Chip Chandler's Top 10 films of 2017
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Finding escape at the movies proved tricky in 2017. Between real-world worries, political chaos and the unmasking of countless Hollywood predators hiding in plain sight, simply buying a ticket could become a fraught choice.
Fortunately, filmmakers had a stellar year. If all troubles couldn’t be dismissed for the entire two-hour runtime, at least we had some delightful art to occupy us — deeply personal stories, new takes on traditional blockbusters, wholly new works of jaw-dropping imagination. And escape wasn't always the point, nor should it be. We're already beginning to see the ways in which the unrest of 2016 and 2017 has begun to impact films directly; expect more in months to come.
Now, most critics have already released their Top 10 lists for the year, and normally, I would have by this time, as well.
But when I saw that Amarillo would be getting a few of the most-raved-about films of 2017 in the opening weeks of 2018, I figured I could wait a bit. There are still a few notable films I haven’t been able to see yet — and, alas, we still don’t have expected opening dates for The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread or I, Tonya — but for real, I had a hard enough time narrowing this down to 10 films anyway (and I actually didn't; oops). And if I’m going to do a list, I should definitely do one before Oscar nominations are announced next week. I’ll be writing plenty more about these films soon enough anyway.
So, without further throat-clearing, here’s my list of the Top 10 (-plus) films of 2017. Please tweet me or comment on Facebook with your favorite films. I love the conversation, and I love discovering films that I somehow missed.
"Call Me by Your Name" trailer
1) Call Me By Your Name: This film, a heartfelt and lush romance between a young man and a slightly older student of his father's, has yet to open in Amarillo (it's scheduled to open Friday, but I got a review screener), and I cannot wait to hear how audiences here react to it. Timothée Chalamet has a breakout performance as the young Elio, and Armie Hammer has never been better as Oliver. Director Luca Guadagnino and his cast (which also includes a standout turn by Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio's father) do transcendent, nuanced work, from the luxurient opening to the long, heartbreaking final shot. (Look for my review later this week.)
"Lady Bird" trailer
2) Lady Bird: Warm, affectionate and hilarious, this coming-of-age comedy by writer/director Greta Gerwig is precisely calibrated and wonderfully open hearted. Saoirse Ronan is magnificent as the title character, a Catholic school senior who alternately loves and resents her family and her hometown, and Laurie Metcalf is a wonder as her mother. Gerwig modeled the film at least somewhat after her own life in the early 2000s in southern California, but it feels absolutely universal. (Click here for my original review.)
"The Florida Project" trailer
3) The Florida Project: Director Sean Baker specializes in going inside overlooked communities (as with 2015's Tangerine, a comedy about trans sex workers in Los Angeles), but The Florida Project feels almost more like a documentary than a feature film. Here, he follows the invisible homeless of Orlando, specifically mother Halley and daughter Moonee (newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince), who live week-to-week in a sketchy tourist-trap hotel in the shadow of Walt Disney World. We observe their daily life intimately and, like hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), are given the chance to do so critically but not judgmentally. It's a wonderful achievement. (Click here for my original review.)
"Get Out" trailer
4) Get Out: When director Jordan Peele was asked, after the Golden Globes nominated this film as a comedy, how he would classify this satire / horror film, he brilliantly answered that it's a documentary. Some sci-fi elements aside, he's not wrong. This is the most insightful film about the particulars of systemic racism, especially that perpetrated by supposedly well-meaning white liberals, that I've ever seen — and it's relentlessly enjoyable, to boot. Daniel Kaluuya is absolutely dead-on as the Everyman at the center of the madness, and Allison Williams' assured, modulated performance as his girlfriend is even better the second time you watch it. (Click here for my original review.)
"The Big Sick" trailer
5) The Big Sick: Romantic comedies have been in a rut for so long that it's a treat when one gets it right — and rarely are they so right as this film, based on the real life story of co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Shifting the focus to a Pakistani man (Nanjiani as himself) falling in love with an American woman (played by Zoe Kazan) gives the film an immediate freshness, but Nanjiani and Gordon's script is so lived-in and charmingly detailed that the film just bursts to life. Add Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents, and you just have magic. (Click here for my original review.)
6) Dunkirk: The British army's retreat at Dunkirk during World War II — which insured that it had enough soldiers remaining to continue the fight against the Nazis — was a seminal moment in England's history, and in 2017, we saw three films about it: this one by Christopher Nolan; Joe Wright's Darkest Hour, which focuses its attention on Winston Churchill (spectacularly played by Gary Oldman); and Their Finest, a charmer about a British movie company's lionization of the event. Nolan's is the most sensationally successful of the three, largely because it doesn't play to expectations. Unfolding in three separate, overlapping chronologies, which tie together in a jolt at the end, the film brings us into the minds of the soldiers, but never in a mawkish, sentimental manner. It's Nolan's best. (Click here for my original review.)
"Baby Driver" trailer
7) Baby Driver: Few films last year were as much of a burst of pure, adrenalized joy as this soaring effort from Edgar Wright about a preternaturally talented young driver (Ansel Elgort) who's co-opted into becoming a wheelman for a string of high-stakes robberies. (How much fun is it? Even Kevin Spacey's presence isn't too much of a downer in a rewatch after the allegations about his behavior went public — if anything, it's even more appropriately creepy.) The film almost never stops, and it's precisely edited to a killer soundtrack — altogether thrilling. (Click here for my original review.)
"The Post" trailer
8) The Post: Director Steven Spielberg issues a clarion call on the vital role of the free press in a democratic society in this powerhouse film, rushed into production shortly after President Trump's inauguration and his relentless attacks on reporters. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, who somehow had never acted together, co-star as Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee — the new, inexperienced publisher and her hand-picked editor-in-chief of The Washington Post who have come to power just as the Post is facing a defining moment: whether to publish the so-called Pentagon Papers, studies that showed the levels of governmental deception that went into continuing the Vietnam War. It's a heart-in-your-throat thrill ride, even though the ending is widely known (especially to those who also watched Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War last year). (Look for my review later this week.)
"Wonder Woman" trailer
9) Wonder Woman: My expectations were low for this film, which somehow is the first major feature film centered on a female superhero. Not because of how I feel about the heroine — actually, Wonder Woman is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters — but because I had absolutely no faith in a DC film after Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. But director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot (with a script by Allen Heinberg) understand Diana of Themyscira so well and are not only able to parse the essential contradiction of her character — the ultimate warrior who's devoted to the cause of peace — but to make a film about that conflict absolutely sing. Few moments in 2017 film were as inspiring as seeing Diana stand her ground on the battlefield. (Click here for my original review.)
10) Colossal / Okja / mother!: I couldn't pick between these sensationally idiosyncratic films, so I had to combine them into one ranking. Colossal, which briefly played here in June, somehow marries an indie relationship drama with a monster movie, giving Anne Hathaway one of her best roles in the process. Okja, which premiered on Netflix, is an eye-poppingly weird sci-fi parable about a gentle creature bred to be a super-food and the young Korean girl who tries desperately to save it from Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal (giving truly, delightfully unhinged performances). And mother!, which also briefly screened here in September, is one of the most provocative, audacious major releases I've ever seen. These three give me hope that, as franchises and blockbusters continue to eat up money and actors and screens, there are still plenty of fiercely independent filmmakers out there stretching their capabilities and their art. (Click here for my Colossal review and here for my mother! review.)
Honorable mention (in alphabetical order; click title for my original review, when available): Atomic Blonde, Beatriz at Dinner, Brigsby Bear, Coco, Detroit, The Disaster Artist, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Girls Trip, A Ghost Story, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Logan, Logan Lucky, Marjorie Prime, Mudbound, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and War for the Planet of the Apes.