It’s that time of the year once again, the time when critics both professional and amateur publish their lists of what they consider to be the ‘best’ films of the year. And here I am with mine. Am I some unimpeachable authority on what makes a film great? Am I so all powerful as to present the definitive list of the Best Films of 2017? (ed. note: YES)
Not by a long shot, friend. I’m just a guy who watches a lot of films, has his own particular tastes and proclivities, and likes sharing his opinion with people who are open to having a conversation about film. With that in mind, I present to you my totally subjective list of my favourite films of 2017. These are the films that had me buzzing as I left the theatre (or turned off my TV, as the case may be), that I not only recognized as good-to-great films, but that affected my heart, brain, or soul in some deeper way. In a year filled with fantastic films of all genres and budgets, these are the ten that have affected me the most.
10) Wonder Woman
Patty Jenkins’ superhero origin film is not without its flaws, but the things that work work so well as to wash those flaws from my mind. Gal Gadot is perfect as Diana, bringing to life a rich and complicated character with grace and seeming ease. Her chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is wonderful, and gives the film one of its emotional anchors (the other being Diana herself). While the climactic battle may falter a little bit, the No Man’s Land sequence is an all-timer, giving us an exciting, emotionally driven set piece that informs – and comes from –character. It is one of the best moments in film all year, and enough on its own make me love the film.
Christopher Nolan’s foray into the genre of War Film yielded something that plays unlike any other I’ve seen, and aside from the fact that it tells the true story1 of the rescue of thousands of soldiers from Dunkirk during World War II, I would hesitate to even call it a war film; it could perhaps be more suitably labelled an experimental film. Or perhaps more aptly it could simply be called an experience. Nolan eschews traditional war film narrative tropes in favour of crafting something that is immersive on an almost primal level. We are left somewhat unmoored, with barely a character to latch onto, and we flounder in the deep terror of trying to survive, of trying to help in a desperate situation. The craft of the film is as much a part of the film as the narrative itself, from the varying time scales to the overwhelming sound design to the use of almost exclusively IMAX cameras, all coming together to build a unique film-going reality around its audience.
8) Alien: Covenant
As much as we all like the idea of perfection in film, sometimes it is far more satisfying and engaging to discover something that is imperfect. Ridley Scott’s third foray into the Alien franchise yielded something that is structurally messy, but thematically beautiful, like a Xenomorph being birthed from a gooey human torso. Dealing with the ideas of creator and creation, of authorship, of meaning in life and in death (or the lack thereof), the film is sometimes at odds with its designation as a monster movie, preferring to get those moments out of the way in order to deal with what Scott really has on his mind. But I think these two halves complement each other, illustrating the way we desire perfection, but are often victim to our baser desires and our trickster subconscious, leading to a world (and a film) that sometimes feels Frankensteined together. It can be scary and ugly, but there is a beauty to it that transcends what you see on the surface.
7) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Who would have thought that a Star Wars film would be controversial and divisive? I certainly didn’t, and I’m not sure Lucasfilm did either, but here we are… Obviously I fall on the side of “it was very good”, and although I feel like I need to see it at least once more before I can fully appreciate the film, I wanted to include it here because this is the first time in my life I have watched a Star Wars film and felt like I was seeing something new, and great.2 Again, it may not be a perfect film, but it succeeds in so much that it is easy to skate past the small bits that don’t work. If nothing else, the Rey/Kylo stuff is top notch, exciting filmmaking that opens up the series to go to some uncharted places, and I can’t wait to see where we go next.
6) The Shape of Water
I knew before the credits had ended that this was a film I would love. And while that love dipped a little up and down throughout the film, I was fully enamoured with this R-rated fairy tale by the final fade out. If i had to pick any single issue with the film it would be that the first half feels a little unearned, a little rushed in order to get us where we need to be for the second half. But then I remembered that this is a fairy tale, existing several feet to the left of our reality, and that some of those things that feel like they’re missing aren’t really important. Because the heart of the film beats, and beats hard. Sally Hawkins is magnificent in the film, bringing bravery and vulnerability to a character that could have easily been weighed down by the latter. The FX work is tremendous, and as usual Guillermo del Toro allows his love of monsters to guide his camera in a way that makes them live and breathe, rather than exist simply as toys. He has a deep empathy that is apparent in all of his films, and in this one perhaps most of all.
otherwise known by me as social anxiety: the movie. there is a lot more going in the film than just that, but i doubt there are many people who would be unaffected by that aspect of it. Aronofsky has never been a subtle filmmaker, but as someone who thinks that subtlety in art is overrated, I can’t help but love his work, and mother! is no different. The power of art is that different people get different things out of it, so i will avoid telling you how i read the film and instead allow you to discover your own interpretation. one of the great powers of this film is Jennifer Lawrence, who is in virtually every shot of the film, often in a close-up shot, and thus has to be at 100% the entire time. And she kills it. Again, we have a film that is experiential, that forgoes more traditional narrative trappings in favor of allegory and creating a particular reality for the audience. Within that framework we are given characters that are somewhat outside what we would call “realistic”, but Lawrence brings vulnerability and fear and anger and hope to her character, forging an emotional connection to the audience for the duration of this difficult and rewarding film.
4) War for the Planet of the Apes
While it might take the slightest of dips from the high of the second film in this new Apes series, it is still a masterpiece, and closes out perhaps one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. It might sound insane to compare these films about talking monkeys to The Godfather Trilogy,3 but the fact of the matter is that Matt Reeves stuck the landing with it, creating a film that is emotionally satisfying, thematically engaging, and an exciting cinematic experience. Andy Serkis continues to prove that he is not just the face of mocap acting (har har), but that he is a damn fine actor, full stop. His Caesar is as rich as any human character, brought to stunning life in a performance that, had it been under physical make up, might have garnered him well-deserved accolades.
3) The Transfiguration
If you’ve read the site, you know many of us here at Lewton Bus (ie. any of us who have seen it) are big big fans of The Transfiguration. And chances are that you have read Vyce’s excellent piece on the film, or one of the many other things that have been written or said about it on here. I don’t think I can add much that hasn’t already been said, and said better, so I will just add my voice to the choir telling you that you should see it. It is electric, dangerous filmmaking and deserves to be supported.
2) Get Out
This perhaps the most exciting film to come out this year, both in terms of the film itself, and the narrative surrounding it. Jordan Peele flew out of the gate with a film that is not only entertaining as hell, but that speaks to people. It speaks to people from all different walks of life, either by exaggerating a familiar experience, or by peeling back a few layers of self delusion to help us understand the ways in which we contribute to a poisonous status quo. The fact that it came out this year seems particularly prescient, but I’m sure that will be lost on some people. Even if we are somehow able to separate ourselves from the social statement that is being made by Peele’s film,4 what we are left with is a masterful example of how to take well-worn tropes of horror cinema and make them feel new and exciting. I’ll give you a hint: it all boils down to respect and understanding.
1) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
No one is as surprised by this as I am. While I am, like much of the planet it seems, a huge fan of the MCU, the first Guardians film was one of the ones that I was lukewarm on. On paper it seemed like exactly my kind of thing, but I never really connected to it for whatever reason. So, suffice to say that I was looking forward to Vol. 2, but I wasn’t actively excited. So I was shocked – shocked I tell you – that I LOVED it. It has quickly become one of my top 3 MCU films, and sits at the top of this list because I can see it being the film I easily revisit the most. With every frame you can feel that this is an intensely personal film for writer-director James Gunn. He loves these characters, and yet is unafraid to put them through the wringer because he knows that on the other side they find something they are looking for, but they need to earn it. And yes, along the way there are jokes, and not all of them land, and some of them seem to undercut the emotional moment of a scene…. Because of course they do. Because that is the truth of these characters. They keep a distance even with the people/raccoons/trees they feel closest to as self-preservation, as protection. And part of that is awkward jokes to break the tension, or to interrupt a moment before it becomes too real. Being funny to the audience is secondary. And to anyone who complains about the “small stakes”5, I think that anyone who has ever had people they love in their life, and were afraid of losing them, knows that there are no bigger stakes possible.
There you go, another list for another year. As always there are a whole bunch of films that I loved that didn’t quite make it on the list, and far more that I didn’t get a chance to see before the clock struck midnight on December 31st in my part of world but that I hope to catch up with soon. Some of them might have even made it onto the list in lieu of some that I watched. C’est la vie.
- or at least, a version of it
- I like The Force Awakens, and Rogue One, but both are pretty familiar; the Prequels feel different from the OT, but you know, are not very good.
- Okay, I know Pt. III isn’t that well regarded, but I think the trilogy is still viewed as one of the best – or at least it is in my household
- I don’t want to meet the person who is able to achieve that high wire act of self-delusion
- despite Ego literally threatening the entire universe with his plant pods