico’s observance of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) provides the Disney folks with the most eye-popping, soul-touching animated look at family values in years.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — No one can play a powerful woman better than Francis McDormand does in writer/director Martin McDonagh’s cinematic poem that keeps shifting from tragedy to dark humor with solid support from Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.
“The Post” — Screen royalty — Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg — brilliantly revisit The Washington Post’s 1971 revelation of the Pentagon Papers, in a white-knuckle political thriller involving a president who thinks he’s above the law that sparks a scary sense of deja vu.
“The Shape of Water” — Amelie meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon in Guillermo del Toro’s surreal, gorgeously cinematic fairy-tale romance.
“The Disaster Artist” — James Franco can be as likable and hilarious as he is talented. Who knew? He directs and stars with his brother Dave, re-enacting the making of the worst cult-favorite movie ever.
“Downsizing” — Five-inch-tall Matt Damon is the centerpiece of Alexander Payne’s wiggy look at contemporary consumer culture that can’t quite decide if it’s satire or a more philosophical inquiry.
“Wonder” — Why has this sweet family drama about finding heroism in the face of cruel 5th-grade adversity stayed on the box-office charts so long? The answer becomes clearer the more happy, tearful minutes you spend with Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and a screen full of wonderful characters.
* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.