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The unforgettable films of 2017

A Winston Churchill biopic, a horror film about American society and racism, a mother-daughter coming of age story. Mike Sargent of WBAI and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post share some of their favorite movies of the year with Jeffrey Brown.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The holiday season is often a time when people catch up on some of the year’s best work in arts, entertainment and culture. It’s also awards season, when writers, critics and fans are making their own picks.

    Jeffrey Brown continues our own look tonight with the year in feature films.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And it’s time once again to take a look at some of the year’s finest work and perhaps some that you didn’t know that you can now check out. A subjective take, of course, from two film critics who have back from time to time, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post and Mike Sargent of WBAI Radio New York. He’s co-president of the Black Film Critic Circle.

    Welcome back to both of you.

  • Ann Hornaday:

    Thank you.

  • Mike Sargent:

    Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I’m going to start with one you both love clearly from the list. I saw “Mud Bound”, it’s a new one.

    Mike, you start it, why did you like it?

  • Mike Sargent:

    Well, I like it for a lot of reasons. Mud Bound is being compared to a modern day “Grapes of Wrath.” But I say it’s comparable to that but it’s definitely a film that chapters or goes over a chapter in American history that’s glossed over in a lot of ways, you know? It touches upon a great many great important subjects, especially, you know, blacks in the military, you know, being poor, being in the South.

    And I have to say it’s a film that didn’t have to cost a lot of money, it’s a small film that has a much, much bigger significance. I happen to think that Dee Rees is a fantastic talent. I think she’s going to be one of the first —

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The director, yes.

  • Mike Sargent:

    Yes, the director, director Dee Rees. I think she’s going to be nominated for the Oscar and she will be the first black female LGBT person to be nominated, about time. But I think she’s great.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK. Let’s take a look at a short clip and you can tell us more.

  • Actress:

    How long have you been back from overseas?

  • Actor:

    A couple weeks. Much obliged. Have yourself a wonderful day.

  • Actress:

    Take care.

  • Actor:

    It’s all right. The car must have backfired. They say it’s (INAUDIBLE).

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, Ann, what most people won’t know about this, it’s brand new and it’s also out on Netflix as well.

  • Ann Hornaday:

    That’s right.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What did you like about it?

  • Ann Hornaday:

    Oh, I just think it’s just a marvelous, magnificent film. It’s a real throw back to the kind of movies that we say Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, these movies of real epic scope, sprawl, density, texture. It’s a very literary work. It calls to mind Wilick Hather, John Steinbeck, as Mike indicated.

    It — to me, films by John Ford and William Wyler, it has that “Best Years of our Lives” kind of feeling in terms of the post-war era. As we saw there, it explores trauma, post-war trauma, and I thought it was incredibly observant and alert to subtleties of race and class, friendship and depression, dependency and disobedience to social norms that Dee Rees just weaves in so beautifully and with such finesse. And I agree. I just think she’s an enormous talent.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, a couple more. Mike, you mentioned “Darkest Hour.” You actually both love that one.

  • Mike Sargent:

    Well, I love “Darkest Hour.” I love “Darkest Hour” for a lot of reasons, of course largely because of Gary Oldman’s performance. I kept watching, trying to find Gary Oldman in the makeup and the performance. But after a while I just gave up and I felt I was watching Winston Churchill.

    I love it because it really gave me a sense of who the man was. I had no idea that he was getting so much opposition from his party and the government and his own party about what went down, and it’s just a great film. And interestingly enough, the films we’ve seen recently, “Dunkirk” and “The King’s Speech,” give us context, so when you see these events happening, you know about them just from recent films.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right. We’ve got a short clip of that one.  Let’s take a look.

  • Actress:

    You’ve wanted this your entire adult life.

  • Actor:

    No, since the nursery. The public one.

  • Actress:

    It’s your own party to whom you’ll have to prove yourself.

  • Actor:

    I’m getting the job I need because the ship is sinking. It’s not a gift, it’s revenge.

  • Actress:

    Let them see your true qualities, your courage.

  • Actor:

    My poor judgment.

  • Actress:

    Your lack of vanity.

  • Actor:

    My iron will.

  • Actress:

    Your sense of humor.

  • Actor:

    Ho, ho, ho.

  • Actress:

    Now go. Be —

  • Actor:

    Be what?

  • Actress:

    Yourself.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Terrific.

    Mike, another one you mentioned was “Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s film.

  • Mike Sargent:

    “Get Out” is sort of transformative, in my opinion, because “Get Out” reminds us what a genre film can really do. I’ve always thought science fiction and comedy can do something that other genres can’t do saying something about the human condition without being heavy handed. “Get Out” reminds us that horror films don’t just have to be about scares. They can be and say something about society, and this film does in such a great way, and it also reminds us of the relationship between comedy and horror.

    “Get Out’s” a film, I can’t think of a horror film since “Night of the Living Dead” that had something to say about society so strongly you couldn’t ignore it but it didn’t take away. It only added to the film.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Ann, two from you. One is “Lady Bird.”

  • Ann Hornaday:

    Oh, “Lady Bird” is an incredibly special film. It is the solo writing, directing debut of Greta Gerwig who we know as an actress in lots of little indie films. I’ve always thought she was an utterly charming, natural presence on screen. And she makes this debut with such assurance.

    It’s a coming of age tale about a 17-year-old girl in Sacramento, California, played by Saoirse Ronan, the great Irish actress, and her, you know, desperate attempts to break free of her stifling hometown and her — most of which are sort of crystallized in these epic fights with her mother played in this wonderful performance by Laurie Metcalf. It’s a profoundly moving story.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And then there’s a big Christmas season movie, with a lot of big stars, “The Post,” which was on both your lists again.

    Ann?

  • Ann Hornaday:

    Yes, indeed. Well, this is — this is an extraordinary movie.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    We should say “The Post,” of course, The Washington Post.

  • Ann Hornaday:

    Meaning The Washington Post.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Where you happen to work.

  • Ann Hornaday:

    Exactly. And I’m not biased or anything like that, but it’s about the episode in 1971 when Katharine Graham and Ben Bradley had to make a decision whether to publish the Pentagon Papers after the New York Times had been legally told not to. And then they kind of entered into this epic legal fight around whether they had the right to do so while Mrs. Graham was taking the family company public.

    So, the stakes couldn’t be higher in this picture. Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradley. Meryl Streep is Katharine Graham. It’s been directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s just a rousingly entertaining, very deeply meaningful movie.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I always want to take a moment with you two at this time of year to ask if there is a movie or two that didn’t get as much attention that you think it should have, that maybe we can go back and look at.

    Mike, anything in that category?

  • Mike Sargent:

    Well, I definitely have to say the two I would mention are recently “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”  I’m a Charles Dickens fan so I was a sucker for this going in. But what I didn’t know, I thought the title was a little pretentious before I heard it, it’s about how Charles Dickens came up with The Christmas Carol, but I didn’t know what was at stake for him. And, you know, he had had a bunch of failures, he was — had been the toast of the town, now he was the butt of jokes.

    He self-published the book, and Christmas was not something that was celebrated like it is today. It was something that was kind of relegated to the poor. If you were well-to-do, you didn’t really even acknowledge Christmas, and it literally transformed the season and made people and society look at themselves, which is what good fiction should do.

    And Christopher Plummer is mind blowing, he’s the best Ebenezer Scrooge, and there have been many. So, it’s a great film.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Ann?

  • Ann Hornaday:

    I’m going back in the year and I think — you know, Mike mentioned “Dunkirk” earlier. We have had all these — the spate of movies about “Dunkirk” and that era, and one that utterly enchanted me was “Their Finest.”  It’s a little movie about the British propaganda office trying to get the U.S. into the war.

    And so, they make a propaganda film based on a couple of evacuees, boats, civilian boats that helped evacuate Dunkirk, and it’s sort of about the production of narrative and myth. But there’s romance, there’s humor, there’s a lot of poignancy. It’s a terrifically atmospheric portrait of London during the blitz.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You know, it’s almost impossible to talk about movies and TV these days without thinking and the context of the news we’re in, right, the sexual harassment ever since Harvey Weinstein and now, so many other actors, directors, and others implicated.

    I just wonder — I know you’re both dealing in this world now, writing about it. To what — to what extent do you think, Ann, you first, to what extent do you think it’s affecting the way people think about films or about Hollywood?

  • Ann Hornaday:

    You know, these stories that we’re reading every day, are — we’re bringing them in with us as we’re watching this work. And I think the degree to which the work itself intersects with these stories, whether its thematically or in terms of a character, then I think it will be even more difficult to separate the art from the artists.

    I mean, in some cases, you know, the movie you’re watching has nothing to do at all with what you have been reading about that actor or that producer or that director. And so, it’s easier to kind of make that leap, but I do think it’s going to be part of our baggage for quite a while.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Mike?

  • Mike Sargent:

    I think that hopefully, you know, like what Ann says that this will change not only the way we look at films but what films actually do get made. And I think hopefully not only will public perspective change, I think that there are a number of artists, whether producers, actors, actresses, directors, people behind the scenes who will now get an opportunity where they couldn’t or where they were being held back for reasons of harassment.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right. We will leave it there. Mike Sargent and Ann Hornaday, thank you both once again.

  • Mike Sargent:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we have more from this conversation online. Our critics pick their favorite acting moments of the year. You can find that at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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