Hello everyone. It is Oscar weekend once again. As I am prone to do during this time, I have compiled my top ten favorite movies of the previous year. I only saw some 30+ movies released during 2017. My movie watching time has become limited recently, due to some of my personal responsibilities getting in the way, but my love and passion for movies is still as strong as it ever was. I try my best to get in as many worthwhile films as I possibly can. Despite the low number of films watched, many were very good movies; it was very difficult to limit it to just a top 10. I have a few honorable mentions at the end of this list that I think are just as deserving of your time and money, but they were edged out because of minor (completely biased and personal) reasons. So, without further ado, here are my top ten favorite movies of 2017.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
It took me two months to see The Last Jedi after its release (again, life just gets in the way sometimes). In that time, I managed to avoid spoilers and keep as uninformed about the plot as I could. Yet, I was not able to avoid becoming aware of some of the fan backlash to the film. Despite the positive reviews from critics, many fans, including some of my own friends, believed this Star Wars installment was a slap in the face to the loyal fan base of the saga. I could not disagree more with that sentiment. I found this film far superior to The Force Awakens (a film that I consider quite mediocre). The Last Jedi follows in the vein of Rouge One (a film I loved); it is a more adult version of Star Wars, less predictable, and less cheesy. Writer/Director, Rian Johnson, made a bold and ambitious film that actually tries something new with the franchise. The film breaks with Star Wars tradition, yes, but in doing so, took me to the edge of my seat and had me believing that not everything was going to fall into place in a nice little package for our heroes as it has in previous installments. Rogue One re-invigorated my enthusiasm for the Star Wars franchise, but I was afraid that Disney would return to the same old formulas once the saga picked up again. I was pleasantly surprised. While I do think the film has some problems (Snoke’s origins, being the most obvious) that need addressing either in the next film or in an anthology entry, my overall impression was vastly positive. I cannot wait for episode 9.
- Blade Runner 2049
Here we have an example of a sequel that surpasses its original. I must admit that I was not a Blade Runner fan. I find the original, despite repeat viewings of all its versions, a good film, but really nothing special. Therefore, when Blade Runner 2049 hit theatres, I did not rush to view the early screenings. I waited until the movie was available online and rented it then. I very much regret that decision. This movie is spectacular to look at. The cinematography is unmatched. I can only now imagine how it must have looked on the big screen. The plot is epic, taking almost a full 3 hours to complete. This is not some full on, shoot’em up action movie. This is a slow burning, detective style, sci-fi thriller. Its twists and turns reveal themselves in a beautiful futuristic film noir tale that had me engaged and fascinated throughout its epic running time. If you loved the original, I cannot understand why you would not love this film. It surpassed the original in scope and execution.
- The Lego Batman Movie
This is where I lose most of you (if at any time I ever had you). Some readers may have already scrolled through the list and saw that I do not have Logan, Wonder Woman, or any of the 2017 Marvel superhero movies on my list. Yet, here is The Lego Batman Movie at #8. Yes, I did see the aforementioned films, but unlike any of those movies, The Lego Batman Movie was something far more entertaining and different from the endless wave of “serious” superhero movies that have begun to plague cinema. Many of you will argue that Logan attempted to do something different with the genre, and for the first half of the movie I would agree, but the filmmakers of Logan cowered in the second half and Logan turned into yet another superhero movie with an overly predictable ending that should have instead been shocking and tear inducing. Suffice to say that I am burned out on the genre and I found nothing new or above average in Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, or Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Lego Batman Movie, on the other hand, took a well-known (probably overused) comic book icon and just took it to a whole other level of comedy and tribute never before seen on the big screen. If you love Batman, like I do. This movie is an homage to everything Batman, from the campy 60s version, to the dark brooding cape crusader we know today. Fans of the TV shows, comic books, and movies will be laughing and rolling on the floor with the insane amount of rapid-fire jokes this movie throws at you. I enjoyed every minute. My face hurt from so much laughing.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards… is a dark comedy drama set in the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. The police department there is not exactly the model of good police work. Mildred (Frances McDormand) is a grieving mother set out to show the town of the police’s incompetence by buying three billboards on the side of the road asking the police chief why nothing has been done concerning her daughter’s murder case. Woody Harrelson plays the police chief, William Willoughby, and Sam Rockwell plays his idiot second-in-command, Officer Dixon. The film then follows the consequences that Mildred’s actions have on the town.
What else can be said of the acting performances in this film? Frances McDormand will win the Oscar for best actress and Sam Rockwell will take down the supporting actor award. Both are deserving of their merits. A lesser talked about performance is Woody Harrelson, whom I was very happy to see get some recognition from the Academy as well. This is a finely directed and written film. The story is unconventional, dark, and surprisingly funny. The ending may leave you wanting a bit more and if it were not for that ending, this movie would be higher on my list. Overall, however, the film is a triumph of cinema and keeps you entertained throughout.
Coco is a beautiful animated film about a boy named Miguel who dreams of being a musician. He loves music especially that of his idol Ernesto De La Cruz, but his family of shoemakers are quite the opposite and hate music in all its forms. During the Day of the Dead celebrations, Miguel stumbles into the world of the dead and is set on a journey to discover his roots and the mystery behind his family’s hate of music.
This is a touching story about family, culture, and art. It is another successful entry into the Pixar vault. The visuals are a feast for the eyes, just wonderful animation. The world of the dead is captured in all its Mexican cultural beauty. Whether you are familiar with the Day of the Dead tradition or not, the story relates universally. Coco is a story about the human condition, about loss, and the mysterious and beautiful way that art, in general, can touch us so deeply and keep us connected with each other even with those whom are past their physical time on this earth. I could not contain my tears at the sheer beauty of this film and the meaning I took from it.
- A Ghost Story
This is not a horror movie. I repeat; this is not a horror movie. This strange, challenging, and unique drama looks at one man’s world as a ghost. Starring Casey Affleck (as said ghost) and Rooney Mara (as his wife during life), A Ghost Story is a difficult film to get through, especially the first 20-30 minutes, but I strongly recommend anyone who loves thought provoking cinema, to fight through it. The first scenes will seem pointless, boring, weird, and excruciatingly long. You will laugh when you first see how the ghost is depicted in the film. It is all there for a purpose that I truly believe pays off. I do not want to say more about the plot because I think this is a film best served with as little information as possible. I will admit though that I hated the first 30 minute when I first experienced it, but once the film ended I could not stop thinking about how it all made sense and how the style in which writer/director David Lowery presented this story worked so well together. By the film’s end, I was emotionally drained, but in a good way. I felt that wonderful cathartic release of inexplicable emotions that I enjoy so much from movies like this one. Many people will not like this movie and shut it off after the first 20-30 minutes, and I cannot blame those who do, but I am so happy that I got to experience this wonderful film and I recommend giving it a full watch before judging it.
- Lady Bird
Ah the good ole coming of age movie, how I love thee! Written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular character. Lady Bird tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high school senior deep in the throes of teenage angst, confusion, and self-discovery. The story follows her as she navigates through her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento while at the same time enduring her loving but brutally honest mother played by Laurie Metcalf.
This film may sound overly familiar to you, but I promise this is a film worth watching. I know I’m a sucker for coming of age films, but it’s even more difficult to resist when they are done this well. Lady Bird is a smart, funny, and entertaining movie. It captures the essence of teenage youth in all its glory, ignorance, fear, anger, and confusion.
The performances are top notch. Saoirse Ronan’s career will certainly skyrocket after this movie. She is a very talented actress that already had an impressive resume even before this film. Laurie Metcalf also knocks it out of the park. She is made to play these types of motherly roles that have made her famous in the TV shows of Rosanne and The Big Bang Theory.
And then, there is the script. Filled with so much quotable and funny dialogue, my favorites include “You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life,” “The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome,” and finally “Six inches for the Holy Spirit” (I will let you guess the context of that last one). The conversations these teenagers have remind me so much of my youth. They felt so authentic and familiar. Perhaps the fact that I graduated high school in 2002 (the year this film is set) might have something to with it. The script deserves recognition and I am happy it has received it from the Academy. Greta Gerwig, John Hughes would be proud of you.
I very much fancy Mr. Nolan’s films. Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, and Inception are all movies that would make my all-time list if I could ever get the time to come up with one. Dunkirk is yet another masterpiece from this genius of a filmmaker. I have so much praise for this movie. It is a war film like no other. The film centers on the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk during WWII. We see the evacuation happen from multiple perspectives and in multiple timelines, each interweaving with one another at different points in the film. This is not a character story (ala Saving Private Ryan). This is a film about this event in the war and only this event. You are plunged right into it. From beginning to end, you feel as if you are stuck right in there with one of these hundreds of thousands of unknown soldiers fighting to survive. Dunkirk is a beautiful looking film that feels so grand in scale even when watching it on a small screen at home. Hans Zimmer’s score builds the tension. The editing and interweaving timelines keep you on your toes. Christopher Nolan’s streak of successful films continues and I cannot wait for what he has in store next.
- Get Out
It is good to see a horror movie praised by critics and fans alike. As a fan of the horror genre, I am the first to admit that much of the genre’s output is pure trash filmmaking. The genre has had its masterpieces though; The Shining, The Exorcist, and Halloween come to mind. The last time I felt this good about a horror movie was Cabin in the Woods, which was released back in 2011. I must admit, that I have not gone out searching for good horror as much as I used to, so it has felt to me like this decade has been somewhat of a slump for the genre. I have not been much of a fan of the haunting type horror that has dominated lately like The Conjuring, Sinister, or Insidious franchises. Get Out, however, was one very unexpected surprise. I did not go into this film expecting anything more than just another horror film. I was not even going to watch this until I began hearing so much positive word of mouth. I went in somewhat blind to the plot, and I am so happy I did because this was such a fun, entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking piece of genius horror. It is so good; it has transcended the genre. It deserves all the award recognition it is getting and, since my top film was not nominated this year, this would be my pick to win the Best Picture Oscar.
Now, I understand that there were films that had better technical achievements (cinematography, editing, directing, etc.) and performances. Yet, as an overall completed work of cinema, Get Out was able to work within a genre that has such a formulaic constraint on its material and still manage to break new ground, show some intelligence and cleverness in its ideas and execution, and find a way to reach a wide audience. Although I think it will win no awards at the Oscars this year, and I can completely understand why, if there is one award that perhaps this movie deserves to win, it is for Jordan Peele’s script. This film defines the phrase, “greater than the sum of its parts,” but, if there is a part that is strongest, it is that script. It will be tough to beat Three Billboards…, and Lady Bird, both having such amazing dialogue and smart storytelling, but again I cannot dismiss how clever this movie is with what it had to work with. I hope Jordan Peele is not a one hit wonder. Given what he showed of his abilities in Get Out, I hope he can challenge and impress once again in his next film.
We finally come to my #1 movie of 2017 and it is Darren Aronofsky’s crazy and divisive work, Mother! Is this a horror movie? I do not know. Maybe. Is this a psychological thriller? Beats me. To give a quick synopsis (not like it will do you any good), Jennifer Lawrence plays the character of Mother. She is a housewife concerned with rebuilding and maintaining the home that she and her husband have in some remote unknown area. Javier Bardem plays the husband (known only as Him in the end credits); he is a poet struggling with a severe case of writer’s block. One day, they get a knock at the door and then…well, craziness ensues.
This can be easily dismissed as pretentious artsy bullshit, and many moviegoers have done just that. Yet, as much as I spent during 80% of this movie wondering what the fuck was going on, I was never bored. I was never annoyed or irritated. I was fixated. My eyes were glued to the screen. I was hooked from beginning to end trying to unravel the mystery that was this film. Yes, I chuckled at some of the ridiculous lengths this movie reaches to make its point, but I was entirely fascinated by its imagery, symbolism, horror elements, and unique allegory. I do not want to give my interpretation of this movie because it will spoil the fun of what this movie has to offer. As I said, I spent 80% percent of this movie with a giant WTF in my head. Once I figured it out (at least my interpretation), it was a realization that brought forth once again that oh so beautiful moment of catharsis. It took some time to get this movie out of my head. It was truly an EXPERIENCE (yes, I have to write that in all caps).
The performances in this film are vastly underrated. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as the titular character. She carries the film throughout. We empathize with her as she stumbles and struggles through the madness happening around her and to her. Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer give some of the best performances of 2017. Michelle Pfeifer, specifically, deserved at least a supporting actress nomination.
Darren Aronofsky continues to impress me with his unique vision and style. I have loved much of his previous work (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and Black Swan are favorites of mine), but this might be his most ambitious and entirely original film yet. There are very small dashes of Rosemary’s Baby thrown in, but the two films don’t really compare. You will either love this movie or you will hate it. It’s most definitely a roller coaster of a film and I came out not entirely sure of what I had seen, but completely happy that I did.
Honorable mentions: I, Tonya; The Shape of Water; Molly’s Game; Logan Lucky; Baby Driver; Darkest Hour
Dishonorable Mentions: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2; Thor: Ragnarok; The Circle
Critics loved it, but I just thought it was…meh: The Post; Wonder Woman; Logan