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Favorite Films of 2017 (so far)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018
You know what this is, so no preamble is really needed, but here are some opening thoughts as you consider the list.

1) I have had a great time at the movies this year. I've had several experiences that really moved and thrilled me, which served as a reminder of the power of stories and film as an art form. 

2) A lot of movies on this list have no business being compared. How do you compare Lady Bird to something like Star Wars? Or Coco to Dunkirk? The Big Sick and Blade Runner 2049? While I've roughly tried to put these in order, at the end of the day I'm grateful that they all exist, because they each gave me something unique, and all of these could move up or down based on what you value in that moment.

I'm looking mainly at my experience. Did I feel something? Was I moved? Did it make me think? Was I genuinely thrilled or shocked by what I saw? Did it make me laugh? At the end of the day I could argue the different merits of each film, but what really drives the placement is how profoundly I was affected. So there will be films I enjoyed, liked, and will re-watch more than my current number one pick, but they didn't have as powerful an impact on me. 

3) This list will likely change. As I mentioned in a previous post, I still haven't seen Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, and a few others that I expect might crack this list. And there are movies that rocked me when I first saw them in theaters that may move down a few spots as I re-watch, and reevaluate this years offerings. This is a snapshot of how I feel at this moment.

To put it into further context, here is a list of the 2017 movies I saw this year.

4) And finally - I can't narrow it down to just ten, so in descending order, here are my favorite twenty films of 2017:

20. John Wick: Chapter 2 - if you don't love Keanu Reeves, I don't have room for you in my life.
19. It - R-rated Stranger Things. The kids were great. It was actually scary, and surprisingly emotional.
18. Wind River - Didn't quite reach the highs of Taylor Sheridan's last two scripts, but still so good.
17. Logan - It was worth all of the mediocre X-Men movies to get to this. I can't believe they let them make this movie.
16. Good Time - Robert Pattinson doesn't get enough credit around here! This movie was a surprise.
15. Get Out - I know this is going to be much higher on everyone's lists, but as much as I loved it, it didn't connect with me like some other movies this year.
14. Molly's Game - I'm a devoted Aaron Sorkin head, so enjoying this was no surprise. I wasn't expecting to cry or feel as emotionally connected to this as I did.
13. The Disaster Artist - hilarious and moving. It didn't feel like they were making fun of Wiseau but actually connecting with his dreams and aspirations as an artist.
12. The Big Sick - best rom-com in years.
11. Stronger - underrated how great Jake Gyllenhall and Tatiana Maslany are in this. I'm a sucker for a great Boston film.

10. Wonder Woman

I saw this three times in theaters, and cried each time. I still wish the ending was a little different. I think they wasted a powerful opportunity to subvert the big-boss-fight trope of these movies with the more complicated "maybe men are just bad sometimes all on their own" idea that Steve Trevor articulates at the end. For Diana to have to grapple with the fact that Ares wasn't pulling the strings, and that men might still be worth fighting for would have been much more powerful to me, but oh well. 

Gal Gadot was perfect as Diana. I felt invested in the journey. There were moments of genuine thrill and excitement (No-man's land!), and it made me feel things. Patty Jenkins is a national treasure.

9. Thor: Ragnarok

Taika Waititi is one of the funniest people on planet earth. The fact that this man got to make a Marvel movie that was so quirky and fun is a miracle that gives me faith in what the MCU still might be able to do (Ryan Coogler's Black Panther helps a lot too!). 

I loved Taika's previous two films, and this one delivered the goods. Apparently a good chunk of the dialogue was improvised, and you can feel it. The interactions feel genuine, and there is an energy and excitement that the actors have in these scenes that really brings this movie to life. The main story is straight forward, giving the characters lots of room to shine and grow. It also has one of the best Marvel villains to date, some great action set pieces, and made me laugh out loud repeatedly. 

I really hope I can see this one more time before it leaves theaters!

8. Baby Driver

God bless Edgar Wright! The fact that we didn't get his version of Ant-Man is still one of the great crimes of the MCU, but anyway, Baby Driver.

The music. The driving. The love story. I loved all of it. I enjoyed this movie on so many levels. The thing sticking in my mind right now is how talented Wright is as a director. Usually, there is nothing I find more boring than a car chase. It's something I feel like I've already seen 100 times, and yet he makes it feel fresh. He brings an energy to every conversation, every cut, every action scene that makes this movie so much fun to watch. 

Not to mention the chemistry of Lily James and Ansel Elgort. The fact that I became genuinely invested in their relationship and cared about what happened to them still feels like a magic trick. And don't forget about the music.

7. Blade Runner 2049

Give Roger Deakins his Oscar already! The man deserves it. I mean look at this!

And this.

And this!

This movie blew me away. I love Denis Villeneuve and this cements him as one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. Denis making Dune as his next project makes me happier than I can express. 

This movie is 2 hours and 44 minutes long. It was made for adults. It cost $150-180 million to make. The fact that this movie exists is a miracle. We don't deserve it. It was a gift that hopefully we will fully appreciate in time. 

They somehow made something that fully respected the original film, while standing on its own and even breaking new ground. This movie made me think. I was in awe of the visuals. And ultimately I really enjoyed where the story took me and where it ended up.

6. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

If you look at the things I read in 2017 you'll notice a lot of Martin McDonagh. This guy is one of my favorite writers right now. In Bruges is one of my favorite movies of all time. I have been anticipating this flick ever since I first heard about it, and I love it. 

Frances McDormand is getting nominated for Best Actress. That's a sure thing. I don't know if she will win, but she will be nominated. How she goes from anger to moments of compassion and sadness is a marvel. This movie surprised me in that it starts off dark, gets darker, but somehow ends up in a place that is sweet, and really about the power of forgiveness.

Another thing I love about this film, which is what I love about McDonagh's writing, is that you never know where it's going. It can go anywhere, be anything, and it does. I laughed. I cried. I was surprised. That's what I love about going to the movies.

5. Lady Bird

Oscar prediction #2: Saoirse Ronan is also getting nominated for best actress. And Greta Gerwig deserves to be nominated for all the things for this movie. 

My girl Sershe gave one of my favorite performances from a few years back in Brooklyn, and she keeps up her hot streak with Lady Bird. It's a beautiful film about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and at the same time it's a coming of age story, it's about religion, it's about friendship, and love, and life... and I'm crying. 

Seeing this movie in a theater was a joy. My wife leaned over to me early on and said, "You can tell that this was directed by a woman. No other movie would let their lead actress have blemishes on their skin like that!" I think this is representative of what makes this movie so special. It feels so real. It's personal. Intimate. It's so specific in the experience that it presents that it becomes universal in the feelings that it evokes. I have only seen it once, but I look forward to revisiting this film again and again.

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I don't know where to start with this one. Spoiler warning? Listen. If nothing else this movie gave us the Ben Swolo memes, and Luke Skywalker drinking breast milk *almost* straight from the source. And when you put those two things together...


I think I will have to write more about this movie, because I have many thoughts and people are nuts.

Here is the hill I am ready to die on: The Last Jedi is one of the best directed, acted, written, and filmed Star Wars movies of all time. It's up there with A New Hope and Empire. It focused on characters, subverted expectations, made me think, made me feel, and thrilled me like few other films have this year. 

In time, I believe we'll look back and appreciate Rian Johnson for the visionary that he is.

But for now, we still have porgs. 

3. Coco

I'm not big on animated movies. I am not a huge Pixar guy. But I did sob my way through Inside Out, and heard good things about this film.

As I was sitting in the theater I thought to myself, "This is obviously going to be good, but there is no way that this will affect me as much as Inside Out did." Cut to me sobbing like a child as this movie gets to the end. 

It's just so good. The people at Pixar are so good. I loved the basic premise of this movie, I loved the music, and ultimately the character journey was satisfying and emotionally rich. Anything that can reduce me to a puddle in the theater has to rank high. I can't wait to see this again.

2. Dunkirk

A new film by Christopher Nolan is always an event for me. Although I have to say I found myself questioning whether his legacy would really stand the test of time after Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises, two films that I really enjoyed when I saw them, and enjoy less and less as time passes.

I also have very little interest in war movies. WWII movies do very little for me, so when I heard that this was his next project I was disappointed. I was of course still going to see it, and be excited about it, but if it had been by anyone else I probably would have passed given the premise.

Then I saw this thing in IMAX, and goodness gracious! I went back and paid another $20 to see it in IMAX again a few days later. Seeing this in 70mm, with the footage shot on the IMAX cameras filling up the whole screen was an experience I don't think I'll ever forget. The first gun shot you hear shook me to the core, it was so loud. It's not the kind of movie I typically love, but it was an experience. He put me on that beach, in that plane, on that boat. Christopher Nolan delivered on an epic scale, and made me feel something about this event. 

And *Spoilers* there are only a few other images this year that stuck with me like Tom Hardy standing in front of his burning plane.

1. Detroit

I am full of self-doubt. No one else is really talking about this movie, and I thought they would be. This movie also is not a ton of fun. A big chunk of it is white cops being aggressively nasty to a group of mostly young black men. Not easy to watch.

But. I felt transported while watching this movie. Several times I was in awe at how Bigelow was bringing to life a time and a place. How she moved the camera. How she grounded the characters and events in a way that made this feel so painfully real. And by the end, I was heartbroken and angry. During the coda for one of the characters, I was affected so deeply, feeling loss and pain that it just hit me all at once how powerful the storytelling was.

And yet, I only saw it once. I bought it on iTunes and plan to revisit it and see if my initial feelings hold up. And I have to admit that over time some of that initial awe has faded as other exciting films have pressed into my consciousness. But that impact stayed with me. So for now, at this moment, Detroit is at the top of my list. I don't think it's my favorite, but I struggle each time I try to put another movie above it.

And now, back to waiting for Phantom Thread to release in Dallas.
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