MY FAVORITE FILM EXPERIENCES OF 2017!
By Adam Mast
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, I, TONYA, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI, BRAWL IN CELLBLOCK 99, LUCKY, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES, and COLUMBUS just as easily could have made the cut had I had the opportunity to see them.
That said, this alphabetical list represents my 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, 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 all together 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. Sidenote; If there’s any justice in the world, this movie will earn the great Roger Deakins his very first cinematography Oscar.
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. Co-written and starring SNL player Kyle Mooney, this sweet-natured and 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. For all its goofy, Lonely Island-infused humor and slapstick hijinks, though, 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, DOWNSIZING, is as ambitious as it is bonkers. A creative social satire that imagines a world where individuals miniaturize themselves in the interest of leading more financially sound lives. 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 housekeeper. 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…GET OUT is only Peele’s first film as a director!
A GHOST STORY
Writer/director David Lowery shot this meditation 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!
In 1892, a celebrated Army captain is ordered to escort a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their homeland, but the journey will be a treacherous one. Eventually, this highly decorated military man learns a great deal about himself and even more about his sworn enemy throughout a most harrowing trek across the American landscape. HOSTILES is a great movie. It has moments that recall DANCES WITH WOLVES and UNFORGIVEN and while the film doesn’t shy away from in your face brutality, it is also quiet and understated in equal measure. This is Scott Cooper‘s very best film as a writer/director and it features one of the strongest performances of Christian Bale‘s career! Beyond that, HOSTILES is beautifully shot and features an outstanding ensemble including Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, and Stephen Lang. This is a powerful tale of loss, redemption, war, and injustice. A must-see!
JIM AND ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND
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. 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, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, 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. This movie deserves more love!
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 Hillary Jordan 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 town 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$.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
In 2017, he jovial and undeniably skilled Guillermo del Toro returned with his strongest and most personal effort since 2006’s breathtaking (and heartbreaking), PAN’S LABYRINTH. THE SHAPE OF WATER is a beautifully offbeat fable that fuses the surreal, dreamlike stylings of Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s AMELIE with the strange romance and humor of Ron Howard‘s 80s gem, SPLASH. Of course, there’s plenty of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and even a little bit of David Cronenberg‘s take on THE FLY thrown in for good measure, too. Given del Toro’s love of monsters, how could there not be? Filmmakers don’t get any more colorful than the delightful del Toro. This immensely talented storyteller eats, drinks, and sleeps film. The proof is right there on the screen. Not only is the passion evident in the writing and the overall tone of the film, but it comes across loud and clear in the breathtaking cinematography, the stunning art direction, the stellar practical effects, and the lush score. This is a wonderful, all-inclusive love letter to both monsters and romance.
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; BABY DRIVER, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, THE BIG SICK, COCO, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, GOOD TIME, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES, ONLY THE BRAVE, PHANTOM THREAD, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, THE SQUARE, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, and THOR: RAGNAROK.