Last year I posted a blog on Valentines Day discussing the upcoming Academy Awards. At the time it made me realize just how far behind I was when it came to seeing all the Oscar nominations. Likewise, the more I caught up with the Oscar nominations the more outdated my personal picks for Top 12 films of the previous year (that would of course be 2016), started to get. And what compounded the problem (of course) is that some Oscar picks usually don’t even see wide release until January of the New Year. This meant some of the films that might have made my list would end up lost in that middle ground during the long, dark days of January.
So this year I decided to change things up. I figured it would take me a good month and a bit into the New Year to catch up on the films I wanted to see in 2017 and for all of the 2017 films to get wide release, and so I aimed to hold off on any best of lists until February 14th, After all, what better time to write about my love of cinema than Valentines Day. And with the Oscars right around the corner and the nominations officially announced it would also be an opportunity to reflect on those as well.
What I have done here is used select categories from the Awards nominations as a stepping stone for looking back at some of my personal favourite films and cinematic moments of 2017. And to note this right off the top, for as much as 2018 has been proving to be really strong coming out of the gate, 2017 was a stellar year for movies in its own right. Narrowing down my personal favourites was not easy, but as always it was rewarding.
With all that said, here is a look back at the year that was, the upcoming Oscars, and my favourite films.
I dropped the ball on seeing documentaries this year so my thoughts will be necessarily limited. But I wanted to include this category because of 2 films I am really looking forward to seeing and one film that I did see which really resonated with me, even if it didn’t make any of my top lists.
The much praised and talked about “Faces Places” tells the story of a French artist and a willing Director who team up for a trek across France, during which they begin to create portraits of the different people that cross their path.
I have heard the doc is an incredibly intimate and touching portrayal of the ways in which we see ourselves, not only through the privacy of our own personal mirrors but also in the ways we imagine the world sees us from the outside. In this same sense I have also heard the film is an “eye opening” experience, which is keeping this film near the top of my must sees list when it finally becomes available.
Ex Libris: The New York Public Library
This one appears to be a bit polarizing given the subject matter, and your experience of the film from what I have heard could very well be determined by your level of interest in the subject matter.
Given that it is about The New York Public Library, and of course set in New York, It happens to fascinate me on a number of levels. It feels like this will be the sort of doc that raises questions I didn’t even know I had while taking me inside a world I knew existed by I am not sure I ever actively imagined.
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
As one of the documentaries I did get a chance to see, Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond is a film about Carey’s groundbreaking performance in Man on the Moon, examining what the performance represented for Carey and how his career led him to this point.
Although the title of the film does suggest a singular moment in time, the film also deals with Carey’s career and life as a whole, which for me was the most captivating part of the film. Affording Carey some context provides us with a fascinating study of the power of method acting as means of losing yourself in a given role, and an intimate look into the challenges of navigating Hollywood as someone who is also trying to find himself. The friend who recommended this to me suggested if you appreciated the man’s talent before, this film will take that appreciation to another level.
This might be the category that has me most excited as I look back at 2017. There were a few films that really managed to represent themselves as true cinematic accomplishments, reminding me of why the theatrical experience can be so powerful and so rewarding.
Blade Runner 2049
Hands down the single greatest cinematic achievement of 2017. Visual, expansive and truly immersive, Blade Runner 2049 transported me to another world while leaving plenty of room for me to really wrestle with the questions this world evoked. A truly remarkable and satisfying sequel.
Nolan’s much anticipated experiment in making a war film owes much to his deep (and also studious) appreciation of Saving Private Ryan. It is an experiment most notably in his desire to pattern this after the great thrillers as opposed to following in the footsteps of his hero by recreating Spielberg’s emotionally resonating dramatic reenactment. Alternating perspectives between water, land and sky is intended to build the tension necessary for the thriller elements to be effective, and it is these three perspectives that provide Nolan an opportunity to really entertain the full cinematic possibilities of this film by taking the Imax cameras into places they had never been before. This is a truly immersive experience that must be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate.
Mudbound occupies space on the other side of this same cinematic discussion. It is a film that never saw a theatrical release and thus must find ways to fully immerse the viewer on a smaller scale.
I do feel the film was underserved by being denied a theatrical release as it is the wonderful cinematography that truly moves this film forward. But the film still manages to loom large, commanding our attention to the detail it affords its setting. There is a definite poetic force to the way the mud and the earth are used to symbolize the human stories it protects, and the way the narrative flows out of the ground and into its human stories in intimate and visual ways was one of the more compelling cinematic moments of 2017.
Kong: Skull Island
If I was going to measure this category on pure spectacle, Jordan Vogt-Roberts deserves a mention for Kong: Skull Island. His use of lighting, setting and period piece, all components of cinematography, was rather incredible to witness on the big screen, and although I consider this one of the most entertaining blockbusters of 2017, the cinematography should not be understated as its most impressive accomplishment.
The Shape of Water
The cinematography is this passion project’s greatest strength. From one of my favourite all time directors, The Shape of Water might not be his best film but it just might be his most beloved work. As a love letter to the art of film, it is a true celebration of the capacity for visual and cinematic storytelling to move our imaginations. It has been nominated in a number of categories but this might be the category I feel it is most deserving of.
ORIGINAL AND ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
When it comes to the Oscars these are the two categories (original and adapted) that often tend to honour the films not likely to win Best Director or Best Picture but that still deserve acknowledgement in the eyes of the Academy.
Of all the categories, this is the one I also find the most fascinating to consider. The power of a good screenplay should not be understated. There are many different aspects of film, but whereas direction and performance can often elevate a film above its weaker points, subpar writing is the one thing that has the power to bring everything else down with it.
The Oscars have rightly recognized Get Out, The Big Sick and Lady Bird in the category of original screenplay, 3 films that commanded an undeniable cultural presence largely due to the strength of the writing. These are not flashy films, but each of them offered something unique to their particular genre thanks to an original screenplay. Get Out reimagines the horror genre as a commentary on race relations. The Big Sick proves that great comedy can be both subtle and timely. Lady Bird proved to the world that a small, unassuming, coming of age indie could be personally affecting in big and unexpected ways.
And yes, each of these films would be well deserving of an award, but from my own perspective there were a handful of films that did not make the Oscar list that I felt also demonstrated the power of a great original script.
The Book of Henry
I am somewhat alone in my love of this film, but there was something about this small, independent passion project that evoked my love of cinema in a very real way.
In terms of screenplay, Trevorrow uses his original script as an opportunity to transcend genres. It is a risky move and likely cost him his hold on the Jurassic franchise, but it definitely deserves respect. More so it deserves attention as one of those films in 2017 that took me on a truly unexpected emotional journey, moving through moments of laughter, sadness, edge of my seat thrills and finally contemplation. Yes, the film takes some incredibly sharp turns, but this is what made it so exciting to me. It might not all work, but it is trying something new, and much of this is a credit to Trevollow’s commitment to a particular idea, an idea his commitment to his original screenplay, one he had been working on for years, ultimately helped bring to life.
A polarizing film that left some people feeling a bit betrayed, and this polarization is largely thanks to the powerful script that shifts this film away from the traditional horror elements and into the realm of a modern day parable. There are great performances and the pacing of this film is extraordinary, but the true strength of Mother! is found in the sheer brevity of its story. The film’s allegorical intention keeps each scene and each interaction intimately connected to the symbolism of the films larger vision, and this is a testament to the strength of the script that it all eventually comes together. Definitely one of the more intellectually rigorous and engaging film experiences of 2017.
Another slightly polarizing film thanks to a script that helps shift this film away from preconceived assumptions and pushes it into some unexpected territory. There are big ideas in Downsizing and the screenplay deftly manages to flesh these out using an equally big and ambitious narrative arc that centres around people getting small. The best screenplays work to leave the audience with much to think about in the days after seeing a film, and Downsizing is one I continue to think about well into 2018.
If you are interested, this informative article written last year just prior to Moonlight’s Best Picture win explains why some films qualify for original while others compete in adapted. There are of course obvious differences between the two, but suffice to say that this discernment can sometimes get, well, a little complicated: https://www.vox.com/2017/2/25/14693400/oscars-2017-original-adapted-screenplay
Beyond the Oscars though it is certainly true, especially when adapting source material that is familiar and beloved, translating the images we have in our minds of these characters and stories into more concrete forms is delicate and incredibly subjective territory to tread. It is always worth remembering that book and film are two very different artistic mediums, and the best adapted films in my opinion are the ones that manage to tap into the unique strength of visual storytelling in order to give a particular narrative fresh perspective.
And what are these strengths?
My first love is books, but with the sheer accessibility of so much visual material along with being in a phase of life that seems to be demanding more and more time in my older age, I tend to watch far more films than I am able to read these days. Which highlights one of films greatest strengths: It’s ability to use a single visual to interpret pages and pages of written exposition in a short amount of time.
Screenplays tend to be much tighter, move much faster, and are much more intentional than a novel. Writing slows down the story and tends to be more organic, more free flowing. Novels can be sprawling by nature where films need to condense. Novel writers have the freedom to take time in building the world and the characters it desires to help us to see and imagine for ourselves. At the same time books have to be much more concerned with creating a hook that will draw people in since people are far more willing to give 2 hours of their time to a film than they are days to a book.
But even beyond all this and most pertinent when it comes to film adaptations at their best and most distinguishable is that films by nature an “interpretive” process. Writers begin with the visuals they have in their minds and then invite us in to imagine it for ourselves. Adapted screenplays in contrast are one persons “imagining” of another authors intention in realized form.
Sometimes a film does inspire me to read the book, but in general I am someone who prefers to read the book before seeing the film. This is mostly because I enjoy engaging with a visual artists interpretive process over and against my own. If I read a book after seeing a film I am already reading their interpretation into the process, and thus I miss out on being able to imagine it for myself. It becomes more of an intellectual exercise than an immersive one. I like to consider the ways a particular director or actor sees a shared story differs and compares to my own.
When I haven’t read a book upon which a movie is based, the differences between adapted and original are often indistinguishable. When I have read the book upon which the film is based I tend to view a film differently. And the question I generally ask and will be asking as I turn to consider some memorable adaptions from 2017 is this. Did the artist effectively show me their imagining of the source material?
There is no shortage of reasoning for considering Logan in any of these categories, but the most interesting part of this films inclusion in the adapted category is the fact that the Oscars rarely consider comic book films outside of technical categories. The closest example I seem to find is The Incredibles being nominated in the screenplay category, and certainly shutting out The Dark Knight remains etched in my memory as one of the Oscars greatest snubs.
What makes this even more interesting is the way Logan takes a specific series (Old Man Logan) and interprets it through the larger mythology of the X-Men comic book world. Narrowing down the actual source material that informs this film is not an easy task. That it managed to capture such a cohesive and realized emotional narrative arc using such an expansive possible slate of material is an exceptional accomplishment in this category.
This is a film that flew under the radar in 2017, but it is one that definitely deserves to be seen. Spoiler alert, it makes my personal top 12 list in the final category. I adored the way it uses a film within a film premise to shed light on the power of storytelling, something that adds even more layers to the whole screenplay as an interpretive process discussion. It is apparent that the glue which holds the narrative together is the strong source material, and given how much the story is anchored in the idea of imagining visual storytelling on the page, it seems tailor made to be adapted for the screen.
I caught up with this one rather late in the game and I found it to be truly exceptional. Although these two films really only share the New York setting, it reminded me of Brooklyn, one of my top films of 2016 and a film that uses two distinct worlds in order to explore a single narrative arc. It is also worth mentioning both films utilize colour in very interesting ways.
The strength of Wonderstruck is its narrative force, which is why I am considering it in this category. The fact that the film uses an absence of dialogue, colour, music and visual cues to bring its competing timelines together in a single narrative arc is exceptional and makes this film a standout choice for me in the category of my personal favourite screenplays of 2017.
I have already mentioned Mudbound, but it is a great example of film using visual interpretation to capture the spirit of the novel Director Dee Rees (it is worth mentioning here this is the first film directed by a woman to be nominated in the cinematography category) takes full advantage of helping us see the poetic prose of the novel in visual form.
Coco certainly stole the spotlight in 2017, and probably for good reason. It might fall short of some of Pixar’s best, but the way it shines a light on an underrepresented (and misrepresented) Mexican culture, and the fact it is the culmination of a true and honest labour of love makes it worthy of all the attention it is getting.
For me it is the remarkable Loving Vincent that deserves the nod in this category. It pushed the art of animation into new realms of creativity as the first fully painted animated film. Influenced by Van Gogh’s own particular techniques and using some of his paintings as a means of telling a part of his story (namely the period of time following his death), the film is as gorgeous to look at as it is compelling to consider. As a uniquely biographical drama it works to humanizes one of the worlds great artists while using the art to explore central human questions about longing and belonging that haunted him.
I know my opinion here will likely merit much criticism, but I would consider Cars 3 over Coco as my favourite Pixar film of 2017 for a few reasons. First, I was genuinely surprised by how good it was. It departs from the spy centric plot line of Cars 2 and deftly returns to the story’s humble beginnings, bringing Lightning McQueen’s story arc to an emotional and fitting conclusion. In doing this Director Brian Fee narrows in on the originals greatest strength, its use of nostalgia to evoke a powerful sense of competing visions of the American Dream. If you get a chance it is well worth looking into the story behind the film, as for anyone with a passive interest in Americana lore, this love story to Route 66 and the way its demise sheds light on the growing affects of economic progress is captivating and infectious and full of heart.
For as much as the original really did wear its heart on its sleeve (for better or for worse depending on who you ask), Cars 3 raises this to the level of challenging and insightful. There is a deeply felt commentary that moves us from the American Dream to the art of aging and learning how to age well. The fact that this also happens to be a film for kids is impressive and somewhat daring given that it deliberately slows down the pace (ironically) and speaks mostly to an older audience. For as much as this exercise in risk taking might have isolated the film in the process, it also helped make this the best of the 3 Cars films.
I could not let this category go by without pointing out the travesty of failing to include Lego Batman in the Oscar Nominations conversation. This is a film that was vastly underrated and under appreciated for just how good it actually was. I think it got lost in the shadows of the original Lego Movie, which is unfortunate, because even if it is decidedly different and perhaps slightly marginalizing (given the inside jokes on everything Batman), it was equally deserving.
Jessica Chastain in Molly’s Game
What stands out for me about Chastain’s performance in Molly’s Game is the way she carries this film on her shoulders. The story itself is interesting, and the screenplay chooses to juxtapose the story of Molly Bloom’s journey from Olympic hopeful to girl on trial in some interesting ways, giving us glimpses along the way of the idea that who she is and what she is doing owes something (or much) to a untold past. And the more glimpses we get of this idea, the more layers it adds to what would otherwise be a straightforward narrative.
This requires Chastain to balance a film that is constantly shifting back and forth between these two pictures of Molly Bloom, and she manages to balance this incredibly well. The idea that she allows us to connect so readily the Molly we come to know near the end of the film with the Molly we see in the midst of this slow-building and otherwise undefined character development is what makes this performance one that deserves recognition.
Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel Esq.
Roman J. Israel Esq. gets my vote for most underrated film largely because of what Washington brings to the table.
On the surface Roman J. Israel is a man defined by a series of physical quirks and ticks which Denzel manages to recall by offering a very physical performance. Underneath these physical traits we also find a powerful story of what it means to reconcile our need to respond to the moral corruption we see around us with our inability to fix ourselves.
Here Washington is required to give a performance that is able to reach across a rather large emotional arc, with Israel’s own journey reflecting the nature of the social reality he observes. We tend to exist between two very real economic realities, one that moves us from poverty to riches, and what his performance captures so vividly is the truth that no matter how well intentioned we might be, these economic realities tend to dictate our choices sometimes (hopefully) for better and often for worse. Which is why grace is so necessary, both for ourselves and for the world in which we live as we respond to the moral corruption we see around us.
Washington is prone to choosing redemptive narratives, and in his role as Roman J. Israel he embodies the idea that we must learn, and relearn, what it means to truly forgive ourselves first before we can do the work of extending this grace outwards to others. There is a fine line between righteous and self righteous, and the minute we lose sight of where we actually stand on this line is the minute we lose the ability to extend grace where it is needed. And as Denzel’s character reminds us, especially in the powerful final 30 minutes of this film, the hardest place to extend grace is nearly always in the direction of our own need.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger
I am generally a fan of Gyllenhaal’s work, but his performance in Stronger finds him at the height of his game. This is what I would call an invested role, as emotionally taxing as it is physically demanding while it works to recount the story of a real life Boston Marathon Bombing survivor who loses the use of his legs and must now learn how to live without them.
Gyllenhaal’s character is not exactly likeable, and one could say he doesn’t necessarily redeem himself either. He is clearly dealing with stuff, and being injured in the bombing only serves to bring this stuff to the surface. He is caught between being seen as a hero and coming to terms with the reality of his own failure and hating who he really is. The ways in which losing his legs now makes him dependent on others only heightens this sense that he is a failure. And so slowly over the course of this film we can see this realization begin to wear on him, watching as he uses his own feelings of inadequacy to mistreat those who love him and whom he needs the most.
The most remarkable thing Gyllenhaal does is commit to giving us a reason to extend compassion even when it doesn’t feel deserved. He commits himself to this idea that this man is stronger than he realizes. In doing this he invites us to consider what it is that drives this person to be so enslaved to the demons of this past, and invites us to consider further that sometimes, even for the best of us, just figuring out how to survive another day is the most remarkable and heroic feat of all.
Jennifer Lawrence in Mother
I am big Jennifer Lawrence fan. Watching her grow over her rather illustrious career from young Katniss to what we witness in Mother reveals someone who has grown tremendously in her risk taking and her willingness to truly challenge herself. I have always had the sense this is an actress who is dedicated to her craft, and what she brings to Mother! shows the fruit of this labour.
As one of the most compelling and thought provoking films of 2017, Lawrence’s performance is key to telling this story in a way that works. She embodies a role that requires her to entertain a balance of subtlety and commitment given the nature of how the narrative unfolds. It’s a role that must guard the secrets that are driving the films allegorical twist while also committing wholesale to the character we are watching unfold in the moment. It’s a daring experiment in the art of performance, and by the time we reach the climax of the film, when this mystery begins to be revealed for what it is, Lawrence simply explodes with a force that absolutely knocks you upside the head. It’s quite startling actually to be reminded of just how talented she really is, and the older she gets the more raw and uninhibited she seems to become. And in my eyes we are all the better for it.
If there is a category that is able to express just how strong 2017 actually was it would be Best Director. Just looking at the Oscar Nominations alone we find legendary names like Christopher Nolan and Del Toro, both of whom happen to be chasing their first Oscar win, to promising younger voices in Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig. And this is not to mention Spielberg could easily be considered in this mix as well.
Any of them would be equally worthy of the award, but it is no secret that 2017 is the year I get to cheer for Del Toro. He is one of my favourite directors, and even if Shape of Water isn’t his best film I am pulling for him to be recognized for his body of work.
With that said, here are some others that I would also readily consider on my personal list:
Kathryn Bigelow for Detroit
I would consider Kathryn Bigelow for her work in Detroit, a film that made my personal “most underrated films” list.
Bigelow brings an intimacy to a film I heard one critic label as a “riot epic”, bringing an incredibly complex picture to life in a very confined space over a defined (and isolated) period of time. Bigelow is great at capturing a sense of frenetic motion and tension in confined spaces over defined periods of time, something that is on full display in the incredibly taught Zero Dark Thirty and the much praised The Hurt Locker. But where Zero Dark Thirty focused on recreating the tense moments of the manhunt over and above any exposition of the larger political conversation, Detroit can’t help but speak to the politics. I think her greatest accomplishment in Detroit is acknowledging this reality while still having control over the specific story she is looking to tell. And while I am happy Greta Girwig got the nod for Lady Bird and would have loved to see Patty Jenkins nominated for Wonder Woman, I would consider Bigelow the most deserving female director in 2017.
Todd Haynes for Wonderstruck
Director Todd Haynes, who brought us the rather wonderful Far From Heaven has a really sharp sense for recreating the period piece. In Wonderstruck he manages to bring to life New York City as a living and breathing character, allowing the city to develop alongside the characters through two contrasting timelines. There is a profound sensibility that forms his ability to use the city as a means of fleshing out the characters.
Equally compelling is his ability to visually capture what it might feel like to live without one of your key senses (in the context of the film this would be hearing). In the absence of much dialogue, Haynes is free to imagine the world through its visual cues, and in a feat of creative force uses an understated soundtrack to aid us as viewers in imagining what it might feel like to find ourselves lost in an unfamiliar part of the world without the ability to hear.
Wonderstruck really did captivate me in ways that few other films did in 2017. The narrative arc that brings the two timelines together is incredibly intentional, so much so that the film invites us in on the mystery by offering visual cues along the way. But it also feels incredibly organic. And Hayne’s ability to attach us as viewers to his creative vision with such emotion is something that set this film apart.
James Mangold for Logan
James Mangold has accomplished something incredible with Logan by reimagining the comic book film without allowing the R rating to feel like a gimmick (hello Deadpool). He also gives us one of the most redemptive stories of 2017, both of which are elements of his direction that make him an easy pick for my list.
SOME OTHER CATEGORIES TO CONSIDER…
Before I get to the final category (Best Picture), here are a couple other brief categories just so I can sneak in some honourable mentions.
Goodbye Christopher Robin
An insightful look into one of my favourite childhood authors. As with most authors of children’s stories, his real life story is one full of struggle and conflict. But it is this story that gives greater weight and meaning to the stories he wrote.
The Man Who Invented Christmas
I really liked the way the film explores the story of a man who gave us the most iconic Christmas story of all time. Offering us some context allows us to appreciate not only who this man was, but what drove him to write the story that he did. It is no understatement to say this book truly transformed the way we understand and celebrate Christmas in the West, for better or for worse.
The live action retelling of the iconic Beauty and Beast took the world by storm, and for good reason. It rises to the level of pure spectacle. What is most impressive is the way it holds the integrity of the story together while nudging it just slightly towards a bit of creative reimagining. Modernizing the tale in this way really helped to bring it life in fresh way.
Most Underrated Films of 2017
I have already mentioned Detroit. The idea that more people didn’t see this film is disappointing to say the least.
Worth adding to this list is Marshall, the perfect film to mark Black History Month. The film isn’t flashy, and the director colours the period setting in an almost charming, fictitious fashion, but the true life story of the man who who happened to change the face of civil rights in America is far from fictitious of course, and hugely important in helping turn the page on an important part of our history. As timely today as it was years ago, the film does a great job at evoking this sense of urgency.
Along the same lines is Roman J. Esq, a film I’ve already suggested boasts one of Denzel’s great performances.
Lastly, The Book of Henry is the single film I happen to stand furthest apart when it comes to obvious critical disdain. Thus it is a prime candidate for most underrated.
Two films stand out for me in this category.
Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle
Wasn’t sure what to think when I heard they were remaking this one. Didn’t expect it to be nearly as good and as fun as it turned out to be. It is a modest budget film that just keeps on ticking well into the new year.
A film that flew under the radar, but what surprised me about this Ben Stiller drama was just how close to home the film hit. It speaks of a man hitting that midlife mark and his struggle to reconcile his life with the life of those he grew up. It’s about his struggle to really make sense of what is most important and the places in which we find our value in the midst of our tendency to measure this all against our perception of other’s success. And as it helped to remind me, our perception of others rarely tells the whole story.
And now for Best Picture…
If there is a film I would have loved to see at the top of this list it would have been the final film in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy (“War” if you are keeping track). As arguably one of the great trilogies of our time, the final Apes film moves us towards a truly epic conclusion, full of impressive scope, incredible affects and memorable performances. Taken together, all three films are truly exceptional works of cinema.
And yet, as a stand alone film it didn’t quite make it onto my personal best of list. There was simply too much competing for a spot in this final category, and for as much as I loved the trilogy I feel I would likely put Rise and Dawn before War.
Also worth mentioning is my own personal list deviates quite drastically from the Oscar Nominations, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Over the years I have come to recognize this as the most subjective category. There are just so many factors at play when it comes to determining which films stood out for me on a personal level.
With that said, and with much wrestling and heart ache (I do hate leaving films that I loved off the list), here are my top 12 favourite films of 2017, starting at the bottom with number 12 and moving up to my choice of favourite film of 2017 (the only category here that I ordered according to number).
12. The Shape of Water
Yes, I am pulling for this one to win out at the Oscars even though it sits at number 12 on my list. It is worth mentioning however this is the only nominated film that makes my list. I have always loved film, but Pan’s Labyrinth changed the way I see film. The potential for a film to accomplish what that film did thematically is something that I will forever be measuring every other film against, and as the only film to receive a 5 star rating from me it remains my favourite film of all time.
The Shape of Water doesn’t rise to the level of Pan’s Labyrinth, but it is certainly a well crafted passion project. And as a window into Del Toro’s mind and heart, and as a love letter to cinema, it stands out for me in 2017 for its delicate visual touch and its call back to some of the great cinema of old.
11. Brigsby Bear
An overlooked gem of a film that took me to unexpected places. Crafted with a compassionate hand, the film takes a story about innocence lost and weaves it into a powerful picture of what it means to belong in a grown up world. Brigsby Bear is one of those films that I think has the potential to mean many different things for many different people, and although I have no idea if this was intentional or not, as a father to an adopted son I happened to see it as a powerful picture of adoption, something I talk about in this space i a previous blog post (see Brigsby Bear). This was something that helped elevate this film to a truly personal level.
There were some genuinely decent Superhero films released in 2017. Marvel keeps finding ways to surprise us, and although Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was met with somewhat mixed reviews (some felt it toed the line a little too closely instead of branching out), Logan and Thor Ragnorak caught most a lot of us off guard with their collective tonal shifts. And then there was that small film called Wonder Woman which changed the game not just for the D.C.U. but for female directors and female heros being represented on screen moving forward.
And hey, lets not forget the genuinely underrated Captain Underpants.
But for anyone who knows me well, it would be near impossible for me to ignore how excited I was for Spiderman: Homecoming to accomplish a true return to form. I was hopeful going in, and it exceeded my expectation, mostly for the ways in which it proved a younger Peter Parker was the way to go. I made the cautionary statement afterwards that I think this film might have even transplanted Sam Raimi’s Spiderman as my all time favourite superhero film. I am not convinced that it did, there was just something about the way that original film captured a moment in time and paved the way for the M.C.U. we know today to emerge. And when push comes to shove, I prefer a more super human Spiderman swinging through the sky to the much more grounded and rationalized Spiderman we get in Homecoming.
But the fact I even considered that it could transplant that film says something significant about my experience of Homecoming as something wholly other, and I think where a more grounded version of Spiderman might not connect with me on the same emotional level, it did allow Director Jon Watts to give me the most developed on screen Peter Park I have seen to date.
9. A Ghost Story
A truly haunting film, A Ghost Story lingers as a testament to the unfinished story, the power of a singular perspective caught in space and time where we must struggle so see how grief, sorrow and desperation all fits into the bigger picture. It is a film in which I found moments of grace in the midst of what is a great and concealed sense of sorrow, but in which these rather profound moments of sorrow are allowed to find their place in the midst of the grace.
A Ghost Story is not for everyone, and if its not, you might very well end up seeing this film as a colossal waste of your time. But if it does land for you there is potential for this film to land on an intensely personal and deep level. I think this is what it is intended to do. It’s a very particular story in which the pacing of the film is indicative of the grieving process. And it’s unsettling to say the least, but for me it was unsettling in the best kind of way. The restlessness I felt as I watched the film became a kind of meditation, seeing the movement of life and of death in perspective, a movement the film imagines through the lingering presence of a single white bedsheet with holes cut for eyes.
This is a film that muscled its way into my top 12 list late in the game. The more I think about this film the stronger and more compelling it seems to get, which is a big part of why I included it at number 8. Based on what I expected from the previews, the film unfolds in ways I did not expect.
The story itself builds as a rather strong (and surprising) social commentary, raising some important questions about the ways in which we choose to see life in this world and the things we deem to be the most important. And in raising these questions it looks to point out that there is a very real problem with the way many of us choose to see life in this world and with the things we deem to be most important, and a problem we need to address sooner rather than later.
What really struck me about Downsizing is the way it takes a purely humanist construct entrenched in materialism and plays it backwards through a poignant and pervasive (if undefined) spirituality, one that becomes increasingly in focus the closer we get back to where we started. In doing this, and in telling the story this way, it recognizes our dependance on our ability to solve the problem is in fact a part of the problem. How we choose to see life in this world and the things we deem to be most important is a problem that runs far deeper and is far more complicated than we often realize. We can’t simply “downsize” and have all of our problems go away, because in a spiritual sense humanity is the problem. Thus the film calls us towards rethinking the way we do life and what we deem to be most important by reshaping our view of ourselves. It’s a rather big statement to make in a film about becoming small, but it is both necessary and effective.
7. Wind River
Wind River brings to light important issues while also delivering a taught, edge of your seat thriller. It just might be one of the best and most important films of 2017, shedding light on the problem of missing indigenous women and providing us with an important commentary on racism, reminding us that pain, suffering and hardship is indiscriminate. That it also dares to entertain is a part of why this film makes #7 on my list.
I’ve already spoken to the polarizing nature of this film in an earlier category. But if you are able to get past that feeling of betrayal (this is not the horror film it was advertised to be), you will find a film that circumvents the tradition narrative structure. On an allegorical level, the true work of watching Mother! is figuring out who these characters are and what the story is supposed to represent. Once you are able to wrap your mind around what the film is actually doing (which is quite the mind blowing revelation) it leaves a lot of room to begin peeling back the layers. How you interpret the film should also reveal much about the ways in which you tend to interpret the world at large, which is what makes this film so profound.
To add to this, the film is also executed with some breathtaking fervour. The trajectory of the narrative and the fervour of the pacing offers us one of the most intense cinematic experiences of 2017, and the performances that bring this to life are equally astounding.
5. Their Finest
Their Finest checks one of my favourite cinematic boxes: films about making a film. The fact that it is also a gorgeously shot period piece with some great performances (Gemma Arterton is phenomenal and Bill Highy is wonderful) simply raises this to another level.
Their Finest deals with some darkness, detailing the sort of fear the tends to bind us in times of uncertainty (war) along with shedding light on the problem of inequality in Hollywood (representation of women). But it deals with all of this with a light and endearing touch that desires to evoke laughter, joy and love in the midst of the darkness.
4. The Big Sick
A brilliant dramatic comedy built on a sharp script, realized emotion, and well defined characters. One of the smartest and most deftly realized comedies to hit the screen in a long time.
An exceptional film in which the wonder is in the details. Wonderstruck calls us to participate in the unfolding mystery of a narrative that reaches across time, and it does something profound with a city that is both the setting for the story and a layered and complex character within the story. It demonstrates some of my favourite kinds of storytelling in film and more than any other film in 2017 managed to draw me into that sense of wonder that make sorts of films so important to me.
A beautiful and touching film that acts as a fitting bookend to Jackman’s (now) iconic interpretation of Logan/Wolverine. But the question of legacy is only scratching the surface of what makes this film great. More than just a gimmick, director James Mangold uses the R rating to explore the darker parts of Logan’s incredibly human story, and it resonates like few other films did in 2017, providing us with one of the most poignant on screen pictures of redemption I have encountered in a long while. The sheer brevity and weight of the films many lasting images will stick with me for a long, long time, and Jackman’s “give it everything he has left to give” performance is one for the ages.
1. Blade Runner 2049
A truly remarkable cinematic achievement.
Jim and Andy
The Big Sick
Blade Runner 2049
A Ghost Story
The Book of Henry
The Shape of Water
Kong: Skull Island
Beauty and the Beast
The Dark Tower
The Great Wall
Before I Fall
Happy Death Day
The Sense of An Ending
Battle of the Sexes
Planet of the Apes
Goodnight Christopher Robin
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Happy Death Day
Goodnight Christopher Robin
The Man Who Invented Christmas
The Dark Tower