The Top Ten Films of 2017

2017 was a great year in film. For more, check out our abbreviated wrap-up (Seven […]

Joe Nooft / 1.2.18

2017 was a great year in film. For more, check out our abbreviated wrap-up (Seven Films from 2017).

As the year comes to a close, let’s limp across the finish line together while reminiscing about the best that 2017 had to offer up to the silver screen! It was another big year for reboots and sequels. We were gifted additional installments in the Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Planet of the Apes and Fast and Furious franchises. Marvel continued to appease the masses’ appetites for men in tights, landing four films on the year’s top 15 highest grossing films list. Independent, juggernaut production company A24 continued to display its dominance in the indie-verse, releasing 15 films this year (four of them landing on our top ten list below)! Our favorite ten films from last year notched 27 total Oscar nominations and 9 total Oscar wins! Here’s to hoping our top picks from this year experience the same success. As always, let us know what you think, and tell us what your most loved flicks of 2017 were in the comments section below! Without further ado, our fourth annual top ten films of the year list:

10. The Big Sick

The Big Sick mixes the formulaic ingredients of your run-of-the-mill rom-com with punchy flavors of vulnerability and dashes of ingenuity, all while never sacrificing an ounce of romance or comedy. Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon penned the film’s script about how they met and fell in love with each other before handing it off to Wet Hot American Summer’s Michael Showalter to direct. The Showalter and Nanjiani, who plays himself in the film, collaboration creates some gut-busting, hilarious scenes throughout the film. However, the real-life calamity that sewed together Kumail and Emily’s relationship never allows The Big Sick’s line of jokes to wander too far from the reel. With the certain credibility of the spotlit relationship, there’s a glaring realness within the film that creates channels of empathy for its audience to wade through. When viewing this film, expect there to be as many tears as laughs, and that’s totally OK!

9. Colossal

Colossal does not neatly fall into categories. There’s a great deal of introspectiveness mixed with some comedy and romance, and then there’s kaiju! Freaking kaiju! Remarkably, this jumbled patchwork of a film comes together to create a wildly entertaining ride. Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a successful New Yorker whose alcoholic tendencies get her dumped. The life she once knew takes an unexpected pause when she is forced to move into her family’s vacant, suburban home. It is here, at home, where Gloria discovers the bizarre ability to control a South Korean Godzilla-like monster. However, as in any good creature feature, there’s never only one monster. In Colossal, these villains are the personification of Gloria’s personal demons: abusive relationships, substances, and so on. Anyone who’s ever had to move back home due to professional or personal failure can empathize with Gloria’s…uncomfortable situation. The embarrassment that rains down on you every time a familiar pair eyes spots you in the streets. The uncertainty of whether or not you will ever get your life back on the expected track. However, at some point, you begin to question whether you should point the rudder in a new direction, or maybe let go of it all together. Colossal focuses in on the monsters that deter life, and in doing so reminds us that, oftentimes, in battling our monsters, the mightiest monster may lie within ourselves.

8. Get Out

Perhaps the best way I could highlight Get Out is with a story that is not directly correlated to the film: In the 1980s, University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney restructured the school’s football program by recruiting a high percentage of black student-athletes to a school with a black population of only 2%. Cue intense racial tensions. McCartney, however, never bent under pressure, stating in an interview, “I think the white man needs to know that he’s responsible for the oppression of the black man. He’s held him down. He’s pinned him down. He’s benefited at his expense.” In part, this must’ve been a confession from McCartney. He himself was benefiting from the success that the “Black American Athlete” had afforded him. However, McCartney was not blinded to the fact that the young men providing his program with a new life would never receive the same treatment, particularly off the field, that he had. This is, in essence, the thesis of Jordan Peele’s Get Out: as black men and women have fought to overcome oppression, white men and women have discovered new tactics to suck the nourishment from their successes, expanding the coverage of the roid-raged white privilege. Get Out is a profound directorial debut for Peele, who, even with a topic as sensitive as race, never loses touch with his comedic background. What the film lacks in jump scares, it makes up for in metaphorical terror. Get Out will be remembered as a timeless film. A film with the goal of shining the light of justice into the dark corners of what is still a racist nation. See it, be offended, and confess.

7. Good Time

I saw Good Time in the comfort of my living room, squeezing the hell out of the armrests on my recliner as my blood pressure skyrocketed for 101 straight minutes. Filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie continue to flaunt their romantic dexterity for creating rattling, docu-styled dramas that personify the mindset of those who tread through the grimy sludge of New York City. It’s where they discovered Arielle Holmes, the star of the duo’s previous film, Heaven Knows What. When the Sadfies encouraged Holmes to pen the story for the film, she was a homeless addict with $0 to her name. In Good Time the Safdies were fortunate enough to cast Robert Pattinson to play the lead role of the negligent criminal Connie Nikas. In an attempt to fund an escape from the troughs of the streets for himself and his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Benny Safdie), Connie strong-arms his brother into helping him rob a bank. When the heist crumbles, Connie must maneuver through unforeseen obstacles if he hopes to resurrect his path to freedom. Pattison gives his most natural and, dare I say, Oscar-worthy performance to date in Good Time, a film that will lay its hooks into your heart and then pull its lines taught in several directions.

6. mother!

The wide buckshot of both critical and fan response to Darren Aronofsky’s mother! may have been even more erratic than that which followed Rian Johnson’s latest installment to the Star Wars saga. Critical mishmash site collected ratings for the film that covered the entire 0%-100% spectrum. mother!’s scattered reception may have been strongly correlated to its undeniable biblical tie-ins, as when it comes to scripture, opinions are rarely subtle. Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson points out, “The central metaphor is hardly hidden in mother! An old house with a round layout lies in a field, surrounded by trees, no roads leading up to it: a tranquil Eden.” An Eden inhabited by a wife, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), and a husband, Him (Javier Bardem), with the holy, capital ‘H’. The two live in seclusion where Mother is content on perfecting their paradise for herself, her husband, and their future child. Him, however, is eager to escort whoever may come a-knocking inside of their fragmentary paradise, no matter how abominable that person might be. Through a wide lens, mother! could be interpreted as the sequel to Darren’s 2014 Old Testament epic Noah. The Gospel according to Aronofsky. The film is as abstract as the Bible reads, bearing the fruit of new mysteries at the end of every scene, which inspires further study. Its scoreless soundscape allows its bizarre imagery to imitate reality. One thing is certain: mother! is not a film that will allow itself to be forgotten.

5. It Comes at Night

Perhaps the most horrific ‘It’ of 2017 was not a giant, red-nosed clown, but rather whatever the hell ‘It’ was in It Comes at Night. In Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore feature, a family bunkers up in a cabin in the woods to shield themselves from a mysterious virus that threatens the existence of mankind. Here they are faced with the troublesome dilemma of hospitality when they discover a young family has stumbled upon their compound. Infectious zombies and cabins in the woods are certainly a commonplace within the horror genre, but Schults keeps a safe distance from these monotonies in It Comes at Night by never elaborating too deeply on what ‘It’ is. As a viewer, we are permitted to know only what the film’s characters know: It’s a virus and It is very bad. The monster we expect becomes a MacGuffin, taking a backseat to the paranoia of humanity. It Comes at Night incubates a titular fear of the darkness, which is where we find ourselves residing, along with the film’s characters due to the unknowns of the central threat. Naturally, when there is little to be known, there is little to be said. Therefore, the loudest form of communication in It Comes at Night is non-verbal. Pay attention to the body language and discover intricate tiers of stories within the story.

4. A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is oil on canvas, needing only a pair of eyes and an open heart to haunt all who will allow it. Director David Lowery keeps the dialogue to a minimum, summoning the hypnotic authority of raw emotion, pinpointing the trappings of a lost love on both sides of death. Lowery wisely re-ups on a previously developed chemistry between Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, the stars of his breakout feature Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Affleck’s screen time as a human is brief as his character transcends into a white-sheeted, dreary-eyed ghost after his unexpected death. The ghost is an acquiescent presence whose shapelessness epitomizes loneliness and torment yet at the same time gallant, albeit impractical, determination. Lowery cracks open the megacosm of love and drenches his world with its fixings. His reconnaissance of the affections of ‘the other side’ is brave and Malick-ian; teeter-tottering between hopelessness and the carte blanche of freedom. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palmero’s mix of speeds, Mara always shot in 24 frames per second while Affleck’s ghost was shot in 33, compounds his spectral illusion that the couple could occupy the same room while residing in separate worlds. When combined with his use of the classic Academy aspect ratio of 1.33:1, A Ghost Story oozes nostalgia that adds to its layers of sentiment. Be patient with A Ghost Story. Allow it to hold your gaze and you will find yourself completely possessed by its artistry as its images move off of the screen to hover in your psyche. (Ed. note: Don’t miss our incredible interview with Lowery here.)

3. Columbus

Amongst a boisterous and sometimes smothering film universe, Columbus is a glass of ice-cold water perspiring with refreshing originality. Juxtaposing the complexities of transition and tragedy, it follows its two leads Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) as their lives coincidentally cross paths in the architectural labyrinth of Columbus, Indiana. While Jin is returning to Columbus ceremoniously to be with his father, a renowned architecture professor who has fallen into a coma, Casey begins to begrudgingly ponder a future outside of the city that cradles everything and everyone she knows. Before making his writing, directing, and editing debut with Columbus, Kogonada, a South Korean born cinephile, produced a number of scholastic-esque video essays on the elements of film history. Not surprisingly, aspects of Kogonada’s lessons surface throughout Columbus; notably, that of neorealism. With this approach, Kogonada enhances the authenticity of his film. Rather than providing his audience with an embellished, complete structure, Kogonada allows his audience to linger within the negative space of Columbus’ scenes as it slowly lays brick upon brick, constructing a meticulous framework. Engaging his audience with static establishing shots of the city, Kogonada frames Columbus’ historic architecture with lush greenery, signifying that what may appear lifeless and cold is indeed bustling with life. This stunning contrast transfers seamlessly into the developing relationship between Jin, a well-dressed, corporate professional, and Casey, a young, free-spirited woman, as they both struggle to identify what comes next in life.

2. Dunkirk

In Dunkirk‘s opening sequence, we hear the bruising sound of bullets. We see wooden fences splintered by them, and men fall at their malevolence. However, what we do not see is a single Nazi gunman, a tactic that Nolan would employ throughout the film’s entirety. In fact, not one character in Dunkirk even utters the word ‘Nazi’. Instead, they are referred to as “The Enemy.” Because the audience is not allowed see The Enemy in the flesh, they are never afforded the opportunity to develop empathy for them. The Enemy’s anonymity caters to Nolan’s ability to sculpt a purer evil; demonic even. In doing so, Nolan directs his viewer’s focus to the true thesis of his film: the saving grace of the Battle of Dunkirk’s communal heroism and benevolent deliverance in retreat. It’s a crux that I’m not sure any war film has accomplished as well as Dunkirk. Nolan’s foolproof use of multi-layered storytelling combined with Hans Zimmer’s stacked tones of incrementing and decrementing octaves simulate a heightened sense futileness, awarding the film’s final act a spiritual-like alleviation. Dunkirk is the best war film since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and quite possibly one of the greatest of all time.

1. Lady Bird

The Queen of Mumblecore has perhaps shined the brightest writing and acting alongside famed indie director/partner Noah Baumbach, but in 2017 the world finally got to see what Greta Gerwig is capable of behind the camera. As a Gerwig apologist, I was certain that her directorial debut would be satisfactory, at least, but I wasn’t prepared for a film as first-rate as Lady Bird. Gerwig sets the stage for Lady Bird back in her own hometown, Sacramento, California. A magnificently casted Saoirse Ronan plays Christine, a 17-year-old girl who affectionately demands to be addressed as “Lady Bird.” Stomping through her senior year at an all-girls Catholic high school, Lady Bird dreams of bolting out of Sacramento for the East Coast, proving to herself and her mother, who is brilliantly played by Laurie Metcalf, that she is someone. Pink haired and confident, Lady Bird is as boisterous as her seemingly oversized dreams, even if her infectious charm is just a mirage for her porous self-esteem. As a film, Lady Bird is hilariously poetic, and heartfelt. This is directly correlated to how much of herself the director has poured into her first feature. Gerwig’s work has always been saturated in naturality, and Lady Bird is no different. For the viewer, there’s a sense that Greta’s art is an ostensibly the authentic Greta. Perhaps this acumen is the driving force behind Lady Bird’s success: Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig, and the outcome of her vulnerability produces an originally crafted, cinematic treasure.

While these ten films were, at least to this writer, the cream of the crop, there are always a few that just barely miss the cut: Star Wars: The Last Jedi provided the most entertaining, cinematic experience of the year, expanding on the complexities of the relationship between the galaxies new hero, Rey, and new villain, Kylo Ren. Matt Reeves found yet another way to make me emotional about apes in the third installment of his Ape action-thriller War for the Planet of the Apes. Guillermo Del Toro returned to the director’s chair to produce one of the more…interesting films of the year with The Shape of Water. Marvel got dark and R-rated in their Wolverine spinoff Logan. James Franco brought back Tommy Wiseau in his hilarious yet heartwarming docudrama The Disaster Artist. And Noah Baumbach continued doing what he does best, this time for Netflix, in his New-York-set high-strung family drama The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected).

Because I’m still waiting for the Screen Actors Guild to add me to their screener mailing list, here are the films may have made the cut had I been able to see them: Sean Baker’s Tangerine follow-up The Florida Project quickly became one of the most talked-about and highly rated films of the year, securing its top spot in the iTunes rental queue as soon as it becomes available. The Lobster director, Yorgos Lanthimos, spit out yet another animal-titular film with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which promises to be just as bizarre as the rest of his catalog. P.T. Anderson reunited with There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day Lewis for another period piece Phantom Thread. Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks all worked on the same set together *insert open mouth emoji face* in The Post. Sophia Coppola re-teamed with Kirsten Dunst in The Beguiled. And Frances McDormand got bold with the authorities in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Thank you for watching, reading, and reflecting alongside us this year. As I am sure that no two people could possibly ever share a conclusive top ten list, please, let us know what we missed, where we went wrong, or how we hit the nail on the head below! Cheers to 2018!