Another year is in the books, and boy did 2017 go by fast! There were plenty of films I didn’t get around to seeing throughout the year for a number of reasons. Titles such as “The Lost City of Z,” “Molly’s Game,” “Personal Shopper,” “The Shape of Water,” “The Post,” “The Disaster Artist,” “I, Tonja,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Brawl in Cellblock 99,” “Lucky,” “The Killing of a Sacred Dear,” “The Meyerowitz Stories,” “Phantom Thread,” “Darkest Hour,” “The Square,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Columbus,” “Call Me By Your Name,” and “The Florida Project” just as easily could have made the cut had I had the opportunity to see them.
That said, this alphabetical list represents my 10 favorite film experiences of 2017. Should you decide to seek any of these movies out, I can only hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
“Blade Runner 2049”
Denis Villeneuve is a master when it comes to provocative sci-fi. In 2016 he dazzled us with “Arrival,” but in 2017 he topped himself with “Blade Runner 2049,” a sequel to a movie fans thought they’d never see a follow-up to. It’s peculiar that some viewers were surprised by this film’s lukewarm box-office reception, but the truth is that the original didn’t exactly torch up the box-office either. In the end, we should be grateful that we got this breathtaking movie at all. Not only did “Blade Runner 2049” expand on Ridley Scott’s cold, bleak, and altogether stunning universe but it’s also a much richer experience on an emotional level. Ryan Gosling, Sylvia Hoeks, and Jared Leto are superb, but it’s veteran Harrison Ford who leaves the biggest impression bringing more weight to Deckard in 40 minutes of screen time then he did in the entire first film. One has to be excited at the very idea of the gifted Villeneuve now getting to play in the “Dune” universe.
If “Room” and “The Truman Show” had been re-envisioned by the gloriously goofy Lonely Island crew (“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”), it might look a little something like this surprisingly endearing, slightly eccentric, and altogether likable movie. Cowritten and starring SNL player Kyle Mooney, this sweet-natured laugh-out-loud comedy will be instantly relatable to film lovers and to those who use art of any kind to help navigate through that unpredictable thing called life. But for all its goofy, Lonely Island-infused humor and slapstick hijinks, it should be noted that “Brigsby Bear” has a ton of heart. This is a movie about family, friendship, and moving forward from life-altering situations. It’s also quite the clever look at the art of filmmaking itself. Plus, Luke Skywalker is in it!
Alexander Payne’s latest offering, a creative social satire that imagines a world where individuals miniaturize themselves in the interest of leading more financially sound lives, is as ambitious as it is bonkers. Even though this is a movie about getting small, it certainly isn’t short on big ideas, and Payne directs the hell out of it. It’s a technical marvel full of great visual effects, but those effects never dwarf the very quirky and very human story at the heart of the movie. And as good as Matt Damon is in this picture, be on the lookout for an award-worthy performance from Hong Chau as a tenacious Vietnamese house keeper. This movie didn’t find much of an audience, and while perhaps not as strong as Payne’s best work, it’s still a thoughtful motion picture experience and well worth seeing.
Comedy mastermind Jordan Peele scored big time with his directorial debut, “Get Out,” an ingeniously clever thriller that could be best described as “The Stepford Wives” meets “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” It says a lot about Peele’s natural likability and pure skill as a storyteller that “Get Out” comes across as scary, funny, joyful, and thrilling, even when it’s clear that the outer shell of this picture is being used to house a pretty serious issue. It’s all done in a hyper-real way, of course, but that’s what helps make for a truly memorable genre picture. Peele has the same sort of vibrant, colorful, fanboy-infused spirit that makes the works of Edgar Wright so appealing. And to think that “Get Out” is only Peele’s first film as a director!
“A Ghost Story”
Writer and director David Lowery shot this mediation on life, love, loss, and death on the quick and with very little money, but you wouldn’t know it upon watching it. This is a hypnotic, gorgeously photographed slice of experimental goodness featuring solid performances by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, but the real star of the show is a beguiling white-sheeted ghost. With stunning cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo and the kind of dreamlike feel you might expect from Terrence Malick or Stanley Kubrick, “A Ghost Story” is required viewing for moviegoers who like to think a little outside the box. Doubly so if you’re a fan of pie!
“Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond”
There were a lot of great documentaries in 2017, but Chris Smith’s look into the careers of Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman and how Milos Forman’s biopic “The Man on the Moon” would find their lives crossing paths was the most intriguing of the lot. It’s a great movie lover’s movie that delves into an artist’s creative process. There came a point in “Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond” when I wasn’t entirely sure what was real and what might have been staged, and that’s just the way Kaufman would have wanted it.
“The Lego Batman Movie”
If you take DC’s “Justice League” out of the equation, it was a pretty darn good year for superhero movies (see “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Logan,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”). It’s a bit ironic, then, that the studio behind “Justice League” would not only release the best superhero movie of the year but also the best animated feature of 2017 in the form of “The Lego Batman Movie.” This is a wonderfully colorful and cleverly subversive take (Batman and The Joker may be enemies, but it’s clear they can’t live without each other) on an incredibly popular genre, and it’s even more creative than 2014’s “The Lego Movie.” And cheers to a fantastic, dry-witted Will Arnett for hitting all the right notes as the Dark Knight.
What a run Netflix has had! With their acquisition of “Mudbound” at the Sundance Film Festival last January, the roll continued. This powerful film from “Pariah” director Dee Rees is an emotionally charged adaptation of the Hilary Morgan novel. This story of a pair of World War II soldiers who return home to the rural south only to find themselves on an entirely new battlefield benefits from what just might be the strongest ensemble of the year. Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, and a terrifying Jonathan Banks are all stellar in this picture. I walked out of this one shaken and moved.
An entertaining underdog story that would make the folks behind “Rocky” and “8 Mile” proud, this film about an aspiring female rapper trying to break free of her New Jersey surroundings benefits from Geremy Jasper’s high-energy direction, a great soundtrack, and a star-making turn by Aussie actress Danielle MacDonald. Yes, this is a variation of countless underdog stories that we’ve seen before, but it’s all about the execution, and Jasper has fashioned an inspiring, underrated gem in the infectiously likable “Patti Cake$.”
“War For the Planet of the Apes”
When 20th Century Fox set out to continue the “Planet of the Apes” franchise back in 2011, very few would have thought it would go on to become one of the most powerful trilogies of all time. While its place in the pantheon of great trilogies is debatable (obviously I’m a champion of the series as all three films made my best of lists), it would be difficult to deny the brilliant technical attributes and unforgettable work by Andy Serkis in these movies. “War For the Planet of the Apes” is a quietly powerful tale of war and humanity as seen through Caesar, a wise ape who would go from domesticated pet to fierce (and compassionate) warrior over the course of a compelling and provocative three-story arc. Director Matt Reeves took what Rupert Wyatt started and did something even more extraordinary with it. Granted, it does help when you have a masterful actor like Serkis in your corner. His work as Caesar is simply stunning, and in fact, for my money, this was the most captivating performance of the year! Not too shabby for a guy who also played Snoke in “The Last Jedi” and went on to unveil his directorial debut with the buzzed-about drama “Breathe” all in the same year. This may be perceived as a bold statement to some, but “War” managed to be an even more thoughtful and moving look at the effects of war than Christopher Nolan’s much talked-about “Dunkirk.”
Honorable mention goes to “Baby Driver,” “The Big Sick,” “Coco,” “Good Time,” and “Thor: Ragnarok.”