By Casey Campbell
Between commuting to college in Boston, the schoolwork that entails, and working a retail job on my off days, it was always difficult to find time to get out to the theater to see everything that came out this year. Suffice to say, I probably missed a lot. When wracking my brain of the films I did see, I realized the list of films is pretty short. I haven’t had a chance to see Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, I, Tonya, and several others; films that have been appearing on many year end lists. I still intend on seeing these movies, but I’ll probably just have to wait until they either open to more theaters, or when they get released on digital.
That’s not to say the movies I did get to see aren’t worthy of listing. Here are *some of* the best films I saw in 2017.
(Dir. Darron Aronofsky)
mother! was divisive. It was intense, delirious, and wicked. The third act felt like a fever dream turned nightmare. But it delivered something that I had never seen before. mother! felt like a roller coaster ride of anxiety and dread that didn’t let up until the final, maddening shot, but it was an experience that I am glad to have had. The script was tight, the acting was fantastic (especially Jennifer Lawrence, in a career best), and the cinematography was picturesque and flowed, especially in that brilliant third act.
13/12. Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
(Dir. Taika Waititi/Dir. James Gunn)
Both Guardians and Ragnarok were fun, colorful comic book movies whose qualities never surprised me, but that’s a great thing. Gunn’s original Guardians of the Galaxy was a fun mix of humor and character, and it made it one of the best Marvel movies to that point. Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows remains as one of my favorite comedies of all time, while being fantastically original and maintaining a refreshing tone throughout. The two films are filled with characters, but amazingly, you get a good grasp on all of them and actually care.
Guardians is hilarious, yet heartfelt all the way through. The villain doesn’t feel trite or uninteresting like many other Marvel films. It also had the advantage of not having to introduce several characters; Guardians answers questions from the first, and furthers each of the characters arcs.
Ragnarok was equally hilarious, but delivered more fun than heart. It’s story took a backseat to the psychedelic visuals and bizarre characters. The Thor movies were never funny, yet the drastic tonal shifts between the three never felt off-putting or disingenuous. It was precisely what I think a comic book movie should be.
11. A Ghost Story
(Dir. David Lowery)
A Ghost Story may be the most immense movie I’ve seen all year, but it hides behind a small and pensive arthouse facade. Over it’s 92 minute run time, A Ghost Story meditates on time, life, death, and the cosmos. It’s a little film about everything, while being about a sheet draped ghost in a house.
10. It Comes at Night
(Dir. Trey Edward Shults)
It Comes at Night was marketed as horror, to the detriment of audiences. What it turned out to be was a fantastically tense white-knuckle thriller, with horror elements. It’s also minimalist cinema, where the titular “it” isn’t as important as the humans surviving. It’s understandable that people went in expecting one thing, only to receive another, but what they got certainly wasn’t bad. In fact, the result was much better than I expected.
9. The Lost City of Z
(Dir. James Gray)
Down and dirty adventure movies were a thing of the past, until The Lost City of Z reminded me of their staying power. The beauty of James Gray’s adaptation is in it’s themes of repeated history and the power of addiction. Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson deliver career best performances (I still haven’t seen Good Time, mind you), and the Amazon Jungle shines as a character on it’s own.
8. Get Out
(Dir. Jordan Peele)
Get Out is a horror movie, despite the Golden Globes saying otherwise. It’s also one of the best written movies this year. Peele’s clever script blended obvious racial themes with more concealed ideas of racism in society. It was consistently entertaining, had fantastic characters, and enticed the viewer to discuss and contemplate the film long after it was over.
(Dir. James Mangold)
I love that a film in a tired genre has been rejuvenated by a film about a tired old man. Logan is more a western than it is a superhero movie, and it presents a character that has been lovingly brought to the screen for the past twenty years in a new way. Here, Wolverine, or Logan, is a disgruntled old man, caring for an ailing Professor X. The performances ranged from powerful to heartbreaking. It looks great, has a compelling story, and closes out the story of everyone’s favorite X-Men in style.
6. The Big Sick
(Dir. Michael Showalter)
The Big Sick is a film that has been hyped up for the past year, and one I was afraid wouldn’t meet expectations, but it eventually exceeded them. It’s written by the real life couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, and is a true story about their relationship. The story is told with heart and it never feels emotionally manipulative. The humor hits, and the drama seems real. The performances bolster the already great script and create a rom-com like no other.
5. Lady Bird
(Dir. Greta Gerwig)
We watch movies to escape, yet Lady Bird succeeds so wildly because it perfectly encapsulates real life. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut follows the coming-of-age story of Lady Bird, a teenager on the brink of adulthood. Her story is sometimes uproariously funny, other times relatably sad, but always honest in it’s portrayal of a teenager finding herself and the people in life who try to push her in the right direction.
(Dir. Christopher Nolan)
Leave it to Christopher Nolan to create a compelling war movie with an unconventional plot timeline. Dunkirk was a technical feat, with tremendous performances across the board, unceasing tension, stunning practical effects, and a heart-racing score. It may not be character focused, but it dutifully serves as a microcosm of the war effort itself, and how it wasn’t strictly dependent on soldiers overseas.
3. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
(Dir. Martin McDonagh)
A woman tries to get closure on her daughters murder by purchasing the ad space on three billboards outside of her town. What ensues is an ensemble dramedy with beautifully rendered characters, heartbreaking conflict, and a story so bleakly funny that only Martin McDonagh could pull it off.
2. The Shape of Water
(Dir. Guillermo del Toro)
The Shape of Water is a lovely fairy tale from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, and it absolutely enchanted me. It was magical, romantic, thrilling, and musical. Sally Hawkins was stunning as the mute custodian working in a secret government facility housing an man-like/amphibian specimen. I don’t know if ignorance is bliss when going into this film, though I’ll assume it is so I won’t go on further. Just know that this is a surprising and moving fantasy that you need to see.
1. Blade Runner 2049
(Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Unpopular opinion here, but I think the original Blade Runner was light on a compelling script, and unfortunately boring. Though its set design and sci-fi world were stunningly realized and gorgeous, the thin story left a bit to be desired. I can appreciate the original for how it paved the way for grand science fiction in film. With that being said, I think 2049 is better than the original, and the best film of the year.
The script was layered and narratively manipulative towards the characters and audience, and it never got boring. The pace was fantastic, and the ideas presented were provocative and thoughtful. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is some of the best I’ve ever seen, with each frame oozing style and color. The cast was terrific, with Harrison Ford delivering his best work in years.
The idea of “what makes us human” is expanded on, both through Ryan Gosling’s young blade runner K, and his computer hologram companion Joi. The story is complex, the imagery is nothing less than stunning, and the characters are all motivated. Blade Runner 2049 was close to three hours long, and I still wanted more when the credits started rolling. It is my favorite film from 2017.