About halfway through 2017 I thought I had my top ten pretty much finalized. There were a few films I still wanted to catch mainly due to curiosity and word of mouth. It never occurred to me that they would come close to cracking my top ten. Little did I know these films would take my list and flip it upside down. No doubt It was rough putting this one together, there were a lot of great films that just barely missed the cut and it required hours and hours and debating, both internally and verbally, to finally gather the strength remove them.
#10 – #4
As I mentioned about halfway through the year I was certain that I had a pretty good grasp on what films were going to make up my top ten. Aside from establishing the order and maybe one or two films that I thought may squeak through I was settling in for the year, everything else was supposed to be just entertainment. How naive I was. Below are numbers 10 and up to 4, 6 of which I must say were not even on my radar earlier in the year. I read a few tweets or quick reviews of a few but nothing that gave me the impression that they would be contenders. Its likely much of this has to do with the fact that none of these films are real blockbusters and if I am being honest most of it is just my naïveté. Since there wasn’t early talk of them in 2016 on top of a lack of any word of mouth within my social circles I wrote most off as just stylish independent films that would be simply good but not great. Boy did they prove me wrong. Below are my overall thoughts on why a few of these made my ten.
#10 Personal Shopper ⭐⭐⭐½
#9 Thelma ⭐⭐⭐½
#8 I, Tonya ⭐⭐⭐½
#7 Shape Of Water ⭐⭐⭐½
#6 Get Out ⭐⭐⭐½
#5 Detroit ⭐⭐⭐⭐
#4 Lady Bird ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The biggest surprise for me of 2017 would have to be The Shape of Water. I have been a long time fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s work but none of his previous films really ever wowed me. With a few exceptions he makes fairly solid films but they never crossed over that line that blows me away and makes me go “I have to watch that again.” So I had the same expectations for The Shape of Water, my assumption was it would be a decent film but nothing fantastic. But instead, I was treated to this fantastic fairy tale poured out of such a brilliant mind. Every character whether integral to the story or just a minor piece feels so essential as if their backstory plays some role in the background of this world Del Toro has painted and it is a magical one. It is a film full of wonder and beauty not just in a cinematic way but in how his character’s related and the painful and beautiful humanity in each, even the bad ones. Shape truly made me realize not just the motivations behind Del Toro’s work but through the film, I realized just how passionate he is about storytelling and how much he truly wants to make these films. I feel like these worlds just want to burst out of him and he would tell these stories regardless of whether or not he was being paid to do so which is a rare quality these days. I plan to go back and watch some of his previous work through this new lens and I hope that this new understanding of his vision and his method will allow his stories to unfold in a more meaningful way for me.
Personal Shopper, Thelma and I,Tonya were all in a way happy accidents. They were films I didn’t initially have any intention of watching or at least I didn’t feel a need to. Personal Shopper, I had heard of early in 2016 and the premise sounded interesting but I wasn’t expecting much from the film. My expectations for Thelma were about the same only I had learned of the film more recently. Both films have a similar pacing which requires patience on the viewers part. Nothing is going to be handed to you early on it takes some time for pieces of the stories to unravel and for a good portion, you may find yourself asking what exactly is going on. But the end result was very satisfying and I found myself wanting to watch the film again immediately. Additionally, both were filmed in this beautiful way where you follow the protagonist around doing the most mundane things, like watching someone just live their daily lives. Some may find this tedious but I felt it added depth to the characters as we learned of them not through obvious and banal dialogue but instead through subtle actions and physical cues which both Eili Harboe and Kristen Stewart do phenomenally well. For me, I love these kinds of films and they are starting to become some of my favorites to watch while at home on a night with no plans. I,Tonya, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, some of which is due to the story being covered so thoroughly by the media during the incident the film centers around. This film is in your face and very quickly it starts moving and never really pauses. We follow along with the all to well-known story of Tonya Harding’s career which leads up to the tragedy in 1994. But at the same time, we are offered varying perspectives and details which, at least for me, weren’t well known. More importantly, it paints Hardin, played with just amazing conviction brilliance by Margot Robbie, as a real human being and regardless if you believe she had anything to do with the attack on Nancy Kerrigan it forces us to question how we treat the people involved in these kinds of newsworthy events. The film is filled with fun and interesting historical details and there are even some great comedic moments but by the end I found myself asking why am I so interested in these kinds of stories and if it is possible that in some way I enjoyed seeing these people fall. It is an eye-opening film with a powerful message about who we are and as a society how we treat social outcasts.
The remaining 3 films, Get Out, Detroit and Lady Bird I had high expectations for whether due to great word of mouth or top-notch directors being attached. Lady Bird for one was a film I was excited to see because I live in Sacramento, California the actual geographical setting of the film. It was fun seeing the different places that I pass and visit daily on the big screen. Additionally, prior to my viewing, it was receiving a ridiculous amount of strong reviews. It pretty much got to the point where I felt like I had no other choice but to watch the film to ensure I had a true sampling of what 2017 had to offer. The film definitely didn’t disappoint, it is a great coming of age drama offering a beautiful glimpse into youth and how family and friendships shape our lives. As always Saoirse Ronan was magnificent as the lead title character. She is extremely talented and slowly becoming one of my favorites actors. Also, something that makes the film so powerful is how it handles tragic incidents, it offers them up as just passing moments in life which is what they truly are. It is a very raw form of storytelling and I appreciated it.
Detroit was directed by Kathryn Bigelow who brought us the outstanding piece of cinema known as The Hurt Locker which won multiple awards. So you can imagine what the expectations were for this film. And like The Hurt Locker Bigelow brought a strong sense of realism to Detroit. The film, which is set during the Detroit riot in 1967, is bleak and tough to watch in some moments. It doesn’t pull any punches but all of this makes for authentic imagery and storytelling. There was nothing fun or amusing about the race riots during this period which is one of the bloodiest in U.S. history. This film is a look at our nation around that decade and does an incredible job of capturing the sense of what race relations were like during that period. Like most films that deal with this kind of serious topic, it is a very powerful and one I think deserves a watch if just to at least familiarize yourself with the incident and the controversy behind some of the ways the military and law enforcement handled the event.
Lastly, I have Get Out which was another brilliant piece of storytelling and, I have to admit, not at all what I would have expected from its director Jordan Peele who is the second half of the comedy act Key and Peele. It is not just simply a good film with great acting and a well-written script but it is also a very intelligent horror film, which is a remarkable find. It also provides a bit of social commentary something else you also don’t typically see in horror films which are usually not so thought-provoking. But Get Out manages to entertain and frighten while at the same time generating a discussion about subtle forms of racism that many minorities experience every day. The story itself may seem familiar at times but it doesn’t take anything away and I myself was completely surprised with the ending. Overall Get Out is a creative and edgy film and definitely one that should not be missed.
Well, I hope you enjoyed these picks because it is time to move on to my top 3 contenders. These films all moved me but in different ways. What I love is that in certain aspects these three are all very different kinds of films that are designed to invoke in you varying emotions. Which is truly the beauty of art, you can have three completely contrasting pieces of work and each will be amazing and touching in its own way and we as viewers extract meaning from each depending on our own life experiences. Which is why it is no surprise when people who you may feel are so similar may take away different things from certain films or other forms of art. I am certain your top 3 films will not be exactly as my top 3, and that’s a good thing. Anyway here they are:
#3 Baby Driver ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Take a simple good guy doing bad story, add some Ocean’s Eleven flash and smug, a twist of MTV, a tiny splash of Fast and The Furious and then sprinkle on an amazing soundtrack and you got Baby Driver. And Baby Driver is about as much fun as you can get in a movie going experience. And heads up now, the word “fun” is going to be peppered throughout this entire review because that’s what Baby Driver is…pure F U N. The first 20 minutes of Baby Driver is the most fun I have had watching a film in some time. You are quickly introduced to the lead protagonist, Baby, played with some innocent charm by Ansel Elgort, a name that was new to me. You then meet Kevin Spacey’s Doc, a big boss who hires bands of criminals to pull off high net worth heists and has the brains and the connections to put the jobs together. And although he seems works with the same individuals he points out he never uses the same crew twice with one exception: Baby always drives. And it doesn’t take long to find out why.
Baby Driver starts off as a faced paced stylish thriller supported by some well-chosen tunes and some comedy interlaced between them. But as the story evolves the pace slows a bit to unfold a pleasant secondary storyline of two youths finding love in a world that doesn’t fully understand. This is where we meet Debora portrayed by the mesmerizing Lily James. The dialogue between Baby and Debora can be described as cliché but it is still sweet to watch them interact and their relationship offers Baby a reason, aside from another, to get out of this dangerous business. Although we don’t learn much else about Debora’s past, or even her present for that matter, it’s easy to buy into their connection.
Baby Driver eventually picks the pace back up and the ride from there on is a blast. There weren’t many moments of this film where I didn’t have a goofy smile on my face. The chase scenes are an adrenaline rush, the shootouts have a dash of Michael Mann’s Heat and I can’t say enough about the soundtrack. The tracks chosen for each set-piece are just perfect and add to the thrill ride. Edgar Wright managed to brilliantly thread the music into the film frame by frame in a way I have just never seen before. The music doesn’t just complement the film, it becomes an integral part of the storytelling. It is difficult to explain and honestly something you just have to experience for yourself.
Since the theater, I have managed to catch Baby Driver two more times and with both re-watches none of the joy I felt the first time around was lost. I have enjoyed so many of Wright’s films and this one may be my favorite which for some can be a bold statement considering his catalog. The thing with Baby Driver is I knew almost immediately that it was going to be one of my top picks and I have zero doubt that it deserves its spot here. My only hope is that it gets more recognition as time goes on as because Wright has brought something new this year that might start a new wave of fun thrill rides for the times we just need a smile.
#2 Wonder Woman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
After what many perceive as the epic failure of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) needed a heavy hitter bad. Enter Wonder Woman, the fourth installment of the DCEU. For those not already in the know, the film follows the origin story of Princess Diana prior to her transformation into the Wonder Woman of the modern world. It is primarily set during the first World War and follows Diana as she leaves the Amazon island of Themyscira and enters the world of man after learning of the horrific atrocities the war has wrought. Her mission is to find and destroy the God of War, Ares, whom she believes is influencing and corrupting the heart of man and is, in essence, the true source of the war. For a full analysis, one of our writers, Michael Dean, posted a fantastic review of his thoughts on the film, you can read them here.
The film is directed by Patty Jenkins, best known for Monster which won Charlize Theron an Academy Award for Best Actress. It stars Gal Gadot as Diana and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor along with appearances by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. With a great cast and director, Wonder Woman had a lot going for it and more importantly has a lot riding on it. With Justice League still in production If the film failed to please audiences, it’s likely to have an impact on how well future DCEU films would do in theaters. I honestly had mild expectations and walked into the theater with some excitement but mainly reservations. I had high hopes for Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel and was immensely disappointed. And after Batman V Superman I didn’t want to make the same mistake a 3rd time. If anything my hope was to leave the theater content and more open to Justice League and possibly other titles from DC. Fortunately, the film did more than that, much more. To put it plainly Wonder Woman kicked my cynical, unbelieving, doubtful ass up and down the aisle and left me questioning which DC hero truly should be leading the Justice League.
Walking into the theater advertising banners and collectors cups for Wonder Woman were plastered with three words: Wonder, Power, Courage. These three words are simply not enough. Inspiration. Hope. Love. Three more words and still not enough. On my first viewing, I left the theater feeling good about it. “It was a good film,” I said to my buddy. I drove home with a smile on my face but something happened. The next day I was recalling scenes from the film and the different emotions I felt from each. It was powerful. Jenkins directing deserves some serious nods and the acting all around was stellar but even looking over all that the simple message this film was trying to convey was just powerful. And a message that so many of us needed to hear today. Honestly, the third act of the film falls a little flat, which prevents me from giving the film 5 stars. But the first two acts are full of great laughs and enjoyable moments filled with all those powerful words: Hope, Inspiration, Compassion, Joy, Love, etc and Gadot’s stage presence is captivating. For all intents and purposes, Gadot IS Wonder Woman. Rarely have a been so convinced in an on-screen characters compassion and love for humanity. Like so many, I fell in love with Diana not because of what she looks like but because of the things she said, the things she did and the things she made me feel about others. And really all of this is what makes me love this film so much. What was expected to be a basic cookie cutter superhero film instead turned out to be a film that has made so many ask themselves how can they make this world a better place, and that is a tough trick for a film to pull off.
An additional bit of irony is that Wonder Woman so far is the only DC hero to actually be referred to as a God but she treats herself in no such way. She demands nothing of humans and everything of herself. More than anything she presents herself as a reflection of what we can be and isn’t that what heroes are supposed to do? Ultimately what makes Wonder Woman such an amazing film is its power to move. It did what so many films with hero’s, super or not, fails to do which is ask how can we turn a blind eye to ANY injustice whatever its form. Wonder Woman isn’t just about getting to the guy sitting at the top of a crooked system, it’s about gutting the very corrupt foundations that so much of our wold sits upon and has conditioned us to let what we may consider minor atrocities go on daily She is a reflection of the best in us that offers the glimpse into a world where truth and justice can prevail if we could only just stand against the cruelty and intolerance we see and more importantly if each one of us takes accountability of who we are and how we treat each other. It’s a beautiful idea, and one worth fighting for.
#1 Film of 2017: Dunkirk ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Dunkirk. It was around the end of 2016 that I began doing my best to avoid trailers for certain films. I wanted to be able to go in fresh with less expectation and more genuine surprise, Dunkirk was one of those films. I saw only one teaser early on, prior to that I hadn’t even heard of Dunkirk, had no clue Christopher Nolan was directing and no clue what the film was really about. But that one teaser was all I needed. It was the first trailer I had seen with no background music for dramatics, just clips of the film in their “raw state” if you will. And that was it. I was hooked and knew I absolutely NEEDED to see this film. It more than just delivered. I already posted my full review earlier in the year, it’s not too long of a read and I would recommend it if you want a full analysis. For the sake of avoiding redundancy, I will try my best to briefly cover the overall reason the film made not only my #1 spot for 2017 but likely my top ten of all time.
Much of the magnificence and artistic genius of this film lies with the direction and cinematography. Without a doubt, the acting was incredible with a few well-known names cast (Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and Cilian Murphy to name a few) but they aren’t what makes the film such an amazing experience. The scenes where you will find yourself staring at the screen in utter awe will have less to do with what is being said or acted out by individuals on the screen and more to do with what you are seeing, how you are seeing it and in the way the story is being told. Dunkirk is a rare experience in film. It is as if Christopher Nolan has captured these extraordinary moments in time, ripped them right out of history and stripped them of theatrics and melodrama. What we get is this raw image of war and tragedy and hope and determination and victory and loss and that is brilliant and beautiful filmmaking. At its core, Dunkirk is a war movie like any other. It has moments of poignancy and adversity as well as others full of triumph and joy. But where it differs is where other films will sometimes provide these slight reminders that “This is just a movie.” which allows the audience to keep a certain distance and offers a sense of security Nolan instead pulls us right in and makes us sit on that beach and experience each tension filled second. There are moments in Dunkirk where you are watching tragedy strike and you feel the anxiety as if you were there living in that moment and immediately after you are pulled into another. It never lets up and with a score that includes a ticking clock you are constantly reminded that time is on your heels and every second counts.
When I left the theater there were grown men in tears and not just of despair but ones of hope in feeling what this film captured about human nature and the spirit that drives our compassion and will to struggle against impossible odds. There are films that are good and there are films that are great and now and then there are films that give us pause to look out at the world and reflect on the myriad of moments and events, minor and crucial, that have taken place to put you where you are at that second. Whether or not Dunkirk will do that for you I can’t say but for me, it was an experience not far off from being witness to a major historical event.
Those were my top ten picks for 2017. It was a tremendous year for filmmaking not just as an art but also the strides the industry has made to acknowledge the biases and unfavorable conditions that have existed for people in the minority. I feel certain that we will start seeing real changes in 2018 and changes for the good. Because truth be told when a large portion of an industries workforce is being abused, manipulated, neglected and taken advantage of its going to reflect in the art. The harm and turmoil are a part of the medium which results in a blemished product. The positive changes that we saw beginning in 2017 will carry over 2018 and guaranteed those positive changes will take from great filmmaking and storytelling.
I hope you enjoyed the read, feel free to leave a comment below, I love to hear others thoughts and how their expectations panned out.
Official Top Ten:
- Dunkirk ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Wonder Woman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Baby Driver ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Lady Bird ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Detroit ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Get Out ⭐⭐⭐½
- The Shape Of Water ⭐⭐⭐½
- I, Tonya ⭐⭐⭐½
- Thelma ⭐⭐⭐½
- Personal Shopper ⭐⭐⭐½
- Happy Death Day ⭐⭐⭐½
- Logan ⭐⭐⭐½