It’s weird that 2017 was a down year at the box office. Weird because I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed so many mainstream blockbusters. Even second-tier stock like the third Thor film was great–no offense Thor. My favorite genre, horror, is thriving thanks to high concepts and modest budgets. Indie and foreign movies are as insightful as always and animation is in a good place too, minus that movie where Patrick Stewart plays a piece of shit.
Yet theaters are struggling. The landscape is changing. Whether or not this is good or bad is yet to be known. Will multiplexes vanish over the next decade? Will streaming reign supreme? Hey, as long as the movies are good I’m happy. Here are ten movies from this year (plus a few others) I thought were good.
The Big Sick
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Last year it took me 10 months to listen to It on audiobook. Needless to say, It is a novel of epic proportions. A novel that reads like a drug-addled sex pervert’s nightmare. A good drug-addled sex pervert’s nightmare, but a nightmare nonetheless. The fact that writer/director Andy Muschietti took this bizarre property, already adapted once (poorly), and turned it into a commercial and critical success is amazing.
More amazing is how faithful the film feels to the tone of Stephen King, finding a balance between colorful characters and pure clown terror. It captures the feel of growing up in a small town, being an outsider and being neglected by asshole adults. I can’t wait to see where they take it. Who will play the older versions of the kids? Bill Hader? A man can dream.
I want to make it clear that I think Casey Affleck is a piece of shit, not the Patrick Stewart kind, the other kind. I have little to no interest in Affleck’s career after the upsetting accusations made against him and his cold response to said accusations. That being said, it definitely makes it easier to like a film he stars in when he has almost no lines and hides under a sheet for the majority of the film. Casey Affleck aside, A Ghost Story is the starkest and most unique film of the year. From the pacing to the bizarre aspect ratio it’s a surreal experience that must be seen to be believed.
Sean Baker might be the best documentarian that doesn’t make documentaries. I say this because both The Florida Project and Baker’s excellent Tangerine feel so real. The actors he finds and how they interact without feeling inorganic or worst case scenario, pretentious, it’s incredible. Willem Dafoe has received a lot of praise (deservedly so) but I think more people should take notice of Bria Vinaite as Hailey, a well-meaning but self-destructive single mom. I just figured her, and many others were playing themselves. The film feels that genuine.
My lone “You-probably-haven’t-seen-it-film”. This despite the fact that the debut film from Kris Avedisian is available on Netflix. The plot is simple. After the death of his grandmother, Peter (Jesse Wakeman), returns to his snowy Rhode Island hometown to take care of her estate. Except Peter lost his wallet on the trip over. Meaning he must enlist the aid of his burnout high school buddy Donald (played by writer/director Kris Avedisian) to drive him around town and help put his grandmother’s affairs in place.
Kris Avedisian gives one of my favorite performances as the eccentric Donald, a slacker who never quite made that final step towards adulthood. He’s funny, creepy and sympathetic all in one mullet equipped package. This isn’t to overlook the fantastic back and forth between Donald and Peter (Jesse Wakeman) best friends who have drifted apart. We all know a Donald and that what’s make this film so relatable.
What on the surface looked like a meandering drama about the problems of wealthy white people turned out to be a much deeper and sadder film then I anticipated. A film of lost love and a search for sexual identity. I don’t care how many fat suits you put on Gary Oldman, Timothée Chalamet deserves an Oscar. It’s not an easy feat to play such a vulnerable role, but he does it with grace and sincerity. I just wish it didn’t make me cry for one hundred years.
Any arthouse credibility I may have had with my last two picks is gone after this one. It’s hard to explain why GotG resonates with me, but I’ll try. One, the music. I was raised on 1960s R&B and 1970s power-pop and to revisit the classics while discovering deep cuts—always well integrated—is a joy. I always make a retro playlist after a GotG film comes out. Two, the characters. There is a sense of camaraderie and humor between the Guardians that makes them impossible to dislike. Three, James Gunn. Out of all the blockbusters franchises, whether they be DC, or Disney, or Marvel, GotG feels the most personal. All of the humor and heart that made Gunn films like Slither and Super are present, even with the extra twenty million dollars in the budget.
To top it off, it’s refreshing to step away from the bullshit magical rock plot line that ties together the Marvel Universe and explore a simple, one and done story. I love these films so much that every time a GotG film opens, I’m sad for a few days afterward. Not because the movies are sad, rather I’m disappointed I’ll have to wait awhile to see these characters again. They bring me so much happiness. Which is getting harder and harder to come by these days.
Of course, it helps when you have a cast of seasoned professionals like indie darling Catherine Keener, West Wing vet Bradley Whitford, and Daniel Kaluuya delivering a powerhouse performance. I’m considering doing a list of my “50 Favorite Horror Films of the 2010s” list in 2019. If I do, it’s hard to imagine a recent horror film that could dethrone Get Out as the best horror film of the decade.
I’m not a big Blade Runner fan. I have nothing but respect for the spectacle of Ridley Scott’s 1982 neo-noir classic, but I have never been invested in the story or characters outside of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). Which is why it’s so bizarre that I love Blade Runner 2049. The film is very much a continuation of its predecessor’s aesthetics and detective storytelling. Yet it resonates.
The idea that a child is born to a replicant or replicants sets the action into motion. Sure enough it’s interesting but even more so because of our protagonist, K (Ryan Gosling), who is a replicant. This provides us with a hero who unlike the detached Deckard is forced to embrace this world by nature of his existence. It’s a movie with about soul searching and what better place to search than a vast industrial wasteland courtesy of Denis Villeneuve. So many times I looked up at the screen and rubbed my eyes in disbelief at this world, designed practically, in all its glory. The set pieces are astounding. The sequence in Deckard’s hotel? Just wow. I have a lot more to say but I have other picks to attend to. Moving on…
What a treat! This is the Star Wars movie I’ve wanted for who knows how long. A film with whimsy and humor and action and a comprehensible plot. Star Wars sans the bullshit. Rian Johnson did it. He realized good storytelling was more important than pandering to a dinosaur fanbase and made a Star Wars fearless in its direction and confident about the strength of its new cast. Don’t get me wrong, I love Luke and Leia and Han, but eventually, we have to move on. If we ever want Star Wars to grow we have to embrace change. This is a film about killing the cliffhangers, nipping loose ends in the butt and looking ahead at a brighter future. The future of Star Wars… and Porgs.
“Since childhood, I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them. Because monsters I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failure.” That’s from Guillermo del Toro’s Golden Globes’ speech. Never have I heard mankind’s fascination with monsters summed up so beautifully. Guillermo del Toro has finally written his love letter to monsters and I couldn’t be happier.
The Shape of Water nabs my top spot for more reasons then I can name. There’s the charming cast led by Sally Hawkins, the dream-like cinematography, the special effects, the film’s romantic score. There’s so much here tailored for lovers of horror and fantasy. But also romance. This is a story about connection and no other experience made me feel as connected to the movies this year as . Thanks, Guillermo.