Thursday, 25 January 2018

Walter's Top Ten Films of 2017

Following Vic's Top 15 and the slightly more famous Oscar nominations, here is my modest list of ten top films of 2017:

As a prelude, though, let's get the bad out of the way - the year's biggest disappointments that I've been calling my "spilled coffee list." Leading it off, we have Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. It wasn't the worst film of the year, but I have to give it this honour in order to contrast with the insane amount of critics who seem to think it was something special. The only thing that I can think is that some critics ask themselves, "Would I have liked this when I was in middle school?"  Other top disappointments of the year were Life, Allied, and Collateral Beauty.

Films that might have stood a chance for me that I haven't seen yet include The Florida Project, Mudbound, Loving Vincent and Molly's Game. And honourable mentions include The Shape of Water, Back to Burgundy, Their Finest and 20th Century Women. 

A fumi-e offered for recanting faith10. Silence - This is a film full of contradictions - one of those contradictions is whether or not it is a great film. In some ways I think it was: it was a well-made film adaptation of an excellent but devastating novel (that I read back in the early 90s). The film succeeds in hitting the viewer with the same turmoil of thoughts and doubts and wonderings that the novel does. But is it justifiable to make this film without the slightest sign of self-awareness that while the Jesuits were being tortured by “The Inquisitor” in Japan, the Spanish Inquisition was carrying on back in Europe? I scoured many interviews with Scorcese and saw no evidence that this irony was in sight. Inexcusable. A contradiction. But so thought-provoking it had to make my list.

9. The Big Sick - This film was recommended to me by many people, and I understood why. It has the fresh intelligence of earlier Apatow comedies without being crass or stupid. Instead it is uniquely humourous and tells a heartfelt story.

Scene from A Kid (older man speaking to younger man)

8. A Kid - (en Francais: Le Fils de Jean) I suspect that not too many people have seen this modest film set in France and  Quebec, and it’s possible that this fact moved it up my list a bit. There is a quiet sense of mystery and tension in this family drama that isn't exploited but remains realistic and true. It’s occasionally funny but doesn’t pretend to be a comedy, and woven through it are themes of commitment, forgiveness and the long term consequences of character and choices.

normal people look down at very small people7. Downsizing -  For me this was a really great “almost.” The idea is wonderful and parts of it worked
really well. The themes are timely and the exploration of them fascinating. What happens when you reframe and sell “saving the world” as “live the American Dream you’ve always wanted”? But it just felt like the film as a whole couldn’t completely bring itself together. Is that just intentionally mirroring the lostness of the “everyman” hero? Maybe.

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi - I don't think a Star Wars film has ever made my list (since I wasn't making lists back in '77). Yes, this one has its weaknesses. But for me this revived hope in the saga that lost its way and double-backed on itself in The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi had a lot of thought-provoking bits that actually make me want to watch it again soon: do we still need the Force or have the tides changed?

5. Blade Runner 2049 - Being a respecter rather than fan of the original, I did not go with grand expectations. I found this sequel superior in many ways - infinitely more watchable IMHO. I’d suggest that it was possibly more thought-provoking too, but something tells me that the fans of the original would loudly disagree with that.

Beatriz raises her glass in a toast
4. Beatriz at Dinner - This is an unusual film and may have stimulated more post-film thinking than any of the films on the list. This dark comedy brings a lot of important things to the surface - most uniquely the threat of burning out if working intensely and emotionally for a better world without a community supporting you (or maybe even with).

3. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - Overall this is a better-made film than Lady Bird. It probably even had more of the best kind of quality than The Post. But its world is too dark for me to rank it higher than this. Yes, it has many bright spots: excellent and unpredictable characters, great acting, great soundtrack, and it is so beautifully filmed; but be sure that you can watch a tough film before you dive in.

2. Lady Bird -  It’s possible that Saoirse Ronan’s acting is enough by itself to make it to #2 on my list. But along with that strength comes a film with a perfect balance of realism and light humour, capturing the gutsy spark, naivete, and very unfinished bits that come with being a high school senior. The film leaves you wanting to be kinder to high school (university?) students even when their actions are frustrating.

All the men gather around the woman who has to make the decision

1. The Post -  I was preparing to write up my top ten list and was feeling that there simply wasn’t a film that was worthy of being #1. There were a lot of good films but none that stood out with enough heft to play this role. Then I saw The Post - the last film I would watch before I made a call on my top ten. I knew it had a chance because I am partial to investigative journalist films, but neither Spielberg nor Streep are normally as esteemed in my book as they are for many.

But this film did it for me. I understand Vic’s disappointment about its not hitting contemporary relevance harder (given the intensity of this relevance in the Trump era), but nevertheless those parallels are still clear, and I think Spielberg was right not to dilute the focus on the bravery of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), a barely experienced woman surrounded by powerful men. I found that theme highly moving and convincing. And there’s just something about the presses rolling with a hard-edged, breaking story - one of the best alternative symbols to a winning battle scene: a victory based on truth, courage and hard work instead of violence. I seriously do not understand how I didn’t get into journalism.

Late Additions - Here in St. Stephen, it's pretty standard that I am behind-the-times seeing great films. So here are some older films that I saw this past year that were top notch but too late to make it for their year: Manchester by the Sea, Le goût des merveilles, Moonlight, Trumbo, Miss Sloane, Fences and a delightful Japanese film called Sweet Bean.

3 comments:

  1. It would be interesting to have movie nights again. Maybe every second week.

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  2. Great list! Thanks. Those films on your list that didn't make my list are all worthy (haven't seen The Kid).

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  3. Thanks for this! The scene related to the "Just Married" prank in Lady Bird still has me chuckling.

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