Consistently, I always deliver my best movies of the year late because it takes awhile to see all the films that I think may be contenders. Here we are in April 2018 with the best movies of 2017.
Note: Have not seen “The Post” and “Phantom Thread” and a few others that may have be in the running.
10) A Ghost Story- This is a quiet and meditative film that certainly will not be for every taste but I connected with it on a deep level. Writer and director David Lowery has made an intentionally slow-moving tale about love, loss and grief. At the center of the film are two lovers (played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck) who are separated by death. Mara’s character goes on living in the house (at least for a time) that their love affair played out in. Affleck becomes a ghost, complete with a white sheet over his head, and he watches Mara in her pain while not being able to connect any more. The story doesn’t just stop at this juncture. It reaches for grand metaphysical heights spanning time and the different lives who end up living in this very space or on the land. All of these lives commonly sharing this small sliver of reality. In the middle of the movie is an epic, drunken monologue delivered by Will Oldham that adds color to the thoughtful themes. No doubt this is the monologue of the year that waxes poetic on the meaning of life or lack thereof.
9) Brigsby Bear- I hesitate to tell anyone much about this movie because when I watched it, I did not know anything about the plot. This is a great film that never really got a fair shake. Funny, surprising, original, and yes, strange, “Brigsby Bear” follows the perception of James Pope (Kyle Mooney) as his world changes rather drastically. Not only that, this is a movie that celebrates and glorifies the process of making a film with collaborative friends. Features a non-Luke Skywalker role for Mark Hamill. If you watch the very beginning, you will think I’m crazy but stick with this one. Highly recommended.
8) The Killing of a Sacred Deer- In a movie that gave me the creeps, Colin Farrell plays Dr. Steven Murphy who as a doctor lives a decent life. He lives with his wife Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman) and kids. Directed and co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Dr. Murphy is soon presented with an unthinkable moral conundrum requiring an ultimate sacrifice when a teenage boy he has served as a mentor too turns sinister. The camera hovers above the characters with long tracking shots down white hospital corridors reminding us of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Every minute of running time this movie goes on becomes more unnerving and the stakes terrifying.
7) I, Tonya- Destiny has chosen me to like this film a lot because the entire project reminded me of the Coen Brothers. Stupid criminals doing even dumber crimes. “I, Tonya” has the dubious distinction of being based on a true story…well, depending on which version of the true story we happen to believe. The latter point speaks to the genius of Steven Rogers’ screenplay. Using a docudrama format, he has crafted a story that weaves in multiple perspectives on the now infamous drama of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. He and director Craig Gillespie openly mock the entire sport of figure skating but still have the audience come away with feeling tremendous empathy for Harding. At one point, the movie stuns by indicting American culture in the rush to judgment and villainization of Tonya Harding. This is a wickedly funny drama with the tone reminiscent of the Coen Brother’s good work. Top rate performances from Margot Robbie as Harding and Oscar-winner Allison Janney as her abusive mother. A surprisingly great film.
6) Wind River– Taylor Sheridan is a writer/director who seems to be re-mixing and re-imaging the American Western. He has written a trilogy of films with western-type themes that are all fantastic: Sicario, Hell or High Water, and now Wind River. Jeremy Renner portrays Cory Lambert who is a veteran tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Services. He offers his assistance to the FBI investigation of the vicious murder of a young Native American Woman. The film is not a murder mystery per se but there is a slow building tension as the audience discovers more details about the sadistic crime at the center of the story. A big theme that Sheridan is communicating is the trope of predator and prey. One of the re-imagined ideas featured is how Sheridan turns that concept completely on its head.
5) Dunkirk- From the beginning, I must confess that I’m a Christopher Nolan fanboy. I have enjoyed all of his films and would probably rate “The Prestige” as his weakest (but still pretty good). Since writer/director Nolan plays so much in the science fiction world, I was surprised to hear him taking on a World War 2 period piece. It has gotten to the point with World War 2 where I’m wondering how many more films we need on this subject from Hollywood but I’m please to report that “Dunkirk” is another great Nolan picture. This is a movie where the suspense is unrelenting from beginning to end. Capturing the miracle of the Dunkirk evacuation, Nolan focuses on the private ships sailing to rescue the British troops stranded on the beach in France, the troops on the beach awaiting the Nazi army to break through at any moment and British planes in the sky. A sense of dread is all around. Will the British army be wiped out effectively handing Germany’s forces a key victory in the struggle? Nolan uses three separate timelines as a device to forward his plot. The genius of the screenplay is how all of these timelines converge at the climatic moment. After watching this, you will feel exhausted but I’m willing to bet you will be thankful for this experience. This is a perfect movie to couple with “Darkest Hour” which shows the politics behind “Dunkirk”.
4) Lady Bird- From the opening scene where we witness a conversation between mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter Christine aka Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) as they drive down a California highway and Lady Bird suddenly opens the passenger side door of the moving vehicle while throwing herself out, we know we will be in for a quirky take on growing up. “Lady Bird” features a strong performance from Ronan as she navigates the perilous territory of high school and preparation for adulthood. This is a funny movie, absolutely and it has such moving insight into the teenager process that is brought to life by truly great acting. Sharp writing and directing (first behind the camera) by Greta Gerwig give this film a personal feel which is why it feels honest and timeless. As a Christian, I found a theme of faith in this movie very fascinating. The story features Lady Bird as a senior at a Catholic High School. At the end, her conception of what she feels as “home” is sincerely thought-provoking and powerful. Not that this film is preachy. It is too good for that. One of the better coming of age movies I have seen.
3) mother! No doubt that this one will be controversial on my list. “mother!” is one of the most divisive movies of 2017. I wrote a review here and said: ““Mother!” is a head trip of a movie that is contained to a singular house but reaches for grand metaphysical truth. A story that is an environmental parable at heart but also well-versed in theology as it explores the nature of God. An explosive indictment of humanity that centrally revolves around the toxicity in which domineering men treat women and abuse them. The boiling anger all around the edges of this picture simmers at first until it builds into a mighty crescendo of rape, debauchery, theft and extreme violence. By the time the fiery apocalypse comes around at the conclusion, a fate that is hinted at from the very first frames of the film, the viewers may well have made their moral peace with this decisive act of judgment.” A bold and uncompromising movie from Darren Aronofsky.
2) Logan- 2017 featured one of the best comic book genre films since Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. Taking place in Fox’s X-Men universe and specifically in the series of Wolverine movie (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine), “Logan” is the very best of them all. Director James Mangold finally decided to not pull any punches and go for the R-rating to feature the Marvel character who has adamantium claws shoot through his hands at will. Hugh Jackman reprises his familiar role with his best turn yet. At the inception of the story, Logan is hiding out in Mexico with his old mentor, Professor X (the great Patrick Stewart). The USA has gotten hostile toward mutants and there is a giant wall on the southern border as we see in an early shot. Logan, Professor X and a mysterious young girl receive word of an Eden for mutants that exists in Canada. This is where the movie becomes a road film as the group journeys through America north to try and find Eden. Of course, a team of mercenaries is tracking them. “Logan” is filled with well-choreographed action sequences, car chases, loaded with subtle (and not so subtle) political themes and centers around a mutant struggling with what it means to be a hero. A brilliant film, “Logan” should be a game-changer for future movies in the comic book genre.
1) Get Out- The best film of 2017 is a master class in storytelling while weaving in powerful and convicting themes. “Get Out” is a horror film that serves as a racial and social class critique on how an entire community is not only treated but perceived. First time director Jordan Peele (who also wrote the screenplay) has crafted an engrossing, thrilling, and shocking debut. It is a movie that is very relevant for the times we live in but also feels like a film that will be discussed long after its release. One of the best performances of the year was Daniel Kaluuya who plays Chris. The girlfriend, Rose (played by Allison Williams) invites Chris home to meet her white parents for the weekend which births a growing sense of extreme unease. Months after seeing this movie, I cannot get it out of my head.
Honorable Mentions: The Florida Project, Detroit, Darkest Hour,
Movies watched in 2017:
- Get Me Roger Stone
- Beauty and the Beast
- Get Out
- Kong: Skull Island
- Ghost in the Shell
- The Circle
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
- Spiderman: Homecoming
- Alien: Covenant
- The Lost City of Z
- The Big Sick
- The Case for Christ
- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
- Baby Driver
- Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
- The Wizard of Lies
- The Dark Tower
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
- War Machine
- Wind River
- A Ghost Story
- The Beguiled
- Justice League
- Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Stranger Things 2
- American Made
- Dave Chapelle: Equanimity
- Battle of the Sexes
- Dave Chapelle: The Bird Revelation
- Stephen King’s It
- Blade Runner 2049
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
- Lady Bird
- Last Flag Flying
- Roman J. Israel, Esq
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle
- The Mountain Between Us
- The Florida Project
- War for the Planet of the Apes
- Brigsby Bear
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- The Punisher (Netflix) Season 1
- Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman)
- The Disaster Artist
- Darkest Hour
- Call Me By Your Name
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
- The Shape of Water
- Murder on the Orient Express
- Fargo (FX) Season 3
- Song to Song