Nickelodeon Theatre — Best of 2017

Dec 22, 2017 by Nick Staff on The Nickelodeon Blog

Nickelodeon and Indie Grits Labs staffers celebrate some of their favorite films from the Nick’s 2017 lineup.

Showcasing the diverse tastes and interests of our team, the final list includes documentaries and melodramas, science fiction and intimate coming of age stories.  We connected to their humor, wit, and the unique visions of their filmmakers. It was a heartbreaking and triumphant year for women and cinema and as it comes to an end we are happy to applaud the achievements of Greta Gerwig, Agnés Varda, Sabaah Folayan and many others.

We look forward to continuing to present cutting edge films from around the world in 2018. See you at the movies!

 

Micaela Arnett
Development Assistant, Columbia Film Society  

Polina
Angelin Preljocaj, Valérie Müller
2016, France, Russia.

Polina was one of the only foreign films I watched all year. I am usually intimidated by anything screened for Foreign Focus, but this film was easy to enjoy. As a former dancer, I loved the choreography. I always wanted to dance on pointe but my ankles were never quite strong enough. Although I remain a fan of pointe, despite these experiences. The main character’s dance form and technique were impeccable, I could watch her for hours. I loved the idea of her breaking out of her classical ballerina style and trying something more upbeat and funky. I think this speaks to many different people, not only dancers. There is something to be said about someone who puts herself into a box where she defines her own boundaries, to only break the mold and find the inner power of personal freedom.

 

Pauline Arroyo
Marketing Coordinator, Nickelodeon Theatre

Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig
2017, United States.

As it turns out, I’m no Greta Gerwig. I couldn’t satisfyingly and without a hint of cliché explain why Lady Bird was my favorite film of the year. So here’s a medium-felt apology to all other films we lovingly hosted this year as I shower Lady Bird with devotions.

Lady Bird made a small story big with supreme authenticity and wit. Saoirse Ronan embodies the title character’s confidence, mistakes, humor, empathy, and pettiness so thoroughly that I like to imagine that the parenthetical for any of Lady Bird’s lines was, “you know, the way Saoirse would say it.”

The film is replete with characters you want to know more about not because they’re not written enough, but because they genuinely intrigue you. The plot isn’t exactly new: a teen yearns for life away from her hometown and finds herself along the way. Yet none of it feels old or tired because of the genuine affection Gerwig instills in the film. You actually care about what happens to Lady Bird and you actually think she’s grown from who she was in the first minutes of the film when she tumbled out of a moving car just to get away from her mom. And you’re sure she’ll keep growing.

Side note: I’ve been to “Sac” and it’s pretty much Columbia, give or take a “hella.”

Steffi Brink
Assistant Manager, Nickelodeon Theatre

Faces Places
Agnés Varda
2017, France.

At one point on their creative journey through rural France, street artist JR and filmmaker Agnés Varda sit across from each other in conversation, the charming JR nonchalantly peeling and eating pieces of fruit between words. It occurs to me, through the veil of translation, that the exchange is a performance. Indeed the whole film is part documentary and part performance of the unfolding creative conversation between two great artists, bringing their shared love of ordinary people to extraordinary scale. It occurred to me too, that while we witness the production of so much of JR’s work, it’s through the experienced filmmaking lens of Varda. I reveled in their playful and thoughtful interactions, the endearing bickering, the humanistic visual passions uniting them. But also, as a young female artist, I loved seeing an older female artist still working and having adventures, still curious and youthful at 89.

Lillian Burke

The Florida Project
Sean Baker
2017, United States.

The Florida Project seeped into my very skin.  The week after I watched it, even though my conscious brain was busy with other things, I found my thoughts wandering back to the film over and over again. I wanted to revisit so many scenes, to swim in them and let my mind be filled up with the film’s pastel colors and lush greens, the enveloping Florida air, glowing pink sunsets, and the mischievous giggles and salty tears of childhood.  The Florida Project is Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine (2015), a remarkable story about a transgender sexworker in LA that was shot entirely on iphones.  His newest film depicts the life of a young mother named Halley and her six year old daughter Moonee, who live outside of Disney World in a motel called the Magic Kingdom.  It is a beautiful and often heartbreaking portrait of Moonee’s world, of childhood innocence and her many adventures and blunders.  Her world is shaped by her mother, a young woman with few resources just trying to take care of herself and her daughter.  Despite the many ways Halley fails at being a good mother, there is never any doubt about how much she loves Moonee.  As he did with Tangerine, Baker demonstrates a unique gift for telling a story from the inside, for developing a full portrait of his characters and showing their beauty and joy despite all of their flaws.  Sean Baker’s style of filmmaking is empathetic to the point of humanization.  Regardless of how you feel about the characters or their decisions, when you watch The Florida Project, the full weight of their humanity is shown to you — the good and the bad.  Although, for Moonee a little magic and wonder can help keep the bad at bay long enough for another romp through the woods, vanilla ice cream cone, dance in an afternoon rainstorm, or jaunt through Disney World.

Seth Gadsden
Director, Indie Grits Labs

Fire at Sea
Gianfranco Rosi
2016, Italy, France.

This is not the usual empathy-driven, let’s all hold hands migrant documentary. Through a series of intimate portraits and impressionistic scenes thankfully devoid of voice-over, background music, and even a loose narrative flow, the Italian documentarian, Gianfranco Rosi, offers us a deeper, nuanced view into a daunting crisis that most of us only experience through headlines. There are no answers here or even a coherent understanding of what is happening. But like a great painting, I walked away feeling a little more connected.

 

Carrie Grebenc
Director of Development, Columbia Film Society  

Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig
2017, United States.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age comedy about a girl (the titular Lady Bird) in her final year of highschool who is trying to figure out her next step in life. The film explores her relationship with her mother, best friend, and the many other acquaintances along the way. The movie made me cry and laugh, sometimes at the same time. Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother particularly struck me. Although they frequently butted heads, their friendship and love for each other was strong, and their bond reminded me of my own relationship with my mother.

Mahkia Greene
Media Education Instructor, Indie Grits Labs  

It Comes at Night
Trey Edward Shults
2017, United States

It Comes at Night is a suspenseful horror that tells the story of two families navigating the anxieties of living together in a post-apocalyptic world where the precautions taken to avoid a mysterious illness are crucial to survival.  What I love about this film is its balance of slow paced exposition (you won’t find anyone reciting backstory over a telephone call here) and heart pounding tension. As it delves deeper into the paranoia slowly consuming the members of the household, you can’t help but ask yourself “Can I trust anyone here?” or in the words of Queen Oprah: “What is the truth?” If you want a horror movie that doesn’t just rely on jump scares, but really explores the deep seeded fears of the unknown, this is the one.

Alison Kozberg
Director, Nickelodeon Theatre

BPM
Robin Campillo
2017, France.

BPM is a stunning film about human bodies, about sex and power, and physical resistance. Its protagonists, many of whom have HIV or AIDS, wage daily battle against the French government and pharmaceutical companies by using their voices and physical weight to protest the irreparable devastation wrought by institutional indifference, homophobia, and greed. Declaring the film a tour de force about the flesh is not to discount its emotional impact or the wonderful complexity of its characters. However, I believe that it is BPM’s exuberant examination of everything a body can do — of what it means to live in a body — that makes it truly exceptional. Characters dance and kiss and make love; they run, rush, and in moments of crisis fall to the floor to hold ground and sustain protest despite police intervention. The film’s depiction of intimacy — the articulation of emotions through physical contact — sloughs off years of trepidation, shaming, and tepid after-school specials. ACT UP was conceived as a grassroots and democratic organization and this is a film that excels at capturing the day to day mechanics of non-hierarchical organizing and activism, as well as the compromise and combat through which principled, passionate people collectively make decisions.

I was, and remain, deeply moved.

This is what democracy looks like.

(BPM screens as part of “OUT Here” in February)

Honorable mentions:  Raw (Julia Ducournau), My Cousin Rachel (Roger Michell) and Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo) are all notable for their use use of monstrous femmes — cannibals, black widows, and shapeshifters — to tell stories of the oppressiveness of beauty culture (Raw’s most horrific scene is actually its botched bikini wax) and toxic masculinity. In a wild inversion of traditional romance, My Cousin Rachel and Colossal stage the “meet cute” as a prelude to terror. I delighted in their underlying message: male desire is not synonymous with mutual desire, it’s time for new Hollywood fantasies.

Alice Lilitu
Theatre Staff

The Little Hours
Jeff Baena
2017, Canada, USA.

The most immediately striking thing about The Little Hours is that it’s a film set in the Middle Ages that eschews the standard ahistorical modern-English-with-Tolkien-accents in favor of having the actors use their own accents on dialogue with contemporary comedic sensibility and timing. The feeling of anachronism is part of the joke, but it’s also not actually any more anachronistic than the aforementioned Tolkienese. The fact that the inhabitants of the film’s convent setting drag our stock medieval characters through the mud, and through familiar outrages and desires, is part of the point. When this dynamic culminates in (spoiler alert) a witches’ sabbat in the woods, this is the exact same set of ritual motifs as in my 2016 favorite The Witch, but instead of visionary ecstasy, we find ourselves in awkward bodies with not-quite-synced desires. In my own witchcraft, I’ve seen both of these portrayals can ring equally true, depending on how the stars align. And both of these films sing with the possibility that despite this disconnect, or great repression, life finds a way.

Another favorite this year is Raw. Something about the connection between eating the other and growing into one’s sexuality and power is dangerous, troubling and exciting in equal measure.

Pedro Lopez De Victoria
Programming Coordinator and Education Instructor, Indie Grits Labs  

The Red Turtle
Michaël Dudok de Wit
2016, France, Belgium, Japan.

Just distant shots of an animated man, washed ashore on a desert island, beset by all the familiar afflictions of survival — thirst, hunger, sun exposure, insubordinate denizens of the food chain. This is what introduces us to the wordless world of The Red Turtle. Days and nights pass, and his afflictions evolve, curdling into fear, frustration, desperation, fury, anguish, and, finally, hopelessness. AND YET — not a single close-up. Despite the film being entirely wide shots, we know with certainty the private turmoil of our protagonist. I won’t spoil the rest, but this film is a masterclass in visual language. The sound design envelops and delivers the viewer, from the crushing roar of a violent flood to the paper-thin scuttle of a tiny crab family. It’s movement, purity, minimalism, like a Hemingway novel without any trace of pretension. Show it to your baby, show it to your grandparents, it’ll clobber them with emotion all the same. Honestly, this movie deserved to be included in the Voyager along with the golden record and blasted off into space back in the 70’s. It could be enjoyed by any life form, terrestrial or otherwise. It’s a cave painting. It’s tremendous and sweet. Watch it.

Josh Rainwater
Theatre Staff

My Life as a Zucchini
Claude Barras
2016, Switzerland, France.

GKIDS first release from 2017, My Life As A Zucchini, is a beloved tale about Zucchini, a recent orphan finding new definitions of love and trust despite inheriting the sins of his parents. These French filmmakers have a wonderful history of using the disarming nature of animated film to highlight and discuss life’s grittier paths. Claude Barras (Chambre 69 & The Genie in a Ravioli Can) and Céline Sciamma (Tomboy & Girlhood) gently lead you through the eyes of a child with severity and sincerity, navigating the heavy issues adults face. Following suit, I consider Ma vie de Courgette powerful and enchanting enough to join the ranks of Les Triplettes de Belleville, Ernest et Célestine, and Persepolis. It is no surprise this film not only won the coveted Josh Rainwater Best Film Award, but 23 international nominations in Best Film, Screenplay, and Score as well as top jury & audience prizes at Annecy, Melbourne, & Angoulême. While I always encourage viewers to experience film in the artist’s language of choice, the English dub stars Will Forte, Nick Offerman, and Ellen Page.

Savannah Taylor
Design and Interactive Specialist, Columbia Film Society  

Raw
Julia Ducournau
2016, Belgium.

When I learned we were going to screen Raw at the Nick, I was very curious but scared to watch, since it was circulating in the press that several audience members fainted at a Toronto Film Festival screening earlier that year. Everyone was talking about a certain waxing scene that was unbearable and squirm-inducing, but uncensored moments like this is what makes Raw so great. More than a “body-horror,” Julia Ducournau’s film about a veterinarian student turning cannibalistic was a profound metaphor of a raw transition into womanhood — challenging the stereotypes and tropes typically represented in coming-of-age stories. “Female bodies portrayed on our screens and in our society [are] always either sexualized to please men or glamorized to set expectations for women,” [Ducournau] says … “I wanted to present another option,” she adds. “A body that sweats, that pukes, that pees.” (1)

1. Grierson, Tim. “Inside ‘Raw’: How a Female Filmmaker Made a New Body-Horror Classic”. Rolling Stone. Winner Media LLC. 9 March 2017.Web. 19 December 2017.

Amada Torruella
Programming Coordinator, Nickelodeon Theatre

Raw
Julia Ducournau
2016, Belgium.

The feminist body horror film follows Justine, a bright high school graduate, who has been accepted in the same competitive veterinary school as her older sister. Justine comes from a family of vegetarians and even though they are close, nothing is what it seems. In this terrific, bloody, sexual, and stunning work, we learn about cannibalism and witness the coming of age journey that women go through while they deal with their desires, ambitions, and the harsh reality of what it means to have a woman’s body.

Honorable mentions: Other films I loved included the Indie Grits 2017 Selection: Blua, a masterful experimental short film. In this artwork, Carolina Charry Quintero challenges our deeply held convictions about what is human and what is animal. The documentary Whose Streets? which captures the Ferguson uprising as “the story by the people, for the people.” Nothing we screened at the Nick this year seemed more urgent than this powerful documentary. I would also like to mention The Florida Project in which Sean Baker sheds light on the “hidden homeless.” This divisive and veracious slice of life made me fall in love with single mom Halley, played by newcomer Bria Vinaite. I found her character to be a genuine portrayal of a marginalized woman.

Amanda Windsor
Assistant  Manager, Nickelodeon Theatre

Jane
Brett Morgan
2017, USA.

At the age of 26, Jane Goodall, eager and seemingly unafraid, entered the Tanzanian jungle and began her unrelenting study of chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Today, her work has redefined how we perceive the natural order and our place within it. This year, director Brett Morgen reconnected us to a young Goodall through his perfect documentary, Jane. In the 1960s, Hugo van Lawick, at the time Goodall’s husband and a renowned wildlife filmmaker, shot over 100 hours of intimate and artfully composed footage of Goodall among the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park. The footage alone is easily a nature film worth watching, but combined with Morgen’s editing and a sweeping — and at times, overwhelming — score by Philip Glass, the footage transforms into an immersive film overflowing with beauty, adventure, pain, and romance. Glass’s music harmonizes with the natural soundscape and engulfs the viewer, bringing the lush and drunken sensations of a tropical jungle into a darkened theater. Goodall is now 50 years removed from her time in Gombe, but her narration, clear and still in awe of the creatures she lived with, is easily mistaken for the voice of a young Jane, tramping through the forest with her notebook. In a time when women are still fighting for their right do meaningful work, governments are still allowing the destruction of our natural resources, and human connection can seem unrewarding and dangerous, Jane reminds us that all is not lost and the work is still worth doing.

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