By: Brett Slaughenhaupt – Movie Columnist
I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: this has been a trying (read: horrible) year. From Hollywood to Washington to North Korea, things have not been great. As Emmylou Harris told us way back in 1980, “the darkest hour is just before dawn.” Turning an eye specifically to Hollywood, here’s to hoping that with all the recent purging of sexual harassers amongst other things now being brought to light, the dawn comes sooner rather than later.
Instead of focusing on all the “great art” men like Kevin Spacey and the Weinstein Co. have contributed to the world, let us reflect on all of the women they have held back from reaching their creative peaks. Let us also champion a higher diversity of art moving forward to allow their experiences to reach the same levels as those in power who have been abusing it.
Even taking all the 2017 happenings into account, at the very least it has been a great year for film! And now, without further adieu and in no particular order other than alphabetic, here are my top* films of 2017:
The Big Sick
How often do you see a Pakistani immigrant lead a film that isn’t centered on terrorism or war? Adding to that question: how often do you see a Pakistani immigrant court a young woman in a refreshingly light, yet deeply romantic comedy? Adding to that one final time: how often do you see a Pakistani immigrant get to make a film in which he is the lead actor in a film based on his own experiences, a script with which he wrote alongside his equally funny wife. Your answer would be correct in saying a quick and easy “never.” Kumail Nanjiani (above left) and Emily V. Gordon (above right) have created a film for the new age, a time where love is neither bound by color nor is it colorblind. A nice change of pace for Apatow Productions, this film is the perfect example of being specific in experiences, but universal in messaging. It is a truly lovely film.
To call him visionary may be jumping the gun a bit, but Christopher Nolan certainly has a vision. Nowhere is that more evident than his latest venture. With a nearly inconsequential script — at least in terms in dialogue, a cast full of newcomers mixed with some of the greatest working British actors and a plot that can only be described as: see the movie three times, Nolan is out to transform the movie-going experience. Watching the movie in IMAX with 70mm projection made for one of the most invigorating, nonstop 106 minutes of my life. Every great filmmaker must eventually take on the great war movie: Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” Bay’s “Pearl Harbor.” Much like some of his predecessors, Nolan transcended the idea of war and made it into art of his own doing. It’s nice to see him ground his direction into something of this world, bringing back notes of a career pre-Batman. Who knew Harry Styles was so versatile?
Some films are elevated by the great coincidence of a film’s subject matter perfectly matching cultural relevance. To say the same of “Get Out” would be a disservice to the transcendent quality of the film, itself. Jordan Peele, unbelievably a first-time film director, has crafted a take on the black man’s experience within a white world, a critique of liberal racism, and an ironic, satiric take-down of the genre in which it placed itself. Easily one of the most fun and original films to come out of recent years. The fact that it came out during President Donald Trump’s America only underlines the necessity of elevating the experiences and opportunities for POC in film.
A Ghost Story
Art is poetry, and film uses this more or less within each finished product. This film is about as close to finding an actual poem on the screen as you can get. Essentially set within one area following a ghost (a man under a bedsheet with eyes holes cut out), everything about this film screams “college film project” or “SNL skit making fun of art film,” except everything about it works. So strong is the sentimentality and the concept with which it is set that any sense of hesitation would have pulled the rug (or bed sheet) right out from under their feet; there is no hesitation. My faith in film was reset after seeing “A Ghost Story.” The work David Lowery accomplished with just $100,000 shows how much he is going to make an impact on the industry.
God’s Own Country
I can honestly say this is the first time I welled up with tears after hearing one man lovingly call another man a “f—–.” This film can be described as: “Brokeback Mountain,” but British. It’s lush and tender but never unrealistic, setting up one of the best on-screen romances of the year.
The Florida Project
That ending. If you have seen this movie, you know what I am talking about. Controversial and polarizing can’t even begin to describe what writer/director Sean Baker gave us with that ending. It is easily one of the most courageous choices a filmmaker made this year in what is easily the most important film of 2017. Given a few years of reflection, this film will be named one of the best films of the 2010s. From the raw performances of mostly newcomers and a beautifully reserved Willem Dafoe guided by a perfectly loose script to the brilliant setting to that ending, I am unable to completely articulate just how great “The Florida Project” is. Just know that it is great.
Ingrid Goes West
There have been films about technology since the dawn of, well technology. We have films like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Minority Report” and more recently “Her” (and the individual “Black Mirror” episodes, if you count them). Each of these has a different take on how it, whatever “it” is — a supercomputer, Siri, etc. — becomes incorporated into our lives and the effects it plays on them. Where “Ingrid Goes West” takes this concept is much different: our main character uses an app (Instagram) as it exists today to track and transform into the people with which she becomes obsessed. Initially played for laughs, through the power of Aubrey Plaza’s committed performance, it offers a blunt look into how influential media culture is and the dichotomy of our on — and off — screen presence; who we are is not who we seem to be. Beginning to end, the film’s manipulation of the audience’s emotions will keep you on the edge of your seat, ending on one of the most affecting sequences this year.
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said by the record-breaking 170+ positive reviews accumulated on Rotten Tomatoes? Everything from the hilarious and heartbreaking script to the hilarious and heartbreaking performances makes this film from first time director Greta Gerwig so gosh-darned amazing. It is simple, and it is real, and it is deeply human.
The LEGO Batman Movie
When “The LEGO Movie” was announced, it seemed like a very capitalistic way to sell movie tickets and the LEGO products. Instead, it ended up being a breath of fresh air due to the treatment given by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Now here we are with a spin-off lead by a minor, albeit hilarious, character from the first film. Everything about this film screams, “Give me your money!” But like the first film, it’s an intentional take on a classic character. I’ll go as far as to say it’s the best take on Batman since, ever? Both films “ The LEGO Movie” and “LEGO Batman” work to change the scope of each of their individualized genres and given new meaning to the use of satire in film. LEGO Batman, one of the funniest characters to exist, is made all the more funny being juxtaposed with Serious Batman (aka Ben Affleck). Everything works about this movie.
A documentary about cats roaming the streets of Istanbul — who knew it would turn into a meditative look into the ways we interact with the world around us? Gorgeous scenery filled with these furry animals makes this quick 79-minute documentary one that is comforting and life-affirming. It’s not going to change the scope of film or alter the course of world politics, but a film doesn’t have to do those things to be considered great.
*Because I am merely a 21-year-old student with limited funds and no legitimacy to the press, much to my disappointment, I am unable to see every film that has come out this year. So films that may be on most year-end best lists like “The Post,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Phantom Thread” and “Pitch Perfect 3,” will not be on mine simply because I don’t have access to them, yet. Rest assured, I guarantee I will probably cry in at least two of these films and mentally add them to my list after the fact.
“Atomic Blonde,” “Baby Driver,” “Battle of the Sexes,” “Beach Rats,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Coco,” “Colossal,” “Gifted,” “It,” “It Comes at Night,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Logan,” “Logan Lucky,” “mother!,” “Okja,” “Raw,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” and “Wonder Woman.”
Photos Taken from collider.com, vulture.com, indiewire.com, thehollywoodreporter.com, dailymotion.com, americanfilmfestival.com, theverge.com, popsugar.com, vanityfair.com and ew.com.