My Top 20 of 2017
I had reservations from Day 1. I wondered – especially after so many fits and starts and scraps and odd casting/directing rumors over so many years – if anyone would be able to finally make a film to do the character justice. I was somewhat wary of the final casting of Gal Gadot because I worried that she wouldn’t be able to embody the strength of the character (shame on me – she did, of course, and in spades). I’m ecstatic that my concerns were unfounded. Something I failed to consider is that hers is not just a character of strength, or at least not one only of physical strength. The character’s strength comes in the form of physical will, but also in being a leader of men and women and of choosing love over hate. Patty Jenkins managed to keep hold of the truth of the character in spite of (I’m sure) some concessions which led to some overall “DC-ing” at the end. No matter. The end result was a Wonder Woman fan’s dream.
NY Times Film Critic Manohla Dargis stated it perfectly when she included WW in her Top Ten of 2017 and she wrote: “Wonder Woman reminded me that we bring our entire histories when we watch a movie — our childhood reveries, our adolescent yearnings and adult reservations. I’ve always loved Wonder Woman in all her imperfection, including in the old TV show, and I loved her here because all my adult reservations were no match for this movie.”
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO
I love good acting. The inherent rare ability that it takes to make an audience fully invest in a character, to suspend reality and believe that they are seeing that character on the screen, to move an audience to feel love/anger/sorrow/sympathy/empathy/sex, lies, & videotape blows my mind from time to time. What a treat to get to see total professionals in Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, and Abbie Cornish navigate with total mastery this razor-sharp script. I mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. This is really, really good dark comedy that delves into that gray area so well of what we think we know and how we think we should feel about the things that divide us. Sammy Rockwell deserves the Oscar. Frances McDormand is on the Oscar short-list, too.
Blade Runner 2049
If you didn’t like the first one, it’s unlikely that you’ll like the sequel. Not everyone did. I’m fine with that. But for a fan of the original and/or a fan of good sci-fi, this is sci-fi candy. This is freaking wonderful.
The effort in somehow managing to keep with the tone of the original film(s) this many years later was not lost on me. This could not have been easy for a number of reasons, but someone/everyone seemed to know that getting Harrison Ford to accurately convey an older Deckard by getting him to care enough to use his talent was key. They did, and he did. Clever use of CGI to pull the past to the present sealed that sentiment. I was back in that world, but this time with golden hues, and stark lines, and slick black pools, and cold concrete, and sloppy rain/snow and it was dirty and gritty and cold and wonderful. It was old, and it was new, and it does what good sci-fi always does and makes a statement that taps directly into the zeitgeist of the current social disposition.
Kudos to Robin Wright for her excellent portrayal as Lieutenant Joshi. She is just SO good in everything.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Killing of a Sacred Deer succeeded in every way that mother! failed. This film is dark. Inky jet-black squirmy uncomfortable dark. The darkest of dark satire. From the writer/director of The Lobster (one of my favorite films of the last five years), you get the impression that this guy just gets the insane contradictions and absurdities of humanity by the way he skillfully (and subtly) puts that on the screen. The always underrated Colin Farrell was pitch-perfect in his take on the is-he-a-good-guy-or-isn’t-he surgeon. Nicole Kidman, to no one’s surprise, was pitch-perfect as his long-suffering wife. Barry Keoghan, who plays the is-he-a-psychopath-or-isn’t-he kid perfectly straight down the middle is one to watch after his turns in both this film and Dunkirk this year.
The Phantom Thread
It’s gorgeous and twisted. It’s probably the most relatable film PT Anderson has made since Punch Drunk Love (but it’s still PT Anderson, so it’s gives juuuust the right of amount of discomfort). From a fashion perspective, I was film-drooling all over the costumes and lighting and art direction. They took on a very important role in the backdrop of this rather odd love story. And Lesley Manville as Cyril – one of my favorite character performances of the year.
When I see these types of stories on film, I’m still amazed that this was reality at any time in the history of our country. I can never understand how humans can be so awful to other humans. Dee Rees directed this film with the care and strength it deserved. Incredible performances. Incredible story.
Easily one of the best war films ever made, Christopher Nolan’s multi-layered drama manages to drop the audience directly into every facet of the war, nearly simultaneously. Nolan continues to be a master of story-telling, always in a unique way that lends a different perspective to audiences.
Call Me By Your Name
It’s been awhile since a film like this has been made, and I didn’t realize I had been missing them until I saw Call Me By Your Name. Richly rendered, coming-of-age, romantic, capturing a slice of time and space in the world that will never be replicated (in this case, 1980’s Italy and a way of seeing the world that we will never go back to for better in some ways and for worse in others). Michael Stuhlbarg’s scene as the father relaying to his son the heart-breaking wisdom of growth and becoming one’s true self was an MVP scene this year for an MVP actor.
I’ve never seen such a uniquely effective way to portray abuse in film, and it’s certainly one of the best in any artistic medium that I’ve encountered. What starts off as a Godzilla-like slightly humorous monster mystery quickly evolves into a smart, nuanced, dark, and disturbing portrayal of how abuse affects victims. You need an actor the caliber of Anne Hathaway to pull this off without it appearing cheesy, or worse, underdeveloped, and she makes every scene count.
Wind River is almost old-fashioned in its attention to pace and fundamentals, but the film is better for it. In his third acclaimed script in three years, Taylor Sheridan has provided the kind of story for the screen that must play out at its own pace, allowing the narrative to uncurl slowly from its tight coil. I love these kinds of films – where we get to know the characters in small increments instead of chunks, letting the actors do the work of furthering the story through their characters. A top-notch cast plays the script like an instrument, allowing for all range of emotion to shine through the measured performances.
THE REST OF THE BEST
Ghost Story – I had a hard time not including this in the top 10. Very special film about life and loss.
Lady Bird – You hope to leave a movie theater feeling this good. Greta Gerwig nailed that very particular moment in life when, for many, high school is ending and the unknown is calling and you have to reconcile what has always been home with what will be your next chapter.
John Wick II – I LOVE THESE MOVIES. Love the characters, love the stories, love the action, love the sets, love the dark flashy world which has been built and is so much fun to play in.
The Shape of Water – Guillermo Del Toro is a visionary storyteller. What he’s managed to create by flipping these stereotypes on their ends is beautiful. Sally Hawkins is mesmerizing.
The Post – A timely reminder of why a free press is important. Fast-paced and heady, this is a story made for a film screen.
Molly’s Game – I sat there the whole film thinking “I can’t believe this happened.” Leave it to Aaron Sorkin to develop a script you just want to crawl into and watch what’s going on. His dialogue always plays out like a really good tennis volley between a couple of witty and capable characters. Loved it.
I, Tonya – Ice Skating meets Good Fellas. That is all.
Ingrid Goes West – Scorching commentary on how social media has distorted our view of “reality.”
Brigsby Bear – A unique and sweet story about a young man held captive in a protected, dreamlike environment, and how he finds his place when he finally encounters reality.
Atomic Blonde – Charlize Theron kicks ass to the backdrop of The Fall of the Wall in 1980’s Berlin. Fantastic soundtrack. Thriller spy mystery. So much fun.
Special Mention: Star Wars: The Last Jedi – For what deeper meaning lies beneath, and what they’ve set up for a fantastic continued future of the Star Wars franchise.