Top 10 Films of 2017

Oh what a year for film 2017 was. We saw some of the most innovative blockbusters of the decade, along with a slew of indie dramedys that ruled the critics's conversations. So without further delay, here are my Top 10 Films of 2017.

*I will not be including The Post or Phantom Thread in my consideration for 2017's list, as they were not available in my theaters until January of 2018. They will be considered on 2018's list.

10. Brad's Status

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In what felt like a sequel to his 2014 effort with Noah Baumbach, While We're Young, Ben Stiller plays the same type of detached --searching for connection with everyone except the right person-- character, this time aided by the talents of Jenna Fischer and Austin Abrams. Abrams, a relative newcomer, plays his role as Stiller's college hopeful son with sublime nonchalance. On these merits alone, Brad's Status is a good movie, but the way director Mike White chooses to tell the story is what sets it apart. Brad is tormented by three of his former, now more successful and handsome, friends from college, who sporadically appear to offer dim-witted advice or inspire jealousy. Through all this is Brad, who often narrates exactly what he is thinking, as he takes his son to look at colleges, reliving his own escapades and passively attempting to pass them on to his son. If the film ever falters, it is in that it feels very reminiscent of recent Stiller films like While We're Young, and Stiller's own Secret Life of Walter Mitty. 

9. The Big Sick

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Kumail Nanjiani is here! The often hilarious master of deadpan, who has been making waves on shows like Silicon Valley for years, has made 2017 his time, co-writing a script with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, based on their romance and dating years. While this film was bitingly hilarious, with some of my favorite jokes of the year coming from it, it proudly chose to be a drama, and a difficult one at that. The Big Sick does not shy away from exploring the intricacies of Gordon's sickness, and the lengths Nanjiani went to to be with her.

This film is anchored by its ingenious script, peppered with hilarious lines from the entire cast, which includes both Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. These two actors are the biggest surprise of the film, each turning in excellent performances as Emily's parents, with Ray Romano being the standout (if you can believe it). The fact that it's all a true story only sweetens this already amazing breakout for Kumail and Emily, and I am excited to see where they go next after such a personal picture. 

8. Logan

Logan dropped in early 2017, when the year was just kicking off. As a result, it has been largely ignored by critics and many moviegoers at awards season this year.

Not on this website.

Logan was an amazing feat, simultaneously providing a stellar Hugh Jackman performance, as well as being a stylistically riveting film to watch. James Mangold, no stranger to westerns, made a film awash in gold, yellow, and dirt. Logan is first and foremost an action film, yet includes enough passionate dialogue to be a drama. Young actress and driving plot force Dafne Keen plays X-23, a more vicious than lovable killer who adds even more blood to this already bloody superhero film. Logan was one of the darkest comic book movies since The Dark Knight, and just about as good. 

7. Dunkirk

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Christopher Nolan shocked many fans by announcing his next film would be a war drama, a stark departure from his previous films. Nolan, until 2017, had exclusively directed thrillers, with sci-fi influences, as well as one of the greatest comic book trilogies ever made. Needless to say, a lot was riding on the quality of Dunkirk, and Nolan more than delivered with his creative, incredibly ambitious war film, that really feels nothing like one.

Nolan has made some of the most memorable films of our century. Look at 2014's Interstellar, a nearly 3 hour sci-fi epic that involved space travel, Matthew McConaughey, and use of a scientifically accurate black hole special effect. With films like this, Nolan made his mark on the genre, crafting a new vision for sci-fi with Interstellar. In Dunkirk, Nolan does not settle for making a mark, but rather chooses to redefine what a war film is. He steers away from character driven drama (Dunkirk has almost no dialogue from its main characters) and relies heavily on the tensions of war and the visual aspects. For this, he is a great filmmaker, and one that deserves all the accolades coming his way for such a bold film. 

6. The Meyerowitz Stories  

(New and Selected)                                  

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One of the most consistent and fantastic writer/directors working today, Noah Baumbach, returned after a two year break between films; his last being 2015's Mistress America, starring and cowritten by Greta Gerwig. In The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach tackles the struggles of family relationships, as he once did so exceptionally in 2007's Margot at the Wedding and 2005's The Squid and the Whale, the difference here being his growth in experimental editing and storytelling. 

The Meyerowitz Stories breaks up into several parts, with title screens cuing the audience into who's story is being told; whether it be Danny Meyerowitz (played by Adam Sandler), or his half brother, played by Ben Stiller. This two sided story begins with Danny, a loving father who can't stand traffic. The first scene is a template for the film to come, with jumpy cuts and sharp, overlapped dialogue taking the stage as Baumbach's favorite new devices. Baumbach has, of course, always had an ear for dialogue, but in the Meyerowitz Stories, he is writing at his absolute best. There are too many scenes to point out, so I recommend watching the film on Netflix when you get the chance. You will not regret it.

And holy cow was Dustin Hoffman good in this. 

5. Blade Runner 2049

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In a year full of dialogue driven relationship films, it took a truly special action film to stand out. With Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve not only continued his hot streak of incredible films, (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival) but made a damn good sequel. Blade Runner fans like myself found something that drove the story of the first film forward in a brand new, fascinating way, while action film purists saw an immensely entertaining film. Sound design, special effects, acting; all top notch in this nearly 3 hour epic, with a score from Hans Zimmer no less! Harrison Ford's inclusion only added to this film's greatness, reprising his role  as Agent Decker. This isn't a lazy, third act pay check for Ford; no, this is Harrison the legendary actor, turning in as good a performance as anything he's ever done, with the added benefit of playing one of his most loved characters. 

4. mother!

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When I saw Mother!, I was in a state of shock. Having never seen an Aronofsky film, I wasn't sure what to expect other than something a bit scary. What I and the rest of the world got was a terrifying, incredibly symbolic look into the mind and relationships of director Darren Aronofsky. 

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Aronofsky's then partner, in a film filled with unexplainable occurrences, chilling visuals, and one h*ck of an ending. People left the theater during the third act of the film, if that gives any clue. You can check out my review of the film for more intricacies, but long story short, this was Aronofsky's most personal film yet, and we will never see another like it. 

3. The Florida Project

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Sean Baker was the most interesting director of 2017 for having created a second feature that was at once touching, depressing, and wildly innovative. A film about poverty stricken people in Florida, this film may contain the most accurate child performances in any movie, led by the irresistible Brooklynn Prince and her small group of friends. The film is a stream of consciousness painting of life for lower class people in Florida today, the way a child would interpret it. Sean Baker directs the several child actors brilliantly, crafting a feeling of authenticity that is never broken. The film's unexpected jewel is Willem Dafoe, who makes a triumphant return to great acting in The Florida Project. His character is stern, intimidating, and soft; willing to do anything to help those he cares for. This is the best Dafoe we've seen in long while, and one of the most visually creative films of the year, along with an ending that can only be described as picture-perfect. 

2. Lady Bird

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Lady Bird is a feat, seemingly unimaginable, for a first time director. Not only is it impeccably directed and edited, but it never misses a beat in writing. Lady Bird is one of the few nearly perfect films I've seen in my life.

Greta Gerwig (a person I very much admire) made her directorial debut in 2017 with Lady Bird, starring the beautiful Saoirse Ronan. While Gerwig has made it clear in interviews that she was not like Lady Bird in high school, she has also acknowledged her similarities. This makes Lady Bird a very personal film to watch, a major factor in deciding the quality of a picture for me. Even if the lines were not as great as they were, it would still be entertaining to watch a film that is coming directly from a person who's soul is as interesting as Gerwig's.  

Lady Bird rests on the performance of Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, who knocks it out of the park. This is not the Saoirse we last saw in 2015's Brooklyn; rather, this is a teenage Saoirse. She is someone who is resting on the precipice of the rest of her life, and has no idea what to do. For this reason, the film resonated with many high school and college students like myself, who live with the same emotions Lady Bird deals with. A script that covers so many emotional bases and writes characters so cleverly is clearly the reason this film succeeds. Here's to whatever Greta does next. 

1. Call Me By Your Name

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Before anything, the music in this film. Whoa. Please please please give Sufjan Stevens more opportunities to write songs for movies, Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon both need to get nominated for best original song.

That said, let's talk about the movie.

Call Me By Your Name is my pick for best film of 2017. Much has been said of this film over the last few months, most notably the ways in which it subverts traditional romantic tropes to tell a story that is at once incredibly sexy, as well as authentic. Stars Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet describe the film as a love story between two people that starts at the beginning, and follows to its very end. This is not a new story for films, with plenty of homosexual romance pictures being released in the last 10 years, many to critical acclaim. What sets Call Me By Your Name apart is, undoubtedly, its performances. Timothée's small role in 2017's Lady Bird gave a small taste of his acting chops, yet limited him to a mostly comedic character with  no development to speak of. In this film, Chalamet takes center stage, a major career step and risk for such a young and new actor. Luckily, he is paired with many excellent supporting actors, including Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays his father. Stuhlbarg is given the most screen time aside from the two main characters, and is consistently excellent and believable, despite the nature of many of his lines and his character. Armie Hammer is the other half of the equation, and gives his first great performance as Oliver, the 20 something student who comes to live with Elio (Timothée's character) and his family over the summer. He plays Oliver as an unreadable man, a romantic puzzle for Elio to solve. Their chemistry together sells the film, as they take the relationship through its many highs and lows, always with amazing skill and believability. 

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The second crucial aspect of Call Me By Your Name is its source material. The script, written by James Ivory, is deceptive in its simplicity. Scenes that would appear sparse on paper are often the most enjoyable, with much of the feeling coming from the scenarios Elio and Oliver experience together. Characters are not written to judge Elio and Oliver, wisely sidestepping the major trope in homosexual romance films that what is happening is wrong, or that there must be something that gets in the way of the characters's relationship. This is nonexistent in Call Me By Your Name. While it is certainly an idealized romance, there is never a moment when the two are called out for their love, or forced to be people they are not to create drama.

Despite the intense subject matter, this is a very relaxing film; one that lulls you into its world of romance, Italian food, and the 80s. All this is directed with impeccable care from director Luca Guadagnino, giving the film a French New Wave flavor that is missing from many movies today.

Call Me By Your Name is 2017's greatest artistic achievement for a myriad of reasons, and will likely be remembered for years to come as one of the best films of the decade. 

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Cole ClarkComment