As usual, I need to make a few disclaimers before I get to my list:
–This is not a “best” movies of the year list. I prefer the term “favorite” movies of the year, because it is a more accurate description of what is a very subjective list.
–I did not come close to seeing everything released in 2017. Several critically acclaimed flicks from the year are missing from my list (THE FLORIDA PROJECT, LADY BIRD, THE LAST JEDI, BLADE RUNNER 2049, just to name a handful) because I did not see them. I just don’t have the time to see everything. That doesn’t mean if I had seen them, they would have automatically made the list, so who knows?
–I choose to only consider films that were released and available to the general public in the year 2017. That means no films I saw at film festivals in 2017, but were unavailable for viewing by everyone via theatrical/Blu-ray/VOD. Several films on this list are actually films I saw at film festivals in 2016, so you see how these things tend to spill over to the next year anyway.
With those explanations/ground rules out of the way, here, in no particular order, are my Favorite Films of 2017.
Character actor Macon Blair’s feature debut as a writer/director is wonderfully absurd and funny before taking a turn into darker, violent territory. Just my kind of flick. That it also gives a plum lead role to the great Melanie Lynskey only makes me love it more. This one left a big smile on my face.
Back when word first broke that Fox was bringing this franchise back, I thought it was a terrible idea. Turns out that this trilogy of films (I’m sure there will be more of them, but WAR clearly wraps up several arcs) has renewed my faith in the serious-minded studio blockbuster. Andy Serkis again does astonishing work as a motion-capture performer, diving into Caesar’s dark side on the way to a satisfying, thematically appropriate ending that choked me up.
A film that explores the painful coming-of-age of an awkward teenager who struggles to fit in at university while dealing with sibling rivalry with her popular, badass older sister—oh, and they’re cannibals? Sold! Writer/director Julia Ducournau captures every ounce of pain and dark humor in the premise and delivers one of the most realistic portrayals of sisters I’ve seen in a film in a long time.
MARTIN for a new generation. Eric Ruffin shines as Milo, a troubled teenager living in the projects in New York City. Believing himself to be a burgeoning vampire, Milo has mapped out his future as a bloodsucker when his world is upended by a tentative romance with the equally troubled Sophie (Chloe Levine), the new girl in his building. Surrounded by the potential violence of gangs in his neighborhood, haunted by the memory of his mother’s suicide, and lacking any adult guidance from his PTSD-addled military veteran brother, Milo’s attempts to navigate his mental illness, homicidal tendencies, and confused feelings for Sophie makes for absorbing drama that left me shaken.
Writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ debut feature KRISHA made my list last year and he’s back with an even better look at the self-destructive tendencies of people under extreme pressure. By playing in the post-apocalyptic genre, he adds a layer of horror and inevitable doom that makes this one the feel bad movie of the year. I intend that as a compliment.
Worthy of every bit of praise it has been given. I can’t say anything about it that hasn’t already been said by other writers many times over. I cannot think of higher praise with which to bestow Jordan Peele than to say that it is social and political horror that lives up to the best of Romero and Carpenter.
Sure, it probably could have been done without the time jumping editing structure, but Christopher Nolan’s war film is a reminder that movies are first and foremost a visual medium to which dialogue sometimes gets in the way. While the Hans Zimmer score is impressive and the sound design adds intensity, what I think of when the film comes to mind are images both beautiful (a fighter plane cruising over the beach as it loses altitude) and haunting (the faces of soldiers, defeated, waiting to die on a beach just a few miles from their homes). As close to pure cinema as a studio film came this year.
Painfully realistic looks at miserable people trapped in loveless relationships, a closeted gay man who overcompensates through ridiculous machismo that results in abuse toward his long-suffering wife, and a tentacled alien that provides unbelievable sexual pleasure coupled with violent death. If those elements sound like the basis for one of the most pretentious exploitation flicks in a long time, that’s because THE UNTAMED is exactly that. But that willingness to lean into pretentious territory allows it to get to some very harsh truths about the ways many people let their lives fall into misery by trying to live up to some ideal that has been forced upon them. Plus, you know, alien tentacle sex.
The first ten to fifteen minutes are rough with a few too many twee moments and aggressively quirky indie film characters, but then co-writer/director Bill Watterson finds the sweet spot between pure creativity, honest character arcs, and oddly whimsical violence. Great performances—especially from Meera Rohit Kumbhani and James Urbaniak—help sell the tricky tone that Watterson finds, resulting in one of the more purely joyful viewing experiences I had this year.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Beyond the great performances of Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson, what I loved about THREE BILLBOARDS is how it sets itself up to be a fable about redemption and then subverts that idea at every turn. McDormand’s Mildred thinks she can overcome guilt about her relationship with her murdered daughter by putting up the titular signs, but they just cause more problems than they solve and actually add to her family’s grief. Rockwell’s redneck deputy Dixon just wants a mentor who will mold him into a good man, but never stops to consider if he is capable of what it takes to overcome his probably racist—definitely violent—tendencies, leading to still more problems for himself and others. Harrelson’s even-keeled police chief Willoughby is a good man who believes everyone has the potential for good in their hearts, but his attempts to give people third, fourth, fifth, and more chances go unrewarded and a grand gesture he makes only adds to the fury of those around him. As this trio of hurting, confused, and desperate people cause a tornado of chaos that goes to near-Shakespearean levels of tragedy, they fumble for redemption that is out of their reach and the results are incredibly funny, touching, and oh, so sad. Much like life. Bleaker, yet more humanistic than any of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s other works, it’s a towering achievement that is not the easily digestible nugget of dark comedy the marketing would have you believe. I continue to be entranced by it.
If you had told me at the beginning of the year that the best documentary I would see over the next twelve months would be about Gilbert Gottfried…I might have actually believed you. But I’m also pretty gullible, so take that assertion with a grain of salt. Considering what a strong stage personality Gottfried has, it is impressive how deep of a look behind the public persona director Neil Berkeley is able to craft. While Berkeley does follow some of the normal documentary tropes of talking head interviews and old photographs, more fascinating—and both funny and endearing—are just the moments following the surprisingly shy Gottfried as he goes about his days of being a traditional husband and father, hoarding hotel toiletries, and washing his socks in hotel sinks. Throw in Gottfried’s compassionate sister and his damn-near saint of a wife, and you have a documentary that renews your faith in the power of both a good dirty joke and the ability of people to move out of their comfort zones to reach out for love. Seriously.
I saw this one at Fantastic Fest 2016 under the title of THE INVISIBLE GUEST and fell in love with it. It’s a Spanish film that fully embraces its pulpy, ticking-clock thriller premise as a man accused of a crime and his lawyer try to sort out what he is and isn’t guilty of as an indictment hangs over his head. To say any more than that would spoil the fun. It bypassed American theatres and popped up on Netflix midway through 2017 under its original title of CONTRATIEMPO. As far as preposterous mystery/thrillers go, it’s probably the best one released last year. Pure entertainment.
Takashi Miike’s 100th feature film as a director also happens to be the best action film of the year. I’m not surprised. A plot that centers around a cursed samurai who cannot die and the young girl who hires him to avenge her family’s murder is simply an excuse for Miike to stage a series of over-the-top, extremely bloody set-pieces that culminates in an epic battle involving our hero, the relatively honorable villain, and hundreds of stuntmen. The excess is a glory to behold.
INGRID GOES WEST
A CURE FOR WELLNESS
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)
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