Was 2017 a great year for films?
Well, it wasn’t awful. Better than ’16, to be sure, which is why I passed last Dec on doing my annual list. TV has been consistently trumping (uggh, I need to shake this verb) cinema on so many fronts, it’s hard to get excited about another two hours of paint-by-numbers narrative.
But this year felt different. More daring in some ways. More thoughtful and raw and honest. Whether this marks a resurgence for ‘arthouse’ cinema (thanks to Netflix and the like) or just a dying gasp, there were some honest to goodness gems that deserve your attention.
Before we pop the cinematic champagne and celebrate, some caveats:
- I have yet to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day Lewis in his proclaimed ‘final performance’. Knowing this powerhouse duo, it’s safe to assume a Top 5 slot. There Will Be Blood ain’t no fluke, son.
- I tried to get into The Florida Project…I really did…but found myself alternating wildly between yawning and teeth-gnashing over the young ‘stars’. Might just be me. Or maybe the demographic was tailored to those with an ‘insufferable brat’ fetish.
- Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is ‘great filmmaking’, but I’ve had enough of period war stories. Sorry (not sorry). If I ever get the itch again, then I’ll be sure to find a 4K print of Malick’s Thin Red Line, thank you very much.
- Casey Affleck’s face makes me want to punch kittens. Ghost Story paid the ultimate price.
With that out of the way—and before we dive into the Top 10—let’s start with some special (and overlooked, and divisive) films that earned Honourable Mentions in 2017.
At least one will piss you off. You’re welcome.
- Was it a TV show? Was it a movie? Does it really fucking matter?
Yes, I’m an admitted Peaks freak.
But nobody could have predicted how David Lynch (w/ Mark Frost in tow) would take his beloved franchise and steer fan expectations straight into a Black Lodge wormhole, smirking and meditating and chain-smoking American Spirits the whole damn way.
Twin Peaks: The Return was weird and profound and tiresome and surreal and scary and unabashedly self-indulgent storytelling. There’s a reason it topped nearly every critic’s ‘Best Films’ list this year, with most of them citing EP 8 (Got A Light) as the moment Lynch’s ’18hr film’ redefined what audiovisual narratives could be.
I may have bitched about the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes plotting to the point of virality, but was no less riveted by the end.
So…block out a weekend and binge the bloody thing. It will change you.
By the end, you’ll be checking your calendars, saying prayers, and hanging some scarlet drapes.
2. ‘We cannot speak, other than by our paintings.’ Vincent Van Gogh
I was a huge fan of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.
With an indie budget and a bold/foolhardy creative + programming team, he rotoscoped a full-length feature and layered in textures, animations, and transitions to convey the experience of moving through dreamscapes. It was a daunting experiment and a fascinating technique, one which made perfect sense to revisit for his adaptation of the Philip K Dick mind-bender A Scanner Darkly.
Loving Vincent is on an entirely different level.
It’s an inspired artistic collaboration that fuses recreations and interpretations of Van Gogh’s legendary works—nearly 65,000 original oil paintings were commissioned from painters worldwide—with modern technology and physical performances to unravel the mystery surrounding the painter’s final days.
The sheer creative passion on display here is spellbinding. Vincent himself would be proud.
3. An artist’s work is the Self laid bare. And the ugliest works teach are the most revealing.
This is gonna make some folks uncomfortable. And others it will seriously piss off.
Louis CK’s I Love You, Daddy is a good film.
I wanted to hate it. I really, really did. It’s not like I would’ve paid to watch it, or anything. Or that I was hungry for a squirm-inducing Woody Allen tribute. Far, far from it.
But as soon as the credits stopped rolling? I couldn’t stop my thumbs from posting this on Twitter:
‘I Love You Daddy’ is proof that Louis CK doesn’t need to be vilified — the flick makes it painfully clear that he HATES himself, believes deep down that he’s a HACK, and is tortured by his complete FAILURE in relationships with every woman. Ever.
— Brooke Burgess (@brokensaint) December 19, 2017
These kind of films need to exist, because we need to talk about these things.
Because, even though the film is in black and white, the issues within are NOT.
THE BEST FILMS of 2017
10. Get Out
Stepford Wives meets Being John Malkovich meets a popcorn-munching, race-relations horror .
If writer/director Jordan Peele had the guts to keep the darker ending, this would’ve ranked higher.
9. (tie) The Disaster Artist / I, Tonya
I didn’t necessarily welcome this year’s trend of winking, lowbrow/white-trash black comedy ‘biopics’.
But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some real artistry on display with this pair. When all was (ironically) said and done, the strong lead performances, tight editing, and exceptional music supervision made these cringe-inducing American losers worth your time.
(FYI, whereas you can sense Franco being ‘Franco’, Margot Robbie’s Aussie accent does its best to stay low-pro, smothered in a noxious hick twang. Her to-camera crying in the third act could lock an Oscar nod.)
7. Blade Runner 2049
Just because I loved the original (whilst standing on guard for thee with my Canuck compatriots Villeneuve and Gosling), I went into 2049 with modest expectations. Smart money says they’d fuck it up somehow. Typical long-gestating sequel curse.
But Blade Runner 2… (the Blade Runnering?) was good. Very good.
The luscious cinematography, hypnotic score, and Dickian sci-fi tension totally had me. Well…right up until Harrison Ford appeared.
I’m sorry, but for some reason Decker/Indy/Solo has a ‘dampening’ effect on emotional stakes in his late-career work. It’s like you can see the paycheques getting cashed behind his eyes.
Still, you need to watch this. On the biggest screen possible. In surround sound.
Plan your pee breaks accordingly.
Jared Leto, be damned.
6. Lady Bird
From the moment the car door opens (trust me – you’ll know what I’m talking about soon enough), this sweet and playful and surprisingly honest coming-of-age tale sets itself apart.
There are flickers of Rushmore-esque ‘theatricality’ in Lady Bird, along with a tangible passage of time that—though limited to a single year—comes close to echoing Linklater’s pitch-perfect work in Boyhood.
But this is a girl’s story, and a welcome one. The film is punctuated by strained, bittersweet, and often hilarious mother/daughter performances that could easily have crossed into farce or caricature in lesser hands.
The brisk pacing and evocative soundtrack choices—a running theme for 2017’s best—will keep you smiling ’til the final frames.
The ‘UNsuperhero‘ superhero film is simply the best actioner of the year. And comic book flick. And tragic western.
Brutal. Feral. Coarse. Unfliching. Dystopian. Weirdly comical.
And laced with wrinkles and dirt and blood-soaked inevitability. (more on this at #1)
Either you’ve seen Jackman’s final turn as the clawed Canadian killing machine OR you skipped it due to (entirely understandable) ‘superhero burnout’.
That leaves you with two choices:
A) Watch it again
B) Shove your bias where the sun don’t shine and saddle up…Bub.
NOTE: kudos to director James Mangold for absolutely nailing a near-poetic final image.
4. Good Time
I saw this flick pop up on at least ten ‘Best Of’ lists, and felt myself cringe.
Robert Pattinson? Are they serious? Are all these folks smoking shit?
Yes…perhaps they were. Or they felt like they were. And YOU will, too.
Because that’s what it FEELS like watching Good Time unfold. In plot and rhythm and character. In framing and edit and music. In tension and frenzy and black, black humour.
Like chronic bong-hits and stuffed meth pipes and ammonia shots and a bottle of bleach in your fucking eyes.
When a critic says a film is ‘raw and grimy and can’t-tear-your-eyes-away good‘..?
THIS is what they mean.
I’m not spoiling shit, son.
All I’m gonna say here is that Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! is not an easy film.
If you dig his work — and I really, reallllllly liked Pi, Requiem For a Dream, The Fountain, and Black Swan (sorry NOAH) — then chances are you’ll dig this a great deal.
But if not?
Then you should watch it anyway for a God-damned (heh…joke grenade) masterclass on how to ramp tension and dread and character stakes while simultaneously pimping the long-lost craft of absolutely arresting—and downright archetypal— isual narrative. We’re talking Kubrick-level shit here.
TROUBLING FACT: This is the first film I’ve ever had to watch in two sittings due to a panic attack.2. Call Me By Your Name
2. Call Me By Your Name
No matter what you may have heard, this is not ‘just a gay film’.
And no…it’s not just about some fucking ‘peach scene’, either.
This is a story about love. First love.
The kind of love that sears your heart, branding it for life.
Call Me By Your Name will linger if you let it. It possesses a warmth of character and setting AND a depth of emotional intelligence that made me want live in its world. I wanted to speak with these characters. To bump into them at cafes and swimming holes, and cycling down Tuscan lanes.
I wanted to witness this timeless romance unfold from inside the screen — from some nearby veranda, with bottles of Italian red and a dogeared book of poetry by my side.
The visuals are so damn rich. The soundtrack is so damn inviting. And the performances are so damn effortless.
Armie Hammer sheds his Lone Ranger and Winklevoss ghosts here. But it’s a fearlessly game Timothée Chalamet (also brooding it up in Lady Bird) who books a seat on the A-list rocket here.
Jesus…I daresay this story is the spiritual cousin to Linklater’s BEFORE films.
The holy romantic trinity. That’s how good this is.
BONUS POINTS: the best movie parents of a teenager…ever.
1. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
You will not like this film.
I dare you to like this film.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a strange and uncomfortable alchemy.
Like a black gypsy folktale that moved to the suburbs.
Like a mansion’s thrice-cracked basement window.
Like unexplained paralysis, and tears made of blood.
Do a quick Google search of the title, and you’ll inevitably come across the Greek myth that the story is based on.
And THAT is what this movie was really about for me. Inevitability.
The long-held belief that even in a parallel universe — like this film’s world of hovering cameras and staccato strings and stilted dialogue and half-retarded teen demons — our actions have consequences.
This is a film about Karma.
And it’s one of those films that has stayed with me…
Like it’s waiting for me, just around the corner…
Just like Fate does.
***What were YOUR favourite flicks of the year and why? Sound off in the comments below!***