Wednesday, February 7, 2018

My Favorite Films of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, I reflect back on another year of film and in fact a rather impressive year in film that made formulating this list a rather difficult task in trying to pare it down to something manageable. There were a lot of films I really liked this year and would love to feature them all but this is going to be the ones I loved the most. Now these are my favorites, not the "best" because that can be such a subjective term, especially these days when we can't even get a clear consensus on if Star Wars: The Last Jedi was great or the worst thing to happen to the series since Jar Jar Binks or the "Yub Nub" song. 

I took care to keep track of movies that impressed me as the year went along and thought it would be fun to reflect back on my favorites in chronological order rather than try to rank the films. 



Split

It's an absolute crime James McAvoy didn't get an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film. He is the biggest reason why I liked this movie so much. His turn as a guy with 24 distinct personalities is flawless. There is such a distinction between each one of them with no more that a costume change and his mannerisms to signal the change and yet, McAvoy pulls it off beautifully and because of that makes the film work. Also, hats off to M. Night Shyamalan for managing to work in a last minute reveal that had me loudly blurting out, "No way!" in the middle of the theatre. 



Logan 

This film was meant to be the send-off of Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine and it is the best X-Men film in ages. The film centers on an aged Logan, living in a desert wasteland with an elderly Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart), who is suffering from a deteriorating mental state that is not just dangerous to him but those around him. Poignantly told, this may be the best X-Men film they have made and is a worthy closing chapter for Jackman's Wolverine. 



Get Out

Jordan Peele's surprise turn to the horror genre was one of the more refreshingly unique entries in the genre with an intriguing plot, real scares and a nice dash of humor as well. With great performances from Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and LilRel Howery (who stole the show), this is one that is still quite rightly being talked about now for how perfectly Peele is able to talk about real world fears and issues within the context of a horror film. It's smartly written, very well made and will be a film talked about for a long time. 



Wonder Woman  

Diana Prince finally, finally gets the big screen treatment she deserves and this film was everything I could have ever wanted it to be. Gal Gadot is fantastic in the role, building on her supporting turn in Batman v Superman in a film that easily surpasses anything the DCEU has offered thus far. With strong direction from Patty Jenkins, this film was the kind of smartly written, hopeful, emotionally resonant and at times wonderfully humorous that had been missing from the DC films up until that point. It may have stumbled a bit at the end with yet another overblown CGI climax, but even with that it remains superior blockbuster entertainment. 



It Comes at Night 

This has to be one of the most misunderstood movies of the year, creating a very polarizing response. It seems a lot of people went into the film expecting a zombie film or something similar based on the marketing, but rather instead the film was a carefully crafted psychological thriller. The film takes a very grounded look at a family trying to survive a global pandemic in their isolated cabin in the woods and how they handle it when a stranger, looking for help for his family turns up at their house. As the two families, headed by Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott, come together feelings of doubt, insecurity and paranoia start to creep in as well as the two families begin to wonder just how much they can trust one another



Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was one of my favorite movies of the year. Tom Holland slips easily into the role of Peter Parker with charisma to spare. Michael Keaton was great as the villian, Adrian Toombs, who gives the role the requisite level of menace while also bringing a level of depth to the character that makes him one of the more memorable baddies in the MCU thus far. Jacob Batalon steals the show as Peter's best friend Ned though, adding a lot of humor to the film as he and Peter try to balance the trials of high school along with Peter still in the beginning stages of becoming a superhero and fighting his first real villain. Filled with humor and heart, this has quickly become my favorite Spider-Man movie thus far.


 
Baby Driver

Edgar Wright continues to impress as a director with his latest offering, this high speed heist film. Containing some of the most impressive stunt driving I have ever seen alongside an equally impressive soundtrack where the songs frequently coordinate with the action on screen, with even gunshots being in time with the beat of a song. Ansel Elgort leads the film as the music loving wheelman for local crime boss Kevin Spacey, who he is in debt to and anxious to get free of the criminal life. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm add to the proceedings as two other members of Spacey's larcenous gang. With style to spare, this flick was a cinematic adrenaline blast from beginning to end. 



The Big Sick

Based on their actual courtship, this film written by Kumail Nanjiani (starring as himself) and Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan in the film) details the unique beginning to their relationship, where not too long after they started dating, and right after they had initially broken up, Emily developed a serious infection that required her to be put into a medically induced coma while the doctors tried to cure the infection. In the meantime, while Emily is in the coma fighting the infection, Kumail begins to bond with her parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), whom he meets at the hospital when he comes to visit her. Warm and funny, The Big Sick is a refreshingly new entry in the well-worn romantic comedy genre. 



Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan's World War II film unfurls with an immediacy to it that pulls the viewer right into the action with little to no introduction. Unconventional in the way the story unfolds, as it is told from three separate perspectives, from the soldiers stranded on the beach, to the air support trying to protect them from enemy fire and the people coming to their rescue to aid in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Nolan handles the different stories well as well as the transitions between them. Between the fantastic cinematography and the great performances from the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and others, this movie really impressed me. 



Atomic Blonde

This ultra-hip and intense neon-infused spy film set against the fall of the Berlin wall was one of the best and coolest action movies I have seen in a long, long time. Charlize Theron owned the film as a British spy trying to recover a list of undercover agents before it can fall into the wrong hands, with James McAvoy's East Germany stationed agent assigned to help her. Double crosses and plot twists abound along with some of the most intense and impressively choreographed fight scenes I have ever seen in a film. This one was a cool blast from beginning to end.



Logan Lucky

This wonderfully funny heist film from director Steven Soderbergh went largely unnoticed this past summer and that's a shame. The film stars Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as two ne’er do well brothers who conspire to rob the Charlotte Speedway Nascar race track after Tatum loses his job there, with a bleach blond Daniel Craig as their partner in crime/munitions expert. The film is smart and clever as well as being very funny.



Wind River

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner star in this chilling mystery-thriller about an FBI agent tasked with investigating the rape and murder of a young woman on a Native American reservation in Wyoming, with a local wildlife tracker tasked with helping her in her investigation. With two dynamite performances from it's leads as well as a smartly written script, this made for an excellent film.



IT

Stephen King's masterpiece ode to childhood fears and the unbreakable bonds of friendship found its way to the big screen with style. It sets itself apart from the 1990 mini-series by smartly focusing on the first half of the novel, when the protagonists were children. With a strong cast and some masterfully crafted scares, this was one of the best horror movies I've seen in years and has left me anxiously anticipating the second part. 



Victoria & Abdul

Victoria & Abdul tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (played by Judi Dench) and Abdul Karim (played by Ali Fazal), a clerk from India sent to England to present a gift to the Queen. Taken by Abdul, Victoria requests Abdul stay on, first as her personal Footman and then as their friendship deepens, as her teacher about Indian culture. This friendship causes a great deal of tension in the Royal household, especially with Victoria's son, Bertie (played by Eddie Izzard). It's a wonderfully made film about a long forgotten chapter of British History, with two strong performances from both Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. 




Only the Brave

This film tells the story of the formation of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, a group of Wildfire firefighters based in Prescott, Arizona leading up to the devastating Yarnell wildfire in June, 2013. The film has a fantastic cast that includes Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch. We've seen movies like this before, but what made this one stand out to me was how it was told. The film keeps it's focus on it's characters and takes it's time to flesh them out. There are a number of a thrilling action set pieces, but it's the more dramatic and character driven moments that drive the film, which in turn made the film more emotionally resonant. 




Blade Runner 2049

Denis Villenueve crafted a worthy successor to the classic Ridley Scott Future Noir film Blade Runner, picking up the action 30 years later. With great performances from Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford and backed by some of the most impressive cinematography by Roger Deakins, this film more than met my expectations. 



Thor: Ragnarok

This film is some of the most fun I've had in a theatre in a long time. Taika Waititi breathes new life into a series of films that was already looking pretty tired by the second outing. Ditching the dead weight of the previous films that had been played out (Jane, Darcy, etc.) and focusing on Thor in Asgard, who is under threat by a new villain, played with scene chewing glee by Cate Blanchett. Thor winds up banished to a junk planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum as his most wonderfully eccentric, and also runs into Bruce Banner/Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo), who the two play off of wonderfully throughout the film. The film also introduces Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who is a wonderfully badass foil for Thor to play off of. The film is for the most part silly fun with more unexpected surprises that any other film in recent memory. Also, whatever it took to get the rights to Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song was worth it.  



Coco 

I've been a fan of Pixar ever since the first Toy Story was released back in 1995. Ever since then, they have grown and evolved with each release (some more than others, Cars 2 I'm looking at you). Coco is easily one of their best in recent memory, telling the tale of a young Mexican boy named Miguel and his journey through the Land of the Dead on Dia De Muertos that leads him to discover some long lost secrets about his family. Filled with gorgeous animation and an emotionally resonant story (it doesn't help that I saw this the day after Thanksgiving, so Family was at the forefront of my mind already) made this a deeply moving cinematic experience for me



Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO

This is one of the more boldly original films I've seen in a very long time. At times hysterically funny and others heartbreakingly serious, this film is unlike any other I have seen. Writer/Director Martin McDonagh tells the tale of Mildred (played by Frances McDormand) who is fed up with the lack of progress in the case of the rape and murder of her daughter and rent three billboards outside of town that directly address Police Chief Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson) and demanding results. Once Willoughby's second in command, Officer Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell), a racist and violent mama's boy gets involved do things really become exacerbated with the two sides repeatedly butting heads. McDonagh crafts a group of wonderfully complicated characters in Mildred, Willoughby, and Dixon and crafts a story around them that kept me guessing the whole way through in a gloriously over the top fashion. Filled with some of the blackest comedy I have ever seen in a film along with three fantastic performances from McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell. This is a film I won't soon forget, but also will concede it is not one for everyone either (I embedded the Red Band Trailer above. If you're able to get through that, you'll probably be ok).



Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There doesn't seem to have been a more divisive film this year between fans who really dig the new Star Wars film and those who hated it so much they circulated petitions to have it removed from the official Star Wars saga continuity. I enjoyed it myself in many ways because it wasn't the typical Star Wars film that one would expect and instead something a bit more complex and original. It offered a triumphant, proper return of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker while also making a strong finishing point for the late Carrie Fisher in her last acting role. 



Darkest Hour

Acting as an unofficial companion piece to Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, this film focuses on Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) during some of the most dire moments of World War II as Churchill figures out how to deal with with the ever approaching Nazi armies, pushing British forces to Dunkirk, while figuring out how to rally British parliament to war, when they want to go into peace talks with Hitler. Gary Oldman completely owns the role of Churchill and turns in an impressive performance that he completely disappears to. The film was directed by Joe Wright, who gives the film the right amount of visual flourish to complement the film. The film is not only a great historical film, but also an intimate portrait of Winston Churchill at perhaps the darkest period of his time as Prime Minister



Call Me By Your Name 


This achingly poignant story of a summer romance between 17 year old Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet) and grad student Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) staying with his family at their Northern Italy country home is nothing short of a work of beauty. The slow burn of the narrative and its focus on character over plot make the film all the more absorbing. Both Chalamet and Hammer are magnificent in their roles, but the film’s most poignant moment belongs to Michael Stuhlberg as Elio’s father, who imparts some heartfelt wisdom to his son late in the film. Wonderfully directed by Luca Guadagnino from a script by James Ivory hits all the right emotional notes, giving us a film that will linger in our thoughts long after we’ve left the theater.



Molly's Game

This film tells the tale of Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain), a former Downhill Skiing Olympian who had to rethink her future after a severe injury. She winds up, through sheer luck, stumbling into the world of high-stakes underground Poker in Los Angeles. Wanting more control over the games, she soon sets up her own games in a hotel sweet, inviting all the high rolling contacts she has accumulated and starts bringing in the big bucks, with some help from a wealthy player referred to only as Player X (played by Michael Cera). Things go south when she finds herself indicted in Federal Court for running an underground gambling operation, leading her to seek the help of attorney Charlie Jaffey (played by Idris Elba). The film was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, based on the true life story of Molly Bloom and crafts a thoroughly compelling film from it. Jessica Chastain is positively electric as Molly Bloom and completely owns the film. Idris Elba gives good support as her attorney as well. Michael Cera stretches outside of his usual persona as Player X, one of the many players Bloom refuses to identify to the court (but is strongly rumored to be Tobey Maguire in real life). This film was riveting for me from beginning to end as it kept itself centered on it's fascinating main character.



The Shape of Water 

Guillermo Del Toro once again brings his unique vision to the screen with this adult fable of Eliza (played by Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works as a janitor in a top secret laboratory who finds a unique kinship with an interesting creature housed there, an Amphibious Man (played by Doug Jones), who is essentially the Creature from the Black Lagoon. When she discovers the cruel lead scientist (played by Michael Shannon) intends to kill the creature to dissect it, she plans a daring escape operation to get the creature out of there and back to the ocean, with help from her friend and co-worker Zelda (played by Octavia Spencer), lonely artist neighbor Giles (played by Richard Jenkins) and another scientist at the facility, Dr. Hoffstetler (played by Michael Stuhlbarg). Del Toro crafts a unique and very moving film anchored by a wonderful performance by Sally Hawkins and great supporting turns by Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg. 
     


The Post 

This is a movie that needed to be made now, a story of the power of the press released in this era of "Fake News". It tells the story of Kay Graham (played by Meryl Streep), owner of the Washington Post, who finds herself with a serious dilemma as to whether or not to publish a report on classified government documents proving that the Government had been lying to the public about the Vietnam War. The paper's editor, Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) wants to publish them, but it also comes at the eve that the Washington Post was going to become a publically traded company, not to mention that publishing would land them in serious trouble from a legal standpoint. Steven Spielberg directs the film well, handling the different plot points as well as the stakes that the characters are facing making for compelling viewing as well as becoming something of a companion piece to All the President's Men. Then again, I was a journalism student so viewers responses may vary.

So, there we have it. These were my favorite movies from 2017. This past year was a ridiculously good one for cinema. I was working from a rather long list to pare it down to the 25 films listed above, which is still a ridiculous number for a Best of the Year list. Ones that didn't quite make the cut but are nonetheless ones I greatly enjoyed include: John Wick: Chapter 2, Trainspotting 2, Fate of the Furious, Colossal, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Hitman's Bodyguard, American Made, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Gerald's Game, Murder on the Orient Express, Last Flag Flying, All the Money in the World, The Greatest Showman, and Wonder.