Craig’s Top Ten of 2017
There are many films from 2017 I enjoyed and would like to spotlight. However, the mathematical restraints of a “Top Ten List” have limited me to only ten films. Here are some 2017 films I quite liked but didn’t make my Top Ten: Baby Driver, Call Me By Your Name, Colossal, The Disaster Artist, Dunkirk, Girls Trip, A Ghost Story, The Lego Batman Movie, Logan Lucky, Mother!, Mudbound, The Shape of Water, and Wonder Woman.
And here are my top ten films of 2017:
It should come as no surprise to me that I liked Okja as much as I did. I’m a Read-One-Book-About-Factory-Farming-And-Called-It-Quits variety vegetarian and am a sucker for A-Boy-And-His-Dog stories (or in this case A-Girl-And-Her-Super-Pig). Joon-ho Bong’s Okja takes the emotional connection between children and their pets and blows it up into a science-fiction allegory about the horrors of factory farming and the routine exploitation of animals, setting the stage for spectacular action set-pieces and delightfully deranged performances. Like Bong’s 2006 creature-feature The Host, Okja takes a large-scale concept—replete with evil corporations, globe-hopping exploits, and thrilling car chases—and makes it a personal story of friendship and tenderness. Okja isn’t a perfect film, but it’s one with enough charm and gusto that I couldn’t help but love it. Also, Okja is the cutest movie creature since Gizmo and that should count for something.
- It Comes at Night
A command of tone and atmosphere can drive a horror film with little exposition or narrative force. It Comes at Night, Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore effort following 2015’s Krisha, has a scant narrative and is propelled almost entirely by atmosphere. Shultz—with the help of a droning, unsettling score from Brian McOmber—creates an insulated world where every shadow, noise, voice, and grunt instills paranoia and uneasiness. Joel Edgerton, playing the patriarch of a family hiding from the outside world and a virus that has decimated humanity, uses his menacing, commanding screen presence (often misused, i.e. The Great Gatsby or The Gift) to act as Virgil, leading the viewer into a hell-scape of paranoia, confusion, and panic.
- The Post
Movies about journalism tend to be about the process of uncovering a story, converting hours, days, and weeks of dutiful research into thrilling films of discovery and justice. But Steven Spielberg’s The Post—concerning the infamous publication of the classified Vietnam War documents known as the Pentagon Papers—is more focused on the decision and ramifications of whether or not to expose a far-reaching government conspiracy. In films like Spotlight or All the President’s Men, the tension comes as the characters start moving the pieces into place but the characters in The Post see the big story (almost literally) arrive on their doorstep. Instead of a story about the slow unmasking of an institutionalized cover-up, The Post is a timely, essential mediation on ethics and the role of journalism and free speech in a modern democracy.
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos has a knack for making comedies that don’t register as such until you’re basking in the film’s afterglow. His films greet absurdity, malice, and ugliness with committed mundanity and simplicity. The Killing of a Sacred Deer—which sees Colin Farrell assume the role of a father-figure to a budding psychopath with an unspecified metaphysical ability or connection—is a comedy less obvious than Lanthimos’ previous film The Lobster but every bit as biting and assured. Farrell, as well as Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan, give measured, serene performances that gradually build-up Lanthimos’ surreal, comedic world. If you listen to a comedy album by Steven Wright, you’ll frequently hear audiences laughing on a delay, unable to process the joke before first processing Wright’s infamous blunt, dry delivery. The Killing of a Sacred Deer requires similar processing, it may take a minute to recognize the comedy through the presentation, but Lanthimos will wait up for you.
- Good Time
The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time is a crime saga that subverts the tropes of traditional crime/heist pictures. Robert Pattinson’s Connie and his mentally challenged brother Nick (played by co-director Benny Safdie) aren’t particularly adept criminals (a la Ocean’s 11, Heat). And they aren’t particularly cool or hip (Le Samourai, Bonnie and Clyde). The Safdie’s squalid odyssey focuses on how crime ripples outwards and tends to affect the most vulnerable people in society. The film touches on everything from white privilege, the crippled prison system, and racial appropriation, while maintaining a manic energy and a neon-grime version of New York City (courtesy of cinematographer Sean Price Williams, whose vision of a dingy crime sojourn recalls Harmony Korine’s 2012 film Spring Breakers) that feels more and more dangerous with each passing minute.
- The Big Sick
My wife and I are two white people from North Florida with a love story remarkably different than that of The Big Sick writer Emily V. Gordon and her husband, co-writer/star Kumail Nanjiani. We grew up mere miles apart and met each other in high school. Yet The Big Sick feels like such a relatable love story, not because the specifics of Gordon and Nanjiani’s story are so similar to ours but because they’re so different. By addressing the specifics of their romance—the cultural differences, Gordon’s titular illness—The Big Sick becomes a universal story, one that you may not be able to relate to in macro, but the microscopic interactions, the jokes, the fights, the love, and the anger, are instantly recognizable.
- Lady Bird
Too often, teen dramas are presented with saccharine sentimentality or as a cynical sexcapade, neutered of any human, teenage experience. But Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird presents adolescence without pretense and uncovers an earnest semblance of teenage love, lust, anger, resentment, and hopefulness. Boasting a number of terrific performances (much has already been made of Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe, but Tracey Letts, Lucas Hedges, and Beanie Feldstein are all doing wonderful work) that turn familiar archetypes into distinct characters. I often find it hard to reflect on myself as a teenager without being smacked with a bevy of embarrassing memories of a version of me in the beta testing phase, an unfinished version of the me of today that is still working all of the bugs out. But Lady Bird contextualizes the experience of being a teenager and makes it easier to connect who I am today with the weird, gangly kid in the photos at my parent’s house.
- Get Out
Rare is the film that feels like something you’ve never seen before but burrows itself so deep in your consciousness it feels like it’s been there for years. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a paradox, both timeless and contemporary, a revelatory allegory from a freshman director who directs with the confidence of a Hollywood stalwart. Peele’s previous life as a sketch-comedy savant—wherein he produced fully-realized, cutting satire in concise five minute bursts—led to one of the year’s leanest and best screenplays, one that conveys character and intent with a single word (the use of the word “thang” by Bradley Whitford in his introductory scene tells the audience everything they need to know about this seemingly progressive—though out-of-touch and racially insulated—lame dad). The term “social commentary” often feels too minor for works that address such colossal, important, and complex issues as race relations in America and the nuances of being a black man in white-dominated spaces. Peele’s Get Out isn’t a commentary, it’s a confrontation, one that challenges everyone to re-examine the institutions that allow racism and appropriation to flourish in what has repeatedly been said to be a “post-racial” America.
- Phantom Thread
Phantom Thread feels like the film Paul Thomas Anderson has been building towards. Not to imply his previous films are lesser efforts, but Anderson is a fastidious, cinematic idealist, and The Phantom Thread seems to be the first of his films to address the fine line between artistic perfection and sociopathy. Much has been made of Daniel Day-Lewis’ (supposedly) final performance as fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock but the film’s universe revolves around Vicky Krieps’ Alma, the waitress and Reynolds’ new muse, who challenges his ego and masculinity. Day-Lewis’ most celebrated works tend to feature a supporting performance just as impactful. Brenda Fricker stands across from Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and delivers a devastating performance. In There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis’ maniacal Daniel Plainview comes into sharper focus thanks to the shaky bravado of Paul Dano playing his foil. And in Phantom Thread, Krieps plays opposite Day-Lewis with power and confidence, presenting complexity and intrigue with the slightest turn of the head. Reynolds Woodcock is a man with a controlled madness and uncontrollable genius, facets of his personality that have worked in harmony for his entire life and career until confronted by a woman beyond his realm of authority who challenges the ideas of fragile masculinity, disciplined lunacy, and artistic exceptionalism.
- The Florida Project
The Florida Project is a display of poverty, empathy, compassion, love, and desire that never forgets that behind each forgotten child or marginalized family is a soulful being awash with joy and sadness. Brooklynn Prince—a seven year-old actress who gives one of the year’s most engrossing and actualized performances—anchors the film as the precocious Moonee, a child filled with wonder and curiosity imprisoned by the circumstances of her mother’s (played by the equally brilliant Bria Vinaite) poverty and a society that has overlooked them both. Like director Sean Baker’s 2015 film Tangerine, The Florida Project frames itself around a loose narrative and lets the characters’ existence navigate the plot. Shot by Alexis Zabe, The Florida Project juxtaposes its depiction of extreme poverty with the cotton candy colored facade that oozes from the Disney Orlando properties and congeals in the surrounding areas. Baker and Zabe create a kaleidoscopic world that compliments Moonee’s precocious mirage of childhood wonder and optimism that extends beyond her present condition. As beautiful as the film is, the compassion at its core is what makes The Florida Project such a stunning work. There’s another version of The Florida Project, one that prioritizes how the audience should feel over how the characters do feel, a version that attempts to fix Moonee and her mother rather than allow them to be broken and still worthy of love and understanding. It is easy to see where a filmmaker without Baker’s grace and empathy could have created a version like that. I’m thankful that in a year dominated by ugliness and cynicism, we got Baker’s vision of humanity and benevolence instead.