Top Ten of 2017
Here are my ten favorite films of 2017 (and some honorable mentions). The key word is “favorite.” I’m not saying these are the best films of the year, whatever that means, anyway. I’m not qualified to judge films based solely on how technically good they are (I’m not sure anyone is). I can only tell you which films I liked the most last year. So here goes.
1. Blade Runner 2049
When I first read about this project, I was very skeptical. I just didn’t see Blade Runner as a franchise. Then Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) came on board, and things changed. He did not disappoint. Rather than take a moody sci-fi noir and turn it into a cash grab summer action movie, Villeneuve made a nearly three hour film that’s even moodier and more contemplative than the original. Looking back at the original Blade Runner, I always think, “You couldn’t make a film like this today.” It’s too slow and too expensive for a studio to put money behind it. I was wrong...and right. Villeneuve did make a film like the original Blade Runner in spirit, but since it cost so much and it made so little, this will probably never happen again. I’m thankful it happened once, at least. Villeneuve was given the money and freedom to build a world I couldn’t get enough of. They nailed the look (cinematographer Roger Deakins should win the Oscar), the feel, and the sound (Hans Zimmer should have been nominated for this instead of Dunkirk) of the original, and, in my opinion, improved upon it. The cast was great, and the story was a satisfying and logical continuation of the first film. This is a nearly three hour long moody, dystopian sci-fi film with very little dialogue and even less action, and I wish it was longer. I can’t think of anything I did not like about this movie. How could it not be my favorite film of the year?
2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
If you follow my writing or my yearly top ten, then you know I like my movies weird, and boy oh boy, is this one weird. Every year there’s movie I love but won’t recommend (to most people). This year, that honor goes to The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (his previous film was The Lobster, my favorite film of 2015) has developed this style of having his characters do or say outrageous things while acting like robots. I don’t know why, but I find it hilarious. I guess it’s the absurdity of the performances and the plots of his films. It also helps that his films are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick stylistically. The guy is the total weird package. I know that I’ve written nothing specific about this movie in this paragraph about this movie, but I would rather leave it at this: if you liked The Lobster, you’ll like this. If you skipped The Lobster, you should probably skip this one too.
Wolverine has always been one of my favorite comic book characters, and Hugh Jackman has been great all these years. But he never got to truly be Wolverine...until Logan. Being able to see Wolverine rip through people in R-rated glory was a highlight of my movie year. It was like taking all of the implied gory action from all the previous films and letting it all explode in one film. Once I got over the high of the violence, I realized that director/co-writer James Mangold made the most poignant comic book movie ever. I think we all hold comic book movies in high regard these days, but Logan is unique in its brutality, its heart, and its finality. Perhaps the most refreshing part about the film is the fact that it isn’t a direct sequel nor is it setting up a dozen other movies. Logan truly stands on its own.
Writer/director Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite filmmakers, so when mother! was released to a very divisive response, I knew I would end up loving it. When a movie divides people, it’s almost always a sign that it is at the very least interesting and unique, and mother! is certainly both of those. I enjoyed it for the style alone (the early claustrophobic camerawork and the amazing chaos near the end of the film), but the performances and its allegorical nature made it one of my favorite films. Allegorical films are just more engaging to watch than most films. I spent the entire film wondering, “What does this represent?” You can do this with any movie (whether the movie is attempting to represent something or not), but when the film is intentionally allegorical, it’s like solving a film puzzle. That mind sound terrible to some, but that makes the viewing process much more enjoyable to me.
5. The Lost City of Z
An ambitious movie about ambition. I was excited to see this since I read the book, and I was pleasantly surprised to end up enjoying this more than the source material. Those looking for answers about the titular lost city in the Amazon will likely come away a bit disappointed, but this film is about much more than the city. It’s about ambition, sacrifice, family, obsession, exploration, and racism. It’s ambitious enough that so many themes are evaluated in the film, but to top that writer/director James Gray decided to actually film in the jungle. It also features Charlie Hunnam’s best performance by far. Robert Pattinson is great in it, as well (this film along with Good Time have definitely changed my opinion about the Twilight star). I’ve watched the film twice now and liked it even more the second time. Perhaps if I were to watch it a few more times it would climb higher on my list. I do think this film more than most this year will be looked at later on as an underseen and underappreciated masterwork.
6. Phantom Thread
It’s a safe bet that if Paul Thomas Anderson releases a movie it will end up on my top ten list. I was initially worried about Phantom Thread because of the, well, boring subject matter: a dressmaker in the 1950s has his controlled life thrown into disarray when he begins a new relationship. Only Anderson could not only get me to watch a movie with this plot, but also make me love it. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis’s involvement made it an easy film to love, also. The film isn’t about dressmaking, really, but about the creative process, in general, and the dynamics of power in relationships. This is another movie that makes you study every moment and every sound. It’s also very funny, which I imagine many people would not expect. Paul Thomas Anderson continues to prove that you can have arthouse goals with a film while also genuinely entertaining the audience.
Westerns are few and far between these days, so it’s important that the few that get made are of high quality. Thankfully, that’s the case with Hostiles, a bleak and violent film about the complexities of the treatment of Native Americans in the late 1800s. The cast is amazing, as well, with Christian Bale standing out, as usual. It’s a bit quieter performance for him, but no less impressive than his more famous roles.
8. The Disaster Artist
I loved this movie, but it’s difficult to judge whether this is really a good movie on its own. The Disaster Artist is about the making of the notoriously terrible movie The Room. I’ve seen The Room multiple times, so every joke and performance (especially James Franco’s shockingly good impression of filmmaker Tommy Wiseau) made sense to me. If I had no knowledge of The Room beforehand, I’m not sure I would have loved this movie so much. I think I would have liked it, but it probably wouldn’t have made my top ten. But I do know what The Room is, so The Disaster Artist is one of my favorite films of the year.
9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Writer/director Martin McDonagh made one of my favorite comedies of the last ten years with In Bruges, a film that showcased his ability to write sharp, often acidic dialogue. So who better to deliver that type of dialogue than Frances McDormand? This is her movie, but the supporting performances from Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are great, too. More than performances, the complexity of this angry, shocking, and funny film make it one of the year’s best. The film has faced a bit of backlash because (SPOILERS) a racist character redeems himself a bit at the end a bit too easily. I don’t see a problem with a despicable character also doing something good. That just shows complexity and realism. It makes no sense that a film should be attacked for presenting something that happens in the real world every day, because, unfortunately, people can be terrible and do good things from time to time too. Most of us are not all good or all bad, and neither are the characters in McDonagh’s films, and that’s a good thing.
10. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
The ten-spot is always up in the air for me, and I changed my mind about a dozen times before going with this truly surprising film from writer/(first time)director Macon Blair. The story is pretty basic (a woman’s house is robbed, and the cops don’t seem too concerned, so she takes matters in her own hands), but the themes concerning justice, being a good person, and fitting in in society make this film interesting. What put it over the edge for me was the surprising and funny violence throughout. Also Melanie Lynskey is always good, and Elijah Wood was great as a dorky weirdo.
I’ll finish up with my honorable mentions. Most of these could have easily been my tenth pick, but for whatever reason didn’t make the cut. Still, I liked and/or appreciated all of these movies.
The Shape of Water - An R-rated fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro; that’s enough for me.
IT - This one made my list because I assumed I would hate it, but I ended up really enjoying it.
Molly’s Game - Aaron Sorkin’s script is getting the attention, but this is Jessica Chastain’s film.
I, Tonya - I really liked the faux-documentary/4th wall-breaking style about this crazy moment from the 90s.
Baby Driver - Some of the best chase sequences ever, but it makes my list for the Michael Myers mask joke alone.
T2 Trainspotting - A film that pretty much makes a case against its own existence and nostalgia in general; a rare sequel that has something to say.
John Wick: Chapter 2 - A rare sequel that is nearly as awesome as the original.
Alien: Covenant - Double Michael Fassbender made this prequel/quasi re-make stand out.
War for the Planet of the Apes - A fitting end to one of the most surprisingly good trilogies ever.
The Post - You can’t go wrong with Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks.
Logan Lucky - Excellent heist film, but it mainly made my list because of the Game of Thrones joke in the prison.
Dunkirk - This is the one I appreciated more than liked; the use of tension is masterful.