The year of our Lord 2017 was a tough year to live through. Plenty of ill-sitting people were put into offices they weren’t deemed worthy of seat-warming and poor mother! Earth came down with a violent case of the climate changes and displaced countless families from their homes. It was an awful year. The year of our Film 2017, however, provided an excellent refuge from it all, and I was lucky enough to have warmed the seats of many a theater to watch plenty of wonderful films. These films were so good in fact, that it is difficult for me to put a finger on just which one I think came out on top. So, without further ado, here is a list of my favorites (in order of their release) that managed to cure my ills this past year. And if I were a doctor, I’d prescribe these films with 16+ ounces of beer and 12 lbs. of cozy blanket. STAT!
Jordan Peele’s Get Out
February 24, 2017
Plenty of 2017’s films were a thermometer for the current political climate, but none quite so aggressively got to today’s core problems such as Get Out. While it’s easy to construct a horror film, it’s difficult to do it well, and Peele managed to deliver an exquisite thriller while not alienating the audience he’s chastising in the process. True art garners vivid and raw reactions from its audience, and boy did Get Out continue to weed out the Rose Armitages of the world, just as 2016’s election cycle had done the previous year. Timing alone, however, is not what makes Get Out great. A story about the oppression of a group of people, for the exploits of another, will always be a relevant horror story. Get Out’s themes of alienation, importance, and cultural and literal blindness raise an already stimulating genre to new heights, and challenges viewers to question who they are and what of their humanity they’d be willing to lose to better themselves.
Darren Aronofsky’s mother!
September 15, 2017
The only reason that I can understand why a viewer may not appreciate mother! is if it wholly and unabashedly offended them to the point of blasphemy. Other than that, what is there not to love? The film is visually engaging from start to finish, even if there is confusion along the way. The third violent and aggressive act alone would have sold me on the film if the first two pastoral acts hadn’t. Aronofsky isn’t new to the dissection of the relationship between art and artist, creation and creator. While some view The Wrestler and Black Swan to be companion films, I would insist that this is the third in the trilogy. Without digging too deep into the meat of the film, the presentation of mother! as a Rosemary’s Baby-style horror is all facade. Aronofsky asks the tough question of: who defines creation? How much does the artist owe to their devoted and loyal fans? And when is that creation perfect? Crammed to the altar with religious allegory, mother! was so much more than what I had anticipated and in all the right ways. For those who didn’t think Jennifer Lawrence was a strong enough actress to carry the role, or for those who thought the pacing was too jarring and inconsistent, don’t you think Aronofsky may have been making a comment on you?
Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049
October 6, 2017
I went into Blade Runner 2049 expecting to enjoy it, but I didn’t expect for it to imprint on me the way that it did, and to follow me around as if it’s my own personal Joi. Blade Runner 2049 expertly answers questions left lingering from the original film, while also leaving plenty of plot points open to interpretation. Perhaps it’s the dilemma of not having the opportunity to see the original film at the time of its release, but I always felt that while visually stunning, the original Blade Runner feels not as complete as I have always hoped it would. I understand its intent, but the delivery never quite lived up to the hype. Blade Runner 2049 however, lives up to the hype and so much more. Questioning his identity the entire film is Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, a Blade Runner “employed” by the L.A. police force. Of course, his work over the course of the film begins to intertwine with that of Rick Deckard, who has been on the lam ever since the ending of the original film. As with any great noir, the story beats in this film are meticulously paced on top of a beautiful backdrop. I’d go so far as to say this is the best looking film of the year. (Gun to head, if I absolutely HAD to choose a favorite film of 2017, Blade Runner 2049 might be what I whisper.) And when K finally tracks Deckard down in the wasteland that is now Las Vegas, we chase their confrontation through space and time. Their cat and mouse duel in the pit of a casino is further amplified by holograms of Elvis, Marilyn, Sinatra, and Liberace, (simpler Jois of yesteryear just trying to put on a good show). The use of sound and imagery in this scene blew me away, in a film that had already pushed me out of the gravitational pull of Earth and had me practically living “Off World.” My one qualm with the film is its ending. As much as this is a film to answer Deckard’s personal in-film questions, there is a certain reunion at the end of the film I’d rather not see. Blade Runner 2049 truly acted on me as the Wallace Corporation has acted on its consumer base. I became a Joi who couldn’t fully interact with her Joe, and to end the film on the steps of Stelline Laboratories with K, and K alone, would have brought me true and complete satisfaction.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer
November 3, 2017
What can I say? I like it when a film sweeps me off my feet and leaves me defenseless, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer does just that. Set in an ersatz, surgical Cincinnati, in a world of precision and absurdism, Lanthimos takes you on a journey of repentance and revenge. The rules he sets up in this film aren’t as airtight as those he used in 2015’s The Lobster, but the audience is privy to what they need to know by the film’s midway point. Now, whether those rules apply to the whole of society, is left open to interpretation. This is why Lanthimos’ work is so captivating. Everything about The Killing of a Sacred Deer seems a bit…off. From the speaking cadence, to the interpretation of song and music, to the characters’ relationships with sex, and even to a family of doctors who smoke (and smoke a lot), everything seems skewed. Lanthimos takes you to these slightly uncomfortable, (but not altogether unpleasant), worlds and says, “Good luck!” Two of the movie’s leads, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, have had the pleasure of working together before reuniting for this film, which works to their credit. They truly and completely trust each other acting in the methodical Murphy family, where everyone has great hair. The way these characters pinball off of each other – gaining more and more momentum as they go – is mesmerizing. And the boy behind the flippers is calculatingly terrifying. Barry Keoghan’s portrayal of Martin is completely horrific as he starts to tighten his hold on the Murphy family. So much so, that even when I saw Keoghan in Dunkirk, I felt I couldn’t rightly trust him. Just as with The Lobster, Lanthimos produces a breathtakingly beautiful world where terrible things happen, all the while daring us to look away. I very much look forward to reading the rulebook for whatever fantasy world he sells us next.
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project
November 10, 2017
There is nothing about The Florida Project I don’t like. A story about a young girl beginning to realize her life is not one big amazing adventure, (such as she and her friends believe), and the struggles her young mother goes through to provide that fairy-tale lifestyle, could have in other hands, been a depressing and grim tale. But through Baker’s hands and young Brooklynn Prince’s eyes, we get a vast, ecstatic reimagining of childhood wonder where every day is a fun, new journey, even if you have to ask strangers for ice-cream money. Bria Vinaite’s Halley is the troubled mother to Prince’s precocious Moonee, just two of the many acting non-actors in The Florida Project. The only notable name is Willem Dafoe, who plays the owner of the motel in which most of the characters non-legally reside. Each of the characters in The Florida Project has their individual struggles, but they have their individual triumphs too. Where The Florida Project shines, is in its ability to not shy away from the bleak reality it presents, all the while still being able to remind us just how wonderful it is to be able to experience each new day for the miracle that it is.
Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
November 10, 2017
The premise of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is simple. The characters and the town itself are anything but. Simply speaking, a mother is on a rampage to see justice in the case of her daughter’s rape and subsequent murder, but not just any mother: Frances McDormand’s fiery Mildred, who is blinded to everything, even her own remaining son’s discomfort, in the search for her daughter’s killer. In order to spur the investigation forward Mildred rents the three titular billboards, which read: “Raped While Dying. And Still No Arrests? How Come, Chief Willoughby?” She’s up against the way of the town, handled by the local police force, namely Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), and Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). With Willoughby dying of pancreatic cancer and there being no suspects for the case, the town of Ebbing wants to see Mildred’s warpath come to an end, even if that means never solving the case. This type of story: good vs. good or evil vs. evil, is McDonagh’s cup of tea. Nobody in the forefront of this story is entirely right or entirely wrong. The story of Three Billboards takes place in a town where people get away with destruction with little to no consequence. During the course of the film, the viewer is encouraged to question one’s own morals and stances multiple times. There really are only a few “big picture” issues, such as abortion and animal cruelty, that aren’t brought up in this film. But throughout this dense and bleak drama, McDonagh manages to bring humor and empathy to these characters through his sharp writing and excellent direction. Laughing through the struggles of life is really what gets us through, and what makes McDonagh’s films unique treats. McDonagh, along with his excellent cast, has delivered yet another film that shines a light on what it truly means to be a flawed human, Molotov cocktails and all.
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird
December 1, 2017
Lady Bird just might be the film from 2017 that I can relate to most, and I don’t think that’s because the other great films of the year are about replicants, strange Hollywood actors, and murderous mothers. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played to perfection by Saoirse Ronan, was a surrogate for me to revisit my late high school years and to reexamine the relationships that I had with friends, and most importantly, my mother. I grew up without a present father, very unlike Lady Bird’s wonderful father Larry, (played by an overlooked Tracy Letts), but that’s where the differences end. While I didn’t go to a Catholic school, I grew up in a very Catholic household with a mother who made countless sacrifices to provide the very best possible for her children. Laurie Metcalf’s Marion, might as well have been my mother (although Marion is a bit more spunky and practical). Lady Bird’s coming of age is something I think all girls can relate to, but I found it particularly endearing. Gerwig’s writing of this film encapsulates so well the desire to be different and to break free from your family, only to later realize just how much your family means to you, and how little you know of their personal journeys. Childhood is a very selfish time. It’s easy to relate to the giggly friends, Lady Bird and Julie, eating non-consecrated wafers on an office floor, but Gerwig has a special gift with writing, in that it’s just as easy to relate to the beleaguered mother who just can’t say anything right when it comes to her daughter. Luckily, my relationship with my mother wasn’t nearly as contentious, but the tension was there all the same. All of the aforementioned, and those below, films are extremely rewatchable, but I know this film is going to be one I will share with my children someday. In a scene where Lady Bird is expressing a desire to be put on the Math Olympiad, she is reminded that she isn’t particularly strong in math. To which she replies, “That we know of, yet.” It is this tenacity and her eventual humility that brings such a wonderful role model to life. You never know if you’re truly great at something until you try...but Gerwig should wonder no further.
James Franco’s The Disaster Artist
December 8, 2017
You remember where you were the first time you saw Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Hell, you remember where you were when you saw it for the tenth time. The Room almost needs no explanation at this point, (although for people who haven’t seen it, don’t get too excited or analytical about the titular room. As Tommy would say, “Don’t worry about it!”), but it’s affectionately referred to as: the worst movie of all time. So a film made about that film was bound to be a delight, and it obviously was. It doesn’t hurt that the core group of actors on The Disaster Artist have been pals and coworkers for years, and it’s even better that other A-list actors clamored out of the woodwork to have a bit role in this movie as well. All of the buzz about this film didn’t necessarily guarantee success; James Franco’s loving portrayal of Wiseau, and Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero, is what make the film a true homage. James absolutely embodies all of Wiseau’s strange affectations, whether that’s accenting strange syllables or laughing in odd situations. It’s all real human emotions! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so biased going into this film, because looking back, it’s difficult for me to see any mistakes of consequence. I did find it odd that Judd Apatow was seemingly on a date when he was already married to Leslie Mann at the time...but I digress. With a character as interesting as Tommy Wiseau as your muse, it’d be difficult to fail making this film. Thanks to Franco, an entirely new generation gets to explore The Room for the first time, and once you’re in, there’s no getting out.
Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi
December 15, 2017
While most people have a feverish admiration for the Star Wars saga, I have always simply just liked them. I’ve never outright disliked any of the installments, but my general feeling on the matter is if they decided to stop making them I wouldn’t necessarily be sad to see them go. No longer is this the case. Johnson’s latest addition to the Star Wars franchise was a Star War made for me. He took characters that could have been iterations of previous characters, and brought such cinematic depth to them that they have now become some of my favorite characters in any science-fantasy/science-fiction series to date. Johnson dared to say that even though you think you may be ordinary, you’re part of something so much greater, no matter which caste you belong to. And not only are the characters deeper, the cinematography and sets were completely jaw dropping. It’s not often you get such risky and innovative shots in a Star War. Sure, each of the films so far has had some beautiful and awe-inspiring shots (I don’t dispute that in the least), but Johnson’s Star War altered both the palate and palette of the series, and I pray future directors alter it further. So many scenes are worth mentioning, from the bomb-drop scene to Rey’s encounter with herself in the belly of the Dark Side, but the entire film pushed the boundaries of what one should expect in this franchise. Johnson took most, if not all expectations of this film, and shot them into hyperspace. It’s just the rejuvenation that I needed to be reminded of what this franchise can do. I also enjoyed its deep exploration of failure, and how not every heroic mission ends in success. This film moved me in ways I had no anticipation for. Truthfully, I wish Johnson was on the books for the foreseeable future, but alas, he’s only a phone call away for future directors to call on if need be. He burned the sacred texts, both metaphorically and physically, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Now, if you’re a film enthusiast who also happens to be even remotely good at counting, you’ll have noticed that I only have nine films for what is traditionally a “Top 10” list. I have seen a number of great films this year, but not one left on my list stood out to me in the overwhelming way this “top nine” have. I have also missed a number of films that I need to crunch before the Oscars in March. While contemplating the last spot, I was torn between choosing Mindhorn, The Little Hours, or The Big Sick because I’m always desperate for bizarre, uncharted comedies. I almost listed The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) or Columbus for their ability to dissect family algorithms and delicately highlight the failings of the generations ahead of us that we carry for our entire lives. Baby Driver and Thor: Ragnarok were great, fun rides but didn’t necessarily take me on a complete journey the way the other films had. I guess what I’m getting at is, we had a great year for cinema, and even the films that didn’t quite hit that top mark came awfully close. My tenth selection may be found in Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water, or Phantom Thread...but that will be for another article. And this is why we film lovers return again and again to the silver screen: there’s always the next, great curtain call.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.