Bill’s Top 10 for 2017

As I mentioned in the introductory post, I saw 56 movies in calendar year 2017. There’s a lot I didn’t see, and some that I can’t see until Oscar nominations come out later this month.

It’s also no coincidence that I started this blog on the night of the Golden Globe Awards. Part of the frustration I have with Awards Season in general is that what is considered “the best” is usually decided by a handful of anonymous people, and the Globes are a prime example. The warmup for the Academy Awards is a huge party put on by a few dozen voting members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, all of whom have been aggressively marketed to for the last several weeks. Voters get screener DVDs so they can see everything before we do, and they get to say what’s better than everything else.

Well screw that. I’m just a schmo who goes to the movies every chance he gets. Sometimes I agree with the prestige, sometimes I don’t. But I don’t get a vote, and as such I don’t get the gift baskets and perks from the studios to say something is better than something else. All I have are functioning eyes and ears, and fingers to type. So, to give you a taste of how I judge and rate movies, here are my 10 favorites from last year.

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – I was surprised by how polarizing this movie ended up being. It was flawed, certainly, but the good more than made up for the bad. From where I sat, there were three major problems. One, the second act dragged a bit, which was even more noticeable given that this is, I believe, the longest entry in the franchise. Two, there were too many CGI creatures. The Porgs were annoying (why would you create a species just to torment Chewbacca? Why?), and I could have gone my whole life without knowing where the blue milk came from. Three, given that we lost Carrie Fisher at the end of 2016, the fakeout of Leia’s non-death was in poor taste. But otherwise, I absolutely loved this film! It’s not The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s also mercifully not Attack of the Clones, either. We got more Poe, Laura Dern was a fun character, I geeked out at seeing the real Yoda, and I was absolutely enthralled with both Luke’s internal conflict and the Force-induced mind link between Kylo Ren and Rey. The film simultaneously stoked my nostalgia while telling me to let it go, and that is a very fine line to tread. I think it succeeded.

9. The Big Sick – If more rom-coms were like this, I’d go to a lot more of them. This was the best pure comedy of the year, laugh out loud funny, and sweet in a way that caught me off guard. I’ve been a fan of Kumail Nanjiani for a long time, and the fact that he could be so easily upstaged by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter is a credit to all of their collective acting abilities.

8. Marshall – I liked this more than a lot of critics, partly because Thurgood Marshall is one of my personal heroes. I also really enjoyed Josh Gad’s performance, despite the fact that he’s pretty much taken over for Jack Black as the token fat guy in just about every movie.

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Frances McDormand gives her best performance since Fargo, and Sam Rockwell makes a racist cop sympathetic. The film is at once funny, tragic, and poignant, and hits just about every note perfectly. Honestly my only complaint was that the trailers showed us nearly every scene that Peter Dinklage got in the film, hinting at a much larger role than he actually got.

6. Last Flag Flying – Another film I liked more than the critics and the campaigners. Steve Carrell, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston all gave nomination-worthy performances as a grieving father and his squad mates from the Vietnam War. The film also drew some salient parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, a needed reminder of reality in a year where millions of people – myself included – at least for a moment begged for the sanity and intelligence of George W. Bush in light of our current political climate.

5. Loving Vincent – With a Kickstarter budget of around $1 million (I think), a team of artists created one of the most unique animated films of all time, a Citizen Kane-esque look at the death of Vincent van Gogh (it’s pronounced “Van GOFF” people!) made entirely of 65,000 individual oil paintings. I was blown away by how accurately the cast was made to look like the portraits that inspired their characters, and nearly wept with joy at seeing the slightest changes in brush stroke whenever someone tilted their head or a shadow was cast on the background. High art at its finest.

4. Your Name – This is technically a cheat, as the film was originally released in 2016, where it became the highest grossing film in Japan. It came stateside in April, and I finally got a chance to see this international phenomenon. I make no secret that I’m an anime fan, but this film went above and beyond in every respect. What could have been just a simple body switch comedy turned into a spectacle beyond anything I could have imagined, a magnum opus on par with Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest works. I nearly wept watching Loving Vincent. I actually did sob a couple times watching this.

3. Get Out – Never have I had so much fun watching a horror movie. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut was both scary and real for many in the theatre, while half the time I was just nerding out at all the genre references and homages to great filmmakers like John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick. The movie subverted and reinforced tropes, had great funny moments (but it’s not a comedy no matter what the HFPA says), and somehow made Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener into menacing antagonists. I mean, how much more perfect can you get? Daniel Kaluuya’s performance was brilliant, and it was even nice to see Allison Williams not get her ass eaten out.

2. Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig is my current celebrity crush, has been since I saw 20th Century Women last year. Plus, this Irish bastard has a weakness for Saoirse Ronan as well, so I was already susceptible to this film when I saw the trailer. But nothing could have prepared me for what should now be considered the standard by which all coming-of-age films are judged. The relationship between Ronan and her tough love-dispensing mother (Laurie Metcalf giving the performance of her life) hit me like a ton of bricks. Lucas Hedges (who’s had quite a year between his nomination for Manchester by the Sea and his performance in Three Billboards) was an endearing subplot as well. Most importantly for me, though, is that this film was one of the only times I can remember seeing lower-middle class people depicted on screen as normal, decent human beings. Having grown up poor myself, I know how much my mother sacrificed and the lengths she went to in order to keep my sister and I from knowing how bad things got at times. Our only luxury was cable TV. But most of the time, when you see the working poor on film, they’re either minorities beaten down by the system, or they’re white trash who never try for anything better (see: The Florida Project). But the family Gerwig depicts here is the same kind of family I grew up with and knew my whole life: good, decent, hardworking people left behind by an indifferent world, and as someone with artistic aspirations myself, I related to “Lady Bird” and her ennui.

1. Dunkirk – Hard to believe, but there were three movies last year about the evacuation from Dunkirk. Apart from this, you have Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, and the decent-but-forgettable Their Finest, about British propaganda films that were made about Dunkirk to raise morale during WWII. I fully admit that I’m a sucker for Christopher Nolan and his unique brand of cinematic fuckery. I thought Inception was the best film in its year, and I think so here as well. The idea of taking three disparate storylines, each of them set in a different (yet converging) timeframe would have been a disaster in anyone else’s hands. But Nolan is an absolute master at this sort of thing. Even crazier, he originally intended to make the film without a script, which can be seen in the minimalist dialogue used throughout the proceedings. The action sequences were amazingly shot. The fact that the Nazis were an ever-present menacing threat despite not being seen until the very end was an inspired bit of scene building. Even Harry fucking Styles impressed me with his performance, though the MVP by far in the acting department was Mark Rylance, making his case for another Supporting Actor Oscar as far as I’m concerned. I admit that I like war films in general more than some other genres (though comedies are my favorite), so there may be a bit of bias in me picking this as my #1. But one of the biggest challenges in cinema today, especially prestige cinema, is to break new ground. Even the best films tend to fall into one pigeon hole or another, showing us new takes on something we’ve already seen before. Dunkirk is something I’ve never seen before, and for that alone it would have been high on my list, just like Loving Vincent or Get Out. If there’s one thing 2017 got right it’s that we saw a lot of truly unique films, a welcome distraction from the more formulaic stuff that studios crammed down our throats throughout the year. To me, Dunkirk was the best of the best.

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