by Philip Price
For me, 2017 has been something of an off year. It seems most avid movie-goers and critics have found much to enjoy-too much even to be able to narrow down their favorites of the year to a simple top 10. For me, I have struggled to find ten films worthy of what I would say are exceptional pieces of work that will stay with me past the calendar year into which they will forever be categorized. Sure, there have been films with exceptional moments-glaring omissions from my favorites list that will make many others are that of “Lady Bird,” “Call Me by Your Name,” and “The Shape of Water.” I couldn't agree more that each of those films possess inspired moments that transcend the art form, but where they film that made an impression on me that will last, if not forever, but at least a few weeks after seeing them? Not at this point, no. I have thankfully managed to whittle the 200-plus new releases I've seen this year down into ten that have stuck with me, but this admittedly pessimistic discourse thus far doesn't mean I couldn't fill out a top fifteen or twenty. There are films not present on the list below that I would highly recommend and that would no doubt come in somewhere in the next five spots just outside my top ten. Though 2017 has been something of an odd year for my own personal tastes and the lack of as many being able to meet or exceed my expectations it would be a shame not to mention the likes of the pigeon-holed “Stronger” as it is much better than its Oscar bait facade would have you believe, the weird and deliriously entertaining “The Disaster Artist,” the criminally underseen and overlooked “Brigsby Bear,” Steven Soderbergh's return to feature filmmaking in “Logan Lucky,” and Sofia Coppola's re-make of “The Beguiled” with a handful of pitch perfect performances all deserve your love and attention if they haven't received it already. I've pretty much seen everything I imagine might have a shot at making my list except for maybe “Phantom Thread” (which isn't scheduled to open in my neck of the woods until January 18th), but Paul Thomas Anderson has always been hit or miss with me given his films always feel easier to appreciate rather than enjoy. With the film being touted as Daniel Day-Lewis' final bow as an actor though, it demands to be seen and I'm eager to see what all the buzz has been about once it does open near me. Furthermore, I look forward to re-visiting award season heavies like “The Post” and “Molly's Game” when they make their national debuts in January as they were both films I liked, but came nowhere close to be the giants many in the press touted them to be. All things considered, please know that I went into every film this year really wanting to like it and the ones that follow are the ones that surprised me with their quality or surpassed every expectation I held for them. Enjoy!
10. “Gaga: Five Foot Two”
I have a lot of feelings toward Lady Gaga, but mainly I just have a ton of respect for her. Having loved how much of an understanding she's had over the years as to what was necessary to make herself into this kind-of iconic figure she has become it was startling to see this documentary from director Chris Moukarbel break that all down. These walls and the mythic status Gaga has crafted over the years come tumbling down, but at a point in her career when it was necessary. A new layer needed to be added to the facade to sustain the intrigue and ‘Five Foot Two’ gently captures Gaga's passion for creating music, her understanding and handling of the fame that has come along with the gift of being able to create art as a lifestyle, as well as providing insight on where she pulls inspiration from. There is a scene in the film where Gaga AKA Stefani Germanotta plays a song for her grandmother, her father's mother, with her father present that is about her aunt who passed away when she was 19 and who served as the inspiration and namesake for Gaga's last album, Joanne, that will outright wreck you. "She had a lot of talent, but she didn't have enough time."
Sometimes we forget there is more to the movies than entertainment. Sometimes, it seems, we forget that there can be more to a story than information, simple insight, or distraction, but rather that a story can genuinely move you. As sappy and excessively sweet as it may sound that is what “Wonder” does. It is a movie that has all the trappings of a melodramatic dramedy that plays on the sentimentalities of the audience in false ways and if you're a seasoned movie-goer of any kind it's easy to see why “Wonder” would be pinpointed as such. The trailers made “Wonder” look like something that ranks somewhere between a Hallmark made-for-TV movie and an after school special that shows children the repercussions of bullying, but walking out of the theater it is beyond evident that this movie is so much more than that. “Wonder” is a movie aware of what it is meant to do without being self-aware in the slightest. The word is humble. “Wonder” is a movie that defines being respectable without having to feel like it needs to announce its importance; it just is.
8. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
The most striking aspect of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is how it actually becomes a better movie the longer it runs. It is impossibly difficult for a movie to accomplish as much given most films tend to start well before running into the problem of not knowing how to handle what has been set up. It is at this point when most screenwriters will default to familiar and/or recurring devices, motifs, or clichés of other movies to round out their third act. In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” though, writer/director Martin McDonagh is somehow able to blow past traditional structure and instead just deliver an experience that feels as if it is flying by the seat of its pants. This is only to say that as the film goes on and as the narrative takes continuously surprising and shocking turns the writing as well as one of the best ensemble casts of the year that includes the likes of Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges and Zeljko Ivanek only serve to enhance the experience even more.
7. “A Ghost Story”
It's not what “A Ghost Story” is saying. It's how it says it. Like chimes gently rustling in the wind or chills slowly creeping up your arms “A Ghost Story” somehow manages to give a sense of being so distant you're not one hundred percent sure what is causing the noise or the feeling, but at the same time feels so deeply personal and so intimately cutting that deep down in your soul you know exactly what it is. It's difficult to describe past these dumbfounded attempts at articulating something meaningful just how much “A Ghost Story” hits you-that is, if it hits you at all. While it's difficult to describe all the emotions and thoughts the latest from director David Lowery left me with I realize it will be just as difficult for some people to understand what the movie is or what it's trying to do at all. It's a film I find difficult to comprehend fully and thus is likely the reason it continues to resonate with me. I've returned to images, sounds, and thoughts it instigated in my brain since seeing it back in August. It's a movie not for everyone, but if you find it's for you it's something special.
One of the leading voices in filmmaking of our current generation puts his stamp on the "war film" by largely obeying the laws of another type of film. “Dunkirk” is a horror movie. Make no mistake about it. We never see the villains and yet, the presence of these antagonists looms over every scene. It is so inescapable in fact it is nearly suffocating. There is no relief from the situation at hand and much like a horror movie more steeped in that genre's conventions you know only one thing is certain: bad things will happen, and people will die. Christopher Nolan has slyly crafted his characters only to the extent that one largely puts themselves in the shoes of the characters present on screen. As with any good scary movie there is an allure to the uncertainty that could not necessarily be labeled as enjoyable, but is engaging nonetheless and that essentially describes the emotions one feels throughout the entirety of “Dunkirk.” Nolan ratchets up the tension and holds it as tight as he possibly can for an hour and 45 minutes. Never letting us off the hook; barely allowing hope to even be an option.
5. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”
In the strongest year for super hero films in quite some time (“Logan,” “Wonder Woman,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Thor: Ragnarok”) it is seemingly the least likely to be the most innovative that turned out to be the most innovative. The only outright sequel of the bunch besides ‘Thor 3,’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is not only an unconventional sequel or super hero movie, but it's the kind of movie that makes you wish they'd quit rebooting and retooling ‘Star Wars’ and just continue to make movies that pay homage to those films as the filmmakers who saw that original trilogy in its original theatrical run are now well into their tenure as big Hollywood directors. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” bucks the trend we all assumed it would fall into by delivering the best villain in the MCU since Loki while also giving our heroes a real and emotional investment in the plight of Kurt Russell's antagonist. Director James Gunn's ‘Vol. 2’ exceeds in balancing the exploration of these relationships while still relaying an effective story, the Guardians story, and there's just something special about a ginormous, big-budget, special-effects extravaganza that is still able to feel this personal. Also, Baby Groot.
4. “I, Tonya”
The story of Tonya Harding is one of a true American tragedy. Tonya Harding is America. She is unapologetic for the way she was raised and is either embraced or rejected immediately because of that. She is emblematic of America's tendencies to always need someone to laugh at, a necessary punchline to fool ourselves into believing we're better than something or someone despite the outward appearance of wanting to be welcoming and/or tolerant of all walks of life. “I, Tonya” is a portrait of this single woman's life that would seem the perfect vehicle for a rags to riches story; the kind of story America typically likes to celebrate and champion in showing how much we, the people, promote this idea of advancement and the improvement of one's status through nothing other than hard work, while never actually allowing those that are born outsiders to be allowed into the bubble they so often deserve to lead. “I, Tonya” becomes a culmination of multiple accounts of the infamous figure skater's life that paints a portrait of this tragic character’s tragic arc doing the impossible of not only making you care about Tonya Harding, but allowing you to sympathize with her.
3. “Blade Runner 2049”
With “Blade Runner 2049” I walked into a film where I had no particular affinity for or connection to the original and walked out adoring this world director Denis Villeneuve had advanced. The visual grandeur courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins, the monumental set and production design, and the engulfing soundscape from both Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's that this film possesses make this thirty-five year later sequel fire on all cylinders as the story supports it all by digging further into what that first film only scratched the surface of. “Blade Runner 2049” amplifies and examines the themes of what it means to be alive and have memories and how those memories inform our past and future. Essentially, “Blade Runner 2049” is a $150 million art house film as it is the sole the product of Villeneuve and the team he has put together to bring this new chapter to life in the best and most respectful way possible as it is clear the filmmaker adores Ridley Scott's original. It is a movie I want to see again and again and for a movie that runs just shy of three hours, that's really saying something.
Like “Wonder,” I went into “Gifted” expecting something along the lines of a sappy melodrama with better actors and production values, but within the first 15 minutes “Gifted” convinced me of its validity-it had convinced me of its sincerity that was ingrained in its otherwise competent execution. Sure, many will dismiss “Gifted” for being the type of film that is emotionally manipulative because it wouldn't be mad if you shed a few tears and/or formulaic in the way its premise is an old cliché that has been used before, but just because a movie might indeed be full of cliché or formulaic tropes doesn't mean it's automatically bad. Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Tom Flynn can prove certain tropes aren't always bad and that doing the opposite isn't always good by delivering all that is predictable and formulaic about “Gifted” with a warm and wholly wonderful sincerity that comes straight from the heart. You may be thinking, "That's all well and good, but number two for the year?" Yeah, number two for the year as it is without a doubt the film that had the biggest emotional impact on me in 2017.
1. “Get Out”
If you'd told me back in February after I saw “Get Out” for the first time that I'd just seen my favorite film of the year and that nothing would surpass it I 1) might not have seen as many movies in the subsequent months and 2) probably wouldn't have believed you. That said, writer/director Jordan Peele's feature debut is a striking thriller that provides a topical conversation around racial tensions that then amplifies and exaggerates the inherent tensions of its presented scenario in a way that it both plays with the tropes of the horror genre while delivering commentary on innate and unavoidable fears in the black community. I heard someone explain the film as, "playing on black people's fear of white people's fear of black people," and it's hard to put it any better or more simply than that. “Get Out” is a film that plays on facets of ourselves we'd rather not acknowledge-those that say no matter how much we believe ourselves to be above stereotyping or forming preconceptions-that there is still truth to such ways of thinking. Peele uses this unavoidable, unflattering truth to draw out a fair amount of anxiety; playing on these anxieties and social standards through to the very last frame. “Get Out” is another example of the rare film that sticks the ending as the film keeps things as taut as any horror movie in recent memory throughout while never losing sight of its inherent purpose. It is a true film of the moment as well as being one for the ages.