For the last four or five years, I haven’t been going to the movies nearly as often as I used to. Unfortunately, Hollywood just isn’t producing a lot of films that I’m excited about right now. I was starting to feel like I had lost an important part of myself – I used to anticipate new films from my favorite directors the way I now anticipate new albums from my favorite musicians.
Because of this, I made an effort to see all the films that received lots of hype in 2017. Fortunately, I only saw a few films that were truly awful (my pick for worst of the year is unquestionably The Dark Tower, a pitiful adaptation of a brilliant series of novels). However, truly exciting films were also few and far between. The majority of films I saw were okay to pretty good, meaning a decent way to waste your time but nothing special. I actually struggled to come up with ten films worth writing about out of the twenty-seven I ended up seeing – that’s not a great ratio. Despite this, every film listed here does offer something unique and moved me enough in some way to leave an impression, which is the most important thing a film can do for me.
10. Kuso (Steve Ellison)
I’ll admit to a bias here – if I wasn’t a huge fan of the music Ellison makes as Flying Lotus and Captain Murphy, I wouldn’t have paid the same amount of attention to this film. And I will also admit that it’s far from great; however, it’s not really meant to be. This is a midnight movie in the truest sense, the type of experience meant for audiences who prefer their films drugged-out and jarringly disturbing. It’s borderline nonsensical, cutting between surreal vignettes and using Adult Swim-esque music videos as transitions. Some of the writing is pretty bad, the comic moments aren’t as strong as they could have been, and the film relies way too heavily on gross-out tactics, primarily involving bodily fluids. Despite this, it still manages to be oddly riveting – I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen and have even re-watched it. I really like the visual style and am amazed by what Ellison could do with just half a million dollars. If nothing else, I admire the sheer audacity on display here, the bravery to make a film that no one else could make and very few people will want to see. It’s a truly personal statement, which is my favorite kind of cinema.
9. It (Andres Muschietti)
The people who made The Dark Tower could learn a thing or two from this film about adapting beloved Stephen King novels. I read this book for the first time when I was eleven and it was extremely impactful for me. At that time, it was definitely the most adult book I had ever read and it stuck with me. I’ve been waiting a long time for a proper theatrical adaptation and I’m thrilled to say that it actually delivers. After the perfectly-executed opening sequence and chilling title card, I knew I was in for a treat. The kids are perfectly cast, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is delightfully creepy, and the sound design is awesome. It’s not perfect – parts of the plot are a bit over-simplified and some characters get short-changed, but I suppose that’s inevitable when you’re adapting a book that’s over a thousand pages long. I’ll reserve my final judgment until part two is released, but this adaptation is off to a great start.
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
Martin McDonagh is an interesting filmmaker and this is probably his most interesting work to date, telling the story of a mother who rents three billboards challenging the police as to why they haven’t arrested anyone for her daughter’s rape. The concept has huge dramatic potential and a powerhouse cast to deliver it – Frances Mcdormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson are all in peak form here. Even the smaller roles are perfectly cast, with the standout being a criminally under-used Peter Dinklage. The film is definitely entertaining, filled with great character moments and a surprising amount of humor – my only major complaint is that it fails to leave the emotional impact that it could have. This is mostly due to the script, which delivers great monologues for the actors but is clumsy in the way it addresses huge societal issues without ever really commenting on them. However, one could argue that the point McDonagh is trying to make is that real life is extremely messy and people’s motivations are often more complicated than they seem to be; although maybe not the most powerful stance the film could have taken, it’s nonetheless a valid one.
7. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Vileneuve)
I’m actually not a fan of Ridley Scott’s original film, so I was not anticipating this at all. I was marginally interested at best and missed it in theaters, but all the glowing reviews I saw led me to rent it on demand. In hindsight, I really wish I could’ve seen this on the big screen – even at home, it’s a jaw-dropping visual experience. The combination of Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s pulsing score create moments of visual poetry. Ryan Gosling gives a solid performance in the lead role and Harrison Ford is way more interesting here than he was in the original. Beyond that, the script raises questions that the original only hinted at and creates a far deeper and more rewarding narrative. It does get a bit confusing at times, but everything is successfully unraveled by the time the credits roll. As long as it is, I almost wish it was a little longer – a few elements, especially Jared Leto’s character, deserve to be explored further. Overall though, I found this to be a visually stunning and rarely thought-provoking sci-fi film that I will definitely re-watch in the future.
6. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
A low-budget thriller dealing with racial issues from a first-time filmmaker is a huge box office success and now finds itself in the Oscar Best Picture race – this has to be the most inspiring success story of 2017. While I do think the film has grown a bit overhyped, it is still extremely entertaining and Jordan Peele’s script is the most original of the year (I won’t spoil the mystery behind the horrors, but the answers are truly brilliant when they arrive in the conclusion). Similar to Three Billboards, my only problem is that the film sacrifices emotional impact for entertainment value. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer movies that take big risks and leave the audience reeling. I felt the ending to this film was a compromise that weakened the overall message; however, I also understand that compromises like this are often necessary in order for films to get released. Despite the sugar-coated ending, this is still an edge-of-your-seat thriller with a very unique twist.
5. The Disaster Artist (James Franco)
I have never seen The Room and went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about Tommy Wiseau. After the film was over, I found myself extremely fascinated by this character and wanting to know more, so it’s fair to say that James Franco has successfully accomplished what he set out to do here. His performance as Wiseau is transformative, probably my favorite performance this year – he so completely disappears into Tommy’s strange accent and mannerisms that I found myself forgetting I was watching an actor. Beyond his performance, the film is riotously funny and well-paced, not wasting a second of screen time. Though it’s not a particularly deep or thought-provoking experience, the ending of the film is oddly touching and packs more of an emotional punch than I expected.
4. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
I did not care for Tangerine, Sean Baker’s first film, so I had very low expectations for this one. It ended up being the biggest surprise of the year for me and quickly rocketed up towards the top of my list. This film expertly balances the dark reality of poverty with the fantastical, dream-like state of being a child. Brooklyn Prince is revelatory as Moonee and Bria Venaite is almost disturbingly authentic as her train-wreck of a mother, Hailey. Willem Dafoe adds a wonderful supporting performance as the manager of the motel Moonee and Hailee live in. I would’ve liked to know a little more about his character’s backstory, but that’s a small complaint – this movie isn’t about him. This movie is about Moonee and the scenes of her and her friends running wild through Orlando filled me with a sense of unbridled joy, perfectly capturing the feeling of a child’s innocence. The film is also gorgeously shot, making the seedy underbelly outside of Disney World look like a fairy-tale in decay – everything is brightly colorful and gloriously alive. Finally, without spoiling anything, I want to say that the ending of this film really moved me. I could write a whole essay about just those final few moments, but it’s a surprising conclusion that is alternately heartbreaking and beautiful, much like the film itself.
3. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson is a brilliant filmmaker, but his last few films haven’t really connected with me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new one, but I’m pleased to say that it’s my favorite work of his in a long time. As usual with Anderson, the technical craftsmanship couldn’t be better; it’s beautifully shot, the costumes are lush and Jonny Greenwood’s score is hauntingly powerful. There are only three major characters, but each of them are fascinatingly complex and perfectly portrayed. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic in what is supposedly his final role and Lesley Manville is extremely effective as his overbearing sister. However, the true surprise of the film is newcomer Vicky Krieps, who manages to stand toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis throughout the film. It’s best to know as little as possible about the story going in. All I will say is that it’s a fascinating examination of artistic obsession mixed with a disturbingly original portrayal of love. I’ve never seen a relationship quite like this on screen and will undoubtedly be returning to this film in the future to sort through its many layers.
2. Logan (James Mangold)
I’m beyond burned out on superhero movies – Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of my lifetime, but since then, the genre has been reduced to a joke. There’s seemingly a new one every weekend and it’s become harder and harder to tell them apart. That’s why Logan is such a refreshing change of pace. Finally, here’s the dark, violent, adult Wolverine movie I’ve wanted to see my entire life. Hugh Jackman has always been great in this role, but I had completely lost interest in the franchise, assuming that nothing fresh could be done at this point. I couldn’t have been more wrong – not only is this the best Wolverine or X-men related film by a mile, it’s the best superhero movie directed by someone not named Christopher Nolan. This film is action-packed and suspenseful from beginning to end, more than earning its R rating (it’s so awesome to see Wolverine hacking people to bits – no more of that sanitized PG-13 nonsense). However, what truly makes the film great is how unexpectedly layered and emotional it is. This is mostly due to the fantastic performances by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who couldn’t ask for a better send-off for these characters. I was stunned to find myself actually in tears at the end of this film. For those who hate the genre, try not to be prejudiced. This isn’t just a good action movie, but a great film, regardless of genre
1. Mother! (Darren Aronofsky)
This was by far the easiest choice on my list. I know lots of people really, really hated this film and I can understand why. This a brutal, unrelenting battering ram of a movie that is almost physically painful to sit through at times. Many people would ask, why would you want to feel this way? To me, no films are better than the ones which provoke powerful emotional responses. While this may not be an uplifting or pleasant experience in the slightest, it truly moved me in a way that no film has in years. I found myself literally gasping in some parts and crying in others. When the film finally reached its mind-blower of an ending, I could only sit there in silence for several minutes, unable to move or speak. Darren Aronofsky is unrivaled in his ability to create nightmares – as someone who has been trapped for long periods in really dark mental places before, this film gets it thrillingly right. Jennifer Lawrence gives her best performance to date and is ably supported by Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. The script does a brilliant job of shrouding the entire film in mystery and delivering shocking twists in the climax. I really don’t want to say anything about what happens in this film – it’s essential that you go in blind. I really do recommend that everyone watch this, even though many will hate it. This is the type of experience that is far too rare these days; a film that takes huge risks and is guaranteed to polarize audiences, a film that will elicit major emotional reactions from just about anybody, a film that can be debated and analyzed endlessly. To me, this is the whole point of the cinema. We don’t all have to like the same things, but we should have a discussion about it. While many people may have mocked this film, not one of them could resist talking about it because it made them feel something powerful – I can’t imagine a greater achievement than that.
Thanks For Reading!