My Favorite Movies of 2017

My friend John Gilpatrick was recently asking me about my favorite movies of last year. Thankfully, I had given it some thought. And I’ve caught a few contenders in the past few weeks.

So here goes:

1. Shape of Water. “Lyrical” is the best word I can use for director Guillermo del Torro’s creation. This film captivated me with its magic-realism ethos and faithful-to-the-‘50s frame. Throughout it all, you could feel del Torro’s assured hand. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon were great, so was Richard Jenkins. And it’s cool they found a use for that old wetsuit from Creature from the Black Lagoon.

2. Lady Bird. From first scene till the end—which had my wife and a friend sniffling in the dark—this movie walked a fine line with humor and grace. Saoirse Ronan was so winning, and Laurie Metcalf so channeled a mom that I could understand and appreciate, if not always endorse. I kept waiting for the spell to break, and it never did.

3. Phantom Thread. Daniel Day Lewis was mesmerizing, but Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville were unflinching in taking up the challenge of acting opposite him. Paul Thomas Anderson took care of all the details—the music is gorgeous—and maintained this cool remove that managed to hold my attention. Still not sure what exactly the “Phantom Thread” of the title was—we discussed over drinks with friends afterward—but it was very, very good.

4. Get Out. I have read a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates over the past two years, so the idea that white people put black people’s bodies to use as they see fit isn’t foreign, and yet Jordan Peele’s film lands like a gut punch on  my white male privilege. Daniel Kaluuya and Catherine Keener were very good, and Lil Rev Howery was funny, brave, and gave me a new faith in the TSA. I saw this movie recently and it’s been haunting me a bit, like it should in 2018, I think.

5. The Post. Yeah, it is the movie we need right now, and yeah, it had Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. But I liked Bob Odenkirk’s Bob Bagdikian the best. And maybe it’s because I knew how it ends, I didn’t find all the tension all that tense. Lastly, I had to fight the urge to conflate the Pentagon Papers with Watergate. Yeah, I know they’re related only by time and place. Anyway, put it all together and I liked it, but didn’t love it.


6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film, written and directed by Martin McDonough, was a lot to sort through. Frances McDormand was fearless and great. Woody Harrelson was sympathetic. Sam Rockwell was scary and apparently redeemable. But all in all, I just didn’t believe in much anything the movie did or said. It seemed to use the characters it created as tropes for dark jokes, lessons learned too late, or bad consequences, and didn’t seem to care a whole lot for the people hurt or the audience having to watch it. It’s worth a watch, but a day after making it through this dark tale, its redemptions (and the presence of Peter Dinklage) rang false.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It starts fast and ends fast, but the interminable chase in the middle was hard to watch—and even the action that occurs matters little if anything to the plot. Daisy Ridley is pretty bad-ass, and Adam Driver does well as Kylo Ren, but by the end I wasn’t sad to see Mark Hamill go and Carrie Fisher’s real-life passing (and Disney’s insistence it will not digitally re-create her for Episode IX) means we can hand off the franchise to the young’uns. I think that’s for the better. Now a movie that didn’t trip over itself to track back to earlier Star Wars canon would be most welcome of all.

8. Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman has fun playing Churchill, but at this point, who hasn’t or wouldn’t? Sitting through the credits, I ended up fantasizing other actors taking their shot at Winston—Liam Neeson, who hunts Hitler across three continents after he makes a menacing gesture at Churchill’s daughter, before gruesomely killing him with his own hands, for instance. Or Dame Judy Dench, casting cold, blustery shade. The movie was fine, Oldman was terrific, and it took me a while to figure out that Churchill’s nemesis (Stephen Dillane) was indeed Stannis Baratheon in “Game of Thrones.”

9. Loving Vincent. A really creative, animated approach to learning more about Van Gogh and his death. Hard to believe he died without ever selling a painting. That has hung with me more than the who-did-it plotline.

10. Molly’s Game. Mostly her because my son the casino player development exec loved it, but it was also a sexy, pretty-fun watch (if long). And props to Jessica Chastain, who manages to chew through giant piles of Aaron Sorkin dialogue without any signs of indigestion.

I didn’t see Dunkirk, The Big Sick or Call Me By Your Name. I doubt either would have cracked my Top 10, but Call Me stood a better chance.

Worst of 2017. DetroitThis interminable movie from Kathryn Bigalow was so earnest in its rightful, righteous wrath against members of the Detroit police for a truly horrible event during the riots of the ’60s that it completely loses its storytelling bearings. At the end, it does one of those what-happened-to-the-principals montages and I realized those characters were supposed to be the center of the film—except they weren’t, because Bigalow got so caught up in the horrible event that she did more development of the monsters and less of the supposed main characters. It was so hard to watch that my wife got up and left to do some shopping at Target, and I would have joined her except we were there with a friend who wasn’t about to leave, and it would have been rude to leave her there alone. So this movie wins my Stockholm Syndrome Award for 2017.


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