By Chad Guyton
To hear all the Screeners talk about their lists and why they picked the films, check out our Top Ten of 2017 Episode. Already a listener of The Screeners Podcast? Help us reach new people by leaving us a review and rating on iTunes.
I saw a lot of movies in 2017, and while this list isn't what I consider to be the "best of," it does represent the ten films that had the most significant impact on me.
It's possible that Mudbound may have been higher on my list had I had the opportunity to view it in a proper theatre. Rachel Morrison's cinematography is breathtaking; and deserving of the Oscar nomination. While the film at times seems to take the obvious narrative path, its performances are outstanding throughout. Directed with a confident eye by Dee Reese, Mudbound deftly explores racism, responsibility, and family through the lens of a World War II-era rural Mississippi farm. Don't let this one get buried in your Netflix Que.
9. ONLY THE BRAVE
I confess I didn't know or remember the real story at the heart of Only the Brave, and as a result, this was the most emotional experience I had in the theatre in 2017. The ensemble cast is superb, and the movie wisely sidesteps traditional biopic moments to focus on the esprit de corps shared by these men. It's devastating and effective, and a worthy tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
James Mangold strips away the costumes and other super-hero artifices to give us a Logan who burns with an undercurrent of rage and heartbreak. Had it been released in the fall, I believe both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart would have joined the conversation of award-worthy performances. Gritty and violent, yes, but Logan is also a nuanced look at family and fatherhood. Subverting "comic book movie" troupes at almost every turn, it plays more like a classic western than anything else. If this is genuinely Jackman's swan song as the Wolverine, he goes out in the best possible way. (Bonus points for my favorite closing shot of the year).
7. THE DISASTER ARTIST
There are two kinds of people in the world; those who "get" The Room and those who don't deserve your friendship. Having enjoyed the brilliance of Tommy Wiseau's directorial debut for many years, I admit to being predisposed to liking this film. I wasn't prepared, however, to love it. Full of laughs as well as genuine emotion, The Disaster Artist is a love-letter to filmmaking, friendship, and dream chasing. A previous viewing of The Room isn't required to enjoy The Disaster Artist, but it will deepen your appreciation for what James Franco and company were able to accomplish.
Knowing little about the story or production of Coco, I went into my screening with low expectations. I can't recall how I came out of the theater because my brain hurt from crying. Exploring family, pain, and loss aren't new to Pixar, but in Coco they justify the emotional ending punch by establishing a rich and complex narrative focused in and around Día de Muertos. Accurately depicting the people, customs, and traditions of other cultures is essential, and Coco beautifully represents Mexico. The animation is as good or better than any previous Pixar film, and the use of "Remember Me" is elegant and heartbreaking. I hate to use words like "important" when discussing a work of cinema, but I believe that years from now we will look back on Coco and remember it not only as a great film but an important one as well.
5. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI
Maybe the most polarizing film of 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is brutally violent, deeply moving, and darkly funny. Francis McDormand gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a mother seeking answers related to her daughter's rape and murder. Sam Rockwell's turn as racist cop "Dixon" is maybe the best acting I saw last year. This movie isn't interested in easy answers and challenges you to watch hurt and broken people make one mistake after another. It exists in the grey area between right and wrong, where the threat of violence is ever-present and moments of humanity are fleeting. It's not for everyone, but for those who lock into the tone Martin McDonagh has so expertly crafted, a unique experience awaits.
4. BRIGSBY BEAR
Brigsby Bear is one of the sweetest and most earnest films I've ever seen. There isn't a cynical frame to be found in Dave McCary's directorial debut. I won't give away the premise except to say that the lynchpin is Kyle Mooney's portrayal of James. Equal parts awkward and adorable, Mooney plays James as a real person, never going for the cheap laugh or comedic gimmick. I found it impossible to resist the charms of Brigsby Bear and ultimately gave in to this weird, funny, nostalgic, and beautiful film. You should too.
3. WIND RIVER
Taylor Sheridan is on a roll. After writing Sicario, Hell or Highwater, and now writing and directing Wind River, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to manage tone. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) is our window into the unsolved murder of a Native American woman. Jeremy Renner plays a veteran tracker who is dealing with unresolved issues on a personal level. Their chemistry is vital to ensuring the narrative works, and they both excel in bringing depth and empathy to their characters. What could have been a simple genre exercise is elevated by the taut script, authentic performances (Gil Birmingham as a broken-hearted father is excellent), and Sheridan's direction. I was enthralled as he ratcheted up the tension to an almost unbearable level. Much like Jeremy Saulnier, Sheridan has established himself as someone who understands how to get the most from a premise, and I can't wait to see what comes next.
As only Christopher Nolen could do, Dunkirk eschews traditional war movie troupes and instead gives us a narratively complex view of differing groups, over different time periods, all trying to do one thing: survive. It is the purest piece of filmmaking I saw in 2017, and one that should win Nolen the Academy Award for directing (even though Del Toro will probably take the prize). Working from a script of fewer than 50 pages, Dunkirk has little dialogue but is bursting with imagery that is at once iconic and unforgettable. The pace is unrelenting and I physically felt claustrophobic during several sequences. Not only is the technical prowess breathtaking, but I was moved as Nolen's puzzle starts to solve and things begin to overlap. Seeing (and hearing) this in 4k Laser IMAX was a cinematic high point for 2017, and were it not for a little indie film with a bunch of kids in a hotel, it would have been my number one of the year.
1. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
The Florida Project is the best film of 2017. Full. Stop. No, it doesn't have a traditional narrative structure, it is an unflinching view of poverty and child abuse, it has unlikeable characters throughout, the ending (for some) is challenging; and it is precisely for those reasons and more that I fell in love with this film. Sean Baker has given us a gift. A masterpiece. His resistance to cinematic flourishes that would have "enhanced" moments for effect is vital. We see these people living their lives, simply trying to exist and find moments of joy in the in-between. Brooklyn Prince is magnificent and should have been nominated for an Academy Award for her turn as Mooney. She is hilarious, rude, and playful. In other words, a kid. There isn't a false note for any of these characters, and the ensemble is highlighted by Aiden Malik and Valeria Cotto as Mooney's friends, Bria Vinaite as her mother, and a career-defining performance by Willem Dafoe as the caretaker of "The Magic Castle". It's been a couple of months since I saw this movie, and I still can't stop thinking about it. The Florida Project asks us to consider those living on the margins. It dares you to find beauty and love in the midst of horrific circumstances. It demands that you see the humanity that exists in people who have been deemed "less than," and it celebrates the joy and laughter that a group of 6-year-old friends experiences on a daily basis just outside the gates of the happiest place on Earth.
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