Awards Circuit reached out to several of this year’s awards contenders and asked them to write the answer to the question, “What did 2017 films mean to me?”  Through the lens of actors, writers, filmmakers, and craftsmen and women, we will hear directly from the talent themselves and have them reflect on a year that has proven both successful and challenging.  

“What did the film year 2017 mean to you? AND what do you hope to see in 2018?”
by Devon Manney ( director of the Oscar-shortlisted short animation film “CRADLE“)

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There was a moment a few weeks ago, during a screening of “Call Me By Your Name,” that completely summarized what I truly love about film. Near the film’s end, there is a scene that, on paper, couldn’t possibly be more simple. And yet, the execution of it is so flawless, so intricately layered, and so pure in its intentions, that it took every single muscle in my body to keep myself from openly sobbing in the theatre. In a movie filled to the brim with emotionally-rich performances, bright landscapes, and purposefully delicate camerawork, it was this scene — a blue-toned interior scene, featuring words spoken so carefully, and cinematography so intimate, that every soft and perfect syllable seemed like it may very well topple the camera — that broke me unlike any other artistic work in recent memory.

In a year this rough, it’s easy to seek out escapism in whatever form it exists — and that’s not a bad thing in itself! But the films that made the greatest impact on me in 2017 were those that strove to do the very opposite — to make the audience uncomfortable.

That word carries with it a certain amount of negative baggage, but I consider it one of the highest compliments of any artistic work. “Call Me By Your Name” (throughout, but especially within the aforementioned scene) upends a sense of comfort through something incredibly beautiful — its most incredible moments are captured in such emotionally-raw detail that you feel both the elation and the pain of young love like an ice cube atop a raw nerve. It gives you the comfort we so desperately crave, then it takes it away, then it lets us know that we are more alive having experienced both.

Greta Gerwig’s transcendent “Lady Bird” creates moments of discomfort through the same perspective of nostalgia but filters it through a more sharply comedic lens. Like CMBYN, we connect aspects the adolescence of its lead character with our own, but largely through embarrassed chuckles. It’s raw and heartfelt in much the same way, but it’s a totally new glimpse into the naivete of youth — it’s exposing the silliness in what we believed we knew, rather than the innocence in what we couldn’t possibly have grasped. Both perspectives are uncomfortable at times, but they are vital parts of the human experience.

Describing Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” as “uncomfortable” seems almost laughably simplistic. It is a movie in which every frame seems designed to confront the audience, luring us into its claustrophobic nightmare reality with each unsettling moment.  Unfortunately, the (understandably) polarizing response to the film from both audiences and critics obscures the astounding achievement of filmmaking that is. While the other two film mentioned above have a certain subjectivity to their presentation, “mother!” is truly subjective, immersing you in the mythical horror Jennifer Lawrence’s titular character faces. This film bludgeons its way into your psyche and refuses to let go, and though it may not align with everyone’s taste, the movie presents something uniquely and terrifyingly artful — that important, perhaps vital, element of challenging the viewer.

And now we come to “Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s impossibly timely horror masterwork. Where the uncomfortable nature of a film like “mother!” comes largely from the aesthetic techniques it employs, “Get Out” confronts the viewer with an underlying social allegory that sinks in further and further as the film progresses. The ways in which it examines and deconstructs white-progressive racism, and of course, the terrors its black characters face throughout, hit so hard because they are so deeply grounded in reality. It is a macabre reflection of America, both what it pretends to represent, and the horrific reality within its core. In no other film this year is the ability to unsettle so incredibly important.

All of these films utilize aspects of reality as a lens to focus the viewer towards something uncomfortable but necessary — challenging an audience to spark difficult yet vital discussions, or even just to awaken the senses in new and exciting ways. And as 2017 has shown, the film industry still has plenty of waking up to do.

It’s easy to be numb, and it’s easier still to close one’s eyes and hope that the problems will be gone once they open again. But films like these, and so many countless others, remind us that, as we tread slowly into 2018, there is far greater importance in being awake.

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WATCH “Cradle” down below: