Reel Opinions

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Best Films of 2017

Well, seeing as though everybody else has had their "best of the year" list out since December, I guess I should get off my lazy behind, and get one out also, shouldn't I?  As always, I have a good excuse.  As a regular paying filmgoer, I choose to hold off on this list until I can see as many of the year's films as I can.  And since many of the big end of the year films usually expand slowly (sometimes very slowly) into wide release around January-February, I choose to wait.  I did get to see most of the major end of the year releases (the only big ones that I never got to see were Call Me by Your Name and The Disaster Artist), so I feel the time is ready to make the list.  I apologize to those of you who were looking forward to my views on the two films I missed, but they never came close enough to my area.

As usual, I will be naming my favorite film of the year, followed by what I felt were the great films of 2017.  The great films can be anything that truly grabbed my attention, so they can be dramas, comedies, kid's films, whatever.  Then I'll be listing the "honorable mentions" (the runner ups), followed by my 10 favorite actor and actress performances of the year.  Aside from Best Film, all of these choices will be listed in alphabetical order.

So, with that out of the way, let's get down to the important stuff - the movies.


THE POST -  This is not the rough and shocking Spielberg of Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List.  This movie is a melodrama, and a soft one at that.  Where the greatness comes from is from the performances, and the way that Spielberg frames the story kind of like a great 1930s drama, filled with great actors in just about every role, and whip-smart writing that not only offers killer lines and monologues, but also fills in all the details we need, without giving us any unnecessary subplots or scenes.  Everything is connected beautifully, and no one can deny what an effortlessly crowd-pleasing movie this is.  It's a great entertainment that manages to tell the story swiftly without losing any of the power of the story.  It's impossible not to think of the current war going on between the current Administration and the Press while you watch this, and no matter what your thoughts on that situation may be, The Post gives a lot of food for thought.  This is a film to be remembered, and I highly doubt anything will be able to diminish the power that it holds.


BABY DRIVER -  Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is not just the best all-out action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, it's a reminder of what summer blockbusters used to be before superheroes largely took over.  Fast-paced, plenty of kinetic stunts, a few breathless chase and action scenes, some laughs, a romantic angle, and a soundtrack that would become just as famous as the movie itself.  This movie is all of the above and more.  If the Fast and Furious movies were half this good, I'd be counting down the days to the next installment.  Baby Driver is the one of the very few times when music video-style editing and rhythm has been pulled off successfully in a feature film.  Every sound is perfectly timed with the music on the soundtrack, from the screeching of tires on the pavement, to the gunshots, right down to the sound of bundles of money being dropped on a desk.  This might lead you to think that the film is a gimmick, or perhaps an empty spectacle, but Wright allows us not just to be mesmerized by the choreography, but also drawn in by the characters and their individual quirks and relationships.  This is a high-concept film with heart to go along with the boundless style.  It's also simply one of those small cinematic miracles where everything just works.

THE BIG SICK - This is the best romantic comedy I have seen in a very long time.  Like the best films of the genre, we don't only root for the couple at the center of the story and want to see them get together, but it is also filled with undeniable truths about relationships to go with the laughs.  It has moments of sadness, sweetness and joy.  This is easily one of the most uplifting film of 2017, and helped clear the air a little after a string of stinker comedies aimed at adults that came during the year, such as CHIPs, Baywatch, Rough Night, and The House.  The film is loosely based on the real life relationship between the film's writers, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.  They met some 10 years ago, when Nanjiani was a stand up comic working in Chicago, and Gordon was a therapist.  They fell in love, but eight months into their relationship, Emily got sick and had to be placed into a medically-induced coma.  The film uses this simple premise to create such a heartfelt and funny film that works on every level.  There is no forced sentiment, no situations that a real couple cannot relate to, and nothing feels artificial here.  With Kumail Nanjiani playing himself, and Zoe Kazan filling in for Emily up on the screen, they create a natural chemistry.  The Big Sick made me happier than just about any other movie so far this year, and is not only the funniest movie of the year, but also the sweetest and most charming. 

THE BREADWINNER - More than any other film I've seen recently, The Breadwinner is a reminder of just how powerful an artform animation can be.  But maybe it's not so surprising when you realize that the director behind this film is Nora Twomey, who is one of the founders of the Kilkenny, Ireland-based Cartoon Saloon, and was a key player in the group's pair of Oscar-nominated features, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.  Instead of Ireland, this film is set in Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul, taking place during the last days of Taliban rule.  However, just like their previous works, this film shares a love of the culture of where the story is set, as well as love of storytelling and striking images.  The Breadwinner is often a harrowing story of survival, but it is also one of hope.  What I admired most about the film is despite the fact that it is animated, it never backs away from the harsh cruelty of the Taliban, and the cultural injustices that Parvana and other women face everyday.  There are some scenes of violence that can be surprisingly brutal, but are never flashy.  We are witnessing cruelty, and the movie never lets us forget it.  The Breadwinner is powerful both in its story and in the artwork.  Accompanied by a lush Afghan-themed music score by Mychael and Jeff Danna, this movie is truly transporting, and shows us a part of the world many seldom see.  The story itself is about bravery, but the movie itself is pretty brave as well. 

COCO - With its cast of skeletons and somewhat gentle macabre tone, this may be one of the riskiest and certainly the strangest film Pixar has ever done.  This represents the studio doing something that they have never done before, and doing so in a way that is certain to delight just about anyone who watches it.  It's not just the most visually stylish film that they have attempted, but it's also quite frequently funny and highly emotional, as all the best films to come out of Pixar are.  Even if this year had been a high watermark for the animation industry, Coco would still stand out as one of the best of the year.  What the directing team of Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina have done is given us a story that starts out being simple and effective, but gradually grows in complexity, and even tackles some fairly heavy and dark themes as a young boy journeys to the World of the Dead to learn about his ancestors.  Beyond the story, however, Coco is simply a joy to watch.  This is easily the most colorful and complex looking film to come out of Pixar, and just about every scene is awash in color, detail and imagination.  As soon as Miguel enters the World of the Dead, the movie never stops coming up with images that we have never seen before.  Coco has all the humor, heart and emotion that we have come to expect from Pixar, and seldom get from some of their recent efforts like the Cars sequels.  It's a lush and lavish love letter to Mexican culture, but it's also a genuinely involving and at times powerful experience.  This is the kind of animated feature that adults should seek out even if they don't have kids to go with them.  But this is more than just a great animated film.  It's simply a great movie in general, and one of the best of the year.

THE FOUNDER -  The Founder was, at one time, being groomed by The Weinstein Company as a big Award Season movie for 2016.  But, for whatever reason, the studio got cold feet, and instead dumped it in January of last year with little fanfare.  I honestly can't imagine why.  This is a great little movie, with a captivating lead performance by Michael Keaton.  It tells the true story of Ray Kroc (Keaton), a middle-aged fast-talking salesman who in 1954 had his life and his fortunes take a turn when he discovered a revolutionary little burger stand in California run by two forward-thinking, but naive, brothers.  Their restaurant, called McDonald's, was unlike anything at the time, creating a streamlined cooking process that could have your order in seconds instead of a half hour, and dreaming up many ideas that would become staples of the fast food world, such as having the food packed in wrappers, and a walk up window to order food from.  The film tells the story of how Ray appealed to the brothers to franchise the business, and then slowly but surely took total control of their empire by doing things on his terms, and generally rewriting history.  In a way, The Founder is not far removed from The Social Network, which also told the story of someone who had the ambition to take an idea like Facebook and fly with it.  Ray saw the "Golden Arches" logo (which one of the brothers had dreamed up) as a sign that could be as American as the flag, and he knew how to capitalize on it.  As Ray's ambition grew, and he started placing McDonald's restaurants all across the Midwest and eventually the U.S., he also found himself wanting to work away from the McDonalds Brothers themselves, and turn the franchise into something entirely his own.  The Founder inhabits a gray area with its subject matter.  It pulls no punches in showing that Kroc was essentially a crook who took a lot of people for a ride, and wound up laughing all the way to the bank.  Still, it is wise not to entirely vilify him, and to essentially make him the all around story of the American Dream.  How through hard work and determination, this man who thought life had passed him by was able to make it in the world.  The tone of the film seems to both admire and be just a little bit horrified by its topic, and I think the movie finds the right balance.  It gives the movie a certain darkly comic edge that we don't usually find in a lot of "based on a true story" films, which usually try to paint their subject in as grand a light as possible.

I, TONYA - Here is one of the most entertaining bio-pics I have ever seen.  It simultaneously managed to make me laugh, cringe, anger me, make me tearful, and ultimately make me feel completely and utterly enthralled.  Based on "irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly" (as the opening credits inform us), the movie is a whirlwind telling of Harding's life, leading up to the infamous 1994 knee-bashing of Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s Olympic skating teammate and rival, and the aftermath that followed.  The movie is told using both dramatic recreations, and "interview" segments with the actors portraying the characters talking to the camera in documentary-style clips.  The genius of the film is how even though the film is told mostly from Tonya Harding's point of view, we also get the viewpoints of the other people in her life, and their contradicting opinions on what really happened.  Sometimes, the movie will go split screen, with Harding (played here in a career-topping performance by Margot Robbie) and her ex-husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) giving us their personal view of what happened, and acting as bickering narrators.  I, Tonya is electric as it races through different points in Harding's life.  We see the awkward early moments of her relationship with Jeff, and how that relationship eventually became abusive.  Again, the genius here is that we get the point of view of both characters, with Jeff taking a kind of victim mentality, saying that he was the one abused instead of Tonya's narrative of him being a controlling monster.  The film works both as a pitch black comedy, and also as a tragedy, as we witness Tonya's constant and desperate need for acceptance.  It is this tricky balance that the film pulls off so flawlessly which makes it so memorable, combined with the fantastic performances from Robbie and Allison Janney, who portrays Tonya's chain-smoking, abrasive, physically and verbally abusive mother, LaVona Golden.

LADY BIRD -  This is a coming of age story that perfectly captures the intensity and honesty of teenage years.  It remembers the time when everything is just so important and all-consuming.  Every crush, every heartbreak, every betrayal - It all just feels so massive when you are at a certain age.  Gerwig is an actress who has worked behind the camera before, but this is her solo directing debut, and it shows her as a filmmaker who is able to not just be able to capture a voice from a certain period of life, but also a specific time and place. (The film is set around 2002 and 2003.) This is not a plot heavy film.  The heroine at the center of the film does not go on an amazing adventure, and there's really no manufactured elements or contrived crises to drive the story.  It's simply about a young girl experiencing high school and family.  Lady Bird really is a movie made up out of small moments.  Yes, we do get some scenes that are typical in the teenage film genre, such as when the heroine ditches her geeky best friend for some much cooler kids.  But that's really not what the film is about.  It is about her individual discoveries, her desires (she plots out exactly how and when she will lose her virginity), and how those can change at a drop of a hat.  Saoirse Ronan is excellent at portraying all of these angles of the lead role, and making her seem not so much like a written character, but rather a fleshed out girl that you have probably known or met before at some point.  Lady Bird is a small, independent film, but I think it has all the makings of a huge crowd pleaser.  Girls the same age as the main character will see someone they can relate to, and adults will find a lot of honesty and reflection in the film of their own past.  Gerwig proves herself here of not just being a great filmmaker, but also one who knows how to speak to audiences.  This is the kind of movie where everyone who watches it will walk away recognizing something in themselves.

THE SHAPE OF WATER -  Guillermo del Toro shows a supremely deft hand with The Shape of Water, a beautiful film that manages to be an adult fairy tale, mixing in elements of Beauty and the Beast, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Hollywood musicals, 1950s cinema, Shirley Temple movies, and a Cold War spy story.  It sounds ludicrous, and perhaps in the wrong hands, it would have been a bloated disaster.  But del Toro shows early on that he knows how to tell this story, and though there are a couple bumps along the way, he never loses his vision, which is to essentially make an unabashed love story.  The movie immediately grabs our attention with its heroine, Elisa, played with incredible grace by the wonderful Sally Hawkins.  She is easily one of the more unforgettable lead characters in recent cinema.  From there, it builds into a bizarre tale of this woman slowly caring and eventually falling for an aquatic sea monster man who is being held captive in a lab where she works as a janitor.  The movie also works as a giant love letter to classic Hollywood, with references to classic movies.  I feel I must stress again that I understand how bizarre this all sounds, but del Toro makes this work by creating a whimsical world where we can buy this stuff happening.  He is also aided by an exceptional cast who find the right balance of realism and fantastical charm in order to sell this material.  But it is the sentimental, strong and overall emotional performance by Sally Hawkins that not only grounds the fantastical story into some kind of reality, but is also whimsical enough that we are willing to follow where the movie goes.  She is what holds The Shape of Water together, and is a big part of what makes the film the magical and romantic experience that it is.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI -  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not just a great movie, it's a surprising one.  The path that the plot and the characters go are not what we are expect.  There are so many small surprises here that I will have to do my best to not reveal too much.  This is the kind of movie where you're better off knowing as little as possible walking in.  The characters who inhabit this strange, sometimes funny, and occasionally heartbreaking story include Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a grieving and divorced mother who lost her teenage daughter about eight months ago when she was discovered raped and murdered.  The police investigation has since gone cold, and Mildred is determined to keep them focused on finding the man responsible.   The police are represented by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who can be foul-mouthed and hot tempered at times, but is also a family man and genuinely seems to care about finding justice for Mildred.  There is also his officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is racist, violent, not very bright, and lives with his mother, who shares all of the same qualities, only stronger.  We accept these people, and think we know where they are headed.  But then, writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) starts throwing in twists to all of these characters, and we realize that we are not going to be able to predict the path that the movie is going to take us.  Not only is the plot not easy to predict, but so is the ultimate fate of these characters.  This alone is rare enough in just about any movie.  But when you throw in the fantastic performances, powerful moments, and even genuinely hilarious moments of dark comedy, you instantly get one of the best films of the year.  The murder of Mildred's daughter is constantly at the center of many of the film's scenes, and yet the movie manages to never be depressing and overbearing, while not trivializing the situation.  It has a wonderfully dark comedic sensibility to a lot of the scenes, with laughs that come naturally from a lot of the scenarios that these people find themselves in.  This movie draws you in, catches you off guard, and then draws you in even further with the different directions that it takes.  It's the rare film that captivates and surprises, and it deserves to be seen.  Just do your best to walk into it knowing as little as possible.  The experience will be richer for it.

YOUR NAME -  Just like The Breadwinner, here is Your Name to remind me of the real power of animation.  This import from Japan (which was the biggest money maker at the box office in its home country in 2016) is a beautiful, poignant and ultimately powerful story that really sneaks up on you.  At first, the movie seems like kind of a cute body-swapping lark.  But, writer-director Makoto Shinkai (adapting from his own novel) lets his characters and the drama build, until it grows into an ultimately moving and heartfelt experience.  The plot centers on two high school students (a boy and a girl) who live on the opposite sides of Japan, but become connected due to a supernatural event that allows them to share each other's lives, and wake up in the other person's body seemingly at random.  As the two try to figure out what is going on, they also become fascinated by the other person that they are inhabiting.  They start leaving messages for each other to discover when they return to their rightful bodies, wanting to learn about each other, and their lives.  From that point on, Your Name stops being your standard and cute body swapping comedy, and becomes something much more.  But even before the story starts to take some unique and interesting directions, we are already drawn in by the artistry of the film, as well as the way that Shinkai has written his two lead characters.  The eye for detail that the artists display here is something to truly admire, to the point that there were many moments sitting in the theater where I wished I could pause the film and study what I was seeing.  From the skyscrapers of Tokyo, to the small homes in the country village, everything has the feel that it was lovingly crafted and designed.  Despite its heavy supernatural tone, this is a deeply human story, and one that leads to some surprisingly thought provoking moments near the end.  This movie is the perfect blend of the honest and the fantastic.  It's genuine and heartfelt, but has a real sense of wonder.  It's rare to see such a balance pulled off this well, but Shinkai has done just that.  Your Name is a subtle film that ends up being capable of enormous emotional power.


John Wick: Chapter 2, The Lego Batman Movie, Fist Fight, Get Out, Logan, Before I Fall, Kong: Skull Island, Going in Style, Phoenix Forgotten, The Promise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Everything Everything, Wonder Woman, Captain Underpants, It Comes at Night, 47 Meters Down, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, Girls Trip, Detroit, Logan Lucky, The Hitman's Bodyguard, Wind River, It, Mother!, American Made, Blade Runner 2049, Brad's Status, Battle of the Sexes, The Foreigner, Happy Death Day, Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women, Victoria & Abdul, Only the Brave, Thor: Ragnarok, Murder on the Orient Express, Last Flag Flying, Wonder, Marshall, Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Ferdinand, Darkest Hour, All the Money in the World, Molly's Game


Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks in The Post
Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water
Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick
Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Ray Romano in The Big Sick
Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes


Ana de Armas in Blade Runner 2049
Jessica Chastain in Molly's Game
Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water
Allison Janney in I, Tonya
Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
Margot Robbie in I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water
Meryl Streep in The Post

So, those are my favorites of 2017 in a nutshell!  Hopefully, as we go further into 2018, we will get many more bright moments to come in the cinema.



Post a Comment

<< Home

09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005
11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005
12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006
01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006
02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006
03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006
04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006
06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006
07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006
08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006
09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006
11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006
12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007
02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007
03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007
04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007
05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007
06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007
07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007
08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007
10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007
11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007
12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008
01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008
02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008
03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008
04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008
05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008
06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008
07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008
08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008
09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008
10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008
11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008
12/01/2008 - 01/01/2009
01/01/2009 - 02/01/2009
02/01/2009 - 03/01/2009
03/01/2009 - 04/01/2009
04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009
05/01/2009 - 06/01/2009
06/01/2009 - 07/01/2009
07/01/2009 - 08/01/2009
08/01/2009 - 09/01/2009
09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009
10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009
11/01/2009 - 12/01/2009
12/01/2009 - 01/01/2010
01/01/2010 - 02/01/2010
02/01/2010 - 03/01/2010
03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010
04/01/2010 - 05/01/2010
05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010
06/01/2010 - 07/01/2010
07/01/2010 - 08/01/2010
08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010
09/01/2010 - 10/01/2010
10/01/2010 - 11/01/2010
11/01/2010 - 12/01/2010
12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011
01/01/2011 - 02/01/2011
02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011
03/01/2011 - 04/01/2011
04/01/2011 - 05/01/2011
05/01/2011 - 06/01/2011
06/01/2011 - 07/01/2011
07/01/2011 - 08/01/2011
08/01/2011 - 09/01/2011
09/01/2011 - 10/01/2011
10/01/2011 - 11/01/2011
11/01/2011 - 12/01/2011
12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012
01/01/2012 - 02/01/2012
02/01/2012 - 03/01/2012
03/01/2012 - 04/01/2012
04/01/2012 - 05/01/2012
05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012
06/01/2012 - 07/01/2012
07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012
08/01/2012 - 09/01/2012
09/01/2012 - 10/01/2012
10/01/2012 - 11/01/2012
11/01/2012 - 12/01/2012
12/01/2012 - 01/01/2013
01/01/2013 - 02/01/2013
02/01/2013 - 03/01/2013
03/01/2013 - 04/01/2013
04/01/2013 - 05/01/2013
05/01/2013 - 06/01/2013
06/01/2013 - 07/01/2013
07/01/2013 - 08/01/2013
08/01/2013 - 09/01/2013
09/01/2013 - 10/01/2013
10/01/2013 - 11/01/2013
11/01/2013 - 12/01/2013
12/01/2013 - 01/01/2014
01/01/2014 - 02/01/2014
02/01/2014 - 03/01/2014
03/01/2014 - 04/01/2014
04/01/2014 - 05/01/2014
05/01/2014 - 06/01/2014
06/01/2014 - 07/01/2014
07/01/2014 - 08/01/2014
08/01/2014 - 09/01/2014
09/01/2014 - 10/01/2014
10/01/2014 - 11/01/2014
11/01/2014 - 12/01/2014
12/01/2014 - 01/01/2015
01/01/2015 - 02/01/2015
02/01/2015 - 03/01/2015
03/01/2015 - 04/01/2015
04/01/2015 - 05/01/2015
05/01/2015 - 06/01/2015
06/01/2015 - 07/01/2015
07/01/2015 - 08/01/2015
08/01/2015 - 09/01/2015
09/01/2015 - 10/01/2015
10/01/2015 - 11/01/2015
11/01/2015 - 12/01/2015
12/01/2015 - 01/01/2016
01/01/2016 - 02/01/2016
02/01/2016 - 03/01/2016
03/01/2016 - 04/01/2016
04/01/2016 - 05/01/2016
05/01/2016 - 06/01/2016
06/01/2016 - 07/01/2016
07/01/2016 - 08/01/2016
08/01/2016 - 09/01/2016
09/01/2016 - 10/01/2016
10/01/2016 - 11/01/2016
11/01/2016 - 12/01/2016
12/01/2016 - 01/01/2017
01/01/2017 - 02/01/2017
02/01/2017 - 03/01/2017
03/01/2017 - 04/01/2017
04/01/2017 - 05/01/2017
05/01/2017 - 06/01/2017
06/01/2017 - 07/01/2017
07/01/2017 - 08/01/2017
08/01/2017 - 09/01/2017
09/01/2017 - 10/01/2017
10/01/2017 - 11/01/2017
11/01/2017 - 12/01/2017
12/01/2017 - 01/01/2018
01/01/2018 - 02/01/2018
02/01/2018 - 03/01/2018
03/01/2018 - 04/01/2018
04/01/2018 - 05/01/2018
05/01/2018 - 06/01/2018
06/01/2018 - 07/01/2018
07/01/2018 - 08/01/2018
08/01/2018 - 09/01/2018
09/01/2018 - 10/01/2018
10/01/2018 - 11/01/2018
11/01/2018 - 12/01/2018
12/01/2018 - 01/01/2019

Powered by Blogger