“Call Me by Your Name”: A Friendship to Remember

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Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) develop a beautiful friendship in Call Me by Your Name. (Source: Taste of Cinema)

Movies containing gay relationships are a mixed bag. If the movies handle the subject with care (i.e. Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight), they result in being poignant movies. If the subject is being exploited, they tend to be insensitive, disgraceful, and have the characters being portrayed as stereotypes. Only a few great filmmakers would put so much authenticity into their direction and their character development.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino (who is gay) is known for casting Tilda Swinton in his movies. Ten years after his feature debut, The Protagonists (1999), he became a household name when he directed the 2009 film I Am Love, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival of that year. A Bigger Splash (2016) was a good-ol’ time being around four people spending vacation in Sicily, from its gorgeous scenery to the erotic, sensual nature of its characters. Recently, he took charge in expanding the scary world of the Suspiria remake, by making it an hour longer than its original. However, it didn’t receive a warm reception, compared to his previous films. He would join screenwriter James Ivory to give his native country a brand new light in his 2017 film, based on a novel by Andre Aciman.

Nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture (with Ivory winning Best Adapted Screenplay), Call Me by Your Name is more than just a gay love story. It’s a coming-of-age story about the struggles of identifying oneself. It makes us wonder why we don’t get movies like this.

It’s the summer of 1983. 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is spending a quiet summer with his parents (Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg) in a village in Northern Italy. He spends most of his time reading books and listening/transcribing classical music. Unlike Chiron in Moonlight, Elio is living in his own perfect world, but he is trying to come to terms with his adolescence.

One day, he meets a ravishingly handsome college student from New England named Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is 24 years old. He arrives in Italy to assist Elio’s father, a professor of archaeology, with his paperwork. Although he is in a relationship with a French girl named Marzia (Esther Garrel), Elio becomes increasingly attracted to Oliver each day. They spend the first act teasing and flirting with each other until their friendship begins to change their lives forever.

Every single shot in this movie is nothing short of breathtaking; you can smell the grass as Elio and Oliver ride their bikes through the countryside or as they lie down to get some sun after having a quick swim. There’s a scene where Elio plays a piece of music by Bach (in three different versions) on the piano for Oliver. Kudos to Guadagnino’s smooth direction and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s stunning cinematography, the camera never cuts after each version he plays. With the focus going back-and-forth between Elio’s piano-playing and Oliver’s reactions, it gives the viewer the impression that sparks are about to fly.

The age-gap between the main characters might throw viewers off a bit. However, the age of consent in Italy was–and still is–14. The movie never suggests anything about molestation. The story about first love and desire contains a mature protagonist at its center, who is aware of his own surroundings and loves to explore. Hell, even his parents never look down his son, and they are always there for him whenever he needs a shoulder a cry on. The French story, in which the mother reads in one scene, asks the question, “Is it better to speak, or to die?”

It does take a lot of time knowing our star-crossed lovers, but everything about the movie works, due to–most importantly–the astounding performances by Chalamet and Hammer. I cannot imagine a perfect pair than these two great actors, who got along so well before, during and after making the movie. Their emotions are so raw, it makes it feel as if they are portraying actual people who love each other and embark on one helluva journey. After gaining indie stardom in Miss Stevens and Lady Bird, Chalamet is simply perfect as Elio, who, at first, has doubts about Oliver, particularly when he asks his parents if it’s arrogant whenever he says “Later”. Then, Elio puts Oliver’s red shorts around his head; foreshadowing their lust for one another.

He finds out they have one thing in common: they’re Jewish. One day, he sees Oliver wearing a necklace with the Star of David pendant. It begins to show that Oliver is not ashamed of who he truly is. Elio tells him that he and his family are only “Jews of discretion.” Eventually, we see Elio wear the exact same necklace and him celebrating Hanukkah with his parents. He shares the same feelings Oliver has. They become so attracted by each other’s statuesque appearances (notice the images of Ancient Greece) the same way their secrecy–with his religious beliefs and Oliver’s sexuality–brings the two together. When they walk around a World War I statue (representing a barrier for the two lovebirds), it becomes clear how hard it would be for them to leave each other’s side.

In one scene, Elio is eating a peach in the attic (one of his private hideouts). He takes a good look at the fruit. And then, he starts masturbating with it. Minutes later, Oliver shows up to see what his friend has been up to. Oliver sees the peach, and, playfully, tries to consume it, despite Elio’s denial. As strange as the scene is, it’s also hard not to shed a tear over Elio’s feelings. The peach symbolizes the desired intimacy between Elio and Oliver.

While the performances are superb, it shocks me, to this day, how Stuhlbarg hardly received any award recognition. Particularly his monologue near the end is enough to make cold-hearted people weep. He tells his son he would never have what he and Oliver had. “How you live your life is your business,” he says. “Just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out. And, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.” The writing by Ivory is simply marvelous!

Call Me by Your Name is one of the most beautiful love stories ever captured on film. Thankfully, everyone will get to see more of how the relationship between Elio and Oliver has evolved in a sequel coming in 2020, following the tradition of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. It will capture the era where HIV/AIDS is becoming more perceptible. Who knows if it will be as powerful as its predecessor, but Guadagnino sums up this movie perfectly, in an interview with The Guardian: “[This movie] encompasses what I’ve found striking about life: that you can be a better person, and you can build a bridge to go and meet new people instead of confining yourself within your own boundaries.”

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Top 15 Best Movies of 2017

Finally! Onto the good stuff!

As I mentioned before, I decided to hold off on my list of the best movies of the year for a bit to catch up on some movies that I have yet to see. I can’t recall a more memorable year for film than 2017! From the breathtaking to the original to the haunting to the downright powerful, these are only several words on how I can describe these fifteen great movies on my list. Let’s get started!

Honorable Mentions: Coco, Darkest Hour, The Florida Project, Get Out, A Ghost Story, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, I Am Heath Ledger, John Wick: Chapter Two, Logan, Logan Lucky, The Lost City of Z, Maudie, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Only the Brave, The Post, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Stronger, Wind River, Wonder Woman

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(Source: Vulture)

15. It – Starting off the list is the long-waited second adaptation of Stephen King’s 1,000+ page epic. Andy Muschietti’s first of two movies follows seven kids teaming up to take down Pennywise the Clown (a wicked terrifying Bill Skarsgard). This movie brought together some of the most talented child actors working today, including St. Vincent’s Jaeden Lieberher and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard (laugh-out-loud hilarious as the trashmouth Richie). While a lot of people may not think this version of It is not entirely scary, I found it to be a little more than just scary. This is a funny, intense, graphic, and downright devastating coming-of-age story about the loss of innocence. I have a bad feeling the sequel is going to suck, but I’m glad I went to see this one!

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(Source: Billboard)

14. Baby DriverFresh from finishing his Cornetto trilogy with 2013’s The World’s End, Edgar Wright’s next feature is more personal. Not only did he direct Baby Driver, he–and only he–also wrote the screenplay. This throws every Fast and Furious movie out of the water! With Ansel Elgort leading a talented cast, this is fast-paced, slick, and darkly-funny action film featuring some of the best action and the best soundtrack of the year. It also contains perhaps the coolest warehouse shootout I’ve ever seen!

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(Source: Esquire)

13. Thor: Ragnarok After the disappointment of Thor: The Dark World, the MCU has improved quite a bit. I wish Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) would direct every film in the MCU. His direction and sense of humor has put into great use here. It’s a great opportunity for him to film in his New Zealand homeland, like Peter Jackson did with his Lord of the Rings franchise. While it may have emotional moments here and there, Thor: Ragnarok is a blast from start to finish. No one can play Thor better than Chris Hemsworth. Thumbs up for its amazing use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”!

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(Source: Coming-Soon.net)

12. DetroitIt’s a shame this movie didn’t get the attention it deserved. Kathryn Bigelow’s portrayal of the 1967 Detroit riots is as heavy-handed as it is powerful. It focuses on the incident at the Algiers Motel where three black men were killed and nine others injured. With Mark Boal’s brilliant screenplay, fantastic performances by Anthony Mackie, a suave John Boyega, and a sinister Will Poulter, and effective use of the handheld camerawork, Detroit keeps you on the edge of your seat.

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(Source: The Playlist)

11. The Big SickIf you’re sick and tired of those cliched rom-coms (like myself), The Big Sick will help you forget about them. This movie is based on a true story about Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani living in Chicago, who falls for a woman who goes into a coma. It’s funny as it is heart-wrenching. The 9/11 scene is nothing short of marvelous writing! Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan make a cute couple. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are also great as the girl’s parents. I would be bummed if Nanjiani doesn’t earn an Oscar nomination as a fictional version of himself who wants to marry for love, not because of his culture. Easily one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen.

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(Source: IndieWire)

10. Mudbound – After a few mishaps, this is the first Netflix original movie I actually loved! The movie follows two families–one black, one white–as they face tensions in the South during World War II. This is a gritty yet moving picture with Carey Mulligan leading an excellent ensemble and tackles the topics of racism and PTSD. Definitely a Netflix movie I’ll watch for the rest of my life.

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(Source: The Atlantic)

9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Who knew a British filmmaker like Martin McDonagh would direct a future all-American classic? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has the perfect blend of dark comedy and devastating drama. I hope Frances McDormand wins the Oscar for her performance as a mother fighting for justice and vengeance. Woody Harrelson and the underrated Sam Rockwell give some of the best performance of their careers as the two authorities who get in her way. Great stuff!

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(Source: Vice)

8. KediThis is the best (and only) documentary I’ve seen from last year. It follows the lives of seven out of thousands of stray cats roaming the streets of Istanbul, Turkey’s capital city. I love how positive the residents are about these wonderful creatures. Ranging from a bakery worker using his tips for vet visits to a middle-aged man explaining how cats helped him recover from a nervous breakdown. Istanbul native Ceyda Torun creates a gorgeous ode to her “cat metropolis” and reminding how they are one-of-a-kind animals. In the beginning of the movie, one of the residents says, “Without cats, Istanbul would lose part of its soul.” Cat lovers and animals will certainly love this documentary!

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(Source: IndieWire)

7. Blade Runner 204935 years after the original Blade Runner, Ridley Scott returns to his sci-fi world as a producer. Denis Villeneuve takes his place as director to expand the gritty future. Ryan Gosling is no stranger for playing dark, violent characters with subtle emotions. Along with a massive cast, he does a wonderful job as Officer K, the new cop in the LAPD assigning to take down old replicants. Combining Roger Deakins’ impressive cinematography and thought-provoking ideas, Blade Runner 2049 is slightly better than the original. I’m glad Harrison Ford returned as Officer Deckard.

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(Source: IMDb)

6. Phantom ThreadLegendary actor Daniel Day-Lewis teams up with Paul Thomas Anderson for the first time since There Will Be Blood. Phantom Thread is perhaps Day-Lewis’ last film before his retirement. I hope he decides to return to acting one day. From My Left Foot to Last of the Mohicans to Lincoln, he has had an impressive filmography. In this movie, he delivers one of the best performances of his career as Reynolds Woodcock, London’s most successful fashion designer during the 1950s (some of the dresses he makes takes your breath away!). One day, he falls in love with a woman named Alma (the lovely Vicky Krieps). Things get real intense. Through PTA’s marvelous direction, writing, and cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s breathtaking score, there is so much beauty and suspense that Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of! Surprisingly enough, Phantom Thread is also pretty damn funny!

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(Source: Hollywood Reporter)

5. War for the Planet of the ApesWhen Matt Reeves took over to direct Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it exceeded everybody’s expectations. While Rise was a great set-up, Dawn took the beloved sci-fi franchise to new heights! With War, he finished one of the best trilogies of all-time! Through the motion capture, Andy Serkis’ Caesar makes a kick-ass hero! Newcomers including Woody Harrelson’s Colonel (paying tribute to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now) and Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape provide enough humanity this gritty, action-packed, emotional conclusion. I’m hoping for more Planet of the Apes movies in the future.

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(Source: Washington Post)

4. DunkirkAfter the sap-fest known as Interstellar, Christopher Nolan goes back to an important time in history. The Dunkirk evacuation (a.k.a. Operation Dynamo) of 1940; where 300,000 troops from Britain, Canada, Belgium, and France were rescued off the coast of Northern France surrounded by the Germans. Dunkirk might not be an easy movie to follow. It follows three different storylines in non-linear fashion–one on the beach; taken place over the course of one week, the other out to sea; taken place over the course of one day, the last in the air; taken over the course of one hour. Trust me, I had to see it twice in theaters in order to place the pieces of the film’s timeline together.

Nevertheless, this movie pinned me to my seat with its high tension, historical accuracy and authenticity, refreshing use of practical effects (rare in summer blockbusters nowadays), Hans Zimmer’s eerie score, and powerful performances by Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, and Harry Styles (who never breaks into song and dance). Peter Travers went as far to call Dunkirk “the greatest war movie ever made”. It sure is one hell of an experience!

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(Source: The Atlantic)

3. Lady Bird – This is perhaps the best directorial debut in recent memory. Known for collaborating with director Noah Baumbach in Frances Ha and Mistress America, the delightfully quirky Greta Gerwig makes a film based on her early life in Sacramento. Saoirse Ronan gives yet another miraculous performance as Lady Bird, a senior at an all-girl Catholic high school. And we follow her throughout her school year set a year after 9/11, joining in the school plays, having two boyfriends, and attempting to get accepted at a college in New York. Most importantly,  she wants to be loved by her hard-working mother (a spectacular Laurie Metcalf). The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the reasons why this coming-of-age story as hilarious as it is poignant. Gerwig has literally hit home with Lady Bird. Finger crossed that she directs more great movies in the near future.

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(Source: Vox)

2. The Shape of Water – It’s hard not to appreciate the vision of Guillermo del Toro’s films. From Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak to his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. His new film, The Shape of Water, is a fairy tale, love story, Cold War thriller, and a tribute to cinema all wrapped into one. Sally Hawkins is a revelation as Eliza, the mute janitor who develops an attraction with Doug Jones’ Amphibian Man (a nod to the Creature from the Black Lagoon). This bizarre fantasy has enough of everything to carry through–humor, violence, beauty, and suspense. With an Oscar-worthy score by the great Alexandre Desplat and a gifted supporting cast including Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and a deliciously evil Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water is most certainly likely this will take home the big prize at this year’s Oscars. However, this is not my favorite movie from 2017.

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(Source: Variety)

1. Call Me by Your Name – I have been waiting for Call Me by Your Name ever since it premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. While I didn’t have the time to read André Aciman’s novel before seeing the movie, I became anxious to see what the praise was about. From its first image, I have never seen a more beautiful romance in my entire life! Through Luca Guadagnino’s spectacular direction and James Ivory’s astounding screenplay, this is less of a gay love story than a coming-of-age story. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are downright magical as Elio and Oliver, the two lovebirds who decide to spend the long summer together in northern Italy. While this movie can be compared to last year’s Oscar winner Moonlight, these movies are different in their own right.

As a 17-year-old, Elio–the main character–is living a happy life with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) in his Italian country house. He loves his books and music. However, he’s struggling to come to terms with his identity. Everything changes when the handsome Oliver visits his family for the summer as an intern. Throughout the first hour, they begin teasing and flirting with each other until they develop a friendship unlike any other. This is a summer they will never forget. Kudos to marvelous chemistry between the two, it’s hard not to smile whenever these two are together. It’s impossible not to get teary-eyed during father’s monologue near the end of the movie. Call Me by Your Name is one of these movies I’ll watch for the rest of my life!

Guadagnino said he might direct sequels to this movie; like Richard Linklater did with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. I don’t see why it won’t happen. I would love to see how Elio and Oliver evolve as they get older!

It’s hard to believe this decade is almost over! Only two more years to go until I compile a list of the top 100 best and worst movies of the decade…I guess it’s about that time to get started on that.

Anyway–I hope you enjoyed reading about my picks of the best and worst movies from this past year as I did writing about them. Please feel free to leave a comment about what your favorite movies of the year are. Here’s to another great year for film in 2018!