Andrea's Top Movies Of 2017
By Andrea Thompson
It's that time of year again, one where we acknowledge the best of the old as we make way for the new. And 2017 was a year where there actually was quite a bit of progress in movies, with so many gems to choose from. Many of the films below are from or about those groups who normally don't get a chance to be heard, others are fun outings who nevertheless manage to get in quite a bit of food for thought when things aren't blowing up. So here are my top 11 films of 2017, because I can never keep it to 10.
Hugh Jackman truly did save his best Wolverine for last. In his final performance as the beloved character, he was finally allowed to display all the heartbreak and pain inherrent in outliving everyone you love. Wolverine, or rather, Logan, is one of the last mutants in a future where there are no longer any new ones being born. He ekes out a meager existence, caring for an increasingly frail Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and only hopes to live out their remaining days undisturbed. But everything changes with the arrival of a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen), with powers astonishingly similar to his own. And she needs to be escorted to a safe haven where she and other young mutants can live freely and safely. Along with a large amount of violence is a surprisingly smart story about love, loss, and what kind of world we leave as a legacy to the next generation that defies and transcends genre conventions.
10. The Work
Very few movies have left me as lost for words as the documentary “The Work,” which chronicles four very intense days of group therapy. Just how intense? The sessions are in a maximum security prison, where civilians and convicts (many of whom have committed violent crimes) work through their issues. Guards are not allowed to even observe. It mostly follows three (civilian) men, Charles, Chris, and Brian, who have volunteered for the program. They clearly don’t know what they’re getting into any more than we do, since all we’re given is a few sentences of introduction about the program, which is presented as a form of prisoner rehabilitation. But rather than an exploitative doc which glamorizes crime and prison life in America, “The Work” is an emotionally challenging film that forces us to take a look at masculinity, the prison system, and how we expect men to cope with trauma and difficulty, especially when it comes to paternal issues and fatherly rejection.
Plenty of films have tried to get me to rethink my eating habits, but “Okja” is one of the very few to have actually done it. Writer-director Joon-ho Bong has a history of taking deceptively simple topics and digging deeper to bring us stories as humorous as they are insightful. “Okja” could’ve been a very simple tale about a girl trying to save her super-pig from the corporation who created her, with some help from some animal rights activists. Okay, maybe not so simple, since Joon-ho Bong also manages to make familiar stories new again, and do it with truly spectacular characters. “Okja” boasts the likes of Tilda Swinton as an evil CEO, Jake Gyllenhaal as a corporate stooge, and Paul Dano and Lily Collins as activists. Then there’s the super-pig Okja herself, one of the most lovable creations CGI has ever brought us, with enough action to make “Okja” entertaining rather than preachy. Bong also never lets us forget the movie’s inherent darkness. Some characters may get their happy ending, but it’s soon clear that not everyone will.
Harry Dean Stanton (RIP) was certainly a very fortunate man. Not only was he talented enough to have a long, respectable career full of incredible roles, the late great actor got to have a film like this for a swan song. Lucky is the story of a man very much like Stanton who lives in a small, remote southwestern town. He is 90 years old, never married, has no children, and is an atheist. His is a life of quiet, peaceful contentment surround by a quirky, loving, and close-knit community, but he’s forced into a kind of reckoning after a fall. Suddenly he must face the fact that his body is starting to do what it's destined to do, which is break down. Of course, we all know we are fated to die one way or another, but it’s a very different thing when the abyss is staring us full in the face and we have no choice but to stare back. Remarkably, Lucky’s life is not seen as empty due to his lack of marriage, children, and religion, but it means that the usual comforts people reach for at the end are absent. There are no miracles that will provide easy answers, nor is this a story of conversion. So what exactly can he (and us) do? In Lucky (and Stanton’s words), “Smile.” And by the end, it is impossible for us to not do the same.
7. Wonder Woman
Until recently, there was a tradition with female superhero movies. They were not only bad, they tended to be horrifically bad, with flops like Elektra, Barb Wire, and Catwoman. But all that's changed now that “Wonder Woman” not only made a profit, it did justice to one of the oldest, longest-running solo superheroes ever, one whose origins do not lie with a male counterpart. Director Patty Jenkins masterfully brings the film to life, with a spectacularly charismatic peformance by Gal Gadot, who is equal parts strong, vulnerable, idealistic, and heartwarming.
6. Call Me By Your Name
Luca Guadagnino gives us a love story as beautiful as the Italian surroundings it blooms in as Elio and Oliver slowly circle each other, then finally embrace their mutual passion, even if the 80s setting means they aren't able to do it openly. But the film's most triumphant moment is Michael Stuhlbarg's quietly compassionate speech, wherein he expounds on how both love and loss must be embraced at all costs.
5. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig's semi-autobiographical film truly takes on a life of its own as it explores the teenage Christine, who's dubbed herself tLady Bird, as she comes of age in the early 2000s. Saoirse Ronan is an absolute joy as she fumbles her way through adolescence, mostly by clashing with her mother, the equally incredible Laurie Metcalf. Their relationship is the heart of the film, as they both try to understand each other in a way mothers and daughters uniquely do, in ways both tender and devastating.
4. The Florida Project
Director Sean Baker once again demonstrates he is a filmmaker of great compassion and empathy as he follows six-year-old Moonee and her friends during one summer as they roam the poverty-stricken area around the Orlando hotel that is their home. Baker immerses himself completely in their world, giving us a film that is capable of provoking laughter and tears in equal measure. Willem Dafoe also gives a great performance as the hotel's manager, whose gruff exterior hides deep reservoirs of compassion.
3. The Rape of Recy Taylor
In 1944, Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old wife and mother, was walking home from church when a group of young white men abducted and raped her. Afterwards, Taylor not only refused to be silent, she chose to identify her attackers and press charges against them. And the woman who investigated her case and assisted her in her efforts was none other than the legendary Rosa Parks, who would later become an icon after she refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus. The doc not only follows the aftermath of the attack, it also examines the system that allowed it to happen, and how many of the women who who fought for justice before and during the Civil Rights Movement were rarely acknowledged. Now that Taylor has recently died, it is all the more urgent that we do not forget her story.
Dee Rees is a director of rare sensitivity and compassion, and she brings a downright magical combination of love, optimism, and realism to this story of two families, one white and one black, in rural post-war Mississipi. The McAllans own the land that the Jacksons struggle to make a living on and escape from. The McAllans may hardly be among the elite, living just down the road from the Jacksons in a home which is little more than a shack, with no plumbing or electricity, but the film never allows us to forget how much power they have over their neighbors, even in their weakened state. It's especially clear when a young man from each family returns home from the war and they strike up a friendship, which has devastating consequences. It’s not only prejudice and racism that converges in the movie’s horrific climax, but the indifference and cowardice of those more invested in calm waters than their fellow human beings. The film makes a good case for being able to salvage another life and even happiness after such trauma, even as it reminds us that some things will remain damaged beyond repair.
1. Get Out
Writer-director Jordan Peele not only made the best film of 2017, he created a modern masterpiece, a thriller that is also a devastating indictment of our times. When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to meet his white girlfriend's parents on their remote estate, their awkward attempts to befriend him quickly gives way to a more insidious horror than Chris could have imagined. A laugh riot as well as a subversive satire of race relations today, “Get Out” is first and foremost deeply unsettling. It also has one of the best movie endings of all time, one that was almost radically different. But Peele opted for catharsis rather than bleakness.
Honorable mentions: Dunkirk, I, Tonya, Colossal, Girl Unbound, Lady Macbeth, Raw, The Blood Is at the Doorstep, Spider-Man: Homecoming, I Am Evidence, City of Ghosts