Monday, January 8, 2018

My Top 20 Movies of 2017, Part 1

As is my tradition, once I've seen most of the major film award contenders for a given year, I compile my Top 20 rankings. I always feel like doing 20 rather than 10 gives a broader sense of what the year in film looked like, and gives me a chance to spotlight movies I really enjoyed, but maybe just got outplayed by the ten films appearing on everyone else's list.

Of the big award contenders, I believe the only major one I haven't seen is Call Me By Your Name. There may be one or two more that I'm forgetting, but overwhelmingly I've seen enough that I feel comfortable standing by this as my take on the year in film.

11. Coco - After all this time I shouldn't be surprised when a Pixar film turns out to be beautifully emotional. I guess I got lulled in by the incredible visual design brought to this Day of the Dead story, and let down my guard. A young boy with dreams of being a musician finds himself in the afterlife on the Day of the Dead, and tries to find his great-great-grandfather, whose abandonment of the family in favor of music years ago has made being a musician an unacceptable career choice in that household. There are several points where we're sure we're ahead of the movie, only to have those expectations subverted. And if "Remember Me" doesn't win Best Original Song at the Oscars this year, the Academy has no heart.

12. Lady Bird - I'm told this movie is even more powerful if you're a young woman who had a tense relationship with your mother growing up. I'm pleased to report that's not a necessity for enjoying Greta Gerwig's feature directing debut, about a teenage girl in her final year of high school chafing against her hyper-critical mother and her desire to escape Sacramento when she goes off to college. Saoirse Ronan makes Lady Bird uncomfortably relatable even when she's doing unsympathetic things like ditching her friends for the cool kids or clearly showing shame about her home situation. It's a less showy film than most of the competition this year, but it understands its characters and the actors all really give these relationships a sense of history.

13. Colossal - This movie turned out to be much more than I expected. The initial hook is that Anne Hathaway plays a down-on-her-luck drunk who moves back to her hometown and finds than when she goes on her benders, her actions control a Godzilla-like monster that's currently terrorizing Korea. So we're geared up for this movie where the theme seems to be how a person's self-destructive actions have consequences for others and then the film takes this amazing turn. Her "nice guy" childhood friend played by Jason Sudeikis starts to reveal a resentful, controlling side. It's a turn that spends the whole movie hiding in plain sight. It's not a left turn that invalidates everything that came before - it's the thing we should have noticed sooner, but we're so used to accepting it in real life that it barely registered on our radar. This was one movie that really surprised me with its cleverness, and while it's not for everyone, it probably deserved a bigger audience.

14. Baby Driver - I'm still waiting for Edgar Wright to top the pinnacle of Hot Fuzz, but Baby Driver is another solid case of the writer/director taking an established genre (in this case, a heist/car chase movie) and doing it his way. The opening getaway sequence is a masterful work of stunt-driving, pacing and editing, and even if the rest of the movie fell short, I would have felt I got my money's worth. Are a few of the characters perhaps too cliché? Maybe, but the actors all work to elevate the archetypes. (John Hamm as a banker turned criminal is possibly the most entertaining member of the game, the right mix of sleazy, quietly caring and way in over his head.) And yeah, Kevin Spacey's in it, which makes for awkward viewing now, but his part is such a stock Spacey role that I bet you can FF most of his scenes and still follow what's going on.

15. Molly's Game - Sorkin has a knack for taking subjects that seem unfilmable and finding a compelling way in on the page. Not many people would have found a way into Moneyball or the story of Facebook's founding. The film is the story of how former Olympian Molly Bloom got into the world of underground poker and came to run one of the most exclusive high-stakes games until the shady people she was associating with brought her to the attention of the FBI. There's a rough patch or two, but a supporting turn from Kevin Costner really helps add the emotional stakes and underline that what she achieved really was an accomplishment. Jessica Chastain brings real steel to the role of Molly, and while it's not the first time she's played an assertive woman, Molly is uncompromising in a way that renders her extremely formidable. As good as Sorkin's writing and directing is, this is Chastain's film and she gives us the right avatar for the year of "Women are sick of your shit."

16. The Lego Batman Movie - And now for something that was just straight-up fun. This year's superhero films bounced between deep, serious explorations of heroism and aging... and total blasts of pure, unashamed fun. There are Bat-fans who recoil at anything they perceive as disrespecting or undermining the ultra-serious nature of the character and his "important" mythos. But then you remember this is a story about a guy who wears a cape and a batmask to beat up cackling criminals and you realize there's plenty of absurdity, and this film embraces every minute of that. I love Will Arnett's interpretation of Batman and I hope it spawns an entire franchise.

17. It - I rarely find a good horror movie that manages to be genuinely unsettling rather than simply relying on shock and gore to keep the audience off-balance. Thus, it figures this film comes from New Line, which was also behind The Conjuring and Lights Out. I've never read the book or seen the miniseries, which allowed me to go into this fresh. I won't deny there are some problematic elements, but the creators assembled an incredibly strong cast of young actors and Pennywise is the perfect foil for them. I don't know what Bill Skarsgård looks like out of makeup, and I don't want to, for fear of it diminishing Pennywise's psychological impact.

18. War for the Planet of the Apes - Put a gun to my head and I'll tell you I preferred the previous entry in the series, but that doesn't diminish how effectively this film puts us on the side of the apes and makes us by into mo-cap CGI creatures as living, breathing actors. Not once during this film did I think about how Caesar's really just a collection of 1s and 0s in a computer. You'll feel more for the ape deaths in the film (even the ones that are basically "Women in Refrigerators") than you will for the humans, and that might be the greatest visual effect of all.

19. Spider-Man: Homecoming - It's become fashionable to bash the Sam Raimi movies, but I love that version of Spider-Man (well, more the first two films than the third, but still...) When starting the third Spidey continuity in 15 years, Marvel wisely skipped over the origin and surrounded Peter with a supporting cast we'd not met in previous films. Michael Keaton proved to be a perfect choice for the Vulture, particularly in one scene where we can see the gears turning as he realizes his daughter's boyfriend Peter is actually Spider-Man. Tom Holland reminds us of what we all knew during Captain America: Civil War, he's the right man to play every-teen Peter Parker, bringing the perfect mix of youthful earnestness and enthusiasm. It feels fresh even though we've seen Peter in five previous solo films, embodied by two other actors.

20. Gerald's Game - Longtime readers know I'm a sucker for limited location thrillers. This film has a doozy of one when a wife handcuffed to the bed as sexual foreplay finds herself trapped there after her husband suffers a fatal heart attack. She's handcuffed at both wrists, in a cabin far from any help and anyone who will hear, and she's growing more fatigued by the minute. As she weakens, she grows delirious, seeing hallucinations and something that she perhaps only thinks are her imagination. This would have placed higher on the list if not for an unnecessary epilogue that drags out resolution when the film really needs to end and get out.

Oh, and there's a really graphic scene that it makes me wince to even allude to, but just about any other review of this film has you covered in that regard. Suffice to say, I wasn't expecting the film to go there and it might be more painful to watch than the hobbling scene in Misery.

So that's 11-20. Come back tomorrow for the top 10.

1 comment:

  1. Colossal definitely deserved a bigger audience. I don't think it was marketed right. I love, love, loved it!