Here’s a look at the Top 10 Films of 2017 from CineSnob.net film critics Jerrod Kingery, Cody Villafana and Kiko Martinez:
10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The more I sit with the eighth chapter of the Skywalker saga, the more I appreciate the deconstruction writer/director Rian Johnson brought to the Star Wars saga–a film series I had written off as safe and predictable since Disney bought Lucasfilm and brought it back to life with J.J. Abrams, a fine director who nevertheless remains a better mimic than a storyteller. What Johnson did to subvert expectations has caused a million fanboy tears to be shed, but it was just what the franchise needed–even though the next two Star Wars movies, a troubled Han Solo prequel and another Abrams-directed film, might undo all that goodwill. Either way, “The Last Jedi” was a refreshing change of pace, lumps and all.
9. Get Out
Director Jordan Peele’s wickedly funny horror/thriller steeped in racial tension was one of the biggest surprises of the year, filled with clever details and some of the darkest yet brilliant jokes put to film in a while. Hopefully this is only the beginning for Peele as a director, already on his way to becoming a solid genre-defying storyteller.
8. Wonder Woman
While “Justice League” was already too far gone to be properly salvaged, this summer’s “Wonder Woman” scored the beleaguered DC Extended Universe film series a rare critical and box office win. While no one would mistake Gal Gadot for a great actress, she commands the screen as Diana, and director Patty Jenkins doesn’t pull any punches–Wonder Woman is THE hero of the film, and doesn’t need any help from any men (though Chris Pine is very good here as well).
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A dark movie about a dark subject that daringly paints its protagonist, the mother of a teen (Frances McDormand) raped and murdered who is looking for answers after the police have yet to make an arrest, as unreasonably angry and borderline unsympathetic nearly immediately. Writer/director Martin McDonagh peppers the film with more surprisingly complex and broken people, from Woody Harrelson’s good-hearted yet tragic police chief and Sam Rockwell’s bigoted, violent mama’s boy cop. “Three Billboards,” like too many Americans, wears its rage on its sleeve.
6. Molly’s Game
Trashy and Sorkin-y, “Molly’s Game” delivers the goods the same way “The Social Network” did 7 years ago: through the overly-talkative mouths of too-smart characters that have the perfect quippy response to every situation to go along with having apparently memorized “The Crucible.” Still, it works like gangbusters, and accomplishes something amazing that a few movies and a dozen TV shows have tried and failed at–making Texas Hold ‘Em poker seem interesting and thrilling.
5. Lady Bird
A small movie about a big deal, adolescence. Well, a big deal to the person experiencing it anyway. Saorise Ronan embodies an early-2000s teenager with ease, and Laurie Metcalf has never been better as her put-upon mother. The love-hate relationship they share is brutally honest, and you can’t help but wonder how those two would regard one another today, 15 years later.
Pixar has built its fame and fortune by knowing how to perfectly manipulate the heartstrings of both kids and adults in most of their animated movies, “Cars” and its sequels not included. In the last decade or so, though, the emotional machinations have been somewhat nakedly obvious (see: Bing Bong from “Inside Out” and that adorable baby Dory from “Finding Dory”). “Coco” avoids any such traps, happily, delivering a colorful, fun, and heartfelt story about remembering our loved ones that nonetheless turns on the waterworks in the last act, and earns every tear it jerks from you.
Simply put, one of the best comic book movies of all time. After more than a decade and a half playing the career-making Wolverine/Logan, Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold send the character off in a brutal, emotional, and intimate comic book film that doesn’t need to involve saving the world. And, if there were any justice, Patrick Stewart would earn a best supporting actor nomination for his final turn as a dementia-addled, deteriorating Professor Charles Xavier.
2. The Florida Project
A bleak look at the lives of people living on the outskirts of a manufactured paradise, Walt Disney World, and the way children are able to find a certain kind of magic even as the adults are falling apart. Marked by wonderful performances from the child actors and veteran Willem Defoe, “The Florida Project” does the unthinkable: makes you feel empathy for people making terrible life choices while wondering if you’re overlooking the very same thing happening in your own backyard.
1. The Disaster Artist
As a fan of bad cinema’s crown jewel “The Room,” getting to see the story told in “The Disaster Artist” on screen is like coming to the end of a long journey. James Franco’s career-best turn as Tommy Wiseau is hauntingly good, turning a guy who can come across as a standoff-ish weirdo at first glance (I’ve interviewed him in person, and this is an accurate first impression) into a sympathetic guy just looking for friendship and acceptance. Littered with a who’s who of comic ringers, “The Disaster Artist” is simply the most fun I’ve had seeing a movie in years.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: this was a really disappointing year in film. It’s a sentence I should maybe retire, considering as each year ends, I find myself wishing that film was as good as it was the year before. But alas, every year needs a top 10, so strap in cause this is a weird one.
10. Marjorie Prime
I love intimate sci-fi films, and even though Marjorie Prime is about the least amount of sci-fi in the genre, I’m still going to claim it. It’s a high brow concept told through 99% dialogue in a well-constructed three act structure, which is fitting considering its adapted from a play. The dialogue is very well-written, but the highlights of Marjorie Prime lie in its performances, especially from Lois Smith and Tim Robbins.
A documentary sighting! Step is essentially a slightly lesser version of a documentary film that was high up on my list a few years ago, “Undefeated.” It takes stories of an all girls school who is dead set on all of its attendees attending college, the step dancing team that they are a part of and complicated family dynamics all while deftly weaving in the context of socioeconomic and political undertones. Highly moving and powerful stuff.
As the best Pixar film since “Toy Story 3,” “Coco” is unapologetically Latino and shows a side of culture not seen in film nearly enough. It wears its love of music on its sleeve, and has plenty of family-based emotional pull. Its themes of honoring the dead might seem heavy, but it has the perfect amount of light touch and sweet comedy to make the film joyous, despite its main themes.
7. The Work
As the second documentary to make the list, “The Work” documents a multi-day program of regular citizens looking for some direction in their life joining up with inmates at maximum security Folsom Prison for group therapy sessions. “The Work” features some of the most raw, emotionally powerful, and human material of any film this year, with nearly every scene containing a flood of emotional breakthroughs and the surprising juxtaposition of immense support and love coming from men in prison for murder. Do not miss this one.
6. The Big Sick
As a film that wasn’t anywhere close to the top 10 after first watch, “The Big Sick” made a big climb with a couple of subsequent watches. The script, by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and wife/writing partner Emily V. Gordon manages to perfectly balance serious dramatic heft, hilarious comedy, and cultural clashing and complexities while never losing sight of its tone. Nanjiani is great in a performance that proves that he can hold his own as the lead in any film, but the real standout here is Ray Romano.
5. Molly’s Game
Writer Aaron Sorkin is often a mixed bag for me. While he is unquestionably fantastic at quick witted, sharp dialogue, pretentiousness can often get in the way. “Molly’s Game” is the perfect example of Sorkin at his best, with a really great script that allows for its characters to show their strength without getting bogged down with trying to seem like the smartest person in the room. It’s got great performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, but watch it for its fascinating true to life story and one of the best screenplays of the year.
Though it may lack a big emotional pull, Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is hands down the best-directed and most well made film of the year. It’s a visual spectacle, gloriously shot and pieced together, and its non-linear structure creates tension that is held throughout the film. It feels like even more growth from an already talented director, who manages to completely contain some of his self-indulgent qualities. Watch this one on the biggest screen and with the loudest sound system possible.
3. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Featuring the best script of 2017, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” manages to strike the perfect balance between drama and comedy. It’s screenplay is darkly hilarious and sharp, and elevated by its fantastic performances, none better than Frances McDormand who gives the best acting performance of the year. The subject matter is heavy, and it may have just a little bit too much going on in the narrative, but the its drawbacks are greatly outweighed by its successes.
2. The Florida Project
Visceral and often times heartbreaking, “The Florida Project” is slice-of-life look into poverty that feels authentic, without being exploitive. Films anchored by children are always a mixed bag, but newcomer Brooklynn Prince and her rag-tag group of friends are really solid and play their roles perfectly. It toys with a lot of themes, but none more fascinating than the idea of resilient, almost oblivious child-like resiliency in the wake of dire circumstances. It isn’t always an easy watch, but “The Florida Project” feels like perhaps the most essential film of the year.
I’m just as surprised at this one as anyone else. As the earliest release of the year on this list, no other film was able to top the farewell to one of the most iconic comic book characters in cinematic history, “Logan.” For a superhero movie, the film feels just as grounded as anything else this year, touching themes of regret and mortality in mature ways. Hugh Jackman and especially Patrick Stewart give career best performances, and the film reinforces the point that there is a massive market for dark, adult comic-book fare. But beyond just being the best comic-book movie ever made (which it is), it transcends the genre entirely as an unapologetically dark, brutal, and pure display of fantastic filmmaking.
Honorable Mentions: Brigsby Bear, Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I Tonya, Patti CakeS, The Shape of Water
After all the blood, sweat and tears (thank Mama Coco for the latter) I experienced screening 222 movies this year, here is a look at my favorites. This article was updated on 1/11/18 to include Phantom Thread, which the studio did not screen before deadline.
10. Good Time (dirs. Ben and Josh Safdie)
An unconventional crime thriller that feels like it was plucked straight from the 1980s, filmmaking duo the Safdie brothers pump the adrenaline up to full capacity as we watch small-time criminal Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) desperately try to get his mentally disabled brother Nick (Ben Safdie) out of prison before something bad happens to him. Set up almost like a modern-day version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men — if all the characters in the classic novel were tripping on acid — the Safdies know exactly what they are going for when it comes to style and tone and succeed enough to anticipate what’s next for them.
9. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
Dark comedy, sharp social satire and mainstream horror elements merge into the strange and smartly written first feature by filmmaker Jordan Peele, who drives his critique of cultural appropriation into a clever, anti-racism statement and offers a disturbing and nightmarish exploration of current race relations in America. Things get unnerving for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, black college student, when his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), brings him home to meet her seemingly normal family. Call it “Guess Who’s Coming to Say WTF at Dinner.”
8. War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves)
If 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” wasn’t evidence enough that director/writer Matt Reeves had produced something exceptional, this sequel should have you campaigning for him to get his hands on every action tentpole project for the foreseeable future. Once again, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as ape leader Caesar is stunning as he leads the charge against the humans who are still hell-bent on destroying them, this time with vengeance as his main motivation. Visually gratifying and epic in scope, it’s a memorable conclusion to a brilliant, reimagined trilogy.
7. Logan (dir. James Mangold)
While there were a handful of well-made superhero movies this year that were, well, just plain ol’ fun — “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — the best comic-book-inspired offering this year — and maybe ever — was the weighty, somber, ultra-violent final chapter in the X-Men’s Wolverine saga (at least with actor Hugh Jackman wielding the retractable claws). Jackman says goodbye to the role that made him a star by delivering depth and grit the character has never displayed before. As Charles Xavier (Professor X), actor Patrick Stewart, too, expands on his longtime mutant role with vulnerability, while newcomer Dafne Keen blazes across the screen with visceral energy.
6. The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg)
A fascinating newspaper drama set in the early 1970s during the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, documents that proved the U.S. government was lying to the American public and Congress about the Vietnam War for years, director Steven Spielberg makes the newspaper industry come to life in a film that is necessary viewing for anyone concerned about how certain First Amendment rights seem to be viewed as optional by the current administration. Aside from its timeliness, Spielberg’s opus on the Freedom of the Press is also an effective narrative on female empowerment anchored by a contemplative performance by living legend Meryl Streep. Who else can make a scene where a decision has to be made over the telephone so transfixing?
5. Molly’s Game (dir. Aaron Sorkin)
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) makes his directorial debut from a script he adapted from the memoir of real-life main character Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a high-stakes, underground “poker princess,” and her experiences running poker games for the world’s elite before she was busted by the FBI. Much like his other cinematic work, Sorkin’s sometimes-too-perfect dialogue springs from the page and from the mouths of his characters with spitfire sharpness, intellect, and wit. It’s especially true for Chastain who gives her best performance since 2015’s under-appreciated “A Most Violent Year.” Narration throughout an entire film can be a tough sell, but with Sorkin’s style, it’s easy to hang on to every word.
4. Coco (dirs. Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina)
Pixar’s take on the traditional Mexican celebration Día de Muertos gives audiences a film that will become the standard-bearer of what a positive Latino experience can look like on the big screen for years to come. The story of Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a young, ambitious musician who crosses over to the Land of the Dead to find his purpose in life, is a beautiful, heartwarming and visually exceptional achievement about the appreciation of family, the acceptance of loss and the aspiration to become what you were born to be. From the vibrant and imaginative papel picado-inspired opening sequence to the extraordinarily moving final act, it’s a cinematic gift to Latinos worldwide and easily the best animated film of the year.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh)
The fusion of blistering drama and dark comedy rises to the levels of Martin McDonaugh’s first feature film, 2008’s “In Bruges.” There’s no denying the intensity brimming from both genres, which injects the picture with a strong dose of anger, especially in Frances McDormand’s main character Mildred, a mother whose outrage incites her to pick a fight with local law enforcement for failing to find the man who raped and murdered her daughter. As Mildred, McDormand carries the film effortlessly through determination and a tinge of ruthlessness, although her supporting cast, which includes Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, are worthy foils who are also more interesting because of their multilayered characterizations. At this point in his career, McDonaugh could become the third Coen brother if he wanted.
2. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
As elegant and stunning as the couture dresses three-time Oscar winner Daniel-Day Lewis’ character designs in the film, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s period piece is a work of art. In what he is calling his final acting performance, Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned and pedantic English dressmaker whose life is upended when he meets a young muse who is far more strong-willed than he anticipated. Anderson expands his exploration on relationship dynamics (he touches on it in “The Master” with Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s characters), to reveal a wickedly humorous newfound romance that is both suffocating and Machiavellian. Watching that play out for 130 glorious minutes with a remarkable score by Johnny Greenwood hovering above it is sensuous and sublime.
1. The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
Compassionately told through the eyes of a child, like in recent films “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the story of 6-year-old Moonee (a breakout performance by Brooklyn Prince) and her irresponsible mother (Bria Vinaite) living in an off-the-highway Orlando motel in the shadows of Disney World, is a captivating observational drama filled with moments of incredible sadness, wide-eyed innocence and pure joy. The insular environment director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) has created for these marginalized characters to live in is extremely convincing and actor Willem Dafoe, who plays the motel’s kindhearted manager, gives the film its authentic core. Knowing the “Happiest Place on Earth” is a destination far from reality, despite its close proximity, makes the narrative all the more emotionally resonant, regardless of how one interprets the film’s final hopeful/heartbreaking moments.
CINESNOB.NET CRITICAL CONSENSUS
- The Florida Project
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- Molly’s Game
- The Disaster Artist
- Phantom Thread
- Lady Bird
- The Big Sick & The Post (tie)