When looking back on the movies I saw in 2017 certain things stood out. The following are the performances, writing and much more, that really stuck out for me in a sea of noteworthy films. Here are my “Honorable Mentions” for the films of 2017:
Michael Stuhlbarg and Tracy Letts
Whew! 2017 was the year of the character actor, and I want to point out two of my favorites: Michael Stuhlbarg and Tracy Letts. Whether playing accepting fathers, newspaper men, jilted lovers or super spies, both these actors melted into each of the roles they played, making me forget who they were until I was ecstatic to recognize them again. See Michael Stuhlbarg in: The Post, The Shape of Water, and (my personal fav) Call Me By Your Name. See Tracy Letts in: The Lovers, Lady Bird and The Post.
The Losers Club from It
Dang these kids. I loved the Losers Club and you will too. The sweet stuttering Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, New-Kids-On-The-Block-quoting Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben, and serious hypochondriac Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, were my personal favorites, but the entire cast held it down. Well, except for Chosen Jacobs as Mike, because they barely gave him any story or any lines. Sorry, Mike. Sophia Lillis kills it as a badass updated-for-the-times Beverly (even though the movie is set in the ‘80’s); despite being abused, she stands bravely till the very end.
James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy in Split
I had my fears about the latest M. Night Shyamalan film. Namely: was it going to be completely comical to watch James McAvoy pretend to have 23 distinct personalities? Actually, it wasn’t. It was equal parts scary and impressive. Anya Taylor-Joy, (who headlined The VVitch), is eye of the storm: calm while others freak out around her. Way better than I expected, this film is worth a viewing.
The Writing of The Big Sick
Only a film written by husband and wife, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, could so accurately portray the humor and pain of a relationship formed under such intense circumstances. This could have easily just been Kumail’s story while future wife Emily lays in a coma, however; Gordon gives Emily’s voice just as much depth and heft to put Kumail in his place. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are awesome as Emily’s parents too (just sayin’).
The Cinematography of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Long-time cinematographer for films by Rian Johnson, Steve Yedlin creates a color palette that is both understated in some scenes, and blinding in others. That final battle scene on Crait, when the Resistance fighters are kicking up all that red dust in the wake of their skimmers is stunning. The use of color throughout the film is really striking and stayed with me long after the film was over.
The Soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Rarely do I look forward to a film’s soundtrack as much as its sequel. Guardians 2 did just that for me. While I am sure writer/director James Gunn had more than his two cents worth for the soundtrack, the music department for the film really pulled it off this time around. Daddy issues AND Cat Stevens? Well, sheeeeet.
A Superhero Film For The Ages: Wonder Woman
Patty Jenkins directed a superhero movie that proved to be a symbol of momentous cultural progress for the genre. It was also just a damn good movie, giving us an origin story with a female lead from her perspective, rather than using her as a side-note character or love interest for a man. Funny, charismatic Chris Pine as Steve Trevor was a great foil as he played extremely well off of earnest, compassionate (yet still funny) Gal Gadot as Diana, aka Wonder Woman. This was a kickass inspiring action film with kickass inspiring female characters (Robin Wright’s Antiope among them), that led to a cultural movement of female empowerment in 2017. There is no denying that and Wonder Woman is most worthy of its recognition. I can’t wait to see what Jenkins and Gadot do in their next films. To read more, check out Bernadette Gorman’s in-depth article here.
Romain Duris (aka “Cinquanta”) in All The Money In the World
While the big story may have been Christopher Plummer reshooting all of Kevin Spacey’s scenes, Romain Duris steals the show (in my opinion) as one of the kidnappers holding John Paul Getty III hostage. Call it stockholm syndrome, but by the film’s end you grow to care just as much about Cinquanta escaping as you do about the young Mr. Getty. Also, jeezzzus Michelle Williams is an ACT-TOR. Check her out. PUH-LEEZE.
Visual Effects of War for the Planet of the Apes
This film deserves to win an Oscar for best Visual Effects. And if Andy Serkis doesn’t win a special Oscar, created solely for him, to recognize his work in motion capture, IN ADDITION to being a mighty fine actor, I will probably throw something at whatever screen I watch the Oscars on this year. Out of Matt Reeves’ three Planet of the Apes films, I enjoyed this one the most. And I can honestly say, it was because it finally centered on the apes as the main characters. Apes together strong.
The writing/directing of Noah Baumbach – The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Noah Baumbach has, (to quote Mike Birbiglia), “that secret special skill,” that causes me both anxiety and deep appreciation when watching his films. The Meyerowitz Stories, centers around brother and sister, Danny and Jean, (Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel), their half brother, Matthew (Ben Stiller), and aging patriarch, Harold (played most annoyingly in excellent fashion by Dustin Hoffman). Adam Sandler’s Danny is a sweet, sad, Punch Drunk Love of a son, always feeling inferior in his father’s eyes, but a loving father to his daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten). As Danny watches Eliza go off to college, he gets a second chance to spend more time with his father, encouraging him to submit a sculpture to a faculty show at Bard College. The events of the movie center around the time leading up to this show, Harold’s failing health, and all the shenanigans in between. But the reason I want to commend Noah Baumbach, is because of how real his dialogue feels. When Ben Stiller’s Matthew talks over his brother, neither hearing what the other is saying, I found myself nodding and laughing. And when Dustin Hoffman’s Harold, quietly brings down his sons’ confidence, I found myself quiet with understanding. The kids are pains in the asses – adults who fuck up – and I found myself rooting for them.
The Amazing Ensemble Cast of Patti Cake$:
Danielle Macdonald (Patti), Bridget Everett (Barb), Siddharth Dhananjay (Jheri), Mamoudou Athie (Basterd) and Cathy Moriarty (Nana)
This killer cast almost granted Patti Cake$ a place on my “Top Ten of 2017” list. It was a tough decision, and I think this film is a very close #11. Danielle Macdonald is the titular Patti: hard working, passionate about writing, and dreaming of hitting it big. Her rhymes slay and so does her performance. Just as devastating is Bridget Everett as her mother, Barb. With a powerhouse voice and a disturbing personal life, Barb comes around to be there for Patti by the end. Patti’s group, “PB&J,” is made up of her best friend Jheri (an infectious and likeable Siddharth Dhananjay), and the mysterious Basterd, (the somber and later, sweet Mamoudou Athie). To cap it all off, Cathy Moriarty plays Nana, the most badass grandma you could ever hope for. Patti Cake$'s cast may be struggling and hoping for a better life, but they have a pretty good situation with each other.
Kyle Mooney in Brigsby Bear
I don’t want to give anything away, but the earnest and authentic delivery of Kyle Mooney as James Pope in Brigsby Bear alone is worth the viewing. Also, Mark Hamill makes a surprise appearance. Go watch this. Now. Here.
Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon is one complex mofo of a character. I in no way condone the character himself or his actions in the film, but Sam Rockwell’s performance is hands down incredible. *Runner-up to Honorable Mention: Caleb Landry Jones for his kooky and loveable performance as Red Welby.
I always put off going to see the latest Pixar film. I always think, “I prefer old school animation,” and every time I leave the theatre thinking, “that WAS AWESOME.” Coco was no different. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do an amazing job honoring the tradition of Dia de los Muertos, while bringing new characters to life. Visually, this movie is saturated with color. It literally glows as main character Miguel navigates his way through the land of the dead. While the music is catchy, it is the message of family, and remembering your loved ones that stays with you long after the movie has finished.
Dunkirk was amazing for its panic-inducing multiple takes of the same events, making me question the time of the film constantly. In the same instance, the cast – whose names you barely learn or can even remember – still stay with you throughout the film as you root and pray for them to return home alive.
Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming
I kinda thought I didn’t want another Spider-Man reboot. I was wrong. Who knew Tom Holland was British? I didn’t. His Queens accent is ON POINT. Plus Marisa Tomei as hot Aunt May, a surprise performance by Donald Glover, and a sassy-sans-make-up Zendaya as a potential future love interest for Peter Parker? Dang son, keep it coming. I’m ready for this reboot.
Thor, aka Chris Hemsworth, in Thor: Ragnarok
Don’t get me wrong, I love Loki. Tom Hiddleston is one of the best parts of the Thor movies for me. And Tessa Thompson’s breakout kick-butt performance as Valkyrie left me pumped after the credits rolled. But it was a newly shorn, shorthaired Hemsworth as Thor in Ragnarok which really made the film enjoyable. Breaking the wall to address the audience from the very beginning, Hemsworth finally seems to be truly enjoying himself, even during his kingdom’s total demise. This is definitely worth a watch.
…I saw a lot of movies this year and still it wasn’t enough. After reading through the rest of the Story Screen family’s top picks for 2017, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say they influenced my own choices. I thought long and hard about all the films I saw this past year, and I wished multiple times that I could watch several of them again before writing to you readers now. But deep down, I think I knew which films of 2017 really struck me and why. So now, without further ado, here is my personal “Top Ten of 2017.” I hope you enjoy.
Number 10: Logan
I feel pretty strongly that James Mangold should have received an Oscar nomination for Best Directing. Ah well. I am holding out hope for the Best Adapted Screenplay category. I love X-Men movies, and this one changes the game. I could watch aging Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart bicker like they're in The Odd Couple for years to come. But this swan song for Jackman’s Wolverine is an extremely satisfying end. Logan’s angry attempt at parenting Laura (as she yells at him in Spanish), is amazing. Patrick Stewart’s performance is good it hurts, and (who knew?) Stephen Merchant is the albino mutant you wish you had seen in earlier films.
Number 9: Baby Driver
I wasn’t sure the teen heartthrob from The Fault In Our Stars was going to be able to carry the lead role in Edgar Wright’s latest film, but he most certainly does, and carries it well. Ansel Elgort is the titular Baby, and it is Baby’s condition of tinnitus (a personal fear of mine), that prefaces the film’s ingenious use of music. The film’s soundtrack is so strong it crosses over to the audience to tell mood and become an additional character to an already extremely strong cast. For further input into why this is a truly excellent and worthy musical experience, check out Mike Burdge’s excellent article here.
Number 8: Detroit
Dang, Kathryn Bigelow. Dang. How could this film have not been nominated for anything? No Golden Globe? No Oscar nod? I am floored. This is a tough watch. There’s no denying that. But the same tension that Bigelow brought to Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, pumps through Detroit’s historical look back on an incident that is more pertinent to modern times than I wish it were. Where I definitely appreciated the value of said earlier films, it is Detroit by far, that makes you care for its characters, fear for their lives, and experience raging anger at the injustice of it all. John Boyega puts forth a stunning performance that blows his Star Wars character out of the water, and Will Poulter’s performance is incredible, even as it is cringe-worthy to watch.
Number 7: Get Out
Go See this movie NOW. It is not a comedy, and while there are definitely funny parts, placing Get Out in that category was an insult to the film at the Golden Globes. I would love to see Director Jordan Peele go on to make many more films. Whether in the genres of horror or social commentary, (or both like Get Out), I know that he has much more to come. Daniel Kaluuya is instantly likeable and wary all at once as Chris, our main character. And Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, (normally actors I would love to have as parents), are so goddamn awful and creepy it is downright amazing. The scariest character however, may actually be Caleb Landry Jones, (that’s right, my loveable Red from Three Billboards) as their son Jeremy, whereas Allison Williams's turn as daughter Rose (Chris’s girlfriend) is played to perfection.
Number 6: I, Tonya
There are three main reasons I am putting I, Tonya on my Top Ten: the extremely memorable performances by its three leads, Margot Robbie (Tonya), Sebastian Stan (playing her husband, Jeff) and Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, LaVona Golden. When I realized that director Craig Gillespie had also directed Lars and the Real Girl, things started to make a lot more sense for me. This movie takes the nation-captivating tabloid story and gives it both humor and heart. I never expected to have so much sympathy for Tonya Harding, nor did I expect to laugh that hard.
Number 5: The Florida Project
My first of two experiences going to Disney World was with my older sister and my grandparents when I was in the second grade. In stark contrast to decadent theme park hotels, we were staying outside the park at a budget motel. Every day my grandparents would drive us back from the Magic Kingdom, during which we would pass “Orange World” multiple times while they argued in Spanish, before I realized we were again indeed lost. The Florida Project is a beautiful movie. It shows that seedy underbelly outside the theme parks while still containing the joy of being a kid playing with her friends over summer break. Brooklynn Prince as Moonee captivates as she causes mischief and tries the patience of her young mother, Halley, (played excellently by Bria Vinaite) and the owner of the motel where they live, Bobby (played by Willem Dafoe, one of the only star actors in the film).
Number 4: The Post
If Detroit and Get Out are relevant to today’s events, so is Steven Spielberg’s The Post. It is to his credit that another historic film depicting events we already know the outcome of is so entirely engrossing. The Post boasts a hugely star-studded cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts (awesome!), Bradley Whitford (creep!), Matthew Rhys and Alison Brie among others. But while the film handles the ever-pertinent battle of the Press trying to tell the Public the Truth (while our government would prefer to tell their own version of it), I was just as captivated by Streep’s performance as Washington Post owner, Kay Graham. I go into Streep’s films often thinking, “Isn’t it time someone else had a chance?” and I am always blown away by her performance. Kay’s story of struggling to lead in the boys club environment of the 60’s – having her thoughts and decisions constantly second-guessed by those who feel more entitled than her – is a struggle women continue to face today. It was inspiring to watch her and the staff of the paper raise a fist and take a stand. The Post left me feeling something I had experienced little of in 2017: hope for future change.
Number 3: Blade Runner 2049
This was a tough one. I considered moving it up on my list and moved it back down a few times, but I feel good about it making my top three films of 2017. Blade Runner 2049 is worth your time; it is entirely engrossing and engaging whether or not it connects to the original film. Its main character K, played by Ryan Gosling, is so understated, yet so captivating. Roger A. Deakins has been nominated for an Oscar in cinematography so many times over the years (but has never won I might add), that it speaks volumes to say this may be his best film yet. You are truly immersed and lost in 2049: the color, the scale, it is a depressing view of the future and yet one I could easily dive into. Take your time with this one. Let it wash over you. Then, wait a day or two and watch it again.
Number 2: Lady Bird
After enjoying her in Greenberg and Frances Ha, (for which she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach), I was eager to see Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. I was not disappointed. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Saoirse Ronan), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Laurie Metcalf), Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay (also Greta Gerwig), I am keeping my fingers crossed for Lady Bird on Oscar’s night. I love Laurie Metcalf’s judgmental and overprotective mother, Marion. She smothers, she argues, and she loves. Gerwig captures the feeling of the early 2000’s (complete with Dave Matthews Band). She shows us Saoirse Ronan (Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson), struggling to find her place in the world and dying to escape the confines of Sacramento, California. While it tackles the emotion and growth of Lady Bird as a character, the story also shows real depth and the struggle within Metcalf’s Marion, trying to let go of her daughter as she grows up.
Number 1: Call Me By Your Name
This movie is beautiful. Timothée Chalamet’s performance as Elio broke my heart and really hit home. Being a teenager, feeling lost and unsure about what you want, being influenced by someone so strongly, and trying to decide whether or not to take a chance at being who you feel you really are – these are some of the central themes in Call Me By Your Name. Elio, a seventeen-year-old, living the good life in Northern Italy, has his world turned upside-down when his professor father welcomes an American doctoral student, Oliver, (played tremendously by Armie Hammer) for the summer. While initially glib with American slang (“Later”), Oliver eventually has a life-changing impact on Elio, and Elio on Oliver, creating a love story where the real enemy is time, or not enough of it. As the summer comes to end, so does their relationship. But this relationship has transformed Elio. Elio also has some of the best movie parents I have ever witnessed, played by Amira Casar (his mother, Annella) and Michael Stuhlbarg (as his father). One of the last scenes of the film features a conversation between Elio and his father where they discuss his relationship with Oliver, and Elio’s wish to forget the whole thing. Stuhlbarg’s Mr. Perlman recounts his own experiences and gives his son some powerful advice:
“Look,” he interrupted. “You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it…
…How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it and with it the joy you’ve felt.”
Elio goes on to embrace his love and his anguish at its end. And his tearful face at the film’s conclusion is a testament to the strength of his love. I hope both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet go on to make more films that push the boundaries of what most find comfortable or normal. Their portrayal of love is universal. And it is beautiful.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro