I know I talked about this year being a “just pretty good” year for television, and that may have to do with the fact that I was distracted by a ton of great movies that came out in 2017. And even though few of them made my list, I agree with the sentiment that this was a particularly good year for big budget blockbusters. Though it is a bit dispiriting to see how rapidly the theater business has been declining business-wise. Because I much prefer going to the movies than watching them at home, since it is always a better experience and always leaves a bigger impact on you. Which is evidenced by the fact that I didn’t watch a single one of the films on my list in the so-called comfort of my own home.
The Lost City of Z
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
With the kind of flashy, Scorsese-an vibe I, Tonya was going for, this could’ve been nothing but an all flash/no substance approach to a story that most people who lived through the ’90s have at least a passing knowledge of. And to be fair, there is a lot of fun and exuberance in Craig Gillespie’s depiction of the Tonya Harding story, as he turns it into a kind of out-of-control crime comedy. But at the same time, it has the wherewithal to play with the idea of what exactly constitutes truth, while also managing to keep its fun veneer without veering away from the very unfun subject of domestic abuse.
It is kind of a miracle that this movie exists. Not only is it a big budget sequel to a very uncommercial flop that only found its audience through years of admirers (like myself) coming under the spell of its bizarre smokey vibe. But it also happens to be a film that is every bit as challenging on viewers as the original Blade Runner. I think the thing I’ve always loved about the original film is the singular vibe and feeling that it evokes. And this one beautifully does that with the help of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, but also with a story that digs even deeper than the original into ideas of where humanity ends and technology begins.
I really don’t have much to add about this one. Get Out was undoubtedly the horror movie of the year, and maybe just the movie that more than any other seemed to embody the living horror movie that was 2017. Jordan Peele’s combination of the realities of race relations in America and the absurdities of the horror genre were pretty much spot on. Because there’s a reason why so many of its images have already become iconic less than a year later, and why they’ll probably haunt us for years to come…
Good Time was the definition of a pleasant surprise. Not necessarily because there’s anything particularly pleasant about the film’s grimy, drug-addled depiction of New York City. But more because I hadn’t seen a single film by the Safdie brothers, nor really done any investigating into any of Robert Pattinson’s post-Twilight “serious movies”. And on that front, the Safdie’s provide what feels like one long extended chase scene that never lets up, while the former teen heartthrob is supremely watchable throughout.
Here’s another one that kind of just felt like one long adrenaline-feuled set piece. Granted, the set piece in question was one giant battle covering multiple timelines and characters in the most ambitious of ways. I made the case in my review that this was a Christopher Nolan movie that didn’t so much cater to the Nolan-heads, but to more casual fans like myself. Because here, the mechanistic plot-building seen in most Nolan movies is condensed to its barest essentials, while the film aims to put you right down in the action with little room for air, and succeeds in both harrowing and exhilarating ways.
Due to its glacial pacing, I’m not entirely sure if A Ghost Story is a film I’m in a hurry to see for a second time. But at the same time, it strikes me as a film in which there would be a lot to take away from on subsequent viewings. As we watch this cartoon-ish ghost live through a thousand lifetimes, we’re given the ability to project on to the film whatever meaning or lack thereof we want to. And luckily the film never gives you any answers, just lots of little questions to chew on for the rest of eternity.
In a year deeply in need of it, I don’t know that there was a better example of cinema’s possibilities as a vehicle for empathy than The Florida Project. Though using slightly upgraded film technology from his typical down and dirty style, Sean Baker’s roving camera is always used quite simply, yet always seems to be capturing something fascinating onscreen. It’s not surprising that apart from Willam Dafoe, The Florida Project was filled with a lot of non-actors that make up the inhabitants of this fringey hotel. And yet the beautiful thing about Baker’s style of filmmaking is that everyone seems like equals, even when depicting a world that seems to be telling these characters otherwise.
I think there is kind of a unifying theme to my top three films of 2017. And that’s that there’s kind of an inherent breezy charm to all three of them. In a year in which we all kind struggled to find safe places that kept us sane, a film like Columbus was a more than welcome companion. There’s something about watching these two characters making a connection while connecting with the peculiar architecture of their surroundings. Really every shot of this movie seems so carefully orchestrated, and yet every one of its characters seem like they’ve lived full, messy lives, and I suppose I was just happy to have them keep me company.
I was also happy to watch Kumail Nanjiani keep Holly Hunter and Ray Romano company while their onscreen daughter lay in a coma, even if it was an awkward kind of company. I feel like a good romantic comedy is so hard to do these days, and especially one that doesn’t try to just do some meta-deconstruction of the genre itself, which isn’t exactly the most romantic way of telling a story. And whether The Big Sick is romantic is debatable, but you definitely buy everything the happens, because it actually did. But also because the movie goes pretty far out of its way to show that it’s kind of a miracle that anyone ever falls in love in the first place.
I love this movie. I know… I am not in the minority of people who love this movie. And granted, it definitely helped that I saw this movie a second time, since the film’s initial buzz indicated that there was probably a good chance that I would love this movie, which perhaps caused a slight bit of resistance on my part. But I don’t know that simply labeling this movie as “charming” or “relatable” quite gets at what makes it so special. Because movies like Lady Bird are nearly impossible to pull off as well as Lady Bird does.
This is a really funny movie, but not just because the actors are riffing on some meaningless pop culture reference. It’s because the writer/director Greta Gerwig knows these characters so well, and feels so free to let us laugh at their flaws, since their flaws are also what makes them special. And those flaws also frequently lead to these small, but incredibly emotionally potent moments, where we’ll see a character reveal who they truly are for just a brief moment. And then just a minute later, the film will snap you back into a state of teenage contentment with another painfully funny exchange between two characters just trying to figure it all out.
Here’s to figuring it all out (or at least some of it) in 2018…