Rob Edelman: Best “Pre-Fall” Films

Dec 18, 2017

For a year that began with endless new film releases that were outright clunkers, quite a few first-rate titles did end up arriving in movie houses prior to the fall movie season and the countless Academy Award contenders that debut annually at the Toronto, Venice, and Telluride film festivals. Indeed, the worthy 2017 films may be divided into two categories: those that came out before early September; and those that came out since early September.

By now, those titles in the first category have made their way to home entertainment. They include GET OUT, a horror film which is, more importantly, a powerful must-see portrait of racism American-style and racism in the era of Donald Trump. As its scenario plays itself out, there is one message: In 2017, even the most accommodating Caucasian Americans just may not be trusted. With this in mind, the title GET OUT appears to be a message to black Americans, at least from a certain segment of white America. That message to black America is not just “get out” but “get out and stay out.” And in our age of Donald Trump, this point relates not just to black Americans but to Latinos, and women, and anyone else who is not a Caucasian male.

Next comes DETROIT, which is set during the summer of 1967, when racial tensions were intensifying across the U.S. DETROIT is an exceptional film, a searing fact-based tale of an inner-city uprising in the title locale and what happens when a report of gunfire results in a brutal interrogation of guests at the Algiers Motel. The story told in DETROIT may be a half-century old. Yet while watching it unfold, one only can ask: Is the abuse of power on the part of the authorities in the 1960s in any way different from what allegedly is occurring with regularity in the 21st century? One answer may be found in the plotline of GET OUT.

Then there is THE BIG SICK, a deservedly acclaimed comedy that is based on the real-life relationship and culture clash between Pakistani-born Chicago-based comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who plays himself, and his future wife, Emily Gordon, played by Zoe Kazan. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail must force himself to face her feisty parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both of whom are a pleasure to watch.

The next film is WIND RIVER, which is anything but a by-the-numbers thriller. It is a chilling tale, told with care and precision. The setting is desolate, wintry Wyoming and the central character is a fish and wildlife tracker, played by Jeremy Renner, who comes upon the corpse of a young Native American woman. Plus, this discovery is connected to his own deeply personal tragedy. To be sure, WIND RIVER does not shy away from violent images but, here, they are most appropriate and are essential to the storytelling.

Let me now cite two titles. They are BABY DRIVER and WONDER WOMAN. Both may be vastly different in their settings and storytelling, but they are linked in that they are slickly made, for maximum mass appeal. And what sets them apart is that they feature mind-stretching storytelling, characters who have depth and are easily-relatable. Happily, BABY DRIVER and WONDER WOMAN are proof-positive that not all high-end films depend solely on by-the-numbers special effects, mindless one-note characters, faster-than-the-speed-of-light editing, and thoughtless screenwriting.

A hearty hooray to the creators of BABY DRIVER and WONDER WOMAN. And finally, there is DUNKIRK. More on this clever, stirring film at a later date...

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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