BEST FILMS OF 2017

YEARLY RETROSPECTIVE

Honorable Mentions in descending order of preference: I Am Not Your Negro, Mudbound, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, Thor Ragnarok, Dunkirk, The Lost City of Z, Logan, A Ghost Story, Loveless, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver, Okja, Lego Batman Movie, Coco, War for the Planet Apes, Colossal, It Comes At Night, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Princess Cyd, Girl’s Trip. [I have yet to watch Phantom Thread by one of my favorite filmmakers of all time PTA; I am certain it would have made my top 10 list.]

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1. GOOD TIME

I have raved enough about this film throughout the year and it is simply exceptional and singular in how it chooses to follow and play out a seemingly tired plot. One thing this film has going for it is the spontaneity and unpredictability of the lead character Connie who frantically shifts from one plan to another mistakenly seeming like a calculating criminal to other characters and to the audience, although not for long. The night odyssey is thrilling and unpleasant all at the same time while audience members find themselves haphazardly rooting for a despicable criminal. The powerhouse performances, the energy and pacing of a 70s crime/thriller film along with a fitting score by Oneohtrix Point Never make this film unforgettable and the Safdie brothers are directors to be reckoned with.

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2. GET OUT

Watching Get Out unfold in a theater full of confused people not knowing if they should be laughing or on the edge of their seat was a true joy. Jordan Peele’s debut is a classic in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives which were films he was influenced by in that this simply hasn’t been done before: a black lead in a horror/thriller genre and a satire about subtle (casual) racism with the intent to challenge and engage the audience. The film doesn’t feel like a pastiche or homage to the unspoken dread of the aforementioned films, but rather it feels like a massive expansion of one of many of Peele’s Key and Peele sharp skits on Comedy Central.

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3. RAW

I am in love with this coming of age/ cannibal movie for various reasons. Let’s start with the sympathetic protagonist, Justine, who is a brilliant student at her first year in veterinary school, but struggles socially unlike her older, much cooler and accepted sister. We experience her as she is finding herself and shedding her awkward, introvert self for an unforgettable college experience. Now I am not the biggest fan of cannibalism in movies, but this film treats the subject with impeccable style and taste that you are hopelessly left squeamish and in wonderment; needless to mention that this film is definitely not for the faint –hearted. But most of all I found that Raw actually has one of the better love stories of 2017 with a crushing ending scene that emphasizes family, love and sacrifice. It is best to know as little as possible going into this film. I was convinced that this would be my movie of the year, until I saw Good Time and Get Out. Julia Ducournau is a phenomenal and intelligent director who can explore so many different themes effortlessly and this is only her debut; I will be patiently waiting for her next project. Along with Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, she has the best debut feature I have seen in years.

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4. Lady Bird

What a delight Lady Bird is, Greta Gerwig has turned out to be a capable director and her debut is a knockout! The titular character as she likes to be called is played by the brilliant Saoirse Ronan and she is one of the best written characters in recent times; she mirrors the director’s end of high school experience and Ronan nails Gerwig’s explosive personality. The mother-daughter relationship, the numerous charming and genuinely hilarious moments in the film and a beautiful ending makes Lady Bird the most enjoyable, heart-warming film of the year.

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5. Blade Runner 2049

This criminally overlooked gem is such a massive film in terms of scale and the weight it is carrying being the follow up of the beloved original sci-fi film; it is genuinely concerning that this film underperformed in theaters. Denis Villeneuve dared and gave the untouchable original extra life by expanding all its mysteries that are still debated years later. More than anything this is a beautifully shot film by the impeccable Roger Deakins that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

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6. Call Me By Your Name

This film has as much in common with In the Mood for Love as it does Moonlight. The film set in 1983 Northern Italy is almost like a time capsule of a love story between 17 year old Elio and his father’s older research intern, Oliver. The film’s star is Timothee Chalamet who goes through different emotions throughout the film in his relationship with Oliver and Marzia (a local girl who is in love with him). Some of the songs performed by Surfjan Stevens will linger in your mind long after the crushing end credits roll by. The best scene in the film and the best monologue of the entire year is by Elio’s father played by the great Michael Stuhlbarg as he instills in his son the importance of being oneself, acceptance and absolute love.

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7. The Florida Project

This film is jaw-dropping in its simplicity and has unparalleled filmmaking. I had seen Sean Baker’s previous film Tangerine (shot entirely on an iPhone 5S) and it had a crazy rhythm and it didn’t look much like a film but bits and pieces of real life; it was really good. The Florida Project is centered on a motel/ project inhabited by struggling mothers and casual criminals while also functioning as a proper motel where guests and foreigners stay for its proximity to Disneyland. The film is filtered through a beautiful child performance by Brooklynn Prince who plays Moonee and all the nastiness and harsh realities of that motel are seen through vibrant colors and almost magical like fairytale that Moonee project on to them; it doesn’t hurt that Disneyland is nearby. The manager of the motel is played by Willem Defoe and he is pitch-perfect here giving a measured performance. I need to come back to the child performances and how genuine they are; I have rarely seen on film kids just being real kids no matter their circumstances. Moonee’s mom is easily unlikeable as she strings her daughter along to help her solicit discount perfumes or stolen festival bracelet passes. The ending is heart-wrenching and beautiful; Sean Baker is the future.

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8. The Shape of Water

This is a new age Beauty and the Beast-esque love story between a mute cleaning lady working in an underground top secret government facility and a fish-man creature acquired from South America and being kept at the facility. This is by Guillermo del Toro who is known for creating dark fantasy films and remarkable screen monsters/ creatures. The creature in this film is inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the mute cleaning lady is played by the marvelous Sally Hawkins. It is one of Guillermo’s finest films and my favorite of his after Pan’s Labyrinth.

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9. Nocturama

How to describe this movie, its conceit is so insane and sounds so misguided and yet it is anything but a misfire. Early on in the film we see teenagers scattered across the city and in metros about to pull off a terrorist attack. These kids are diverse in that besides being Parisien they all have different backgrounds and their motives are only hinted at and it is for the most basic reason that has to do with historical revolutions as these kids randomly discuss political upheavals throughout history; there is little to no resemblance to the actual and current state of radical violence. So the first half is literally them moving around the city against the ticking clock which marks where they are before whatever incident we are dreading and waiting for. Post-incident however, the film turns into a caper as the perpetrators hide out in a fancy, high-end Parisien mall that eventually turns these determined teenagers who are against the status quo into regular consumerist teenagers. The mall is an embodiment of everything they stand against and yet can’t live without. The film is a big and immersive conundrum that later in the third act becomes a strange commentary on the brutalism of both state funded violence and radical violence. The strange use of  music in the film is striking as it ranges from “Don’t Like” by Chief Keef and Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” (which plays while the characters are watching their acts of violence on the news) to a fantastic, traditional score by John Barry for The Pretenders (old 007 flick). The thing that this movie has going for it is its dream like quality and striking imagery. It reminded me of Godard’s WEEKEND especially when at one point one of the teenagers invites an elderly, homeless couple to enjoy the comforts of the mall.

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10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I am a huge fan of the director’s, Martin McDonagh, first feature film In Bruges which stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hit men who go sight-seeing in Bruges while being assigned a mysterious mission. The film tackled violence in a unique way and knew when to be funny and tragic. Three Billboards carries that same spirit except in a wholly different setting; Ebbing is a small town filled with strange and misguided characters. Frances McDormand plays a grieving mother, Mildred, who is looking for answers to her daughter’s brutal death and is tormenting the local police about their shortcomings in the solving of her case. The town’s beloved Chief Willoughby assures Mildred they have done everything they can to catch the culprit and have no matches. Sam Rockwell plays a goofy officer of the law, Dixon, who misuses his power regularly as we hear Mildred accusing him of wasting time torturing African Americans instead of doing his job. None of the characters’ initial set up matches where they end up and that is part of the beauty of the film. It is a caricature of violence seen through a microscope in this small town; where there is no one to wholeheartedly root for either. There are lots of surprises in the film that best left experienced first- hand. The entire cast is fantastic with the standout being McDormand who has a physical presence and rapid fire dialogue to intimidate any character in the film while Sam Rockwell is great as the terrifyingly incompetent cop who learns a thing or two about compassion in his journey.

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11. Lady Macbeth

This adaptation of the Russian novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District, left a mark on me and was one of the best movie going experiences I had this past year. There was something joyous in watching this familiar story unfold in unpredictable ways. We have our central character Katherine in the Victorian-era England who is reluctantly married to Alexander whose father purchased her along with a piece of land. After being left alone, she feels trapped and suffocated sitting in the huge mansion waiting for her husband’s return as she is advised countless times not to go outside. She slowly grows into her own and seeks independence even if it is to get a breath of fresh air; she unexpectedly starts an affair with a stable boy and is enjoying her freedom in the absence of her estranged husband. The thrill of the movie is that it descends into darkness after these love birds meet resistance from the local priest and the husband’s father. The cinematography and the score left me entranced and Florence Pugh gives an astounding performance as Katherine. This is certainly one of the more overlooked gems of 2017.

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12. I, Tonya

I was not familiar with the perplexing true story of Tonya Harding, American figure skater, which made for a great experience watching the events unfold. I would have a hard time believing that this is a true story if not for the title card. This is a fun film to watch, most people are describing this as the Good Fellas of figure skating and that is precisely because of the way it is edited and covers decades of Tonya’s life and the incident using different narrators. Margot Robbie gives career defining performance as the lead character and she is surrounded by a great cast.

Film Review The Big Sick

13. The Big Sick

This might be the feel good movie of the year, but not in the traditional sense. This is the true story of real life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon who co-wrote the film. Kumail plays himself in the film while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan and is a distant relative to Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping. Kumail struggles with his traditional trappings as his parents constantly set him up with Pakistani women despite his disinterest. As a stand-up comedian, he gets heckled by Emily in a flirty way and they quickly hit it off. Kumail is stuck between pleasing his parents and being honest about his future with Emily. The film takes a sad turn as Emily falls ill, while she is in a coma Kumail has to bond with Emily’s parents played brilliantly by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. It is funny, true and a beautiful real life love story.

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14. A Quiet Passion

This is a great homage to Emily Dickinson’s astounding life and the contradictions between her poems and pathetic life. Besides the beautiful poetry and the dialogue being endlessly quotable, it is a character study that deals with Emily’s relationship with her family and her determination to be a non-conformist. The idea of success and a lonely, miserable life hovers across the entire history and in her own words “A posthumous reputation is only for those who when living weren’t worth remembering.” She is a devastating figure and the film itself is brilliant.

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15. A Personal Shopper

Oliver Assayas’ meditation on grief was one of the biggest surprises of 2017; I did not think I would like this movie. Kristen Stewart stars as the titular personal shopper (Maureen) whose job it is to go shopping for major celebrities in Paris who can’t risk being seen out and about themselves. So where does the supernatural fit into this? She has to visit a mansion and see if there are spirits wandering about a house previously inhabited by her late brother; she is a self-proclaimed medium. The rest of the film is a mystery and psychological study of the natural and unnatural happenings. Assayas manages to blend the two by scenes of Maureen text messaging an unknown number that insinuate a supernatural presence via the phone or a more unsettling indication is that it could be a creep stalking her. They deal with the actual supernatural elements in a practical and head on way that is based in realism. It is a film that stays with you in the best way that films can unsettle your sensibilities and expectations.

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16. Brawl in Cell Block 99

Craig Zahler’s follow up to 2015’s insane western/ horror Bone Tomahawk is equally brutal while being set in the modern day. There is an amazing, physical performance by Vince Vaughn at the center of it; he plays Bradley, a former boxer, who at the beginning of the film is fired from his job and learns of his wife’s infidelity on the same day. Following his arrival at his own home, we are treated to a glorious scene of Vaughn (Brad) dismantling a car out of rage. Then the film takes a surprising and tender turn where Bradley actually works it out with his wife played by Jennifer Carpenter, known for her role in Dexter, and tragically turns to a life of crime to support his family. Through baffling circumstances he ends up in prison and he faces major threats for his actions while inside the prison; this occurs an hour into the film. I appreciate that it takes its time because when we get to the prison and there are twists while he is there that will drive you insane. There is a welcome appearance from the lovable Udo Kier who is always type cast as a villain who in real life always says that he likes to garden and he is clueless as to why people always think of him as a villain; the great Don Johnson also plays a warden in the film. People will mostly talk about the brutality of the fight scenes particularly in the third act, and while they are extreme the film does have a great narrative drive and surprising amount of heart and suppressed emotion coming from Bradley. The original soundtrack is impressive and strangely fits into the narrative; I can’t wait to see what Zahler does next while this might be Vince Vaughn’s finest hour yet.

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17. The Meyerowitz Stories

Noah Baumbach’s new film is a dramedy about a strange family in New York who reunite to celebrate the accomplishments of the head of the family Harold Meyerowitz played by Dustin Hoffman. The whole cast is gold, at the center of it are the relationships between the siblings played by Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel and how their father has influenced and shaped the way they have chosen to carry out their lives. It is a delightful and endearing peace with smart dialogue that is always present in Baumbach’s films.

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18. The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist is James Franco’s adaptation of the book of the same title that covers the making of what is widely considered the worst movie ever made, The Room. The Room is such a weird and hilarious failure of storytelling that has an unprecedented massive following across the world. James Franco plays the director of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, who is a mysterious figure that insists that he is from New Orleans even though he has an eastern European accent. Franco does a good imitation of Tommy and he seems like he relates to Tommy’s drive to want to make The Room which at the time (early 2000s) all parties involved knew that it was bad. It is fascinating to revisit some of the most famous scenes from the film and get a sense of what things were like behind the scenes. I think it is important to have seen The Room initially in order to gain something out of this experience.

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19. Marjorie Prime

This film could have been a Black Mirror episode, but it has a little more nuance and heart at the center of it and is endlessly inventive. It is about 86 year old Marjorie’s last days spent with a computerized, holographic, and younger version of her late husband. These computerized holograms of deceased people are known as primes and Marjorie’s prime is played by Jon Hamm and we see their relationship history as the prime tries to work Marjorie’s memory in an effort to establish trust and asks her about her health and seems genuinely concerned about her well being. The film then surprisingly and unpredictably shifts through time and reexamines how we understand memory and how it is always changing based on our circumstance and perception. The film has a great cast including Tim Robbins and Geena Davis and an excellent Louis Smith as the titular character. It is a film I would like to revisit because it becomes unexpectedly rich and toys with its audience.

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20. Mother!

I think that exclamation mark in the title is earned in Darren Aronofsky’s latest exercise in insanity; this is a film that has divided both critics and audiences. As I was watching it I didn’t like that it was from the very start all about indulgence but I chose to go along with it and see where it went. Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence play husband and wife and we don’t know their names, only that Javier is a renowned writer who is struggling with writer’s block. The film devolves into chaos, all of which begins with a knock on the door and it is the first of many intruders/ guests Ed Harris (Man) who strangely declares his love for the writer and wins his affection enough to sleep in their mansion. J Law is not cool with any of this especially when Ed Harris’ wife played by Michelle Pfeiffer (Woman) comes in and dictates things, makes inappropriate comments about their marriage and their house. We are completely in her shoes the same way we were with Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby; the film feels increasingly claustrophobic as Jennifer’s character feels like her home is being invaded by strangers and Javier’s character seems accepting of all who adore him. It is at this point that it becomes clear that the only setting for this film is that house and more characters will keep coming into that house; the biblical references also becomes more vivid as we move forward and anchor the whole film. It is more of a fever dream about artistry than a coherent narrative, but it is one you can’t look away from and is the type of film where you will search for explanations and interpretations after the end.

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