Pete's Top 10 Films of 2017
Before even getting into what I have whittled down to my personal Top 10 list of 2017 we must take into account a few films that I have not yet seen due to it either not playing locally at all or playing for a week and during that brief stretch I was away for work reasons. What makes these even more impactful are that they all seem to be hot contenders and therefore I may have to adjust this listing in a months time. First and foremost is Steven Spielberg's The Post. It has yet to play at a nearby theater and Spielberg being my all time favorite filmmaker, who knows where it may have landed on the final list. Second is Paul Thomas Anderson's The Phantom Thread starring the unequaled Daniel Day Lewis. Again, this has yet to play in Central Florida. Last but not least is The Florida Project. Sean Baker's followup to the lightning rod that was Tangerine. This was more a case of bad timing where the film DID play locally but I was away due to work travel. Bummer to miss three of my most anticipated films of the year but what a year it was. Such a year that honorable mentions are a must.
In no particular order the honorable mentions are...
IT - Held together by a fantastic group of young talent and a redefining performance of a horror icon by Bill Skarsgard, IT leaps over its source material and sets up what could be a genre defining duo of films.
The Big Sick - An absolute delight to watch form start to finish even when things seem to be going in a spiral for our characters.
Baby Driver - Slicker than slick can be. Quick paced. Incredibly designed. Another smash from Edgar Wright.
The Disaster Artist - One of the best surprises of the year. This could have gone bad in a very awkward way but Franco is absolutely brilliant here.
Mother - The most uncomfortable I have felt in a theater possibly ever and all for the right reasons. Aronofsky wrangles pure chaos on screen while Jennifer Lawrence has never been better.
Thor : Ragnarok - The most fun I had at the movies all year. I was a mark for this popcorn extravaganza and I bought in 100%. Waititi made it fun to see a comic book movie again.
John Wick 2 - To be honest, I was expecting to be let down with the follow up to a film no one saw coming. I actually favor the sequel now. It expands a highly intriguing world that is built upon everything that was set up in the first and creates a landscape I cannot wait to see set on fire in the third film.
Get Out - What can I say that has not already been said? Jordan Peele took everyone by surprise here and I feel the appreciation for this one is still growing. It probably should be on my Top 10 but I just found others to be a fraction above it personally.
Split - The sequel I waited patiently for the last 17 years. I rarely say a peep in a theater. Ever. When the end happens and the connections are made, I audibly said "What the fuck is happening? Is this fucking happening?" in a fairly packed theater. It was the single greatest "holy shit" moment I have ever had at the movies. That combined with James McAvoy standout performance(s) and I was pleased in a way I did not think possible...till later in the calendar year.
Finally, War for the Planet of the Apes. This was a virtual tie for my eventual number 10. The fact that this trilogy is among the best of all time is nothing short of shocking to me. There are a busload of reasons these productions could have failed yet against all odds, they got better each installment culminating with a beautiful finish to the tale that started in 2011.
Now for the Top 10
#10 - Star Wars - The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson has made Star Wars exciting again. A franchise with 40 years of established rules just got a heavy dose of looking at itself in the mirror and all the better for it. It takes what made the older films special and added a layer of complexity to the Jedi Order and how it operates. it expands the scope of the Force and makes Luke Skywalker a legend who ignites the spark for a new generation of Rebels and Jedi. Rey becomes her own person. Finn stops running. Poe learns how to lead from Leia. Expectations are tossed out the window and milk is greedily guzzled. I cannot believe the Star Wars franchise got its ballsiest entry under the overly protective shell of Disney. For this reason it beat out Apes and finds its way into the start of my list. I have never been this excited for the future of the franchise.
#9 - Lady Bird
Five minutes into Lady Bird and director Great Gerwig gives you the landscape for the entire film. Nothing is new here but it's done so well and feels so natural that you imagine you are reading the director's personal diary, which in a sense is exactly what you are doing. The film is semi-autobiographical with Saoirse Ronan filling the screen with energy, positive and negative, for every frame. The relationship we look in on with her mother, played with pin point passive-aggressiveness by Laurie Metcalf, is the very heart of it all and does not disappoint in effectiveness. There are some who feel this will go the way of Juno and have its cuteness fare poorly over time but I really don't see the comparison here. Much of the film is the central character, self named Lady Bird, screwing up royally and having to learn some hard lessons quick. At the films close she is improving but with many more miles to go. While you leave the theater with a warm heart, you feel it was earned and will continue to ask for effort to keep that light aflame. It is one hell of a breakout for Greta Gerwig and all eyes will be on what she does next.
#8 - The Lost City of Z
They simply just do not make them like this anymore. Based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, played quietly to perfection by a standout Charlie Hunnam, The Lost City of Z tells a tale of obsession against ridicule from others and the ever clicking clock of mortality. As time goes by, that youthful zest may make way for dangerous fixation at ones own peril. Directed by James Grey, the film is focused, drenched in atmosphere and shadow. It simply looks like a product of old Hollywood that would not get budgeted in the modern age. Robert Pattinson plays Fawcett's closest confidant and is just terrific with a non traditional turn for the ever growing talent. You will see him appear on this list again as well. Nothing here is overdone from the look of the film to the performances. It's all balanced so well while keeping you engaged and invested in this man and his madness of discovery.
#7 - A Ghost Story
Without question the most challenging film on my list. It's not for everyone although everyone should see it. It is a piece of art that asks a lot from it audience early on in the film when Rooney Mara falls into despair and decides to have some cake...for 5 minutes that consist of two shots. The film is trying to portray to the audience how long time can feel when you simply can only watch silently. We experience what "C", played by a sheet covered Casey Affleck, will endure for much much longer. I could not take my eyes off it. David Lowery directs this dreamlike experience and goes places I never guessed as I initially sat in the theater. With Affleck's face covered for the majority of the runtime we the audience place ourselves within him and attach our emotions to him. It's all very intimate if it works for you. Without question the most polarizing film of the year that did not feature laser swords and moving rocks.
#6 - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
My anticipation for the latest offering by Martin McDonagh was peaked by the hilarious trailer. That trailer wound up being more a red herring though as Three Billboards is aiming much higher than just another dark comedy. It puts moral acceptance in the gun sights while handing the audience the firearm. What are we as a people willing to find within what is rightfully earned? That question is constantly put before its watchers yet it never feeds an answer. It just leaves it hanging there for you to contemplate. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are the highlights here in a film packed with spectacular performances. Woody Harrelson in particular is rock solid as the easy going Chief of Police in a manner that only Woody Harrelson can do so breezily. I entered the theater expecting to laugh in the way In Bruges made me laugh. McDonagh was not satisfied with repeating old glories though and excels in the making.
#5 - Logan
It seems we must save the best for last when it comes to the story of Logan. More a western that what you would consider a comic-book film, James Mangold gives Hugh Jackman the final bow he deserves in his run as the legendary Wolverine. It's almost frustrating that it took this long to get a solo film worth its salt. It's not the blood that makes it good. Not the swearing that makes it excellent. It's that you feel every inch of pain that Logan does. You suffer with him and struggle to make things right. At least make right of what is in front of him anyway. What he can still make a difference in. A life filled with regrets is eating at him, metaphorically and literally, so while staring death square in the eye the hero emerges once more. He may not look like the hero and certainly does not accept the role willingly but there he is, claws out, putting himself between a child and those who would harm her. Not that she needs ALL the saving. Dafne Keen plays Laura and she is in step with Logan's unpredictable wildness without hesitation. Much like Logan, she never asked for this. She never asked to be the subject of violent, intrusive experiments. She never asked to be a weapon. She simply must do what it takes to survive now. Patrick Stewart gets to flex his acting muscles here as well in portraying a Professor X who is just as broken as his former X-Men. Charles can see the light at the end of the tunnel though. Logan just assumes it's a freight train. A head on collision. Both are correct. Please know that I refer to the "noir" version of the film during this review too. The Noir version is in reference to the black and white presentation of Logan that without doubt adds a layer of beauty to the look of the film like none other this year. Logan is right next to Nolan's The Dark Knight and Donner's Superman as the best comic book film ever made. Difference here is that it's not a comic book film. It simply a film that has a comic book characters in it.
#4 - Good Time
Wild. That is my one word review for Good Time starring an on fire Robert Pattinson that should earn him a Best Actor nod easily. Ben Safdie, who is the films co-director as well, pulls a magic trick of acting in the character of Nick who is the brother of Pattinson's Connie. Tension and frantic pace take up the entire reel here directed by Benny and Josh Safdie. I have never done cocaine but this film is cinematic cocaine. The is no down time. You are snorting rails throughout and the moment you may blink, another line is cut for consumption. This film could have come out in the 70's and it would fit in perfectly with the grim filled crime tales of that momentous era. Very few times in my life have the credits rolled and I felt the need to exhale. Good Time does that and makes me excited to see what the Safdie Brothers cook up next. Between this and The Lost City of Z, if you are not taking stock in Robert Pattinson as an actor, you are foolish.
#3 - The Shape of Water
I admit upfront that Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite modern day filmmakers. His visual palette combined with a passion for fairy tales and monsters speaks to me on a personal level that gives an edge over many. I was excited about The Shape of Water and the positive buzz preceding my viewing was encouraging. I was absolutely swallowed up by this film in the first 10 seconds. What is unquestionably his best work since the masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro has crafted a living fairy tale with not a hint of irony. Only pure love. Sally Hawkins shines here as Elisa, a mute janitor in a shady corporate building teeming with secrets at every turn. Silent in speech but tremendously loud in emotion. In scene where she pleas to her next door neighbor, the scene stealing Richard Jenkins, seals in the heart of the film. Michael Shannon is the big bad wolf here and he accomplishes it all so easily that one wonders where the ceiling of this mans talent resides if one exists at all. All the elements of filmmaking are in full swing here. The music attaches beautifully to the production design. The actors within the setting and the story within the framework. So much of this film could have gone awry. In the simplest of terms, it's a love story between a mute and the creature from the Black Lagoon. In a single sentence that premise is wrought with pitfalls but del Toro navigates them confidently adding just the right touch of passion, mystery and even horror. I knew what the finish would be 10 minutes into the film and I was still entranced every moment. Monumental storytelling is on display here.
#2 - Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan making quality is a surprise to no one at this juncture. We expect something of note when he puts a film up on the big screen. He is a pure filmmaker. With all of that already noted, Dunkirk blew me out of my damn seat. Shot in breathe taking 70MM, every bullet, every gasp of air, every second spent in danger is magnetized as over 300,000 troops await to be either saved or slaughtered on the shores of France. This being a Nolan film we just can't give a straight narrative timeline so all is broken up into three parts that overlap consistently even if at first we are unawares. This is all needed as well because in order for the tension to meet at a climax we must be a part of each plot lines movement as it happens. It is masterfully done. Minimum dialogue is present as the need is not there. We always know what the stakes are and where we are situated. Time is running out and fuses are short to get to safety. A connection is made to the soldiers we are following here in feeling the danger at hand like never before. This film made me terrified of being in an actual war. It reminded me of when I watched the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan and it changed my outlook on the glory of war forever. I would never posses the bravery these men had no choice but to exude. Dunkirk made me feel even more helpless. Call it the clarity of 70MM but you can see every bump and scrape of the soldiers. Every loosening thread on the uniforms. In a very early scene you see the scabbed over knuckles of Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead. It was a level of intimate detail I never truly measured before. The soundtrack is expertly matched in the ticking clock that is the entire plot of the film. Hans Zimmer is at his pinnacle here working with Nolan. The final scene of the film takes place on a train headed back home as Tommy reads the newspaper to fellow soldier Alex (Harry Styles proving he has sizable chops) and the famous words of Churchill proclaiming how England "will never surrender" are taken from the lead story. It sent such a surge through me. I at once wanted to defend the world and save it from the tyranny of itself. I began to cry. I do not care if it's cliche. Dunkirk is a tour de force and one for the ages.
#1 -Blade Runner 2049
This film should not exist. By all the rules of Hollywood, a big budget follow up to a cult sci-fi film from 1982 has no realistic expectation to be made. When the film was first announced you would have been hard pressed to find someone not state "I'll believe it when I see it". What Blade Runner 2049 accomplishes against all odds is nothing short of astonishing. It was my top film of 2017 the moment I left the theater and nothing since has changed that stance.
Shot under the legendary lens of Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 is a visual masterpiece showcasing decades of knowledge and artistry. If Deakins does not win the Oscar for Best Cinematography this year, it will never happen. All looks and no heart get you nowhere though and that is where director Denis Villeneuve comes into play weaving a new thread in the world of Ridley Scott's original while also fitting the past into the present in a meaningful way and not as a pat on the head to its past supporters. Ryan Gosling's K is the grounding presence in the otherwise strange and foreign world. Gosling excels at minimalist acting in physical movement by making every facial tick meaningful. He displays so much in stillness it reminded me of Pacino in the closing shot of The Godfather II as Michael looks onto the lake with the weight of his conscience crushing him all while remaining stoic. You feel every emotional beat of K. Considering what K is, that is quite a feat. The film brings to question what it is to love and be human. What it is to have faith. The original did the same but not at this level. We dig much deeper than the first yarn and we don't have exact answers. Ana de Armas's Joi is the perfect fit to K. Why? Because that is her function. Or is there something deeper to be considered? When K is at his lowest he is confronted with what he has recently lost which he felt was his alone only to discover that was not really the case. Or was it? Was his passion real or a combination of code strung inside him? What about the passion he received? Is understanding the truth of that what pushes him forward to fight for something larger than himself? Does he fight because he knows it was real and finds it worth getting back up for? When K must track down a lead to find his way through the mystery pulling the thread of the film, he finds what we see as a familiar face in Deckard. Harrison Ford's return here is absolutely crackling when he and Gosling are trying to edge the other out physically or mentally. Ford also brings to surface the very same dilemmas K faces when he states "I know what's real" as his interpretation of past events is put into question by a terrifying Jared Leto as Niander Wallace. Alongside Wallace is another standout in Sylvia Hoeks Luv who is also having an internal struggle of her own. She may even steal the show in some aspects.
The film has gotten some guff over the extensive run time but it never bothered my for a moment. The more I saw of the world, the more I wanted to dig deeper. From grub farms, to dream factories, to the rawest of human ugliness, to the deserted paradise in the dessert, the world building is tremendous. Blade Runner 2049 is a film that should have never happened. It did and it topped the original by expanding on all the themes presented initially while supported by a killer performance in Gosling and woven like silk by Villeneuve. We will never see a film like this again for a long time.