Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
2017 has been a year full of exciting debuts, disappointing revelations, tremendous transformations, and most importantly…great quality films. It’s no surprise that a year so jam-packed with controversies and headlines can produce such wonderful art and stimulate a cavalcade of creative outpouring. Life feeds art in the sense that the zeitgeist always manages to seep it’s way into the crevasses of the culture. Whether it’s tangible or not, there’s a certain something that can be felt in the art that’s reflective of the time it was made. With the national mood being (to put it modestly) less than optimistic, what better medium than film to jolt us out of despondency and inject in us a simmer of hope. This has truly been an excellent year for cinema and I agonized about what to include on this year’s list. But rejoice, I managed to whittle it down to my ten favorite flicks. Of course all of these choices are deeply subjective and your list may differ wildly than mine, but I see that more as a testament to the quality of the year rather than deep idiosyncratic differences. As I’ve done for the past two years, I’ve arranged my list in descending order along with a superlative for each film, with a few honorable mentions or “Best of the Rest” at the end. Enjoy!
If you missed last week’s Wrap-Up post, check it out here.
10. The Disaster Artist – dir. James Franco
“Oh, Hi Mark!” Never have three words so wholly and immediately generated an avalanche of emotion and unbridled glee. I’m of course referring to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. If you’ve never heard of The Room or who Tommy Wiseau is, I strongly recommend you stop reading this and do a deep-dive into his story. Back in 2002, Tommy was a struggling actor. Having been rejected from every audition for
obvious reasons that remain unknown, Tommy and his friend Greg Sestero (they met in an acting class) decided to make their own movie. What they made is probably the single most ambitious, bizarre, and unintentionally hilarious film of the last 20 years. The Disaster Artist is the story behind the making of this now mythical production. James Franco directs and stars, and he’s in his element. With a fully committed performance and respect for his real-life counterpart, James Franco, along with his younger brother Dave who plays Greg, have made the funniest film of the year. Nothing else came close to making me audibly laugh out loud in the theater. Although the term gets thrown around rather glibly these days, Tommy is genuinely one of a kind.
2017 Superlative: Best use of a football
9. Call Me By Your Name – dir. Luca Guadagnino
Call Me By Your Name is a film that lingers with you. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it after first viewing, or whether I even liked it or not. But I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. At some point I couldn’t stop thinking about it. CMBYN tells the story of Elio and Oliver, who fall into a romantic tryst in Italy circa summer of 1983. Armie Hammer is effortlessly cool as American grad student Oliver, but it’s relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet who shines as the sensitive and precocious Elio. Naturally there have been comparisons made with another LGBT-centric film that made noise last year, but to call this film derivative is a severe miscalculation. Anchored by a pair of strikingly charismatic performances, and perhaps my favorite ending of the year, Call Me By Your Name is a film that sits with you long after you’ve seen it.
2017 Superlative: Most creative use of a peach
8. Molly’s Game – dir. Aaron Sorkin
Although film is generally regarded as a visual medium, there’s nothing like a good turn of phrase to light up the screen. Of course for a writer like Aaron Sorkin, that sort of cinematic catharsis is duck soup. Intelligent characters who all have clever dialogue has been a Sorkin staple for years (see The Social Network, Steve Jobs) but Molly’s Game is his first foray into directing. I’m delighted to report that he’s just as capable behind the camera as he is with a pen in his hand. Based on the true story of the “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom, Jessica Chastain plays Molly with great aplomb and delivers another powerhouse performance. Molly’s Game is riveting, smart, and entertaining as hell.
2017 Superlative: Best opening scene
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – dir. Martin McDonagh
Three Billboards… is the perfect example of how to balance different tones within the same story. It’s at times funny, at times dark, and eventually surprisingly moving by the end. Sure it has the wry black comedy we’ve come to expect from Martin McDonagh, but it’s Frances McDormand who is the heart of the film. She is perfectly cast as the agitated and unyielding Mildred Hayes, who is looking to get justice for her recently slain daughter by any means necessary, much to the dismay of the local police department who view her actions as a nuisance. The writing here is phenomenal as mentioned, delicately switching between heavy themes and gut-busting laughter. It also helps that McDormand is fantastic; she gives arguably the best female performance of the year. Special mention also goes to Sam Rockwell. Without giving anything away, his character undergoes a unique arc that is seldom seen in movies today. Just one of the many surprises in store.
2017 Superlative: Best title
6. The Big Sick – dir. Michael Showalter
There’s an old saying that goes: “write what you know.” Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon really took that saying to heart when they wrote The Big Sick. They took the incident of Emily being sick and hospitalized for an extended period of time and turned it into a romantic comedy about honesty in relationships, familial duty, and embracing those who are different than you. The great thing about this film is the believability with which it’s written and acted. Kumail is essentially playing himself and all the jokes come across earnestly and naturally. Nothing feels contrived in the setup and the through line of each plot point moves smoothly while avoiding all the pitfalls of the rom-com genre. The Big Sick is heartfelt and made with great passion; we need more films like this.
2017 Superlative: Best 9/11 joke
5. Lady Bird – dir. Greta Gerwig
What you need to know about Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is that she doesn’t care what you think. Lady Bird marches to the beat of her own band, and she’s proud to bang the drum as loud as possible for all to hear. Of course, she’s only 17 and still trying to figure out her life while navigating high school, boys, and her over-bearing mother. I’ll just come out and say it, I loved Lady Bird. Actor, writer, and now director Greta Gerwig has graduated from indie darling to Indie Queen, and her directorial debut is as quirky and full of life as the characters she usually plays. Saoirse Ronan as “Lady Bird” makes so much sense it almost seems obvious. But that would disregard the skill on display here from the young actress. She plays Lady Bird with just enough charm and sass that you can’t help but root for her through her eventful adolescence. The beauty of Lady Bird is it’s universality. You don’t have to be a teenage girl growing up in suburban Sacramento to relate to this story. Everyone has argued with their parents, and everyone has struggled to find their voice.
2017 Superlative: Best conclusion to a car conversation
4. Good Time – dir. The Safdie Brothers
If you still think of Robert Pattinson as “that guy from Twilight” then you haven’t been paying attention recently. R-Patt has been on a renaissance lately in terms of his career, selecting quality projects and making sure to work with excellent directors. If you told me that he would give the best performance of the year in a low-budget, New York crime drama directed by the Safdie Brothers, I would have laughed in your face. But that’s exactly what happened this year. Pattinson swallows the screen as “Connie Nikas,” the older brother of the mentally-challenged Nick Nikas. Together the two set out to leave their old life behind after one last job, but things take a turn for the worse after Nick is arrested following a failed bank robbery escape. To say any more of the plot would do you a disservice. Good Time needs to be experienced more so than watched. The entire pace of the film is lightning fast from the moment Connie bursts into the room, and doesn’t let up until it reaches the inevitable conclusion. You might question Connie’s judgement and some of the methods he uses to navigate through this night from hell, but you can’t question the love he has for his little brother.
2017 Superlative: Best use of a Sprite bottle
3. The Florida Project – dir. Sean Baker
The Florida Project. How wonderful is it that we live in a world where this film exists? Everything about it on paper screams failure. The casting of many first-time actors in major roles? Check. Shot on location in the Florida heat? Check. Emotional heart of the film resting on the shoulders of a six-year-old child? Check. Director Sean Baker hits every filmmaking no-no with this feature but still manages to pull off a small miracle. The story revolves around young Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her mom who are permanently living at a discount motel. They struggle to survive financially while the motel’s sweet-hearted manager (Willem Dafoe) juggles being a father-figure and running a business. The Florida Project is living testament that Sean Baker is one of our greatest humanist filmmakers. His camera moves without judgement, and he frames his characters with such empathy and through such a singular focus that it forces the audience to understand the world he his trying to capture. It’s fascinating to me the way he incorporates semi documentary-style techniques into his narrative fictions. This added realism goes a long way to making The Florida Project one of the best films of the year.
2017 Superlative: Most emotional trip to Disney World
2. Blade Runner 2049 – dir. Denis Villeneuve
I’m ready to submit Blade Runner 2049 as our generation’s entry into the cultural time capsule. No film in recent memory has looked this pretty. The world of Blade Runner has long evoked beautiful and though-provoking images, but what Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins have made this year is nothing short of a triumph. Name another sequel to a well-beloved cult classic, 35 years later, that has achieved this amount of satisfaction. This film can compete with all it’s peers based on production design and technical craft alone. Forget that it raises poignant questions about the nature of humanity and one’s purpose in life, THIS FILM IS VISUAL POETRY. Virtually every single shot can be framed and hung in a museum for all of posterity to marvel at and dissect. At one point during the screening I actually zoned out narratively and may have missed a plot point because of how drunk I became on the images. Villeneuve knows how to fill a frame with visually interesting motifs and Deakins knows how to the light the living hell out of it. You can almost hear that golden statue calling his name.
2017 Superlative: Best use of Elvis Presley
1. The Shape of Water – dir. Guillermo del Toro
The Shape of Water is the film that Guillermo del Toro has been waiting his entire life to make. Every project he’s worked on until now, every monster created, every world built, has led him to this road. The Shape of Water is his most daring film and as he puts it his first “adult film,” meaning his first film that deals with themes and topics that concern him as a grown man as opposed to his inner child. Del Toro achieves so many things at once it’s kind of amazing to think about. The Shape of Water is the story of a mute janitor woman who falls in love with a God-like sea creature. Already it sounds bonkers. But wait, it also manages to be a monster movie, poetic love story, comedic satire, a 1960s Cold War spy thriller, and socially conscious fantasy tale. And that’s the magic. The fact that it avoids any genre classification and isn’t forced into a particular “shape” makes The Shape of Water stand alone as a unique trailblazer of self-stylized and personal storytelling. This most risk-taking, and strangely romantic, film of the year is also my favorite.
2017 Superlative: Best use of an egg timer
Best of the Rest:
Get Out – dir. Jordan Peele
Baby Driver – dir. Edgar Wright
Logan – dir. James Mangold
A Ghost Story – dir. David Lowery
Wind River – dir. Taylor Sheridan
Columbus – dir. Kogonada