As it always tends to be, picking 10 movies from a whole year to call my favorite was pretty hard to do. Especially since the year just ended a little more than a week ago, it’s hard to say with certainty what will age poorly and what will remain in my good graces. I mean, hell, maybe we’ll find out more actors are creepy sex perverts and their movies will be ruined by that. My point is, these lists are hard because they’re so absolute and life doesn’t work that way. To make my job a little easier, I decided to have a theme for my list this year, so, without further ado… 2017: The year of the mom.
(Oh, and just because it wasn’t even in my top 15, shout out to Landline for also being a good motherhood movie.)
Honorable Mentions (movies that didn’t fit the “mom” theme)
Call Me by Your Name
A Ghost Story
The Shape of Water
I’ve never seen anything like the relationship between people and cats in Istanbul. In America, we’ve got this screwed up thing where folks treat their pets like something between babies and spouses. But in Istanbul, a city with hundreds of thousands of stray cats, the humans seem to feel like they’re just their furry neighbors. Kedi follows several cats’ daily routines; the places they go, the people they like, the food they steal. I respect the trusting, emotional relationships these felines and men and women form, they care so much and yet they part ways every day, uncertain if they’ll ever meet again. In that way, Kedi is about the very essence of motherhood: altruistic love and care. It’s also about religion and life and all that good stuff too. Mostly though, it’s just 90 minutes of amazing footage of kitties! Yay!
In a movie with a literal mad scientist, the character I found the most disturbing was the quiet, seemingly gentle mother. Played by Catherine Keener, Missy is a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist who has no qualms about using her immense power for her gain. And she’s a totally judgmental and insane. Her first time trapping Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the sunken place is among the most memorable horror sequences I’ve seen, and yet it’s only probably the best one of the film. Get Out is complicated and fresh in a way that genre movies rarely are, which is why I had to have it here on my list. You gotta admit, eating a bowl of dry cereal and drinking a glass of milk with a straw is just about the most unsettling thing ever in a movie.
When Mildred Hayes’ (Frances McDormand) daughter is raped and murdered, and no arrests are made, she finds herself consumed by rage and her need for vengeance. She takes aim at her small town’s likable sheriff and ends up pissing pretty much everybody off. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a deliberately frustrating film that actively denies you the catharsis you crave, just like what happened to Mildred. As the story goes on, you find out that maybe she isn’t as great a person as you’d like, maybe she was actually always angry, and maybe things aren’t as neat as we’d like. Her story is juxtaposed by racist, moronic cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell), which the film dares you to feel sympathy for by the end. I know a lot of people have very legitimate criticisms about this movie, and I don’t necessarily disagree with them. But this year, well, I really needed to see a woman who was taking no shit from anybody and kicking bullies right in the crotch.
Halley (Bria Vinaite) is raising her daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), in the saddest place on earth – a motel just outside of Disney World. She’s unemployable, forced to try to scam tourists just to make ends meet. She’s also a jerk with a temper and a problem with authority, even when it comes to the motel manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe) a good dude who is obviously just trying his best. But Halley is also a loving mom who would be flourishing if her circumstances were just a little better. It’s a tragedy that she really doesn’t have a way to make that happen. The Florida Project is a beautifully shot film with a light, nearly whimsical tone that stands at odds with its subject matter. It’s just a shame The Incredible Hulk never shows up, that would have really done it for me.
Tonya Harding’s mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), has a demanding, unorthodox approach to raising her Olympic athlete daughter. LaVona did put in the time to get Tonya a coach and bring her to practice every day, but, at least according to Tonya, she also verbally and physically abused her. In one of I, Tonya‘s most heartbreaking scenes, she even goes as far as to feign sympathy in a botched attempt to get Tonya to confess on tape. Her’s is one of three perspectives in this film and an extremely effective part of why it succeeds in making me think that maybe Tonya has been judged too harshly. The idea that the American dream is reserved for only those who the mob would like to see succeed sucks, but that seems pretty true too.
Laurie Metcalf fuckin’ brings it in Lady Bird like only the cast of Roseanne can. I mean, it’s not really a surprise Saoirse Ronan nails the lead role, since she’s been starring in coming-of-age movies for like a decade now, but who knew the voice of Andy’s mom was such a star? When you’ve got a pushover dad like Lady Bird does, it is very easy for a teenager like her to think of her mom as an enemy – she’s the one who says “no” to all of Lady Bird’s outlandish ideas, after all. But as an adult audience member, it was so easy to see how hard Marion was trying to help her family through difficult circumstances. Seriously, Lady Bird is delightful. This film is an excellent companion piece to Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and speaking of that, let’s hope Greta Gerwig finally gets some recognition from the Academy later this year.
Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), being the leader of the women-only isle of Themyscira, had a big obstacle to overcome with her desire to have a daughter. Her solution? She sculpted one out of clay and Zeus gave that child life. He also gave that child, Diana, enough power to serve as a “Godkiller,” should Ares ever return. Terrified of that eventuality, Hippolyta did everything in her power to stop Diana from becoming the warrior she was destined to be. Luckily for mankind, fate is fate, and upon meeting Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the adult Diana (Gal Gadot) left her island to fight in The Great War. Hippolyta is a strong woman and loving mother, but a reminder that the tighter you hold your children, the more they wish to run away.
But seriously, Wonder Woman is a miracle. Patty Jenkins had to make a movie with a story and cast she couldn’t choose. I know that’s kind of the norm with super hero movies these days, but there wasn’t a ton of Wonder Woman in Dawn of Justice, so it’s not like she had a ton to go off. Plus, the film’s message about humanity and faith – not religious faith, but moral faith – is a resounding and powerful one. Wonder Woman does what she does because she believes in it, and that’s enough. This movie made me feel the way Superman movies are supposed to. And in a year with four (!) strong Marvel entries, how crazy is it that a DCEU film was probably the best?
Ray Romano is the actor who gets the most praise for The Big Sick, which is unusual because he has the more subdued performance next to Holly Hunter. She plays a fierce, proud mother, trying to cope with the fear and uncertainty of her daughter experiencing a health crisis. Her character’s stubbornness is rivaled only the other mother in the movie, who I’ll just call Kumail’s mom because I can’t remember her name, a woman who threatens to disown her beloved son for his refusal to be a more devout Muslim or make an arranged marriage work. If The Big Sick was only a movie about falling in love with a woman after she became comatose, it still would be breathing rarefied air. But that it mixes in insights about family, religion, race, culture, nationality, and how hard it is to start a career in comedy, pushes it even higher. I don’t think we’ve had a comedy this good in the decade since Knocked Up.
Officer K, 2049‘s lonely protagonist played by Ryan Gosling, deeply longs for parents. He understands his place in the world and accepts it, but cannot resist the possibility that his destiny is greater than his lot in life. In his quest, K finds a potential father figure in Deckard (Harrison Ford), but can never quite fill his need for a mother. Perhaps the closest is his boss (Robin Wright, who also played an aunt in Wonder Woman), a woman who is stern but compassionate when he needs her to be. The parental void looms heavily over Wallace (Jared Leto) as well, who is a sort of father to replicants, but a ruthless one who uses sterile machines in lieu of a womb. The Blade Runner films are obsessed with life and reproduction, and 2049 especially is littered with imagery of the female form, but absolutely devoid of a real mother figure. It’s a world with only fathers and everyone suffers for it. In the year of the mom, nothing is more horrifying than a world without mothers.