For me, the past year never truly feels behind us until the Oscar ceremony. So before tonight's awards cap off the last year in film, I had to make a few adjustments to my favorite films list. I originally published my Top 20 at Audiences Everywhere back in December, but since then I've had time to catch a few more of 2017's releases and make a few adjustments.
I watched a total of 237 movies in 2017 and 110 of those were 2017 releases. Here's my full list and ranking of the films I saw last year: https://letterboxd.com/richard_newby/list/2017-film-ranking/
Controversial, horrific, indulgent, self-reflective, and all encompassing, mother! is the film that Aronofsky’s entire career has been leading to, his masterpiece, and the best film of the year. It doesn’t matter if you were able to pinpoint the film’s allusions or not. A film isn’t a punching bag, it doesn’t need to be beaten in order to prove something, only analyzed within its context to better understand why it exists. mother!, in my reading, turns both the biblical Old and New Testament into in a domestic thriller, one that challenges the tenants of faith, the treatment of women, and the fallacy of man as passionate creator deserving of free reign. Continuing Aronofsky’s themes of addiction, celebrity, ascendancy, and naval-gazing, mother! is an uncomfortable viewing experience, one that refuses to offer easy answers even under the identification of its references. Score-less, mother! answers our cries with a void of silence, denying us music to tell us what to feel and when to feel it. It’s a film that shifts the more times you watch it, and depending on when you watch it, its only constant being the wrongness that comes off of it in waves. It’s a tapestry of human experience, one that points a finger at us, accuses, and tells us that God’s love has a cost, that our consumerism of art has a cost, and that we may not be worthy of either because of the apocalyptic price we carry. mother! is a horror film and horror should make us uncomfortable, make us reflect not only on the cost of all on all-consuming hate, but all consuming love as well. It should make us question not only what exists in the dark, but also what exists in the light. In a year that so often seemed built on questions without answers, mother! has been the film that I just can’t shake, and I don’t think I want to.
2. Blade Runner 2049
As many of you have probably heard by now, Blade Runner is my favorite film, and while a sequel was never necessary, Denis Villeneuve pulled off a near impossible feat of a sequel that doesn’t undermine any of the questions posed by the original and successfully adds the world’s mythology in its deeply affecting look at not only what it means to be human, but what it means to matter. 2049 distinguishes itself from its predecessor by stepping away from its neo-noir trappings and expanding its mystery to encompass a social divide predicated on conspiracy theories and lost legacies. And yet, for all of its big ideas, Blade Runner 2049 is a personal story built on K’s quest for love and his hope that he is more than a tool. Villeneuve’s film is a beautiful expression of an existential crisis that pulls the plug on the idea of individual exceptionalism and instead looks for the achievement of community and mutual reliance on others, not as tools, but as lives filled with dignity and meaning regardless of origin. Of course, none of these themes would carry the weight they do without Roger Deakins’ masterful cinematography that remains unbeaten by anything else this year. While it seems unlikely that we’ll get to return to this world, Blade Runner 2049is a successful sequel and standalone chapter, that will be worth discussing and analyzing for years to come.
3. Get Out
If you look at the films bookending this entry, it’s clear that Jordan Peele has found himself in great company. His horror film, or as he refers to it, a “social thriller,” refuses to tackle racism as it’s been done before. This isn’t simply Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with horror elements mixed in, but a dissertation on modern racism that isn’t always obvious, and is founded in dueling American experiences. Peele tackles the racism found in aspects of white liberalism with an insightful eye that’s both humorous and profoundly uncomfortable. With shots that capture the wide, expressive range of his characters conflicting emotions, Peele allows for tonal variance within his film, refusing to suggest that all of America’s racial problems can be viewed the same way or dignify the same response. While the twist didn’t work for some viewers who found its pseudo-science too hard to buy, it’s a twist that aptly nails the psychological science behind so much of America’s racism and allows for the film to own up to its horror heritage. More than any other debut this year, Jordan Peele’s film proudly announces a new and necessary voice in horror and is a much watch whether you’re a fan of the genre or not.
4. The Shape of Water
Water fits the shape of whatever it’s in, so it only stands to reason that Guillermo del Toro’s love story comes to perfect execution inside of a monster movie. del Toro has described The Shape of Water as his first true film as an adult, one that deals with adult concerns of sexuality, aging, and loneliness. It’s clear here that del Toro is performing with a newfound purpose, and while his monster carries his familiar signature, including a wonderfully emotive performance by Doug Jones, there is a maturity to his handling of these outsiders and their concerns. Sally Hawkins gives what is arguably the best performance of the year as the mute Eliza and her romance with the Amphibian Man creates a balanced look at seemingly voiceless outcasts and gives them a voice. With Richard Jenkins’ spirited performance as Eliza’s neighbor Giles, and Michael Shannon’s unbending villain Strickland, del Toro presents a modern fairy tale made willing and unwilling participants and sets them against a world on the cusp of social change.
Never a filmmaker to be placed in cuffs, Christopher Nolan stepped out of genre fiction and lengthy runtimes for a lean historical war film that works like clockwork. Nolan’s approach to the Battle of Dunkirk is to create a thriller, a tension filled race against time with the fate of the world in the balance. And yet, despite the stakes, Nolan never loses sight of the personal as he shifts between 3 different locations and time periods to create an all-encompassing view of the humanity at stake and the struggle to return home again. Nolan’s penchant for practical effects has perhaps never been better as the aerial fights depicted in the film are unlike any captured on film before. Aided by frequent collaborators Hans Zimmer and Hoyte Van Hoytema, and a cast of British Thespians, Nolan carefully constructs a story of patriotism founded in the sheer will of survival and holding on just a little longer.
6. Call Me By Your Name
There's an ethereal quality to Luca Guadagnino's film. The innocence and delicate nature of the romance at the center of Call Me by Your Name lends itself well to lush setting of 1980s Italy, impressively shot by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. The idyllic surroundings work in favor of the film's exploratory nature as Timothee Chalamet's Elio discovers his sexuality in the presence of his father's research assistant, Oliver, played by Armie Hammer. Both actors capture the boyish excitement of young love and lust, and despite the age difference between the two characters, their unhurried romance is authentic. Chalamet gives what is without question one of the best performances of the year, promising that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this 22-year old actor, and Hammer redefines his screen presence in a way that takes advantage of his charm but allows for previously unseen emotional depth. This coming of age story explores the fragile nature of relationships and the everlasting impact of love in a way that is both tender and heartbreaking right through the credits.
7. Wonder Woman
What a fitting year it was for Wonder Woman to finally get her due with a film that’s nothing short of a triumph. Patty Jenkins earns every moment of her gorgeous blockbuster debut, creating a character-driven, expertly choreographed, cheer worthy film, that isn’t afraid to have love as its central theme, and also allow for a female character to have the indulgent final battle that so many of her male counterparts have been afforded over the years. Gal Gadot’s unmistakable charisma firmly established her as a new icon, and coupled with Chris Pine’s charm, Wonder Woman achieves the chemistry of romance better than any blockbuster this year. Wonder Woman is the best superhero origin movie we’ve gotten thus far, because it creates a complex look at humanity as people who may not be worthy of saving but are worthy of compassion and a chance to be better, and uses facet as an opportunity for the self-discovery of its hero. There’s a clarity in Diana’s arc, one that somehow manages to coalesce 75 years of history and contradictory notions into a character who is believable as both champion for peace and soldier who won’t back down in the face of battle. Wonder Woman is the kind of film that will likely inspire future generations of filmmakers and creatives, it already has, and it could not be more appropriate that a woman is behind that.
8. War for the Planet of the Apes
Matt Reeves’ sequel lives up to its title through showing us the emotionally devastating cost of war. With an opening sequence that stands up there with the Normandy Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, Reeves makes it clear that while this may be a science-fiction blockbuster, but it’s a film that doesn’t shy away from death, or pain and its cost on the soul. While we eagerly anticipate action in most summer blockbusters, War for the Planet of the Apes makes us dread it, makes us fear which beloved character we’ll lose next, and what, if anything, can be saved. The performances, most notably Andy Serkis’ Caesar, and the film’s production design create an immersive experience that makes this world fully believable. And there’s an eeriness found in the similarities between this world and our own, as the extremism, fear, and military fetishism found among The Colonel’s men can be traced directly back to our own society. War for the Planet of the Apes cements this modern Apes trilogy as one of the all-time greats as it does the very thing that made the original series such a cultural touchstone. It holds a mirror up to our society and asks us to gaze into it and see ourselves as both apes and humans, a warring people hastening our own end by our inability to give up the specter of revenge and find compassion before it’s too late.
9. Lady Bird
Lady Bird is so entirely immersed in the voice of its director and screenwriter, Greta Gerwig, that it carries itself with a confidence rarely achieved by first time filmmakers. The voice of Lady Bird is a voice that Gerwig has been developing for years, most notably with Noah Baumbach. While the influence from Baumbach is clear in Lady Bird, Gerwig creates a more inclusive experience, one that feels entirely removed from ego or pretension and is instead grounded in relatable adolescent wandering in a world that doesn’t feel insular. Some of the best films this year have dealt with class and age, and Gerwig relates the dignity of the lower middle-class American experience, alongside the near constant embarrassment of young adulthood for a result that feels like a unique and necessary coming of age story. Saoirse Ronan’s titular character faces the challenges of expectation, and the anxieties of who she will become in a world that’s quickly changing, and while sometimes that means losing and being lost, she ultimately becomes a figure who assures us that everything will be just fine as long as we retain the truth of our individuality.
Logan is a death song, a painful eulogy to one of the 21st century’s most enduring characters, and a rumination on aging and mortality. There’s a brutality to Logan, not only in its bloodshed, but at its hard looks the characters of Charles Xavier and Logan, and the way it treats their bodies and their inability to heal from wounds both physical and mental. More western tone poem than superhero movie, Logan builds on seventeen years of comic book movie history for a final product that outshines the rest of the X-series and creates fascinating parallels between Xavier and Logan, and Logan and Laura in how they deal with violence. No superhero film outside of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, has so successfully allowed a character to reach an endpoint, not based on comic book accuracy, but on a natural arc of their story and their existence in a world not so far removed from our own. Carrying the dirt and grit of an old war photograph, Logan is a harrowing but ultimately hopeful experience.
11. The Florida Project
13. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
14. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
15. A Cure for Wellness
16. John Wick Chapter 2
17. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
18. Wind River
19. Atomic Blonde
Honorable Mentions: The, Transfiguration, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Molly's Game, Logan Lucky, Alien: Covenant, Gerald’s Game, Raw, A Ghost Story, Mudbound, Split, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, The Big Sick
2018's Most Anticipated (post-February)
1. Avengers: Infinity War
6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
7. Deadpool 2
8. First Man
9. Creed 2
10. The Predator