My Top Ten Films of 2017

2017 was an odd year. Politics and social turmoil notwithstanding, the film industry—Hollywood in particular—experienced supreme highs and extreme lows, both critically and at the box office. In the United States, the year saw the release of films that were met with praise from both critics and audiences alike (Wonder Woman; Thor: Ragnarok; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Coco; Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), the wide release of films that debuted earlier on international markets (like the criminally undermentioned gem Raw, which would be in my top ten had it not gotten a French release in 2016), as well as a whole mess of stinkers (Jigsaw, the disappointing Suburbicon, Justice League, and Transformers: The Last Knight, to name a few). Still, I felt that 2017 was an improvement, quality wise, from the previous years, and filling out the rest of my top ten list was more difficult—in a good way! Check out my top ten list below, as I reflect on a genuinely fun year at the movies.

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

The closer I got to the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming the more nervous I became—the film has six credited screenwriters, a still relatively-unproven director at the helm, that poster is absolutely terrible, and there are enough supporting characters in this one film to fill any franchise. Still, all my fears were eased the second Tom Holland walked on-screen with his intense charisma and charm literally dominating every frame he’s in. More so than just about any film this year, Spider-Man: Homecoming is immensely fun and reminds me why I enjoy going to the movies so much. Holland and the rest of the cast are hilarious and adorably awkward, nailing the high school dynamic perfectly, but Michael Keaton nearly steals the entire show with a complex and restrained performance as Adrian Toomes/Vulture, rivaling Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock as the best on-screen Spider-Man villain. I eagerly await for the 2019 sequel which hopefully retains all the moving parts that makes this film so good.

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand is an absolute powerhouse, and she proves it in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand as Mildred Hayes—a mother who is done putting up with your shit—hits notes of grief, strength, fear, and most importantly humor in a film that demands all of those characteristics and more. Three Billboards deals with some heavy themes, but McDonagh’s script weaves them all together masterfully, never coming across as preachy or otherwise (although that is not the agreed upon opinion about the film’s messages). The real gem about this film, though, is the supporting cast who all hold their own against a career-best McDormand; Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are getting well deserved attention with their dual SAG nominations and Rockwell’s Globes win, but Peter Dinklage and John Hawkes are also phenomenal in every scene they’re in. And what a year for Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones, both of whom will appear in multiple other films on this list.

  1. Get Out

There wasn’t another film released in 2017 that had the same sort of societal reverberations that Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out had. Grossing 254 million dollars against a mere 4 and a half million dollar budget, Peele’s scary-as-hell horror film (sure, there are funny moments but it isn’t necessarily a comedy as the Golden Globes claim) had perfect timing being released in the doldrums of the February box office and remains important almost a year later. Skewing the white-liberal frame of mind better than any comedy bit since the 2016 election, Get Out is bolstered exponentially by Peele’s outstanding script, and a terrifically wide-eyed star-making performance from English actor Daniel Kaluuya. In a cinematic world dominated by horror sequels and reboots—we had a fourth Insidious movie released this month!!—Get Out reigns supreme, thanks in large part to the political implications involved.

  1. Logan

It’s been quite a while since I first checked out Logan—almost a full calendar year now—but the film has stuck with me, and I’ve revisited it on home media to remind myself of just how great it is. In a world where superhero fatigue is quite real—I mean just how many superhero films does one country need a year??—Logan and the previously mentioned reboot of Spider-Man do their own sort of service without the unnecessary restraints of cinematic universe-building. James Mangold’s Logan does this even better than Homecoming by placing his titular character so far outside of the X-Men timeline, and allowing his film to function on numerous levels: a Western (with a healthy amount of allusions to Shane), a family-or-something-like-it drama, and, perhaps most importantly, a superhero film that redefines what the genre can be and aims a gleeful middle finger at it, too. If these really are the last performances of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Wolverine and Professor X respectively, then they certainly go out with style.

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I wanted this film to be my number one film of the year—in fact, I actively hoped for this as soon as I entered my opening Thursday-night screening—but it’ll have to settle for a respectable number six. Don’t let the fanboys and the nay-sayers dissuade you—Star Wars: The Last Jedi is damn good and a ridiculous amount of fun. That Rian Johnson can continue to blaze new trails with a franchise on its eighth installment is remarkable in its own right, but Johnson has also proved himself to be a filmmaker independent of a major studio and capable of putting his own stamp on a property. The Last Jedi is beautiful to look at, instrumentally impactful to the fate of the franchise, and a wonderful tribute to the late Carrie Fisher, and it also gives stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and Mark Hamill the chance to really shine. There is indeed hope in the galaxy, and, also, Porgs are the greatest.

  1. Lady Bird

It’s a testament to director and writer Greta Gerwig for making a 17 year-old girl from Northern California in the early 2000s so relatable across all spectrums of life. What struck me so much about Lady Bird was just how effective it was; every decision from Gerwig behind the camera feels so vital to the story, and absolutely nothing in this film gets the short straw. Give additional credit to Gerwig and her editor Nick Houy for their beautiful editing that skillfully draws parallels between Lady Bird and her mother Christine (whose relationship forms the genuine beating heart of this film), as well as the ensemble cast who all hold their own: Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe (who are dynamite when they share the screen), Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, and Lucas Hedges. Gerwig created something special with this film, and Lady Bird is truly one of the more affecting and hilarious coming-of-age films since Superbad in 2007.

  1. Detroit

Released in an absurd window at the tail end of the summer movie season, it’s a real shame that Detroit has been routinely ignored by the guilds and the Academy precursors. The story of the Detroit Riots of 1967 is the story of our time, and perhaps some of the reason that Detroit hasn’t been given the attention it deserves is because it’s just so damn relevant to today’s society. Just about everything in this film is perfect—Kathryn Bigelow’s skilled and remarkably personal direction, Mark Boal’s tight and emotionally powerful script, and so many performances. John Boyega, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, and especially Will Poulter as the terrifying and racist police officer Philip Krauss should be in consideration for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but none of them will be, which is a shame. Here’s to hoping Detroit will gain some kind of second life on home video.

  1. The Disaster Artist

I’ve always been a big fan of the Apatow brand of comedy and, although The Disaster Artist doesn’t exactly qualify, I have to admit that the presence of Seth Rogen and James Franco in another film together made me excited for this one since it was first announced in 2014. There’s no beating around the bush here: James Franco as The Room writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau is the best performance of the year. Franco attempts so many difficult nuances here—confident yet insecure, cruel yet tender, hilarious yet sad—and nails every one of them. His performance as Tommy carries the entire film (which is wonderful even disregarding the performance at its heart), and Franco should be the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Actor, especially after his victory in the Best Actor – Comedy or Musical category at the Golden Globes. He’s a real triumph here, and I relished every minute of it.

  1. Coco

Despite my affinity for 2016’s Finding Dory, Pixar seems to make the most waves for me when they put their effort behind an original film. Inside Out, Up, and WALL-E remain remarkably crafted pieces of art, perhaps even more so because they stand alone so well. Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, is no exception to this rule, and is further solidifies that Pixar is a force to be reckoned with when giving it their all. Not only is Coco quite probably the most beautiful animated film—or any film, really—that I’ve ever seen, it’s also full of the rich humor, heart, and positivity that Pixar has made their bread and butter. The talented voice cast, led by 13-year old Anthony Gonzalez voicing Miguel, and Michael Giacchino’s Mexican-influenced score further beautify this already beautiful film.

  1. The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is not only far and away the best film of 2017, it has to be in contention for the best film of the past decade. Featuring star-making turns from Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinatie and the best performance of Willem Dafoe’s career, The Florida Project highlights an underrepresented portion of the American population—those living in extreme poverty—but never attempts to make any sort of judgment about the characters it presents, or the circumstances in which they live. Alexis Zabe’s simple yet stunning cinematography, coupled with Baker’s subtly fly-on-the-wall direction, create such an utterly realistic setting that it could only make sense for it to be true—and it is. Filmed and set in the Mickey Mouse-shaped shadow of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the film benefits exponentially from its documentary like filmmaking, and, although it sounds cliché, audiences often have to remind themselves they’re watching a movie and not a stylishly edited piece of someone’s life. Baker is known to yield strong performances from his first time actors, like Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in 2015’s Tangerine, but the strength of Prince and Vinatie cannot be understated, they are just that good. Both command the screen with every frame they appear in, and mesh into their characters of Moonee and Halley respectively with ease, grace, and immense skill. The Florida Project demands to be rewatched for many reasons, least of which is the final scene of Moonee and her friend Jancey as they sprint through towards Cinderella’s Castle filmed in gloriously distinctive iPhone quality. Dafoe should win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but hopefully this is not merely a consolation prize—The Florida Project deserves all the attention it gets, and more.

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In Which Brent Recommends Three Things

The last week of March brought with it a plethora of pop culture, of which I devoured three things–this shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? I mean, I’ve spent the better part of the year reviewing HBO’s Big Little Lies, after all. While much of my week has also been spent re-watching the second season of Better Call Saul, which arrived on Netflix last Monday, I also managed to spend ample time in a movie theater to see two films currently in limited release, Raw (Ducournau, 2016) and Dark Night (Sutton, 2016).

On Wednesday March 29, my girlfriend and I made the drive to Nashville to see Raw at the lovely Belcourt Theatre near the campus of Vanderbilt University. She and I have both been looking forward to Raw since we saw the initial trailer late last year, and it did not disappoint either of us. The feature-length directorial debut for French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, Raw is about a young woman who enrolls in veterinary college, just as her entire family has done before her, including her older sister who is still a student. The student, Justine (the wonderful Garance Marillier in her film debut) is a vegetarian, also like her entire family, yet is quickly exposed to carnivore-ism as a result of the hazing rituals that the veterinary school employs. From there, the film quickly devolves into that of nightmares, and is full of both realistic and disturbing gore, as well as a fair amount of sexual activity. Saying a lot about this film is difficult without revealing too much, and the film actually works better if you go into knowing as little as possible. Still, the film is an impressively shot piece of art, bolstered mostly by Marillier’s performance, as well as Ducournau’s mature script and direction. A coming-of-age film at its most pure, Raw is a tough watch at times, although it is not nearly as graphically horrific as many reviews have claimed it to be. The film concludes as a metaphor for how far we, as humans, will go to be accepted by our peers, and is unflinching in its gaze, which both punishes and glorifies uniqueness and individuality. Raw is a film that will likely get better with every viewing, and I highly recommend it for fans of both horror, and of teen dramas. Check out showtimes and trailers for Raw on its website.

Last night I was lucky enough to catch another independent film in limited release, this time at the brand new Speed Cinema at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. The film I saw, Dark Night, was introduced quite cautiously by a member of the museum and is, as the title suggests, a reflection of the 2012 Aurora shooting at the screen of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Although not a direct interpretation of the attack–indeed, there is a brief mention of the Aurora shooting, which strongly suggests that the attack in this film is a copycat attack of sorts–Dark Night uses the Aurora massacre as a sort of jumping off point to draw its own conclusions and to make its own powerful reflections on American society. The easiest comparison for this film is Elephant (Van Sant, 2003), but even that feels too easy a comparison. Dark Night is, above all else, a film about American desensitization and the physical and emotional distances that we put up to hide ourselves away. Many of the shots in this film are through mirrors, and almost every character expresses some sort of barricade: our ex-Marine is having a difficult time reintegrating into everyday life and is obsessed with guns, our young woman is a selfie queen, yet is hiding much more conflicting feelings about herself, and Jumper, this films eventual antagonist, hates the world and everything around him, only finding control and a place in this world in the film’s understated conclusion. Dark Night is a gorgeous film, and French cinematographer Hélène Louvart manages to find beauty in a dark world, one which she and director Tim Sutton strive to showcase in true colors. In a perfect world, Louvart would be nominated for an Academy Award come 2018.

My last recommendation is one that I won’t spend as much time on because it has already been written about extensively in the past week: the new podcast S-Town from the teams behind Serial and This American LifeS-Town, hosted by Brian Reed, is a glorious and hauntingly lovely podcast that, most notably, centers around the relationship between Reed and his muse, Alabama horologist John B. McLemore. S-Town is often compared to a novel, and that is the most accurate description I can give as well–bingeing through the seven episodes of the series, which were released all at once, is akin to feverishly reading a novel that you can’t get enough of. There are some wonderful articles about S-Town published in The New Yorker here and Vox here.