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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2017 Year-End Recap: The Top Ten Films of 2017


Here is my final list of the Top Ten films for 2017, which can also be found in a slightly altered format over at Why So Blu (it features tons of Easter Eggs). This was a lot of work, but plenty of fun as I was able to write up a few great posts that led to this final list of excellent films from 2017. I hope everyone reads about what I have laid out here and hopefully seeks out a number of these films and more for themselves, as there is plenty to discover, in addition to the films many may have already seen. Read through this list and, of course, go back and check out the others. Feel free to comment and most of all - Enjoy! (Review links in each summary)



“Was he slow?”
The only thing more exciting than seeing Baby Driver was seeing the film race past expectations and finally give director/writer Edgar Wright a legitimate hit. Of course, my opinion is what matters to me most, but this spectacular car chase musical was apparently not destined to become merely a cult favorite. Instead, audiences embraced the wild ride that is this cool flick full of killer tracks. Ansel Elgort leads a strong cast of colorful characters, and the action has a unique way of delivering the goods. Thanks to brilliant editing and sound design to go along with the many practical car stunts, there’s an incredibly enjoyable experience to be had with this slick action movie.


“Don’t be confused; it’s just gonna make it worse for me.”
This visceral thriller with a darkly humorous edge was a great one to catch up with during the late summer, and it’s stuck with me. Robert Pattinson gives one of his two tremendous performances from this year (see The Lost City of Z) as a street-wise crook who gets in over his head. Writer/directors Ben and Josh Safdie place Pattinson into a neon odyssey, as we navigate the alien world of Queens, New York after midnight and there are all sorts of twists and turns to admire. The film never slows down and finds plenty of ways to ramp up the desperation of the characters, all the for the sake of a highly engrossing film.


“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
It may not be uncommon to see celebrated coming-of-age stories about teenagers grappling with life, their parents, and school, but this one delivers. Greta Gerwig’s solo directing debut does so much in a small amount of time that special acknowledgment must go to her editor. The film has the feel of a rapid-fire screwball comedy, but that does not at all take away from the emotional beats that come with the wonderful moments of humor scattered throughout. Saoirse Ronan is terrific in the lead role, but Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts are fantastic in their supporting roles as her parents. Lady Bird works as a movie you are happy to smile throughout, as it has ups and downs for the characters, but always provides a warm feeling of satisfaction.


“Make them go!”
To find good companions for this film one has to go back in time to be with Luis Buñuel or Roman Polanski in his prime because there is nothing like mother! that is currently making its way to theaters in wide release. That is enough to give Darren Aronofsky some edge over his contemporaries, but what makes the film even better is how great all of the elements of it indeed are. It’s not just a random madhouse of a movie, it’s one with fantastic performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, both walking some very tricky lines as far as how to navigate these roles. From a filmmaking perspective, this is a tremendous accomplishment, given how involved things become (to say the least), as the nature of the house shifts from a paradise to a nightmare. Regardless of what message you take away from the film’s meaning, or even if you found no value in the experience, it’s more ambitious and creative than just about anything else released on 2,000 screens. That’s the sort of surreal horror I can get behind.


“If I could, I would have voted for Obama for a third term.”
I never want to visit the sunken place, but I have been happy to revisit Get Out on multiple occasions. Writer/director Jordan Peele’s social thriller is a fantastic debut feature that will be earning him plenty of awards recognition in the months to come, along with a pass to do what he wants. He’s earned it, as this twisted take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is the sort of horror film that places so much racial tension on display without taking the easy route. Rather than dig into the usual culprits, the film heads in another direction to play into the awkward sense of humor it so brilliantly realizes, while slowly building suspense out of its setup as well. It doesn’t hurt to see excellent performances from all involved, including a star-making turn from Daniel Kaluuya and great support from Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Lakeith Stanfield, Betty Gabriel and Lil Rel Howery. Timely and well-crafted, the micro-budgeted Get Out was a huge success for a good reason.


“I’m just gonna assume you’re all criminals.”
While Get Out was designed as a genre thriller that could incorporate a racial agenda into its story, Detroit dove headfirst into dramatic territory, without the sheen of a high concept to make it more palatable. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have once again put together an intense drama, this time using the facts surrounding the 1967 Detroit riots and a particular incident centered around people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not an easy film to watch, and the extended middle section is very much a horror film that takes no easy ways out. The committed performances make emotions register all the more clearly, and the filmmaking style certainly does a lot to balance the shock value with our sense of empathy for the victims. The idea that racism is a horrible thing may seem obvious, but here’s a film that doesn’t pull punches, provides a lot of talented people the chance to shine, and can surely start a conversation among audiences, given a chance.


“We are what they grow beyond.”
I had a lot of fun with The Force Awakens, but here is a Star Wars film that feels challenging and ambitious in the ways you hope for when it comes to science fiction, as well as goofy space operas. Writer/director Rian Johnson had some big ideas for how this franchise needed to evolve to become more than just large-scale spectacle with guaranteed box office returns and man did he deliver. I’ve never been more interested in the ways of the Force than I have been with this movie and it’s thanks to his handling of new and old characters that I was able to get behind the struggles that kind of power presents. Add to that exciting new worlds, fantastic cinematography, great action, a terrific score and so much more to make an incredible film that satisfied me as a Star Wars fan, a movie fan, and a person excited to see something new on the big screen.


“You can practically see it from here.”
Christopher Nolan took the setting for a war movie and made an intense thriller. Much like Mad Max: Fury Road, the film functions as one huge action sequence that never stops, and there is plenty to admire in that sort of effort. It’s made all the better thanks to his work as an artist who knows how to paint on a huge canvas to tell an affecting story. Subverting various tropes, offering a bare minimum of dialogue and letting the editing do some heavy-lifting, here’s an incredible effort that has very little in common with other war films and it’s still every bit as stirring as one’s merely aspiring to show good triumphing over evil. And, of course, this movie is the technical marvel you’d expect from the man who has continued to find innovative uses for an amazing IMAX experience. While I’ve been continually pleased with how the film plays at home, the experience of seeing a 70mm IMAX experience only makes me wonder what Nolan could possibly do next to continue showing audiences why going to the movies can be a special experience.


“Don’t say ‘what,’ Dixon, when she comes in calling you a fuckhead.”
Not every year will gift me with a new film from Tarantino or the Coen Brothers, but I’ll be happy to accept the latest from Martin McDonagh. His profanity-laden scripts have continually done an exceptional job of wrapping me up with interest in his characters and the plans he has for them in skillfully made dark comedies. This time around he gives Frances McDormand one of the best roles of her career and lets her play right alongside a terrific cast of supporting characters as well, including the great Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. This is a film with anger on its mind, and it does a fine job showing varying perspectives on how actions can have an effect and what it is to attempt to understand as well as forgive. Three Billboards is made all the better for the way it refuses to let anyone off the hook, developing certain characters while still allowing the audience consider just how redeemable they are. There is no right answer, and the film knows as much, but it can also tell a joke or two while getting to its conclusion.


“When he looks at me, he does not know how I am incomplete. He sees me as I am.”
Some filmmakers strive to make the film they consider their masterpiece. Guillermo del Toro has merely delivered his latest masterpiece. Here’s a movie that combines so many of the things the acclaimed director loves and finds a story that perfectly assembles those ideas, themes, and ambitions. It’s a love story and a creature feature, with an eye on the future, politics and being progressive. Top tier performances come from all involved, and the visual language of the film is completely stunning. A brilliant score by Alexandre Desplat ties everything together as an adult fairy tale with plenty of moments of humor, romance, drama, suspense, and quirk. This is brilliant filmmaking, and I’m happy to see it’s not being written off as some obscure pleasure for only the Del Toro super fans to enjoy. It’s resonating with a sizable audience, given the budget, release schedule and subject matter and I’m all for seeing the film rack up as much positive attention as possible. The Shape of Water is my favorite film of the year.

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Films I Missed:

Blade of the Immortal, Crown Heights, Faces Places, Foxtrot, God’s Own Country, Lady Macbeth, Loveless, My Happy Family, A Quiet Passion, The Transfiguration, The Villainess

This brings me to the end. Feel free to check out my blog for favorite movie moments, random film shout-outs, as well as my biggest disappointments, worsts, and films I just didn’t get. Also be sure to check out my list of the best Blu-rays of the year and the best original Criterion Collection covers from this year over at Why So Blu. It’s been a great joy to do these lists and, more importantly, go to the movies and see so many terrific films. I always try to be as open-minded as I can be and it’s great when it pays off, as evidenced by this list of 40 great films. 2018 shows a lot of promise for both huge films and smaller entries, and I can always count on plenty of surprises as well. Let’s see what happens, as there’s plenty of filmmaking ambition out there.

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