Some of you might know that I moonlight (pun not intended) as a movie critic for several online film entertainment magazines. I'm not telling you to trust my opinion - I'll leave that up to you - what I am telling you that I see a lot of movies, and I want to draw attention to my favorites of 2017, which for me was the best year for film in recent memory. I'd love to hear what you thought of these films, too!
Top Ten (which is naturally eleven movies)
1. Blade Runner 2049
I could write a book about how satisfying this was. As a fan of the original, I was so ready for this, but it completely surpassed my expectations. I think it is damned near perfect and I hope that we get a similarly visionary sequel thirty years from now.
Here's what I wrote about it for Spectrum Culture: "If Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film was a cyberpunk vision of what America would look like three decades beyond the ‘80s, then Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant, beautiful Blade Runner 2049 is what Scott’s futuristic world might evolve into in another 30 years. It’s not a premonition of our own future, but the imagined future of Scott’s distinctly ‘80s, brutalist Los Angeles. This complicated timeline, combined with the film’s cold, noir tone and its cyborg protagonist, can put the film at arm’s length, which perhaps contributed to the film’s disappointing box office returns. But if the viewer can take the leap and suspend disbelief, its rewards are abundant."
2. Call Me By Your Name
I've never seen a film that so accurately captured how I felt about love as a teenager. This finally felt like a gay film romance that, in terms of quality, can sit up there with the great film love stories (most of which have been very straight and very white). I see a lot of people comparing this to Moonlight, and I understand why - a major, gay theme film following a Best Picture winner a year later, but now lily-white - but I would caution against that. Moonlight is, without a doubt, the better and more important film in that comparison. It also felt like more than a love story to me, though it had a really good one in it, whereas Call Me By Your Name was really focused in on first love for me. But - and I'd love to discuss this and hope to write about it further - I don't want to pit queer movies against one another. We need more of them. I'm just so happy they both exist.
This was the movie I needed at this point in my life. A celebration of family - both living and dead - as well as a celebration of music and memory. I laughed, I cried, and then I cried some more. The way that Pixar manages to capture universality through specific, and in this case, culturally focused storytelling, is just astonishing.
4. Get Out
Read my original review here , but know that my love of this movie only grew after a second viewing. It is smart, funny, and scary, and it is also the kind of film that we need more of. Jordan Peele must be one of the very smartest filmmakers out there, as he brilliantly referenced so many other films while creating something completely original.
5. Wonder Woman
This is the superhero movie we needed! Wonder Woman's big, bright heart was a ray of sunshine in a genre that has been becoming increasingly dark and drab. I loved how female-forward the entire film was. You could really feel Patty Jenkins' brilliant eye behind the camera and she followed Wonder Woman out onto the battlefield. And she allowed Wonder Woman to believe in humanity and believe in herself. So often, male heroes in film are allowed to have superhuman self-belief while even the strongest of heroines are subjected to plots revolving around romance, motherhood, or some kind of crippling crisis of self. Wonder Woman is confident, focused, and allowed to be both mentally and physically strong.
6. God's Own Country
Not enough people saw this beautiful romance (read my review here). Set in the Welsh countryside, it revolves around a young gay farmer who is destined to inherit his family's farm and a Romanian farmhand who comes to help out during lambing season. Comparisons will inevitably be made to Brokeback Mountain, but this isn't a tragedy. It's an all-out romance, and one that doesn't pull any punches when it comes to showing the physical side of that romance.
7. The Shape of Water
I just loved this movie so much. It's a simple story (yes, even though it's about a mute woman and a fish monster), but that simplicity allows the visuals, the music, and - most importantly - the exceptional cast to shine. And that ending! What an ending.
8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This is what high quality blockbuster filmmaking should look like. I know that many were disappointed that it didn't meet their expectations, but for me that was the wonderful part about this movie. So many things happened that genuinely surprised me. Yes, I wanted more Rey and I wanted a definitive Poe/Finn romance, but I know there will be more of both in Episode 9.
Here's what I wrote about it for Spectrum Culture: "In this age of copycat sequels and insanely faithful remakes and adaptations, director Rian Johnson has done the impossible: he’s made an entry in film’s most famous universe that is surprising, fresh and melancholy. The long anticipated return of original trilogy goodie-two-shoes Luke Skywalker is tinged with darkness, regret and even malice, while his ever-spritely sister Leia (dearly departed Carrie Fisher, perfect in her final role) finally appears tired of fighting the endless battle against evil. And none of the plucky new trio returning from 2015’s excellent The Force Awakens have the expected heroic arcs we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. New trilogy nucleus Rey is deeply connected to bad boy Kylo Ren while sidekick Finn faces down interstellar capitalism and flyboy Poe is firmly put in his place by Leia’s second-in-command Holdo (Laura Dern, making the absolute most of limited screen time). Some fans complain about this film’s quick resolutions to several of The Force Awakens’ biggest mysteries. Yet by answering the question of Rey’s parentage and cutting big bad Supreme Leader Snoke out of the picture, Johnson makes this Star Wars, and these characters, his own. In Johnson’s galaxy far, far away, Daisy Ridley’s compelling Rey is more than a Luke re-tread: she’s a hero because she can see the good in people, not because of the good people see in her. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a more complicated villain than Darth Vader was because we’re allowed to hope that he can still be saved. In addition to stunning new planets, space beasties (crystal foxes! Porgs!), characters (Rose Tico!) and welcome, surprising returns from many old favorites, this is one of the best Star Wars films and one of the best films of the year."
9. A Dark Song
Go watch this woefully underrated and underseen gem right now. Watch it with the lights off and your expectations shoved in the cupboard. It's scary, devastating, but also weirdly, wonderfully hopeful. You can read my review here, though I would recommend watching it without knowing anything. I love it more now after months of thinking about it.
You can read my review here. This is a perfectly-made movie, and my only criticism at the time of my first viewing was that it was almost too perfect. I had director/co-writer Dee Rees' excellent debut Pariah on my mind, and I wanted her to add a bit of that film's sensibility to Mudbound. Now that I've had more time to reflect, what stuck with me about this movie was the way it shines a light on under-told history while still focusing on its characters. It is historical, and strongly so, but before that it is a tale of friendship and family.
10 (tie). Dunkirk
If Mudbound is a perfectly made war-time movie on a slim budget, Dunkirk is a perfectly made war-time movie on a giant budget. I know some war buffs will go wild for the story, but what got me was the sheer beauty of the cinematography, the ominous score, and the breathless tension that never once lets up.
Honorable Mention: Lady Bird, Girls Trip, Rough Night, mother!, Ghost Story, BPM, A Fantastic Woman, Faces Places, Logan, Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Ornithologist, Battle of the Sexes
Underrated or Underseen
1. God's Own Country
2. A Dark Song
3. Rough Night
5. Most Beautiful Island
1. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
2. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer,, Call Me By Your Name
3. Robin Wright, Wonder Woman and Blade Runner 2049
4. Josh O'Connor and Alec Secareanu, God's Own Country
5. Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, A Dark Song
6. Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman
7. Daniela Vega, A Fantastic Woman
8. Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats
9. Paul Hamy, The Ornithologist
10. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
10 (tie). Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
1. Get Out
2. Shape of Water
3. Blade Runner 2049
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Lady Bird
1. The Last Scene, The Shape of Water
2. First Kiss, Call Me By Your Name
3 (tie). The Land of the Dead, Coco
3 (tie). Remember Me, Coco
4. Deer Head, Get Out
5. Vice Admiral Holdo's Big Moment, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
6. Leia's Weird Space Resurrection, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
7. The Last Scene, A Dark Song
8. Lambing Season, God's Own Country
9 (tie). Grapefruit!, Girls Trip
9 (tie). Absinthe, Girls Trip
9 (tie). Zipline, Girls Trip
10. The Pie, Ghost Story
11. Lesbian Love Hair Cut, Battle of the Sexes
Other Favorite Things
Best Gay Movie: Call Me By Your Name
Sexiest Gay Movie: God's Own Country
Hottest Gay Character: Fernando (Paul Hamy), The Ornithologist
Weirdest Movie (tie): mother! and The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Scariest Movie: A Dark Song
Best Music: Coco
Best Musical Score: Dunkirk
Best Cinematography (Big Budget): Blade Runner 2049
Best Cinematography (Smaller Budget): Mudbound
Best Cinematography (Low Budget): God's Own Country
Sorry I've been a bit lax on updates - I started studying towards my PhD in September and in November I became a new dad!
Anyways, I was thrilled to have my piece "What Used to Be Caracas" picked by JUNOT DIAZ to be a part of the Boston Review's "Global Dystopias" issue. Check that out here: https://ezsubscription.com/brv/store/products/5f8e22d78c77536b6d8011ac056ccf33
And my brother and I were lucky enough to have our piece "Ball" published over at Here Comes Everyone, so check that out: http://herecomeseveryone.me/ball-by-mike-and-casey-mcclelland/
The first reviews of my book Gay Zoo Day are coming in! Here are some excerpts:
From After Happy Hour Review:
"We have the thoroughly entertaining grab bag of fiction that moves seamlessly from spy thriller to ghost story to hard-boiled noir and soft sci-fi. The protagonists in all stories are gay, but the end result is more than a simple orientation change. How does the story of a two-fisted 1930s adventurer pilot change when it ain’t the dames he’s interested in, so to speak? How does the budding romance between two astronauts in the near-future adjust along with their orientation? Genre fiction relies on its clichés to provide readers with a familiar experience, and McClelland is all too happy to exploit them...Impressive stuff, to put it mildly."
From Reviews by Amos Lassen:
"There have been many short stories with gay and lesbian characters and with gay and lesbian settings. What there has not been are literary LGBT short stories but there are now with this collection. In this one book, Mike McClelland has raised the bar. His stories have depth and subtexts and are really like reading short novels."
I had a great interview last week with Jeremy Rodriguez from Philadelphia Gay News - read it here: http://www.epgn.com/special-editions/215-summer-fun-2017/12247-pa-native-pens-first-short-story-collection
I was also interviewed by Dallas Duncan at The Georgia Voice last month: https://thegavoice.com/gay-georgia-author-release-first-literary-work-fall/
I'm thrilled to have my essay "Gay Rapunzel" in Hofstra Windmill's new Identity Issue. Read it here: https://hofstrawindmill.com/identity-17-nonfiction-gay-rapunzel/
Hi folks! Excited to share that my story "Olive Urchin" is in the newest issue of Blinders Literary Journal. Read it here: http://www.blindersjournal.org/issue%20five/MikeMcClelland.html
Excited to share this scary, fairy-tale-inspired piece by my brother Casey and I: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-unreal/fiction-foul-fairlie
This weekend I had a the chance to read at the legendary Bluestockings in New York City and also to attend at craft intensive with the amazing Naomi Jackson (who wrote the stunning The Star Side of Bird Hill) through Tin House Magazine.
Big news coming on the work front that I can't share yet, but I can share some new reviews of books and movies over at Spectrum Culture (particularly Moonlight - see it NOW). I've also got a story coming this month over at Blinder's that I will share as soon as it is up.
<3 <3 <3
Hi friends! Brain Mill Press has beautifully presented my essay "I Will Make Beautiful Memories" as a part of their "Makers on Making" series. Check it out here: http://www.brainmillpress.com/mikemcclelland/voices/makers-on-making/will-make-beautiful-memories/
Just found out that my story "Gay Zoo Day" will be featured in the fifth volume of ImageOutWrite (order it here sometime next month: http://www.imageout.org/imageoutwrite.php). I'm thrilled. And I've got a few new reviews - a few movies and a book - up over at spectrumculture.com!
I've got two new pieces up on Spectrum Culture. The first is a revisit of one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, Shadow of a Doubt. Read that here.
The second is a part of Spectrum Culture's "20 Best Actors of All Time" feature. I wrote a piece on number 18, the lovely Tom Hanks. Read that here.
Thanks so much!
So, first off - I've got a feature up on Spectrum Culture about Steven Soderbergh's underrated 1999 film The Limey. Read that here: http://spectrumculture.com/2016/07/28/oeuvre-soderbergh-limey/. It's a great film (and short - only 87 minutes) so you should definitely do yourself a favor and see it.
Second, my brother and I have one of our pieces going into one of my absolute favorite journals - Queen Mob's Teahouse. Casey created a beautiful painting that served as inspiration for my story about an American runner having an intense holiday stay at a colleague's beach home in South Africa. I'll put a link up once it is out (which will be in September).
Thanks for the love and support.
I've got lots of new writing out there in the universe. First off some movie reviews - if you're a fan of bad movies, you're going to want to check out Intruder (http://spectrumculture.com/2016/06/28/intruder/). If you like good movies (particularly good foreign movies and good World War II movies), then you need to see The Innocents (http://spectrumculture.com/2016/07/06/the-innocents/).
Next up, I've got an essay about scrapbooking (yes, you read that right - scrapbooking) that's forthcoming from Brain Mill Press. I love writing essays but don't get to do it nearly enough, so this was a real treat and I'm so excited the folks at Brain Mill picked it up!
My brother Casey and I have two of our "painted stories" being published by fabulous new online journals - Slink Chunk Press and Intrinsick. I'll put links up as soon as they are online and then everyone must please share them all over the Internet.
And finally, my story Olive Urchin, a retelling of Oliver Twist set in Hong Kong, is going to be published by Blinders Literary Journal.
Thanks so much for all of the love and support!
Hi friends! I've got two new movie reviews up on Spectrum Culture. The first is of Tikkun, a strange, creepy, black & white art film about the Hasidic community in Jerusalem (http://spectrumculture.com/2016/06/15/tikkun/). The second is for Tickled, a documentary about "competitive endurance tickling" which sounds funny, and is, but the film is also a compelling thriller that looks at cyberbullying and homophobia (http://spectrumculture.com/2016/06/19/tickled/). Have a read and let me know if you watch them!
I have another film review up, in this case it's the wonderful Presenting Princess Shaw for Spectrum Culture. To quote myself, "It is the most compelling, heart-swelling and utterly current version of the A Star is Born formula that you could ever hope to see." http://spectrumculture.com/2016/05/30/presenting-princess-shaw/