Posted January 25, 2018
Updated February 5, 2018 | Updated February 19, 2018
these lists every year is hard.
so much giddy enjoyment when penning my annual WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR
blogs, mostly because they allow me the opportunity to get my final
critical jabs at some very deserving films of decidedly low worth.
By comparison, these TEN BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR blogs feel oddly more like work,
seeing as I have to distil all of the great films that I saw in the year
that was down to a manageable list of ten.
It's during the compilation of these lists that procrastination
cascades over me in an awesome wave; I have such a difficult time in disseminating
which films to include, which ones to exclude, and ultimately what
was the single best film of the year that's come and gone.
Complicating matters for me this go around was that - by the
mid-way point of 2017 - I didn't have enough entries to make a workable
Top 10. Thankfully,
the latter part of the year brought to us some truly lasting and worthy
films that I had no problem selecting for the final ten film cut.
The final four months in particular were as strong as any final
four months of any recent year.
As I aim
for with every year, I strive to make my TOP 10 lists
as personal as possible. This
list is designed to appease me...and no one else. I'm
not going to put, say, DUNKIRK at the top of the class because it was a
critical darling; I'm not out to placate popular critical and/or audience
Every entry highlighted below spoke to me on some intimate level and
lingered with me with well after I saw them.
Another rationale I have with my picks is asking myself just
how these films either (a) transcended the medium and their respective genres
or (b) were the best possible examples of their respective genres,
adding newfound vitality to regurgitated formulas and conventions.
Lastly, I aim for variety on these lists and try to showcase as
broad of a cross section of films as possible.
I think my TEN BEST FILMS of 2017 displays a strong breadth of
choices: There's a coming of age and small town drama, a super hero action
film, a horror thriller (two, actually), a murder mystery thriller, a
historical/political thriller, a western, a fact based crime drama, and an inspirational
true life story.
McDonagh's THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI was a film of such
profound simplicity and economy, yet it spoke profoundly to the fragility
of the flawed human condition. It
also represented the upper echelon of the playwright-turned-filmmaker's
career, whom previously made IN BRUGES
and the underrated SEVEN
PSYCHOPATHS, both of which walked a fine line between
side-splitting comedy and dramatic pathos.
THREE BILLBOARDS achieved such a tricky dichotomy and revealed
McDonagh as a shrewd writer with a voice as poetic as a David Mamet and as
colorful as a Quentin Tarantino.
2. PHANTOM THREAD >
I've been one of Paul Thomas Anderson's biggest fans and harshest critics.
I felt that he couldn't artistically do wrong when he made BOOGIE
NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA in the 90s (which I felt were two of the best films of
that decade), but then came experimental outings in films like PUNCH DRUNK
LOVE, THE MASTER, and, most
recently, INHERENT VICE
that, to be fair, still showed the director's supreme command over
technical artifice, but nevertheless displayed a somewhat undisciplined
narrative approach that left me feeling more than a bit hollow and empty
after watching them.
> Added February 19, 2018
3. LADY BIRD
LADY BIRD represented one of the finest directorial debuts in an awfully long time for Greta Gerwig, whom previously carved out a niche for herself as a hard working actress on the indie circuit. Using her own upbringing as a source of inspiration, the film dealt with a rather troubled young girl as she tries to make it through her final year of Catholic high school. Based on that simplistic description, it would be easy to write off LADY BIRD as a TV movie of the week melodrama, but the genius of Gerwig's approach here - she served as writer and director - to this semi-autobiographical material was that she wisely avoided stale and overused young adult and coming of age genre conventions. Much like the criminally under-seen THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, LADY BIRD was a film of rich observational honesty that dived headfirst into the uncompromising truths about how young and impressionable people try to eek out their lives as they journey towards adulthood. Featuring Oscar caliber performances of staggering nuance by Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe, Gerwig's hilarious and moving portrait of adolescent life unequivocally proved that humbly scaled films can still pack lasting dramatic punches.
4. WONDER WOMAN
When I was growing up I worshipped at the alter of Richard Donner's seminal comic book extravaganza SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, which single handledly jump started the cinematic super hero genre that's still alive and thriving to this day. Watching the Man of Steel come lovingly and thrillingly to life on celluloid I remember sensations of limitless awe, wonder, and joy that rained over me. For the first time ever I marveled at the exploits of a comic book character on the silver screen, and considering his extraterrestrial nature and godlike powers, Christopher's Reeve's Superman felt wholly real to me.
WONDER WOMAN - the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe and easily its best offering - was arguably the only comic book film from 2017 (or any other recent year, for that matter) that made me feel how SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE did decades ago. And, yes, Gal Gadot's triumphantly winning and endlessly charming performance as the William Moulton created female super hero certainly did contain echoes of what made Reeve's portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton so inviting and infectious. Directed with a sure fire confidence by Patti Jenkins, WONDER WOMAN never wallowed in being a preachy feminist movie. Yes, its message of female empowerment was most definitely there, but Gadot's fierce Amazonian warrior was shown as a leader that banded men and women together for the mutual good of battling evil in the world (the film's WWI settings were crucial, seeing as we get to witness the titular character try to influence a world that hasn't even given women the right to vote yet). With a strong thematic undercurrent tied to its exemplarily realized historical setting, WONDER WOMAN emerged as a stupendously realized entertainment, filled with joyous optimism, gallant heroism, and boisterous energy that, when all was said and done, undoubtedly inspired a new generation of young girls - and hopefully some boys.
would have been deceptively easy for me in my original review to label
David Lowery's ultra low budget $100,000 indie effort A GHOST STORY as a
horror/thriller. The title
definitely hints at that, but the resulting film was more of a
hypnotically haunting tone poem than it was a violent and terrifying film.
That's what precisely made it so mesmerizing. At its most basic level, A GHOST STORY contained a deep slow burn narrative about the purgatory-like existence of a recently deceased man (Casey Affleck) as his bed sheet covered spirit sadly and pathetically observes the life of the woman he left behind (Rooney Mara) while being stuck in a nightmarish in-between purgatory state on a journey towards what we assume is heaven. Using a spare, yet evocative Academy ratio of 1.33:1 throughout, static camera setups, long takes, and unnerving sound design and silence, A GHOST STORY was both deeply melancholic and disturbing to experience as it delved into themes of isolation, hopelessness, and how people - in various forms - refuse to simply let go of what they've lost. Lowery's film, no doubt, tested the patience of many filmgoers last year, but for those that were willing to tackle its grand mental jigsaw puzzle of a narrative it fully revealed itself to be a minimalist masterpiece worth investing in.
as far as truly scary horror thrillers go, IT COMES AT NIGHT was
uncompromisingly suspenseful and gripping as a purely visceral experience.
Like the greatest examples of the genre, this one encapsulated the inherent power of sadistically eerie atmosphere and a tone of
undulating dread that suffocates both its characters and viewers.
There was very little bloodshed and gore in IT COMES AT NIGHT,
mostly because it was so steeped in paranoia and that paralyzing human
frailty of having obsessive suspicions of others we're unfamiliar with; that's
what made it so bloody traumatizing to endure.
7. WIND RIVER
Sheridan's stupendous feature film directorial debut WIND RIVER was
arguably the best film of 2017 that was the most forgotten by filmgoers and
many a critic. It was the
unfortunate victim of poor release scheduling, coming out near the tail
end of the blockbuster heavy summer film season.
For those that did see it - myself obviously included - WIND RIVER
served as a soulful companion piece to Sheridan's previous two films
(which he served as screenwriter, SICARIO
and HELL OR HIGH WATER),
and all of them share his impeccable observational skills at focusing on
deeply flawed personas dealing with their own personal demons and
Writer/director Scott Copper (CRAZY HEART, OUT OF THE FURNACE, and BLACK MASS) has made a relatively strong career out of helming soul searching dramas about tortured characters seeking some form of redemption. His latest effort in 2017 was the brutally harsh, yet beautifully acted and shot HOSTILES, an American period western that dealt with a toxically racist soldier (Christian Bale, in a tightly wound internalized performance of pure rage and pain) that's tasked with serving as a guide and protector to his sworn native enemy (Wes Studi) while taking him home to safety so the terminally ill chief can die on his land. Not only did Cooper make a western of classic and old school painterly beauty, but he also crafted one in a revisionist tone that rightfully showcased 19th Century New Mexico as a place of uncompromising bleakness. That, and HOSTILES was a western that generated nail biting tension via the nagging aura of unease that looms over Bale's ferociously bigoted soldier that's forced to protect another man that - through years of violence and bloodshed with him and his kind - he has been programmed to loathe on sight.
HOSTILES was sickeningly difficult to sit through at times, but by its conclusion there was an aura of hope in the air for its characters when it seemed impossible when the film began. And the fact that its spiritual salvation arc never felt forced or manipulative was a testament to Cooper's authoritative skills as a filmmaker; he lovingly forged one of the finest and most thematically challenging westerns in years.
9. I, TONYA
Tonya Harding's name became most synonymous with scandal over twenty years ago. And, as a result, her name also became a running joke. She's probably less remembered for, say, being a two-time Olympic figure skater and the very first woman to achieve a successful and impossibly hard triple axel in competition than she is for being associated to certain members of her family that perpetrated a very public attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Olympics. That deplorable incident caught the media by storm and eventually led to Harding's banishment from the sport forever.Now, Harding is no saint. Even though she didn't - by her own claim - plan and unleash the attack on Kerrigan, she nevertheless had intimate ties to those that did. Yet, Craig Gillespie's I, TONYA was not a smear campaign of a movie against the disgraced athlete. Rather compellingly and refreshingly, it made attempts to humanize Harding as a deeply flawed and troubled young woman that was dealt a hellishly raw upbringing in life, and she faced ample hardships on the path to achieving skating excellence because of her impoverished and abuse heavy background. Employing a talking heads mockumentary format, Gillespie chronicled Harding's rise and fall in the sport, and his film ultimately emerged as being not only an unexpectedly penetrating character study, but also a pointed satire and commentary on working glass grief, athletic ambition run amok, and, well, extremely dump people perpetrating unforgivably dumb crimes. Mixing heartfelt drama and black comedy in a tricky mixture (alongside its renegade, rock and roll infused energy), I, TONYA emerged as one of the most infectiously entertaining biopics of 2017. It's also a rare breed of film that walks a difficult line between mocking its subjects and displaying genuine understanding and sympathy for them. And that's hard to pull off.
[added February 5]
10. THE POST
Steven Spielberg returned to fine form in 2017 with his thoroughly gripping and handsomely mounted historical/political thriller THE POST, which dealt with the true story of how journalists from The Washington Post and New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, classified documents that detailed previously undisclosed information about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War as far back as the Truman administration. The papers exposed that the government systematically lied to both Congress and the American people about enlarging the war effort in Vietnam, despite knowing that it was a lost cause. Angering the sleeping giant that was the Nixon White House, The Post and Times were nearly shut down with their reporters facing imprisonment.
THE POST was one of Spielberg's most stylistically retrained films, and thankfully so, seeing as his understated approach to the material allowed for the narrative and stalwart performances (quarterbacked by the always reliable Tom Hanks and the impactfully low key Meryl Streep) do the talking. Taking a page out of iconic whistleblower potboilers like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, THE POST was film that showed great reverence for the inherently arduous work that journalists engage in to provide the public with the truth, not to mention that it rightfully propped up these dedicated and brave professional newsmen and women as positive conduits of influential change. And considering the current era of the Trump administration that takes to social media to lambaste the press and step on their First Amendment rights, THE POST served as a sobering and cautionary reminder as to how the government tried to suppress the media decades ago and how not much has changed in the subsequent years.
|...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2017 with my selections from 11-25:|
12. STRONGER: Jake Gyllenhaal deserved an Oscar nomination for his searing work in this true story drama about a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombings.
13. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: The final entry in the superlative PLANET OF THE APES reboot trilogy delivered on all possible levels of blockbuster entertainment.
14. BABY DRIVER: Writer/director Edgar Wright made arguably the most stylish and fiendishly inventive film of his stellar career in this heist/action film.
16. LOGAN: James Mangold's rough, rugged, and very appropriately R-rated Wolverine film just happened to be the finest X-MEN centric outing yet.
AND ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND:
|Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:|
LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: Brick
for brick, this second major animated feature film based on the massively
popular toyline was a worthy follow-up to 2014's THE
ATOMIC BLONDE: A wickedly stylish neo-noir 1980's spy espionage thriller from the creative team behind JOHN WICK was a sublime pleasure from start to finish.
Chan and Pierce Brosnan gave two of the finest performances of their
respective careers in this surprisingly smart and compellingly layered
Jordan Peele's horror/comedy/thriller delivered on levels of social satire
and anxiety inducing dread.
Mark Webb helmed drama about a child prodigy thankfully elevated itself
above TV movie of the week melodrama.
BEFORE I FALL:
OF THE SEXES:
This 1970s era drama about one of the most watched tennis watches in
history also served as a timely reflection of our current gender
This 1970s era drama about one of the most watched tennis watches in
history also served as a timely reflection of our current gender
ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS:
Kenneth Brangh's luminous adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie
whodunit was engaging and well acted.
Kenneth Brangh's luminous adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie whodunit was engaging and well acted.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: There was not one wrong or false dramatic moment between stars Timothee Chamalet and Armie Hammer in this exquisitely acted coming of age period drama. [added February 5]