Top 15 Films of 2017 – Allen’s Picks
When it comes to making these end of year lists, I usually take it in stride. I never really think about them for too long, since it’s just an exercise in futility. But 2017 was such a strong year at the movies, with good to great work being released at a steady pace, that I found this year’s list to be one of the more difficult ones to put together in recent memory. While the top five was set almost from the outset (it was just a matter of what order they would go in), 6 through 15 proved to be a struggle.
And even then, there were so many films worth mentioning that it was hard to contain them within a group of fifteen. The honorable mentions section has plenty of entries I wish I could talk about more. How Last Flag Flying shows Richard Linklater doing what he does best with character work, or how Berlin Syndrome gave us a strange case of Stockholm Syndrome within a kidnapping premise. Logan was an emotionally charged sendoff for Hugh Jackman’s career role, and Sleight brought a fresh perspective to the superhero genre. Band Aid and The Big Sick revived the romantic comedy, while Girls Trip was easily the funniest film of the year. Baby Driver and Wheelman were both well-made automobile capers, and Murder on the Orient Express was a superb example of classical filmmaking. The examples go on and on. Unfortunately, there were a few that didn’t make the cut simply because I haven’t had the chance to see them yet, namely Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. I wouldn’t be surprised if Daniel Day-Lewis’ (supposedly) final performance would upend the entire list the moment I walk out of the theater.
But time waits for no cinephile. As per tradition, let’s start the best of 2017 list with some Honorable Mentions:
Last Flag Flying, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Berlin Syndrome, It, Logan, Coco, Split, Midsummer in Newtown, The Shape of Water, Lego Batman, Sleight, The Lost City of Z, Your Name, It Comes at Night, Band Aid, Baby Driver, mother!, The Beguiled, Spider-man: Homecoming, The Big Sick, What Happened to Monday?, Thor: Ragnorak, 1922, Girls Trip, Murder on the Orient Express, Wheelman, The Disaster Artist, Darkest Hour, I Tonya.
Now that we got that taken care of, let’s jump into the main list:
Keanu Reeves has a knack for reinventing his career at just the right moment. First it was Bill & Ted, then it was The Matrix trilogy, and he’s done it again with the John Wick series. Not only are the hand-to-hand action and gunplay perfectly choreographed and shot, but director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad further developed this society of hitmen into a living, breathing world. This is a grander, bloodier entry than the first film, upping the stakes and setting up what will hopefully be a great finale. And to think it all started with that dog.
14) Good Time
Moving further and further away from his Twilight notoriety, Robert Pattinson delivers one of his best performances in Good Time. The film tells the story of Connie (Pattinson) and his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie, who co writes/directs with his real life brother Josh Safdie) after they botch a robbery, with Nick ending up in jail. What follows is a film noir odyssey as Connie does everything in his power to set his brother free. He will con, manipulate, and lie to get what he needs, but Connie’s decisions often lead to more trouble. There’s a nervous energy that pervades every moment, keeping us on our toes as we watch this two-bit hood bumble and trip his way from one obstacle to another. It’s a crime drama operating as a high wire act.
Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name is a sensual, delicate story of a love affair between a young boy just coming of age and an older graduate student set against a gorgeous Italian backdrop. Timothée Chalamet delivers a star making performance as the younger companion, whose blossoming sexuality conflicts with the reality of his situation. Chalamet moves and acts like one of those European actors of yesteryear, like a Jean-Paul Belmondo or Jean-Pierre Leaud. Armie Hammer gives one of his best works to date, making the most of his physicality and good looks but deepening the character with humanity and grace. This is a story of glances and unspoken emotions, where desire brings these two together even though the real world comes calling from a distance.
12) The Oath
More people need to talk about this movie. Writer/director/star Baltasar Kormakur presents us with a morality tale of a physician (Kormakur) placed in a situation in which to save his daughter, he must commit acts that contradicts everything he’s sworn against as a medical provider. It’s a crime story that examines the deepest realms of the human condition, that asks us how far one would go for their loved ones, and where the boundary is between justice and corruption. At a certain point, we begin to ask if Finnur is the hero of this tale, or if he is the villain. It’s a complex question, where the answer lies in one’s own perception. The best movies invite us to actively invest in what happens and wonder what we would do in a given character’s position. The Oath does exactly that.
11) Strong Island
Yance Ford’s Strong Island is not an easy watch, but it is a necessary one. We’ve gotten a number of documentaries about racial injustice with an overload of facts, figures and statistics. With Strong Island, we learn of only one case. Ford turns the camera on himself and his family, examining the violent death of his brother and the system that never caught those responsible. It must have been an incredibly difficult thing to do – to put his family under the microscope and penetrate their defenses to hit such a raw, vulnerable nerve. We get so many instances of wrongful deaths plastered all over the news that when something happens one week, by the next it’s either forgotten about or we have moved on to the next tragedy. Here, we’re reminded that these are real human lives, that these events cause a ripple effect that can change lives forever.