Matt's Top Ten Movies of 2017
Every year it’s pretty easy to say “Hey, that was a great year for movies!” but 2017 was an exception. 2017 really was a terrific year for cinema, with some of the biggest directors in the game outdoing themselves at every turn, from Guillermo del Toro, to Steven Spielberg, to Paul Thomas Anderson, everyone seemed to up their game. It was also a year of amazing debut pictures by Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, tapping into relevant subjects alongside their veteran peers. This list may be going up a little later than I had originally intended but I wanted to give myself enough time to see as much as I could, to form a Top Ten that truly represented my take on film in 2017 as a whole. So without further ado, here are my favorite pictures from 2017, plus a few runners up.
Best Non-2017 Film in 2017
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
1992 d. David Lynch
Over the years I've fallen in love with the work of David Lynch. The myriad twists and turns that are inherent to the man’s work challenge the way that we as an audience approach a film. However it wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to tackle what may be his most popular work, Twin Peaks. With The Return fast approaching I decided to finally watch David Lynch and Mark Frost’s seminal 90s TV series as well as Fire Walk With Me, the prequel/sequel that followed. FWWM is a devastating experience, placing you in the shoes of troubled high schooler Laura Palmer as she lives out the last week of her life. Typical Lynch weirdness ensues but never without the feeling that all of this could actually happen. It’s dark in almost every sense, dealing with subjects that would normally be taboo, but that’s part of the charm. Derided upon release, FWWM stands as one of the director’s greatest achievements behind the camera.
Brigsby Bear (dir. Dave McCary)
Well plotted and incredibly smart, Kyle Mooney’s (Saturday Night Live) first feature screenplay is one of the best looks at friendship (along with The Disaster Artist) to come along in a while. The story of a recently freed kidnapping victim trying to acclimate to the outside world, Brigsby Bear features a terrific cast including Mooney himself, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr, all doing some great work. In his small amount of screen time, Hamill proves beyond any doubt that he can be a serious dramatic actor with ease, his few scenes really pushing the themes to the forefront. Not as outwardly bizarre as trailers would have you believe, Brigsby Bear is an experience to treasure.
Alien: Covenant (dir. Ridley Scott)
Returning to the series he helped birth almost 40 years ago, Ridley Scott's style is all over Alien: Covenant. Lush vistas, suffocating corridors, and breathtaking space sequences fill Covenant to the brim with iconic images. Numerous vile sequences involving chest/spine/face bursters really up the vomit inducing quality of his original 1979 masterpiece of horror. Covenant may not reach the same simplistic level of story and craft as Alien, but it's high entertainment featuring Michael Fassbender in one of the best performances of the year. One of the better entries in this long running series, Covenant is incredibly bleak, just like the best sci-fi/horror.
Coco (dir. Lee Unkrich)
Leave it to Lee Unkrich and Pixar to completely and unexpectedly floor me. It’s no secret that recent Pixar has been spotty at best, but Coco rises above their recent mediocre sequels to tell a great story about discovering your roots and the gifts that a strong family bond can provide. Like the best Pixar films, there’s an immediacy with which the story is told that’s something special, sweeping you up in this adventure like few other experiences in 2017. With catchy songs, top-tier voice performances and a respectful/authentic look at Mexican culture, Coco might just be Pixar’s best effort in years.
The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco)
James Franco (and basically everyone he knows) are terrific here, crafting a touching portrait of strained friendship (whereas Brigsby Bear was about discovering friendship) while never skimping on the laughs. I was afraid this was going to be mean spirited in respect to Tommy Wiseau and The Room, but what I got was a loving adaptation of a man's dream to make it big in Hollywood. The real Tommy might not have succeeded at that with The Room, but with The Disaster Artist, Franco has worked wonders.
10. Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Luca Guadagnino’s stunningly gorgeous coming-of-age film cuts deep and is unforgiving in its themes. The story of an affluent teenage boy and his self-realization of his own sexuality, Call Me By Your Name can be devastating at times but never oppressively so. The romance that blossoms between Timothee Chalamet’s Elio and Armie Hammer’s Oliver feels real above all else, thanks to the performances and James Ivory’s touching screenplay. With beautiful Italian scenery, career best turns by the cast (including MVP Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father), and a final scene that will stick with me for years, Call Me By Your Name is essential, capturing new and unfamiliar love like few others.
9. The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s real life account of how they got together was personally devastating for me. The story of the trials and tribulations that followed hit close to home especially when the titular Big Sick reared its head, with Emily ending up in a coma after a sudden illness. A few years back my boyfriend was admitted to the hospital for back pain and had to have surgery to remove a tumor from his spinal column. It was the scariest experience of both of our lives, never being sure of the outcome and fearful of a powerful loss. Watching The Big Sick with him was quite the experience as halfway through he turned to me and said, “Oh wow, so this is our life isn’t it?” Needless to say we were both a wreck by the time the credits rolled and yet we were relieved that both our story and the film’s had a happy end.
8. Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Both classic and modern, Blade Runner 2049 is a rousing success. Taking the core mystery/detective aesthetic of the original and adapting it for a new generation, it's one of the best sequels to come along in decades. With a cast (Harrison Ford hasn't been this good in years) and crew doing career best work, there's a lot to love and very little to disappoint or earn disdain. A film I approached with trepidation more than anything else, 2049 is better than it has any right to be. One of the rare sequels that reaches for the lofty heights of its predecessor and manages to match it at many turns.
7. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
Both a brutally honest look at race relations in America and a terrifically crafted horror film, Get Out may just be the crown jewel of Blumhouse Productions. With his first feature film, Jordan Peele knocked it out of the park. Featuring enough scares and just the right amount of Peele’s trademark humor, this can be an oppressive and haunting experience that totally earns every twist on display. Daniel Kaluuya gives a breakout, Oscar nominated performance which hints at even greater things to come. Add in terrifying supporting turns by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, and Get Out is one of the best debut features to come along in a long time.
6. I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie)
Just as wild and over the top as Tonya Harding herself, Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya is a balancing act of tone. At one moment hilarious, at others violent and terrifying, this look at America’s obsession with tabloid sensationalism and our constant need for a villain is never not entertaining. Ambiguous as to if Harding had a hand in the planning of the Nancy Kerrigan Incident, the film asks the audience to do what they always do - figure out their own truth. Margot Robbie has never been better than she is here, immersing herself in the persona of Tonya Harding, selling every turn and really making you feel for this flawed yet iconic woman.
5. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Personally, Inherent Vice was a huge disappointment so I was slow to warm up to the prospect of a new Paul Thomas Anderson film. Having said that, I was almost immediately won over by Phantom Thread. A fascinating look at toxic relationships and the lengths people will go to keep them going, this is also one of the most bitingly funny pictures of 2017. Daniel Day-Lewis is expectedly great but Vicky Krieps and Leslie Manville more than hold their own against him, trading venomous barbs like the professionals that they are. One of my biggest surprises of the year, there’s a lot to love if you’re on its level.
4. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
In 2017 I made a massive turnaround in regards to Christopher Nolan’s work. What I once found to be dull or even derivative revealed new layers and Dunkirk ended up being one of my most anticipated films of the year. Getting the chance to see his latest in 70mm then later at home via 4K Blu-ray was a revelation. One of his best films no matter how you experience it, Dunkirk is almost experimental in how it tackles diverging timelines, telling three separate stories of the British evacuation from during World War II. Both exhilarating and harrowing, this is one of the filmmaker’s finest pictures and one that I’ll be coming back to with a regularity over the coming years.
3. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
Another entry on my top ten that’s a feature debut, Lady Bird by indie stalwart Greta Gerwig spoke to me in ways that I didn’t anticipate. Set during the high school senior year of 02-03, when I was myself a high school senior preparing to graduate and dealing with my life the best I could, Lady Bird is a coming of age story that isn't all roses, just like real life. With Lady Bird, Gerwig shows she has an assured eye and a sense of character that feels fresh and real. Also we really don't give Laurie Metcalf enough credit, she's a bedrock and gives one of the best performances of 2017.
2. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Guillermo del Toro can work wonders with just a simple image and is able to key in on the human condition so well it's almost not fair. The Shape of Water sits nicely next to Pan's Labyrinth as the highlight of his career. A classic fairy tale of the Other and their place in society, coming together in the worst of times to truly shine and find themselves. One of the year’s best ensembles, led by Sally Hawkins, this cast shines. Whether it’s Hawkins’ mute protagonist, Octavia Spencer’s strong-willed housewife, Richard Jenkins’ heartbreaking take on being a gay man in the 50s, or Michael Shannon’s villainous G-Man, everyone here is at the top of their game. Anyone who's ever felt or been told they were "different" or "undesirable" will take a lot from this picture, it's one for the ages.
1. The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg)
One of the most powerful films I've seen in a while. The Post feels important, yes, but also vital. It's like when Scorsese made Wolf of Wall Street and it seemed like the work of a hungry young director, Spielberg still has that drive of his younger years. There’s an immediacy on display with The Post that’s a shot in the arm for the newspaper genre, thanks to a sharp screenplay and gorgeous visuals by Spielberg stalwart Janusz Kaminski. The cast, including powerhouses Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are always on point, allowing the ensemble to breathe with everyone given equal time to shine. Streep is transcendent, commanding the attention of both the audience and the boorish, overbearing men in her life. She hasn’t been this good in well over a decade and the notices she’s received here (including a Best Actress Oscar nomination) are more than well deserved. Perhaps the most essential newspaper drama since 1976’s All the President’s Men, Spielberg has once again outdone himself, making his best film in years and the best of 2017.