Before I break into the good, bad, and ugly of the 2017 year in film, let me put this out there: this was an incredible year for the movies. I am talking about a versatile array of cinematic pleasures that ranged from the boldly adventureous (The Shape of Water) to the pulse-pounding thrills of music and car chases (Baby Driver) to a journalistic trail blaze (The Post).
Filmmakers didn’t have to rely on old tricks or recycle favors from decades before, instead exploring new ground with wide-eyed results (look at The Big Sick combining laughs and tears without forcing it). 2016 put out some fine films, but I felt like it got started very late and couldn’t hang with this year’s slate. Like a flashy looking car with a great engine, but a driver who can’t hang on the backroads or badlands of make-believe.
Let’s no waste anymore of your time, and get to the best and worst films of 2017. First, I will put out my top film of 2017 and then list the rest, before delving into the bottom of the barrel. Pour the coffee and let’s go.
THE BEST FILM OF 2017: THE POST
Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep got together and made a film that couldn’t be more timely or affecting. At a time where the free press are having their dignity trashed by a scared President, this drama covering the Washington Post’s uncovering of documents which linked the government’s negligent actions during the Vietnam War hits you in the head and in the heart. Streep blows a torch for powerful women with her portrayal of Katherine Graham, a woman thrust into a leadership role that she was ill-prepared for. She ended up owning the night and Nixon.
Spielberg takes Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s wiz script, and doesn’t waste a second of your time, painting the war room at the paper like the beaches at Normandy, where writers and editors had to decide if the last voice in the room would belong to the President or the people. Similar to Spotlight, Spielberg’s tale is diabolical in its accuracy. He filmed this in less than a year, showing what you can do when an important idea possesses you. Hanks gives a bravura performance that we have come to expect, but don’t sleep on Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) or Sarah Paulson, This film gets better every time.
*Opens in St. Louis on Jan. 12, 2018
THE REST OF THE BEST
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Writer/director Martin McDonagh found a way to tell a heartbreaking and honest story-and make you laugh at the same time. There’s some dark comedy in the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand, stealing a seat at the Oscar table months in advance), a woman who takes desperate actions after her daughter’s murder becomes a cold case in a small town. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are both excellent here as the badges forced to deal with Hayes, but the real treat is McDormand. This is one of those roles that felt like only one actress could not just play it, but get it right. It reminded me of Sally Field in Norma Rae or Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovich: a singular moment and performance. See this movie if you like dramas that move in unpredictable ways and make you feel everything.
The Big Sick
I walked into this film hoping for a decent comedy that didn’t get too heavy, and I left blown away by a fearless comedy that thankfully got heavy, but did so in a way that few films can accomplish. Co-writer/star Kumail Nanjiani previously was the Silicon Valley comic relief, but his performance here put him on another level. Equal parts daring and hilarious, he was magnetic here. This film featured the rare occurrence of a movie coming out of nowhere and blowing me away. A story about an Uber driver/aspiring comic meeting the girl of his dreams hit provocative notes by shedding a light on the struggle Pakistan men face when their families bring them to the United States: resisting the desire to find their own life. There’s a joke about 9/11 that will make you laugh so hard it’ll uncomfortable and hurt.
Special hat tip to Holly Hunter and Ray Romano for creating the sweetest and edgiest couple in recent cinematic history. If you haven’t seen The Big Sick, get invested on Blu Ray or Amazon today.
All Wolverine fans wanted was a worthy film about one of Marvel’s biggest anti-heroes. Wolverine: Origins was studio vomit and The Wolverine didn’t get the core of the character. Well, nobody saw Logan coming. James Mangold and Hugh Jackman delivered a poignant farewell to the clawed action hero, digging into the man’s moral dilemma and showing the ugly side of a superhero aging out and looking back over his life. The subplots with a young Laura (Dafne Keen) and a dying Professor X (Patrick Stewart giving his best turn as the mentor) were so well-played and subtle, something often missing in this genre. I loved the action in this film, but the quiet emotional moments were the best. Jackman won’t get the attention he deserves for a performance that felt 16 years in the making, but he gave fans everything they could have wanted with this final take.
Land of Mine
After World War II ended, the Danish soldiers made German kids and teens dismantle thousands of mines buried under the sand on the beach as punishment for their fathers destroying their country during the vicious war. A pound of flesh for several hundreds, one might say. This film is about a sergeant (Roman Moller) coming to odds with his anger as he supervises a group of kids working a part of the Denmark shoreline. What starts as cool and icy begins to thaw as he sees how innocent the kids are, and wonders if they actually deserve this. Writer/director Martin Zandvliet spares you nothing in the carnage, crafting organic edge of your seats thrills as you follow each mine unscrewed with or without cost.
There wasn’t a better time at the movies than Edgar Wright’s dazzling action flick. Everything worked here, from the groovy soundtrack to the electrifying stunts to the wide array of lively performances, particularly Jon Hamm, who leaned into his role as a trigger happy bank robber with absolute glee. If you ever imagined Don Draper throwing away the razor blade and picking up a gun, here it is. Also, Kevin Spacey gets ran over-twice-by a car. Ansel Elgort came into his own as the title character, carrying the majority of the film as a young man with a unique skill in a terrible situation. There isn’t a minute wasted here. Also, Kevin Spacey gets ran over by a car.
I truly appreciated the way that Christopher Nolan dared to make a different kind of war film, aiming for precise documentation instead of easy thrills. The unsure yet fearless pilot (Tom Hardy), the scared young soldiers waging war against bombs and water, and the courageous civilians riding boats to the rescue. There was so much going on here at the onset of World War II that the three separate timelines were required, giving the film a singular touch. Everything about the film felt calculated and well-measured. While the film felt cold to the human touch, the end was understated and emotional. People have a problem with this film getting love, but I feel like those people wanted Nolan to pull a Spielberg and give us Saving Private Ryan 2. That wasn’t Dunkirk, so Nolan thankfully took the road less traveled.
Disclaimer: I don’t care much for horror films, especially the past 15-20 years. It’s all the same tune to me. However, It was something else. It had a Stand By Me flavor to go with its kid detective story line and gory nature. Bill Skarsgard made for an excellent Pennywise, and there’s a moment near the end that is so well-played and brings the entire film together cohesively. I didn’t cut this film much slack going in, but I was entertained, and dare I admit, moved by a horror film. Wow. Stephen King should be happy.
Blade Runner: 2049
Welcome to an art house film disguised as a blockbuster. It was NOT too long! Denis Villenueve (who can’t go wrong with film choice) decided to stretch out certain sequences that other directors would seal off quickly and move on from. Every shot was gorgeously rendered in this futuristic battlefield called Los Angeles and fueled the plot of a young blade runner uncovering conspiracies and buried secrets. Ryan Gosling’s performance anchored the film, while giving Harrison Ford another reason to live in the past with a role that needed closure. This film didn’t have a single genre for a home, and that worked its benefit, creating a morally ambiguous journey.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro, like Nolan and Villenueve, simply doesn’t make a film for the mere sake of working; he works due to a story needing to be told. A romance story that included elements of fantasy, action, science fiction noir, and mystery. Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins were aces across the board. Here was a film, like its central subject, had a huge heart and dared to be different.
Every few years, Daniel Day Lewis comes back to the world of film and just blows you away, like a cowboy strolling into a town on the biggest horse carrying the biggest gun. He’s a master of his craft, and his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson is the most unconventional and bizarre love story you’ll see at the movies. Day Lewis’ world renowned dress maker falling for a muse (newcomer Vicky Krieps more than holding her own with the best), and their life together moving in unique directions as he attempts to strangle brilliance while starving off her affection and love. The film quickly immersed you in its world, creating a claustrophobic yet highly fascinating experience.
Coming of age/end of innocence tales are a dime a dozen these days in film, but Greta Gerwig spiced her semi-autobiographical directorial debut up with sheer, unapologetic honesty. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan made for a ferocious mother-daughter combo, and the film’s ending hits on so many levels. A film about the unbreakable bond between someone and their hometown; a love/hate relationship that can produce so many enlightened moments.
The Last Men of Aleppo
This film punched me in the gut. The first scene features 10-15 people prying bodies out of a school that was hit by a bomb. The screen spares you nothing, pulling zero punches in order to show you the entire story. Volunteer rescue workers in Syria desperately trying to save lives during a deadly civil war. I fell in love with Khaled Umar Harah’s story-a family man using his free time to pull kids from underneath the rubble of a bombed building. The brotherhood formed around these heroes was so invigorating that you’ll stop complaining about easy troubles like traffic or weather for at least a couple days. This film isn’t easy to watch, but it’ll make an impact if you allow it. I wouldn’t save this for a date night, but just watch it anyway.
John Wick: Chapter 2
An action film to end all action films is what this second helping of the Wick diaries amounted to. Against all odds, this sequel improved on the sequel’s appeal, broadening the scope of the sorta-retired hitman’s world. Keanu Reeves won’t get a better job than John Wick, a role that fits all of his facets and brings out his true talent. Covering New York and Rome, Chapter 2 sets up a third chapter set to debut next year, but it won’t be easy to top the pleasures of Reeves shooting, punching, kicking, and flipping his way to a peaceful life. And to think, it all started with a dog.
The Most Overlooked Delight: Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s redneck Ocean’s Eleven rendition came and went in theaters while providing some of the smoothest filmmaking and comedy of the year. Daniel Craig is worth the price of admission alone.
Great Performances that won’t get talked about: Andy Serkis in A War on the Planet of the Apes and Jake Gyllenhaal for Stronger.
Under the Radar Pleasures: Band Aid, Landline
Honorable Mentions: Wind River, The Hero, Thank You For Your Service, Mother!, Brad’s Status, Chuck, Wonder Woman, Only The Brave, Last Flag Flying.
THE WORST MOVIES
The Mummy-I’m not sure why they remade this film and made it so dull. Brenden Fraser probably wondered why as well. Tom Cruise basically Tom Cruised his way through a performance in a movie with a flat villain, no brain, and a numbing feeling in your head near the end. More Mission: Impossible films and less of this stuff, Tom.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword-Next time, Guy Ritchie, just say no. This movie was too long, too uneven, and incredibly stupid.
Suburbicon-You’re better than this, George Clooney.
Kong: Skull Island-Unintentionally funny and unneeded.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer-Worst ending of the year.
All I See Is You-All I saw was nothing.
Worst Actor of the Year: Matt Damon. What happened to you, dude?
Most Disappointing Film: Roman J. Israel.
The rest of the worst: Hitman’s Bodyguard, Transformers 16, Alien Covenant, Goon 2.
That’s it, folks. You know when a year of film is great when you have a hard time carving out a list. Here is mine. Did I forget something? Tell me all about it, on Twitter (@buffa82), Facebook, or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
See you at the movies!