by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
I've watched just over 200 films that were released in 2017, and that's still only a small smidgen of the countless motion pictures from around the globe that received some sort of theatrical exhibition. As such, I'm always reticent to label any list the 'Best' of a given year. Just doesn't feel right. Even so, I'm still fine coming up with a list of my favorites from the year, all of which I feel pushed the cinematic envelope and are worthy of applause.
In regards to 2017, there was certainly plenty to love. From the sight of Diana of Themyscira making the decision to walk into the middle of No Man's Land alone in Wonder Woman, to four best friends rediscovering their bonds of familial sisterhood in Girls Trip, to a father sitting quietly with his despondent teenage son speaking to him with a level of empathetic understanding that helps ease the pain in Call Me by Your Name, to a little girl facing down a gigantic figure dressed in black riding a gigantic stallion in the middle of an isolated corn field in American Fable, the volume of memorable moments is simply off the charts.
Two men sitting in the snow grieving together over unimaginable loss in Wind River, a mother sharing a song with her triumphant daughter in Patti Cake$, the Lethal Ladies of BLSYW standing triumphant and proud in Step, a frightened everyman descending into The Sunken Place in Get Out, a daughter singing her father's favorite song as he proudly looking on with a face full of tears in Logan Lucky, a lonely warrior caressing the face of a sister he hasn't seen in decades before wandering out onto a desolate battlefield alone in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a distraught husband and wife realizing they communicate best when standing on a stage singing songs they composed based on the highs and lows of their relationship in Band Aid; the list is endless. I could likely go on forever just pointing out moments just like these that made me ecstatic to be sitting in the theatre watching these respective stories play themselves out.
As said, 2017 has been quite a year. With that in mind, here are my picks for the top ten motion pictures I happened to be lucky enough to get a look at along with a handful of others I feel are almost equally deserving of being singled out for praise. Enjoy!
TOP TEN (in alphabetic order)
Battle of the Sexes (d. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris)
It's a shame Battle of the Sexes wasn't a bigger hit, because this movie chronicling the 1973 match between superstar and women's sports pioneer Billie Jean King and 55-year-old former tennis legend Bobby Riggs is so sensationally entertaining, and so culturally relevant for this exact moment in history, watching it proves to be a continuous joy even if viewers know exactly how the pair's story comes to an end. Featuring rich, intelligently complex performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell and a dynamic, magnetically intimate script from Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy, Dayton and Faris's latest wins in straight sets, proving in the end to be one of 2017's most impressive achievements.
Dunkirk (d. Christopher Nolan)
Noan's kinetic, unrelentingly tense WWII epic of survival, sacrifice, retreat and resilience is an ode to heroism on a massive scale. It's depiction of the events at Dunkirk focuses on the minutia, using the varying battles in the air, on the sea and on the ground to show the horror of the situation and what it took to get nearly 400,000 soldiers off of a French beach and back to Britain before it was too late. Stunning.
The Florida Project (d. Sean Baker)
It's hard to imagine I won't be treasuring Sean Baker's The Florida Project for decades to come. This marvelous story of a six-year-old girl spending her summer messing around with her friends in the shadow of Disney World never fully comprehending how tenuous the situation is for both her and her twenty-something single mother, this film treats its characters with such empathetic understanding and nonjudgmental grace the inherent emotional power fueling things ends up being monumental. Featuring Willem Dafoe in one of his all-time best roles and breakout performances from child actor Brooklynn Prince and young newcomer Bria Vinaite this movie might very well be a masterpiece. Ask me again in a couple of years and I'll likely proclaim it to be one.
Frantz (d. François Ozon)
Leave it to Ozon to take a relatively forgotten Ernst Lubitsch comedy classic (1932's Broken Lullaby) and transform it into something heartfelt, introspective and timeless, Frantz such a stunning achievement I get choked up just thinking about it again while writing this tiny little capsule. The story of a German family making the acquaintance of a French soldier just after the close of WWI who knew and befriended their son before his untimely death, this is another movie that refuses to pander to its audience, offering up an emotional scenario with the frank empathetic simplicity it so richly deserves. At the center of it all is Paula Beer as Anna, the young fiancée of the deceased soldier, her ability to see the bigger picture yet still understand sometimes a sincere fiction is better than a merciless truth the key element around which everything else revolves.
Lady Bird (d. Greta Gerwig)
I knew I was absolutely head over heels in love with Gerwig's solo directorial debut Lady Bird barely a third of the way into the movie. A priceless coming of age saga overflowing in life, energy and exuberance, there's just way too much about this marvelous little gem of a dramatic comedy to adore. Saoirse Ronan is an absolute delight as the title character, while a varied supporting cast, which includes the likes Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush, Beanie Feldstein and Timothée Chalamet, hits it continually out of the park. But it is veteran character actress Laurie Metcalf who makes the biggest impression, her lived-in, fearlessly unsentimental performance breaking my heart in two with its authentic, lovingly multifaceted authority.
Logan (d. James Mangold)
One of the great comic book movies ever made and arguably the best one involving any of the X-Men (although X2: X-Men United deserves to be in the conversation), Hugh Jackman's final go as Wolverine is a surprisingly simple, straight-forward modern Western about heroism, aging, friendship and family that strikes quite the emotional chord. With an award-worthy performance by Patrick Stewart as an aging Professor X struggling to control his mental powers as his body deteriorates around him and a breakout turn by young Dafne Keen as a mysterious child whose connection to the title mutant hero is as violent and as uncompromising as one might expect it to be. Mangold directs with efficient kinetic virtuosity, building things slowly but surely to a final confrontation that hits all the themes inherent in this narrative throwback to John Ford and John Sturges films of old rather splendidly. As haunting a final scene as any 2017 had to offer.
mother! (d. Darren Aronofsky)
Aronofsky's biblical whirligig is a motion picture I haven't been able to get out of my head ever since I first laid eyes on it back in early September. Twisting and turning like a snake intent on biting its own tail, this homebound Garden of Eden becomes a metaphorical playing ground for all sorts of unsettling mischief and mayhem. It's humanity under a microscope, with pitch-perfect star Jennifer Lawrence as the earthy figurehead whose only seeming care is to maintain the environment that surrounds her beloved companion (a terrifyingly divine Javier Bardem) while it is under direct assault from a variety of pesky intruders, including a squabbling married couple (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer), the latter of whom would love to get a bite of their host's inspirational apple. So much to unpack, this movie is so dangerously elegant in its brazen deconstruction of religion's inherent contradictions, making sense of them after only a single viewing is pretty much impossible.
Polina (d. Valérie Müller, Angelin Preljocaj)
Acclaimed filmmaker Müller and renowned choreographer Preljocaj join forces for a balletic marvel of a drama that held me spellbound for each step of its bravura dance of discovery. The story of a ballet student who dreams of stardom, and while her technical brilliance is readily apparent to all her work with her, the young woman's inability to attach herself emotionally to the music or to the movements she's being asked to perform keeps her from achieving greatness. Featuring a sublime, albeit brief, supporting role for Juliette Binoche, the film's breakout sensation is dancer Anastasia Shevtsova, the actress connecting with the material so seamlessly the line between her performance and the character as written in the script vanishes into invisibility almost immediately. The final dance sequence held me spellbound in constant awe, Müller and Preljocaj staging it magnificently. Make no mistake; I loved this movie.
The Post (d. Steven Spielberg)
It's hard to imagine any other 2017 release being more essential than this one is. A ticking clock procedural following The Washington Post executive editor Bill Bradlee (a sensational Tom Hanks) and the paper's owner and publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, giving a spellbinding performance that might just be up there with her all-time best, which considering her filmography is saying something, I know) as the former pursues a story the Nixon administration would rather see silenced and the latter has to make the decision whether or not to allow him to publish it, breaking all that's happening inside this magnificent motion picture into a handful of simplistic talking points isn't particularly easy. But with gender equality in the workplace front and center as it never has been before and with the First Amendment and the freedom of the press under political assault in way that is both terrifying and despicable, Spielberg's opus is a master class in taking recent history and drawing parallels to the here and now in ways both thought-provoking and inspired. Thankfully, it also turns out to be incredibly entertaining, too.
Their Finest (d. Lone Scherfig)
Without a doubt, Scherfig's Their Finest is the one undiscovered marvel of 2017, and it totally upsets me that audiences failed to turn out for it in a substantial way. A beguiling love story. An inspirational marvel of an intelligent young woman coming into her own as an artist. A vibrantly alive history lesson. A portrait of wartime resilience and togetherness on the home front as bombs drop from the sky and victory is still something of a doubt. An examination of the manner in which propaganda is created and utilized in order to achieve its desired effect. Their Finest is all of this and more, Scherfig's direction as strong and as focused as it has ever been, while star Gemma Arterton turns in what is to my mind the best performance of her still relatively short career. Make no mistake, this might be my favorite film of 2017, and one I guarantee each time I watch I'll have a smile plastered so big across my face some will start to wonder if I've had it surgically implanted there.
A SECOND TWENTY (because I can)
After the Storm, B.P.M. (Beats Per Minute), Band Aid, The Big Sick, Blade Runner 2049, Call Me by Your Name, Detroit, The Devil's Candy, In This Corner of the World, Last Flag Flying, Logan Lucky, The Lost City of Z, Graduation, Only the Brave, Personal Shopper, Phantom Thread, Raw, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman, Wonderstruck
HONORABLE MENTIONS (also because I can)
American Fable, Colossal, A Cure for Wellness, A Dark Song, The Disaster Artist, First They Killed My Father, Free Fire, Get Out, A Ghost Story, Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Greatest Showman, Hostiles, John Wick: Chapter 2, Lady Macbeth, The Lovers, Okja, Patti Cake$, The Shape of Water, The Survivalist, Wind River, The Zookeeper's Wife
FIVE FAV DOCUMENTARIES
City of Ghosts, Ex Libris: New York Public Library, Faces Places, Kedi, Step
FAV 2017 FILMS INEXPLICABLY HITTING THEATRES IN 2018
A Fantastic Woman, The Final Year, Foxtrot, Freak Show, Loveless
I'm honestly not in the mood to do a list of the worst films I saw last year. Instead, I thought I'd do something a little different and highlight ten films I felt were 2017's most disappointing. Obviously, most of these are pretty bad. They're just not Transformers: The Last Knight or Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, not that this is much in the way of a compliment. Without further ado (and still in alphabetic order):
All I See Is You (d. Marc Forster)
For a movie I initially had no desire to watch, the first half of Forster's blindness drama starring Blake Lively is downright tremendous, all of which makes the self-important, uncomfortably ugly and assaultive second half all the more obnoxiously annoying. Watching this one fall apart frankly made me angry.
American Assassin (d. Michael Cuesta)
Other than one brief moment of co-star Michael Keaton in all his crazed, lunatic, wide-eyes glory, American Assassin turns out to be as unrelentingly second-rate a spy-versus-spy espionage thriller as any this side of the direct-to-DVD market, wasting great source material from author Vince Flynn in the process.
Baywatch (d. Seth Gordon)
Is it a surprise that Baywatch is bad? No. Not really. Is it a surprise it ends up being as obnoxiously unfunny as it eventually proves to be? Yes, actually, because a comedy featuring the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario and Priyanka Chopra has no business being quite this terrible. None. At All.
Beauty and the Beast (d. Bill Condon)
Unrelentingly pedestrian cash grab where Disney remakes another one of their animated classics only does so by creating a carbon copy of the original that's content to pander to an audience's most basic desires with absolutely no wish to make a case for existing in its own right. Be our guest? Be our prisoner to mediocrity is more like it.
The Dark Tower (d. Nikolaj Arcel)
The Man in Black and The Gunslinger, the immortal Roland Deschain, face off in this adaptation of Stephen King's best-selling fantasy/sci-fi/horror/western series, acclaimed director Arcel failing to find a way to make any of this supernatural nonsense make a lick of sense while wasting the talents of perfectly cast stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in the process.
Ghost in the Shell (d. Rupert Sanders)
So, remaking a classic anime with a Caucasian lead who actually turns out to be a resurrected Japanese young woman planted into Scarlett Johansson 's body with a grief-stricken mother living alone in a middle class Neo Tokyo neighborhood turns out to be a bad, not to mention unbelievably racist, idea? Yeah. Didn't see that coming. Let me hide my disbelief.
The Glass House (d. Destin Daniel Cretton)
Cretton reteams with his Short Term 12 star Brie Larson for an adaptation of Jeannette Walls's best-selling memoir and the results are sadly less than stellar. Meandering, melodramatic and facile, the film is only made endurable thanks to the performances of its stellar cast, especially the one given by Larson's fully invested co-star Woody Harrelson.
The Mountain Between Us (d. Hany Abu-Ass)
The moment when this exhilarating, undeniably tense survival drama suddenly turns into a syrupy romance drowning in treacle was one of the worst theatrical experiences I had the misfortune to experience in 2017. For a movie revolving around two plane crash survivors traipsing through snow covered mountains in order to survive, probably not a good idea to take the cliché of 'falling off a cliff' so gosh darn literal where it came to the story's more supercilious narrative constructs.
The Mummy (d. Alex Kurtzman)
May the potential of Universal Pictures' planned 'Dark Universe' rest in peace, the resurrection of classic movie monsters like Frankenstein's Creature, The Wolf Man, The Creature for the Black Lagoon and The Invisible Man completely destroyed all thanks to this unfocused, idiotically incoherent Tom Cruse vehicle.
Queen of the Desert (d. Werner Herzog)
An intimate biography of pioneering British archaeologist, cartographer, writer, photographer, spy and explorer Gertrude Bell? Directed by Herzog? Starring Nicole Kidman? This movie just has to be marvelous, right? Sadly, no, it does not, this whole movie stranded in a narrative desert it simply cannot seem to escape from.
The Snowman (d. Tomas Alfredson)
Dear Mr. Filmmaker, I gave you terrific source material, a stellar cast and an award-winning creative team. How again did you end up making a movie this astonishingly unwatchable?
The Assignment, The Axe Murders of Villisca, The Boss Baby, Below Her Mouth, The Bye Bye Man, The Crucifixion, Daddy's Home 2, Darkness Rising, Diary of Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Downsizing, Everything Everything, Father Figures, Fifty Shades Darker, Flatliners, Friend Request, Gold, The Great Wall, Kidnap, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Lycan, Message from the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Promise, Rings, Sleepless, The Space Between Us, Transformers: The Last Knight, Wish Upon, Wolves
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