Top 15 Films of 2017 – Allen’s Picks

5) The Florida Project

Just as he did with Tangerine (2015), writer/director Sean Baker gives us a glimpse into lives that exist on the fringes in The Florida Project. With co-writer Chris Bergoch, Baker paints a community of people on the brink of poverty, living in a rundown motel just a stone’s throw away from Disney World. While travelers come to the park to escape reality, the people of this motel have to deal with their harsh realities every single day, trying to find enough money to last another week. Amongst them is a precocious young girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). At first, Moonee and Halley come off obnoxious, irresponsible, and reckless, and yet as the story moves forward we become attached to them and root for their well being. Along for the ride is Willem Dafoe’s motel manager, who tries all he can to not kick any of the residents out of the building. This is a neo-realist tale of hope in the midst of despair, told through the eyes of a child still trying to understand the world spinning around her.

4) Personal Shopper

If Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas work together the rest of their careers, I’d be ok with that. Personal Shopper is many things – a ghost story, a murder mystery, a personal drama – and yet none of these accurately describes what the film is and what it’s trying to do. At its heart, this is a look into a character learning to live for themselves instead of for others. Stewart delivers a finely tuned performance as her character tries to find herself despite being deeply attached to other people. Whether it’s a dead relative, a rich and famous boss, or an unknown stranger on the other end of a phone line, Stewart’s character is so strongly linked to these outside forces that grief and exhaustion very nearly consumes her identity. This is a challenging and sometimes frustrating film, as we try to make thematic connections with Assayas giving us no assistance. But it’s the absence of easy answers that makes Personal Shopper so rewarding. I had no inkling of where this was going or how it would resolve. It invites multiple viewings, encouraging us to analyze details to arrive at our own interpretation. Some of the greatest films involve audience participation, and here Assays gives us a puzzle box with no instructions, allowing us to chart a course all by ourselves.

3) Get Out

Jordan Peele, best known for his comedic work on television, burst into 2017 with arguably the biggest surprise of the year, Get Out. Mixing the horror genre with themes of racism and sly social commentary, Peele created a terrifying and oddly funny tale of a black man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) visiting his white girlfriend’s family deep in their secluded estate. Peele is very good at highlighting the caution one feels when entering an unknown environment, and the kind of back handed racism that comes from people’s condescending words and actions. But before we can get a handle on Chris’ predicament, we’re thrown into a mad house, with twists and turns that are disturbing yet thought provoking. This is like the best episodes of The Twilight Zone expanded into a feature length film. It’s insightful, smart, and entertaining the entire way through. All the performances are strong, but LilRel Howery as Chris’ best friend is easily the standout. He is the most level headed character, and his blunt comments are laugh out loud funny because of how accurate they are. Get Out is the introduction of a major cinematic voice, and I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele has in store next.

2) Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is an expert storyteller, and with Dunkirk he takes us to class, giving us one of his best works to date. Nolan is a cinematic manipulator of the highest order, using every tool he has to tell the story of the British military’s evacuation of the port town of Dunkirk in the middle of WWII. Nolan tells three separate stories (between land, sea, and air), stretching and condensing time to amplify the tension. Lee Smith’s editing creates a balance between the sections, slowly escalating the suspense to the climactic moment where all three stories converge. There is a not a moment wasted here, not an ounce of unnecessary exposition telling us what’s going on. Everything is done cinematically, through camera work, montage, and Hans Zimmer’s pulse pounding score. Through the well-done craftsmanship, we get sense that these soldiers – and WWII in general – was an event of collective experiences, where each person saw the war differently, and yet all those involved have a commonality that only they can understand. Dunkirk is a story of overcoming insurmountable odds, told by a filmmaker at the very height of his powers.

1) Blade Runner 2049

Why is Blade Runner 2049 the best film of 2017? The answer partly has to do with the notion that it shouldn’t even exist. The original Blade Runner (1982) has become accepted as a cult classic, telling a contained story of its own. To think that a sequel would be considered bordered on blasphemy. And yet, something miraculous happened with the release of this film. Not only does it translate many of the themes and plotlines introduced in the original, but also expands and deepens them to create a story that feels fresh. It stands side by side with the original and in some ways even eclipses it.

Artificial intelligence, identity, humanity – these are themes that are not new in the sci-fi genre. But Blade Runner 2049 excels in presenting its own take on these ideas, and what it means for the characters that inhabit this world. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) steps into a noir mystery and encounters something unexpected: an existential crisis over the relevance of his life and whether or not the actions he takes mean anything in the long run. His inner conflict is told in what is arguably the most gorgeous film of the year, proving yet again that Roger Deakins is one of the best cinematographers to ever step behind a camera. The music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer (who makes another appearance on this list) takes inspiration from Vangelis’ original score but doesn’t copy it, instead opting to use it sparingly as a subtle call back during emotionally high moments.

Denis Villeneuve is a modern master who has shown remarkable consistency with each project he directs. From Incendies (2010), to Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and now this, Villeneuve has been drawn to these psychological mysteries where characters confront their darkest tendencies. Blade Runner 2049 feels like a culmination of this theme, bridging a filmmaker trying to get a foothold in the industry to one who is now at the top of the profession. He knows how to take a big idea and frame it within a narrative that is accessible while never compromising his artistic vision. Blade Runner 2049 was met with mixed reviews and a lukewarm box office, but those are precisely the reasons why I believe this film will be talked about for many years to come.

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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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